Archive for October, 2012

“There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.”

— Willa Cather

We have hunkered down for the storm.  Hurricane Sandy is moving into our area and will make landfall later today in New Jersey.  I awoke this morning to a sort of tingle in the air, something I always experience when the barometric pressure falls.  The rain had not begun just yet, and I decided to take the pup for a walk in the park ahead of the storm.  In the wild wind that soon brought the rain, I felt like I could fly; and each time a leaf whizzed past me, I resisted the urge to leap toward the sky and test my urge in real time and space.  Before I could decide to do just that, the rain began to fall in earnest.  Soon the wind, not to be outdone, picked up its pace as well.  As Patches and his dog friends chased bedraggled squirrels back up the glistening trees to their hiding places above the ground, we humans stood in the shelter of a pavilion.  The trees, nearly bare from recent Fall weather, stood stark and black against the gray sky.  We could see the remaining fractures from last year’s storm and wondered how much of the wind those dead branches would sustain before they came crashing down around us.  Note to self:  steer clear of the large trees on your way home.

Those lingering branches have hung above us for an entire year since last year’s pruning by Mother Nature.  We haven’t given them a thought as we have walked and played and run in their shelter.  This is the way we live our lives.  When the weather is clear and calm, we forget that there could be a hazard anywhere.  We fly beneath the radar of any sort of trouble, even though it still exists, and never give a second thought to what might lurk above us.  Now I am not saying that we should live any other way.  We should not be paralyzed by fear of what might happen.  We should live our lives with joy and be thankful for each sunny day.  But we should be thankful for a good storm, now and then, that reminds us to be as strong as we are carefree.  We don’t learn courage without a challenge, and we don’t learn to face fear on a sunny day.  These are the lessons that show us our vitality and follow us through both the storm and the calm that follows.

We made it back home just as the skies really opened.  I love the feeling of truly appreciating my warm house as the wind blows outside.  I enjoy the chance to type this and reflect in writing on my flight into the storm this morning, but I will also enjoy a time without power if it comes.  Today we are reminded to celebrate the storms life brings us as well as the sunny days.  Seldom, if ever, on a sunny day have I been challenged to take flight.

Autumn’s Paradox

How quickly summer turns to Fall.

Warm days linger to entice

Our minds and souls with summer joy.

Then, suddenly and silently, the

Dew grows cold and turns to frost;

Subtle cold replaces green

With yellow, orange, and

(Too soon!) Brown.

Stark bare branches strain to reach

The warming sun, the Source of Life,

But find that if eludes their grasp

And taunts their brittle fingertips

With untrue promises of warmth.

One day green, and lush with leaves,

Now the earth has claimed its blanket

And the trees must bear the Wind

And stand, unclothed, in

Winter’s harshness.

How like a tree am I.

From One Small Voice:  Poems of Peace & Light for a New Century, 2012 Edition

“I saw old Autumn in the misty morn/Stand shadowless like silence, listening To Silence.”

— Thomas Hood

As I ready myself for my last day working in the woods, I feel Autumn welling up in my eyes, in my heart, in my soul.  I sit by the bedside of another year, keeping a vigil and hoping to take in whatever wisdom the grandmother of seasons has to offer.

A huge storm is moving up the coastline, and my head is quite aware that today will be the last time I see the colors all around.  By Monday, the trees will be bare and each leaf will have been torn from its branch and thrown to the ground.  And the water will rise, and the colors will float away and be hurried to their final resting place as they merge with the soil once again.

My heart returns to the bedside.  I watch with awe the way the year grows transparent.  Shadowless.  I wonder whether that is our destination as well — whether one day we, too, will lay down so much of our physical being that we become unable even to cast a shadow.  I see the beauty scattered all around the room — remnants of the colorful life she has lived.  I collect them like colorful leaves and scrutinize each one.  I know that she is passing her wisdom along to me in a way that will catch my eye.  I hold the colors close to my chest and feel them seep into my own being; and in a breathless instant, I realize that I have grown older.  And wiser.  And deeper.  I tuck the colors deep inside my overcoat and pull it tight as the wind begins to blow.  I listen to the voice in the wind.  It is the voice of the grandmothers who have carried our stories since the dawn of time.  Their words find the colors that now I hold close, and they spin and weave their tales into my DNA.  I turn to the woman who lies on the bed and see that she is nearly invisible now.  Her colors have been drained, and all that shows now is light.  A sunbeam breaks through the morning mist and touches her light.  In a flash, she has gone, and all that remains is the mist, the color, and the sound of my own heart beating.  I open my coat for a moment and touch the color I have tucked away, close to my heart.  A gentle warmth begins to flow through my veins; and as I look down, I see that my own light has begun to shine from the very center of my being.  It shows me the colors of the wisdom, the stories and the songs of ancient life that is irrevocably interwoven with my own existence.  ‘This is how it begins,’ I think.  As I feel my heart grow ever more transparent, I see that my own time has come to shine.  My eyes go to the empty bed, and I know that one day I will be the one who lies there, waiting to relinquish my color to another; but for now, I will carry it and let it shine.

I pull on my boots, wrap a warm vest around myself and begin my final walk to the woods.  The breeze shifts, and suddenly I find myself caught in a shower of brown and yellow leaves.  I catch them before they hit the ground and tuck them away in my pocket.  ‘The children will like these,’ I think.  And I stand shadowless in the misty fog of an Autumn morning.

My time in the woods is nearly done.  In five more days, the Pumpkin Patch will close its gate and turn the farm over to Christmas tree preparations.  I can read and perform my story presentation in my sleep.  My collection of poems and finger plays has grown.  I am a bit more and a bit less than I was when I began my role as the little old lady.  A bit more and a bit less is the feeling I always have in Fall; and being out among all the changes has stirred that old familiar feeling in me once again.

Sometimes I sit in the still between hayrides and listen to the whisper of the wind in the treetops.  “Let go!  Let go!” it whispers to the leaves as it ruffles and shakes them and urges them to release their grasp on the life they have known and fly to the ground below.  I watch them drift and swirl, and sometimes I swear I can hear them squeal, “whee!” as they float to their reunion with their earth mother.  I wonder what it would be like to be the last leaf at the top of the very last tree, the one who still clings to the moment that is past and reluctantly looks down to see all her friends who have already begun their dance with destiny.  I wonder what it would be like to be afraid to peel away the fingers that clutch the past and simply fly toward our next destination.

As I walked the other day, I spied an oak leaf whose flight had been interrupted by the branches of a young poplar the grew below.  I thought of the promise, “if you fall I will catch you.”  It sounds so reassuring when someone speaks those words.  It encourages us to take the risks that help us to grow, knowing that if we fail someone will be there to heal our wounds.  But when I saw that oak leaf, hung up in someone else’s branches, only feet away from its destination, the words took on a new meaning.  How often do we take the plunge and make a decisive move only to have a well-meaning friend snag us and keep us from making our way to our goals?  How often do we muster up a great deal of courage only to have someone play Devil’s advocate and cause us to question our decisions?  We must be careful to know where we are going and plot a path that will take us all the way to our destination.  If you fall, it will be all right.

Autumn’s Fire

Autumn’s fire begins,

Smoldering beneath

The Earth.

The leaves,

Their edges scorched,

Receive the bitter

Rain that sizzles

As it fails to cool the fire.

*

Autumn’s fire grows,

Yellow flame consumes

Each tree

That feeds its flame.

Soon, orange-red,

The conflagration

Grows without

A hint of warmth.

*

Autumn’s fire flies,

Its colors fall

Until the trees

Stand naked

In the sun.

Their roots surrounded

By the Autumn flames.

Consumed by time.

*

Autumn’s fire burns.

It sears my heart.

My bark begins to curl

And peel away.

A tree, myself,

I stand as embers die,

And bid farewell

Amid its fading glow.

©Pamela Stead Jones 2012

“Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower.”

— Albert Camus

The woods are lovely these days.  I am struck with the way that each season strikes a balance in our world that prepares for the next season and the next and the next, until the circle is completed for another year.  As I sit now, in a world carpeted in color, my eyes inevitably are drawn upward as well.  The whole sky is carpeted in color, too.  There is expansive blue, white cloud accents, and the bright warm yellow of the sun.  Not so long ago, the sun’s angle was so direct that it would have been uncomfortable to spend too much time in its light; but as the earth continues to move through the wheel of the year, I feel drawn to its warmth.  How nice that the deep, green leaf cover of summer that protected us well from the scorching heat now allows its new colors to show and opens some windows to the sky.  How sweet that seeing the colorful carpet on the ground calls to mind the lush green canopy that sheltered us on hot summer days.

I see in the fallen leaves all the colors of the year — the red of the tulips, the yellow of the first daffodil, the orange of the mums and the brown of the fresh earth of Spring.  My mind paints pictures of the pastels of the delicate pinks and the purple crocuses that first heralded the return of life after a long winter’s sleep. I love the way the landscape changes as we move from one season to the next; but I love even more the way that bridges connect it all and reassure us that winter will not be the end — only another leg of the endless journey.

I walk through the Autumn woods and see the endings — leaves beginning to smell rich with mold and decay, an old tree stump whose center is filled with soft loam that soon will merge with the soil as the last vestige of tree disappears, fallen branches pruned by the wind that allow the remaining ones to grow thick and strong and sturdy.  I think of how the color will soon dissolve into brown, how the earth will seem to swallow it up and then cover it with a blanket of snow that ironically will warm the potential that lies beneath the soil.

I walk through the Autumn woods and think of the beginnings — seeds that now are falling that will bring the first new sprouts of Spring; colors that now are disappearing but will return renewed, refreshed, and sparkling when winter has worked its magic.

For now, I will enjoy the second flowers — the Autumn leaves — and rejoice in their beauty as I review the turning of another year.  I will rest on the bridge between summer and winter and know in my heart that I have been here before and will one day return again.

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

— Jalal ad-Din Rumi

“Looking for love in all the wrong places,” says the old song; and is sadly true that we often spend a lot of our lives looking over, under behind, and in dark corners to find something that will make us feel fulfilled — make us feel loved.

We are created in Love, and it is love that makes our hearts beat and our blood flow.  It is love that fills our lungs with sweet air and allows our muscles to move.  If we are creatures born of love, then why do we distance ourselves from that reality and look for love in all the wrong places?

This weekend I had the immense pleasure of holding my ten-week-old grandson, Noah.  He is just a little bundle of love.  He is so secure in his own sweet essence that he just knows that everyone who comes near him will feel that love and respond in kind.  His love is wide open, and the warmth of his innocence touches the love inside of us in a way that reminds us who we are.  Can you close your eyes and imagine that feeling?  Can you possibly picture the sweet feeling of nuzzling the top of a newborn head and not feel your love overflow?

Soon Noah will begin to grow.  He will learn to use his mind to plan, his body to move at will, and his hands to explore the world around him.  He will stumble and he will fall.  He will skin his knees and pinch his fingers.  He will learn to put up walls of protection that keep him insulated from the perils of being human, and he will sometimes duck away from his mother’s kisses.

We all learn to do these things as our egos develop and we begin to define ourselves as separate individuals.  This is part of the human condition, and it is unavoidable; but we must remember as we build the walls that divide that the love that created us still lives inside of us.  Instead of looking for it in the corners and the hidden recesses of the world outside us, we need to remove the barriers we build that separate us from who we really are.  When we seek love, we must look to the tender place in our own heart that is awakened by the innocent love of a baby.  When we find it, we must pay attention to keeping the channels open so that our love can touch the love in others we meet.  What is important is to find the endless love that resides deep inside our souls and then send that love out into the world.  We need not look for it in other places.  It is in us, and it is who we are.

“Love is flower-like; Friendship is like a sheltering tree.”

— Samuel Taylor Coleridge

What better time can there be than the bittersweet season of Autumn to think about love and friendship and all the things we hold dear.  As all of nature seems to slip away and fall to the ground, we look more closely at all the beauty that has come our way in the past year.  From the soft, silent snow of winter with its sparkling crystals of ice, to the first fresh sprouts of Spring whose green is equaled nowhere else in creation, to the lush blossoming of summer and the abundant ripeness of fall, we savor the memories of each sweet gift that has landed at our feet, whether we deserve it or not.

The mums are blooming now, and the color they bring to my eyes is rivaled only by the vivid leaves of the sugar maple, the yellow birch, and the red oak.  Like the tulips of spring and the summer daisies, they will entertain our hearts for a time with their splendor and then drop their petals to the ground and disappear.  I often have counseled my children, as they look for love that will last a lifetime, to first find a friend and let love blossom out of something that lasts.  The blossoms of love explode with excitement; but long after they are gone, the trees stand firm and steady and reliable, propping us against their sturdy trunks, spreading their limbs above our heads to catch the rain, and breaking the wind as it whips through on stormy days.  In sunny times, they part their leaves just enough to share the warmth, but not enough to overcome us with the heat.  Friendship is like that; and if you ever have truly loved a tree, I know you would agree with Coleridge that the two are equal.

In the park near my home there is a magnolia tree.  It has wonderful shiny leaves and smooth gray bark.  Its foliage is thick enough to hide mysterious things like birds and bugs and even a nest or two so that in the summer it seems to sing as it sparkles in the sun.  I love the tree in all seasons; but in Spring, it loves me back with wonderful pink blossoms that burst and explode and make my heart skip a beat.  They last for only a week or two, but those days are some of my favorite ones in all the year.  I walk each morning with a little more energy in my step, and excitement fills the air as I round the corner and again see its splendor.  Quickly, the petals begin to fall, and soon there is only a glint of pink amid the green as summer calls the tree toward other things.

Lasting love is like the magnolia.  It is lush and strong and dependable, like friendship.  It doesn’t always bloom with exciting colors; but every now and then, in a special season, its flowers will open wide to remind us of what lies deep in its heart.  Love is flower-like, filled with excitement and newness and color.  Friendship is like a sheltering tree.  When you seek the sort of love that lasts, befriend a magnolia tree.  It will show you the way.

A Year In the Woods

I love to walk in Winter woods

When snow spreads silent white,

With footsteps muffled by its peace,

And starshine sparkling bright.

I love the waking woods of Spring,

With newness all around,

And creatures creeping back to life,

When earth smells sweet and brown.

I love the shelter of the trees

On scorching summer days,

When leaves conspire to hide the sky

And keep the sun at bay.

But most of all, I love the time

When Autumn’s hues burn bright.

When color spreads from earth to sky,

The dance of Earth’s delight.

The falling leaves that swirl and spin,

The birds who take to flight,

The way the trees dance in the wind,

The twinkling stars of night;

The rushing clouds, the bright-white sun,

The rustling carpet sweet,

All play the song of Autum’s fire

And move my dancing feet.

I put away my dancing shoes,

I pull my blanket tight.

I close my eyes, remembering,

And dream of life’s delight.

Of cycles, seasons, days and times,

That show us where we’ve been,

That comfort us with knowing

They will all come ‘round again.

©Pamela Stead Jones 2012

“There are two worlds:  the world we can measure with line and rule, and the world that we feel with our hearts and imagination.”

— Leigh Hunt

I sit in the very real world of the autumn woods.  The wind whispers secrets to the treetops, and they sway with delight, the tall, lithe poplars moving back and forth like pendulums that count out the seconds in this timeless place.  A chipmunk scurries among the fallen leaves and the sound of his tiny footsteps is magnified a thousand times as they shuffle and resettle, sending out a dry rustling sound.  I expect to see a much larger animal when I turn toward the noise and smile when I see his little tail appear as it parts the oak leaves.  A woodpecker drums out the location of today’s snack, and soon I hear his friends calling out in their hidden game of Marco Polo.  They swoop through the treetops so quickly that I strain not to blink as I try to follow their elusive flight.  In an instant, they are hidden again.

I have studied nature for most of my life, and I know a number of facts about the plants and trees and birds and animals that surround me; but what I love most about the woods is the way that they open the portal to another world — a world I see with the eyes of my soul and hear in living, breathing technicolor.

“Colors are the smiles of nature,” says Leigh Hunt.

I stand at the base of a poplar and look straight up its sturdy trunk.  I am the squirrel who sees the tree this way; and my imagination takes hold of the bark with my tiny claws.  I scurry up in my spiral pattern until I reach the branches that begin thirty feet above.

At my feet, I see a hollow at the base of a tree.  Now I am an ant, and I make the long journey from the oak leaf to my shelter within the safety of the roots.  I scale huge twigs and travel for miles around a broken nutshell that is too big to climb.  As I see from my human height how small the obstacles really are, I gain perspective and carry it with me.  My own roadblocks seem smaller as I leave the ant world behind.

A hawk circles above the treetops, showing his widespread wings in the openings to sky and then disappearing again behind the yellow leaves.  His call draws me upward, and the leaves loom larger as I rise through the trees.

I think of the way the birds must see them, and imagine how wonderful it would be to have wings and feathers and to be able to zoom in for a closer look.

Up, up I soar; and the feathered edges of the yellow birch leaves tickle my body as I break through to the sky.

Soon I reach the open sky, and spread my eagle wings to catch the wind.  I soar and I swoop, looking down on the treetops.  Only with my eagle-eye can I see that the ant, the woodpecker, the chipmunk, and the woman rest  in the shelter of the swaying trees.  I call out to them in my sharp, shrill shriek, and every eye turns toward the heavens.  I smile my eagle smile and feel my heart swell as I give a flap and move on to the next thicket.  My work here is done.