"Like Swimming" - a favorite song by Morphine

Life's activities ebb and flow like water. At times this water trickles like a mountain stream, allowing a person's creativity plenty of time to meander and cultivate grand projects. At other times, life feels more like Niagara Falls, with the flow so fast and full that creativity is only allowed short bursts of breath before being pulled under once again.

Don't fight the water - adapt! My life is blessedly full. When I can't find the time to paint, I turn to writing, which for me is possible in the small crevices of time throughout my day. Painting is not abandoned, simply at rest, waiting for it's reawakening.


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Fighting the Forest

I destroyed a forest today.  Well, a small patch of potential future forest.  I ripped the tiny trees out of the ground with my bare hands.  It is a battle with the ever-encroaching woods for possession of our property.  Some would call it weeding.

I feel incredibly guilty, as if I myself am responsible for all of man’s destruction of the planet.  Who am I to decide the fate of these trees?  Is my house more important?  I think of old cabins left abandoned.  Man turns his back and nature reclaims her own; sending tree roots to crack the foundation, vines to expand the crevices between the planks, and bugs to feast on the wood. 

Despite my misgivings, I uproot the miniature pines.  On my hands and knees, I marvel at the miniscule.  Underneath the five-inch red and white pine trees are even smaller oaks and maples.  I find several types of minute mushrooms.  One variety is tall and slender; a pale runway model with a skull cap tight to her head.  A second is thick and squat, with a wide-brimmed hat instead of a cap.  Yet a third is just an ever-so-tiny button – nothing but cap – seeming to float on the green below.  The green is an emerald-colored velvety moss, and another in a darker shade that is reminiscent of feathery underwater seaweed.  Underneath it all are decayed leaves turned to dirt. 

I am reminded of the cycle of the northwoods forest.  The forest begins with birch trees.  The birch give way to pines, which in turn are overtaken by the hardwoods – oaks and maples.  The cycle is not rushed.  From pinecone or acorn to a strong, tall, imposing tree requires decades, even centuries.  And yet, in my lifetime, I have seen these woods complete much of this cycle.  I remember vast stands of birch; white trunks and silvery leaves creating a magical effect.  Now these areas are mainly filled with pines, and the forest is dark and ominous.  But the oaks and maples are growing tall under the pines, and autumn brings a burst of color like light cutting through a prism. 

I may have won today’s battle against the trees, but ultimately nature, with her patient persistence, will reign victorious.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Afternoon on the Dock

Three o’clock in the afternoon and I find myself with an open hour.  It’s one of the first real days of summer, sun blazing in a clear sky.  Today I remember that we live by the lake, so I head down the road to the dock at my mother-in-law’s. 

I take off my shoes and sit on the end of the dock with my feet dangling into the water.  I close my eyes.  The breeze over the lake creates small waves that lap, lap, lap against the pilings below where I sit.  The water smells pleasantly of algae.  This lake odor evokes memories of summers past. 

I sat in this very spot within minutes of arriving to this place for the first time 35 years ago.  Willie and I were dating.  It was the summer after our junior year of college.  He was staying in the northwoods for the summer and I was working in Michigan.  I came to visit, arriving late at night, well after sunset.  Willie brought me down to the dock in the dark.  The light of the moon and stars was dim, due to cloud cover.  With the humidity, the night was a thick, viscous blackness.  The lake level was low.  Our feet hung over the end of the dock, but did not reach the water.  Not being able to see, it felt as if I was on the edge of a precipice, with the water dangerously far below.  Only Willie’s arm around me kept me safe from falling into nothingness. 

Flash forward to Jazz as a toddler.  She was fiercely independent and reluctantly took my hand as we approached the lake.  We walked onto the dock, squatted near the edge and peered over at the small fish swimming in the shallows.  In her delight, she turned and kissed me on the cheek.

Moving forward again to pre-teen Jazz.  She and her cousins spent the summer together at Grandma’s.  I was visiting for a short vacation and was with the girls on the dock.  The four of them, all a little pudgy as they transitioned from their little girl bodies, were swimming, sunbathing, and laughing at nonsensical jokes.  I was the outsider, taking my turn as the tolerated, but ignored, supervising adult.

Jazz at 17, recently graduated from high school.  The two of us alone in our bikinis – diving off the end of the dock, swimming in the cold lake until the chill forced us out of the water to lie in the warming sun.  And then the heat sent us back into the wet to renew the cycle.  She had accepted me again as her mother and friend. 

Returning to the present, I look across the lake and see two bald eagles fishing.  They are perched in a tree along the water’s edge.  One takes flight, gliding perhaps fifty feet above the glassy surface.  Suddenly he pulls in his wings and, like a weighted arrow, he drops.  As he reaches lake level he pulls up, legs out and talons wide.  His feet skim under the water and then he is up again with a fish thrashing in his grip.  He retreats to the tree, while his partner takes off in a repeat performance.

Once sated, the birds rise from the tree in unison.  They ascend in large spirals, one following the other, until they are small black specs circling ever higher.  I know they are soaring at such great heights for the pure joy of flying.  Want of this experience drew me to learn to paraglide. 

High above the Alps, I have communed with eagles, sharing an upward current of air, me in my glider, eagle at my wingtip, climbing away from the earth.  Pure joy in the absolute freedom – feeling totally at home and at peace in my body, while at the same time, infinitely connected to the universe. 

My hour of free time is over.  I stand up, face the lake, and give thanks.  I breathe deeply, capturing the lake air in my lungs to carry with me until next time. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Ghosts of Farmers Past

I was out to the farm early this morning.  Willie and I walked the dogs on the trail through the woods, checked the new plants in the hops field, and started to cover the blueberry bushes with netting. 

The farm is 40 acres in northern Wisconsin – an area of rolling forest dotted with thousands of lakes.  The property was first settled around the beginning of the 20th century.  We were not looking to buy a farm, simply land as an investment.  “Just take a look,” the realtor said.  When we did, the spirit of the place crept under our skin and began to grow. 

The property had not been farmed for over 50 years.  The last owner had used it as an occasional hunting lodge, with maintenance minimal at best.  The farmhouse was a quaint, rotting, little box smelling of mold and mildew, with no plumbing, a wood stove for cooking, an oil-burning heater for warmth, and enough electricity to light a couple of bulbs.  The barn was sagging and filled to overflowing with the precious, worthless treasures of all the past owners.  Former fields were recognizable only because the trees in those areas were not as tall as the rest of the woods, although just as dense. 

The farm’s spirit infected Willie first, taking deep hold of his heart.  He had a vision of what could be.  I didn’t see it, but believed in him.  Five years later we have emptied and renovated the barn, rebuilt the farmhouse from the ground up (this time with modern amenities), constructed a new lodge and numerous outbuildings.  Trails wide enough for a pickup truck run throughout the property – perfect for walking in the summer and snowshoeing in the winter.  We have an orchard with 140 apple trees, a few cherry trees and blueberry bushes, as well as a five-acre field of hops.  The vision is reality and the spirit incubating inside me is kicking me awake. 

As we walk the trails this morning I observe the large mounds of rocks scattered throughout the property.  I see the first settlers carrying each of these stones by hand as they clear the land.   Even before they remove the stones, they take out the trees.  We nod to each other in appreciation – I in awe of their stamina and determination, and they to give thanks that someone is again caring for their home. 

On the far side of the barn, under the willows, I come across the farmer’s wife tending to her vegetable garden.  All that remains today are a rhubarb plant and a few stalks of feathery asparagus hidden in tall grass.  The woman doesn’t ask me to replant the garden.  She is envious of the luxury of a supermarket nearby.  

In the barn itself, the floor is shaped and worn by the hooves of milk cows.  The farmer and his wife take turns milking their small herd – he in the early morning while she prepares breakfast, and she in the afternoon while he is still in the fields.  They look at us in disbelief – our life is so easy!

The new farmhouse sits on the foundation of the old one, with the old cellar intact.  Stepping down into coolness in the now empty space, I can see the bins of stored root vegetables and shelves of home-canned goods.  The farmer’s wife is upstairs admiring the bathtub and the electric oven that heats up with just the turn of a knob. 

I will never be lonely here. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Morning in the Orchard

The dogs and I headed to the farm early this morning (well, early for me – around 8am).  After seeing the bear on Rangeline Road the other day, I now drive slowly through the woods, well under the speed limit of 35 mph, unless another car comes up behind me. 

The slower speed allows me to scan the woods for wildlife.  I do see several deer in the trees.  There are so many of them about, seeing them now is not unexpected.  But the surprises of the day are found along the road.  A sweet little red fox saunters across the pavement in front of the car and I come to a halt.  She stops and defiantly looks me firmly in the eye before trotting off into the woods.  I continue down the road, and minutes later a large buck with a magnificent set of antlers steps out of the trees and stands statuesque as I roll past. 

Even Luke and Lucy seem to have reverence for these beautiful creatures.  They observe them both through the car windows and never move or make a sound.  So out of character for Lucy, who’s barking frenzies whenever we pass a deer, a dog, a jogger, or any other being, are more like uncontrollable epileptic fits. 

Once at the farm, the dogs and I head into the orchard.  The dogs play elaborate games of chase, while I carryout my task of manual pest control.  Two to three times a week I walk the trees looking for worm tents as they are just forming, and remove them from the trees before they cause damage. 

The beginning tents are just leaves stuck together, either folded onto themselves, or in twos or threes.  I circle each tree, scanning for these anomalies.  It takes a special talent to spot them amongst the other leaves.  Walking the rows of trees is like meditation.  There is a peaceful rhythm and flow to it.  Often I walk barefoot in the grass, feeling the connection to the earth through the soles of my feet. Today I am wearing shoes, as the ground is wet from overnight rain.  I gently caress the leaves and branches when I spot a possible tent.  Removing infested leaves must be done with a gentle tenderness.  If the tent is higher up, the branch may be bent to bring the problem into reach, but not bent so hard as to break it.  The bark must not be torn when removing the leaves, as for the tree this like an open wound on skin, vulnerable to infection. 

I realize how little I know about tent worms.  I know nothing about the insects that cause them, or their life cycle.  I must research.  Better understanding will help the trees.  A line from the Game of Thrones books keeps crossing my mind, “You know nothing, John Snow!”

There are bugs in the trees.  I find several types of caterpillars.  These I remove from the trees.  Sometimes there are ants at the end of branches eating the tender new leaves.  These I probably should do something about, but don’t know what, so leave them alone.  “You know nothing, John Snow!”  There are occasionally tiny gems of iridescent beetles – round-bodied beetles in a turquoise blue and oblong shaped beetles in emerald green.  These too I leave alone.  “You know nothing, John Snow!” 

I come across a spider’s web glistening in the sunlight.  The spider is about the size of a quarter, white in color, with a round center that looks almost like a small marble.  She has captured a honeybee and has it wrapped in silk.  This cocoon is translucent and I can make out the bee’s color and markings through its veil.  I notice that the spider has made a lair in the leaves above the web.  I watch as she attaches a line of silk to the wrapped bee, climbs up to the lair, and then pulls the line and her treasure up behind her. 

At the end of each row of trees I stop to fully experience my surroundings.  I close my eyes and listen.  In the early morning the loons call a haunting, wavering tremolo.  Later the drill of woodpeckers is prominent.  The air on my skin changes as the morning progresses.  It starts out cool, raising the hairs on my arms.  Within an hour the air is heavy and my skin is damp with sweat.  The sun is hot on my scalp and I wish I had worn a hat. 

I look down and see the green grass mixed with flowering clover, wild daisies – white with yellow centers, and red-orange hawkweed.  Bees flit between the flowers and ants scurry across the dark earth beneath the grass.  A small orange and brown butterfly sits on a daisy.  One set of wings lies flat against the flower, the other stands straight up to the sky.  This pair seems to have a row of fringe along its edge.  What type of butterfly is this?  “You know nothing, John Snow!”

I look up.  White puffs of clouds float across the blue sky.  The skies here appear transparent.  Reach your hand out and it seems it would go right through – so different from the saturated blue skies of New Mexico that look solid to the touch.  Birds cross overhead.  Once a blue heron, oh so graceful; next, an eagle soaring high; and then a goldfinch flashing his bright yellow with every flap of the wing.  I take a deep breath, smelling the trees, the grass, the flowers, the dirt, and the dank of the surrounding woods. 

After two hours, my job in the orchard is done for the day.  The dogs are lolling in the grass, content and tired after their play.  We get into the car and head back home, riding in a shared serenity.