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The sky through our car window this morning

The sky through our car window this morning

Have you ever seen a sky that particular color with the sun shining in that particular way?  I never have before.  It’s a miracle what we see each day outside our doors and windows. 

I have this theory:  it’s very dangerous to name things.  To call things by names such as rocks, cattails, swamps, rivers.  So often, once we assign a name to something, our mind automatically labels and categories it.  Then, the next time we see, say, a rock, the mind dismisses it as “just a rock” and refuses to look closer and truly see what’s there.

Secret hieroglyphics in my favorite rock

Secret hieroglyphics in my favorite rock

Did anyone lean closer to look at the secret hieroglyphics?  I must admit to provoking you to peer deeper at the rock.  Do you see the wavy dancing movements in it?  The stone literally moves with indentations swirling through.  However, we might miss this if we glanced briefly and allowed our mind to label it “just a rock” and move on to the next picture which might be labeled “just a bunch of cattails”.

Before the mind labels them, just look.

Before the mind labels them, just look.

I learned about the perils of naming and labeling back in the early 1990’s when learning all about wildflowers and plants.  Suddenly a new world opened up and I ran breathless between white and yellow and purple and blue and golden and orange blooms rising out of the earth.  What was this one?  And that shy beauty?  And that multi-splendored blossom?  I bought piles of identification books and began to pour through them, locating the exact replica photo and announcing with definitive joy “That one is a wild aster.”  “This one is a jack-in-the-pulpit.”  “Oh and that one is the nodding trillium!”

However, something strange then happened.  The minute the beautiful-unknown-mysterious-absolutely-magnificent flower was named, I lost fascination with it.  On to the next unidentified species.  And to the next.  The flowers never shimmered so brightly as when I truly peered at the nameless creatures, truly present with them.  At that moment it could have been anything.  Anything!  Later it was just an “aster”.  Alas.

Nope, don't know what marsh beauty this one is...

Nope, don't know what marsh beauty this one is...

The challenge, if we must learn names in this lifetime, is to refuse to let the names deaden our perception.  Let’s call things by their many beautiful names, but allow our sight and smell and touch to linger beside them.  To refuse to allow our mind to limit the magnificence and uniqueness of the individual tree, or plant, or animal…or person.  (OK, what’s the name of that plant in the above photo?  Anyone know?  I promise not to lose fascination with it…)

Speaking of people, the eight or nine women at book club last night sat out on the deck in 70 degree temperatures.  What a delightful summer-like experience in mid-April. (Thanks to Emma at treehousejukebox for pointing out that I had originally typed mid-May.  It has something to do with the “Dreaming of Summer photo blog below, I’m sure.)  However, I must lament that summer beat a fast retreat and today the thermometer hovers at 39 degrees.  Does that feel cold!

Here’s a local scene (Three Lakes) which shows the inland lake still covered with ice but the summer rowboats ready to launch when it melts. 

Dreaming of summer?

Dreaming of summer?

Hidden beauty behind the condo

Hidden beauty behind the condo

Good evening.  I’m tempted to start counting days that remain here in southern Florida before the big silver & red plane rises through the clouds and soars toward the Midwest.  Tomorrow, Tuesday and then…heading back to snow country on Wednesday. 

But we won’t dwell in the future for more than a second.  Let’s stay here in the present.  I’ll show you some more random photos tonight, probably not embedded in any coherent tale.  The above photo shows the view you’ll see peeking through a curtain of leaves overlooking a backwater channel.  I love tiptoeing back there and peering in the underbrush. 

A wise person looks around for alligators and snakes.  Mom says there’s a small alligator sunning away over on the golf course, about a mile away.  Otherwise, you never see any of the scaly exotic beasts.  If I see one, I want an escape route, especially if it starts slinking this-away.

Close up leaf veins

Close up leaf veins

So, what was today’s outdoor adventure?  Let’s pick two.  The first really fun time happened this morning around the pool.  After looking for a manatee or dolphin for you for ten minutes (sigh…) I gathered a notebook and began writing down by the pool.  Oh can you imagine the joy to write outside?  No freezing fingers!  Oh luxury! 

I probably shouldn’t tell you about what I wrote.  You will scurry away from this blog and never return, convinced you’re dealing with a mentally-suspect person.  But it was such fun!  Since it was Sunday, I was praising life, the Universe, God and the swimming pool with gusto in the white notebook pages.  Trying to put it all on paper, you know. 

But then I got a little carried away and started imagining if inanimate objects could talk…what they might say.  When I started writing about the beach towel on the nearby reclining beach chair, and what it might say…it was probably time to close the notebook and take a hike.   We creative folks tend to get carried away sometimes. (This is an exercise in the book “The Artist’s Way” called “Morning Pages” where you write whatever stray thoughts wander through your mind…a fascinating and fun process.)

Tropical blossom

Tropical blossom

Later in the evening my mom, dad and I took cold drinks out to the boat, along with our books and magazines, and read.  The folks own a deck boat, which resembles a pontoon.  We’re hoping to go out on it tomorrow or Tuesday. It’s been so windy we’ve not ventured out on the Back Bay yet. 

As we were reading, a few boats motored by in the channel.  My mom uttered, “I wonder if there would be an interesting picture…” and just as she spoke a manatee surfaced!  I grabbed the camera, turned it on and focused.  The manatee disappeared.  Never to re-appear.  It’s going to be a gift of the Universe if we photograph one of these elusive fellows in the next few days. 

I bought three books today at Borders, using a Christmas gift card.  No lack of reading material now! 

Finally, one of the best parts of being in Florida:  enjoying the tropical fruit.  Oh look at this papaya cut open!  Are your taste buds salivating?  Leaving you all now and heading to the frig for a juicy morsel…

Yummy papaya (before seeds scooped out)

Yummy papaya (before seeds scooped out)

Who says you can't read outside in the winter?

Who says you can't read outside in the winter?

For some of us readers winter is a delicious season to curl up with a book on the couch propped up with soft pillows and burrowed in warm blankets.  A cup of hot tea sits on the nearby table and we luxuriate in our reading world for hours on end as the snow falls gently outside the windows.

Today I thought:  Why shouldn’t we read outside in the winter?

Now you’re certain I’ve gone crazy with this outdoors commitment, aren’t you?  (Wrong!  This is simply creativity coming to the forefront.)

I decided against attempting a novel.  You want something which allows you to read a paragraph or so, glance upwards, admire the trees, smile at the sun, then begin reading again.  Poetry would be perfect!  You could read a stanza, then allow your eyes to wander to the landscape while the words are properly digested. 

I examined my poetry library.  Two books.  One, The Moon is Always Female by Marge Piercy.  A lovely read!  Two, The Essential Rumi

It obviously had to be Rumi.  There’s something about Rumi which befuddles the mind and leaves your soul and spirit resonating, “Yes!  Yes!”  Rumi would approve of reading outside at 10 degrees.  Anything a bit crazy would have Rumi praising God backwards and upside down.

I leaned against the back deck and began to read.  Heavy mittens prevent easy turning of pages, so one must allow the Universe to determine the appropriate poem.

Here is part of the poem that announced itself (entitled The Dream that Must be Interrupted):

We began

as a mineral.  We emerged into plant life

and into the animal state, and then into being human,

and always we have forgotten our former states,

except in early spring when we slightly recall

being green again.

That’s how a young person turns

toward a teacher.  That’s how a baby leans

toward the breast, without knowing the secret

of its desire, yet turning instinctively.

Humankind is being led along an evolving course,

through this migration of intelligences,

and though  we seem to be sleeping,

there is an inner wakefulness

that directs the dream,

and that will eventually startle us back

to the truth of who we are

Rumi sitting in the snow

Rumi sitting in the snow

After you read those words look up at the trees and see if they don’t agree.  And don’t you love that line:  except in the early spring when we slightly recall being green again?

The only problem with reading outside at such cold temperatures is exposed skin.  Such as one’s nose.  It got cold.  However, I solved that problem.  When it became too chilly, I shoveled.  Read poetry, feel the wisdom, survey the landscape, shovel. 

I thoroughly recommend this outdoor reading to everyone!  Let me know how it goes!  You can do it!!

Snowshoeing book club members find chair in the middle of the woods!

Snowshoeing book club members find chair in the middle of the woods!

 

Just returned home from our book club meeting.  It’s far too close to bedtime to be writing an intelligent blog.  But will try to do “literary” justice to the experience.

Between 7-12 of us meet about once every couple months to discuss books.  At least we allegedly meet to discuss books.  I would estimate we spend 25% of our time together sharing books and the remaining 75% socializing.  A potluck highlights the evening, of course.  But tonight we did something a little different:  five of us went snowshoeing before the meeting.

We usually take turns visiting each others homes.  Tonight Jennifer hosted the gathering.  (She’s been too busy to attend book club recently, so we were all delighted to reconnect with her.)  We all strapped on our snowshoes, prepared to hike in the snowy woods.

Nancy's wooden snowshoes

Nancy's wooden snowshoes

All of us sported the light aluminum snowshoes except Nancy.  She later announced she would be buying a new pair before the next hike.  Her boots refused to stay firmly in the straps.

We wandered through the very snowy woods for awhile, enjoying the beautiful cedar trees.  No real trail marked our walk, so we occasionally ducked under branches.  Suddenly, to the left, an old chair appeared, sitting covered with snow out in the middle of the woods.  Of course the book club mentality set in and we opted for a photo shoot with our members pretending to read a book.  Jennifer is holding an actual book (and you may wonder how a book appeared in our hands out on the hike?  Actually it is a datebook or calendar, but it served as an appropriate photo prop.)  For anyone who’s interested the snowshoers in the above photo are Sue, Joanne, Nancy and Jennifer. 

The snowy woods through which we snowshoed

The snowy woods through which we snowshoed

At our last meeting in December we rolled dice fast and furiously, attempting to win our preferred wrapped book.  No one knew anything about the books we tried to win.  If you rolled doubles, you chose the wrapped book.  If the next person rolled doubles, she could choose another book or steal your book from you.  This is our traditional Christmas book club fun. 

Thus, this meeting we discussed the books we won in the dice-throwing games.  I won “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” in December and enthusiastically recommended it to our readers. 

We debated for a long time about next club’s selection.  Finally we chose “The Good Earth” by Pearl S. Buck.  I think I may have read it a few decades ago, but it’s a classic.  So will look forward to reading this again for our April meeting.

Let’s hope there’s not enough snow to snowshoe by then…

Squat way down and peer up at that fungus

Squat way down and peer up at that fungus

The last time I drove out to Roland Lake alone, maybe four years ago, I was listening to CDs by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.  She’s the author of “Women Who Run with the Wolves”, an incredible book of myths and stories of the “Wild Woman Archetype”. 

She uses stories to teach, instruct and empower women (heck, I think the stories would empower both sexes!)  The CDs came from Sounds True, and I believe they were called “Theater of the Imagination”.  Stories like The Crescent Moon Bear, Skeleton Woman, The Three Old Ones and The Fisherman’s Wife sparked such deep feelings and spiritual connections.  I thoroughly recommend her works to anyone in love with magical words and stories, in love with the power of stories to wake us up beyond our everyday perceptions.

Today, without any stories in the background (except for the running stories in my mind interspersed with precious silence) I buckled on the snowshoes and began the slow meandering through swamp and woods, keeping the eye alert for treasures of nature.

First, tracks imprinted in the snow appeared.  I think I probably failed Tom Brown Jr.’s wilderness survival school all those years ago, because I had no clue as to the identity of the tracks today.  I probably failed Tracking 101 (if we’d received grades, which we didn’t), except in the case of deer, rabbit, squirrel, chipmunk, mouse and bird.  Perhaps I could identify a bear track in the heat of summer if it was encased in good dirt and accompanied by scat.

Today’s tracks looked like dog, coyote or wolf.  I imagined they were wolf tracks, probably due to the romantic myths dramatized by Clarissa on the CD during the last trip.  I pondered the appropriate behavior if meeting a wolf in the woods.  Run?  Stand still?  Growl?  Shout?  Look big?  Avert eyes? 

I am hoping some sort of instinct or guidance just happens.  You’ll see the wolf, perhaps even eye to eye, and a voice in your head will instruct, “Walk slowly away to the left with confidence” or “Run like hell!”  Anyway, that’s my back-up plan.  When meeting flesh and blood wolves or bear (as opposed to mythical story-wolves) , something inside will advise the appropriate course of action.   If it doesn’t….goodbye blog!

On that rather gruesome note, let’s interject another photo:

Mystical ladder into the heavens (or at least up in the tree)

Mystical ladder into the heavens (or at least up in the tree)

I know!  Just at the right moment, when a wolf or bear crosses your path, a ladder will appear in the middle of the woods.  You’ll calmly walk up, smiling down, admiring the fur and wildness of the beautiful creature down below.  You’ll begin writing a story in your head for the next blog as you peer down from the hand-hewn wooden structure. 

Speaking of stories, our local Annishnabe (Ojibway) say that many stories can only be shared in winter.  Years ago I remember asking about some of the traditional myths and stories to the elders.  “No,” one man told me, “We only tell that story in the winter when the snows are deep.”

Because it’s winter and the snows are deep, I am going to share this link:  http://www.mpm.edu/wirp/ICW-141.html  You’ll notice the first story is about Wenebojo and the Wolves.  Wenebojo (there’s many different spellings of the fellow’s name) is a trickster spirit.  All sorts of strange and funny and odd things happen to this man.  The stories were used to teach the young ones growing up, to instill moral lessons, to give strength and courage.  I must admit I was challenged reading some of these stories tonight, but I have faith that you’ll be better able to discern the teachings. 

Stories were considered medicine.  Instead of going to the pharmacy when you were ill, traditional societies often told stories as a first approach to healing.  The magic within them was known to heal, to open, to strengthen.  Of course, traditional medicines were also utilized, but I like the idea that a good story can teach us, wake us up, interject a little magic or faith into our dismal spirits.  What better time than deep winter?

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