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 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.

 

Part the Seventh, Wherein I Leave Town, Discover Mistakes I Have Made, and Worry

Bitter, bitter February cold and snow.

Dawn in bitter, bitter February: one window to the right glimmers warmly.

February 21. Right now I am out of town for a few days and in the course of deeper online research, discover I have been wrong—wrong!! Now I am kicking myself.

The appropriate recipe to feed a rescued butterfly: sports drink or sugar, soy sauce and water.

Will it be like when my kids were little, and I made what felt like grave errors? Or will the butterfly, like my children, be just fine? I am trying my best! I want to say. I didn’t know she needed electrolytes!

Was I more concerned about anatomy and theory, than the actual care of my Dainty? What about the potential exploitation (can you exploit a butterfly?) spending more energy in being excited, and telling people about it, than knowing what I am doing?

I was brought up to never make a mistake, because mistakes could be (probably would be) fatal: I was trained to pursue perfection while the attainment of it slipped further and further away. What a tightrope, and how exhausting!

Worry is wasted energy.

Lately instead I let go of worry, learn from missteps what to do next time, and concentrate on maintaining a sense of humor and curiosity.

However, I still can fixate about messing up, asking, “How could I have avoided this mistake?” when sometimes we can’t avoid, no matter what we do.

Away, snowshoeing to the base of the frozen sixty foot tall falls at Plotterkill Creek.

Away, snowshoeing with friends to the base of the completely frozen, sixty foot tall waterfall at Plotterkill Creek.

I acknowledge the ultimate end of the butterfly and the call to not be so attached. Not to be cold, but to be reasonable. I ask: What does “accompanying” mean? How far do we go? How do we hold onto who we are, and who/what the other person/creature is, and not inflict our beliefs about how things “should be”?

The Dainty Sulphur is in a holding pattern right now. If it flies away to where I can’t see it and then dies while I am gone, I will not know what has happened—like with so many people and creatures in our lives. If I find it dead, then that was its life; I will thank it for the gifts it gave and go on living myself.

February 25. I’m home again. Dainty was in the bedroom, ruminating on the rug.

This morning I moved her on a Q-tip into the sun-splashed kitchen, to the red dish-drying mat. She warmed up and opened her wings, but I don’t want to disturb her any more; already once she flew to the ice-cold window and beat her wings against it. Over and over the butterfly determinedly goes to the window, driven to get out. At least this afternoon she is sitting in the sun, wings out to absorb its heat.

Dainty lists a bit against the red mat.

Dainty lists a bit against the red mat.

She flies violently against obstacles to the outside world: the rug, the red mat, the glass. She is weaker, aging. But I can’t do much except offer food, and help here and there when she seems in a bit of trouble. Maybe she needed to clean her wings off or warm up. Looks like she’s kneeling against the window, into the light. Perhaps that is all she needs.

I hear birds chipping and twittering, like chickadees I saw in the pines the other day, chasing each other. This sounds like a bunch of sparrows or robins. I can’t open the window to look, since the butterfly is there. Is spring perhaps on its way?

Dainty flaps and flaps against the glass. I startle at the intermittent flitting beat of her wings, a soft sound. The warmth of the strong February morning sun enlivens her.

Meanwhile, plants on the sill silently absorb sunlight into their deeply green leaves, veins visible and almost pulsing, like the insect veins visible in the yellow of her wings.

She is so small on the windowsill.

She is so small on the windowsill.

The butterfly glows in the sun, near the plant that is glowing. She flutters, stops, flutters-flutters-flutters, stops. Is this an end-of-life push or just the brightness that draws her to move?

I can’t see it yet, but I feel drawn as well, to the possibility of snow melt and vegetation greening–out of the brown that waits unseen, underneath our current drifts of white.

February bird in snow, outside my window

February starling in snow, outside my window

Part the Sixth, Wherein the Butterfly Weakens, and Demonstrates How to Live

Winter flight of female cardinals at the feeder.

In-snow flight of female cardinals at the feeder.

February 18, 2015. The butterfly this morning maneuvered back up to the windowsill; yesterday I had to clean some stuck fuzz from her hind leg. Seems like a foreleg is not working properly; when she starts to fly she flops around but apparently she can eventually navigate just fine. Last night when I turned on the wall lights in the bedroom she flew up and starting bashing against them. Today she’s head against wood under the bedroom window, following instinct toward light.

The butterfly continues to hang out motionless unless I blow gently at her to see if she is ok. Last night she flew off the bedroom sill toward the light, then down under my jewelry case, and on the floor down there. Then back up in the sun this morning, after I left the bedroom.

I worry about hurting her, the sugar-water freezing her to the sill or sticking to her as the water evaporates, so I spilled some out for her then wiped it up after an hour. Like my kids living on their own, I don’t worry so much about her. Now if I am away for a night or two, I figure she’ll just be living her lepidopteran life.

What will the end be? Will I accidentally step on her? Will she just fade away or disappear one night and not come back up to the windowsill? I can only be as careful as I can be; this morning I turned on lights to find my clogs and carefully shook out the sheets and blankets in case she was hiding below them—that’s how I found her the other morning, when she flew up and delighted me with her energy.

It could have been a short lived drama: the butterfly hatches, flies around, gets smushed, or starves or falls down and dries out. Humans, too. Or it goes on and we don’t know the ending.

I do think she is weakening, and I think that left foreleg is damaged. I hope I didn’t do anything to cause it or injure it further. You could look at us humans as we age, oh look we know where THEY are headed! Getting decrepit, limbs not working. Well, yeah. But we keep living, keep going, and I think as time goes on, don’t judge me on my infirmity, don’t figure I’m “down for the count” at any particular point.

Hell, look what all of us humans have been through, look what I’ve been through, and who knows what is to come, but I am here, now, in this moment.

Against the window the butterfly sits and rests while the winter sun glows through her wings.

Limbs buried in deep snow at a creek, Partridge Run.

Limbs buried in deep shadowed snow at a creek visited only by small critters, Partridge Run, in January.

This February’s extreme cold has been hard on us all. I’m feeling a bit stir crazy and grumpy, can’t go snowshoe or hike—wind chills below zero. Cooking inside, I get all sweaty but then when I sit down to write in the front room my legs become marble-cold in spite of three layers of long underwear, leggings, and pants.

Of course the butterfly has issues too, with a breeze from the old windows knocking her over. Just went in to check and she seems off-kilter, like a boat with all the weight on one side, threatening to keel over. But she keeps getting up, moving around, and then head first, back to the window. I want her in the warmer kitchen, but I don’t want to risk hurting her by luring her onto a piece of paper—anyway she can fly off that easily enough. She has made her decision. I know enough not to touch the delicate wings with my human hands covered in any number of skin oils, soaps, lotions, depending on the time of day.

Morning and butterflies.

Morning with sunshine and shadow, when the butterfly was in the kitchen before.

February 19 morning. She perches on the edge of the bedroom window casing, almost to the light but away from the breeze. In flight she is still delicate and precise but resting, is off-balance—like I sit on my yoga mat sometimes with a blanket under my rump, not so steady.

At first I was drawn to the very human reaction, oh no! she can’t DO what she is supposed to DO: fly outside and interact with other Dainty Sulphurs and so on.

But she looks like she is in meditation. Who’s to say what awareness is? Do they go into a suspended animation kind of thing, a decreasing of the input, to conserve energy until it might be needed? Or is she acutely aware of surroundings and constantly testing air and movement and light? Is she slowed by the chill air by the window?

She indicates by going over again and again, that by the light is where she wants to be. A lesson to me: move to where you are drawn. Sit in meditation. Stop trying to go go go.

Perhaps what you think you need to be doing, you don’t. Perhaps you need to sit in meditation, breathe, take in your surroundings. Perhaps this is all there is—well, that’s true. This existence IS all that you know and will experience, at least in this incorporation, this time around, not knowing if there are others, what existence might be after this life, not heaven or hell, but how we will experience it.

Stop being in such a hurry to get to the next part! She’s still. Why can’t you be?

Chickadee zooming in for a nibble.

Chickadee zooming in for a nibble.

I had an intense couple days of brilliant work, satisfying performance, beautiful interactions with people and nature and my artistic practices. But I didn’t take good enough or close enough care of my body, and it let me know (thank you!). I woke at 1 am, thinking it was almost dawn, tossed and turned, then headed to the yoga room, the body dissatisfied with its crunched up, stuck feel. I lit the candle inherited from a spiritual community I was part of for fifteen years, and a recently gifted oil lamp.

It was dark, dark. I was so achy. I rolled around, my shoulders and hands and feet crinkling, asking to be realigned; the fibers of muscles and connective tissue yearning to be warmed and stretched into supple dough. And so I did, just moved, turned quiet quiet yoga music on my phone to keep me company, as the street light outside my yoga window glowed yellow over snow covered cars, garbage cans and cement steps.

The butterfly seems to have found her spot, for now. I offered sugar water yesterday and she stumbled around but then just stood in it, two forelimbs. They can taste through their feet.

Perhaps she liked the idea of just having food available, and she’d drink when she wanted to. Kind of like keeping a full fridge. I decided that if in an hour she wasn’t out of it, I’d gently blow to make sure she didn’t get stuck in it. She moved on her own, to her almost-window view. I think about when I go out of town in a day or so; should I leave some sugar water like you would leave food and water for a cat?

She will do—or not—whatever she needs and wants to do. Just like my body and the yoga room that called me.

A paschal candle from my  spiritual community far away.

A paschal candle from my spiritual community far away.

Part the Fifth, Wherein I Am Surprised, and Meditate on Metamorphosis

 

Surprise! on the bedspread

Surprise! on the bedspread

February 17 2015. I can’t believe it—thought I’d lost the butterfly, that our short term friendship, for that’s all it could be, was done; but when I went into the bedroom, there she was, after two days, on my bedspread! I laughed out loud, even skipped a little, couldn’t believe it! How did she get there? Why was she there? Giddy, I got my spoon of sweet water in case she needed it.

She wasn’t quite so excited as me–or thirsty; perhaps she found other sources for nourishment in the kitchen when I wasn’t looking. I still couldn’t believe she was back. If she were on the bed in the night, I could have crushed her, but apparently she is busy taking care of herself, flying around my apartment, exploring and living her own short little life.

I want her to go back to the kitchen where it is safer but she is having none of it. Thank you very much, I prefer the rug under your bed. Like my children as infants who pressed their lips together to refuse more baby oatmeal, she knows what she needs better than I.

So she’s had a drink and her picture taken again, and I’ve left her to her own devices.

Resting on the carpet.

Resting on the carpet.

I didn’t know I’d missed her so much. Or rather, that I would be so excited to see her again. I’ve gotten to know more and more, as I’ve read about the butterfly life cycle, Dainty Sulphurs, and different families of butterflies. (Did you know that Monarchs have six legs like the other butterflies, but two of them tuck against the thorax, having lost the ability to aid in walking?) I fear showing too many photos of her to my friends and blog followers, like an obsessed parent incessantly pushing phone images of their cute child.

A friend came by, curious about the butterfly visitor and when I talked about feeding her, said, Oh I think you are not supposed to use honey; I know with hummingbirds you use white sugar. Just in case, I start mixing sugar and water….

I’m talking to a butterfly, in my bedroom.

A more external metamorphosis, of wood into nutrients.

A more external metamorphosis, of wood into nutrients, at the north end of Partridge Run.

The idea of metamorphosis now strikes me, all those grade school posters about caterpillars becoming butterflies, stories of ugly ducklings becoming swans. What being “ugly” meant to me as a child—a label I took on as a chubby kid with glasses. It still horrifies me that the duckling—actually a cygnet—was considered ugly and had to grow into some culturally defined idea of perfection, of others-judged beauty.

What if, instead, we felt perfect as we are, comfortable in our skin even as we grew into something else? That each stage, even in its clumsiness, was considered beautiful?

I was told once that in the metamorphosis of a caterpillar, its face melts. What a thought. In order to change, you will not be able to recognize yourself, because you change so very dramatically. Am I willing to take on that kind of scary change?

When I did research and found the original article, (by Ferris Jabr, at ScientificAmerican.com, August 10, 2012) I learned that it’s not just the face that melts—the whole caterpillar dissolves inside the chrysalis. Releasing enzymes, it digests itself, creates a kind of caterpillar soup, Jabr calls it, though with special organized cells called “imaginal discs” that help it reorganize to the next stage, into the butterfly with wings, antennae and mature sex organs.

What lessons for myself from this re-encounter with the Dainty Sulphur? To take time apart, build my own chrysalis for change, tuck in to look within myself, then take on the change, and emerge. Not to emerge too early. Not to do it without the structure and support I need. To know flying—whatever that means for each of us—is possible even if we can’t imagine it right now.

We have within us what we need for the next step. The taking of the next step can be messy, scary, and look disorganized, but it is exactly as it was and is supposed to be, when we move into it.

Yes (of course), to be continued.

Winter sun in the woods, waiting as things grow and change under the snow.

Winter sun in the woods, waiting as things grow and change under the snow.

 

Part the Second: Wherein the Butterfly Drinks, And I Consider the Bugs in My Living Space

Dainty Sulphur, drinking!

Dainty Sulphur, drinking!

I’m still talking to a butterfly, in my kitchen.

February 12, 2015, later that day. Since she would not come to the tiny plastic feeder that I put out, this afternoon I spilled some of the honey water right next to her, onto the top of the air conditioner. She actually came and drank! It was fascinating to watch: antennae started waving once her tarsi (feet)—through which butterflies can “taste”—hit the liquid; her proboscis unfurled, so long it went under her belly, but into the fluid; and then she stepped away and curled the proboscis up again.

See the C-shaped, rolled up proboscis?

See the backwards C-shaped, rolled up proboscis in front of the green compound eye? The feathery looking bits above that are the “palps” which sense what is food and not-food.

Thinking about her survival, I flit between hard-edged City Woman and warm Earth Mother. Well, anyway, I say, there’s your honey water for a couple days. Don’t get stuck in it. Now she’s looking all satisfied, her previously flopped down abdomen—which is the hind end, with the center part actually called the thorax—bent up high.

Am I stupid to put out this sugary fluid for food? Aside from getting stuck in it, her wings might get wet! I blow gently; no, she can pull them up just fine. Nothing like a snack, I think. I could use one myself.

I am playing with anthropomorphism again, I realize, but am really, really clear I know I’m doing it.

****

The Dainty Sulphur is a small crushable creature, one of trillions.

I’ve stepped on, swatted and flattened probably hundreds of bugs its size and much larger: horrifying palmetto bugs and leaping hairy spiders in the Florida of my childhood, and hordes of German roaches in multiple student apartments. Even mice and rats were caught and drowned when they overran other living spaces. My mother always said to invading creatures as she squashed or sprayed them: You can live outside, but I can’t let you stay here. This is MY space.

I don’t mind sharing, but not with things that bite or sting me, or spread disease. I’m really allergic to dust spider bites and mosquitos, but understand that larger spiders and thousand-leggers eat such critters, so yes there is a hierarchy of acceptable and unacceptable bugs in my living space. I can whisk unwanted ones—bees, wasps—out the window but if they don’t go I can become insistent, and murderous—depending on how you define murder.

Luckily butterflies don’t hurt humans, though we can hurt them.

Chicago Botanic Garden.

Late summer Chicago Botanic Garden.

Carolus Linnaeus was the Swedish physician who established “binomial nomenclature,” the multitiered system of scientifically naming plants and animals. I recall the huge bronze statue (which, when my children were small, you could still belly up to and touch) of a kneeling Linnaeus at the Chicago Botanic Garden.  Up close, Linnaeus’ roughly hewn figure was formed of creatures and plants alighted on him, under him, wrapping him; with the collecting bag on his hip and eyes open and curious, his eager hand reached out to touch and identify still more on the ground.

Dainty Sulphur Butterflies, in Linnaeus’ classification are truly Insecta, and moving more specifically down the entomological nomenclature, fall into Lepidoptera (moths & butterflies) and Papilionoidea (non-skipper butterflies; do you see the French word for butterfly “Papillon”?), Pieridae (whites, yellows, sulphurs), Nathalis (sulphurs) and her full name: Nathalis iole.

Like a softie, I’ll leave the sweet water there for a while, probably wipe it up and then put out fresh, for this particular Nathalis iole. (Boy I hope I’m right that it’s a Dainty Sulphur! I would hate to find out I am All-Wrong scientifically.)

I cannot guarantee this butterfly’s survival or quality of life. However, I don’t have to squash this insect either, “put it out of its misery.” She does not harm me, and in fact is a little company, on a cold cold day.

Because bitter wind chills, twenty and thirty below, cause me to hunker down inside, both of us are stuck in my apartment for now. And I am getting to know this creature better.

Sure is snowy and blowy out there, isn't it?

Sure is snowy and blowy out there, isn’t it?

To be continued.

A taste of full summer with fountains: Brazilian vervain (verbena), which butterflies come to visit.

Remember summer? Fountains with Brazilian vervain (verbena), which butterflies come to visit (Chicago Botanic Garden).