Landing: A tale of very late spring

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Meadow at Hebert Arboretum, Pittsfield MA, one site in my Forest Therapy Guide Training.

In late May, I experienced the first part of my Forest Therapy Guide training: seven cold but beautiful days in western Massachusetts woods, gardens, and farms.

Initially, I had a hard time settling in. I was distracted by calls from my regular life and then my A-Plus Student thoughts barged in.

I knew enough to confess at the start, so in our opening circle I stepped forward.

“I don’t feel like I’ve mentally landed here yet. One of my big challenges is to overcome perfectionism. Please help me make mistakes. I know life is about falling down and getting up, falling down and getting up, and I am still scared of both of those.”

Later, one of my fellow trainees, Stana, wrote on rocks for each of us. She gifted me with the message Perfectly Imperfect.

I landed.

***

One of the deep and unexpected pleasures of that week was to experience the outdoors like a little kid.

—I “broke the rules” (whose rules? I ask now) when I took off my shoes and squished my toes into a huge patch of shiny green moss.
—Then I floated my feet in the cold early spring water of a mountain stream.
—Doing that, I splattered sticky mud all over myself and then wiped my numb feet dry on my pants. On my pants!
—I got amazed all over again by the shape of leaves, the sparkle of seeds flying, and the glow of dandelions in a meadow. I poked out my tongue to taste the wind.
—I let myself touch trees and sit quietly for long periods of time.

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To see leaves from a different angle, differently lit.

When I returned home, I felt full, maybe overfull—not just of natural connections but also because I’d met and deeply interacted with almost twenty new people.

My apartment door opened onto piles of winter clothes to be put away and a layer of dust on everything. The workload of the six-month certification process multiplied then roiled in my imagination like a thunderhead, and finally, a brand new part-time job started, which would squeeze twenty hours a week out of my already constricted calendar. My thoughts turned dark.

Of course, life always changes and gives us experiences; some times are simply a bit more intense. So I kept returning to that yoga mind to observe, ask what does it feel like? and not attach future-meaning to anything.

Landing back home was bumpier than landing in Massachusetts.

****

Luckily the forest—and my hiking buddy C—called. We were weeks overdue for an outing.

Partridge Run was our destination. “I wonder how the ponds are?” C asked, after a quick hug hello.

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Spring ferns unfurled–just enough for that quick hug!

We started out on one path and ran into the same damned poison ivy we’d seen the first time we’d spring-hiked it. We backed out carefully, as if the reddening leaves might rear up and attack us, and chose another route.

We wandered the edge of Hidden Pond, where algae bubbled. Tiny azure flowers winked at us—-it was birds-eye speedwell (common field veronica) dotting the grass along with dandelions.

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Birds-eye speedwell and dandelions, Partridge Run, Berne NY.

I was busy with the flowers and what floats in late spring water, when she hollered, “Look! Look! A dragonfly! And I think it is brand new!” I looked over and the creature was so recently emerged that it was still drying, still unfolding.

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Iridescence of appendages new to the air.

The wings were like stained glass panes, but clear, and bent-angled as they opened to flatten as we watched. You could see how the wings had folded into that tiny grasshopper-shaped exoskeleton—and how they expanded now.

I’m no entomologist, but thanks to internet image collections, I’d identified these brown casts—the exuviae—in my photos before.

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What is left behind.

I knew to look for the white threads that had until recently been attached to the digestive organs. Sure enough, just under our glorious new orange dragonfly was the dry discarded shell it seemed to have come from. After taking many pictures, I moved the grass back to partially cover the dragonfly; we didn’t want it eaten by predators because of us.

Right away I started studying the pond edge. “I want to find one, too!”—but instead saw a second exuviae. Then a third, and fourth.

Finally, dozens of exuviae were revealed, but no live dragonfly.

“Our buddy seems to be a late bloomer,” C commented. I’d been seeing dragonflies all morning along the ponds and paths, and now realized where they had probably come from.

As I wandered farther away from C’s initial find, I couldn’t help smiling over the sloughed off insect larvae skins, and my inability to find anything else. However, I continued to seriously search.

C called me over: “More! more!” She was practically jumping up and down.

In that moment, there was no chaotic apartment pulling at me, no fighting A-plus student worry about studies to come. I found myself bounding like I was five or eight, like myself.

My pack thumped my back, and swung back and forth, as my excited legs pumped me over.

To ask, “What? Let me see!” To hear my pal thrill and laugh. To joyously kneel down and then slow my breathing. To find a smaller, multicolored dragonfly uncurling wings, its slightly furry body moving in the novel light.

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See the unfurling, straightening, bent wings?

I didn’t have to find the sparkling insect. My friend did. In fact, I am now calling C “the dragonfly whisperer,” to let go of my need to be the one in charge. I can experience and be grateful, let go of distractions and anxieties, and trust that all will be well.

I am starting to land again. As I do, let me be perfectly imperfect, a late bloomer.

Let me be an end-of-May dragonfly.

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Another fine gift of that May morning: the first scarlet tanager I’ve ever seen in the woods.

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To Plan a Garden, And a Life

Finger Lakes vineyard, with Seneca Lake steaming on a 5 degree below zero morning.

Finger Lakes vineyard, with Seneca Lake steaming on a 5 degree below zero morning.

It flew in through my postal slot this week, a stiff green mailer I’ve received twice before: Continuing Gardener Sign-ups. It means that in February, I’ll toddle down to the public library, pay my small fee, re-read the rules, and confirm my plot.  Ok, so I knew the mailer was coming since I am a Garden Coordinator, but it’s satisfying to jot the date on the calendar anyway, marking the beginning of my fourth growing season with the Capital District Community Gardens.

We are in the midst of deep winter here in upstate New York; when it is absolutely necessary to wear gloves the minute you step out of doors or else risk wind-burned and skin-split fingers; when billowing road salt coats our cars and our street and our pants when we lean over those cars, even flies into our mouths if we are thoughtless enough to open them before tossing ourselves shivering back into our homes.

The standard picture of Gardener Dreaming About Spring is someone escaping that salty, snowy weather, cardigan-wrapped and hugged by an overstuffed recliner. The silhouetted figure, plush-slippered, pores over seed catalogs by a roaring fire, sipping hot chocolate or spiked cider as the wind screams outdoors.

I’m not exactly like that. Don’t own a recliner, fireplace, or seed catalogs, and slippers make my feet sweat. I clomp around the apartment in old socks and clogs and mostly I’ve used the seeds that are donated to the Community Gardens office or buy plants when the mood strikes me or they are on sale during the growing season.

However, this year I’ve been thinking hard about my planting choices. For example,  cherry tomatoes dominated my rows in the past–round red, little snips of yellow, some shaped like mini-butternut squash. I kept them because they volunteered from the first summer my garden was planted for me while I was recovering from surgery.

Now I think I want plum tomatoes instead.

The carrots were such a roaring success last summer, those tasty sweet morsels; if started early enough, multiple harvests would be possible.

I desire green beans, but don’t want to mess with the strings. Maybe I’ll grow lacinato kale along with my rainbow chard. And broccoli-one of my fellow gardeners shared broccoli with me, I could do that! I love broccoli. Perhaps I’ll plant the whole damn plot in flowers to cut for my dining table–then again, zucchini are not only traditional but useful.

I am practicing making choices, not just doing what I did before, not doing what is merely expected.

Last summer's zucchini shredded...

Last summer’s zucchini shredded…

...to make chocolate zucchini cake!

…to make chocolate zucchini cake!

Another envelope arrived this week, not through the mail slot but in my email queue (the way of so much these days), announcing my acceptance to a yoga teacher training program. Another spring planting to look forward to, drowse with by the metaphorical fire–though a more active drowsing, as my challenge now is not only to plan but to become physically stronger and more disciplined in my yoga, before I arrive mid-April. I also must battle my demons of self-doubt, in order for the A+ student to go back to school in a new and different way.

Like the garden, what do I plant?  What do I discard because it doesn’t work for me? How can I be publicly not-perfect, in a setting (learning) where I was so driven before? The plan: to be relaxed like I am about my garden plot: not the best and not neglectful, something in-between.

I’m going in as probably the worst student in Sanskrit names for poses, as well as a mediocre memorizer of everything else, with a life-battered body that hasn’t been doing yoga for very long. But my true subject matter will be one of the themes of Kripalu yoga: compassion. I will learn compassion toward myself.

When I am “not successful” at a particular physical or mental task, I will attempt to be successful at compassion for myself, and gentle even in discovering my lack of compassion. This I can do, and it is all I need to bring.

I vow to break out of my old gardener habits and make new ones, different ones, not sure what the harvest will be, but trusting it will be–something–something wonderful. Storms will come, and drought, and interruptions by the personal and political and societal–and the skills I’ve acquired in the garden will get me through what I’m calling “sleep-away camp” at Kripalu.

Here at the end of January I open the seed catalog of my life, once again dreaming the future into being.

Seneca Lake warmed by the sun, readying for the end of winter, and then spring!

Seneca Lake warmed by the sun, readying for the rest of winter, and then spring! Who knows what transformed things will come out of this ground?