Sand dollars make the best kind of friends.

Life and death among sand dollars.

 I enjoyed a half mile hike through Jurassic Park recently. 

Well, okay—it seemed like Jurassic Park.  

My husband and I vacationed in the Kingston, Washington area last month, and one of the friends we were visiting and I took off one afternoon for a mysterious and silent trek inside the Foulweather Bluff Wildlife Preserve. The hiking path is gnarly as they come and thickly lined with ferns, mossed-over dead wood and populated with a dense collection of ancient red cedar trees that had to be well over one hundred feet tall. It seemed like a T-Rex would pop up at any moment from behind one of the 6-foot diameter stumps long since overturned by weather and time. 

The path brought us out onto the beach where my friend introduced me to a new experience. It was the first time I’d ever seen a sand dollar bed. Silly me—I assumed all sand dollars were pure white and spotless. They’re not. They’re black when they are alive, and they bleach out once they die. 

That whole beach area was one giant metaphor for life itself laying in wait for someone to write about it, or sit in silence and meditate with it. I had a journal along but I didn’t really feel inclined to write. I simply wanted to be there. 

As we walked on the moist sand something squirted my friend and she squealed. She explained that clams hunker down and hide about twelve inches below the surface, but maintain an air hole up through the heavy, water-soaked sand. If something interrupts their spot, they squirt water up through the hole to clear their pathway once again. 

Large numbers of sand dollars wedged into the rocky sand bars of the water’s bottom, looking like little flying saucers who cut through the water, parked themselves at a 30-degree angle in the shallow sand and liked it so much they decided to stay. As the tide came in they changed their position—in rhythm with it. 

You don’t need me to articulate the possibilities for analogy or metaphor in any of this for you. They practically scream at us, they are so obvious. 

Long dead bleached tree trunks rest on the sand providing a place for birds or quizzical humans to perch and rest for a bit. Empty, but intact purple muscle shells and iridescent clam shells decorate the beach and delight the eye when no longer needed by their former occupant. Even the sand dollars in death, fragile as a saltine cracker and the same color as one, offer up their own sense of beauty and peace to the casual beach walker who wants to escape the noise of humanity for a couple hours on a summer afternoon. 

Who or what has been blocking your air passage lately? 

Who’s gone before you, but left something special behind—just for you? Do you know what it is, and do you appreciate it enough? 

I’ve had to crawl back into the noise of everyday life, but I loved my time with the sand dollars, horse mussels and clams.

The giant metaphor.

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Yellow eyes and feathers: the best teacher.

Have you ever gone on an owl walk? 

I did my first one two weeks ago, and it will not be my last. 

It was one of those halo-around-the-moon evenings, and since we are in early spring the tree branches still look like gnarly witch fingers against the night sky. It’s the stuff night-sky artists watch for. Were I to paint—it’s what I’d want for my canvas. 

A local naturalist gave us a short lecture inside the building before we went out to hike the trails and try calling to the owls. He was very good at sounding like a barred owl – who cooks for yooooou? — who cooks for yooooou? He also demonstrated my all-time favorite, the screech owl, whose call resembles a horse’s whinny, followed by a lower-pitched steady warble that, for me, exemplifies “sitting on the porch at night and not worrying about a thing.” 

Did you know that owl’s eyes are set in one place? They have no eye muscles so they have to rotate their necks, and can rotate to the right or to the left as far as 270 degrees. (You’re thinking of the Exorcist movie right now, aren’t you . . .) 

An owl’s ears are located at the sides of its head, behind the eyes, and are covered by the feathers of the facial disc. The “ear tufts” visible on some species are not ears at all, but simply display feathers. One ear is for hearing up high, and the other is for hearing down low. 

Our lecturer told us that the owl is nature’s perfect mouse trap. The tips of their wings have fringed feathers which enable them to cut through the air without resistance, thus making no sound at all. They are the ultimate stealth flyer and the mouse scampering along on the darkened ground below doesn’t stand a chance. When they say silent as an owl, they mean it. 

Did you know that an owl can eat his mouse supper whole, inherently knowing that he needs to swallow it head first, employing the path of least resistance philosophy that helps him avoid choking on anything that might become wedged? The owl tosses his cookies–or rather–the unnecessary parts—later. 

They are intelligent creatures blessed with efficient little beaks that work like a steak knife. When they need to defend their territory against other owls, however, they know that fighting with those beaks means someone is going to get hurt badly, so they engage in a shout-out instead of ripping and tearing at each other. It’s more about intimidation than it is about creating a blood bath. Whoever shouts the loudest—wins. The intruder backs off and takes his leave. There is great wisdom in owl warfare. 

For writers who like experimenting with, or creating new metaphor and simile (and why wouldn’t you?!),  nature and all of her critters are the best teachers you are ever going to have.

A writer’s squirrel habits.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Squirrels aren’t the only ones who store nuts for future use. 

So do writers—and songwriters—and artists—and bloggers. I’m sure you get the point. 

Last summer I researched blogs–how to do them, why to do them. I read other peoples’ blogs and studied the web and blog sites of big name authors as I worked to design site and content for this blog. I made a pact with myself that I would finally sit down and read through the manual that came with my Canon PowerShot SD750 Digital camera. Early last spring I’d taken a Saturday morning intro course on general digital camera use. My little camera and I have become close friends in the past many months and it is always within reach, and often times sitting on the seat in the car with me when I head out for somewhere. I can’t take pictures or videos if the thing is sitting home on the desk, can I? 

So after watering the flowers one morning last August, and witnessing all those gorgeous butterflies enjoying the flowers that I deliberately planted for them, I knew I would want a video to enjoy come winter. We live in Iowa. Winter does come—and it can get real cold—and real long—if it so chooses. It has so chosen this year, and as I looked out over the 12-15 inches of snow parked around our house and yard this morning, it seemed only fitting that I share my August 15, 2010 summer garden video with you. I love the sounds of August in Iowa—the locusts are abundant, and noisy. I love them anyway. If you plant the right kinds of flowers the monarchs and swallowtails and cabbage whites will grace your property all season long.

The light breeze rattled through the mic of the Canon, and as I replayed it for myself this morning I was returned to that splendid August summer morning several months back when I could smell the tang of  the marigolds and feel the humid-damp grass beneath my feet all over again. The short reprieve was so welcome today. 

I knew last summer that such a video would come in handy. I have photo files loaded with shots of things for future use. I have a long list of possible blog topics that come to me after conversations with people, or from articles that I read in the newspapers, online, in magazines. I’m always watching and listening for material. I dig in old boxes of photos and memorabilia, and ask questions of family members and friends, and I take notes—lots and lots of notes–and thoughts. 

Someone once commented to me that it must be hard to have my mind always working. My response: “Where would I get stuff to write about if it wasn’t?” 

Welcome to the life of a writer. I wouldn’t want it any other way. 

I hope this brief video from last summer brings a bit of respite to you today, too.

 

 

Acquired Grace

       I found the following poster at a gift shop in Chatham, Massachusetts several years ago. Liked it so much I had it framed and now it hangs among the other artwork and intuitive writings on the walls of my office.

 

The Older I Get

The more I notice outrageous beauty

Of stars and moon against the sky…

The softer a baby’s skin feels…

The less panicky I am during sleepless nights…

The less easy answers I have…

The hungrier I am for connectedness…

The less I know, the more I wonder…

The longer I linger in snowfalls…

The kinder I am with weakness…

The more honest I am with myself…

The more I understand children’s logic…

The less rigid I am…

                                      The mightier the ocean seems each time I visit…

                   The less I wonder how old I’ll be someday…

The more hugs I give…

The gentler I am with myself…

The less I think of what I think…

The faster I clean my house…

The wiser I long to be…

The more I realize how impatient I’ve always been with life…

The more opportunities I see in each day…

The more I think about the miraculous gift Beethoven gave to the world…

The more I play

The less I think of what others think…

The closer I feel to old, old friends…

The more natural prayer seems…

The more I enjoy a simple cup of tea…

The hotter I draw my bath water and the longer I lie in it…

The longer I listen…

The wider berth I give to sorrow in the grand scheme of things…

The younger in spirit I feel…

The quieter my inner self becomes…

The greater my appreciation of harmony…

The more time I spend looking at stained glass windows…

The more comfortable I am with solitude…

The more I see good coming out of difficulties…

The more grateful I am to be alive

The more beautiful I am becoming.

    (Gail Kittleson/Holly Monroe ©1998 Abby Press)

Nature’s Resilience

I logged 12 miles on the bike trail this afternoon against a persuasive northwest wind. The gusts made it hard at times, but I just shifted down and weathered it out until the gust passed. This kept me moving forward at least.

I almost chickened out as the clouds came up and acted like they might obliterate the sun completely before the afternoon was up, but I think I was supposed to get those miles in today. The next time I looked out the window, the sky was that sensational November blue, so I got in gear (no pun intended—I really do hate clichés), filled the water bottle, grabbed the camera and loaded up my trusty Specialized in the truck and “made haste” as the dramatic types like to say.

There was much to think through today on the ride. The elections are over, many are most unhappy, not to mention, unsettled by the streak of yellow that evidently overtook Iowa’s voters yesterday. I was reminded of my sister’s favorite saying (which I’ve since adopted)—opinions (and votes) are like a**holes. Everyone has one.

The bare black tree branches were encouraging this afternoon, however. They may have lost all of their leaves—for now—but their spines are very much intact yet.

Perhaps those trees know more than we do.