sticks and stones

Build a great house but they can do a lot of harm when used as weapons.

My mom taught me that rhyme when I was little. I must have had a bad day in second grade and was letting her know. It’s amazing how much easier it was to memorize from then. Now I can’t remember seven seconds ago what I went into another room for.

So I tried using that thing once or twice but gave it up when I realized it really didn’t work.

Words can hurt.

IMG_0872.JPGfragile violet resting on a stone

Several years ago a neighbor who had been shunned from everyone in our little cul-de-sac asked if she could join me on my morning walks. I said sure and we arranged to meet a few mornings later.

She opened her heart to me and told me how difficult her marriage was. I listened for a while and when she mentioned something her husband had said I quoted that little verse. She came right back with how wrong that was.

It never occurred to me to think any differently.

IMG_0876.JPGLenten rose

So this is probably why psychotherapy became such a multi-million dollar business, and people bought up those self-help books. To me therapy was nothing more than paying someone to be a friend. But I realize some have been deeply scarred. And some come to a point where hope is so dim help has to come from someone trained to listen and offer help beyond what friends can offer.

I have always listened to other people. For me sharing in other people’s troubles connects on a level where I can help them carry a trouble, a hurt, a burden. I think we were created to share with others on many levels, like this….

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But sometimes life does not offer a friend and I pray. Or offer prayers for others. I depend on Someone who is always reliable.

And always there.

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So like the donkey that fell in the well, when people started throwing dirt down to bury him in that well he stepped aside and as the dirt grew into a large pile, stepped on top of it until he could climb out.

There is always hope.

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impressions

This was one of those weeks that can only be described as a gift. The little coastal town I live near doesn’t get anything most people can call winter, but it gets cold enough. Even some snow and ice some years, just not this year. Not yet, anyway.

But apparently winter gave a reprieve to some areas this past week, here too. Days were 60s-70s and nights did not get much below 45. So electric bills will be lower. Abundant sun, expansive blue skies, wispy playful contrails and clouds decorating the air.

IMG_0870.JPGCape Fear, upriver

Mindful of Emily Dickinson’s lovely poem, “There’s a Certain Slant of Light” (…Winter afternoons–…)

IMG_0866.JPGRed oak clinging to what is left of autumn

IMG_0867.JPGa closer look at leaf veins with the sun behind the tree trunk

So according to askabiologist.com* the leaves turn when temperatures get colder and the tree starts “breaking down the chlorophyll into smaller particles”, leaving more room for other colors (carotenoids) to make the orange, reds and yellows. Other trees (maples) have anthocyanins that create red, pink and purple colors.

The theory I grew up believing was that leaf colors changed when the days got shorter and there was less sunlight to make green. So that always seemed plausible but days get shorter all over the world and leaves don’t change color in warmer climates. So the cold theory makes more sense now.

I just never thought about it.

It’s interesting when we accept ideas unquestioning. Especially when they are about non-personal things, like nature. Facts are applicable to everything but so much seems subjective. So my ideas about why leaves change color, that I have believed for years (evidently I didn’t pay close attention in botany class) has been corrected.

It makes me wonder how many ideas, theories, concepts I am still holding true without really having it right.

0.jpgPileated woodpecker, base of far left tree hunting insects

Rescue dogs Lily and Lulu always get things right. And they are generous in their opinions, whenever I am at a loss.

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https://askabiologist.asu.edu/questions/why-do-leaves-change-color

how much wood….

So Groundhog Day. That little rhyme most kids learn, “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”

Makes utterly no sense which is likely why it has survived generations and is so easily memorized.

Evidently this tradition really did begin in Pennsylvania, and the German settlers brought it with them. I doubt they brought their own groundhog since they are indigenous here.

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They are actually very cute and resemble prairie dogs to me, so I looked them up. They are all in the same family commonly known as ground squirrels which includes these two species as well as squirrels, chipmunks, and marmots. When I lived in New Mexico I actually saw a prairie dog colony in a nearby nature park. They are much smaller and thinner than groundhogs and very curious. When I lived in Tennessee there were groundhogs in the yard and they burrow a lot like giant moles. Kind of annoying especially if you’re trying to have a vegetable garden but we worked it out.

So apparently the famous groundhog in Punxsatawney did not see his shadow which folklore dictates indicates an early spring.

I doubt that.

Every year I buy a Farmer’s Almanac, the longest-published periodical in America. Not so much for the weather predictions because, well as close as their top-secret prediction formula comes in accuracy each year nobody can really predict weather.

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Or much of anything. But this little book has really interesting stories, odd-ball history and not so odd history about America and other places, recipes, gardening tips, birding tips… all kinds of stuff.

Interesting to note that Canada observes Groundhog Day. They celebrate it in Wiarton, Ontario. Coincidentally February 2 is also Candlemas Day, Jesus’ first visit to the Temple. The day Simeon had long waited and in his song commemorates it–

“Lord bid Your servant go in peace, Your word is now fulfilled. These eyes have seen salvation’s dawn, this Child so long foretold…” also known as Nunc Dimittis, paraphrased for hymnals by James J. Quinn, S.J.

What faith! Since a young man Simeon had waited, daily in the Temple for the Christ child. And he never wavered in his faith. What joy his simple faith gave him, knowing God is always faithful and true in His promises.

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nourishment

Before rescue-mix husky Lily’s surgery 3 weeks ago she relished her food. No sooner had I put her bowl down for her than she had vacuumed up every morsel. Even during the 2 weeks before her surgery after the injury. She ate everything.

She has always been all about food.

So part of the reason she tore her acl was her weight. This is my fault and I need to correct it. After all it’s not as if she can get her treats out of the cupboard. So I have been trying to be careful.

But her regular food? Completely turns her nose up at it. After her surgery the vet changed her food which might be part of the problem. She’s never been picky though, so I had no concerns when they sent me home with an enormous 30-pound bag of kibble that this would be a problem.

Most days though, later in the day she will go to her bowl and quietly eat her food. So maybe she just wants me to think she doesn’t like the change.

When I was little every Sunday after church my grandparents who moved from New York to be nearby would join my family for Sunday dinner. These were my mom’s parents (I never met my father’s, they were in Colorado, a long way from North Carolina), and I adored them.

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I was a picky eater. After everyone had finished, even dessert there I’d sit, my plate with remnant peas or whatever it was I did not care for staring back at me and as everyone else left the table I was told I had to sit until I finished my plate. My grandfather always sat with me.

He would not berate me, maybe offered a word or two of encouragement, but the important thing, for me, was he thought enough of me to not want me to be ashamed. Or alone.

This is something I think many of us do not understand. We have our comfy homes, our lovely friends and we do not see the ones who are alone. In our comfort we simply don’t see them.

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Nourishment comes to us in so many ways. Our physical food, the joy of a familiar voice, the wag of a dog’s tail, a favorite symphony, an unexpected note in the mail, a good book, a phone call from someone checking in, the family member who remembered something and wanted us to remember, too.

There is a hunger though, deep in each of us that no one else and nothing else can fill but God. His love that has known us since before we were born. He is with us every moment. In our fast-paced lives we may try to fill this empty need with many things… human attention, any number of substances that are bad for us or, at least, in excess are not good. All of which are fleeting, inconsistent at best and capricious at worst.

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So we move forward, day by day. We make our plans, work at our jobs, all the while knowing ultimately it is not we who are in control.

I know this for certain when I put Lily’s food in her bowl.

pain of healing

Forged in the fire, no pain, no gain, that which does not kill me makes me stronger…

I have watched husky-mix Lily closely these couple of weeks as she has recovered from her surgery. She did not do any of the things I prepared for– lick her stitches so avoided the “cone of shame”, cry out, object to the physical therapies I have done to keep her leg limber and exercised. At least not at first.

Her pain has been recent. When I take my other rescue dog, Lulu out for a short walk Lily is left behind. She is feeling better. She doesn’t understand why I am still holding her back from racing to the door if the doorbell rings, bounding down the porch steps to go outside, checking the backyard before bed to ward off the possum that sleeps in one of our trees. Maybe it isn’t painful for her, but for me. I feel badly that I can’t yet allow her to be herself.

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I think we all become complacent sometimes. Then something blindsides us or something we saw coming but hoped wouldn’t, happened. Or we lose someone, in some way– death, divorce, argument –and we are hurting. We sort through what happened and face some truths, which can hurt more than the thing that happened. But that hurt is the beginning of the healing. We are free when we face the realities of it. You can see it for what it is, put it in perspective. Lies hold us in bondage both to the lie as long as we persist in believing it, and the truth that we won’t yet face.

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Years ago I read several books by Dr. Frederick Buechner, a favorite of mine, Telling Secrets. This book illustrated well for me that our secrets are lives we live that no one else sees, and we may fabricate a life that we present to others that we believe is more presentable. But it’s in our secrets that we unlock who we truly are….

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Lately Lily’s resistance to my helping her stretch and exercise her leg has become stronger. This is frustrating for me, likely for her, too. This is to be done 3-5 times each day and as she heals and becomes stronger it’s gone to more like maybe 3 times a day. Thankfully her stitches will be removed this week and I really hope her vet tells me she can be freer in her walking and movement. She has helped me see, though, how it must be when my Father, God, wants to do something for me or through me and I struggle, disobey, assert my own will.

I need to get out of His way and wait for Him. I guess it’s good I have a lifetime to work on this.

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healing

When people are hurt we are likely to seek help in a way we can find solace. When people are sick we see a doctor. We develop a bond of trust that the doctor knows how best to help us.

Animals are different.

When rescue dog Lily was ready to come home after surgery and they brought her to show me how to care for her she very tentatively entered the room until she had assurance that I would not reject her. I praised her for her bravery and she could barely contain her delight to see me.

When I was younger I was very fond of a little terrier my dad had given me. One summer vacation in high school I worked in Aspen, Colorado. My parents and I had written letters occasionally but they did not tell me that one evening when they’d had friends to dinner my father and the husband of the other couple got into a political argument. The man and his wife left in anger and no one noticed my little Piper had got out of the house until she yelped when he ran over her. He stopped immediately of course and they took her to the vet. The accident had broken her leg, thankfully it wasn’t much worse.

I came home from this job and called for Piper. No response. At this point my parents let me know what had happened and I began to search for her. I found her under an arm chair in the living room. She wouldn’t come out. I got on my hands and knees and, lowering my head so I could see her eye to eye and telling her how glad I was to see her only then did she come out and let me see her injury, cast and all. After that she clumped around happily, knowing I loved her all the same.

Attachment-1.jpegWe have to learn to trust. Some have little problem with it having been treated honestly and well in their lives. Others who have not are continually testing their faith, filled with doubt. Lily knew, when she realized I love her and will care for her that she had no reason to doubt or fear. God has never given me reason to doubt or fear Him, either. But there are times when I confuse what I hope to expect from people on the same level I trust God.

Doesn’t work that way.

This is why I think people have told me through my life not to hold too hard to stuff. To take others and myself lightly. Being dependable is so important but, being imperfect it’s not possible. Not always, and maybe even not as others interpret dependable.

But Lily. She only knows she is injured. I know she will heal. When she arrived home she immediately responded to the familiar with attempts to behave as though there were no injury at all. So she had to adjust to her limitations.

Even today, though each day she is incrementally better, she expresses frustration at not being able to take off after a squirrel like she would have before. She looks at me as if I could do something. I pet her, reassure her that it is ok that she can’t get that squirrel. I convince her that her very commanding presence is enough to put great fear in this little squirrel and that is sufficient. Well, I like to think I do.

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