Category Archives: Learning
Ladies and gentlemen, an announcement.
I have some news for you and I’d like to share it. It’s a mix of good and bad. Well, not really bad as, perhaps, bittersweet.
We’ll do the bittersweet first. I am closing this blog down. It will stay up through the rest of the year, however as the domain name will not expire until December. The explanation for the decision? It’s time for it to happen. Key words would be “renewal” and “refocus.” I want to thank EVERYONE who has graced these pages, left comments and come along with me through all the twists and turns over the past 3+ years. Yeah, 3 years. Wow!
Now, the good news. When one door closes, another opens.
I’m starting a new blog and want to encourage everyone that has read this blog to head over there! The link is below.
I think you will find all the things that this blog has offered plus quite a bit more. You’ll be rewarded with much more frequent postings as well!
Thank you all again and see you soon over at the Den!!!
A few weeks ago a friend of mine clued me into a news story coming out of Georgia; Vultures Invade Neighborhood. I recommend you give it a read. The link takes you to a story on Huffington Post. The long and short of it being that 500+ vultures decided to plop down to roost in Lee County, Georgia and it’s appears to have irritated their human neighbors. I always find it interesting how upset humans get when animals interrupt their life and activity. At times you would think a pack of velociraptors had arrived from the way people act or maybe skesis from the Dark Crystal were real and had suddenly decided to organize.
My friend clued me into this story because I had waxed poetical to him a week earlier how the ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians took great stock in the appearance of a vulture. It had caused me to reevaluate my idea of the creature. It all started in one of my classes last fall when I was curious as to why vultures were such a big deal to such people as, oh, Romulus and the founding of Rome.
Romulus and Remus, brothers in contention for the first seat of Rome, both saw vultures and took it as a positive sign. I was immediately confused by this. Why vultures? It didn’t make sense to me. If you’re going to tell a legend about the founding of a city of such import in the ancient world as Rome why go with vultures? Why not eagles or at least a hawk? I went looking and discovered a large chunk of information and how adoration of the vulture went all the way back to Egypt, Motherhood and the Goddess Mawt. The big statement I found was from Plutarch. He sums it up nicely.
“Hence it is that the Romans, in their divinations from birds, chiefly regard the vulture, though Herodorus Ponticus relates that Hercules was always very joyful when a vulture appeared to him upon any action. For it is a creature that is least hurtful to any, pernicious neither to corn, fruit tree, nor cattle; it preys only on carrion, and never hurts or kills any living thing; and as for birds, it touches not them, though they are dead, as being it’s own species, whereas eagles, owls, and hawks mangle and kill their own fellow creatures…”
Since finding out about all of this I’ve looked at our local turkey vultures in an entirely different light. No wonder my friend wanted me to know when the vultures of Georgia decided to invade Lee County. It was good timing because, oddly enough, 24 hours later, there was a huge flock of vultures circling over my neighborhood in numbers well into the hundreds.
Watching them I realized they were not focused on one area but moving along the ridge, disappearing for a while behind the treeline and then gliding back and doing the same thing in the other direction. I watched them for close to an hour in groups that varied from ten to fifty. As occasional individuals would dip a wing, drop onto a tree branch, ruffle its feathers and settle, I realized they were actually roosting for the night. Driving on an errand the next morning I realized the roosting flock was stretched out over close to two miles of irregular residential woods and the occasional field. I estimated them to be in the several hundreds if not thousands.
I happened to notice a large number of big black clumps in the tops of trees near our neighborhood during the morning commute and upon returning home I took camera in hand to see what I could see. Several hundred had gathered on an eastern facing ridge line near a large open field. As the sun rose they were greeting it with wide open wings, warming them from the damp and chilly air. As the morning sun rose higher, they started to go on the move and they only tolerated my presence within about 100 yards.
Weeks later they are still in the area, moving from one ridge to the other, roosting in groups both large and small. More than one morning I’ve stepped out to see a lonely dark silhouette of a single vulture in the dark bare branches. Yesterday, they were focused on the woods right outside my back porch. What has caused them to suddenly make an appearance in an area they are not normally seen in and in such large numbers? Is it a sign of the apocalypse?
No. What it happens to be is the simple fact there has been numerous land clearings over the past year on our side of town. Vast acreage that once held meadow and wood have been given over to housing lots and cleared in the sake of progress. Most likely, a winter time roost was flattened and our new visitors opted to come into the edge of town while looking for a new roost spot. We really won’t know for sure until next year about this time. Perhaps they are just on the move from one spot to another. They seem to like it here. Actually, they seem to REALLY like it here as yesterday my family was treated to something none of us had ever seen before; turkey vultures mating in the trees behind our apartment.
I’m actually glad to see them hanging out in our neighborhood right now and respect them for who and what they are in our ecosystem. They quietly take care of the business few other creatures care to handle. All over the world, in nearly every culture, they are part of the direct connection in the circuit between death and new life. They are symbolic of resourcefulness, renewal and they facilitate the turning of the Wheel. Once we get over our Western cartoon stereotypes we can begin to see how important and amazing these creatures are in the grand scheme of design.
What do these have to do with each other? I know it’s a reach but they did link together for me this weekend.
It all started a few weeks ago with my wife saying, “I’m going to do it!”
Knowing this could mean anything from baking a new exotic vegetarian dish, building a cob house or planning to run for Congress, I asked for clarification. Brandie pointed me to the Hoosiers Outrun Cancer site. She was claiming she was going to enter and run the 5K event and raise money for the charity.
This concerned me just a bit. No, not the charity part. I’m all for it. What concerned me was the “5K” part. Though being incredibly active and enjoying a walk or a small jog, my wife’s foot had been shattered in a car wreck many years ago. It was never properly fixed by the foot doctor and she deals with chronic pain from the trauma. She had not had any training in the past several weeks and like me with my own foot and knee issues extended running in the past had usually left us in discomfort far above the norm. She also had never distanced more than a little over a mile.
I asked again just to be sure I heard her right.
Yes, you saw haiku at the end of that last post.
I’ve danced around haiku for the majority of my life. During my walk a few mornings ago, the desire to write a haiku was nearly unstoppable. It came from a pressing desire to distill the essence of the moment so I might remember it and share it. To me, haiku are verbal photographs capturing a snapshot of the moment. Much like photography, if done well, you are able to share that moment with others and they “get it.”
After writing those haiku, I found myself at the local library with my daughter. She headed to the manga section and I decided to pick up a few books by and about one of the classic masters, Basho. I checked out a copy of “The Master Haiku Poet Matsuo Basho” by Makota Ueda. It covers his life, his style and the different phases of his haiku writings. I’m not even halfway through it and I’m even more fascinated with the art form and the man than before.
One particular phrase from the book spoke to me.
“Basho’s solution was based on the principle of “lightness,” a dialectic transcendence of sabi. Sabi urges man to detach himself from worldly involvements; “lightness” makes it possible for him, after attaining that detachment, to return to the mundane world. Man lives amid the mire as a spiritual bystander. He does not escape the grievances of living; standing apart, he just smiles them away.”
I also found this wonderful article on “Sabi, Nature and Relationship.”
Since that morning, I’ve taken to using them as a tool to slow down, a meditative puzzle on how to see the world around me and place it into words. They place me in a receptive and pleasant state of mind which is what I am going for after all, right? I also see them as a journal, a way to mark the passing of my day by the interactions with nature I have experienced.
To that end I also checked out Basho’s “Narrow Road to a Far Province” which is a prose/poetry diary of his five month trip in the seventeenth century. That’s up next as soon as I’ve completed the one I am currently enjoying. I might even be a rebel and read them both at the same time.
And, yes, you’ll be seeing quite a bit more haiku on here.
I can guarantee you they will be nowhere near the quality of Basho’s. At least not for the next ten or twenty years anyway.
I tumbled out of sleep a quarter after four in the morning due to stress. It was the usual things you would expect for an unemployed father; finances, self-worth, simple and typical night time gremlins. No matter how simple those imps they always work their skill at stealing sleep.
To add to the anxiety, we’ve been ramping up for a full move to another apartment in the same neighborhood by the end of the month. It is a good move as we’re moving closer to the nearby woods and away from the constant sound of traffic from the all-to-near city street turned into major thoroughfare. Even though a good move, it still brings it’s share of chaotic influence. All food for the early morning gremlins.
When I wake like this I often turn to the internet or a computer game to calm me along with a glass of milk. It’s a tried and true fix. It’s usually a nice distraction, a silent hour staring at the screen, trying to shovel the dirt of the conscious over my subconscious dragons. It’s a fine remedy most times. However, this time, there was a restlessness hovering on me. Even after finishing a modest snack of a breakfast, it persisted and coaxed me with a need to have fresh air and to be outside. Barefoot, I walked out my front door and into the early morning night.
The blast furnace heat from the previous day had subsided and it was pleasant outside. The light of a waning half moon shone in the southern sky and a temperate evening breeze tussled the branches of the trees. It was more than pleasant. It was fantastic. Not content to stay near the house, I took a longer walk around our neighborhood and the pond at it’s center, enjoying the feel of my bare feet on concrete, grass, dirt and pathway mulch. Out here, in the air, under starlight, there was a connection in those quiet, dark hours and I floated with it.
There is a wondrous purity in these hours no matter the season or phase of the moon. It’s one of my favorite times of the day and I wondered to myself as I stood in the middle of our parking lot gazing upwards at the stars, why don’t I do this more often? Why do I opt instead to stare at a screen? Because that’s the easy way out of it? How little effort was involved in just stepping out my door! I know it to be the better answer but somehow always do an excellent job of forgetting it.
Cold rice before dawn.
The summer bluetime stillness.
Half moon crowns a pine.
Dawn eased forward and birds began to call to one another. I believe it was a cardinal that started things off. People began to stir around me. I sat on the steps outside our apartment and continued to enjoy the last remaining minutes before the day, and the heat, began. I had passed through something, a quietly hanging gossamer curtain, and once on the other side, life was calm, centered. As I was about to move and stand to go inside, Universe offered me one final gift before I moved on with my day.
Warm summer morning.
From the tall pond weeds, a doe
and her two children.
Persian: A thousand nations of the Persian empire descend upon you. Our arrows will blot out the sun!
Stelios: Then we will fight in the shade.
–From the movie 300.
A little over a week or so ago I was called in a meeting room at my workplace and handed a huge challenge.
I was laid-off.
Since then, I’ve been trying to get my feet underneath me as well as sticking to my strong beliefs that all challenges are actually opportunities. What can be learned? What can be changed? Over the past few weeks, however, this is proving to be a bit difficult.
I’m a firm believer in applying a survival mindset to all of all Life’s challenges, not just situations in the “wilderness.” A lot of things happen when you hear your weekly take home check is going away. Every one of those thoughts have a common denominator of Fear and it’s no different from learning you’re lost twenty miles into the mountains without a map and no food. The physiological responses are the same. Your system is flooded with stress hormones, your vision narrows and, if you get carried away, you can make a mistake. You have to slow down; take stock in what you have. Fear can be overcome. It can be managed, worked with, and if ignored can make your situation worse.
One of the ideas I had straight off was to use this blog as a vehicle for me to chronicle the next steps and as a venue to express what I, and my family, are about to go through. I hesitated at first. Why? Well, the above part about making a mistake by reacting in fear was a big part of that hesitation. Fear is sneaky. After sleeping on it for about six days, I realized that even that hesitation had been brought about by fear. I was worried about what people might think. I was worried I might say the wrong thing or take the wrong tone. I was concerned it might not be taken well.
Then, I realized what I was doing.
I’ve decided to go ahead with it, lay it on the line. My main thought is what better way to show people how to maintain a positive attitude of grounded happiness than to go through something most people do not equate to “pleasant.” There are a lot of challenges in front of me, now more than ever before. The thing about a lot of challenges is that, to me, it can also mean equally rampant opportunity. I can decide to wallow in the enormity of those challenges or I can decide to take a grounded mental attitude and suit up. It doesn’t mean that it’s going to be all rosy and pleasant. There are some damn difficult decisions coming up on the financial calendar which are far from “fun.” (One of which will be a hard lesson in learning to let go of some key important but ultimately material items.) What it does mean is that I have to carry a much different attitude about those decisions when the time comes.
The opportunities I have currently? What resources do I have? First off, I have an amazingly supportive wife. I have children that are awesome and who unknowingly (and knowingly) make me smile every day. I have a wide reaching network of friends and allies. In all of those things, I am as wealthy as Midas.
I have more time to focus on multiple things that mean a lot more to me than what I was doing previously. I can get things organized which have been dormant for many years. I can spend more time with my kids before they grow up and fly from the nest. I can get back to more writing. I have an opportunity to take all the things that I have worked on privately and apply it, test it. If me taking the time to get this down helps someone else down the road in a similar position then I think it’s the best possible result of the whole situation. Matter of fact, it’s what Jane McGonigal of “Reality is Broken” would call an “epic win.”
To me, it’s a matter of not accepting the status quo, perhaps taking a hit now in order to be better later, in believing that in the middle of a devastating situation you can find everything you need to come out of it better and stronger then you were before.
It’s about survival with a smile. Or, if all else fails, perhaps just a stalwart grin.
I look forward to being able to post here about the upcoming adventures, the rough struggles and the eventual victories. I won’t promise they’ll be pretty and I’m definitely not going to promise to use nice language. What I will promise is some perspective, some amusement and that, most importantly, we’ll get through this one way or the other.
I think it’s funny that within 24 hours of making the goal of writing here three times a week that the Universe decided to drop a box of crazy on me. I KNEW the holidays were going to be a little tough but it’s always what you don’t see coming that throws you off. As I like to say, you can have the best plan ever but you should be ready to meet Mr. Murphy at the door. If you’re not familiar with Mr. Murphy, please see this link. It might save you considerable frustration down your own road!
As I come out of my birthday, dash through Yule and sprint towards the New Year’s, I’m realizing something. I’m realizing that I’m using a lot of verbs focused on hurrying and racing about my holidays. Why did I do it? Because there is something that overhangs our culture that says that is what you should be doing. Hurry to get your presents! Go go go to get on the road. Rush rush to get the baking done. Scramble to get the tree up and the lights hanging! What kind of holiday is that? As I simplify my life more and look to what is REALLY important I realize we all run the risk of needing a vacation from our holiday.
The real kicker? It’s all our choice.
So, this Yule I am intending to kick back and I’m encouraging everyone I meet to put the caffeine down and step away from the hectic. Take a look at what you feel you SHOULD be doing and weigh it against what you want to be doing. Take a deep breath and relax.
It’s the holidays after all, right?
What is it that makes you, well, YOU? We are told early on, “define yourself”, “understand yourself”, “be yourself.” We take to it with great zeal. “I like thunderstorms! I like ponies!” or “I like outer space so I wanna be an astronaut.” As children, we’re sometimes told what to like. We take it to heart. “If you’re from here then you have to love football,” or “Any good child of the family needs to like grandpa’s chili.”
We also learn to define ourselves by what we don’t want or like. “I don’t like tomatoes and I don’t like the color blue.” We tell ourselves this. We tell other people. And, as the years go by, as we hear it over and over, things get locked into place.
Our pain defines us as well, emotional and physical. Initially, pain is a teacher. It teaches us what NOT to do. But, if we hold on to what caused that pain, it can become a handicap. It can twist us. A child may have been stung by a bee. “I hate all bees!” he proclaims loudly, “Bees suck!” Someone else might have had their heart broken by a lover with blonde hair. She might tell herself, “I’ll never date a blonde again! They can’t be trusted!”
If we don’t, from time to time, take a look at the definitions that we’ve given ourselves we run the risk of getting trapped within them. We miss the wonder of watching bees work a field of flowers. We pass on the blonde friend of a friend who could be our soulmate. In this hectic world, it seems easier to just keep running ever forward, from one hectic emergency to the next. Do This! Go here! Buy that! Buy This! We don’t take the pauses we need and we get locked into the very definitions we’ve given ourselves. We get so distracted we forget to pause, to reflect.
Hopefully there comes a time when something inside you causes you to stop. A moment when you question things, when you become curious. “Wait a minute, maybe I DO like the color blue.” Or, “Why do I dislike bees again?” It might take months, it will probably take years. This is redefinition and it’s those very moments which keep you young. If you ignore those moments, brush them off as fancy, than you’re on a declining path to stiffness and true “old age.”
You’ll notice I put “old age” in quotes. It’s because I’ve met 80 year old people who knew how to think like they were 20 and I’ve met 20 year old people locked into frozen and old-school mindsets. The body ages but ultimately it’s the state of mind which defines our youthfulness and this state of mind is powered by curiosity. If you want to stay young then you have to stay curious. Curiosity supports redefinition. Redefinition feeds curiosity. It’s a symbiotic relationship.
Recently, I was dealing with yet another wave of stress and I was blessed with a moment of pause. It came out of nowhere in the middle of a very hectic, depressing and blustery day. I asked myself, sitting in a heated car, in a warm coat, and sipping on a tepid cup of coffee two simple questions. “What the heck am I stressed out about again?” And, “What is driving my discontent?”
The questions caused me to focus internally. It wasn’t the cold. It wasn’t the tepid coffee. What I found was that much of my issues of the day were being driven by old pains, old limits. Old items that were, quite frankly, worn out and no longer applicable. I realized I had a choice to redefine them. I was choosing to define them out of fear, or, more importantly, the fear of perceived pain and stress. It was my call not only how I perceived them but also what I chose to do with that very perception.
I could choose the old model and wonder why I my blood pressure was so high or I could redefine things, redefine myself, and hopefully make a better choice.
Oddly enough, it was just that simple.
It’s still incredibly dry around here. We had a teasing of rain last week and there’s a small percentage of more tomorrow. We need it. The earth is dry and cracked, the grass is brown and many species of trees are dropping their leaves about four weeks too early. When they fall the leave are brown and curled, dehydrated. It’s not a good sign.
To be honest, I’m amazed we’ve not been put under water restrictions. I believe it’s been about 80 days since we had substantial rainfall. The local retention pond is getting lower and lower. The nearby reservoir is the lowest I’ve ever seen it.
Been a bit busy over the past few days and have been unable to get out and make a vid. I’ve also been fighting the heightened allergy ratings around here. Fought off a sinus infection late last week and just now seeing a return to normal energy. Without more rain to knock the allergens down, it’s taking it’s toll everywhere.
Last night, I worked on hulling the last of the hickory nuts from the video I put up. I tried something new and since it worked I thought I’d share it here.
Salted Hickory Nuts
Right after getting the nut meat, I set the oven for 180 or so. While waiting for that to preheat, I took an average bowl of warm water and added a few teaspoons of salt into it. Stirringso it dissolved, I then dumped the hickory nuts into it for about three to five minutes
Then, I took the nuts out of the water, shook off the excess water and laid them on a cookie sheet. I then baked them in the oven for about a half hour. (I went a little longer with this group because a lot of the nuts were very fresh from the hulling.)
Once done, you get a nice, light salty taste to the nut! After forcing myself to eat them warm and right off the cookie sheet, I let them cool and put the rest in the my glass container in the refrigerator. Yeah, forcing myself. That’s it. The same way I “force myself” to eat chocolate chip cookies…
I know, it’s not necessarily a “survival” recipe but it’s darn tasty for a home snack! Besides, you could also throw them in a zip-lock bag and toss that into a backpack!
For well over ten years now I’ve been fascinated with having a bonsai tree. I think I have to initially blame the movie “The Karate Kid” and Mr. Myagi. I’ve tried several different species, had them given as gifts, have tried harvesting saplings from the wild and all of them have suffered the same fate. In one way or another, they’ve all died.
Recently, in talking to a bonsai aficionado, I asked him if it was normal to lose so many trees. His response? “I can’t remember how many trees I’ve killed just to get the nice ones I have now.” This made me feel a bit better.
For several years I decided to give it up for a while but last year several small maple saplings volunteered up from a large pile of leaves and sticks pulled out of our house gutters by the landlord. The pile remained next to the dumpster all year and three weeks before our lease was up I made the decision to gently harvest them and get them into pots. They made the transition very well, survived the move to the new place, and as we went into winter the trees dropped their leaves and began their hibernation. I really didn’t expect them to make it since I ran out of time to build an adequate cold frame for them. I opted, instead, to place them in a dark porch closet for the entirety of the winter, maybe to bring them out on sunny days.
It seemed like a good idea except for that whole “remembering to bring them back out” part. They stayed in all winter and I think I only watered them once on a day with above freezing temperatures.
Much to my delight, I pulled them out several weeks ago to find tiny red buds adorning the tops of the trees! They had survived the winter! I was delighted. Being mindful of overnight frost, I brought them back out onto the porch to get the warming sun and fresh rain. Since then, the larger tree has now sprouted a new fresh set of smaller leaves than last year and is looking very healthy. The second one is slightly behind but still producing leaves.
Needless to say, I’m quite excited. How is that I was able to overwinter two first year maples by complete and utter neglect? Must be Coyote Magic! (Coyote Magic = Doing the absolute wrong thing, having it work out very well and learning something from it.)
Also, you can see Pooka (The Most Amazing Dog Ever) giving the trees a bit of attention as well. There will be more about Pooka in upcoming posts.
Now, the real challenge will be to get them through the hot and humid summer. I won’t be repotting them this year and instead am letting them strengthen and sit in the pots they have. A year from now, if they make it, I will transport them over to a bonsai pot and we’ll see how it goes. I have a feeling, now that they’re awake, they won’t do so well if I just put them in the porch closet again for three months.