Unknown Territory

Here in Northeast Wisconsin, warmer weather is arriving painfully slow. Spring makes an appearance then disappears, taking her green magic with her. This time of year we experience what I call Old Man Winter’s dark white. The extended transition time weighs heavy on the spirit of many folks. As each dark white day passes, the anticipation of spring  grows green in our hearts. We know spring will come but we worry about how long it’s taking to get here. It’s precisely this “knowing” that stirs up the crazy in people.

I watched a pair of robin’s, hopping through the snow, stopping occasionally on a grassy patch to cock their heads sideways and listen for worms. Later, they were bouncing through the branches of our crab apple tree gobbling down shriveled up fruit from last season. They don’t “know” when or where their next meal will come from, yet they survive on the unknown, living life in complete acceptance of what is.

Weather, a master at teaching non-judgment and surrender, gives us daily lessons on how to release control and follow the flow. The robin’s made it look easy. Following the flow is all about the awareness of whether you are flailing or floating through this fleeting moment.  To arrive at this place of complete surrender, give up the narrow mindedness of knowing and widen your mindfulness of the unknown—explore the great unknowns.

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”~ Mark Twain

Share the Road

On a cold, rainy October night I found him coming home from an extracurricular trip. At the last minute, I swerved to miss what I thought was a crumbled up brown paper bag on the edge of the road. As I passed it I thought, “Gosh that looked like a kitten. Could it have been a kitten? But it didn’t move. Please don’t be a kitten”.

A short way up the road I turned around and headed back, parking behind the object to see if I could distinguish what it was with my headlights without actually heading out in the rain. It was indeed a kitten, an orange tabby, head drooped down, body close to the pavement. I hurried out of the car to the listless kitten then slowed, unsure if it would make a run for cover in the ditch. There was no need for fear. The emancipated kitten had little life left. I assumed it had come out onto the road to absorb what it could of the days’s heat from the pavement. Gently, I scooped the wet dazed kitten into my warm hands and held it close to my body.

Once in the car, I began delicately drying it off with a blanket from the back seat. Each wipe across its body revealed the severity of the kitten’s condition. Every vertebra in its backbone was visible, its skin loose, eyes sunken. In the car’s dim interior light I could tell the kitten could take it’s last breath at any moment. I thought, I won’t let it die alone. That’s when I heard it, the faint sound of a purr. Tears gushed out of my eyes. It must have taken all its strength to purr. That was it; I was going to do all I could to save this one little orange life! Home we sped.

I stayed up with the kitten all night, locked in the bathroom because our than, two-year-old yellow lab, Wally, thought it was a chipmunk. I fed it whenever it woke. I was honest with my children about the kitten’s condition. My son, teary eyed, kept telling me to save it. My daughter, a bit older, had no doubts that I’d try my best.

That was eight years ago. We named the male orange tabby Glow because if it wasn’t for his “glow” in my headlights I would have passed him thinking he was a brown paper bag. Glow’s feet didn’t touch the ground during the first month he was with us. He was my daughter’s real life “baby”. He was content to be swaddled in her doll blankets, taken for stroller rides around the house or snuggled with up with in her bed. I attribute his strong desire to both give and receive affection to this time of bliss.

Glow left this world unexpectedly on February 15th. The road brought him to our family and it took him from us. Our hearts are heavy with grief. There is a palpable emptiness in my day. His beautiful soul light  will be dearly missed. He was my constant companion, a keeper of my heart’s secrets, a source of great joy and forever my orange crush. We gave him  a good life and he made ours better for it.

Glow was one of those special  cats with a personality. He took pleasure from the catnip plants scattered throughout the yard and keeping the rodent population on our farm in check. When you held him, he melted into your body, gently kneading and purring in contentment. He gave abundantly of his love but demanded the same depth of affection be reciprocated whether you felt you had the time or not. He taught our family much about unconditional love, joy’s simplicity and the innate ability of playfulness to brighten your spirit.

On the road of life we pass by many opportunities to show compassion and kindness to other beings. Pay close attention to those that spontaneously place themselves onto your path. They are a special gift. This road of life we are on is meant to be shared. It’s the caring we share along the way that makes the rewards of our earthly journey real.

The Lakota have a word, Toska, which is said when parting. It is not goodbye. I understand it to mean I will see you again. Maybe that will be tomorrow, next year or in the Spirit world….. but I will see you again.

Toska Glow….Toska.

Holy Hive

Reluctantly, I turn up the edge of my wool hat, exposing an ear’s tender thin skin to the air’s frosty bite. I feel the white flesh turning pink then bright red as the sharp prickle travels down deeper and further into the ear tissue. I momentarily suspend my breathing as I firmly press the naked ear to the hive wall. Sealing out all the noise I can, hoping to funnel in the familiar soothing hum of the hive, hinting that winter’s wickedness hasn’t desecrated the hives holiness.

Early on in our beekeeping venture, these late-winter checks filled me with strong worry. Six years and four hives later, my faith and trust in our ability to keep bees alive over winter has grown, but with the abundance evil’s rising against the bee, I still rely heavily on God’s ear hearing the hum of my prayers.

One of the biggest contributors to a hive’s winter survival is having ample food stores. Bees create a substance in the hive known as beebread. The secret recipe is a mixture of honey, pollen and bee saliva. A process of fermentation breaks down the pollen’s protein which is indigestible in its natural state. Beebread is an invaluable high-energy food source.

Beebread is also known as “food of the Gods”. How appropriate! A bee’s life work is creating a space to unite the gifts of light with the gifts of darkness. They are Creator’s original light workers! Bees show us that when we bring our Spirit’s light into our soul’s darkness, we can make a honey of a life.

May you receive honey’s sweet sacrament. Take communion from the buds and blooms of Creator’s Divinity.

Blessed be thy bee.

Holy is thy hive.

Old Life

They came before the sunbeams pierced the darkness. Two sets of heart-shaped foot prints lead to, around and then away from the small hills of corn I placed at the woodland’s edge, an offering to the wild things to gather strength and sustenance during an extended period of subzero temperatures. No remnants of the corn’s golden shell remain. To see my small hills of goodwill consumed fills my heart with joy.

From the size of the tracks, I decide it’s a doe and her off-spring from last year. Others have come, too; a rabbit, a field mouse, and several crows but it’s the deer tracks that take hold of my imagination. It’s safe for me to assume the doe is eating for two or three. The burden of nourishing the new life in her womb and her own life is greatest at this time of year. The shrubs and forages they have been eating over the long winter are depleted and spring growth hasn’t begun. It’s truly a time of life or death for some in the herd.

Soon her instincts will cause her to drive off the yearling. She does this to focus all her energy on raising this year’s vulnerable fawn(s). The yearling’s old life will come to an abrupt end. I’ll probably see it wandering around the fields looking lost and confused for a few weeks. Independence will come at a high price for some, crossing roads safely is a skill taught by experience. Others will adapt well to this time of transition, venturing out into a new way of living without hesitation, being an example of gentle strength and resiliency for all of us.

The thoughts of the big changes ahead for the yearling stayed with me as I walked on. The enduring trust the doe placed in her instincts is indomitable. She has clear knowledge that it is a lesson she can’t teach her yearling. Trusting its instincts is something the yearling can only learn by being driven off to live a new way. Nature reminds me of life’s continual cycle of renewal. Harsh as that may be at times, life never gets old.

As the years pass, I am beginning to understand that life doesn’t grow old. I do. And if the aliveness in this old life dies away, I will find a new way to live alive.

Note: The photo in the featured image is of an unusually friendly yearling that seemed to find comfort hanging out in our yard and around the horses last summer.

Passing Through

As suddenly as it began, the mesmerizing winter scene before my eyes ends. Without warning, a flurry of fluffy snowflakes descends from a lone grey cloud hanging in a motionless sky. Delicate snowflakes by the thousands gracefully float through the air like tiny parachutes. Their journey, guided by the forces of nature, has brought them to rest over everything in the landscape.

Having surrendered to the wind’s whim, some have come to rest on my outstretched hand. As I watched each disappear into my skin, I thought about their journey. How the close of one passage through this world opens up infinite passages to enter the next way through. The snowflake now, along with me, continues on in another form from seen to unseen. Awareness— being the sacred observer of life— gives us a way to join our external and internal journeys. In those passing moments we feel complete.

These poignant encounters with nature are moments our awareness can inspire us to plug into that source energy. Source energy is never not connecting with us. Allow your attention to be captured by the power of enchantment. Start now. We are only here in passing.

As suddenly as it ends, it begins again.

Holy Headache

The celebration of Saint Nickolas Day can spin a household and a school bus into a tizzy. The event begins with having to find a place to hang stockings. For those of us without a mantel, it can take repeated reassurances to our little ones that St. Nick can find stockings wherever they are hung.

Then you have to get the much-anticipated night of his arrival correct or face self-inflicted parental guilt until Christmas arrives. Is it the night of the 5th or the night of the 6th? Which is it? A quick call to Grandma and she recites the catchy rhyme I can no longer remember and, after a quick check on Google, the day of Saint Nicholas’s arrival is confirmed. Heaven help us if St. Nick should come a day early, a day late or forget us all together. All three scenarios play out in full production on the rolling stage of my school bus in early December.

Children whose houses were visited by the stocking-stuffing Saint console friends whose houses were mysteriously missed. When that happens grey vinyl bus seats convert into therapy couches as little minds wrestle with impossible reasons for their misfortune. It’s heart wrenching. The crushing blow comes to the empty stocking children when defiant peers conclude that St. Nick isn’t coming to their house at all…ever! Quiet sobs and snuffling filter through the bus’s chatter. Emotions go amuck.

Eager to show and share what was stuffed into those stockings, therapy sessions end as quickly as they started. Backpacks fly open. Crying subsides. Dollar store trinkets rouse excitement and a clamor of “Let me see! Let me see”! echoes inside the bus. The happy distraction lightens the

mood. That is until the last of the cheap Dollar Store trinkets falls and breaks. Crying resumes. But there’s still the candy, I say to myself. Maybe it will last until we get to school….

By the end of the week, most of Saint Nicholas’s gifts have been broken or eaten. The bus settles back into its “As the Wheels Turn” elementary school age daily drama. Or so I believe.

Then this happens:

Giggles burst above the seat behind me, the infectious kind of laughter that raises curiosity and lowers good intentions. A young voice says, “Now put a mustache on me”! I glance up and ask, “You two aren’t drawing mustaches on each other, are you”? Without hesitation the response comes.

“Nope. We’re playing with our St. Nick stuff”. Hmm. Traffic pulls my attention back to the road. The mustache mystery is on hold for now. As I am about to revisit the mustache mystery, a face pops out from the side of the seat and into the aisle. That little face is trying to catch a glimpse of its reflection in my rear-view mirror. Looking up at me is a face covered in what appears to be stamped blue paw prints. Several layers of the stamp cover the child’s upper lip. An audible gasp escapes me. My lower jaw drops. My mouth gapes open. OMG! “I thought you told me you weren’t drawing mustaches on each other”! Response: “We weren’t drawing them. We were stamping them on.” St. Nick, you are giving me quite the holy headache. You’re really “stocking it to me” this year!

My lesson in all of this? If your life isn’t giving you the answer you want, maybe you’re asking the question wrong.