healing haven

March 29, 2008

A Squirrel’s World

Filed under: fiction,Pythian Games — by thalia @ 2:03 pm
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In response to a prompt at Pythian Games: 

My fingers find it hard to plait the daisies into a chain.  Reacting to the weather, they are swollen as well as just being pudgy.  I remember having no trouble doing this until recently.  Someone is watching!  Who would be out here?  I slowly look up and glance around the circle of trees where I am sitting.  No one there.  A slight motion at the corner of my eye catches my attention and I peer closer to observe a small brown squirrel peeking out from a hole in the base of the oak tree.  He watches intently even as I glimpse his tail moving in the dark.  I don’t see any others—just the one.  Is this the greedy squirrel who always eats all the birdseed?

He seems to take a deep breath as he says, “If you are going to come, you better put your best clothes on.”  A talking squirrel?  How can it be?   He scampers a bit closer and turns sideways, his bushy tail seeming to beckon me on.  “Are you coming?  No time to wait.”  He moves into the dark opening.


“I won’t be able to fit.”  How is it I am talking to a squirrel, much less worrying about fitting into the rotted hole?  And if I need to follow there is no time to change clothes.  That doesn’t make any sense.

 “Come, come.  No time.”  He disappears into the tree.

My curiosity aroused, I crawl over to the small opening and look inside.  Nothing there.  I cautiously extend my hand in to see how far back the hole goes.  As I do, I notice my hand appears to change, just like putting your hand in water and watching the refraction caused by different densities of air and water.  I pull it out and watch my tiny hand with thin fingers revert to a plumper hand with signs of aging.  In again, a little further, to see hand and arm shrink to.  Would the rest of me shrink, too?  Would I be flexible, once again, able to play like a child, to climb trees and run through the woods?  Like an adult able to climb onto the house roof to help build a chimney?

Without making any conscious decision, I surprised myself as I stood in the hole, not at all cramped.   What had looked to be pebbles on the ground just outside the tree-hole now appeared to be huge boulders out there. 

“Are you coming?” punctuated by a exasperated sigh.  I squinted into the inner recesses of the hole and discerned the squirrel with upraised tail – now bigger than I was.  For the first time I noticed how sharp and long the nails on his front feet were.  Gulp!  I’m so small – no match for an angry squirrel.

“Come!” he commanded, and started climbing up the inside of the tree.  I followed as best I could, grabbing onto protrusions formed by natural and, perhaps unnatural, means.  Sap and dirt clung to my hands and feet, dropping onto my clothes.  I was glad I hadn’t dressed in my best clothes.

Concentrating, to be sure I didn’t fall, I nearly bumped into him.  He stopped at another hole and then stepped out.  I followed, with more caution, but also curiosity.   My hands, for all the dirt and sap and activity, felt better than ever.  I could climb without my back hurting.  What happened to my glasses?

I flashed back remembering this: standing on a branch of the apple tree in the “little woods,” pausing to look around and see if I had time to climb higher to avoid detection in “hide and seek,” reveling in the smell of the apples and woods, observing green leaves against the blue sky, hearing the sounds of birds and squirrels scurrying about their business, feeling the tree bark as I held on.  Much of my childhood was spent here, delighting in the freedom of climbing trees, running through the woods, and building forts.  A welcome contrast to younger childhood years spent in an apartment being told not to make noise and disturb the sick man below.

I stepped out, balancing easily on the branch, following the squirrel who then said, “Watch how I do it.”  Before I knew it he threw the top part of himself off the branch as he held on with his hind feet.  His front paws grabbed the sunflower seeds in a green birdfeeder hanging from the tree.  One paw held onto the feeder tray for stability while the other stuffed sunflower seeds into his mouth.  A few quick mouth/nose wriggles and the hulls flew out, falling to the ground.  

He ate mouthfuls, then hoisted himself back upright.  “OK.  You try it while I get seed from the other feeder.  He trotted onto a smaller branch as it bent closer to a different feeder as he moved to the end.  He took a flying leap onto the top of the feeder, overshooting and falling to the rocky ground.  I gasped as he shook himself and then darted into the hole, reappearing at the top and heading out to do it again.

“Don’t watch me.  Get your own!”  He flew off again, judging the distance correctly this time.  I decided squirrels were use to getting their food while hanging upside down as I watched him as he hung upside down and gobbled seed.  The annoyed birds chirped their disdain for his gluttony and impatience to eat.

A black-capped chickadee flew at my feeder, startling me, grabbed a seed and flew off like a ribbon waving in the breeze.  I always liked to watch them politely take one seed and fly away so other birds could also partake.  So unlike squirrels who gobble everything until nothing is left. 

I moved over to the feeder,  and sat down, with the branch close to the crease of my knees, slid back and let myself down as I did years ago when I would play on the monkey bars at school or in the trees.  Will I get nauseous? or fall down?  But as I viewed the world upside-down, I felt great.  Everything looked so different from this perspective.  So much more to wonder about.  I took a seed, broke the hull in my teeth, separated out the hull and ate the sunflower nut.  Delicious! And now I knew why squirrels seemed to be so greedy.  With all the work and energy it took of getting into position to do this, more than one seed needed to be eaten to make it worthwhile.  So I ate slowly.  My deliberate movements eased the fears of the birds so they started to come around even with me there.  A tufted titmouse even landed on my outstretched arm as a perch, finding it easier to reach the seeds.  I longed to stroke a bird but didn’t want to upset them.

I was so engrossed with the living, colorful bird collage I jumped when Mr. Squirrel appeared on the branch next to me.  He appeared to be upside down when in reality it was me.

“Well, do you understand now?  Why we gobble a lot?  I’ve heard you asking why as you filled the feeders, thinking we were greedy.  You used to chase us away from eating but have relented and allow us to ear from two of the feeders, at least.  You even greased the feeder poles but that only kept us away for a short time until the cold solidified whatever grease you used.  It takes a lot of work for us to get the seeds.” 

I had swung back upright so I was sitting next to him.  We watched the other two squirrels and the inordinate number of birds flitting about as they determined pecking order for eating.  They ignored me as if I were of no consequence… and at my present size, I wasn’t.  Tiny, covered with dirt and sap to which seed hulls were stuck, what could I do?  Well, I didn’t want to do anything but enjoy being a part of the picture I always enjoyed watching from my window.

“It’s getting dark.  Time to retire to my nest.  And you should go back.  Who knows what would find you a tasty morsel… an owl?  a raccoon or a possum?  even a snake?”

“Thank you for inviting me.  It’s been so wonderful.”  I pirouetted along the branch as I moved closer to the trunk.  I allowed myself to tumble down even as Mr. Squirrel ran up and over a few trees to his nest.

“Could I come again?  Maybe visit your nest?”

“We’ll see,” resounded faintly.

I danced around at the bottom in the hole, did a few back flips (because I could), then took a deep breath.  I inched out of the hole, watching my body revert to the now familiar bigger, heavier, aching body.  I found my glasses in the dirt. I picked up my daisy chain and hung it over the doorway, as an offering, a blessing, a hope.

(see also http://pythiangames.wordpress.com/2008/03/29/a-squirrels-world/#comments)

Easter Contrasts

Filed under: gardening — by thalia @ 10:39 am
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My mind remembered wearing pristine-white gloves, a pastel frilly new dress, a fluffy white jacket and a fancy white bonnet as I now dug in the earth with dirt under my fingernails and cuts on my fingers from pulling sturdy strands of Bermuda grass out of the vegetable bed.  I watched earthworms wriggle in abundance, now more worms than rocks and clay in the previously heavy soil. 

Manure, peat moss, nutrients and compost allowed the soil to transform from all clay and Bermuda grass to arable, fertile garden able to provide a growing place for nutritious vegetables interspersed with flowers.   Watching worms wriggling instead of people in church pews, as the services droned on. 

The sun gently warmed my back as I worked on this Easter Sunday, a lovely day with a slight breeze.  I was aware that many people were at church services, and I was glad the day was nice rather than having any precipitation, as originally forecast.  Children could engage in the egg hunts and adults get the necessary pictures taken.

For me, at this stage of my life, being outside in the garden with the worms and birds and budding trees and flowering forsythia and crocus was a blessing.  Yet also a contrast from years ago when life was very different. 

Easter, the season of new birth/rebirth, for the earth as the seasons changed from winter and for us our seasons of life change.  It all felt so right!

March 22, 2008

rain… lots of rain

Filed under: gardening — by thalia @ 1:17 pm

This week we had more rain in one day than I have seen in the 25 years I have lived in this area.  Roads were covered in various depths of water, country bridges washed away, rivers and creeks overflowing, cars and trucks stranded in the high-flowing waters with drivers missing and presumed swept away, homes flooded out.  

It was particularly hard on the hospice staff having to make home visits.  They even got calls from families not to come because the bridge was out or the dirt road was impassable mud.  Yet everyone did what they could and provided excellent care.  Wouldn’t be the first time police or firemen were requested to help staff get to a patient.   

I finally squished my way home, fully expecting the backyard to be immersed in flowing creek water.  But it wasn’t.  Don’t know what made the difference since other years’ flooding  brought the creek waters rising up the slope of the backyard.  We were lucky!  As was our gnome statue gnome who actually was swept away in one of those floods.  He was named ‘Lucky’ after we found him residing in a bed of debris all the way in the far back corner.

The rain will provide the necessary moisture for the spring flowers and trees.  The next day all the Bradford Pears and forcythia opened even though it is likely they will get zapped out by the sure-to-still-occur frost.   If this had been snow we would have been totally immersed. 

The weather has been doing many odd things of late and this was just one of them.  Time for every one of us to make amends to Gaia and practice good earth-sharing with all beings calling this earth home. 

March 16, 2008

The Weeping of a Disappointed Womb

Filed under: appreciation,healing,memoir,poem,Temple of Solace — by thalia @ 2:11 pm
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 About 6 years ago I underwent a hysterectomy because of endometrial cancer.  At home for almost a 7-week recovery, I had a chance to reevaluate my life and my job, and to more consciously create a healing haven for myself.  At that time I thought I was dealing with the loss of my uterus and with the brush with cancer, but a year later it really hit me.  This poem was the result:

                     The Weeping of a Disappointed Womb


hiatus in the weeping

of a disappointed womb


this womb embraced

wonderous babes  

My womb was pleased

and so was I

we both reveled

in the ease

of pregnancy

the joy of birth             

Long ago

a nurse said “the weeping

of a disappointed womb”

was a uterine function;

it stuck over the years

as I pondered

its accuracy and intent.                       

This womb, my womb,

provided good service

Symbolized the part of me,

hidden from incursions

of others

in use and abuse;


within my body


unconsciously by me,

until I could learn

to speak for myself. 

As I apply

this wisdom

the uterus is taken from me

– endometrial cancer

hysterectomy needed

just enough time

for quick words, thoughts

gratitude, love, appreciation

for all its gentle weeping

all its being there with me 

My womb is gone – and now I weep!                                             

 (published in Releasing Times)

March 14, 2008

Pythian Games Identity Poem

Filed under: memoir,Pythian Games — by thalia @ 6:36 pm
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I am from German sauerbraten and Jewish chollah bread, from Easter eggs and matzo, from English roast beef and Russian borscht, from American cheese macaroni and English Yorkshire pudding and French crullers.  I am from a diversity of foods from the various cultures crisscrossing in my ancestry.


I am from a home with a white picket fence that I scraped and painted every summer, or so it seems.  A home where my mother was always there to love us unconditionally and welcome us home as she was available every day after school to listen; where my father was the only father on the block to play stick ball with all of us kids in the neighborhood, and took me to movies and museums; where the family all went camping, even making our own first tent, stitch by stitch, together.  I am from a family that camps and plays and works together and does many things “from scratch.”


I am from lilacs and lilies of the valley and violets in the house yard; from feeding pigeons and squirrels in the park; from ‘don’t make any noise’ in the apartment to run free in the woods at the house; from apple trees and oaks in the woods; from asphalt on the city apartment roof to playing kick the can in the surburban street; from homemade jelly and pickles and breads and cakes; from handmade finished real-room for me and a schoolhouse for my dolls, and with a fort, a castle and paper-mache dinosaurs for my brothers (and thereby, also for me).


I am from a diverse cultural and religious family with roots through my mother’s mother of German Catholic and her father’s side of Jewish Russian.  My father’s side was English, Scotch and French Protestants.  My mother’s brother married the daughter of a Baptist minister.  My father’s large sibling family later consisted of an atheist, a Christian Scientist, a Catholic, 2 Protestants, and 2 agnostics.  I amalgamate all this, and delight in the differences. 


From my maternal strong-willed grandmother who in the early 1900’s as a teenager enjoyed being pulled around Central Park in New York City while sitting on a large block of ice, and a maternal retiring grandfather who, in his youth, rode a motorcycle and ran liquor during Prohibition, being shot at by the Coast Guard; from my tiny paternal grandmother the strength to raise 8 children (one died when young of whooping cough) with hardly any help or money, and a paternal grandfather who went out on strike in sympathy with other new subway-railroad employees in the early 1900’s in Manhattan and then stayed out in principal when everyone else returned to work after compromising safety issues, and spent the rest of his days at home being largely ignored by his struggling wife and children.

 I am from strong, independent and idealistic stock simmered in a well-seasoned sauce of love.  But with a sprinkling of fear also: fears of losing my father in World War II, about my mother, grandfather and I being killed if the Germans won because of our Jewish background, of being bombed by submarines lurking in the waters just off Manhattan; of fears of not having enough money to raise 5 children, of my never being perfect enough to always get 100 on tests, of speaking of that which contradicted the white picket fence image.  Strong enough to move away from birth family as my husband and I literally built our house ourselves, nail by nail; strong enough to move to Arkansas to hopefully live off the land and do everything “from scratch” once again; strong enough to leave after 33 years of marriage and create a new spirit-enhancing life for myself even as the fears emerge now and then. 

I am from tradition, even if diverse, with some eccentricity and individualism for a measure of spice.  I have taken these ingredients, re-combined them to make a very untraditional life for myself: a New Yorker now living in Arkansas, a former Catholic now a devotee of a spiritual teacher, a married woman with children into a woman now with children and grandchildren but also with a female soulmate, a stay-at-home mom into a full-time employee, a previously thin, active, athletic person into a heavier, older, grayer, more introspective, more interested in being than in doing, a seeker searching in many directions now a more balanced, well-rounded, individuated person. 

I am from many and now am becoming One. 

(see also http://pythiangames.wordpress.com/2008/03/14/identity-poem-2/#coimments)

March 4, 2008

Winter Garden

Filed under: gardening,healing — by thalia @ 1:08 pm

The beautiful spring-type day on Saturday has reverted to a winter-type day today.  Snow cushions the footsteps of any person or critter that happens to be walking over the ground as the morning appears.  Heavy rains yesterday, followed by freezing temps last night add a crunch under the soft snow. 

The birds have already visited the replenished in-preparation-of-the-coming-snow birdfeeders, in particular, the cardinals.  I spend time contemplating them as they sit on the tree branches waiting their turn in the “pecking order.”  With 11 male cardinals and their mates, it looks like a Christmas tree festooned with red velvet cardinal-bows set against the white velvet background.

Under the snow, the ground heals from all the work of last spring and summer–the putting forth growth and then the wild profusion of life.  Time for a rest, for the rain to soak into the ground and the roots to be watered.  Activity goes on, but it is just out of view, underground.  

I rest and heal as I watch the winter garden resting and healing.

March 2, 2008

Healing in the Garden

Filed under: appreciation,gardening,healing — by thalia @ 3:45 pm

     Yesterday was the first spring day in the high 60’s here in the Arkansas Ozarks.  I had to decide whether to spend my time continuing to work this site or be in the garden.  Happy to say, I choose to appreciate the outdoors and the lovely weather.   

     After trimming some bushes and doing the necessary cleanup, I then turned to the garden area requiring first attention each spring.  That is to say, the onion bed.  Now overgrown with long bermuda grass skeletons about to burst forth into active continually-growing strands and the newly emerging “weeds” that can be used for foraging but if left unchecked take over, this area needs to be cleared and prepared for the small onion bulbs.  However, once I got under the spiders-web of debris, I delighted to find some onions from last year had already come forth.  I pulled the smaller of these to enjoy now, divided the larger and planted some new. 

     Getting cuts from pulling against the resistance of long runners of Bermuda grass, seeing dirt under my fingernails, feeling hands dried out from the soil sucking the moisture out, and smelling the onions in the spring air – all this added to my delight of the day.  For this was all part of gardening that enhances my healing from the stresses of the week.

     Gentle sun with a slight breeze, birds singing, earthworms wriggling, little green shoots reaching upwards, the feel and smell of the earth – this outweighs the aching back and sore muscles I now feel.  Healing the ravages of stress can be hard work.  

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