The robins are trying once again–for the third time–to raise young in a nest on our back porch. The two previous times either the eggs never hatched, or the young died very soon after. I hesitate to even post this, for fear they will fail again–but, this time, both the father and mother are staying close to each other, and seem to be taking turns on nest duties. I have learned that they open their beaks as a way to cool off in the heat. I wonder if they are new parents, and just didn’t get their parenting act together before? I hope they make it this time!
Meanwhile, goldfinches are enjoying the sunflowers that planted themselves under the bird feeder, as well as the evening primroses that planted themselves near our porch. This little female was perched on that sunflower for at least twenty minutes, just taking her time with a meal.
In these hot dry days here in Maine, I just go outside in the early morning to water the veggies or trees, and to pick blueberries or raspberries, now almost done. But looking out the window brings many moments of joy because of these birds who live in our yard. I learned the Passamaquoddy words for goldfinch–wisawiyehs–and robin–ankuwiposehehs. (wisawi refers to yellow and ankuwi refers to farther, perhaps because they migrate) For them I am always grateful.
The good part, for which I am grateful, is that our neighbor came to our door to talk to us. He asked whether we would mind if they took down trees in the area between our two properties. He wasn’t sure of its status, but I told him it was a “paper road” that likely would never be built. I told him we would NOT want those trees taken down, that they provide privacy between the two yards. The neighbors want to garden in the way back of their yard, but don’t get enough sun. I suggested that the boundary trees are to their north, so wouldn’t affect their sun. He said it was just as a way for the machinery to get into the back, but they could do it a different way and not take down those trees. He wanted to respect our wishes. So that is the good part. And I like that they want to garden.
But the rest is so bad. Loud machines have been working all day yesterday and today, felling tall pines, and chipping up branches. Sometimes we feel the ground shake in our house when the trees fall. Our thin strip of protected trees does not hide what they are doing, light comes through and all the visuals of machines, and trees being cut down. The cherished privacy of our back yard is no longer what it was. But most of all, I think about all that habitat lost and wonder how many birds’ nests have been destroyed. Many many birds yesterday were making alarm calls. Early this morning, a pungent skunk-spray smell came through my windows. I imagine that the skunk has been dislodged in some way, and perhaps came across our yard and encountered one of the little cats that hunt here. I think about how we love the wildlife that come through our yard, and how the trees and underbrush, on the so-called “undeveloped” land, have been a mini-wildlife corridor for deer, turkeys, skunks, groundhogs, sometimes even foxes.
I try not to make the neighbor an enemy in my mind–after all, he wants to create a garden, so there is love for the earth there too. We live in the city, in a neighborhood near little brooks in sunken areas that continue to provide wildlife a refuge. But just in the six years we have lived here, acres of trees have been cut down in our neighborhood. Each tree down means more carbon in the atmosphere, more warming, more drought. I think about the long history of cutting the great forests of North America for settlers’ farms and gardens and cities.
And this is how the wider world feels to me right now as well. Slowly falling down around us, more and more “developed,” less and less room for wildlife and trees. I don’t even know how to feel this sadness. It is too deep, too fundamental. Even as Margy and I try to love this small piece of land, to learn from it how to live in mutuality with the earth, all around us the path of destruction seems to hold sway. I think about the great pine in our back yard on the paper road, the one that is over 100 years old, and how she must feel to sense the destruction of her family of trees nearby. I think the trees know. They know that we are destroying our only home, our only planet. And so we grieve together.
The tabby has been hanging out in our orchard the last few days, in stalking position under the cherry tree. I had just been writing recently about how our orchard is a bird haven. The cat decided to make it a hunting ground. Every time I saw it there I chased it away. Yesterday, I was resting in my room and heard a commotion outside, and suddenly saw that it had attacked and grabbed one of the baby turkeys that has been visiting our yard every day with its mother. The mother turkey was screaming and charging at the cat. I tore out of my room and out the back door but the cat had disappeared with the baby.
More yelling at the cat, then Margy joined me outside, and finally the cat ran out from under our deck down the driveway. The mother turkey was pacing back and forth and calling. We started looking for the baby, and Margy finally saw it under the deck, still alive, but looking injured. I recently had read a post on Facebook about what to do about injured birds, and so I called Avian Haven to ask their advice. Wendy suggested that I get it into a box, and then call back. They have a volunteer in the Portland area who could take it.
So I crawled under the deck, using a pad to help my knees, with a very shallow cardboard tray, and creeped over on my belly to where the bird was laying. It was about a foot long, and something was wrong with its wing. I was able to cradle it in my hands and lift it onto the cardboard, all the while talking gently to it. In the house, we put it into a large shoebox, and wrapped it in an old t-shirt of Margy’s. We got a call from the volunteer, Karen, and she drove over to our place to pick it up.
Last night she texted that she had found a wound under its right wing, and did some first aid. But this morning she let us know that the baby had just died. She was hopeful earlier because it had stood up, but then a little later it was gone. She thanked us for rescuing the bird, and said that because of us it had a safe, peaceful end of life.
I just feel so sad. I feel angry at the little cat. We love our two kitties, but they are indoor-only kitties. However, sadly there are several cats in our neighborhood who wander wherever they like, and often into our yard. I shouldn’t really blame the little tabby–it was only following its instincts. And maybe there was a time when cats being hunters was helpful to humans for their rodent problems. But what are we to do? As we try to create a little wildlife haven in the city, as we listen to and love this ecosystem, we try to find a balance. Squirrels, ground hogs, chipmunks can be annoying to our gardens, but cats are known to be the major threat to song birds. Can we change our cultural practices to protect the birds?
We finally made it to the ocean on Wednesday! Between Margy’s knee surgery and physical therapy, and my general fatigue, we just couldn’t do it before, despite it being our favorite summer outing. But Wednesday afternoon, we drove to Kettle Cove. We stopped for ice cream at the nearby stand first, coffee ice cream with hot fudge for me, and a strawberry hot fudge sundae for Margy. Then we negotiated road repairs, and finally parked the car near the beach. Kettle Cove was our choice because the path between the car and the beach was not too long for Margy to negotiate with her cane. Plus we love this little beach and cove. We sat in our beach chairs for a while, and that was when I noticed the sun halo in the sky, and took this photo.
Then I went into the water and swam a little bit. It was just lovely. I can’t even describe how happy it made me feel. Then, afterwards, I sat with the sun’s warmth on my skin, a slight breeze blowing, and that felt like heaven. It has been harder to visit the ocean since being chronically ill. Not only the effort to drive there, but the coldness of the water sometimes triggers me into not being able to get warm again. But this time, I felt deliciously cool in the water, and deliciously warm afterwards in the sun. However, full disclosure, after we got home, I took a shower and then collapsed, exhausted over my whole body. It seems I can’t write much lately without writing about chronic illness, and how it has re-shaped my days.
Sometimes I feel envious of the adventures that friends post on Facebook. I have to shift my heart around and remember to be thankful for the blessings in our life here, even though it might be small in scope. To have food, a home, a garden–I am so grateful for those, and I don’t take them for granted. To have love in my life–that my partner stretches her energy to visit the beach with me, and stays longer than comfortable for her, so I got to experience my little heaven. And my love for her too, to leave sooner than I might have wanted, so she can get home and rest. I am so grateful for our love for each other.
A sun halo is said to be a good omen, that might predict rain (or snow in winter). We did get a much needed, drenching thunderstorm last night. Our garden is so grateful for that. And I am grateful for the ocean, challenging to my body, but still a ceremony of healing for my spirit.
Right now the garden is happy with berries: the raspberries are loaded with fruit, and this is the first year for a blueberry harvest. We planted these blueberry bushes in 2017. This year, I put up some fence posts and draped the berry bushes with gauzy fabric after the berries started to form. (Tried it first without the posts, but the weight bent the bushes over when it rained.) This is to keep the birds from eating all the berries. But we have three younger plants in the back that I left open. And the raspberries do fine on their own. So every other day, I go out and pick a bowlful of ripe berries.
The fabric barrier is a bit ironic really. I don’t mean to discourage the birds at all. But expert gardener’s advice says that they will eat all the blueberries before we can. I think of myself as a very novice gardener. Our garden only provides us with a very modest harvest. Last year the squirrels took all the peaches, and cabbage moths are now eating a lot of the kale. I have given up on the idea of creating a food forest that will provide all our needs. This year, I haven’t had the energy to give any of it much attention at all.
But somehow, in the midst of it all, the garden keeps giving back to us in unexpected ways. The orchard has become a bird heaven. We now regularly see cardinals, a robin couple (who, after two failed attempts, are again playing with the nest on our porch), gold finches, house finches, sparrows, chickadees, catbirds, starling visitors, not to mention the turkey mom and her two babies that keep coming through, and so many more. The small birds love perching in the fruit trees–and I love seeing them there. They ate the few cherries, which I didn’t try to protect. I think they are also eating a lot of bugs. They even love perching on top of the stakes in the zucchini bed. We provide sunflower seeds in the bird feeder, and they planted sunflowers all around it with the droppings. So we are gifted with all this beauty.
This has been a summer of much gifted beauty. Another example is the wild evening primrose. I pulled all of the primrose plants that had sprouted up in the orchard, because I knew they would be too tall and block the paths. But I purposely left the ones on the other side of our back porch, this one in front of irises that bloomed earlier. And now they sparkle a bit like a Christmas tree in July.
Each year I do learn a bit more about how to garden. This year, it seems that what I am learning most of all is how much the earth gifts to us and to all her creatures, how generous and abundant she is, when we merely open to her and open to other creatures, and stop trying so hard to make something specific happen. I am feeling the interconnected family of beings, and especially the joy of birds who now find a home in our yard. It’s amazing! Finally, I just want to also express gratitude for a monarch butterfly who came to visit a few days ago.
How does the Spirit move? How does the Spirit guide us? Is it like the wind blowing this morning, shifting the trees every which way? Might it come disguised as a turkey mother, with two babies always following nearby, meandering through the yard? Might it be in the doors that close, as well as the doors that open? Might it be in a conversation with a friend, sparking new ideas?
These last few weeks have been hard in our nation. Human rights have been undermined by the supreme court, and the attempted overthrow of democracy has been detailed in congressional hearings; gun violence continues, and police violence against black men does not abate. Heat waves remind us of the continued crisis of our planet, and despite many people acting as if the pandemic is over, the latest variant is more contagious and more severe.
I have felt at a loss for words about the big issues of the nation. I turned 69 last month, and after working for justice all of my adult life, I feel discouraged about the horrible backlash which seems to have taken power. Not surprised really. With the long history of this nation rooted in genocide, enslavement, and violence, it is amazing that we have made any progress at all. But for much of my life, it felt as if things were moving in a better direction. Now it feels like the same issues have to be fought all over again. I feel discouraged personally because I no longer have the physical energy to go to protests or marches, to be out there in the streets making a big noise. And because of that, I feel cut off from the community of resistance, which gives one hope and resilience.
So I listen for the Spirit, try to find guidance for my own little life. I look for signs in the wind and in the creatures who visit. The little turkey babies stay close to their mother, even as they wander through the tall grasses and wildflowers. Am I like that baby turkey? When it gets tired or scared, it jumps right up on the back of its mother. Or am I like the turkey mother, and someone needs to jump up on my back? How important it is that we help each other, and recognize the help that comes our way.
How does the Spirit guide us? At times I am at a loss about what I can do, what I should do. This next chapter of my life is new territory. I don’t always understand when one door closes, but can I trust that the Spirit is still guiding me? Can I keep hold of a “yes” in my heart to the next open door? Can I recognize the sound of the Spirit in all of its guises? I am listening.
Two weeks ago, I had terrible cramping in my lower abdomen. Over a few days, it gradually localized to the lower left of my abdomen, particularly when I had to poop. My medical practitioner did some blood tests, and found high inflammation, but not infection, and scheduled a CT scan. They determined that I was having a bout of diverticulitis, which, even as it was diagnosed, thankfully began to ease up. It was scary and discouraging to have yet another illness keep me down for over a week, and add to the complications I already have with eating food. A little research showed that 50% of people over 60 in the US deal with this disease. We must have a cultural taboo against talking about it, because I was very surprised to realize it was that common.
After all that, I explored some herbal options for healing, and discovered that licorice root is one of the recommended herbs–which I have already been using for energy issues. This spring I harvested and dried some from the plant in our yard that I had planted a few years ago. (I use much more than that in a year, but it is exciting to be starting to harvest it here.) I have been drinking tea made by boiling a couple tablespoons of the root in a quart of water.
Because of all this, I was feeling discouraged, and then I remembered the challenging wise words of Indigenous writer Paula Gunn Allen, in an excerpt from “The Woman I Love Is a Planet; The Planet I Love Is a Tree,” from her book, Off the Reservation.
“Our physicality—which always and everywhere includes our spirituality, mentality, emotionality, social institutions, and processes—is a microform of all physicality. Each of us reflects, in our attitudes toward our body and the bodies of other planetary creatures and plants, our inner attitude toward the planet. And, as we believe, so we are. A society that believes that the body is somehow diseased, painful, sinful, or wrong, a people that spends its time trying to deny the body’s needs, aims, goals, and processes—whether these be called health or disease—is going to misunderstand the nature of its existence and of the planet’s and is going to create social institutions out of those body-denying attitudes that wreak destruction not only on human, plant, and other creaturely bodies but on the body of the Earth herself….
“Being good, holy, and/or politically responsible means being able to accept whatever life brings—and that includes just about everything you usually think of as unacceptable, like disease, death, and violence. Walking in balance, in harmony, and in a sacred manner requires staying in your body, accepting its discomforts, decayings, witherings, and blossomings and respecting them. Your body is also a planet, replete with creatures that live in and on it. Walking in balance requires knowing that living and dying are two beings, gifts of our mother, the Earth, and honoring her ways does not mean cheating her of your flesh, your pain, your joy, your sensuality, your desires, your frustrations, your unmet and met needs, your emotions, your life.”
Paula Gunn Allen
It is so easy to identify events in the yard, or in my body, as beautiful or ugly, gifts or challenges, positives or negatives. But coming into a harmonious relationship with all beings of this earth requires letting go of that polarity–not denying the difficulties or pains, but going deeper with my responses. How can I embrace all that life offers, in the yard, and in my body?
We have seen two frogs in the pond, one bold and the other cautious. Yesterday a neighborhood cat was stalking the pond. Today, I only saw the cautious one. Is the bold one gone? The cherries that appeared green in the trees are getting brown spots on them. The cardinal couple seems now to frequent the feeder every day. The robin that abandoned her nest, is back in the nest trying again with new eggs. Today I saw her partner bring her a bite to eat. A dragonfly was dipping her tail in the water, while perched on a lily pad–laying her eggs in the pond. Something took a few leaves off two of my kale plants, but did not destroy the whole plants. Can I begin to see all of it as wholeness, as beauty?
Remember when I described the beauty of seeing a goldfinch climb over a dandelion stem to get the seeds? But I didn’t get a picture then? A little magic happened again, and this time I was able to get this photo from our deck. The more wild and plant-filled our yard has been, the more birds of all kinds we see. They bring so much delight. (Sadly, we’ve also seen more ticks than before as well.)
In other news, the blue flag iris in the pond are blooming for the first time! We also have a lot of algae–likely because there are not enough plants, since several didn’t come back. But I am not too worried. I skimmed some out and I hope I can keep doing that until the plants expand, or I can add some more.
I also finally was able to plant–in three different short spurts of time and energy–some kale and broccoli seedlings, and seeds of cucumber and zucchini. Lots of rain today, so they all got watered. I am humbled by this process of observing, doing small things that I am able to do, and hoping for the best. One thing is sure. Plants will grow!
I have been marveling at the beauty of our front esplanade–formerly known as the hell strip. I planted it four years ago, with help from donated plants, and some donated labor too. Right now it is a stunning palette of white, blue/purple, and yellow, over green leaves: Blue/purple Siberian irises, yellow turkish rocket flowers, purple lupines, white bearded irises, and lots of white volunteer daisies are blooming, while other plants’ spiked leaves are filling in with green. Later in the season there will be other blooms. I can’t describe how joyful I feel to see it.
I am so grateful for these hardy perennials that require a minimum of care for this abundance of pleasure!