As winter moves toward spring, I crave a small indication that the season is truly changing so, on one of our mild days last week, I cut some forsythia and flowering crab branches, put them in water, and spoke kindly to them, asking them to blossom soon. There is nothing like a bouquet of forsythia to spread sunshine when there aren’t any rays emanating from the sun itself. The temperatures next week may be in the single digits, but that vase full of twigs showing green and gold tells me the cold is temporary.
Recently I looked out the window at mid-day and nothing was moving — no birds in the feeders, not any cats beneath them. Then I saw the reason — a chicken hawk was perched quite comfortably in the lilac bush, watching for a yummy dove or two to swing by. I opened the window and shouted at him — no response. Finally I banged outside the window with the rhythm shaker I keep for bears, and the bird flew —- maybe 40 feet away into the larch trees. At least, from there, he had to expend more effort to nab one of our song birds. A few winters ago, when I tried to chase a larger hawk away from a feeder, he came after me. I guess he was both hungry and irritated. Fortunately I was on the porch so I grabbed a broom and he veered off. It could have been a stunning thriller —- the Battle of the Hawk and the Broom-Wielding (very cranky) Lady!!!
The end of February means that owls are nesting and this brings hope that March will be spring-like. I know how miniscule the chances are, but envisioning sunshine and crocuses makes the latter end of winter tolerable. Getting out my garden folders is a nice way to spend an afternoon, as is tweaking the garden plan (already tweaked once or twice). And certainly calling in my orders before my chosen plants are sold out would be a good thing. The pussy willows will soon be forming their fuzzy buds and we will notice a faint change in color around the maples. Speaking of maples, tapping is well on its way for our delicious NYS pancake topping. Actually, maple syrup is also great on vanilla ice cream, corn fritters and Johnny cake.
January and February have been cleaning-out months for me. We know we have way too many possessions —- and should attend to this problem before we are unable to do so. But it is labor- intensive and sometimes a sad process to let go of items that have meaning or dreams that have become unrealistic. One of the pieces of furniture that I recently invaded was a chest on chest that hadn’t been sorted out since we cleaned out my mother’s house many years ago. Oh I’ve used the drawers, but the top part — a chest with a lift-up lid, was still full. Two wool blankets had notes pinned to them: “Sheep for this wool raised by Archibald Pellet; cloth carded, woven and spun by his wife, Lovina; 1835.” This would be my mother’s great-great grandfather and mother. That makes the blankets not the sort of thing one blithely tosses into the Mission box. There were baby dresses with exquisite embroidery, carriage robes, a silk shawl with fringe about 8 inches long, a two-inch wide band of crocheted lace with silk fringe. My mother’s 1919 silk wedding gown used to be there, but I did remove that a while ago, and donated it to the museum in the town where she lived for sixty-five of her ninety-four years. In an attempt to “share”, I sent out an E-mail to a few family members, asking of anyone would like any of these things. (This is one really good way to get communication going. ☺) One niece basically said “Are you nuts??;” she also was cleaning out. One nephew asked who in the world Archibald Pellet was, and another niece expressed joy that no one had carried that name on in the family. But I did get two takers, and so the hand-woven wool blankets will go — one to California, the other to Montana. Other items will be shared as I can. This chest is now done, but there are so very many other closets, boxes and corners remaining! SIGH!
In inclement weather (well — actually in any weather) I do a lot of reading. There are certain books kept within easy reach; books that both cheer me and inspire me to get up and do something; books by Madeleine L’Engle, Bruce Larson, C.S. Lewis, Agnes Sanford, Alexandra Stoddard and Joyce Rupp are among those that help with my inner chaos. If I pine for adventure, I go to the Robert Parker detective series with Spenser or Jesse Stone, the Hamish Macbeth novels by M.C. Beaton or Peter Tremayne’s Sister Fidelma mysteries. If I’m in the mood to escape both myself and my era, I re-read the David Eddings series, The Belgariad, full of medieval magic. In mid-winter, outdoor books by Diane Ackerman, Cathy Johnson and Edwin Way Teale send me on forest and beach walks right from my cozy chair. And if I’m really, really desperate, Calvin and Hobbes will always make me laugh.
Recently we reorganized some of our book shelves. There is a book by Marie Kondo* that speaks of discarding anything that doesn’t bring joy to your heart. So a stack of books has emerged for the next book sale! However, still, we have homeless books in piles here and there. It has always amazed me that real estate agents do not consider built-in bookshelves a good selling point. How can that be???!!!
One of the books I’ve read during the last couple of weeks is “My Grandfather’s Blessings” by Rachel Naomi Remen.** She is a physician, formerly a pediatrician, and a therapist who has allowed her own health problems to be a catalyst for helping other seriously ill people. She spoke of a workshop she had done with a Hospice group. This was a large, urban organization, and those on staff—- the cleaner to the telephone receptionist to doctors and nurses barely knew each other. In too many groups, culturally, there is an unspoken caste system; well-educated professionals sitting at desks are often regarded as much more important than those who do hands-on maintenance. Rachel put everyone through an exercise that ignited a time of really listening as each person explained how they perceived what they did at this Hospice. When they finished, it was evident that doctors to receptionists to janitors had become a team, recognizing each other as equally important in achieving Hospice goals of compassionate care.
And this made me think. In our church, many years ago, we did a workshop on gifts —-what is within us that we have to give? And I was astounded that so many people felt that they had no gifts of worth. Could it be that — perhaps we aren’t encouraged to express our gifts —- perhaps we feel it is immodest to admit to having gifts? For whatever reason, we often need someone else to recognize our gifts. When we finally accept that we are worthy — that we do have gifts —- then whatever those gifts might be can be part of healing in our small section of the world. “If instead of a gem, or even a flower, we should cast the gift of a loving thought into the heart of a friend that would be giving as the angel’s give.” George MacDonald*** So here is a toast (tomato juice is what I have at hand) to the gifts in each of us; may we use them well —- even if the gift is simply to teach a hawk manners when he comes to my bird feeder. ☺
Now that March is imminent, I’ll be awaiting the arrival of snow birds — both avian and human. We miss our friends who spend their winters on some balmy beach and are glad when they come straggling back home in March, April or May. As far as birds go, the red-winged blackbirds are usually the earliest, coming even if there are several snow storms to go. And since they have the advantage in numbers, they have no qualms about taking over the bird feeders in spite of protests from juncos, cardinals and blue jays. They are loud and pushy, but their “Okalee” is an enthusiastic sign of spring……….which, by the calendar is only three weeks away. Cheers!!
*”The Magic Of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo, Japanese organizing consultant and author.
**Rachel Naomi Remen —-Professor at the Osher Center of Integrative Medicine, University of California, San Francisco. “Kitchen Table Wisdom and “My Grandfather’s Blessings”
*** George MacDonald — Scottish writer, pastor and poet. 1824-1905. He was also the mentor of another writer, Lewis Carroll.