barney’s nails are popping, its layers are peeling back even more, rust is gathering on surfaces subjected to air and moisture. this is not a surprise. barney has been outside in the sun and the rain and the snow and ice and wind and humidity and drought for almost ten years now. a decade has a way of peeling things back. i wonder what barney might look like in another decade or maybe two. its soul will be intact; its boxy exterior will be falling away, opening strings, hammers, soundboard to the world. and always, its soul, present, true.
barney is no less beautiful now than the day it arrived in our yard. in fact, as it changes, its transformation is a metamorphosis into an aged piece of art sans any expectations. it stands as a stalwart symbol of constancy in our backyard. it reminds me that soul is resilient, fluid. no matter the weathering, the chippies and bunnies nesting, the birds stopping off to rest, the squirrels sitting and taunting the dog. no matter only eleven white endpieces of keys are left. no matter the line of popped nails in a row along its upright top. its soul – exposed – carries on, aged and stronger than before.
“this is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing i know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.” (mary oliver)
if barney needed to express itself, tell stories of its past, the narrative of a life of a hundred years, it would merely stand and speak – firmly planted. time and nails have loosened its jointed wood and the container of a million tales, and have – figuratively – unlidded the top of the shoebox under the bed or on the top shelf of the closet. every story counts and, as we sit in the backyard, we pay attention. we listen to barney, giving credence to its voice, glad that even in its aged appearance – and its agedness – it is not silent.
in ways i can’t explain, i can feel the nails popping.
we are mutually reading a book – the measure – in which every person in the world over 22 years old is gifted a box. in that box is a string which represents the length of one’s life. we are about a third of the way through so making our way along the trail of this story. we can’t help but wonder if we would open the box.
it’s all blurry from here – the future. no matter what, we do not have any idea what’s out there, what is to come, what will or will not happen. even with the best of planning, the field of vision is not crystal clear.
our video of choice on-pillows was a pct hike. no surprise there. but the youtube we watched was extraordinary. an “older” couple – 61 and 60 – backpacking this thru-hike, exquisite photography, even more exquisite narration. more than a few times we wished we had jotted down his words, wisdoms from the trail, wisdoms from blurry life. they called their hike “a pacific crest trail coddiwomple documentary” and he explained that “coddiwomple” means “to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination, ” to “keep moving forward even when you’re not quite sure where you’re going”.
we could seriously relate. even without being on trail, we pay attention to just how blurry things really are. the rearview mirror can give you hints, but never quite enough information and, besides, it’s not the direction any of us are headed in our timelines. they keep going and going. focused, unfocused.
i have found myself peering at the future…as if through those tiny opera glass binoculars…trying to see what is out there in front of us. the aperture is narrow in diameter, the focus is not all-consuming. anything outside of the zone is out of focus. blurry from here.
i went through photographs the other day. i take hundreds each week. the unintentional rothko showed up in my camera feed. studying what came before and what came after gave me clues as to what it was a picture of. i now know what it is. but it doesn’t change the feeling the photograph evoked. the painting of color fields, blurry and without clear lines of distinction. a rothko created by accident.
life is kind of like that, i guess. you are out there, coddiwompling around, living life, breathing in and out, never really sure of the destination, always surprised along the way. you paint what you think will be the future. and then, in any given moment, it all gets blurry. blurry, but nevertheless – surprisingly – beautiful.
and the snow fell gently in the woods, rendering it muted, like the tones of ansel adams’ pine forest, snow.
it was breathtakingly beautiful.
snowflakes slid from the sky, landing on our faces, our eyelashes, our hats and scarves and coats.
everything slowed – a 78rpm record playing at 33.
stretched out into slow motion, we stood and gazed up into the trillions of perfect flakes.
and, in the way of water – a balm, worries washed away and all that was left was peace. achingly gorgeous, we stayed in it, in the serene, a cloud, unwilling to leave the soft-focus-world moments, the snow sanctuary.
“know that the universe is always conspiring in our favor.” (paulo coelho)
it needs to be below 32 degrees fahrenheit for icicles to form. this is wisconsin, so that’s not really a problem here. it’s winter. there are stalactites of ice everywhere. when they form on gutters is when i start worrying. ice-damming is a cruelly-lurking by-product of our winter storms. but ice forming elongated frozen crystal teardrops on ivy? that’s another thing.
the howe caverns guide was a handsome young guy. susan and i were mid-teens and, thus, instantly in love with his chiseled face as he led us through the stalactites and stalagmites of the caves. fred prendergast was his name. now – ask me what we did last weekend and i may not remember. but fred? yup. how on earth does that work?
i hadn’t seen these beautiful tiny icicles before. they were a product of the neighbor’s garage eaves overflow dripping onto the ivy on top of the fence during a period of time that the temperature dipped below freezing. clearly, a number of things had to align in order for us to see this chandelier of baby icicles.
they didn’t last and, very soon, they were gone. but in the meantime, i captured many photos of them teetering between existence and not-there. looking closely, you can see the layers – one drop of water freezing at a time – vertical layers upon layers. like snowflakes piled inside long lucite columns, each one different, suspended from fragile ivy branches. they were fascinating and prompted me to research icicles just a bit more.
when we left howe caverns, we were – ok, i was – convinced that fred would be my future…that somehow this summertime-employed-cave-guide would search the world – or at least the state of new york – and i would one day be mrs. prendergast. we would give cave tours together and study stalagmites and stalactites. our children would be the children of two studied scientists and our home in upstate new york would be a place of knowledge-seeking.
fred never found me. somehow – in the way of the teenage crush – i was able to process that he never looked.
but his lessons about the stal-ites stayed with me. and i couldn’t help but remember when i stood in front of these tiny icicles on display.
i wonder what fred and the missus (or the mister) are doing.
if the price tag had not read $9.99, i would have purchased this tiny stake sign. but, at that very moment, despite the it-made-me-pick-it-up marketing, $9.99 seemed a tad bit high for a five inch tall sign. still, ridiculously cute.
our sunroom is filled with plants – everything from an exploding ponytail palm to stalwart tiny cactus twins “the dots”, to charlie, the heart-shaped leaf philodendron to snakeinthegrass sansevieria to kc, my difficult bonsai gardenia. kc is my problem plant-child. i mist kc, i use distilled water, i have fed it and keep the bottom tray filled with moisture, i turn it to face the sun. despite my attempts to have conversation, to really share life – for i talk to it every single day – kc is stubborn. next i will seek specific bonsai gardenia plant food – there are several options online. i’ll probably do some research to really determine the proper way to nurse this treasured plant back to good health. i’m not sure where i went wrong and it means so much to me that kc will be healthy and will grow – unfettered and with wild abandon. my relationship with this tiny plant has become a challenge.
you would think, had i purchased the tiny sign, that i would have placed it in one of the burgeoning clay planters. there’s a posse of plants responding to being nurtured. you would think that the e.s.p. of choice might be one that is flourishing.
but it’s not so. i, for sure, would have placed the stake into kc’s pot. for this plant – despite its complexity – is dear to me and is most definitely my emotional support plant. kc is a tiny slice of real life, a little unrooted, a little nutritionally off. when i got it, there were two buds on it. they never opened and, instead, fell to the dirt. my nurturing is not quite right yet. something is not quite right. feeling a little defeated, i keep trying to figure it out.
one of these days, i hope, i will walk into the sunroom and a tiny bud will have formed. and then – the day it begins to slowly blossom – i will know that i have done something right, something that touched it, something that let this little plant know its cherished place in my heart. its bloom will open and i will know that kc is ready and present – with me.
in the meanwhile, i will just keep on keeping on, trying to be steady and, just off to the sidelines, giving it unconditional love. i’m trying to be patient and let it do its own thing, while i quietly do everything in my heart to support it. i am rooting for this bonsai every day and i know that the bloom that will someday come will be inordinately beautiful, exquisite in every way.
we know the trees well. on all three of the hikes we usually take in our area. we watch them as they change through the seasons, giving their leaves over to fallow, holding snow, reawakening. their portraits shift against the sky – from dense to sparse and back to dense. we notice when limbs fall and when nests are built in their branches. we watch as they turn from photographs of trees to graphic images, of dark and light. ever-changing. evolving. we use no filters.
eyes wide open – sort of – we move about our days. we see the people we see, do the work we do, go the places we go. some days are all about the familiar, the patterned, the every-day-ish-ness of it both reassuring and maybe a little stifling. we look at the days without noticing the days, at the people without noticing the people, at the work without noticing the work, at the places without noticing the places.
sometimes i stand just inside the front door of our home and look in. i try hard to pretend that it is my first step into this home. and i look – really look – to see what i see, feel what i feel, notice.
i wonder if the tree looked in the mirror and counted rings, pondering the impetus behind each one, the reasons for the wrinkles of years, ever-forming, ever-widening. it is doubtful that the tree gazed, searching the rearview mirror for clues, connective tissue, remembrances of angst or sublime moments. it seems more likely that the tree just accepted each concentric ring, the truth of time. it seems more likely that the tree recognized the steady strength it gained for each ring, the rootedness each ring-wrinkle brought to it.
it would seem that this could be a good lesson from nature for us. the natural, raw, untouched passing of time shown on our faces, each beautiful in aging. we could acknowledge the years and the easy and the hardships. we could bow to the accumulation of moments, time flying by as we gather minutes in our embrace. we could turn toward each other, accepting and without judgment, full of grace and care, measuring only our love for each other, unbiased by wrinkles or rings, color or patina. we could tenderly touch the faces of our beloveds and marvel.
this darling face was larger than life, a giant print by simon te tai hanging on the wall at our airbnb in charlotte. many times we would find ourselves standing in front of it. it compelled you to do so. is there a “hug-a-sloth” day? we both would like to participate.
other than our sweet dogdog, the next animal face we were close to was the hawk’s.
it was out front in the yard, seemingly enjoying the sprinkler. d watched it out the office window, checking on it while he worked. when he went to turn the sprinkler off and remove the hose from the lawn, it stayed there and watched him. he sent me a photo of it, merely ten feet away, calm and steady. the next time he looked out, it was in the street and in trouble. grabbing a blanket he ran down to it. we have brought other birds to rehab centers so this would not be our first. the hawk was in distress and laid while david talked quietly to it. as he went to gently scoop it up, it flew off, straight up into the tree limbs above.
when i came home d was standing in the middle of the street, staring up, so i knew it had to be something to do with this hawk he had photographed.
there it was. a small raptor perched on a limb 25 feet above us.
we watched it for a while and then thought we should leave it be, believing it must be recuperating from – perhaps – being somehow stunned.
just a bit later, from across the street, at the front door, we watched with horror as this beautiful creature flapped its wings up in the tree and then fell out. grabbing a bin and the blanket we tore out the front door and ran across the street.
i implored him to wait. the eye i could see was closing and i caressed him softly, telling him how grateful the world was for his presence in it, how stunningly beautiful he was.
i don’t know when his tiny spirit floated away.
it was profound for both of us. david wrapped him carefully in a blanket and we placed him in the bin, hopeful that our suspicion was wrong and that it might be possible he was simply unconscious for a bit. but the time went by and each time we checked on him revealed no change. we called all the bird rehabilitation centers.
wisconsin dnr asked us to photograph the hawk. “take as many pictures as you can,” she instructed, “that way we can try to determine what kind of hawk it was and maybe a little information about what might have happened.” there were no obvious signs of injury and we know that the avian flu has been seriously problematic, especially for waterfowl and birds of prey.
his face was truly beautiful. feathers the color of bold coffee and caramel, amber eyes just like dogdog’s, a bit of green above his curled beak. really beautiful.
it’s these two faces of wildlife i will remember this past month.
the face of a sloth – though not three-dimensional – friendly and open, practically begging for a giggly snuggle.
and the face of a hawk – transient, evanescent and spirit-filled – visceral and, quite astoundingly, stroked by our fingertips – a moment we shared we will not forget – when this creature crossed over and we were all one, together. on a mysterious bridge that goes both ways.
there were big trees where i grew up. solid oaks and maples, a woods behind our house. as dusk would fall earlier in late summer we’d play hide and seek, so many places to tuck behind. i remember the ease of finding a tree or bushes that would shelter your whole body from view. you’d wonder if you would be found and then you might wonder if they didn’t find you whether they would just leave you there wondering. you’d peek around the trunk, just to make sure the game was still going, not to be left behind. because being left behind – forgotten – is exactly what you didn’t want to happen. but sometimes kids can be not-so-nice, just like adults, and you would find yourself standing behind the tree or crouched behind the bush, and the game would move down the street and you’d hear spud starting up.
this morning someone posted the meditations before kaddish online, reminding me i had saved these words since the day we attended a touching memorial service on zoom. extraordinary.
“when i die give what’s left of me away to children and old men that wait to die. and if you need to cry, cry for your brother walking the street beside you. and when you need me, put your arms around anyone and give them what you need to give me. i want to leave you something, something better than words or sounds. look for me in the people i’ve known or loved, and if you cannot give me away, at least let me live in your eyes and not your mind. you can love me best by letting hands touch hands, and by letting go of children that need to be free. love doesn’t die, people do. so, when all that’s left of me is love, give me away.”
we walked up the hill away from the lake, knowing it was time to leave. beautiful places are always hard to leave and it feels that each time i do, i leave a piece of me behind in that space that gave me a chance to sink into its beauty. i peek through the trees on the way up and wonder if the lake will remember us or if it will forget.
i am reassured, though, now as an adult, believing – that in the way we eternally touch another in this universe – one tiny star to another – these birch and the lake and the path to water’s edge will remember our footfalls and our breath.
should it get to the point that the vine is obscuring the metal sunflower, we will cut it back. right now the vine is in its glory, billowing on top of the wooden fence, weaving in and out of the decorative wrought iron, and tumbling down our side. it has reached out and is starting to creep over this sunflower, ever so slowly and then, suddenly, the sunflower is wrapped in vine.
we keep a watchful eye.
for the vines of the neighbors, though lovely, are somewhat aggressive and we wish to protect the plants we have beneath their spilling. they are quietly growing, growing beneath these explosive vines and it has taken us years to cultivate even this small garden.
it used to be that the snow-on-the-mountain took over…it was everywhere. it choked out the lavendar garden and its long-branching rhizomes were spreading, spreading, giving our newly planted grasses a run for their life. it was overrunning everything else and its root system sent out feelers all over the yard, even under the driveway, looking for vulnerable plants it could overtake.
now the ground elder, on the other side of the potting bench, is rampant. because it is on-the-other-side and we mostly keep it from the stone patio in our potting garden, we are not as worried. but we watch it anyway.
we’ve discovered that vigilance is key. not so shockingly, we see the vines will win.
so we keep a watchful eye. and we protect the more fragile plants. we are sure to water them and check for the invasives trying to squeeze them out.
because they are beautiful, diligent silent growers, not insistently loud snowballing vegetation, and they each deserve their own space in the sun, their own dirt, air to breathe and our appreciation.