Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Matter of Life and Death

Even in death this young Northern Flicker is still exquisite.

Our culture has little patience for the dying. In the United States the message is clear: you’re either dead or alive, otherwise get out of the way. There is no in between. But, that’s not reality. Transitions are a natural part of life – from infancy and childhood to adolescence, young adulthood to parenthood and so on. The culmination of these transitions is what we call the life experience. Then, there is the life force itself, which in some can be very strong. These are the individuals we call vibrant, vivacious, bubbly, supernatural and persistent. Their life force is not easily extinguished, nor should it be.

Death is a NATURAL process. My affinity for the sciences is what led me to “study” the natural world. Even in death the young Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus), shown above, is exquisite. Struck by a passing car, he died just as he was becoming independent. Now, his story will never be told.

Few people realize how many young and inexperienced creatures are “going to school” in spring. Their most important task is to learn to fend for themselves. They need all the help we can give them. In wooded and thickly settled areas, have a care. Drive carefully. Be observant. Slow down. For these new beings it is a matter of life and death.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Get It While You Can

Janis Joplin sang, Get it while you can, and that seems to be the King's motto these days. My King, aka Rachmaninoff and "Man of the Forest," wants to spend as much time as possible outdoors even though he is feeling poorly. He is sleeping more, but spends his waking hours listening to the birds and watching the wildlife around him. Always very tuned in to the natural world, he now seems supernatural himself.

The days of the King have become a strange up and down worry that the end is near, and then a what was I thinking reversal. He has a difficult time getting comfortable now and has taken to sleeping in a closet that never interested him before. His appetite is terrible and his sleep seems comatose. But then, I'll wake to find him screaming at me to let him out. This is the classic roller coaster syndrome. Things with him are good, then bad and then good again. But a definite shift has occurred, and there has been a pronounced decline in his health since he turned 18 on May 6th. None of this is unexpected, still this part of the journey is not for the faint of heart. I let crying jags have their way with me and then toughen up again.

"Your heart knows," says the vet. Still, as I catch sight of the King, sitting in the middle of the lawn, listening, watching, and just being, I sense that he is more alive now than some people will ever be.

Most nights, he sleeps in the closet now, but around 3 am, he will come and stand beside me and ask me to pull him under the covers and into my arms. We sleep for a few hours this way, getting what we can, while we still can.

The King is making the most of the time he has left.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Scoops of Color

Where I live, this is the time when rhododendrons bloom in rainbow colors that always remind me of cool, refreshing scoops of sorbet. There are over 1,000 species of rhododendrons, which were originally found in Nepal. Click any of the four images to see some lovely details.
The Chinese introduced sorbet to the Persians who then showed the Arabs how to make sweetened fruit drinks that were sometimes poured over snow. The words, sorbet and sherbet, come from the Arab word for these beverages, "sharbab. " Sorbet was introduced and became popular in France in the 17th century. Sorbet photos from Häagen-Dazs.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day Tribute

Brutus, the first K-9 Congressional Medal of Honor Winner

Today and every day all who have served our country, living and dead, human and animal, deserve our deepest appreciation and recognition for their service and ultimate sacrifice. Brutus is a symbol of their bravery and devotion.

Part Boxer and part British Bull Mastiff, Military K9 Brutus tops the scales at 200 pounds. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor last year after his tour in Iraq.

His handler and four other soldiers were taken to an old warehouse and held hostage by insurgents. Brutus and his handler communicate by sign language and he gave Brutus the signal that meant, "go away but come back and find me." The Iraqis paid no attention to Brutus. He came back later and quietly tore the throat out of one Iraqi guard at one warehouse door and then did the same to another guarding a second door. Brutus then jumped repeatedly against one of the warehouse doors until it opened. He went in and untied his handler and they all escaped.

He may be the first K9 to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, but Brutus is also a regular dog and "big lug." He is fond of sitting in laps and enjoys the company of cats. Brutus, you are my kind of hero!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

More May Meanderings

"I befriended the countryside and it led me closer to my own heart."

~Ellis Felker

Thursday, May 21, 2009

One Morning in May

Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis)

This heirloom perennial gladdens my bleeding heart each May and looks especially nice with blue Ajuga, commonly known as Bugleweed, blooming in the background.

I have always been a deeply feeling person but was officially dubbed a "bleeding heart" when I was a teenager by a friend's mother. The first time she took me around her vast perennial beds she noticed that I was particularly taken by the bleeding heart flowers. "I think they named these after you," she said. I wasn't offended. I'm proud of this trait, which I consider a gift. My friend Jon, who has a keen understanding of the metaphysical side of life, calls me an “empath.” Bleeding heart or empath, I have always “felt” a profound connection to the natural world.

Waking early this morning, I was captivated by the sight of the garden in all of its May glory and the song, One Morning in May by James Taylor (a fellow bleeding heart), came to mind even though I haven't heard it in a very long time. It seems to fit this day and capture the feelings that springtime love and longing can sometimes evoke.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Only in May

I always look forward to gathering a bouquet of lily of the valley

and using my May china teacup and saucer

I love the fleeting beauty, sweet scent and delicate white bells of lily of the valley (Convallaria Majalis), a perennial groundcover that blooms only in May. Majalis means "that which belongs to May" and the flowers are said to bring luck and a return to happiness.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

I Love May

Hay-scented Ferns (Dennstaedtina punctilobulba) and violets.

After a long and dreary winter, it's one thing to wait for spring, but in May my patience is finally rewarded. I find the graceful fronds of all ferns enchanting, but hay-scented ferns are a longtime favorite. When the bright green fronds are crushed or broken, the fragrance of fresh hay fills the air. Click on the photo to see some lovely details.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

It's Tazzie Time

My Tazetta
From time to time my neighbor will come across an old cat collar belonging to one of my three cats, Tazzie, Kia and Rocky (aka Rachmaninoff). Tazzie and Kia died in 2003. Over the years, they all lost a ton of these break-away safety collars, making their way through thick brush and doing God knows what else in the garden and woods. I wondered if they had a special place where they yanked them off because of the many bells I always attached to each collar in an effort to botch their success in hunting.

Whenever I find one of these old collars hanging on the front door knob, I know my neighbor has been doing yard work or walking through his woods. This week, he unearthed, quite literally, one of Tazzie’s collars, which is probably a decade old.

I lost my orange and white striped Tazzie girl to diabetes. She died on a beautiful spring day in May, which made her death all the more heartrending because spring was Tazzie's season.

I named her Tazetta after a species of sweetly
scented orange narcissus. She was only eight weeks old when I adopted her from a shelter and she lived with me until she was 16. I’m sad to say that I didn’t fully appreciate my Etta until I lost her.

In spring, Tazzie loved her grasses, special wild ones that grow only along the edges of the woods. She relished the taste of these early grasses and sought them out year after year. They became a much anticipated harbinger of the season, and in the years since her death I always think of her when I see them sprouting.

Tazzie was the only cat I have ever known who rushed to reassure me when I became upset or cried. In many ways she kept watch over me.

I miss you my Tazzie, my girl, my friend.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Cherry Beauty

"Never say there is nothing beautiful in the world anymore. There is always something to make you wonder in the shape of a tree, the trembling of a leaf."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

Photo by Frederick Franzella

Photo by Lisa Martin

Photo by Glen Gaffney

"There is only one pretty child in the world, and every mother has it."
~Chinese Proverb

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Partied Out

Rachmaninoff says: "I am wiped out after partying to celebrate my 18th birthday on May 6th. Now that I am an octogenarian in human years, I just can't party like I used to! But I had a great day and thank you all for your good wishes."

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Happiest Day

As usual, Rock was happy to oblige, but how many cats do you know that would let you get away with this?

Rock draws his life force from the Earth, the best medicine of all.

The happiest day is May 6, 2009 ― my Rachmaninoff’s 18th birthday! He was born on May 6, 1991 and in human years he is 88 years old. My “Man of the Forest” is truly an Earth sign boy.

Rock was not expected to live this long but thanks to the exceptional and loving veterinary care provided by Melanie and Julie, today Rock is doing what he loves most, enjoying the green grass in the fullness of spring.

His legs are strong again, he is enjoying his food and making his rounds in the garden and woods he has spent a lifetime exploring. At night, when he sleeps beside me, he presses his cheek next to mine and purrs with deep contentment. I know he is expressing his gratitude for all that I do to keep him feeling his best. Those moments are so poignant. For 18 years now my Rachmaninoff has been my best writing companion, soulful friend and the little boy I always wanted. Against all odds he has made it farther than anyone expected. I am mindful that these are the sweetest days.

These Are the Days, by Natalie Merchant and 10,000 Maniacs, on old favorite, seems like a perfect birthday song for Rock. Click here to listen.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Rock and Stone

After a catmint session Rock is stoned.

This post concludes my brief series on stone begun April 24th with, appropriately enough, a Rock. I like this photo, taken in July 2008, because it has three of my favorite things, Rock, my Maine Coon cat (aka Rachmaninoff), fieldstone and Walker’s Low catmint.

On hot summer afternoons Rock can often be found lying on the fieldstone patio, enjoying a hit of catmint. He bats at the leaves to release the oils, writhes in ecstasy and then settles down for a nap on the cool stone.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Art of Stone, Heart of Stone

Stone is totally natural and blends effortlessly into any setting.

Dry stone masonry is a centuries' old art.

This post continues a brief series about stone.

“It's hard to believe a massive rock wall could have any heart in it, but that's exactly what binds a dry stone wall together, says English born expert stone mason John Shaw-Rimmington ― and he isn't speaking metaphorically. "The rock chips, pebbles and fragments that are packed into the spaces between larger stones are called 'hearting' and they're what hold a wall up," he explains.

Though it takes a lifetime to master the art of stone masonry, Shaw-Rimmington claims he can teach anyone the basics in just two days. "A person just has to love the material, and be able to think like a stone," he jokes.

Friday, May 1, 2009


This post continues a brief series I began on April 24th entitled, Stoned.

Okay, I'm sorry, but when I look at this stone wall, that’s all I think of ― The Flintstones. Crazy, but true. It could be some hard-wired primal thing, or maybe I was Queen of a Cro Magnon cave city in a past life, but something is up for sure because, and I'm not kidding, I just had lunch with a guy who looked an awful lot like Barney Rubble, and I haven't thought about him in ages.

If I was asked to look at these stones, arranged as they are in this wall, and free associate, I know exactly what I would say.

Yabba Dabba Doo.

And no, I’m not stoned, just a little whacked out from a long work week.