Soon nature will outfit my horses—Chief Lakota, Duchess and Jazz — with heavy, thick winter coats. During the winter I affectionately nickname them, Fluffy, Puffy and Stuffy, respectfully, of course. Jazz, my mini-Appaloosa, could actually keep his winter nickname all year long. It describes his soft, round physique perfectly! The biggest reason I overlook his aptitude to find mischief is his charming resemblance to a child’s plush stuffed animal. Jazz is stuffed with cuteness!
The change in my horses’ coats is slight at first. It comes one hair at a time, thickening and rising as daylight hours dwindle and the mercury slides further down the thermometer. Slow, gentle change from the inside out is a gift we, whether human being or animal, give ourselves.
Winter’s thick heavy thoughts are right around the corner, too. Like trapped air between hair strands, we insulate ourselves from cold, bitter experiences, their shiver inescapable in the wintry season of introspection. The winter of the mind exposes raw hurt feelings. Their pain can no longer be protected under a blanket of fear. Self -reflection bares our souls; the naked soul is truth’s mirror.
Come spring, the harshness of winter sheds. If we are willing to see ourselves clearly … work through all the stuff and fluff… we will enter the soul’s summer sleek and shiny.
When we open the hurt, the wounds close.
Let us feast on gratitude on this happy day of giving thanks!
“If the only prayer we ever say in our lives is “Thank you,” that will be enough.”
~ Meister Eckhart
Crumbling colorless leaves blanket the ground in a thick layer, giving our woodsy path a spongy surface for my boots to land. Wet from the steady cold rain, some leaves cling to my soles like a frightened child’s arms locked around its mother’s neck. Familiar shapes of Maple, Oak and Poplar now unrecognizable, a few weeks ago their flaming colors burnt up the skies’ blue. Then November’s wind of change came blowing the fire out of the trees spreading it onto the ground. The brilliant sparks in hues of orange, red and yellow exploding into the air, landing on the forest floor like confetti, signaling the end of fall’s magical celebration of transition.
Distorted by the elements, our woodsy trail is now littered with the colorless season of death and dying. I love the earthy smell during this time of transition. It focuses my senses on the renewal and not the rot. Transitions can make us feel like that —colorless—empty. It’s in these moments that I look toward the Evergreens, White Pine especially, my favorite variety.
Seeing their burst of green on late autumn’s dull brown landscape always brightens my spirits. When winter’s white blanket is drawn up close over the sleeping countryside, those scattered patches of green give me strength to endure and hope for the future. Evergreens face the fierce north wind and heavy snow burden of Wisconsin’s winter storms without complaint. If only we could offer forgiveness so easily to our burdens and have faith in our spiritual roots to hold strong against all those things that make us squint.
Two lungs full of a Pine’s clean fresh scent washes the dead right out of winter. I admire the Evergreen family and its unique ability to grow green through all the seasons. How splendid that must be to pass through all of life’s seasons feeling ever-green. It’s no wonder that the designated color of our heart chakra is green. Green energy is the healing force abundant in nature. Our hearts feel peaceful when we connect with nature’s green world. That color carries with it soothing, calm energy. Like the Evergreen, we often use our hearts to shield us from the world’s harshness, creating an interior privacy screen when we need to go within, holding inside healing images contained in nature’s beauty. At times like a breeze stirring through those Pines, I imagine my heart whispering, “Let the flow of life continually fill you.”
The weathered grey skeleton stood proud against the farm country’s bluebird sky. The iconic brilliant barn red painted boards stripped nearly bare of color by the hands of time. The crumbling fieldstone foundation slowly being consumed by a Virginia Creeper Vine, a lone piece of rusted bent tin on the roof flapping in the wind like a lover’s perfunctory wave goodbye. The barn’s door left open for a generation, hangs by a single hinge at the top, I love the stories old barns tell. They hold on to their majestic beauty and charm to the bitter end. Age comes to them with dignity and pride.
I can say with pride and privilege that I was barn raised. Growing up on a dairy farm means half your childhood is spent in a barn. Created inside a barn is a world of its own making. You sense the unity of family, the separation of seasons and the guidance of spirituality, a universe of swirling scents punctuated by the sharp freshness of clear thoughts. Chores become a meditation.
The rich textures of rural life are vanishing along with the old wooden barns. Farming and barns have evolved with technological advances. There is a haunting sadness that one day they will all disappear, taking their sacred stories with them. Oh how I wish barn boards could not only talk but write.
The barn of my childhood has been repurposed several times and its breath no longer smells of those scents from a past I remember, when cows called the stalls home and playful bawls of calves echoed through the center aisle. Still the feeling of protection and shelter lingers. Being barn raised build my body timber strong, taught me family included the livestock, the weather, the soil and the seed. The old barn was my church, my dance hall and my sanctuary. You can take the girl off the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of her blood or the barn out of a heart.
“Man, despite his artistic pretensions, his sophistication and many accomplishments, owes the fact of his existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains.” ~John Jeavons
For a very long time, the sight of this Oak tree draped sadness over my heart. Later, anger for the person(s) that long ago forgot the heavy chain wrapped around its trunk. The tree was a solid anchor for the chain length stretched across the driveway, keeping unwelcome trespassers from easy access to the fertile hunting land. Nailed midway up into the tree’s trunk, a sign hung with the words, “KEEP OUT”. The unforgiving rusty chain had tightened around the majestic Oak’s trunk. So merciless was its choke-hold that the chain, barely visible in some areas, had become embedded in the bark. I imagined a slow painful torture, the chain and tree no longer separated from each other. How like life, I thought. We all have things we can’t free ourselves from but they don’t have to keep us from growing.
I knew the reality of the situation. No longer could the Oak tree free itself from the embedded chain. Doing so would kill the tree. The bark is what transports the water and nutrients through the tree. If the circumference of the tree trunk is bare of its bark, the tree dies, unable to transport nutrients and pass water through the wounded area.
When a growing tree encounters something in its way, the tree has two choices. Grow away or grow around. There may be a slowing but there is no stopping a growing tree. The choked Oak is a testament to that. In time, the Oak will entirely consume the chain, a graceful melding of acceptance over restriction. Hidden beneath the bark, the Oak’s unseen wound will give no indication that there was ever anything that tried to stop it from reaching its full potential
People put their own mental and emotional chains across the paths to their unlimited potential, anchored deep in the unforgiving restrictions of a closed mind or closed heart. Simply choose a direction to grow and you will create an opening for the mind and heart to expand. Don’t let a chain of regret choke your dreams.