West Virginia Morning: Riches

“We are told to consider the birds,” my friend says to me this morning, after I’ve confessed guilt feelings for staring out the window at the spring doings of my bird community for a prolonged time. “I don’t necessarily think it’s a waste of time.”

Sometimes God’s messengers wear skin and they bear such tidings as to douse a parched soul.

I’ve been reading John Burroughs’ Wake Robin (this version is free on Kindle). It’s a collection of his essays about birds and it has me captured. His delight for our little wingeds is so evident in his writing. What I’ve been doing is reading his description of a bird’s song and personality, then going to my birding app and listening to his descriptions take sound. It makes for slow reading but it unfetters my heart so. I can get caught up in learning about the ornithological world. Thus, guilt. But sweetness too.

There has been a bluebird pair checking out my box for a couple weeks now. Last week I saw the male dive at a red-bellied woodpecker who was clinging to the side of the box. I think that sharp-beaked intruder may have scared Mr. and Mrs. Blue away from nesting there, for when I peeked in the door this morning there was no evidence of nest-building. But I still hold out hope. Every time I pass the bay window in the kitchen I must pause to study the box and its surrounding habitat. One must be patient to catch a glimpse of nest building. Bluebirds are shy and furtive birds. I’ve stopped filling the feeders near that area so the neighborhood does not appear too noisy. I so want them to build their home inside that little shelter. Bluebirds haven’t nested in that box for over ten years. Not since the first two seasons I put it out. The house sparrows have always been more aggressive, no matter how many of their nests I pitched out.

Everywhere I look the birds are frolicking, caught up in the magic of spring. A robin couple has built their nest in one of our maple trees out back. I watched them carry dried grass and leaves to and fro for days, it seemed. But they seem all settled in now. I caught them in the act just yesterday as I walked Bonnie around the house. We came upon them unawares and they startled apart, taking flight like two nervous teenagers.

I am behind on my spring chores. Just this morning I trimmed back my crepe myrtles, meticulously making my way through each woody branch. I was dismayed to see new growth already and worried my tardiness will stunt the bush’s beauty. But nature is so forgiving. My lilac bush is filling out with heavy blossoms. And last season I neglected to prune it after its glory faded. Still, this season: beauty. The back yard is filled with its heady scent. This world dressed in spring holds so many fascinations.

Yesterday, I read this:

If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.” ~Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Yes. So many discoveries waiting to be seen. This thought fills me to overflow. I may not be poet enough to call forth the riches in my life, but my eyes will notice. My heart will be glad. There is no poverty here.

West Virginia Morning: Witness

This morning the sky is the bluest blue and the trees dress early. I look out the bathroom window as I brush my teeth. I’m on the second floor, peering over the back yard, far into the meadow behind our house. From this bird’s eye view I see the maple is taking on her early leaf flocking, a soft magenta down where buds begin to unfold. And the pussy willow dons a cottony ragtop where the sun first touches her in the morning. All the fruit trees that hide in the meadow most seasons are beginning their conspicuous bloom. I run the brush through my hair and scramble downstairs, grab the camera and go out to stand under the earth’s awakening.

The coming of spring is nothing short of a miracle most years, but when spring arrives in mid-February? This is cause for celebration. I lose myself for a time in the slow-opening of a crocus, the way a branch offers a promise—prophesies.

I try not to think about the possibility of a late-season freeze. Isn’t this hope? Giving myself fully to this moment? Annie Dillard says, “ … beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” I am there. I am here. For just this moment, I will witness the miracle of spring.

West Virginia Morning: Early Bloomer

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This morning, as I walked Bonnie around the house, I saw a little piece of the sun had fallen down to earth. It’s late February, and my crocuses are blooming—bright yellow petals winking in the morning dew. We’ve had an unusually warm patch of weather these past few weeks, but I’ve lived here long enough not to be fooled. The birds, however, appear to be falling for nature’s trickery. Everywhere I turn the sky is full of robin-song and sparrow-music. Yesterday I peeked in my bluebird box and, sure enough, the beginnings of a nest were tucked inside. When Jeff and I walked down Sleepy Hollow road, we saw an American Kestrel falcon perched on the powerlines. As we drew near, that beauty took flight, circling slowly over the meadow that hugged the roadway. She was so free in her flight, she took my breath.

On my days off, I’ve been working on some upcoming projects, writing curriculum for a couple classes I hope to teach and researching resources. Today, I re-read most of Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge’s poemcrazy: freeing your life with words. At the end of chapter 2, under the practice section, the author encourages the reader to buy a journal and keep it with them. “It’s never too late to start,” she says. “Don’t try to catch up by going back in your life. Start with now.”

Something about those last three words made my throat catch a little. “Start with now.” It sounds so simple, I mean, where else can I start except now? But so many days I feel like I’m trying and trying and trying … struggling to make up for all that I’ve missed—all the regret that comes with the late blooming. And then I see an early-blooming crocus and the round-headed silhouette of a falcon and I know deep inside of me: now is the only moment we really have.

Instead of feeling regret, tonight I let that thought comfort me. Tonight, I let myself be fully present in this moment and as I do, I can feel the wings of my heart stretch wide.

Wide for the soaring flight.

To Remember:

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I’m reposting this in loving memory of my friend Helen, who passed away earlier this evening. 

She is barefooted, sitting on the porch when I arrive. I’ve been trying to get over to see her for a month—ever since her birthday. She’s a blessing to me because she lets me bless and Helen and I have been doing this for a while now.

Several years ago my women’s circle adopted the women of Helen’s circle—we put their names in a basket and each one of us from the “younger” group drew out a saint’s name. Some are with us no more and some have moved away and some just never did follow-up. But Helen and I have fallen into a rhythm and I wouldn’t know what to do if I didn’t have Helen to write to, to think about, to surprise with a sit under the Mimosa tree.

Today I bring her a hanging basket, dripping gold and violet. When she sees me coming up the drive she says—in that grumpy way she has, “You don’t need to be wasting your money on flowers for me.”

But she surveys the petunias and gestures to a hook dangling from the porch roof.

“Put them up there, that’s a good place for them.”

I hide my smile and do as she says.

Helen and I are sitting on her porch, in the shade of the Mimosa tree and she shows me her swollen feet and talks about her latest doctor appointment. She talks about the ants on the picnic shelter around back and tells how a wasp got in the house this week too.

My mind never wanders when I’m with Helen—the way that it does all day long … wandering from one thing to another, ticking off the to-do list. There is something so precious in being with her and I always feel time pull the emergency break as the wheels of my mind comegrinding and squealing to a stop.

She is a fascinating lady and she never runs out of things to say. She once told me about a trip to Dubai she took when she was younger (I’ve never been to Dubai. I’ve never been out of the country or even out west). She also still is the chairwoman of the Community Cupboard—the local food pantry that she helped get started back in 1982. She drives across town two days a week to oversee that benevolence.

“I don’t drive anywhere except around the valley anymore,” she says, as she catches me up on Cupboard doings.

But the thing about Helen that draws me to her is how much she is who she is.

Her mind is wily and bright and she has a handful of girlfriends she likes to spend time with and if they neglect her … she gets mad. She expects to be treated like someone special. Because she is. There has been no slipping gracefully into the twilight years for this gentle lady. She likes to laugh and keep up on things and stay busy. She still talks about her husband like he is alive sometimes but there is no feeling sorry for the self in her.

We sit on the porch and the sun is moving up her swollen feet and I am sweating in jeans and long sleeves. We listen to the breeze blow through the bushes and when we are still, that’s when I hear it: the sweet song of a Meadowlark. My eyes scan the Mimosa tree, the Oaks in Betty’s yard next door and the Sycamores out back. But he doesn’t want to be seen—just wants to woo me and Helen with his lyrical whistle.

I cock my head to the side, close my eyes and listen. I can’t see him. But he’s announced his presence in the sweetest of ways.

Helen and I? We are not alone.

Home Smells like Lilac and a Winner!

 

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Now, when I take Bonnie out in the mornings, we are greeted by the thick perfume of the lilac bush pushing down heavy on the moist morning air. The skeletal trees surrounding our little valley are fleshing out in white and yellow and green leaves unfolding. The hills are all pinked up with Redbud and spring is working her resurrection magic on my inner geography as well.

Last night, I took Jeffrey to be fitted for his first tuxedo—prom is only two weeks away. Jeff had band practice, so my boy and I were alone for the evening. After dinner, we took Bon for a walk and then went to DQ and picked up some ice cream (I was hankering for a Reese’s blizzard). We sat on the back deck amongst robin song and that heady scent of lilac.  How sweet to savor the moments (as well as the ice cream).

I’ve been gone for two weekends in a row and I can’t explain the rich feeling of anticipation for a weekend at home. I’m looking forward to staying put—to piddling in the yard, and rising with the sun, and worshiping with those who know and love me best.

I love adventures. I love meeting new friends and dining with old ones. But home is the best place. I’m so grateful for home.

The winner of the small stack of books from last week, including a signed copy of Jenn Hand’s 31 Days to Coming Alive and a copy of Deidra Riggs’s Every Little Thing, is … Nancy Sturm! Congratulations, Nancy! I’ll be in touch. Thanks to all who stopped by and commented.