The Journey Back From Hidden Pond

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Tamaracks, evergreens, and marsh grasses at Hidden Pond in November.

C and I had visited Hidden Pond before, but it’s not a usual stopping place for us at Partridge Run. It is located far from our favorite sites, the water sits higher than the path (hence it is “hidden’) and dozens of deer paths crisscross and confuse the often unmarked main trail. We usually meander in the milkweed for quite some time before finding our way. Uncertainty and wandering can be joyful, my hiking partner reminds me.

This November day, C jumped out of her car. “It’s just going to take five minutes, so I’ve got my hat and gloves, no bag.” She also likes to travel light.

“I guess I’ll leave mine too.” I like being prepared, but I’d already hauled my overstuffed backpack for ninety minutes down the dilapidated snowmobile bridge to Gifford Hollow. This would be just a quick photo opportunity. “The laminated map is coming with me, though, since we got confused before. Do we follow the red snowmobile markers or the yellow ski trail signs?”

She shrugged. I tucked my camera in my jacket.

I try to mirror my hiking partner’s nonchalance, but it’s an effort. Each week she patiently hears me repeat the names of the roads and water features and how we are getting from one to another, even when they are familiar. I work hard to create maps in my head.

“Here’s the meadow from last time.”
C giggled at a familiar landmark: “Oh look, it’s that penis plant.”
“You said it’s called mullein, right?”

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I’d taken pictures of other stalks of mullein, blooming yellow in the summer.

Then there, over the rise, the stunning deep blue of sky reflected into still water: Hidden Pond, ringed by tamaracks. Their golden needles had fallen and made patterns in the water.

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Tamarack needles remind me of log jams, dumped sewing needles, fur fluffed in all directions.

After we stood and listened to the quiet, took photos and noted the near-flooding of the path by new beaver activity, I referred to the map again. “If we keep going, we’ll circle around the pond and back to the road.”

We walked on. The turn did not appear. We walked and walked some more.

“What’s that large body of water on our left? Where are we?”

****

Once two winters ago we took a wrong turn on Beaver Road, and I didn’t have my map with me. My hiking partner was convinced we were going in the correct direction. We passed houses and farms and finally hit not the trail that we sought, but another road.

“Whoops!” she said. “But it’s an adventure. I like finding my way. I’ll eventually get to where I need to be.”
“I hate feeling lost.”
“But we know where we are now.”

I will note that we had to slog up a really steep and icy hill that day, and she cursed the whole way.

***

In one of my favorite books, Deep Survival, Laurence Gonzales writes about becoming lost, that moment of realization when frightened people then run in all directions and become truly lost. Knowing this, I stood still in spite of my panic. I took a deep breath and looked again at the map in my now trembly fingers.

I knew we hadn’t headed toward Beaver Road where the farms were. No gate had appeared—or any other landmarks. Therefore, the unexpected water must be Becker Pond, the only large body of water anywhere near any possible path.

We had to be on the dotted trail that skirted Becker Pond, which we’d only taken once before—when we’d come from the opposite direction.

That day years ago we’d given up on one poison-ivy-filled route and tried another to get to Becker Pond. We never made it. Exceedingly fresh bear scat in the path sent us (we’ll admit it) running back the gravel track to the car. Our getaway vehicle had been parked at a pull-off, next to a long couch dumped in the brush. Burned into our brains by adrenaline, the spot was forever after known as The Parking Area with the Abandoned Couch—even though the torn gray sofa was removed the following year.

****

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The last blooming clover we saw before winter. Spider moving fast, like me.

I felt a little calmer now, reminded of that traditional memory technique: to note stories or experiences at a place, in order to create a different kind of map in your head.

Examples jumped into my brain, from other days and walks: This is where the chipmunk popped out at us. This is where we stopped and took pictures of a feather in the ice. This is where the grouse surprised us with a thrumming dance. This is where we ran into the young man looking for a waterfall from his childhood…..This is where the bear scat was.

I remembered that we’d also approached Hidden Pond from yet another way, on a deeply frozen day. Hidden Pond is where the headless vole surprised us, splayed out on the snow.

We’d had lots of those memory-building experiences, though not on this exact path or from this direction. Would that help?

***

I looked at my watch and squinted at the winter white sky. It was 1:30. We had three hours of sunlight left.

In a way, I knew we weren’t truly lost. We might end up walking an extra hour or two; if incorrect, we could just backtrack to Hidden Pond, though now we were more than thirty minutes down the sodden route and preferred to keep going. I still took physical stock of our situation, as if it were real danger. Which it felt like, somehow.

“It’s not snowing or raining and we are well hydrated and fed, since we already ate our tuna salad sandwiches. We have our apple crisp—damn, it’s back at the car, along with the water.”

“No worries,” C said. “I love these hemlocks nodding overhead.”

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Before I got too freaked out to gaze upwards–

Hemlocks? I wasn’t able to look. My heart rate had moved into overdrive, and my feet were walking faster than I wanted them to. My visual focus had narrowed, just like Gonzales describes in his book. (I was wrong before, I was SO wrong, could I get us back?)

The map seemed to indicate we could keep going past Becker Pond, then a stream would cross over or under the path and soon after, there would be an administrative/service road to the right. That road should take us to the Former Couch Parking Area, and High Point Road, where our car was parked, though much further north. As we walked, I reviewed the way out, but also second-guessed it. Ever since the the map in my head hadn’t matched the map in my hands, my equilibrium had gone tipsy-topsy.

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Red stem dogwood mists the distance–is there a pond beyond?

“Is that the stream, heading toward the marsh that feeds Becker Pond? Yes, yes it is! Don’t worry, the road should be coming up…”

No answer from behind me. C was busy listening to the blue jays squawk at our intrusion.

“This is where we found the bear tracks. Well, maybe. I see gravel and rocks in the path like before. The service road is to the right. I’m sure of it.”

No, no road to the right. Walk, walk, walk.

My hiking partner, unruffled: “Look at the the semi-circles: horse hooves. And lots of horse poo. What a prolific animal!” I found myself hurrying ahead.

We came across a faint path on the right marked with pink ribbons.

C’s only comment? “That doesn’t look like a road.”

I knew ribbons in the woods usually indicate something marked that is not obvious. It could be a way around an obstacle, or a trail disguised by the heavy overgrowth of summer and fall. A trail possibly known otherwise as an administrative road.

“I’ll go by myself and see, but I think it’s our way out.” I worried that I was wrong even as I said it—would we be doomed to hike until dark, or worse?

Within a few steps, I knew. From the brambles I hollered: “Here’s what we called the dark and mysterious stand of evergreens. And the burned stump I thought was a bear.”

C was not bothered by her misreading of the pink markers. “I knew we’d get out. Eventually.” She grinned. So did I.

***

There was yet another tall hill to climb, but the roadside was sprinkled deep with those golden tamarack needles. The sky was open. We bragged about our upcoming Thanksgiving menus and even came across an evergreen snag that we had driven past the previous February—a standing dead tree, splintered and exploded by that winter’s extreme cold. More stories, more memory devices.

At the car, sipping water: “I have to go back and see where I made the mistake. I have to make the map right in my head.”

I discovered that Hidden Pond is actually already on the dotted path to Becker, that you have to turn around from the overlook and return on the original path. Or you will, as we did, be forced the long way around. It was supposed to be a five minute saunter to Hidden Pond and it turned into an hour and fifteen minutes.

That made me ask: Why do C and I get along so well as hiking partners?

Easy–we make decisions together. She actually respects my use of maps, and I rely on her confidence that we will be fine, no matter what. After all, we’ve survived ground bee attacks, impassible routes, exhausting hill climbs, hunters shooting a little too close, and getting lost. Together we walk and wander, have experiences and create memories–mental and emotional maps of our adventures—and now we have a new story to tell.

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We went back the following week. The sky was even more blue, the trees were almost stripped of needles, and thin ice had appeared. Hidden Pond is one of our favorites, now.

 

 

The Summer Affair

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Purple bean blossom, with mature bean behind.

I had wanted more beauty in my life. Isn’t that often the way affairs go?

More specifically, I yearned for beautiful flowers in my garden. I craved a break from what sometimes felt like workaday vegetables and their attendant chores. I enjoyed the healthy produce but after four summers of effort, desired a relationship that was independent, required nothing past superficial attention, and gave me more than I gave it.

Later summer bounty.

Summer bounty, hard-earned: beans and carrots.

***

Back in April, from the bin of donated seeds at the community gardens office, a hand drawn packet from the company Renee’s Garden shone out at me. I’d heard of something called borage oil, which sounded medicinal and icky—like cod liver oil—but I didn’t know anything about borage flowers. The front read “Kitchen Herbs,” pictured five-petaled blossoms and promised, “pollinators love the flowers of this fast growing plant.”

The back panel assured that in addition to bees and ants, children adored blue borage and further, the blooms could be frozen into ice cubes or sugared as cake decorations. Traditional herbalists gushed that borage was thought to “lift the spirits and inspire courage.” Visions appeared in my head of feathery green shoots and midnight blue petals that skipped up and down on the slightest breeze.

When the sprouts came up, I fell instantly in love, in spite of their appearance not matching my fantasy.

Early buds of blue borage.

Early buds of blue borage.

No leggy stalks and stems–instead furry, silvery, thick-trunked bushes emerged. From somewhat more delicate branches, clusters of stems drooped. The flowers sparkled at the tips. Like Jack’s magical beans, more and more plants germinated and grew tall, taller. They crowded out of their designated plot and into the peas, the tomatoes, the carrots, the peppers.

Beauteous blue borage in full bloom.

Beauteous blue borage in full bloom.

Borage bloomed a lighter and yet more intense blue than I had imagined. Many individuals budded pink-blue, then deepened into a pale ultramarine. Once in a while a flower stayed vivid cotton candy color through maturity.

Blue borage with just the tips still pink.

Blue borage with just the tips still pink.

My eyes could not get enough of them.

Makes my heart ache.

Borage in the morning–

Borage in the morning.

–makes my heart ache and sing.

***

The best time was early, when dew still hung like drops of cool moisture on warm lips; early was when the light came from all angles. Before dawn, I would roll out of bed, slap a baseball cap on my flattened dirty hair and hurry on garbage-strewn sidewalks to unlock the garden gate.

Early sun on borage.

Early sun on borage.

Blue borage accepted me as I was. It patiently waited as I stumbled in, half awake. My own tendency to be thick-stalked and overly prolific was not important. I, in turn, accepted its prickles, which never worked under my skin like the hairs on cucumber vines.

Morning after morning, I slow danced with blue borage, marveled the way a new lover does, at its beauty in the light, its shy loveliness in shade. The color softened through petal edges, like a misty photograph. I melted at the sight of these sweet little flowers, stars happily star-gazing, in the dazzle of dawn.

Bee flirting with borage.

Flirting with borage.

The bees and the ants could visit, but these were my flowers.

***

Over time I discovered that to harvest borage, I didn’t have to pinch hard on the open flat flowers. If I waited just a bit longer for full ripeness, the petals would pull slightly away from the fuzzy sepal, like a forward fold in yoga. Then the blossoms could be teased off with gentle pointed fingers into my cupped palm.

Ready for harvest.

Ready for harvest.

On the seed packet, the flavor of borage was advertised as mild, like cucumber. It was a change from the peppery orange nasturtiums from personal gardens past, or the vibrant but grassy-tasting pink and white orchids on restaurant plates.

To me they were strangely reminiscent of the Catholic communion wafers of childhood. Those dry, pale, wheat colored rounds from Sunday Mass had barely a flavor at all. Yet borage was herb-crunchy too, the petals, intensely white center and black stamens, and all that aching blue-pinkness.

Exotic and yet familiar. I smiled at their oddness.

I nibbled borage as I weeded and harvested vegetables, and collected tiny floral gifts for later. They were snuck into salads, with their unapologetic blue, and yes, into ice cubes for sexy summer sangria.

Striking and delicate blue borage flowers.

Striking and delicate blue borage flowers in salad.

***

Half-way through July, my beloved bushes were trounced by a woodchuck. The pushy rodent sneered at my floppy fence and leapt it with ease. He burrowed and jumped and thumped onto my blue borage plants, beating them up, breaking their juicy stalks, crunch! on the way to strip the tricolor beans of their own deep purple beauty.

Willful woodchuck damage.

Willful woodchuck damage.

But borage would not disappoint me.

A week later, I found shoots coming up from the stomped stalks. Bunches of fuzzy leaves, short perhaps but strong, determined—courageous even.

Like a steady love, the plant grew up from the ground once again. Its resilient arms reached out for me and soon bristled with color.

New growth, after disaster.

New growth, after disaster.

By early September, fewer and fewer flowers nodded on the stems, until I went out of town and was surprised not to think about the borage while I was gone—or even when I came home. I’ll need to put the garden to bed this week, and I know that now, since the first frost, what is there will not resemble my summer infatuation. I already feel a tinge of sadness.

Is this the way things always end? I ask, and then answer: Of course. Annual flowers are always destined to live but a few short months.

In addition, I realize it wasn’t just a meaningless or superficial affair; instead, it was one of many gifts given to me, when I have paid attention and let myself fall in love with the natural world.

Winter approaches and along with it, the inside loves of my life. I must return to the hardy, four-season relationships that have patiently awaited me while I tarried outside.

Perhaps blue borage and I will dance again some future June.

Darkness falls, but the sun will return next summer.

Darkness falls, but the sun will return, next summer.

***For anyone in the New York Capital District, please come over to my business website for information about my first nature photography show, at the Bethlehem Public Library in Delmar NY, running for the month of December 2015.

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.

Part the Eleventh: Wherein winter continues, but Color intervenes—Endings and Beginnings

Winter sky rainbow, The Crossings of Colonie (Albany NY)

Winter sky rainbow, The Crossings of Colonie (Albany NY)

Friday, March 6. Winter and weeping are wearing me down, along with the monochrome light, and dirt-infused precipitation on everything. I used to say Chicago street snow looked like the bottom of an ashtray. After this long winter in upstate New York, innumerable cigarette pellets of gunmetal ice and ashy road salt line our avenues–and spirits.

Even where the snow is still blank white, it has grown dull to my eyes. It’s been months since the amaryllis bloomed, and a week since my pale yellow butterfly faded away.

I travel in search of color, to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MOCA). Once again I am surprised by serendipity.

Sol Lewitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective, Mass MOCA Winter 2015

Sol Lewitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective, Mass MOCA Winter 2015

Swirling, spraying, wiggling: wall after wall after wall of gorgeous and intense paint by Sol Lewitt swims around me.

More Sol Lewitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective

More Sol Lewitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective, Mass MOCA Winter 2015

Liquid looking gold and black (Teresita Fernandez) flow over me.

Teresita Fernandez: As Above So Below, Mass MOCA Winter 2015

Teresita Fernandez: As Above So Below, Mass MOCA Winter 2015: window reflections in her black and gold sculpture.

On the way to Massachusetts, a friend and I crunch through snow to meditate in the icy stillness of a small temple at the Grafton Peace Pagoda.

Golden peace cranes at the Grafton Pagoda.

Golden peace cranes at the Grafton Pagoda temple.

We are surprised by a Japanese Buddhist nun wearing a headlamp, who pops out from behind the altar where she’d been organizing items. She is startled by us. So cold! So cold! Come and have tea when you are done.  

After sitting zazen in the frigid air as long as we can stand it, we find our way to the kitchen, where we nibble a cookie, sip hot brown Kuchika Twig tea and get to know her—Jun-San. We speak of peace walks and meditation and the essence of the Lotus Sutra.

My companion says, Ever since I first heard Na-Mu-Myo-Ho-Ren-Ge-Kyo, I have wondered what the words meant.

She answers that it comes from the Buddha’s last teaching, where he moved from the internal, concentration on just the self, to concentration on the other, the community  (something about the Golden Rule). She added: But really, you should not look to others’ translations because then the meaning does not come from within.

The acts of chanting, breathing, sitting with its sounds reveal the sutra’s message for each individual.

We laugh over it later: Here you spent forty-some years pondering, in search of what you thought was a mysterious, erudite, complex and distant definition, and she tells you you’ve had it inside all along!

My acts of weeping, seeking color, meditating on life, breathing, walking and sitting with moments regardless of their pain or joy—reveal the meaning of those acts and moments for me. Wisdom inside of me all along. Color inside of me all along.

Now my stomach and heart don’t go sour when I see the gray light over the gray hills and gray snow. Spring will come.

Buddha statue at Kripalu, October 2013. The answer is inside of you.

Buddha statue at Kripalu, October 2013. The answer is inside of you.

****

Accidents happen. Living long doesn’t always happen.

I think of the children who come into our lives, how we are often trying to save them, sometimes not able to: horribly, sadly, naturally. We have saved them so many times to start with, watched over them, cared for them, taught them. And if they live, if it all goes as it often does—they can grow into gorgeous young people we adore, full of creativity and angst and love.

We are called to pay attention to each day and moment, and to love: love and care for our individual selves as best we can, love the people we love, deeply, honestly; and not search way-out-there for meaning but find it right here next to us, in us, shining through us with unexpected color.

Spring comes. But sometimes it is bittersweet.

****

In memory of one Dainty Sulphur, who appeared unbidden in my apartment on February 11 and exited on Feb 28.

In memory of a creative soul I never met except through his mother: photographer, student, beloved son, brother, and more, Max Maisel, who went missing Feb 22, whose memorial service was March 27 and whose body was finally recovered April 17.

Winter bittersweet.

Winter bittersweet.

Part the Tenth: Wherein the butterfly lands

The amaryllis I theorize brought the Dainty Sulphur into my winter apartment.

The amaryllis I theorize brought the Dainty Sulphur butterfly into my winter apartment.

The bud formed...

The bud formed…

The flower formed.

…then the flower…

...blossomed into gorgeous color...

…which blossomed into gorgeous color…

...and caused me to study the tiny details intently, while I could.....

…and caused me to study the tiny details intently, while I could.

Friday, February 28. I put her in the yoga room, the sacred space, two days ago on the 26th, resigned that she was almost gone—but yesterday, I literally leapt for joy; she’d only had her antennae tangled! Parts of her were not in as bad a shape as I had thought.

Of course one of her legs was still detached, and her energy very low. Then last night I couldn’t find her. I looked under the radiator again, all over the floor, worried I’d step on her accidentally. Finally I figured she was, well, gone. This morning I found her in the stones again—was she there all along and I couldn’t see her? or did she go someplace and then come back?

However, she was barely there, not responding much to air movement or things around her.

Later, nothing: the end. Death.

Dainty still faced the sun, wings folded, but slightly fallen over. I’d felt such surprising happiness the day before; just to have her there, alive, made me feel hope about the missing boy, too. But then the next day–today–she’s done.

It is empty in the kitchen by the window. It is empty in the bedroom. It is quiet, as quiet as it was before, but different.

I live alone, again.

Yes, there are plenty of bugs in my house I don’t see. Outside: squirrels and starlings, crows and chickadees; robins yet to come.

But no one else just showed up uninvited, spent time alongside me, and gave me so much to think about in the iced over, snowbound, super chilled air of this February.

What feels miraculous, and is yet usual: life, and death.

***

Max is still missing. I ache for his family, I ache in their exposed place—exposed in the media, in search of possible information—exposed in their pain and mixture of hope and dread. I admire their courage and ability to appreciate those who assist and accompany them.

I fear writing the saccharine, the simplistic. I don’t know what this feels like for them.

I dance around the edges of it, and even that makes me stagger in grief.

Even where snow has melted, frost covers everything. (Laingsburg, MI)

Even where snow has melted, frost covers everything. (Laingsburg, MI)

 

Part the Ninth, wherein hope waivers on multiple fronts

Winter sun, and winter sun, and winter sun.

The bowl of winter sky and winter sun and winter trees and winter snow, when it was at least warm enough to get outside.

Thursday February 27. Oh my god I am so tired, and everything feels a mess. I stomp around my apartment because it’s too cold to hike; I’ve pulled out papers to sort and they are scattered all over the floor and dining table and front room and I am so mad and sad. My logical mind knows that Max probably drowned, falling off the pier into the lake. He might have accidentally slipped; it could have been on purpose. Regardless, he has not been found, and I feel worn out by the weight of all of it.

I want to get ready for another friend’s upcoming visit, but I can’t cook anything, even with that new equipment I bought the other day. Instead, I cry.

What do you do, as a parent, thinking of another parent’s pain? I Google-chat with my son across the country and he is ok and I’ve texted my daughter and she’s fine, and now I sit with my dying butterfly.

Fallen sideways, scraggly like the window paint and the snow outside.

Struggling against the cold, scraggly like the window paint and the aged snow outside.

Dainty was at the window, fallen sideways and I offered her sugar water on a Q-tip but she wasn’t interested. I noticed she was missing an antenna, maybe one of her mid-legs too, and she could still flap around but is clearly leaving this life.

So I brought her into the yoga room, a sacred space and a warmer one too. She is resting in the rocks of my newly blush-tipped holiday cactus. Dainty still wiggles her remaining antenna around and holds onto some pebbles while propped up slightly by others, facing the window where there is only gray clouded light, as there has been all day.

I hate the metaphorical consonance, of the butterfly fading away and this young man and where he might be. The thousand thoughts of what might have happened to Max bombard me, shred my breathing. He wasn’t meant to be like a butterfly, and he wasn’t meant to die before his parents.

I feel trembly with fear and uncertainty, on so many levels—for his mom and dad and siblings, even for myself and my own future. I have to wander my living space or just watch the world out the window, and in this moment, not worry about getting work done.

Yes, the sun rises over the hill.

Yes, the sun rises over the hill. Every morning.

The blizzard of papers has blasted my household white inside to match the outside world: a bin or two of memorabilia, trips taken and ticket stubs from movies, but also official forms for insurance, old records from my divorce attorney and previous illnesses and surgeries, a health care proxy yet to be filled out. Wondering about choices, mistakes, missteps, amid the things that just happen.

My mis-steps, Max’s mis-step. Things-that-just-happen.

Concentrating on seeing the beauty in the dark and white--

Concentrating on seeing the beauty in the dark and white:  Chance blows snow this way, melts it that way, hardens it into curves and blops.

When I first brought the butterfly in the yoga room and then left, she must have fluttered and fallen to the floor. I brought her back up to the light. I hope that wasn’t too meddling; just didn’t want her in the dust and dirt, in the dark. Can a butterfly sense such a thing in the same way we do? Does it yearn for light, instead of seek the shadows to die?

I smile that she has her single antenna up strong and even moving a bit, feeling the air, moving her fore-legs slightly. She is alert, in the world, yet. BE-ing. Even as she is dying.

Aren’t we all, as we age and change and become “less able,” still very much here?

Aren’t we all, as we develop into elders, crones, and Wise Ones through our aging, becoming masterful and more able in other ways– and still very much here?

Even if we aren’t “very much” presently, we HAVE BEEN, and ARE here; we create ripples in the world, into the time when we are not here.

My candles are lit, and I continue to sit with aching muscles and aching heart.

The blur of butterfly in the dark, and a fallen cactus flower.

The blur of butterfly in the dark, and a fallen cactus flower.

Part the Eighth, wherein the outside world grows harsh, and I must remind myself of lessons already learned

February morning sun over the hill.

February morning sun, deeply clouded, over the hill.

Wednesday, February 26. My mind whirls, I am weeping. I tell myself to listen to my body and spirit, and be gentle, to myself and others.

My mind whirls, frenetic and shocked: the college-age son of a yoga colleague of mine is missing, has been since Sunday, last seen at a favorite pier on the lake. My mind whirls in circles with and for Meg and her family and her son Max.

This news makes everything feel minuscule and unimportant, like I have been wasting my time on frippery. Isn’t that odd? Learning how to be in the moment, to write and practice how to live fully into my life is somehow frippery?

My activities are vitally important, don’t warrant justification.

I answer angrily to this self-compassionate voice: But you haven’t been out saving the world, doing Big Things; instead, you have concentrated on butterfly anatomy, meditating and stretching your muscles—even yesterday, you shopped for silly kitchen tools!

Stop. Breathe.

Think more about accompaniment. It’s easy to talk about death and loss in the theoretical. Though it’s not like I haven’t had serious loss, and some deaths. But I can be too philosophical, I worry, or it feels that way right now. (Remember how you wrote last time Worry is a Waste of Time? Easy to say, hard to live.)

Pine needles on snow, under snow, at the Plotterkill Preserve.

Pine needles on, in and under tree-shadowed snow, Plotterkill Preserve.

What to do, how to accompany? The butterfly first, and now this situation with my colleague. How can I not be torn apart by all the loss and pain that surrounds me? I want to sit in the center of it, not not-affected, but myself; whether that is calm, or sad, or screamingly angry.

Meg was so kind to me at yoga school, encouraging along with the rest of our sangha community, to modify my learning when I got sick, and later when anxiety and exhaustion were high for all of us. I can only encourage her now from afar.

You see, Meg and I are not friend-close, don’t write or talk, but shared a deep experience together, this yoga training; having shared that, we can and have slid back into its intimacy when we return for teacher conferences and trainings. For now, I write a brief note; I send support through friends who live nearby.

Monk's Pond at Kripalu, the fall when we were together last.

Monk’s Pond at Kripalu, the fall when we were last  together.

I am so impressed with her and her family—their willingness to share publicly, and then their gentle firmness when they didn’t want to. Their most recent, clear-eyed statement, the acknowledgment of what others and they know; and yet they will hope, and yet they know.

My butterfly rests. I await news. I weep more. I accompany them all.

Morning after morning, trees and clouds obscure the sun.