The Gifts of Birds and Berries

Blueberries and raspberries from our garden

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.

Blueberry bushes wrapped with tulle fabric

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.

Sunflowers in bloom around a green bird feeder with a small sparrow on it.

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.

Tall evening primrose in bloom

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.

Monarch perched on volunteer elecampane flowers

Pond lily opening

The first pond lily bud appears on Saturday in our pond.
It starts to open slowly on Sunday.
I sit by the pond during the morning to watch it as it changes.
very slowly…
It is so meditative to sit by the pond watching the lily. I also see a frog, and some dragonflies. I add some water to the pond from the rain barrel, which is why the lily now seems deeper in the water.
As it opens it forms a little white cup, with yellow peaking out from the center.
It reminds me of an egg.
It doesn’t fully open on Sunday, and once the shade of the trees cover the pond in the early evening, it closes up again.
This morning, early, it is still closed up. I watch for a while, and then go inside to eat breakfast.
When I come back out mid-morning, here it is in all its beauty!

Guidance

Turkey mother and two babies behind plants in the yard

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.

Baby turkey on its mother’s back.

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.

“Your body is also a planet”

Catbird in the mulberry tree-a dark silhouette amid green leaves and berries

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.

Dried licorice root-first harvest

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?

Dragonfly on a lily pad in the pond, dipping her tail in the water.

More Ordinary Magic

Goldfinch on dandelion stem, through deck rails

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.

Blue flag iris blooming

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!

Beauty

What we see out our front door: purple, yellow and white flowers on the esplanade

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.

Close up of turkish rocket, purple/blue irises and white daisies
Close up a little further to the right, with white daisies, purple/blue irises, white irises, and a few tiny blue/purple spiderwort flowers just beginning to bloom. Low ground cover of thyme.

I am so grateful for these hardy perennials that require a minimum of care for this abundance of pleasure!

Cardinal at the Pond

Cardinal ready to drink water at the pond

Today is the new moon. This morning I sat near the pond, reading my journal from the date of the last new moon, as is my practice. Then along came this cardinal landing on a rock on the other side of the pond, about 12 feet away from me. After I took this photo, it flew away, but then he came back a little while later, and took a sip of water. We know that having the pond is beneficial to all sorts of wildlife in the yard, but this is the first time I actually observed a bird taking a drink, especially with me sitting right there. I am grateful for this cardinal’s visit, and his acceptance of my presence in his ecosystem.

Some thoughts to remember from the journal: It is good to be claimed by this ecosystem. It is good to listen to the earth, to the plants and all beings, and to the spirits, and to follow their lead about what to do to tend this garden, and when.

Tiny Magical Moments

Dandelions with puffy seed heads, after the birds were gone

Sometimes the best pictures are only in the mind, never caught on a camera. I was sitting with Billie in my blue easy chair in the bedroom, and something caught my eye outside the window. It was a goldfinch couple, perching in the peach tree, and then hopping down to the plants beneath. The bright yellow male landed on a dandelion stem–it was a long stem with the flower already gone to seed in a fluffy sphere. The olive green female was perched nearby on another long stem, with a closed flower head above her.

The male carefully made his way up the stem, even as it was bending down under his weight. He made a few tries on different stems. Finally, he succeeded in reaching the fluffy sphere and began pecking at the seeds. I never knew that dandelion seeds were a source of food for goldfinches. I’m glad that I didn’t cut them down! A short while later, they had gone, but I took this photo of the place where they had been. Even though you can’t see them there, in my mind, I can’t forget his purposeful climb along the stem.

Later, I went to sit by the pond, and noticed something tiny and new and green. Several of the perennial pond plants that I planted last year haven’t come back at all. Cardinal flower, blue-eyed grass, arrowhead, and pickerel rush. They were supposed to survive Maine winters so it was a great disappointment, but I kept waiting and watching, since this is the first spring for the pond. Well, today, I found three new tiny stems with distinctive leaves. There are three new arrowhead plants coming up. They are near where the previous plants were, but don’t seem to be emerging from the roots. Maybe they are sprouting from seeds that fell into the water last fall?

You never know when something new might emerge from the hard work that you did before.

New arrowhead shoot with one leaf, enlarged photo

Healing Times

The last couple weeks have been focused on healing in our household. My partner Margy had knee replacement surgery, and came home to recuperate after a couple days in the hospital. Then, one of our cats, Billie, perhaps from the stress, stopped eating, and had something going on with her liver. So the vet came with some medicines to help her start eating again. I have been the tender of these loved ones, and both are doing well for the moment, but the healing will take some time. I haven’t been able to post on the site lately, being fully occupied with my nurse duties, but today is a quiet day, and I have these few moments to write and share photos.

Billie eating some food!

In the meantime, the yard is unfolding on its own, mostly with our neglect, except for occasional bits of tending, and I have been appreciating its springtime beauty and vitality.

There are two frogs in the pond now, and one day, as I sat watching, one of them was chasing the other one, though not all the way out of the pond. The chased one is more timid, and dove into the bottom. They were both females I believe, so I am not sure what it was all about. But fascinating to watch, and listen to her calls.

Two frogs in the pond, just before the one on the left leapt over, and the one on the right dove under.

Sadly, the robin who has been sitting on the nest on our back porch, finally abandoned the eggs two days ago. She had been on the nest quite a bit, though not always, but they never hatched. I wonder if maybe the location was actually too warm for the eggs. Again, we don’t really know, but it is amazing to observe. We will miss her quiet presence, though I have also seen her in the orchard since then.

Yesterday, a lone turkey came into the orchard on her way to somewhere else. She very politely didn’t eat the broccoli and kale seedlings I just planted this week, but seemed to enjoy the clover.

Turkey in the garden with dandelion seed puffs behind.

I wonder if we might be able to create enough food in our garden, for the people and the animals? (Instead of battling with squirrels and other critters) Today, in a webinar, Letecia Layson described doing that, when creating a garden in a nature reserve. “Plant enough food for the animals and for you.” What a wonderful model for interconnection. There is so much wild plant beauty and food already out there too. For example, wild strawberries have spread over vast areas in the orchard and in the further back yard. We don’t usually eat these strawberries, but leave them for the birds.

Wild strawberry flowers

Way in the back, in the hedgerow which has now filled out in its summer foliage, there is a clump of jack-in-the-pulpit that Margy discovered last year. Since she can’t get back there right now, I looked out for it and was delighted to see that it has returned. I brought her a photo. We also have bleeding hearts, golden seal, and many many ferns along the edge of the “forested” area.

Jack-in-the-pulpit

Margy taught me how to use our battery-powered lawn mower, and I have been able to make some paths at least through the growing-taller grass. Mowing is usually her job. We figured we’d go along with No Mow May, but between ticks and invasive bittersweet, we actually do better to do some mowing. But we always steer around the ferns and other interesting wild plants that come up.

All of this has been a lesson in listening to the land, to the plants, to the animals. I have focused on quiet attention rather than doing projects. There will always be projects to do out there, but this year I am learning to be slow.

Dandelion Spirit

One of the boxes from Boston: “Political Groups/Resources/Issues/Conferences”

So, after sorting and winnowing all winter, I have finally finished with the boxes from my years living in Boston. I managed to go from 11 file-drawer-size boxes down to 4! The four that remain include, loosely: 1. lesbian theology and creative writing, 2. GLBT & social justice activism, 3. Native solidarity activism, and 4. files from my non-profit, RESPECT, Inc. (Responsible Ethics for Spirituality: Project to End Cultural Theft.). There are more boxes in the basement still, but it feels good to reach the end of this large section, the years from 1986-1996 or so.

I am also in the process of archiving blog posts from this site to my laptop, and I happened upon the photo of the Boston box above, which I took during our move from North Yarmouth to Portland six years ago. At that time, I was asking myself whether or not to toss all this paper–just get rid of it, unopened. But ultimately I decided to pack up all the boxes to sort later. I think that was a good decision. I am enjoying revisiting these times of my life as I have gone through each folder. I was optimistically calling it my winter project, but I still have seven more boxes to go, from years prior to Boston, and subsequent.

I actually still have one more box with Boston stuff, related to my journey into UU ministry, but that seemed to fit better with later years. It was a big shift in my life, to go from being a free-lance activist, with a “community ministry,” into my more formal association with Unitarian Universalism and ordained ministry. I loved those years in Boston, but it was incredibly difficult to translate my passions into work that could also support my basic needs. All of it was ministry! But later, as a formally ordained minister, I became able to devote myself to the work, without also doing other part-time labor to pay the bills.

One of my attempts to translate those passions I called “Dandelion Spirit.” I hoped to combine feminist therapy, spiritual and justice consulting, workshop leadership, and ritual, into the work I could offer the community. It was a little bit sad to see the files in which I had worked on that, when I knew that it never really made if off the ground officially. On the other hand, my life in Boston really was in the spirit of the dandelion–who knows how many seeds I might have scattered? A workshop here, a ritual there, an article in some lesbian periodical, all small actions, but with hope and intent to transform the world. I can still resonate with a dandelion spirit.

Dandelion blooming in our back yard.