Tag Archive | nature

Let it snow let it snow let it snow!

This is the winter of our discontent.   The storms that pelt against the windows, shellac the grounds with ice, and fog in the small aircraft, are mere reflections of the inner turmoil we are feeling.

Perhaps the last time you felt good about job opportunities and housing prices, the critical thinking skills our children are learning, the national budget and the cost of preventive and healing medical care is too long ago to really remember.  Or, maybe, you never felt these things.  Ever.

The absolutely astounding thing about these things is that we never stop wanting them.  Of course, it eventually becomes harder and nearly impossible to retain hope for an easier and less costly way to live the American dream of a high quality life.  You try to stay positive through months of job searching; you avert your eyes at all the foreclosure signs in the neighborhood; you refuse to watch Fox channel’s biased and unfair news or NBC’s news sound bites between unlimited commercial breaks; you try not to count the zeroes in the national debt figure (twelve); and, you pray fervently you don’t get sick and need a doctor or operation.

It’s exactly this effort that makes it virtually impossible to be content and peaceful throughout your day.

I remember being peaceful, once.

It was about a hundred years ago when I was nine years old.  My best friend was out with her folks and I was bored.  I wanted to ditch my older brother who could be such a nuisance some times and have some peace and quiet.  I felt it best not to ask permission to leave the house for a while, as I probably wouldn’t get it and would instead be put to work sweeping the kitchen floor or babysitting my baby brother.   I casually sauntered across the living room floor acting cool, and made it to the screen door without incident.  I stood there for just long enough looking uninterested, then slowly pushed open the door.  I was soon outside on the porch.  Made it!  I took off at a fast pace across the lawn, onto the sidewalk and around the corner.

It was a beautiful, sunny morning in early summer.  The birds were happily singing and hardly anyone was outside yet, which was just perfect.  I lived in a very small town where everyone knew everyone else and would tattle to my parents if they thought I was wandering too far from home and getting into trouble.

I walked the two blocks to the main part of town and took a right.  I was into my rhythm now.  Not too many people hung around the car repair shop or the farm implement store, and the tavern wasn’t open yet.  I started to skip down the sidewalk.  Right before the street ended, I stopped at Almira’s yard and picked myself a few grapes.  She was an old spinster lady who was always nice to us kids, so I knew she wouldn’t mind if I helped myself.

I kept walking past the dead end and right up to the wooden fence.  I scanned the pasture and smiled:  the cows were gone and the bull was nowhere to be seen.  I climbed over, jumping to the ground.  I steadied myself and walked purposefully across the flat grazing land, heading straight for the little creek.  I knew exactly where the spring  fed into the creek bed and helped myself to a few handfuls of fresh water.

After I had refreshed myself, I reached down and picked a few sweet purple clover buds.  A short time later I had made it to a small hill and was settling my little frame onto the grassy patch by the big bush.  I could see the entire town from here, and more importantly, if the bull decided to come by.  I wasn’t afraid of cows, I rode them on my uncle’s farm when no one was looking.  I would have preferred a horse, but I made do with what was available.  But a bull was an entirely different proposition.

I munched on the clover and then laid back for a rest, my arms up and my head on my hands.  The sky was a beautiful blue and the clouds seemed whiter and fluffier than usual.   A gentle, wispy breeze blew across my face like angel wings.  Immediately, a wave of enormous joy rolled over my little body and I felt one with everything, and everything was perfect, so I must be, too.

I thought great thoughts that day while looking up.  I just knew everything was going to turn out just perfect.  I’d have a great teacher that fall and I’d be really smart in class, maybe one of the smartest.  I wouldn’t fight with my brother nearly so much and I’d get a new dress to wear every Sunday for church.  Oh.  And a horse.  I’d definitely end up owning a horse.

When it was time to go back home, I was peaceful and content.  I got myself up, walked back across the pasture, climbed over the fence and began to walk the four blocks to home.  I waved to my neighbors as I passed them.  I was feeling pretty cocky because everything was going to be so perfect.

I often wish I was nine again, drinking fresh, clean spring water, crossing an open field of clover, thinking wonderful thoughts about my life and everything in it.  Instead, I have to be content remembering instead of being, feeling grateful that it all comes back to me so easily.  Once you know what peace truly feels like, you never stop trying to live it.  That’s a wonderful gift for a nine year old to give to the world; well…mine, any way.

Something good is going to happen next year.  I can see it in the sky.

— ( c ) St. John 2011

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Sweet Good-bye and Eager Hello

I don’t understand those who mourn the end of summer.

Who could weep for the disappearing ultramarine of the sea or swimming pool when one has only to look upon the gorgeous, deep palette that is now autumn?

Bright red berries popping upon branches, burnt orange, russet red and golden yellow leaves twirling to the ground in a dance…Even the sounds have color and taste.

Crows shriek over and over, a rhythm to their speech that sweetens the memory of ripe apples, juicy grapes and plums.  The low barking of a dog knells a few times in the distance, beckoning one back home.

All of these spark a strong desire in me to put on my shoes, grab some books to carry and walk in the leaves, kicking them up as high as I can in the air, just like I used to do as a kid walking home from school.  But on closer look, there aren’t enough leaves yet so the only kicking I can do is in my brain.

Lazy, Hazy, Crazy, Hot Days of Summer

The air chokes with heat.  Not a leaf or parched blade of grass is moving.

The lone tomato plant in the pot guzzles water for its six clusters of small green orbs.  Tiny yellow flowers announce more orbs will be arriving soon.  Four days ago the peppers  were no bigger than a fat thumb.  Now they are almost as large as my palm.  How do they do that??  How does a flower or tiny thing change into a substantial, edible vegetable so quickly and wondrously?

Clearly, my plants are loving the heat, the blistering rays of the sun, the hugs of the stifling air.  Remarkable.  As a human, wilting in the early morning, I am humbled by the power of nature to win out.

My scalp beings to sweat and I have only been in my patio chair for three minutes.  It feels like someone has placed a wool blanket over my bare legs.  My skin is beginning to feel oppressed.

The grounds are so ugly now.  Little band-aids of green will soon disappear into the dry, mustard yellow brown of a scorched earth.

Cicadas are screaming, competing to be heard above the traffic, and they win.  The high pitched vibrations drown out the tire and engine noises from the nearby pavement.

A bright, beautiful red male cardinal lands on the corner of the balcony.

I swear, its eyes looked disapprovingly at me.

The cardinal flits away to a nearby branch and waits.

He has me well trained.  I place a handful of seeds on the corner of the balcony railing.   OOPS.  The “rules” here prohibit kindness to birds, but I sneak a bit of it in any way.  Some rules are just stupid.  I know of no one who can resist beauty, especially when it comes around just for you.  And he is gorgeous.

My entire body is beginning to melt.

I am going to celebrate summer today.  I will purchase a bag of lemons and squeeze all the juice out of them.  I’ll pour in some sugar — the natural, healthier, Dr. Oz kind.  I’ll get unhealthy brats, some peppers and onion, and fat hoagie buns and grill the brats in the corner of the balcony that will still be in shade at lunch time.  We’ll drink up the cold lemonade and eat the brats.  I will remember how my nine-year-old self didn’t give a hoot how hot it got in the summer.  There was no school and I was with my best friend.

Yep.  It’s time to celebrate what is; and summer…in spite of its current drought and brutal temperatures..has alot to offer.

Cheers.

Are you feeling uneasy in 2012?


 

There’s no getting around it.  2011 was a bad year upon a not-go-good year, going into an iffy year.  There is not one person who has not suffered in some way, innocently or by their own behavior and actions.

We are all in this confusion and void together.  It’s not the best way to be united as a country, as a people…I’d rather be dancing…but there is strength in standing together and facing it down.

Whether your grief has been emotional, physical, economic, or spiritual…or a combination of more than one or all of the above, the wall of pain can be walked through.  You can come out the other side not only intact, but with greater peace.  I may not have the answers to get you through it, but perhaps I can lean upon others for inspiration to help guide you.

It’s hard being in a void.  The economy…environment…government…world unrest…nuclear threats.  Who knows what the heck will happen to the world tomorrow…next week…next month.  Election year only makes the void echo insanely because it is the same ole, same ole, with few promises acted upon.  Andrew Peterson, EdD, in his book “The next ten minutes” looks at the void a bit differently though.   He absolutely agrees it is a place of uncertainty and how we human beings are not wired to like uncertainty.  But he happily goes on to say about the void, “…it’s the gap between the poles, where all things are possible.  It is, in fact, the present moment.”  He’s particularly delighted about that, because that’s what his book is all about:  being in the present moment.

All spiritual books point to this present moment.  “Be in the moment, in the now.”  But when the present moment and the now are painful, why would you ever want to go there?!  Give me a great fantasy escape any day.

But I get their point.  In spite of our humanness to avoid uncertainty, we cannot avoid the lure of beauty.  And there is beauty in the moment, even if it means just paying attention to how you breathe and how you don’t even have to think about it to stay alive.  Can you imagine how tedious it would be if you had to remind yourself every few seconds to breathe?!  If I want to be reminded to “breathe…just breathe” or to “take a deep breath,” I want it to be because I am so excited about something that if I don’t slow down my breathing, I will surely faint dead away in pure delight.  But it doesn’t have to be as common as paying attention to your breathing…whatever causes you to concentrate so heavily that you hear nothing else around you…that’s the present moment.  That’s the now.  That’s pure delight.  That’s the best escape fantasy going.

I certainly hope that Andrew Peterson is right, and that all things are possible at this moment.  Because that’s how I want my dreams to come true…when I’m not paying attention because I’m having so much fun, just being.

Next I turn to Julie Cameron, a particular favorite artist/writer of mine (The Artist’s Way, Transitions, etc.).   In an inspirational prayer book she offered this consolation:

“Sometimes people fail us in terrible ways.  We are betrayed, abandoned, cast aside.  In times of such personal trauma, we must hold to the larger picture….I realize that while people may indeed fail me and turn away, there is an underlying goodness to the Universe which brings to me new friends and new situations.  These gifts heal and soothe me.  I see the merciful hand of providence despite my pain.”

The larger picture can mean many different things to each of us.  For me, it’s the idea of goodness; that it can exist in one human being or another without ever disappearing completely.  When you can reach outside of your pain and grab on with all your might to that goodness – kindness and respect – and offer it to others, you find the friends who are connected to the higher picture and can elevate you to that higher place of healing and peace.  And, better yet…

sometimes those friends even find you.

But for me it’s Don Miguel Ruiz and his book, “The Four Agreements” that really brings things home on this idea of we humans suffering at the hands of others.  Maybe I’m quoting directly or maybe I’m paraphrasing…I’m most certainly jumping around…but he gets the credit for the following perceptions:

We all love the best we can.  We all can trust ourselves.  We all suffer.

We can’t always give what the other wants or needs.  Sometimes, someone leaving your life or disappointing you is a gift.  It hurts to be with some people.  But the hurts will heal.         When the hurt heals, you can choose what you really want, how you really want to relate to others.  You don’t need to trust others as much as you need to trust yourself to make the right choice to be with them or not.   Your sadness, anger or humiliation will disappear.  When you establish a new belief you won’t be in that hell of pain ever again.  You will become immune to disapproval, shame and harsh resentments.

As for the gossips, the hell that they create when you go your own way, don’t take it personally.  It won’t affect you.  You can stand in that hell, in serenity.  The poison of harsh words will poison the sayers of them, not you.  You are not responsible for their words, neither is your behavior responsible for their unkind actions.  You did not cause the harshness, resentment of abuse.  You can stand in the middle of this pain and still experience inner peace and happiness.

Every day you will become better at being you.  You will remain a beautiful soul and you will live up to that soul.  Accept yourself.  Do not commit the sin of self-rejection.

Regardless of how high or down you are in this challenging year of 2012, one bit of prophecy or truth, if you will, keeps popping up…kindness and respect connects you to the innate goodness of the universe to other like-minded souls.  So if all those you are connected to are neither kind nor respectful, just hang tough and don’t waiver…those who already are will be grounded in your space even more deeply.  You and the goodness of others in your space will draw to you the same.   And the best part is, that those in your life who aren’t kind or respectful and can’t/won’t become so, will suddenly find there is no room for them at your inn.

Too bad, huh.  And you didn’t have to do anything, except be your higher self and stay the course.  See?  Life can be good.

(Because chose it to be.)

— ( c ) St. John 2012

Courage Called For

Courage is demanded

to stare into the darkness of an airless tunnel of despair

where no light shines, not even at the end…

Courage is demanded

to be a door for fears and despairs to pass through,

and open you to your separateness…

Courage is demanded

in the airless tunnel of despair

that separates you from yourself…

Courage is demanded.

to become the light…

if only because otherwise there would be none.

 — (c) St. John 2012

Autumn in the Hamlet

Although I live in a large city now, autumn always takes my mind back to the small town where I grew up.

Our tiny hamlet was located in eastern Iowa, near the Wisconsin and Illinois borders.  My family was firmly ensconced in the slow pace of small town living in the 1940s through 1960s, when the world intruded very little and the quiet was relatively undisturbed by either traffic or current events.

Our house had a panoramic view of the entire town.  In sweatshirt weather, when the air would get so crisp you could almost reach out and snap it in two, I’d sit outside on the lawn to look upon the town, and to think.  Dusk would settle and the sky would get that purplish pink color it always gets around 5:30 PM on a late fall afternoon.  Slim spirals of smoke would curl up from chimneys and perfume the town with the scent of burning wood.  I wouldn’t notice it getting late until the ground turned so cool it started freezing my bottom.  Only then would I march inside to be greeted by the blast of heat from the furnace and the smell of dinner on the stove.  Only, we called it supper then.

There wasn’t much to my hometown, but what was there was pretty:  an oval park smack dab in the center, and when the sewer running through it was covered up, was downright enjoyable to walk through.  The hills were full of homes and trees that turned the entire valley into an artist’s palette of beautiful, lush summer greens and flaming bursts of oranges, reds and yellows.

Our little park always hosted and took great pride in Fourth of July celebrations.  For reasons beyond my comprehension, thousands from nearby communities would join us for our patriotic eating and drinking, bingo-playing, carnival gaming, and then the piece de’ resistance; a rip-roaring dance under the pavilion.  Wonderful memories, but it was the winters I liked the most.   The same pavilion was iced over as a rink for skating, and we were usually there until it got dark and the streetlights went on, a signal to return home.  Our noses would freeze, our toes would tingle, and our hands felt so numb you thought you’d left them somewhere back on the ice when you fell that last time.  The small, brick bandstand always held the manger scene at Christmas, and since the baby wasn’t placed on the straw until Christmas Eve, you could sit on the bales and gossip while you took off your skates and rubbed your toes.  The snow blanketed the trees and ground, softening our steps and our voices as we walked out of the park.

Past the park and down the road past Junior’s Tavern at the end of the street, was a circular gravel area.  A train once ran through the nearby pasture, and when I was little I had peeked into the abandoned depot sitting among the weeds.  It had smelled old, and I wasn’t interested in what it used to be; at least not until that night when I was seventeen and my impression of the abandoned building changed.

I had ventured to the dead end for the quiet solitude, to think.  The moon was full and cast a deep shadow across the gravel, silhouetting the stillness of the night.  I stared at the old depot for a long time, when passengers began to emerge from a fog into full view, getting off and on the train.  The steam hissed from the side of the train, the iron clanked in the distance and the smell of metal assaulted my nose.  Then it all faded away, and I was back to myself, staring at an empty building.  I was hooked on the place after that.

Years after I had grown up and left the town, a young man took it upon himself to refurbish the building.  He completely transformed it into what must surely have been its original dignity, so like what I had witnessed that night many years before.   Now the sweet little depot is a local attraction and open for tours on holidays. I cannot help but wonder if the young man who refurbished it had ever been there as a teenager at night during a full moon.

Up the steepest hill and to the left was my family’s home.  It was half a house, a cold-water flat with two rooms down and three up.  Since we didn’t have hot running water, we always had to heat water in a big kettle on the stove.

The kitchen was so small that the table and chairs had to be shoved up against a wall to make a walking space.  Everything was a bit snug when we sat down to a meal together, which was three times a day.  There was always a commentary on the menu.

“How come we hafta have pork chops again?  Can’t we ever have anything different?” we’d ask, no matter if we had pork the previous night or the previous year.

“Just be grateful you have enough to eat.  There are starving children in China who would really appreciate that,” Mom stated.  I always knew how smart she was by how many people she knew…even children in China.

The second floor’s corner room served as my bedroom.  Once a dressing room for a bedroom, it was only the width of a twin bed, with just enough space for one small dresser.  My bedroom claimed the only closet in the house.  That was okay, though.  We had very few clothes to wear so we needed little storage.

A bathroom replaced the outhouse when I was about four years old, but it didn’t have a bathtub, so on Saturdays Mom grabbed a huge vat, set it on the stove and filled it with water.  After the water was heated, she rolled the wash tub into the kitchen, locked the door against unexpected visitors, and called each of us one by one to our bath.  I got to go first, because I was the girl.  After my brothers and I outgrew the washtub, Mom took us to her mother’s, whose house had a bathtub.   She caught up on the family gossip while waiting for all of us to get clean.

When I wanted to play, I sought out my best friends, Dianne and Elaine.  They lived on my street and we were always together, running around the neighborhood or going to the park, and always wondering what it would be like to be all grown up.

We formed a new club of something or other every week, with the oldest (me) as president, then the next (Dianne) as vice president, and the youngest  (Elaine) as secretary.  We always started out the first meeting with a fresh pad of paper and a sharpened pencil, for meeting notes.  After diligently recording our every “motion” for an hour, we soon tired of the routine and went off to the park to swing, or on our bikes to explore.

The whole town had been our playground.  That was the good part.  The bad part was, I couldn’t go anywhere without someone knowing me, so I couldn’t get away with anything.  By the time I got home, Mom had heard all about my latest misbehavior or transgression from at least three different people, and was standing on the porch with a flyswatter, ready to beat the evil spirit out of me that disgraced her, her parents, their parents, and their parents’ parents.

There were two churches in the town.  One sat on the east side of the park, the other sat majestically atop the tallest hill.  It was the Catholics who built upon the hill.  No modest, unassuming structure for them, thank you kindly.  The imposing brick structure had been one of five:  the church, the rectory, the convent, the grade school, and the high school.  The brick convent, grade school and high school were torn down years after I moved away.

The non-Catholics, on the other hand, were satisfied with a little white, dignified wooden structure that was heated by a pot-bellied stove.  Growing up, my brothers and I were never allowed to fraternize with “those other folks”.  I only know about the pot-bellied stove because I peeked through a window on my brothers’ dare.  To this day, I still don’t know who those non-Catholics were, where they lived or went to school.

The hill down from the Catholic Church was always the best for sleigh riding.  The bottom would always be closed off after a good snow so we could get our sleds out and ride safely.  But I don’t think anyone really needed a sign.  The adults just knew to keep their cars away from the church hill after a snowfall or they would run over a sledder.  It was an okay ride if your sled stopped at Elaine’s grandmother’s house halfway down, a good ride if it stopped at Herrig’s garage as the street leveled, but a great ride if you coasted another half block to Manderscheid’s Tavern.

Once in a while I’d walk off alone to the south edge of town, traipsing through the old depot lot, heading to the pasture.  The cows were usually gone to other fields during the day, so I had no worries about disturbing cows, or being chased by a bull.

The pasture was full of adventure.  A small stream ran through it, fed by an underground spring.  I loved to grab a mouthful of the water to quench my thirst, or simply sit there and watch the sparkle on the drops as they flowed down the rocky bank and into the shallow stream.  Then I’d resume my hike and end up on a small hill that overlooked the town.  There, among the rough bushes and occasional tree, I’d plunk my behind down, grab a long piece of the rough grass, slip it in my mouth for chewing, and then relax by staring across the empty field and pondering the questions that seared through my brain.

Sitting there in the quiet of a summer afternoon, with the wild flowers peeking up and blooming in surprising places, the white clouds floating against a soft blue sky, and a gentle breeze caressing my cheek…it was impossible not to feel good.  I felt safe, and I had found divinity there, in nature and sunshine, and alone with my thoughts.

Autumn, winter, spring and summer…a town for all seasons.

And although it may have been a sweet, summer afternoon in which I found God…it wasn’t until autumn, dusk and a sweatshirt…that I found heaven.

n  © 2009 Karen St. John

The Woodpecker in the Tree

Sheets of dry leaves rustle in the trees above me.  The breeze spirals them to the ground, making a sound like far-away static, coding a secret out to the universe.

Lasers of sun shine through the thinned foliage, warming my shoulders. The sky is bluish milk.  No clouds visit.

The leaves continue to turn and spin showers of color

as begins a dull, rhythmic whack…vibrating the stillness… over and over.

No one else is around and I am quiet.  Who, then?

A puzzle for the mind.  But the soul is calm and wise.

It aims my eyes upward and straight, zeroing in on the creature so like itself:  open, free, expressive, natural.

The red crown of the woodpecker pierces through the golds, browns and oranges, and my mind instructs me to chill out…the sound is only a bird.

My soul has a different opinion.  It is not just a bird, it is a piece of me, too.

I sigh in happy contentment with the paradox of mind and soul struggling to be what truly matters, and the woodpecker’s fierce intensity against the wood.

I would have had a headache by now if I had been the bird entirely.

— ( c ) St. John 2009