Old man winter has given us quite the roller coaster ride this year to say the least! Temperatures plummeted to below zero for over a week, reaching a low of -30 several times, and then rose to the high 40’s in two days bringing thick fog. It hung like a heavy wet curtain over the sun and the spirit of folks. Freezing rain and a dusting of snow followed. The mercury once again is hovering below zero. Our coat hanger is laden with coats, thick and thin. Each morning the family navigates through mounts of weather ready footwear strewn near the door.
Old man winter is a slippery fellow. Can’t say that everyone is thrilled with the chill. We don’t have a choice except to weather the weather. We do have a choice as to the disposition in which we do it. The excerpt below from my book, Sweet Wisdoms, gives you my perspective on how I mentally shovel through the challenges of a Wisconsin winter.
We are experiencing below-zero temperatures with the wind chill here in Wisconsin. It’s freeze- your-nose-hairs-together and turn-your-nose whiskers-frosty kind of weather. As I make my morning round of chores, I’m constantly pulling my hat down and my long underwear up! You can feel the landscape’s bones on these sharp cold days. I delight in the simplicity of winter—stay warm. Bitter cruel cold, you can’t make me a bitter cruel cold person.
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.
There is this sound tree leaves make when autumn winds brush over them with broken brisk strokes. It happens at the time leaf edges curl inward like the crest of a wave, the stems in between letting go and hanging on to the branches. If I close my eyes it doesn’t take much imagination to see myself sitting on a sandy beach listening to the motion of the ocean or the bank of an old river rolling with laughter. I hear the soothing, calm voice of water and instantly my tight thoughts unravel. I call this phenomenon tree water.
Sitting on the porch this morning, the sound of tree water from the little patch of woods in front of our home rushed into my ears and flooded my mind with wonder. Indigenous people teach water is life, the Peoples’ first medicine. For me the meaning of that teaching goes beyond physical well-being. Water creates a spiritual thirst for connection, a non-verbal intercommunication of belonging. For many of us, all we need is to hear the healing sound of water to feel the powerful peace of belonging.
The wind stops and I feel merged with Spirit. I am left with this strong desire to participate in life. I belong to something much greater than this world. I am like water, everywhere. Together we heal. Apart we lose heart.
“I believe in God, only I spell it nature”. ~Frank Lloyd Wright
Fall, the peak of harvest time, tugs at my good farm roots. The air takes on a sweet earthy smell. In every direction, the land’s bountiful gifts lay over the fields like a table set for a feast. When farmsteads were established, it was customary to have an apple orchard, usually planted close to house and heart. Planting an apple orchard was a priority when our home was built. The scent of apple blossoms perfuming the air in late spring is like the breath of an angel. The aroma of apple anything emanating from an oven enhances the spirit of the dreariest soul. A crop of apples gives me a plentiful harvest of happiness.
“The pickles aren’t gonna pick themselves. The cows aren’t gonna milk themselves.” This was one of my Mom’s favorite directives growing up. There seemed to be an infinite number of things that couldn’t get done by themselves. During autumn’s bounty on our small dairy farm, harvest season had no end. The difficulty can be in discerning when enough is enough. There is no greater feeling of contentment that I know of than having enough … enough hay to make it through the winter … enough preserves in the pantry … enough time … enough love. Enough more times than not meant rolling up your shirt sleeves and wiping sweat from your brow. Fall, in the peak of its bountiful harvest is a time when I feel the essence of what enough is….it’s the feeling of thankfulness that fills you with contentment … enough.
Our apple trees are bearing fruit. The crop is good but not as good as years past. I was raised to believe happiness in one’s life required a certain amount of effort. You had to work at being happy. Gathering happiness may necessitate going out on a limb but it’s there hanging on every branch on the tree of life. Happy doesn’t always come to you. You have to go out and get happy.
As I gathered up the deliciousness of apple harvest, I came to understand a wider perspective of things that can’t get done by themselves like being happy. Happiness doesn’t fill you unless you are grateful and being grateful means it matters not if you have a handful of apples in your bushel basket or it’s heaping full. Understanding the fullness of gratitude means anytime happiness doesn’t come to you, you can go to happiness.
Get grateful and harvest happy.
Apples to Apples
Summer is drowsy, ready for sleep.
A dreamy scent perfumes the breeze.
Youth’s green tang mellows.
Tart and hard: surrender
to sweet pink and easy yellow.
Wolf River. Prairie Spy. Lodi. Zestar.
Voluptuous ornaments adorn
each limbs length.
Rosy streaks from stem to blossom end
graceful as swan necks, the branches bow.
Fruit at perfection’s peak now!
McIntosh. Cortland. Red Delicious. Granny Smith.
Teeth crush down through tender flesh.
Taste the ripeness
in a season’s end.
Juices run apple-soul deep, blue-sky wide.
Wipe your chin ready
from side to side.
Gala. Sweet Tango. Empire. Golden Crisp.