Tag Archive | meditation

Tracking Tulips

IMG_3396It’s been an amazing month. Spring has sprung like a flower from a clown’s buttonhole, boing!! On my days of rest I’m exhausted. But the other days are like a carnival, one ride after another, both sequentially: a carousel of tulips, the apricot tree’s long flowering waterfall: after a short climb to full blossom a burgeoning of bloom then a whoosh to done the past few days, weeds emerging like a lush jungle ride faster and thicker than I ever remember; and in layers: all at the same time, each tree, shrub or part of the garden following its own trajectory, with its own protean pace and colorful convolutions. Like gardening inside a Picasso.

European pasque flower popped up near the front door in a place I suspect I transplanted it to last year, and I inadvertently started tracking it in photos. While it’s one of the earliest blooms, showing up shortly after crocuses, it doesn’t attract many bees. It’s behavior through the years has charmed me. From the same deep rhizome it sends up sequential purple bell-flowers. As each old flower sheds petals and unfurls its silky seedheads, a new bud grows from the root.

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This sequence will continue for weeks, until eventually buds will cease forming and seedheads will grow tall and topple, sowing themselves in a circle around the original rhizome. That plant will expand each year, dropping more and more concentric rings of seeds, growing new little pasque sprouts. An ingenious propagation adaptation, in my estimation.

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Because I know what I’m seeing in this largely unhelpful image, I can count at least 17 young plants at varying distances from the mother plant. Let’s keep an eye on this growing family, in the crabapple bed down north by the pond, as summer progresses.

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Each year this red tulip group morphs and grows. I divided it last year and spread some of its stray bulbs down the bed. For a few weeks in spring, it’s a punctuation mark in my yard that everyone remarks upon. Some years ago I planted a handful of standard red tulip bulbs that I bought on impulse at the Farm and Home store in town. Deer ate them the first few years, but somehow over time I think they hybridized with the hardy little naturalizing tulips (which the deer largely ignore) growing shorter and clumpier.

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And this morning, after the 19 degree night, they woke tattered and frost-covered. I touched them: frozen solid. I really thought that was the end of them…

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…but by this afternoon they had perked up remarkably.

The little wild tulip, Tulipa tarda, originally from central Asia, has been in commercial cultivation since the 16th century. In my yard, it’s grown for around fifteen years, following the red tulips in bloom. They’ll stay closed all day in clouds and rain, but give them a few hours of full sun and they’ll pop open. Below, a cluster the other day at 12:45, and the same shot two hours later. I lay on my belly and watched them for about an hour, counting it as meditation, and actually slowed myself down enough to see micro-incremental movements of petals.

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Puzzling Proverbial Politics

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It doesn’t matter what the puzzle is: clicking that last piece into any wooden jigsaw puzzle is supremely gratifying.

Puzzle season is upon us! We are trading them amongst ourselves as we did last winter, and emailing each other images of which one we might buy this year. In our informal club each household seems willing to contribute one puzzle per winter. I borrowed this one from a friend none of us suspected had puzzles. “Netherlandish Proverbs,” a 16th century oil-on-oak painting by Pieter Breughel the Elder, depicts Dutch proverbs of the time.

Artifact Puzzles includes a key to 60 of the sayings, several of which (To cast pearls before swine) are familiar to me, and many brand new to me seem particularly relevant to our times, like To tie a flaxen beard to the face of Christ.

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Pieter Breughel’s “Netherlandish Proverbs” as rendered by Artifact Puzzles. The painting is 400 years older than I am. The proverbs… timeless.

Our favored wooden jigsaw puzzle maker is Liberty Puzzles in Boulder, but Artifact will do in a pinch. I’ve only done two, and I don’t like them as well because they have fewer whimsy pieces, and the cut of their pieces isn’t as intricate or interesting.

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Whimsy pieces in the two Artifact puzzles I’ve done are both fewer and less intricate than in Liberty puzzles.

Liberty puzzles trick you on the edges; Artifact puzzles differ in the nature of the deceit. While  all of the edge pieces look like edge pieces, there were at least seven corner pieces in this puzzle, and numerous flat-edged pieces that are not edges, that abut each other various places in the center of the puzzle.

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The painting’s original title was “The Blue Cloak,” from the proverb “She puts the blue cloak on her husband,” meaning she deceives him. Notice the three pieces in the upper right, where one seeming-corner meets two seeming-edge pieces. This particular trickery seems unique to the Artifact brand.

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“To carry the day out in baskets” means to waste one’s time, as some might think I am, doing these puzzles.

Last winter I sat at my table on a cold afternoon and a neighbor crept inside the front door without knocking, without calling first, without the dogs noticing his arrival. In the second after we all heard the front door squeak, they crashed open the door to the mudroom nearly smashing it into his face. “What are you up to?” he asked, then peered over my shoulder. “You’ve got too much time on your hands,” he said. I was alarmed by his entry and annoyed by his judgement.

These wooden jigsaw puzzles are a meditation for me. The mental agility required to assemble them gives several aspects of my brain good exercise, pattern recognition, color discernment, and memory top among them. Then the image itself offers another layer of awareness: is it a classic painting, like this one, or a Hiroshige waterfall? Or is it a contemporary image, is it an antique print (and of what? butterflies, or a historic locomotive?), does it conform to a rectangular shape or take the organic shape of a jaguar; and what thoughts does that image stir, what feelings, both when I first see it, and as I move through the pieces over time? There is never nothing to think about when working one of these beautiful puzzles, each a work of art in its own right.

And it affords, above all, the gift of concentration. For while my mind may roam pondering proverbs, or mulling mythology while assembling a mermaid, or considering the effects of climate change on the Netherlands, or the plight of jaguars; while a memory may be sparked by a porpoise-shaped whimsy piece or a prairie dog (or is that a meerkat?), the rest of the world falls away. The mind is given the exercise it loves, and the spirit is free to to untether and rest beyond thought, observing the layers the mind plies while it fits together cleverly cut pieces of wood and color.

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“To tie a flaxen beard to the face of Christ” meaning to hide deceit with Christian piety. The proverb feels relevant to our current situation on several levels. Beyond the obvious, it tells us that 16th century Christians clearly did not see Jesus as a blond man, touching off in me thoughts about racism, xenophobia, and hypocrisy. 

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Five proverbs listed on the puzzle key are represented here, and at least one more discerned only from researching the painting online.

The central proverb in this image is To be unable to see the sun shine on the water, meaning to be jealous of another’s success. The fellow above is throwing money into water, i.e., wasting it. To his left, the bottoms poking out a hole in the planks represent a couple of proverbs, one stated on the puzzle key, It hangs like a privy over a ditch: it is obvious; and one uncovered hereThey both crap through the same hole, meaning they are inseparable comrades. Heehee! Under the privy (and the money) is Big fish eat little fish, meaning that whatever people say will be put in perspective according to their level of importance, or “Those in power have the power.” This makes me squirm a little as I consider the looming transfer of power in Our Nation’s Capital. Add to that the crumbling brick wall, A wall with cracks will soon collapse, or Anything poorly managed will soon fail…

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“To have the roof tiled with tarts” meaning to be very wealthy. Perhaps soon the White House will be tiled with tarts. Hmmm. At whose expense?

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While doing the puzzle, I noticed a few images not identified on the key, like this fellow kneeling at a fire, so I looked up the painting online. The central proverb here is “To not care whose house is on fire as long as one can warm oneself at the blaze,” meaning to take every opportunity regardless of the consequences to others. Hmmm. 

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Like the above man at fire, the fellow “sitting on hot coals” wasn’t in the key either. He is being impatient. Above him is one “catching fish without a net,” meaning he profits from the work of others. 

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“To bang one’s head against a brick wall.” We all know what that means!

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The details of expression in the painting are particularly well captured with this poor, morose boy. “He who has spilt his porridge cannot scrape it all up again,” or as I learned it, don’t cry over spilled milk: what’s done cannot be undone.

“Netherlandish Proverbs” was a fast, fun and thought-provoking puzzle, however burdened with nincompoops. I’m glad to have passed it on. I look forward to the beauty, surprise, and complexity of the next puzzle, next year, something bright and wild and full of life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Down

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Ojo cuddling in simpler times, before he started using up his nine lives.

Seven to go. That I know of. But who can know what life-threatening predicaments they get into when they’re out of sight in the wild world? Near-misses with fox, coyote, owl; nasty things they eat and throw up that you don’t see; how many of their nine lives they may have lost that you never knew about.

Election day was stressful enough, but add to that that Ojo cat was fine one hour and the next curled up tight and trembling in pain. As I watched with growing dismay the turning of the planetary tide, I also worried for my little cat’s life.

That crisis was diagnosed as constipation. The vet felt hard feces. Maybe there was another lump even then that she couldn’t feel for the fecal mass. Two days of extra powdered psyllium husk and double doses of laxatone and he was pooping like a champ again and back to running up trees at full speed. Whew! Something went right that week.

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You try your best to protect them. You get all their shots on time, you feed them well and monitor the output, you bring them in before dark so they stand a better chance of surviving wild predators. I didn’t let these kittens outside for their first eight months: first one thing and then another made it seem prudent.

Then you go and accidentally leave out an innocuous-seeming pill, and his life is at stake. Last Friday in an awful deja vu Ojo seemed fine first thing in the morning, then became listless, wouldn’t eat, didn’t follow me around talking as usual. I’d better make sure it’s just constipation again, I thought, and took him to Doc that afternoon.

Doc palpated his belly and looked at me gravely. The buzzing started in my head when he said “…Leiomyosarcoma…could have been aggravated by that Advil.” He felt a golfball-size tumor in Ojo’s intestine. The next thing I heard was “blah blah blah exploratory surgery.” He stood there waiting for me to say something. “Now?” I choked out. “Tonight. A week can make a big difference. This is an aggressive cancer, it likes to move around. We’ve got to try to stop it from spreading.”

And so I left my little black cat in a steel cage that afternoon. I drove home without him, thinking A cat is a hole in your heart where you pour money. Also, I kept this in perspective. He is just a kitty; all over the world at this same moment, there are families hearing similar news or worse about their mother or their child. All over the world there are millions of other sentient being suffering atrocities at the hands of humans in their insatiable greed: orangutans slaughtered in the wake of expanding palm oil plantations, human refugees fleeing despots and civil wars, and hate crimes on the rise in our own great country.

So I held my own sadness together until I got home, and then I cried about as hard for an hour as I did the whole day long a week earlier. I find I can have hope in small things, though, and settled myself down more quickly than after my dark day of despair when the election numbness wore off. Doc called later that evening to tell me the tumor was out, he’d resected a small section of bowel, and Ojo was doing well.

My friends held me in their own ways during a nerve-wracking weekend. Diane offered me tickets to the classical concert at the Blue Sage that night for a brilliant performance of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, which I shared with Cynthia, who drove there and back with her heated seats on high, a ridiculously sublime comfort to my fretting soul.

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And lest she get jealous of all the attention I’m paying her brother, here is a token photo of Topaz on a typical perch, like any good female cat, looking down on the rest of us.

Doc let me visit Ojo Saturday morning before starting his day full of surgeries and was optimistic, though the cat, to be frank, looked pathetic. Michael picked me up in town and let me play with his kitty while my car was in the shop. Cyn gave up her ticket that night for Brahms and Chopin, and Ellie offered me a seat in the second row (how the fingers flew over the keyboard! how the music moved me). Philip loaned me his car when the key finally refused to turn in my ignition. So much to be grateful for.

I missed him so much the past two nights. He puts me to sleep and wakes me up nuzzling his wet little nose and kneading his velvet paws into the arm I drape around him. When I went to visit Ojo this morning, Doc let me bring him home.

“I think he’ll do better there,” he said. “He just sits here looking around like What’s the plan?

A week ago on FaceTime, I showed Amy Ojo through the window, pawing to get inside. I told her how much it had cost to get him through his Advil-induced kidney failure. “I’d keep that cat inside the house and locked in a box,” she laughed. Well, Amy, this one’s for you:

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He only needs to stay in Badger’s crate for a couple of days, I hope, before he can have the run of the house again. He needs to eat incremental small amounts to keep his digestive system moving, but not too much to stress the stitched up bowel. 

“Time will give me answers that nothing else can,” said Doc, when I asked him how we’d know if the cancer has spread. Yes, it always does. Time will give us answers to this, and to the many and much bigger questions that loom over us now. In the meantime, all we can do is love who we love, be grateful for the good in our lives, let the joy and the sorrow rise in and move through us, and offer compassion to those we meet of any species who are suffering.

 

 

Stillness Below Thought

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I am not innately optimistic. I’m deeply terrified about the future of the planet. I’ve taken a media fast since last Thursday.

But this morning I am calm. Seven sandhill cranes flew overhead while I sat under the golden-leafed apricot tree, watching a pair of leaves dangle from a filament. They’ve been hanging there for two days despite breezes that lift one or two leaves from the tree every few minutes. The sandhills flew low, and circled seven times just beyond my fence, before continuing on south.

More sandhills fly over now, their ancient grekking call lonesome in the blue primeval sky. May they live on long after our species declines. The beauty in every moment in this place pierces me. The fragility of life on earth shudders through me with every breath. Some mornings are like this.

I start and end my days these days with meditation. It’s been a long time coming, this regular practice. Years of I don’t know how, or This can’t be right, or worse than interior criticisms, the expectations of the few groups I’ve tried through the years. I met a wonderful teacher five years ago, or remet her, and now meditate with her every weekday morning for half an hour through a phone group called Telesangha. Before bed, and sometimes before morning meditation, I meditate with the Insight Timer, a free app on my phone that has not only a timer, but a community, and nearly 3,000 available guided meditations.

From chanting and music to Metta and Zen, from Germany, Australia, and Japan, there are meditations to suit every mood of every person. I’ve tried dozens in the past month, some effectively putting me to sleep at night, and some appropriately energizing me for the day. This morning I struck gold.

Sometimes I bail out early, if the music is jarring, or the method incompatible. I tried one a few weeks ago that turned out to be a visualization (not a meditation) leading me to a white sand beach; that much was fine. Then a boat appeared on the shore, and the sweet lady’s voice led me into the boat, which left the shore (Where’s my paddle?!) and carried me to a deserted island (How will I get back?!) then led me into a path through the jungle (What venomous snakes lurk beneath the leaves? What predators in the trees?) to a clear blue pool. Ahhh. There is a ladder down into the pool. (Really? A ladder?). By this time I am clearly not relaxing, but I am amused at my reaction to this well-intentioned fantasy, and so I meditate on that. Finally she leaves me alone to soak in the pool for a few moments of silence. I do begin to fall into a calm awareness. But suddenly she is there, taking me up one rung of the ladder after another at an excruciatingly slow pace. I am back in the boat and rowing fast for home before she even has me out of the pool. I’ve made up my own oars. I won’t do that one again!

But this morning. I listened to it first last night, and fell almost instantly asleep with the utterly soothing voice of former Buddhist monk Stephan Pende Wormland. Even more did I need “Rest in Natural Peace” this morning, one day before the election that will determine the course of our country one way or the other, and ultimately could determine (or maybe just accelerate) the fate of our beautiful, vulnerable planet. So I listened to it again.

“Beyond your thoughts is a space containing nothing…” Past the point where I drifted off last night, I was jolted by an epiphany when he said, “The next thought you are going to have, where will it come from? Look.” In that moment, he allowed me to access the stillness below thought, beneath everything. I will listen to this one again and again.

And while other friends joke about moving to Iceland or New Zealand if we end up living in a Trumpscape, I will pack my bags and my animals into the Mothership and drive to the Bay of Fundy, from whence I will take a ferry straight to Copenhagen.

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Apricot leaves fade through chartreuse to bright yellow, gild the tree and fall from the top down, gilding ground. Everywhere I look I see an Andy Goldsworthy project with these leaves. Dare I take the time to play? Dare I? Yes, I do.

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Cottonwood leaves in the backyard canyon have all gone to ground now, and autumn fades through November toward winter. My gratitude knows no bounds.

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In Black Canyon of the Gunnison National park a few weeks ago, I walked with friends to Exclamation Point on one of National Geographic’s “10 Best Easy Hikes with Big Rewards.” Others are in Italy, Nepal, Ireland, New Zealand… this one is twelve miles from home.

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This cactus, happening now in my sunroom…

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…and this, an orchid which explodes with fragrance at certain times of day, catching me off guard as I pass.

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In deep white winter, I can’t live without all these geraniums with blooms of various hues, named after the friends who gave them to me: Cynthia, Mary, David, Deborah, Diane… and Virginia, the one I brought back from there twelve years ago. And that sweet black cat, who is FINE, after all that.

 

Saturday, September 1

Two nearly perfect bear tracks, front above and hind below, from the path of tracks we saw this evening.

When I walk through the woods I am surrounded by bounding dogs, and keep my attention on them, or on the trees, or the birds, or any overt evidence of another being. I’ve trained myself over many years not to look down at my feet, so that I don’t miss all the wonder happening around me at eye level or above. My company this weekend, on the other hand, is practicing mindfulness meditation, sitting and walking. I headed home with the dogs to start dinner, and she meandered through the woods bringing her full attention to each step. This involved looking down. I hadn’t been long in the kitchen when she returned unexpectedly early, and showed me a photo she had taken of a track. In great anticipation, I hooked the dogs to leashes and we returned to the arroyo where she had seen the track. We followed the path of a bear along the drainage for a good way, all four of us extra alert.

This will make morning walks more exciting. The bears are entering their hyperphagic phase, in which they consume mass quantities of food in preparation for hibernation. We will be extra mindful.