Using What You Have: Snowstorm Soup

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The crystal patterns of yesterday’s snow: long shards that were light, but broken and folded in on themselves, made great snowballs.

 

When Governor Cuomo decided to give me (and many others) a snow day yesterday, I was delighted. 

As flakes sprinkled and flew outside, I dug through the fridge. Lighter and healthier breakfasts are calling me lately, and being at home I could make a fresh hot soup. I was out of miso paste. However, never one to waste, the day before I had taken the bones and skin of a natural roasted chicken and made a golden savory broth.

I took a few tablespoons and used that to steam frozen cauliflower. Cooked cabbage left from a different meal a few days before came next. The previous night’s dinner yielded some vegetables for tiny specks of color in a so far white yellow dish. Plop! In went the green and yellow beans and carrots sliced tiny.

Chickadees bobbled back and forth to the bird feeder. Snow movers scraped and pushed piles of snow. What else goes in here? I asked. 

Digging past makings for new meals, I found a container of onion chutney with sweet red pepper from a wondrous take-out meal (Shalimar in Delmar). That added some spice, fresh cumin seed, and a gorgeous reddish color.  It needed something salty yet, pops of flavor. Back to the freezer, and tucked in a bag, a thin sausage grilled in the end-of-September sun at Wiawaka’s Cancer Survivor Day where I had volunteered. Diced small, I mixed that in.

Perfection! A huge bowl of filling vegetables and warmth for my mouth. Colors to match the cardinals and sparrows and finches pecking for sunflower seed.

Out the window, more flakes danced past each other in cascades and wind blown veils. Later would come a walk outdoors:  giggles and digging out a car, snowballs thrown at cattails, and small neighborhood children glorying in the view from atop ten foot snow mounds, while parents shoveled and snapped photos. 

For now I had created something out of what I already had, richness from examining what had already been given me.

 

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Tasty warm soup, hurray!

What is in your hands right now that is wonderful, useful, delightful?

Look Up

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Winter tree shape on white birch bark, Five Rivers, November 2019

 

Sometimes when I walk through the woods, I look up from my feet and visions pop out.

A lone leaf wiggles frenetically in the wind. Sunlight breaks through the gloom to light up one small yellow oxalis flower. A red eft wriggles on rock, or a snake slides under dry oak leaves, or a tiny brown toad hops-hops-hops in the path ahead.

 

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I looked back and there it was–a bird’s nest lit by autumn sun. Five Rivers, November 2019

I say to myself–treasure these gifts, these moments. Pay attention.

Even in my office, captured by computer screen and phone rings and beeps, I look up and stretch my neck. Light from the window on the other side of the room captures me. Above trees, I see a horizon. I am reminded again: I don’t have to spend hours in meditation every day; I can take these moments over the day and their richness will feed me.

I just have to look up.

 

Prospect Mountain view

 

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Late October view from the top of Prospect Mountain, Lake George, NY.

I can see it is going to be difficult to hold to one (or two or three) photos each week. There’s so damned much beauty out there. Especially when so many worries pull—about health, work, friends, state of the world–we need multiple doses of the medicine of nature.

 

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View of Lake George from the second overlook.

The other weekend: Prospect Mountain in Lake George, just past fall color peak. Every stage of autumn, like every step on a path or into a river, is different and wondrous. The sun still glows on golden trees. Now the rust and orange and smoke start to predominate.

We take in three pull-overs with views. At one, a leather-clad motorcyclist speaks with tears in his eyes, of family sick with cancer. We nod and share enthusiasm about the gumdrops of trees coating the mountainside: colors of spearmint and lemon and berry.  Good wishes all around, each of us leaves bolstered, encouraged, somehow better.

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Late afternoon sun lights up trees on the way, Prospect Mountain, Lake George NY.

The road spirals up and up in angled late day sun. At the top, tourists stand precariously on ledges to snap selfies with Lake George Village behind them. We tromp in the 45 degree chill and breathe in the oxygen-rich Adirondack air. We sigh and sigh, and feel connected to things bigger than ourselves.

How do you care for yourself when life weighs heavy? What outside place in nature feeds you?

 

October milkweed

 

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Mid-October milkweed seeds, Vischer Ferry Preserve

Milkweed calls out the poet in me. 

Against the backdrop of gray grasses and tan marsh reeds, the popped open pods pull my eye.  Silver-white seeds twist and spill out; drops of morning dew spangle like holiday lights. 

These particular seeds remind me of a teenager hanging her hair upside down, to brush it full. There’s a sense of movement into the future, a sense of letting go into the unknown and yet beautifully seasonal, as summer gives in to autumn.

(This is for Beth and family, who have been particularly enthusiastic about photos of milkweed, with those memories of childhood fields of wildflowers.)

What do milkweed seeds call to, in you?

 

A New Beginning: Diane’s Photo of the Week

 

New England asters ready to unfurl in the fall (Vischer Ferry Preserve, Rexford, NY, Oct 2019).

A little explanation–

Yes, it has been quite a while. Yes, with a few posts here and there. No, not what I had envisioned or desired when I began this writing endeavor.

But life changes.

The transition to day job has not been instant or even short, and certainly not easy. Balance, balance, balance, I say to myself each morning, sometimes with gritted teeth but more and more with an ease that surprises me. Each day I discover something lovely.

Last week I took a promotion to a new position and a new department. At my former job, in lieu of writing essays and posting online here, I determined to do the small things that I was capable of. I brought in one of my photos each week and posted it on the outside of my cube.

It’s what I could handle.

My workmates came by to witness, comment, enjoy, question, compare, express memories about their own nature places and photos, and even give preferences about which photos they needed to see that week—bright colors or flowers in winter, cooling water or ice images in August, signs of seasonal change, details and broader vistas. The previous week’s photo stayed up, and acted as a comparison, a talking-point.  At one point I had three photos up at once–the needs had grown! The photos became a Monday or Tuesday morning joy for many, a way of connecting that grew and expanded over the days until the next Diane’s Photo Of The Week was pinned up.

As I took in the departing hugs and best wishes, I was invited (ok, ordered, thank you Kelly!) to continue this tradition online. Here I begin Diane’s Photo of the Week, five work days after the move out of my old cube and yes, I know, on a Wednesday (chalk it up to technical difficulties).

You can subscribe by email or RSS feed to get a bit of what I shared for almost two and a half years with my dear Guidance & Counseling office family. You could also just drop by this virtual outside-of-my-cube, whenever you get up from your desk and need a break. Feel free to leave a comment and join the conversation.

Thanks for wandering by.

Things to notice about the photo

Take a look at the velvety and furry texture of the the outside layer of greenish bracts on the foreground flowers. Bracts (also called phyllaries in some sources) protect the petals of the aster until they open and then form part of the underneath support. (The tightly curled purple petals trying to burst out make me smile. I understand that desire to grow.)

Actually, there are two kinds of petals on an aster.  The interior orange ones you can only see in the blurred background flowers here are called disk florets since once the flower opens they form a flat disk in the center. The purple ones that are uncurling are the ray florets–yes, those ones doing a modern dance wave and gesture as they “wake up” in the fall.

What does this photo make you think of or remember?  Is there something you are feeling ready to wake up to this autumn?

 

Nature Art Show at Emma Thacher Nature Center

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Red oak leaf in ice, on the Red Belly Trail, Partridge Run. Come and see other photos I took  in the winter woods!

On Saturday, March 5, 2016, from 1 to 4 pm, I invite you all to visit Emma Treadwell Thacher Nature Center, 87 Nature Center Way, Voorheesville NY for the opening reception of their 13th annual Nature Art Show. I have three photographs in the show–come celebrate  nature as interpreted by over 50 artists, in the center nestled next to Thacher Lake. The opening reception includes live music and refreshments, and there are trails to walk outside near the nature center or back at John Boyd Thacher State Park (don’t miss the escarpment overlook).

The show runs through March 25 and the Center (free admission!) is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9 to 5.

Directions: If you approach from John Boyd Thacher Park on 157 (off 85/New Scotland Road), you will drive THROUGH Thacher Park, take a right on 256 (Ketcham Road), pass the small Farm Stand on the right, and soon after take a left on Nature Center Road (small sign for Nature Center), which is gravel and leads to the parking area & center.

The Poet in the Woods

Ice bubbles in a pond at Partridge Run, December 2014.

Signs of life–though frozen–bubbles in a pond at Partridge Run, December 2014.

I pictured a poet.

In my mind I saw her flowing, reddish-brown hair, loosely twisted into a bun to keep it from catching on low branches, wearing a green-and-white checked flannel jacket, and carrying a notebook and pencil. Poet or not, she was making her way ahead of us, up the side of the snowmobile path off the southernmost trailhead at Partridge Run, in early December.

I knew I was embellishing the facts with this mental picture—but that day in the woods, I could clearly see evidence of her narrow, well-worn hiking boots. I could tell The Poet was short (because of her length of stride) and curious (wandering some, clearly stopping here and there), and in good enough shape to climb the side of the hill, though she wasn’t particularly skinny, looking at the depth of her steps. Snow had fallen the afternoon before, so all the tracks were fresh.

At the near freezing temperatures, shards of ice and sunlight. Partridge Run.

At the near freezing temperatures, shards of ice and sunlight. Partridge Run.

My friend C and I had ventured out on a sunny day into the glittering white of Partridge Run Wildlife Management Area, huffing and puffing while we followed the course of multiple snowmobiles, along with plenty of hunter boot prints and shotgun shells, dog tracks, square snowshoe indentations, and traces of quick light mice along with vole burrows. The hemlock- and red oak-lined path had been somewhat traveled after the snowfall.

Dried flowers, wild like the poet’s hair.

Dried flowers, wild like the poet’s hair.

After half an hour on the trail, we consulted our map.

“I don’t want to double back to the parking area to get to Pickerel Ponds. If we bushwhack over the hill to our right, we can hit Partridge Run Road instead of slogging the long way around.”
“Ok, I think I remember what the ledge looked like from the other side, when we were here in the summer. Let’s do it.”

As we trekked up into deeper snow, we were happy to see others had done this before, including a large-booted hunter (more shotgun shells) and the woman I was calling The Poet. Due to the hunter’s presence, I re-imagined her outfit, with a neon orange vest for safety.

My hiking partner struck out in front of me. “Look, she headed this direction, toward the fence. God, I love the old stone fences in the woods!”

Hip high stacked rocks wiggle and waggle all over woods and mountains in the Northeast, climbing up at near-impossible angles; in addition to stone fences, in the woods we often find evidence of rusting farm trucks, decrepit apple orchards and even the foundations of homesteads, with domestic bulbs and roses sprawling untended but lush in the middle of the overgrowth.

View through a late 1930s sedan on the W5 Trail, John Boyd Thacher State Park.

View through a late 1930s sedan on the W5 Trail, John Boyd Thacher State Park.

“She went over here! Boy, her boots seem awful pointy, for being in the snow! I wonder if she didn’t know it was going to storm.” The footwear pictured in my mind changed to western boots.

“This doesn’t seem to be the top of the hill we were thinking about. It looks pretty marshy down below.”

I followed one of The Poet’s side tracks as my partner veered left. The woman had scrambled over a tall pile of wiry brush. I half-wondered: why would she do that? If she were hiking over the hill like us, or even taking pictures or writing—none of those scenarios made sense with crawling like that.

I started to get a funny feeling; not sure why my heart had started racing, I called to my companion.

“Umm, I don’t think we are following a poet!”
Silence. Hiking Mate was obviously distracted.
“I mean, I don’t think these are human prints.”
“Huh?” She readied to climb over the wall to follow the recent steps.

As I hurried to catch up with my pal, following the prints between her and me, sunlight from the east glinted in the rapidly icing holes. I could now see distinct indentations at the front, of claws, and then the somewhat loping pattern of full and partial marks stretching out in front of me.

“Oh my gosh, stop right there! I don’t think it’s human—I think, I think—“
I couldn’t get it out fast enough— “I think it’s a bear!”

“What??!! Oh shit!”
“A small one. I think bear. If not, maybe wolf? Good-sized something….”

We didn’t stop to pull out our laminated Animal Tracks brochure to confirm one way or the other.

The lope and pigeon-toed angling of paw prints looks like a bear, but I am still not sure.

The lope and pigeon-toed angling of paw prints looks like a bear, but I am still not sure.

We once again experienced hightailing it out of the woods, sensitively aware how the energy changes when you believe you are close to an omnivore, even a probably-shy one. The tracks could not have been more than eight hours old. Maybe fresher.

A vague memory hovered in my mind, of something familiar about this situation, perhaps a news story I’d read long ago?

The details returned with the same increasing speed as our legs, which wheeled faster and faster back down to the snowmobile path—yes, that’s right, it was a report of people following with relief what they thought were human prints. Laughing and relaxed, they’d enjoyed themselves on the path back to civilization, only to find themselves instead facing a bear at its cave entrance. I don’t remember what the consequences were for them, didn’t want to actually, even when we were back on more well-traveled terrain. We could have repeated that story. Gulp.

The path of the fronds froze in ribbons.

The path of the fronds frozen in ribbons.

The rest of the day we joked about the bear, with a slightly nervous edge to our laughter. How tricky that bear was. How it wore such nice boots. How it sometimes switched to snowshoes just to fool us and left its shotgun shells behind to throw us off. How it rode the back of the snowmobile, hanging off the side and careening, breaking branches that we had to move out of the path. How it had tossed beer cans and candy wrappers out the back—what an ill-mannered bear! How it pretended to be a poet, just to get us up that hill.

I was glad we didn’t actually stumble across The Poet. Since she wasn’t a poet at all.

Winter sun over side of Pickerel Ponds, Partridge Run Wildlife Management Area.

Winter sun over side of Pickerel Ponds, Partridge Run Wildlife Management Area.