These woods on the edges of a lake are settling now to winter darkness. Whatever was going to die is gone — crickets, ferns, swampgrass. Bare earth fills long spaces of a field. But look: a single oak leaf brown and shining like a leather purse. See what it so delicately offers lying upturned on the path. See how it reflects in its opened palm a cup of deep, unending sky. ~ Laura Foley, “The Offering” from Why I Never Finished My Dissertation
Winter still has us in its chilly grasp for another four weeks. We feel caught up in its wintry web as viruses continue to swirl among us despite efforts to monitor and quarantine, and we wonder when our own turn will come.
The natural world, its joys and its threats, has always had the upper hand. We are dumbfounded, never quick enough to catch on to its tricks and sly mutations, unprepared to respond in the moment.
Like a withering leaf soon to become dust, we offer up what we can when we can: our reflection of the light, our hope of better things to come, our gift of beauty back to a despairing world.
I sometimes think the PussyWillows grey Are Angel Kittens who have lost their way, And every Bulrush on the river bank A Cat-Tail from some lovely Cat astray. ~Oliver Herford, from The Rubaiyat of a Persian Kitten
Our little calico Nala has the bravado of a cat many times her size and age. She climbs the tallest trees, dangles over the house roof eaves to stare eyeball-to-eyeball with the birds picking at seeds in the feeders. She takes no guff from the dogs or from her bigger brother Simba.
One day last summer, a visitor to our farm knocked early in the morning on our front door to say our kitty was struggling to walk, dragging her hind legs behind her. I hurriedly dressed to go find her, thinking I needed to somehow gather her up in a blanket to take to the vet, but she was no where to be found. I looked everywhere in the bushes and the hidden-away spots I knew she enjoyed, but she had vanished. I put out bowls of food to entice her but no luck – after three days, I figured she had crawled away to die alone, as cats are wont to do. Even her brother didn’t seem to know where she had gone as I followed him on his farm excursions.
I tried to theorize what might had happened – had she fallen from a roof or tree and become paralyzed? Surely she could not survive such a devastating injury.
Nine days later, long after I assumed she had died of her injuries or starvation, she appeared on the front porch when I opened the door. She was thin, weak, with her hind legs moving and holding up her weight. She was hungry and extremely vocal and not just a little perturbed that there was an empty cat food bowl on the porch.
On closer inspection, she had healing wounds along either side of her spine, matching closely with what I assume were eagle talon marks that had grasped her, if only briefly, as a raptor tried to carry her away. I suspect, feisty as she was, she fought her predator so fiercely that she was dropped from a bit of a height, bruising her spine. For an eagle, in this land of plenty of prey, dining on a calico is never worth such aggravation and hassle.
What a cat – now minus at least one, if not more lives. Only eight to go.
She is indeed resurrected; completely healed up, her spine is working fine and the only marks left on her back are white patches of new hair growth over her former wounds.
We thought she was lost forever, but she had not lost her way back to us, only way-laid for a bit. Our angel kitten is now resident on the front porch and back to her farm life climbing trees and torturing little birds.
And that is just the point… how the world, moist and beautiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response.
That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?” ~Mary Oliver
Everyone needs a reminder about the privilege of waking up still alive. Having had that opportunity this morning, I’d like to make a comment.
This has happened at least two times over seven decades, and yesterday provided a third reminder. The common theme is that each involved my driving to work in the morning.
Maybe that alone should tell me something.
Yesterday, my 200,000 + mileage 14 year old hybrid suddenly died while I was going 60 mph on the busy interstate on my way to work. There are not many options for a driver in such a scenario: no power steering to help navigate out of traffic, nothing but coasting to a stop in the safest place available. God’s hand controlled that moment as there was no car to the right of me, so I was able to ease over to an exit that I could roll down, with a spot at the bottom where I could sit with my hazard lights blinking until a very kind policeman pushed me with his car onto a quieter residential side street to wait over two hours for a two truck. Needless to say, I was very late for my clinic day but very grateful to show up at all.
My car awaits diagnosis and prognosis. I can tell you my diagnosis is “gratefully still alive.” My prognosis is: “still alive enough to make a comment.“
My first “dead car in the middle of a busy city street” story was forty years ago during morning rush hour when my ancient Oldsmobile decided to drop its drive train on a rainy steep hill in Seattle as I was driving to my neurology rotation at Harborview Hospital. God’s hand managed to hold my emergency brake in place until a police car with protective flashing lights appeared within seconds to park behind me while streams of highly annoyed traffic passed by. It took a tow truck only 15 minutes to remove me and my car from what could well have been a much bigger mess. Yes, I showed up late and grateful to my work day.
My most dramatic near miss was twenty years ago. I was driving into work on one of our county’s rural two lane roads, going the speed limit of 50 mph, all while in a grumbly mood and wishing I was heading somewhere else on a bright and sunny day. My mind was busy with the anticipation of my workday when I noticed a slight shift to the right by the driver in the car ahead of me. It inexplicably moved over the fog line and then suddenly I realized why, in a moment of stark clarity. A huge empty gravel truck and trailer rig was heading north, moving at the speed limit, the driver seemingly oblivious to the fact his huge trailer was starting to whip back and forth. As he approached me much too quickly, his trailer was whipping back to the center line, approaching me full force at a ninety degree angle from the truck, filling up the entire lane in front of me. I had no choice but to run my car off the road into a grassy field to avoid being hit head on by the still attached but runaway trailer. Only by God’s hand were there no deep ditches, telephone poles or trees at that particular point in the road. My car dove right into tall grass, which enfolded me, like a shroud of green, shielding me from a tangle of metal and certain death. It was a near miss, but a miss nonetheless.
I sat still, gripping the steering wheel, gathering my wits and picking up what was left of my frayed nerves from where they had been strewn, feeling my heart race from the sheer relief of still being alive.
I was able to drive out of the field and happily headed to work to do what I initially planned to do that day, abruptly made aware of the privilege of having a life to live, a job to go to, and a grassy field that rescued me.
It was only later, while calling my husband about what had just taken place, that I cried. Until then, I couldn’t stop smiling.
Now, I don’t feel the need for any more such events to remind me to make comments, other than: Here I am, still alive.
We’re not always sure we’re on the right road, are we? Too often we’re struggling to find our way in the dark.
Suddenly things are under water, the bridge is washed out, there are potholes everywhere, the fog line disappears in the mist, a mudslide covers both lanes – the road seems impossibly impassable.
Yet we set out on this road for a reason and a purpose; this is not wasted effort. If we can’t see where we are going, fearing we may plunge off an unseen cliff, we pause, waiting until the light is enough to take the next step.
So the light will come. I believe it will. I know it will as it always has.
Rain always follows the cattle sniffing the air and huddling in fields with their heads to the lee. You will know that the weather is changing when your sheep leave the pasture too slowly, and your dogs lie about and look tired; when the cat turns her back to the fire, washing her face, and the pigs wallow in litter; cocks will be crowing at unusual hours, flapping their wings; hens will chant; when your ducks and your geese are too noisy, and the pigeons are washing themselves; when the peacocks squall loudly from the tops of the trees, when the guinea fowl grates; when sparrows chirp loudly and fuss in the roadway, and when swallows fly low, skimming the earth; when the carrion crow croaks to himself, and wild fowl dip and wash, and when moles throw up hills with great fervor; when toads creep out in numbers; when frogs croak; when bats enter the houses; when birds begin to seek shelter, and the robin approaches your house; when the swan flies at the wind, and your bees leave the hive; when ants carry their eggs to and fro, and flies bite, and the earthworm is seen on the surface of things. ~Ted Kooser “How to Foretell a Change in the Weather” from Flying at Night: Poems 1965-1985,
I reckon the birds and mammals and insects and worms are much better at anticipating weather change than we humans are. It is programmed into their DNA in a way that we have lost in our evolved state. Instead we are glued to our cell phone weather apps, or the Weather Channel, watching the prediction change hour to hour as if it is the gospel truth. I’m here to remind us all it is called a “prediction” for good reason.
We forget about checking the sky for the direction the clouds are traveling, or even what clouds are up there. We forget about checking our own outdoor thermometers because we don’t own them any longer. We certainly forget about barometers – a little kitchen window gadget that my father thumped with his finger every morning of my childhood, so he could see what the atmospheric pressure was doing so he could anticipate how wet or wind-blown he would be that day.
In particular, we forget to watch the critters around us – how their behavior changes and how they are preparing themselves and their environment for whatever weather change to come. They feel it in their bones and their brains by whatever means God has given them.
Our Haflinger horses are already shedding off their winter coats yet there are still six weeks left of winter. What are they trying to say about the weather to come?
So, we humans are weather-challenged creatures but all the clues still exist if only we pay attention. My weather app says the northwest will have rain rain and more rain through the weekend with a possibility of snow late Sunday. The Weather Channel website says we’ll experience high potentially damaging winds, flooding and snow. Who to believe?
I think, all things being equal, I’ll choose to believe what is predicted for Denver this weekend: all sun and a high temperature of 71 degrees. I’m sure all the critters there will be out sunbathing. Wish I could too.