Sitting in the garden on the fourth day of May on a stone bench I once made.
Under the shade of cherry trees, the last pink blossoms flutter down around me,
floating in the bird bath after last night’s rain.
Balmy air is saturated with perfume from bleeding hearts, violets, forget-me-nots, and a thousand other luscious smells, a profusion of life gone wild with the joy of warmth and sun and water;
the ecstasy of the blooming, burgeoning earth excites and calms me simultaneously.
At rest beneath luminous sky and shadows, I hear so many different bird voices: twittering, tweeting, chirping, cheeping; warbling, cawing, cooing and peeping.
The air is thick with music and the contemplative tinkling of wind chimes tickled by the velvet breeze.
It sets my mind into blissful ease, floating around my body to creep into air and soil and the wetness of life set free; a soft explosion of shimmering sensation beyond the wrappings of time and memory.
Robin tiptoes across distant grass, butterflies flit and dodge and weave through golden air.
Everywhere I gaze there is an expectation of miracles and adventure
…and always, a hazy hint of rain.
This afternoon the children and I went out to my sister’s property to do a little ‘nature study’ for our homeschool work. It warmed up again into the mid-sixties, with some hazy sun and a gusty Spring wind. We checked out the pond and found a lot of frog eggs that looked like long, transparent worms filled with black dots wound around weeds and sticks under the water. I don’t recall seeing long, stringy egg sacks like this before; usually frog eggs are in big globs. They were cool looking!
Fiona brought her notebook and a pencil, and we sat now and then as she wrote down the names of things we saw. By the time we went home she had written: willow pollen; frog eggs; fragmitis; cattails; deer tracks (lots of those); giant hill; lamb’s ear; holes; dandelions (the first we’ve seen this season); stones; May apples. After leaving the pond we’d climbed the tall grassy hill nearby that has many woodchuck holes in it. Arthur and Fiona both liked standing on top, enjoying the lovely view of green fields and being buffeted by the ferocious, not-quite-chilly wind. We also saw what I’m pretty sure now were coyote tracks in the mud beside the pond amid hundreds of deer prints.
Then it was off across the wide, short grass of a hay-field and into the woods where I’ve gone for over forty years. May Apples were popping up all over, and Trout Lilly and little white flowers whose names I forget at the moment. We explored the ancient piles of big rocks where long ago I buried my Guinea Pig Guinevere. No sign of Trilliums yet, though. By May they are usually all around the forest floor. After finding more deer prints and raccoon tracks near a swampy place, we finally headed back toward the house and our car, just as it began to get cloudy. It was a most pleasant afternoon!
This reminded me of a few things I wrote last Friday, when I went out alone to some other woods where I spent time with my friends as a teenager. Here is what I wrote:
The voice of life is all around me; whispering, creaking, hissing; breathing through branches laced with budding new green. I reach down to touch a cluster of unfolding leaves; small and soft as velvet feathers. Their life force tingles through my fingers; a sensation of GREEN that is not a color but a taste; vibration, electricity tickling my skin; flowing like honey up through fingers and arms. It makes me laugh out loud! The voice of the forest speaks through a hazy aura of sun through high treetops; delicious air that moves and mingles with my own breath. Everywhere, among dark shadow and brown earth there is GREEN; subtle, vibrant, unstoppable GREEN of life returning; igniting the forest within me and without.
The other day I had a couple of hours of free time (without the kids) so I went for a bike ride on the old railroad trail near my house that skirts the southern edge of Bergen Swamp.
It was an absolutely perfect Indian Summer day. The scent of damp cottonwood and willow leaves along the trail was intoxicating, and the trees were really beginning to change to their pale autumn hues. The air was fresh and that in-between warm/cool that makes it feel like autumn and spring at the same time. Man, it was beautiful, just riding on and on through that delicious honey-colored afternoon light!
After almost a mile I stopped where a path tunnels off the main trail into the woods. The path curves a little and soon comes to a pond surrounded by willows and birch trees and cattails, where a tiny wooden bridge crosses an outlet that flows off into the wilderness. About thirty feet away, a Blue Heron leaped up and flapped its huge wings away over the pond, squawking like some primeval pterosaur. A few steps further and several turtles splashed into the water from a log they’d been sunning themselves on.
I love this spot! It’s incredibly serene standing on that little wooden bridge, gazing across hazy sunlight above the green pond to tall pines that frame the autumn sky. The sound of a train floats to me on the air; but it feels to me like I’m in the middle of wild nowhere with the fading bloom of life all around, and winter just around the corner. The narrow path curves off again through brush and vines and woods, off toward the deep swamp. I’ve followed it a little ways before, but never found where it ends. But today I head back with my bike to the main gravel trail.
Further down the trail I come to ‘Drews Nature Center’, where there is another much bigger pond (small lake, really) with a path going all around it. This is a very beautiful place that I’ve enjoyed for many years. As I walk along the edge of the water, which is hard to see here because of towering thickets of cattail and Phragmites, I disturb some geese who start honking and flapping away toward the far side of the lake. A hundred feet or so further and another long-necked heron leaps skyward and glides off down the bank. I never tire of seeing herons! To me they’re otherworldly; so giant and slender and graceful.
Then as I take a few more steps there’s a sudden buzzing of something large and noisy on the earth in front of me. I’m scared for an instant; then I look more intently and bend down to make out two large dragonflies locked in a mating embrace, buzzing furiously on the ground! As I crouch and look closer they separate and go zipping up into the air. For the moment they’ve disappeared.
But then to my right I see one of the dragonflies hovering at the edge of the weeds. It’s very big, maybe 5 inches long; black and turquoise blue with tinges of green. She’s just hanging motionless in air, four feet above the ground and a foot away from my face, hovering like a helicopter beside the tall grasses. I can barely see her wings at all. We just stare at each other for a minute or more, both of us frozen. The sensation is wildly energizing and blissfully sublime at the same instant. I feel totally connected to this amazing life-form; and through it I am fused with the whole of Nature, so that ‘I’ do not exist.
Then, out of nowhere, the dragonfly’s mate returns! They twirl and spin fiercely through space with a sound like dry paper in a fan, finally locking together again . A moment later they continue their frenzied dance on the ground beyond the trail. I move along then, thanking them for their patience. Life must go on!
Solar light riding through the black void of space into atmosphere
high leaves drink that fusion energy down into trunk and root.
Reaching fingers of life-force probe deep beneath ground and rock,
sucking the dark, cool power of earth upward to mingle with that energy from above
to glow and meld in the fleshy pit of my body, my being
rooted to above and below, ebb and flow
chakras ignite with smooth regeneration.
Breathe the cedar air, cool communion of vitality,
recharging, relaxing, amidst the frantic, fragrant dance of life all round.
Dragonflies cavort; Monarchs flutter
moist growth, dappled sunlight, deep water, fawn tracks in silken mud
humid air hums and sings with the sounds of life.
A flowing ballet of luminosity and shadow; this moment is Life itself.
This is All That Is. Bask in it!
A few days ago the kids and I discovered (or re-discovered, in my case) a really cool place to take a hike. It’s located in Penfield, New York off Route 441, a little east of Rochester, at a place I knew years ago as Linear Park, but is now called Channing Philbrick Park. I discovered it about twenty years ago when I lived nearby, but I hadn’t been back there in a long time. I forgot how beautiful this place is!
I probably never would have gone there, but Fiona is taking some summer dance classes nearby in the village of Penfield; so after her class on Thursday we had a picnic lunch at the park. We then took a lovely hike along Irondequoit Creek which runs through the park. The creek still has a lot of water flowing through it, but you could see it had been much higher in early spring. There are tons of rocks strew all over the place and numerous rapids and small waterfalls along the lower part of the trail. There was a mill here long ago, and you can still see some overgrown foundations covered by trees. (I love ruins!) It’s shady and cool and the roar of the water was wonderfully relaxing. Two days before, Arthur and I had checked it out briefly, and there was a guy instructing a small class of five or six adults in oil landscape painting. What a great place to paint! It made me a little jealous that I didn’t have time to set up an easel along the bank, too!
The lower trail is wide and well-used. As we walked further the trail goes higher up and becomes more narrow and wilder. There are a few spots where a wooden bridge spans the inlets from other smaller streams. And there were several places where the trail goes down close to the creek again where the kids could play in the water. Here the water is calmer and not as rocky. We met a lady with two dogs who were fetching sticks from the water, and she let the kids throw some, too. It was quite idyllic! Even though we weren’t too far from houses and roads (I discovered when I checked a map later) it feels like you’re in the Adirondacks or someplace wild and natural. It was just what I needed!
Here is a link to a website with some great photos of the creek: Channing H. Philbrick Park (Linear Park)
And another blog link with photos taken in winter: Finger Lakes trail Mix
So if you’re in the Rochester area check out
Linear Channing H. Philbrick Park. It’s a nice hike, and we didn’t even make it all the way to the end.
Moving on now to a somewhat bizarre discovery of natural interest; Arthur came to me a couple of hours ago holding a gigantic brown caterpillar. And he said he found it on the back of our couch!!
At first I thought it was a joke; it looked like a rubber caterpillar. But no, it moved! It’s real! I can’t imagine, though, how it ended up on our couch! (We now think it came in on a blanket from the back yard). But turns out it’s an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar and it seems to be in its last stage (instar) of molting before it becomes a butterfly. It’s really cool!
Here’s the little bugger in Arthur’s hand. You actually can’t see it’s head in the photo; but those ‘eye spots’ are pretty groovy, eh? It’s now residing in our terrarium with lots of leaves and sticks waiting to hopefully become a butterfly. Life is just so full of unexpected learning opportunities! The kids are thrilled and I can’t wait to see how this turns out.
Here’s a link with a photo of our little beast further down on the right side: Eastern Swallowtail
Last evening we went to a high school graduation party for my great-niece (my nephew’s daughter) at a lodge in Black Creek Park. The park is a beautiful place with lots of woods and hills and grassy fields and miles of trails. The party was at a lodge that overlooks a large pond. After eating and socializing, while my son Arthur was playing volleyball with some other kids, my five-year-old Fiona wanted to walk down to see the pond, so I accompanied her.
The evening was perfect; an archetypal Summer with the warm sun setting just above the forest beyond the pond. We walked across the immensity of grass that smelled like fresh-cut hay, down into the long, cool shadow of trees. A crystal moon shone in the pure blue sky. Then Fiona began to run until we reached the edge of the pond.
The water was wide and dark and smelled like life itself. A few big rocks dotted the bank of well-worn earth. Fifi immediately dipped her hands into the water and squished the soft mud between her fingers and exclaimed in delight, “This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!” We soon saw little fish swimming near to investigate us, and heard the echoing calls of bullfrogs nearby and answering croaks from across the water. Fiona took everything in with such reverence and wonder that I too was swept up in those memories of my earliest perceptions, experiencing a pond full of life for the first time. A big dragonfly whizzed by us, darting back and forth along the bank as Fiona continued to express in her own unique voice her perceptions of this summer night. I wish I could remember more of the things she said! She said she would love to be a fish swimming anywhere she wanted to go. And she said I would be a frog (’cause I told her I love the sound of frogs) and we could swim together through the cool water.
In the big woods beyond the big pond the songs of different birds floated on the evening air like music. And as Fiona continued talking to the fishies and playing in the water, I realized once again how much she is like me in the way we just automatically connect with nature. The way we become what our senses take in; the melting of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ until distinctions become meaningless, and the pure delight of being alive and connected to all living things is all there is.
Then she began to sing. She sang a song from the radio by The Band Perry that begins like this: “If I die young, bury me in satin; Lay me down on a, bed of roses; Sink me in the river, at dawn; Send me away with the words of a love song… Uh oh, uh oh.” Except instead of ‘satin’ she said ‘lay me down in sand’, which I thought sounded pretty cool.
And as she sang in that sweet, heavenly little voice, her song drifted out over the water and echoed back from the forest to fill the evening air like a mantra. I was transported again into a magical realm where time is suspended, and the power of her voice filled my senses for one long, long moment. It still gives me chills just to remember that feeling!
It’s Easter Sunday. We’re all chilling out this morning after enjoying some gorgeous weather (70 degrees, sunny) and outdoor activity yesterday.
The new puppy Ella has fit in wonderfully with our family. She and Max (our other older dog) are having a riot together. After some initial problems with Max not knowing how to react to this little upstart chasing him and nipping at him, Max has finally, and with amazing gentleness, put her in her place. They’re now having a great time chasing each other around the yard and playing tug-of-war with the rope toy. Max always loved tug-of-war with me, but now that he has another dog to do it with he’s very happy! He’s like a puppy again himself and getting more exercise than ever.
Arthur and I went on a rock-gathering excursion yesterday in some woods near the railroad tracks. We hung out by a burbling stream that is much wider than usual after all the rain we’ve had. Tiny green leaves were beginning to burst out of their buds. New life is everywhere! When we got home I felt so good to be digging in the earth again, putting new rocks in the gardens and transplanting a shrub.
On Friday Arthur went off to the Buffalo Science Center with a friend and Stephanie and Fiona went to Batavia. So I got to go wandering all by myself through the fields and forests that I’ve wandered in for forty years.
Wearing my waders, I sloshed back into the deep, swampy parts of the wood that are usually inaccessible. Over ancient stone walls where deer scampered from my sight. Through thickets brimming with new buds and fields flowing with green through winter’s faded brown husks. It was glorious! Birds chirped and sounds of woodpeckers echoed through distant galleries of vine-tangled trunks. A great Blue Heron took flight and glided past me deeper into the gray veil of the forest. I even heard the first Spring Peepers chirping off in the far swamps. And all the while, the sounds of honking geese drifted from the distance. I just LOVE this brief moment of the year, when new life is in the process of emerging.
And as my consciousness is immersed in the sensations of life all around me, the wind picks up. It fills my nostrils with wonderful wet smells; the far-off aroma of manure spread on a field in anticipation of the plow. I’m standing on the far side of the forest staring across distant meadows and tree-lines and cloud-tossed light. The sun peeks through and I think, this is what we are: dark earth and rippling water, the warmth of sunlight and a fresh spring wind.
My sense of self has gradually dropped away. Once again I have melted into everything around me until only nature is real. I am Life and this is Life all round me, in me. I guess this is why the Ancients distilled it all down to Earth, Water, Fire and Air. The basic elements of Life. When I strip away every idea I have of myself, this connection I feel now in nature is really what I am. This ebb and flow. Life.