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Nurturing My Soul

Today was one of those stay inside and huddle days. Lots of pain. I won’t bore you with the details. The cloudy greyness and chill didn’t help.

I read, dozed, watched TV, played games. I did the things I needed to do – take my daughter school, drink some coffee so I could take my vitamins, do the bit of housework that needed doing.

And then I lazed, drinking tea.

Until my daughter came home and needed a ride to a friend’s home. As I was driving home, I noticed the time and pulled into a small park I frequent. It’s by a pond and a lake (well, it’s supposed to be a lake but it’s been drained for the past two+ years for repairs and dredging). The golf cart path cuts through it, crossing the channel between the pond and the lake. It’s one of my favorite places to go to walk, take pictures, and just be out in nature.

So I wrapped my scarf tighter around my neck and my sweater tighter around me, got out of my car, making sure to lock it, and wandered. I noticed a police officer had pulled in, also facing towards the setting sun. Multiple people walked, jogged, biked, drove by. A few stopped, at least for a few moments, to look at the sky. Look at the wildlife. No one was loud or noisy. There were no loud conversations. No blasting music. No loud vehicles.

It was peacefully full of the sounds of nature. The water flowing from the pond to the lake where it becomes a small waterfall. Ducks and geese chattering and arguing with one another as they start to settle for the night.

I watched as a heron circled overhead before settling in the tall grasses. A hawk or falcon flew by – too dark for me to tell for certain, but recognizing the silhouette. And I know there are hawks in the area, at least red-tail hawks. The ducks and geese started moving towards the edges of the water, or flew from the pond to the lake and vice versa. Something swam in the pond, not water fowl, not fish, not turtle. Too far away to see much more in the twilight than a small brown head and the movement of a body behind it. An otter maybe.

And then there was the sunset itself. At first I despaired as I watched the sun sink behind the trees, that even with clouds in the sky, the hoped for colors wouldn’t appear. Bit by golden bit the sun disappeared completely from view. Slowly the golden hue rose up into the sky. 275

I turned and caught the last bit of sunlight as it lit the treetops across the pond.

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More and more gold appeared as the blues faded then darkened. While the air was still on the ground, it wasn’t on high, as I watched the clouds shift and morph and move across the darkening sky. The gold became darker and oranges and pinks joined in. The clouds and colors reflected in the lake and pools of water along its edges. As it got later, more and more purples appeared. I tried to catch as much as I could, switching between camera apps and views. And then I just stopped. And looked. My camera in my pocket. Until at the very last when the clouds became a deep stunning magenta hue.

As the last little bit of color disappeared in to the dark of night, I went back to my car feeling so much more alive, more me, than I had when I first got there. I even forgot about my pain (although once I settled in for the drive home, it reared its ugly head again).

It’s nature, all of it. The water, the soil, the sky, flora and fauna. Observing and being surrounded by it until it refills some parts of me that I hadn’t even realized were empty. I have always had access to nature, whether in wide open spaces like my grandparents ranch, or in small city parks while away at university. Walking through forests, sitting by the river that ran along our property when I was a teen, sitting on the edge of a lake or bay or seashore, standing on cliffs watching the sun sink into the Pacific, driving country roads and seeing new vistas, watching various animals as they live their own lives, listening to the sounds of animals and insects unseen, watching the stars and moon appear and wheel across the sky until the sun rises and they disappear from my view again. Even being caught in a sudden rain storm can fill me with joy and make me smile like a loon.

 

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O is for…

Oceans.

Ever since I was a small child, I have had an abiding fascination with the ocean. I even went to uni to study fisheries biology, including marine mammalogy. And up until the past decade, I never lived more than a few hours away from the ocean, specifically the Pacific.

My childhood was in the East Bay area of California. We often went to San Fransisco, to the bay and the beach. It was my first introduction to the sea.Visiting Marineland/Africa USA further introduced me to a variety of sea life.

When I was about 8, my mother’s parents rented a boat, motorized, and we cruised around Puget Sound, through the San Juan’s, and up to Vancouver (or Victoria – I was young, memories have blurred). During that trip we ate fresh caught crabs, explored multiple islands, watched the tide rise and fall around us as we anchored in coves, saw a submarine go by (very close to us), saw the currents form a debris path on the surface, and I got to go out in a rowboat – sometimes with others and sometimes by myself. It was such a memorable experience, that even now, just recalling it makes me smile.

When I was 11 we moved to the mountains in Washington State. No longer as close to the ocean as we used to be, we were still just a few hours from Puget Sound. We spent plenty of time at the Sound. Des Plaines Salt Water Park was a favorite place to visit, especially during low tide, when if you stepped just right, something under the sand (clams?) would squirt, and we’d stick fingers in anemones to feel them close around us. The Seattle Waterfront was another favorite — the aquarium, Pike Place Market, Myrtle Edwards Park, waiting at the Ferry Terminal to take a ferry to one of the many islands (Vashon – where my great-uncle lived; Bainbridge Island – where one of my uncle’s lived for a while). Or maybe we’d go down to Tacoma, visiting the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium and then walking along the beach in the park. Or taking the Tacoma Narrows Bridge over towards Gig Harbor, but then turning south to go visit my mom’s best friend who lived on Fox Island.

When I was in high school, twice I went to an art camp held over on the Olympic Peninsula, in Fort Worden State Park. The fastest way to get there was to drive up to Mukilteo, take the ferry to Whidbey Island, drive to the other end of the island, get on another ferry and take it across to Port Townsend. One of these trips was made in a storm. It was pouring so much on Whidbey that it wasn’t even certain the ferry to Port Townsend would still be running. We made it on to the last one, the Rhod0dendron (or as we referred to it, the Chrod0dendron because it was old and grody and cruddy). Side note: I just looked it up and they only just retired her in 2012! The amount of clanging and groaning the ferry made on that stormy crossing… It sounded like she could go down at any minute. It was actually more comfortable upstairs and outside than in one of the passenger rooms. But I loved the storminess of the crossing. And during my time at the art camp, I escaped down the beach as often as I could.

After high school graduation, we took a family trip to the San Juan Islands. I could have stayed so much longer than just a week. Unfortunately, I never saw any orcas while we were there. I loved the way the trees grew down as close to the water’s edge as possible and the deep turquoise-green of the water. And then we spent a week on the northern Oregon coast, with its fantastic haystack formations.

A couple years later and I was back in Seattle for university. Again spending as much time at the waterfront as I could. An uncle had moved to Alki Point and a boyfriend’s family lived in West Seattle so I spent time there, looking out over the water, watching submarines go by (mostly at the boyfriend’s). I studied Fisheries Biology, going out on boats for lab work, going back up to the San Juan’s for more lab work (where I got to hold just hatched itty bitty baby octopuses, watching their chromatophores pulsing and changing color — talk about adorably cute). Those years at the university were pretty wonderful.

My first real job after college was as an observer on fishing vessels in Southern California. I was living in a coastal town, working out on the water in all kinds of weather, eventually moving just 1-1/2 blocks from the cliffs overlooking the Pacific. I was there for almost 10 years — it’s where I met my husband and all three of our children were born. I used to love walking along the cliffs, looking out over the ocean, especially at sunset. When the two oldest kids were old enough, I’d take them to the tidepools (when it was still free) and we’d look at anemones, sea stars, sea hares, hermit crabs, tiny fish, tiny crabs, snails… And we’d usually find a few shells to bring home.

And then we moved inland, all the way to Illinois. I only got close to oceans (or seas) on vacations — to California, Washington, Oregon, Wales, cruising the Mediterranean, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico. I crave these trips, to stick my toes into the ocean, to try to dodge the waves, watching the tide rise and fall; the pelicans, gulls and other birds; the surfers; the open vistas to the horizon; and if I’m really lucky, a variety of marine mammals.

We’re a little closer now, 4 – 5 hours from either Atlantic or Gulf, but we’ve only made the trip once. Any time the topic of vacation is brought up, I always respond with “beach”. Someday, hopefully, I’ll be living within walking distance again.

Sorry this is so long. If you made it all the way down here, thank you 🙂

M is for…

Moon.

The Moon.

Our Moon.

Not that I have anything against the Sun. I love a nice warm sunny spot on a cool day. I love sunny days when I’m on vacation. I’m not, however, a big fan of sunburns, excessive heat or sweating.

But I digress.

Why does the Moon hold such fascination for many people, not just me? I think because it has a greater air of mystery and magic about it. Unless you know your science, the “purpose” the moon serves for earth is not really clear (except if you pay attention to the tides).

Think about it — it changes size and shape, is not always visible at night, is sometimes visible only during the day. Sometimes it’s bone white, sometimes butter yellow, and just this morning was blood-red with the eclipse. Scientifically it is predictable, maybe even constant, but to the casual day-to-day observer, it isn’t. It is different every single day.

And unless you have the right equipment, getting a good photograph of the Moon can be difficult, elusive, if not downright impossible. I know, because I’ve tried many many times ~sigh~

Right now, I was just out in the cold walking the puppy before bed. The Moon is white, still rising, just starting to the clear the tops of trees in our neighborhood. It’s beautiful, glowing strongly in the clear night sky.

I can’t help but look for the Moon any night I am outside, and I will notice it when it’s visible during the day. I can easily tell whether it’s waxing or waning, even just a day or two either side of full. I have an app on my phone — Star Walk — that I frequently pull out so I can find out what the bright lights — planets or stars — are that I see near the Moon.

Is the Moon magical? Is it mysterious or mystical? I think, as with so many things around us, it is what you personally make of it. If you like to sit out in the moonlight, gazing at the Moon and following moonbeams, go for it. I’ll be right there with you.

Great Outdoors

If you’ve looked at my Instagram feed or read some of my other posts, you’ve probably figured out that the Great Outdoors, nature, is very important to me. Spending time outside, in nature, observing, walking, just being, has always soothed and renewed me.

Some of my earliest memories are of lying in the grass in our backyard when I was only 3 or 4. I liked to pick the blades of grass and a chew on the ends. As I grew, my range grew too. On my grandparent’s ranch I could roam freely, so I did, throwing stones into the ponds, picking wildflowers, climbing stacks of hay bales, climbing the hills to stare off into the distance, watching hawks and prairie dogs, and more. During recess at school, I’d go sit in the grass, looking for pretty stones or four-leaf clovers, watching water striders and other bugs in and around puddles.

For several years, in one yard, my father planted a large garden and many fruit trees. We all helped some to care for it, but it was mostly my father’s ‘baby’. There were artichokes, cucumbers, onions, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, apples, cherries, grapes, pomegranates, lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits, and others that so many years later I can’t remember. I do remember Dad making pickles with the cucumbers.

When we moved to Washington, at first we lived in town. Less than a year later we moved a few miles out of town, onto two acres along a river. I spent many hours sitting by the river or wandering in nearby woods. I watched otters and fish in the river; eagles and hawks overhead; deer, bears, elk, weasels, beavers, coyotes, skunks. And so many others. Caddis fly larvae in the river were always interesting. We think  there were cougars in the mountains surrounding our little valley based on screams heard at night — not human. The bears — we always knew when they were feeding down at the river because the dogs would go crazy. We even had one run along side us in the river once, while we were rafting. For a while we had horses — deer would come and visit with them, then visit our vegetable garden for a snack.

I love storms. The winds are invigorating. The lightning and thundering exciting. In Washington, our front door faced north and the back door, south. There were nights when we could go back and forth from front to back watching two separate storms at opposite ends of the valley. More than once we called in suspected lightning fires. When I was in high school, I attended an art camp on the Olympic peninsula. The most common way to get there was by ferry, as to drive would take several hours. One of the trips was during a storm, so bad that our run was the last of the day. The ferry rocked violently, spray flying high over the bow, various things clanking and clanging. Where did I spend most of the crossing? Outside, of course, in the wind and the rain.

I went off to college, first in Idaho then back to Washington. Then California, Indiana, Illinois, and now Georgia. Always I found places to be outside — parks, gardens, paths. Always I noticed what was around me, near and far — mountains, clouds, rivers, streams, ocean, beaches, cliffs; sun, moon, stars; wind, rain, snow; the flora and fauna. All of it. Already, here, I’ve wandered paths, found two nature areas, and look forward to visiting a third. Now that it’s spring, every day I wander our yard, looking for buds and blooms, animals, birds, and insects.

If I go more than a couple of days without time outside, I feel it — a restlessness, a sense of something missing.

 

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