Early Morning Thoughts

Last night I dropped into bed while the sun was still lighting the sky.  All of my exertions of the weekend finally caught up with me, and I took my aching back to bed nice and early.

Slept the dreamless sleep of the innocent for seven blissful hours.   Heaven!

Of course, the downside of being in dreamland by 9pm is that I was up for the day at 4, but I’m not complaining!

It is a cool, clear morning.  There are a million birds singing in the woods and the sun is just beginning to show itself through the trees. I decided to pour an iced coffee and go into the hot tub to watch it rise.

Can anything be more indulgent and more soothing than that?

I don’t think so.

I lay there, listening to the birds, watching the sky turn from gray to palest blue.  I felt the hot jets massaging my neck muscles.

My eyes focused slowly on the leaves of the nearest trees, and I realized that I was looking at a tall young oak.   It got me thinking, which shows you how well I slept last night.

When we moved in here, 24 years ago, that little oak was a tiny sprig. It was in the grass, in the yard, but I didn’t want to kill it with the mower.  We left it to grow.

Nine years ago, when we got our little puppy, Tucker, that oak was about twice as tall as I am.  I remember a summer day when Paul and the kids had gone hiking.  Tucker and I took a nap in the shade of the little tree.

Now it is some 30 feet tall, rising above our deck.  It looks like a real tree, not a sapling. It is spreading its branches out on all sides, reaching for the sunlight.

And it no longer stands in the yard; I hadn’t really noticed it, but the woods have crept slowly closer to the house over all these years. Now the oak is at the edge of the woods, surrounded by smaller saplings of pine, maple, ash and birch.

I wonder when the acorn that formed it fell?  There are no other mature oaks near this one.  Did a squirrel drop the acorn that managed to root here? Did it roll down the hill in a storm?

I have no idea, and I like it that way.  I am just an observer, watching the sun rise, the sky clear and the trees growing taller.SONY DSC

January; the blue month


For as long as I can remember, January has always been a very blue month for me.

Blue, as in the color of the icy dawn and the frozen dusk. Blue, as in the color of the shadows that dance under the trees. Blue, as in the songs that are sung when the heart is heavy and slow and plodding in our chests.

Blue, as in, “How much longer can this dark weather go on?”

When the kids were little, January always meant ear infections and bronchitis and pneumonia and fevers and endless nights of rocking and crooning and soothing as the silvery moon moved slowly across the sky.   January meant snowstorms, and ice storms and being stuck in the driveway for an hour while trying to take the crying baby to the doctor’s office.

January lasted at least a thousand days, with wet woolen socks on the hearth, and one more batch of soup on the stove.  January dragged its heels and refused to move and never, ever wanted to give up its icy grip.

Now that my children are grown and gone, January has become the month of rising in the dark, driving to work in the dark, coming home to a house that is empty and cold and so very dark.  January has become the month of worry.  Are they warm? Are they well? Will this flu hit them, and will they tell me if it does?

January is the month when every ounce of energy is taken up just trying to recover from the holidays, just trying to look toward spring.

January is more wood to chop and stack and bring into the house. More wood to load into the stove, more ash to sweep, more blankets to pile on the beds. More soup, more stew, more woolen mittens.   January sucks the soul out of me, and drains me of all of my reserves.

In January, in New England, there is no extra energy for fun or laughter or silliness.

In January, I am blue.  As blue as my lips, my fingernails, my mood.  As blue as the drifting shadows that dance under the pines, waiting for the next fall of snow.

The Green Man

Whose tracks are these?

Whose tracks are these?

Sometimes I can feel my pagan ancestors rising up inside me.

Oh, I know.   I am a very modern American, living in the far too overcrowded Northeast.  I grew up in the suburbs of Boston, and went to college in that teeming city. What pagan past?

I was raised as a Catholic: how “anti-pagan” can you possibly get? I went to church in a nice modern building.  I learned to pray under bright electric lights.

And yet, sometimes I can feel my ancient pagan past rising up inside of me, speaking of fears and dreams and magic that is a part of my bones.  A pagan past that somehow has never been smoothed away by education or social interaction or modern technology.

I feel it on hot summer nights, when the moon rises over the wetlands behind our house. When I lie awake to hear the sounds of rushing water and hunting owls and cicadas crying in the woods. On those nights, the world of pagan spirits seems benign and gentle, and I am lulled by its pull on my heart.

But in winter, I feel those ancient spirits in a darker and more frightening way.

In winter, the wind and the night conspire to remind me of  how my ancestors once felt about the shortest day, and the onset of the darkness.

I live in a place where there are woods almost all around me.  For three seasons of the year, this is a great gift.  I see deer and fox and raccoons and pheasants wandering under those trees. For three seasons of the year, the woods mean abundant life, and peace and health and comfort.  We listen for the “peepers” in spring, to signal that the great awakening has begun, and that everything is about to burst into bloom.   In summer, we listen for the sound of hunting owls, the calls of coyotes, the singing of night birds.  And in the fall, sometimes we can even hear the smacking sound of antlers as deer and moose turn on the testosterone and fight for the best of the females.

For those three seasons, it feels exhilarating and exciting to be a part of the natural world.

But in winter, everything is so different.

SONY DSCIn winter, I look out my kitchen window and I see the spindly shapes of the leafless branches, the sinister twists of the trees against the glowering sky.  In winter, when I look into the woods from the safety of my deck, I hear the sounds of branches creaking and of wind moving restlessly through the pines.

In the winter, the woods are dark so early, and there are so many shadows.  I look out to find the moon, but when it rises from behind the frozen wetlands, it looks as if it is covered in frost.

When I go outside in the early winter light, I find strange tracks in the snow, and I imagine the dangerous predators who stalk around our house while we sleep.

When I come home after dark, to our quiet, nearly empty neighborhood, and into my quiet, nearly empty house, I feel the ancient winter spirits nipping at my heels and I shiver in fear until I am inside, and the fire is lit and the kitchen is filled with good warm smells.

At those moments, on those dark winter nights, I can understand why the ancients celebrated the beauty and hopefulness of the evergreens.  I know why they honored “The Green Man” with his ever lasting life and his ability to stand up to the darkness.

I am in no hurry to take my Christmas tree out of my living room, or to throw out the baskets of pine boughs on my hutch.

My pagan self is resisting the angry bite of the swirling snow as I light the candles and simmer the soup, and throw another log on the fire.

Happy Winter Solstice.  Happy New Year.  May we all endure until the coming of spring!



Why I think I’m an elf.

I first read “The Hobbit” in the fifth grade, and “The Lord of the Rings” when I was in the seventh.  I fell in love with the characters, and I wanted to be a hobbit for a long time. Like a hobbit, I love comfort, I’m always ready to eat or take a nap, and I have thick wavy hair. I love to grow flowers, and I’m a good cook.  All I needed, I thought for many years, was a house with a little round door.

But now that I am older, and have owned my own home and yard for many years, I can see that I was wrong. Now I’m pretty sure that I am an elf.

Oh, I know. I’m not tall, blonde or graceful, and I sure can’t shoot an arrow. But I most definitely feel an affinity for the trees.

This beautiful sugar maple stands just off my deck, at the spot where our yard meets the woods. I have watched its leaves open for 22 years, have enjoyed its shade every summer, have admired its golden orange foliage every October.  Paul and the boys used to tap it in February to make maple syrup.  It’s like a beautiful guardian of our property. Like a lovely old friend.

Yesterday I was home alone, because the kids and Paul were hiking for the weekend.  It was early evening, and I was on the deck, grilling my dinner.  As I stood there in the silence, with the sun setting behind me, I looked out into my woods.  I was struck by how the sugar maple had grown.  When we moved in here, it was a medium sized tree, and I could look over its head into the sky above the forest.  Now it fills that area of sky, spreading its branches over what used to be part of our lawn.

I looked around the yard, thinking of how the trees have changed in the time that we have lived here.  They grew up with my children.  And some have gone just as the children have.

I remember when this pine was taken down, after we realized that it was too old and too unsound to remain where it might fall on the roof.  I remember how sad I have been each time we have had to bring a tree down.  The loss that I felt as each of our sentinels crashed down to earth in a shower of broken limbs.

We have lost branches to ice storms, wind storms and even a hurricane or two.  Like an elf, I suffered the pain of each break, feeling it deep in my own heart. Each snapped branch has felt to me like a broken arm, but one I can’t soothe or cast or ease in any way.

Like one of Tolkien’s elves, I also celebrate the new growth of my trees.  Yesterday, as I walked around the yard, I was aware of how steadily the woods are growing into the yard. There is a beautiful stand of hemlock on the edge of the woods in a spot that used to be all grass. There is a group of new young white pines, clustered together like the children of the trees we have lost.And everywhere I look, I see new saplings rising.  Maple saplings grow on the stumps of old pines.  Hemlock, pine and even a spruce or two pop up in every sunny break in the woods.  There is such a feeling of “life goes on”, of renewal, of hope in the future.  The trees keep coming, keep growing, keep filling in the spaces.

Like Legolas Greenleaf of Middle Earth, I am happy to see each baby tree. I greet each one with a smile and some words of encouragement.  And I let them grow, even when they are in the middle of my daylillies.