I spotted an owl in a tree in the woods above the creek yesterday afternoon.
I watched this owl as it slowly rotated his head around from front to back. Owls can truly look behind them and can turn their heads nearly 360 degrees according to National Geographic. This is necessary because the owls’ eyes are in fixed sockets and can’t move around like ours do.
I’m pretty sure the owl I saw is one of the Great Horned Owls that we often hear at night or in the early morning hours.
I’ve seen one or two perched above the creek before. It must be good hunting ground.
Many people believe that if you see an owl in the daytime it is a bad sign. From early times, across many civilizations, owls have been viewed as harbringers of bad luck, ill health, or death and destruction. But sometimes owls are seen as divine messengers of the gods. (Radha on Yahoo answers – 2008)
For many people the owl is a symbol for wisdom.
At Symbolic Meanings by Avia she explains that although owls are associated with death in certain cultures, it is “revered (honored) as being the guardian of the after-life.”
Furthermore, Avia explains, as a creature of the night, the owl is symbolic of inner-knowing, psychic ability, and intuition. “If an owl has visited you,” she says, ” an incredible gift has been bestowed.”
Is the owl a harbringer of death or wisdom?
Unlike known and provable facts like the earth is round, beliefs can be chosen.
On this first anniversary of my father’s death, I don’t have to tell you which belief I’m going with.
Thank you universe for the gift.
I suspected January was going to be a rough month. In the first place, it usually is, with its gray skies and silent days following the holiday departures of our children going back to their own lives.
Now, I also have to navigate through the anniversaries of the deaths of both of my parents, and the first January 18th that we won’t be celebrating my dad’s birthday. I’m starting to think that in the future, January may be a fine month to pack up and head south for a few weeks. Change of scene. Distractions.
That’s the key, really, isn’t it? Distractions. It all clicked together for me this morning as I watched CNN’s “Sole Survivor” documentary. The wife of a sole surviving pilot of a Kentucky plane crash that occurred several years back said that she tries to make sure her husband has enough distractions. Things to occupy his mind. Reasons to get up in the morning.
I was better at living by distractions when the kids were all young and at home. In those days I frequently yearned for less distractions.
A year ago today we moved Mom from Hospice back to her assisted-living apartment. We wanted her to be able to go “home,” such as it was. She’d only spent four nights, total, there before she was taken to the hospital and then moved to Hospice. But her things were there to surround her. My sister Carol had hung some of Mom’s paintings, all original artwork by family members, while Mom was at Hospice. Mark and I finished the job the day before Mom moved back. The walls were covered in artwork. It was all a futile effort, just one more in a long line of many. When they rolled her back into the room on the stretcher from the transport, she might have glanced up and appreciated it. I don’t know. But after they lifted her from the stretcher to her bed she never got up in the two short days she was back—nurses coming in and out, the Hospice nurse setting up a table, the cook at the facility making her an endless stream of vanilla milkshakes delivered by the staff that we placed in her small freezer until the next one arrived. So many small details.
How long is long enough to grieve? Do I get a year? Do I get a year for each parent? Do I serve them concurrently or consecutively? I read somewhere it usually takes from 9 months to 18 months following the death of a parent. How does someone figure this out? My sister-in-law told me she missed her father a lot at the Christmas holidays and cried this year on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. He’s been gone five years.
It’s not like I’ve put my life on hold, shut myself into my bedroom with the shades drawn and light low, snuggled under a comforter, surfacing for the occasional bit of food or refill of water in the glass I keep on the beside stand. In the past year I struggled off an occasional lame post and wrote a chapter or two; I’ve been to New Orleans, South Carolina, a wedding in Buffalo, a wedding in Indianapolis, St. Louis (two or three times), Los Angeles, and had a house full of people at Christmas. I’m skimming along fine on the surface with those distractions.
But there is a level of awareness inside my heart, mind, soul, wherever it exists, where I grapple with the fact that I can’t call my mom anymore. That I’ll never be able to hear my dad’s wisdom on the things life throws my way. That the middle has dropped out of the family of my childhood and the people who share my earliest memories are scattered to the wind. No more family celebrations of Mom’s birthday and Mother’s Day. No more Father’s Day cookouts. No more sitting around a Christmas tree.
Is a year long enough to get over it?
Should I just jump back into life and distract the heck out of myself with projects and trips and in that way forget it? Or should I mull over it until I can put it at rest? This is a core question that goes back to one’s belief system about what it’s all about, Alfie. I suspect you have your own opinion about this based on your particular worldview.
My parents were practicing Catholics, although my mom converted to it when she married my dad. For many years I also followed that bright shining beam. But recently, with the corruption that’s come to light and the gender inequality that is practiced, that beam of light has dimmed behind a clouded-over lens. Maybe I’ll eventually be able to clear it off. Maybe not. I wish I could. There was comfort there.
Some people think the only thing that matters is the here and now. Help other people if you can, or if you want to. But enjoy life. Eat, drink, and be merry. Don’t dwell on things that make you unhappy.
I just can’t get over thinking that we are more multi-dimensional than that. If we don’t allow ourselves to feel our sorrow deeply, understand it, learn from it. Then how can we expect to feel our joy deeply?
How long is long enough to grieve? I really don’t know.
Let’s make a deal, though. I won’t tell you, if you don’t tell me.
We were among those in the US of A who got a nice covering of snow on Thursday. I don’t mind it yet, although as March approaches my attitude might change.
The windows beside our kitchen table make me feel like I am safe and warm in a magical place where I can watch the birds who come to visit.
Our feeders attract a lot of small birds, like this Black-capped Chickadee. (I hope you will correct me if I misidentify something. I don’t claim to be an expert, just a fan.)
The Tufted Titmouse is one of my favorites. I think it is lovely.
One of Mark’s favorites is the Yellow-shafted Flicker. It’s a larger bird with unique markings. A week or two ago, I saw another one in the exact same location, but it was dead-still. I mean, it did not wink an eye or flutter a feather. At first I wondered if it was sick, and then I realized there was probably a hawk in the area. I stepped outside and sure enough, a hawk was perched high in a sycamore stalking the feeders. This poor flicker, somehow knew it, had gotten caught behind the feeder, and was making every attempt to be invisible. He or she got away alright this time. It amazes me to see the birds respond to their predators.
Speaking of sycamores. I just love them. This is my favorite one. I made a background for this blog out of this photo by layering it over a white background in Photoshop and making it largely opaque.
I think this is a little Junco. They are a distinctive small bird with their slate-gray backs and white breasts.
I have houses for the birds, but so far not many are using them. Do you see the squirrel on the small tree leaning to the left? He or she sat there for the longest time.
Here’s a close-up of it. It might be a youngster. The other day I saw several juvenile squirrels running up and down the trees. They are fun to watch. I suspect they were driving their parents nuts with cabin fever. I didn’t realize the squirrels had babies this time of year, although truthfully, I don’t know when they were born. It’s hard for me to imagine what that clump of leaves in the top of a tree looks like when it is full of juvenile squirrels and their parents.
We’re keeping the squirrels well-fed too. They love the peanut feeder that Mark keeps on the deck. Arthur works hard chasing them off the feeder when we let him out. He takes off around the deck corner, sprinting on three legs. But if he happens to get lucky and trap one, he is the first to back off. I think he’s probably afraid of them. He makes a good show of it, though.
A little House Finch,
and White-throated Sparrow all came to call.
As did the Nuthatch,
and the Downy Woodpecker.
A Mourning Dove huddled in the cold nearby.
The male Cardinal always makes a show,
but I love the female Cardinal with her subtle coloring. Very classy.
And, the Blue-jay. We seem to have quite a few Blue-jays this year. I am becoming rather fond of them, even if they are a bit of a bully around the feeders.
I also saw a Carolina Wren and a Red-bellied Woodpecker, neither of which I managed to photograph. Next time.
Although this isn’t a bird, and visited on the 26th of December, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the possum. He is, after all, benefiting from the bird-feeders.
Finally, again not seen yesterday but worth mention, Mark heard the owls’ calls, and spotted them in the tree early one morning right before Christmas.
It pays to keep your eyes and ears open around here.
If you are somewhere bundled up from the cold and the snow, I wish you the warmth of a glowing fire and a nice hot toddy. If you are somewhere warm and sunny, I don’t want to know about it.
Happy New Year.
The snow is gone, but the lighted trees still shine, the cans are full of cookies, the refrigerator and pantry are stocked to brimming, and the party continues.
We’ll see our oldest son, his wife, and their two young children today. They’ll bring Christmas magic our way.
And tomorrow our family will be here, complete, when our Buffalo artist and his wife arrive.
I hope your holiday has been filled with sweet, though fleeting, moments to cherish.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.
It’s no secret to those few bloggers and friends who continue to follow my posts, that my energy for this is waning. I would just like to say thank you for sticking with me. I will be back to reading your posts and writing my own, hopefully soon. Whoever thought when I was in the throes of trying to keep up with all your posts that I would ever say, I miss reading what you’re writing. But I do.
I’ve been reading a small Advent book I purchase many years ago called Let it Be: Advent and Christmas Meditations for Women, edited by Therese Johnson Borchard. It clearly has a religious bent, but not overly so. Many of the readings have secular value. I would like to share a small excerpt from today’s reading that I found particularly appropriate.
“Be Patient, Stand Firm
“Commitment and enthusiasm are two concepts that are, unfortunately, often confused. Commitment is that quality of life that depends more on the ability to wait for something to come to fulfillment—through good days and bad—than it does on being able to sustain an emotional extreme for it over a long period of time. Enthusiasm is excitement fed by satisfaction. The tangle of the two ideas, however, is exactly what leads so many people to fall off in the middle of a project.
“When the work ceases to feel good, when praying for peace gets nowhere, when the marriage counseling fails to reinvigorate the marriage, when the projects and the plans and the hopes worse than fail, they fizzle, that’s when the commitment really starts. . .
“When we feel most discouraged, most fatigued, most alone is precisely the time we must not quit.”
—Joan Chittister, Songs of Joy
If you are struggling with a project, I hope you will keep going.
A good friend, teacher and mentor of mine who I’ve mentioned before, Jeffrey S. Hillard, has just published the e-book Story’s Triumph: Mining your creative writing for its deepest riches. I know many of you are writers as well as readers and bloggers.
Get this book.
Beginning tomorrow for two or three days, it will be free from Amazon on Kindle. It’s a short little book on writing that contains several gold nuggets of ideas to spark your creativity, and exercises to prompt you to practice. I read it in less than an hour, but intend to go back to it and use the exercises over and over again. I know Jeff personally. I know how talented he is. If you read this book, you will see for yourself how intuitive, insightful, and supportive he is.
Here is the review I just left on Amazon.com:
Finally—poet, author, and educator Jeffrey Hillard puts his experience, skill, and enthusiasm for writing down on paper for our benefit. In Story’s Triumph, the first in a planned Write-Up series, Hillard encourages us to take our writing, and creativity, to the next step. By sharing a few simple concepts like the use of details and recycling our mistakes, Hillard explores and explains techniques some of our most favored and successful writers have employed to bring the word on the page to life.
This short and entertaining book contains unique and fun exercises after each topic to encourage writers to stretch the boundaries of our imaginations and sharpen the impact of our writing.
One of my favorite lines from the book is “Your imagination can work wonders with things that you can’t yet fully envision.”
Hillard “gets it.” He understands the written word, the writing process, and the writer. His book is informative, encouraging, and will make you see your writing and its possibilities in a new light. His enthusiasm is contagious.
Story’s Triumph is a book to read slowly, practice with, and then keep close-by to re-read again and again.
I’m looking forward to the next book in Hillard’s Write-Up series.
I had to pay a lot of money to tap into Jeff’s writing experience and wisdom through college-level courses I took from him at the College of Mount St. Joseph. I bet you will find at least one idea in Story’s Triumph that will not only cause you to see your work-in-progress in a new light, but that will help you to improve it.
And hey. It’s free.
It always amazes me when I see something, learn something, understand something, only much later after the fact.
It’s like the postcard from Peru I got this week from our new daughter-in-law. “Enjoying everything this beautiful country has to offer,” Cori wrote. “Can’t wait to share our travel stories.” Well, we already knew all that; heard the stories; saw the photos. Matthew and Cori went to Peru over three months ago in August. I don’t know where this little postcard has traveled since then—maybe it’s been riding along in the bottom of a mail carrier’s bag all this time.
This morning I had a revelation about my mother. My mind was catching phrases from the television playing in the background. I was listening for the road conditions as we were in the middle of a predicted winter storm. It must have been some kind of a commercial about health professionals. They were listing things they were there for, or the things that people told them. The phrase that caught my attention was “When someone finds a lump. . .”
I’ve written about the last good day I had with my mom when I put up her little Christmas tree last year. What I may not have fully explained was that in the preceding days and even weeks, she and I had a somewhat adversarial relationship. She was determined to continue to care for Dad as she always had, but her strength and health were continuing to decline. I was trying to convince her to make some changes —add more home health aide coverage, get Dad an indwelling catheter so she wouldn’t have to do this tiring task three times a day, let Dad stay in his bed more, use the lift—because I was worried about both her and my dad.
The last week of November I changed my approach. I threw in the towel. I told her I wasn’t going to try to solve her problems, but told her that when she was ready to make a change all she had to do was tell me and I would help her make it happen. So when she seemed different, more at peace, calmer, on that last Friday in November, I attributed it to my stepping back. In fact, I have remembered that day fondly—my mom sitting in her chair watching me decorate her house, being agreeable about it all, which frankly surprised me at the time.
Last year when my sister called me a few days later, on the morning of that first Sunday in December, to say Mom was ready to get medical help and she wanted to go to the hospital, and I returned to their house, before we called 911 and started the sequence of events that led to her diagnosis of cancer, Mom told me something that came back to me this morning like a punch in the stomach. She had gotten cold feet about going to the hospital by the time I got there a half hour after the phone call. I was trying to convince her it was the right thing to do. I think she was afraid they would want to do tests and she wouldn’t want to be away from Dad that long. I think she was afraid she might find out something really bad was wrong with her. She was lying on the sofa and I was sitting on the edge beside her. I gave her the phone and was trying to convince her to dial 911. I was trying to reassure her by telling her it was probably nothing critical and that maybe she would finally be able to get some medicine that worked better than her pantry full of over-the-counter remedies she had been ingesting.
Mom responded to my assurances by saying, “But, you don’t know everything.”
“What don’t I know?”
“A couple of days ago, I found some lumps here in my stomach,” she said as she touched her hand to her belly.
That sealed her fate, as far as I was concerned. There was no way I was not going to take her to a doctor somehow with that knowledge. She had wanted to go to the hospital. She had wanted to go in an ambulance because she wanted them to help her get there and get in. I called 911.
What I realized this morning when I heard the words, “When someone finds a lump,” was that Mom had found a lump “a couple of days” before Sunday. She probably had already found those lumps when I was there on Friday playing Christmas music and putting up her Christmas tree. I think she knew. And I think she wanted to have a good day. No, even more, even harder to bear, is that I think she wanted me to have a good day.
So I had a moment this morning. And I’m having another one as I try to relay this to you.
Some days I really miss my mother.
I love you all for the support and kind words you always have to share. Have you ever found something out or understood something long after the fact?
This post is dedicated to two of my ancestors who served in the Union Army during the Civil War:
John W. Lemmon (ancestor on my mother’s side), from Champaign County, Ohio, served three years in the Civil War from August 11, 1862 until August 14, 1865. He participated in battles at Richmond, the Siege of Vicksburg, and Nashville, among others. He received an Honorable discharge in August of 1865 at the age of 23.
Thomas Bryant (ancestor on my father’s side), from Washington County, Kentucky, served as a Union soldier during the Civil War. In May of 1864, his son and my ancestor, Ulysses Grant Bryant was born. Thomas enrolled in Company D of the 54th Regiment of the Kentucky Mounted Infantry Volunteers in September of the same year. He was honorably discharged in September of 1865. The 54th Kentucky was doing provost duty (policing activities) in the country around Lexington, Ky and operating against guerillas in Henry Co., Ky. Thomas received a pension from the government for the loss of sight in his right eye caused by cold and exposure during his service. The pension started at $6.00 per month in 1883 and was incrementally increased with time to $20.00 per month. He received it until his death in 1910.
On a beautiful, and perhaps one of the last temperate, autumn Saturday we traveled to Governor Bebb Metropark in Butler County, Ohio to shoot photos of the living history program celebrating the life of Abraham Lincoln. I’ve never been to one of these, although I have always been fascinated by some of the Civil War reenactments that occur around the country. I found “Lincoln comes to town” to be a fun and engaging day that sparked my imagination.
Governor Bebb Park has a pioneer village that members of the sponsoring organizations moved into and took over for the weekend.
A blacksmith set out his wares.
Ladies took a morning stroll with coffee in a metal cup.
And Abe Lincoln visited the soldier’s camp, sometimes speaking with others,
I had chicken pot pie in the tavern for lunch.
I have no idea what a couple of these tools are for.
Governor Bebb Pioneer village was the perfect venue for the event,
The ladies made use of the stage to have a fashion show where they explained the specifics of their dress.
Sponsoring organizations include:
Metroparks of Butler County
6th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Company A
Ladies Living History Society of Greater Cincinnati
Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War
Sister Anthony O’Connell Auxilliary Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War
I broke one of my cardinal rules today and played Christmas music before Thanksgiving. But I needed the music because I was going to decorate a Christmas tree. My mom’s little Christmas tree to be exact. The little tree traveled with us to Mom’s assisted living apartment, and then later I packed it up and moved it home with me where it has remained boxed up in the basement until today. I look forward to the year I can put it up without tears again. This post is copied from my one last year about Mom’s Christmas tree.
I spent most of the day at my parents’ yesterday. Holidays are so hard for people who are suffering in some way. I woke up thinking that I needed to hang the strand of blinking red bell lights along Mom’s living room mantle. My sister Annie loved watching the red blinking lights, and because of that my mother loved them too. Or because Mom loved them, Annie did. We never were quite sure which way that actually went. We hung the bells up the first two Christmases after Annie was gone, but I think it was too much trouble for Mom to do last year.
Armed with blank Christmas cards and a package of peppermints, I left for my parents house mid-morning. Life has been so hard for Mom over the past months, years really, that she is worn out and doesn’t want to do one thing extra. I suspected if I asked her if she wanted me to get out her Christmas decorations she would say “No.” So I didn’t ask. I went for the bells.
I went down the hall and into Annie’s room where Mom keeps the Christmas decorations in the large closet.
While I was looking for the bells, I found a wreath. I took it out and hung it on the front door.
“I usually put the wreath my sister gave me on the front door,” Mom said from her chair near the far corner of the living room where she sat and ate her toast and drank her tea. “It’s on the glass porch.” I moved the wreath I’d hung to the back door and went out on the porch for the wreath my aunt had made.
I decided we needed Christmas music so I sorted through their collection of vinyl albums for the Christmas ones and selected one I remembered from my youth, the album cover completely torn through on one side.
“I don’t want to get the tree out today,” Mom said as I worked.
In one box I found a Santa and Mrs. Claus that a good friend of hers had made years ago. I set them together on top of the china cabinet.
Back and forth to Annie’s room I went bringing out decorations one or two at a time.
I put the snowman and woman on the window sill beside the card table, Dad’s “office,” where he sits and “works” or plays ball with a family member or a home health aide.
I found a centerpiece for Mom’s coffee table, four miniature nutcrackers for the kitchen window sill, and a snow globe that I think Dad might enjoy.
At the bottom of a big box, in a bag, I found the red bells that Annie loved.
I hung them along the mantle, securing them with tape. Then I cleared the nick nacks off the mantle and set out the manger scene that used to be my grandmother’s.
Christmas carols playing in the background, I stood still for a minute and looked around the room. Mom used to put a small tree on a table in front of the picture window in the living room, but Dad sits there now and the table is full of pencils, blocks of wood, books, cups of coins, and other things we use to try to entertain or occupy him.
“You know, you could put the little tree on that table beside you, Mom,” I said. “It wouldn’t have to be in front of the window.”
“I could put it on that table,” Mom said and pointed across the room to the end table beside the lift recliner that we got for Dad, but that he rarely sits in anymore. It is simply too hard to get him in it, and he slides out of position if he sits there too long.
I shifted the recliner away from the sofa and moved the small table between the two so that it would be closer to the electrical outlet. Then I got the little white tree from a box on the shelf in Annie’s closet, and I set it up on the table.
“I don’t want to do the ornaments today,” Mom said.
I went back into Annie’s old bedroom and found a crocheted tree skirt.
“My sister made that for me, too” Mom said.
I arranged the skirt around the bottom and plugged the tree in. It’s tiny colored lights added a warm glow to the room.
Annie’s blinking bells strung along the mantle lent a cheerful twinkle to the room.
I left the ornaments in the three small boxes on the bed in Annie’s room.
Mom can decorate the tree later.
You probably thought I was talking about Arthur. And when I renewed my interest in riding my bicycle a year or two ago, I did think about taking Arthur with me. I even bought a Pet-a-Roo pet front carrier that remains in its box on a shelf in my laundry room closet.
No, it’s not about Arthur. This post is about Penny the biker.
We were finishing our walk at the VOA when Mark directed my attention to a man and his dog. And his motorcycle. He was attaching a harness strap to the passenger seat of his Harley. (Truthfully, I have no idea if it was a Harley, but it makes for better copy.)
This I gotta see, I thought.
And not being particularly shy, in fact being a bit on the forward side some might say, I asked him if I could take a picture of his dog on the bike. The man’s name was Chris and he couldn’t have been nicer. He spent several minutes talking to me about his hobby of taking travel and family photographs, and about his boxer Penny.
Nice man. Adorable dog.
Chris put on his helmet and got on in front of Penny. He started the engine. Penny stayed calm and as cool as she looked.
The sun was low in the sky behind them, throwing their faces into shadow, so Chris accommodated my request and circled around before leaving.
When I sent the photos to him, Chris comment on the one below. “That pose makes me think of the George Thorogood song, B-b-b-b bad, bad to the bone! She looks so serious.”
I think she looks adorable. And inspiring. I may have to pump air into my tires and unpack that Pet-a-Roo carrier after all. But first I need to find Arthur some goggles.
Bad to the Bone: