He Gave Us His Heart

As I have often stated I never had the privilege of living in a house until I got married.  One of the things I instantly loved was our big, sliding kitchen window.  Growing up we had a tiny, enclosed galley kitchen.  My mother cooked incredible meals in there made from scratch, but I longed for a kitchen window that looked out upon a yard.  After we bought our house I begged my husband to let us put in a little koi pond, and now every time I am at the sink I have a view of double waterfalls, our five beautiful fish swimming languidly in the water, and often water lilies in bloom.  A great black wolf statue stands majestically at the top of the falls, and to his side is a large white statue of St. Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of Animals and Ecology.  He is depicted in such a way that he appears to be smelling the flowers, with his head turned facing Gubbio the wolf.  It is serenity by its very nature and when I open our kitchen window I can hear the soothing sound of water flowing over the huge rocks.  In the mornings I often hear birds singing or the chattering of squirrels.  On summer nights I can hear the rhythmic, deep “brrrraaaaaaap” of toads calling to one another.  And I love to watch dragonflies drinking from the pond.  Before this the only thing back there had been a solitary fig tree.  We built our pond around it and I had the workers use the three massive slabs of leftover stone to make me a bench underneath the branches.  As I name all my trees, he became known as Mr. Figgy.  I spent over a decade watching him bloom and grow.  In the summers I’d watch him become so bushy I learned to prune him.  In the fall the three of us delighted in watching the squirrels gorging themselves on the literal fruits of his labor.  This last spring I taught my child how to climb him.  My daughter has adored Mr. Figgy and I had visions of building a tree house around him.  Then the arborist delivered some devastating news:  Mr. Figgy was getting long in the tooth.  He had already been treated for some type of borer worms.  We thought he was better but then she pronounced he now had mold.  “Oh NO not Mr. Figgy!” my little one cried as I silently echoed her sentiments.  My mind traveled back to that book “The Giving Tree” I’d read so often as a child.  With great sadness, I realized Mr. Figgy did not have much left to give.  And so I gave the order, feeling like a cold-blooded killer assassinating a beloved friend.  I wish I had taken a picture of him.  My little one and I went outside, told him what he’d meant to us, and then said good-bye.  “Can we keep a piece of him?” she asked.  And then we heard the chainsaw roar and could not bear to look.  After it was quiet I got a call from our gardner who said, “he had something for his Princessa” and so I called my little one outside with me.  The picture you see here is what he gave her.  It is literally Mr. Figgy’s heart that was cut from one side of his base.  Manuel said he had done nothing to shape it but when he noticed it was so perfect he wanted us to have it.  I love what Saint Basil, the 4th century Greek bishop of Caesarea, once said:

”A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds.  A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”

Mr. Figgy was so much more than a tree; he was a dear friend whom I aspire to be like more.  I am immensely grateful we have something so special to remember him by.  Mr. Figgy gave us all he had:  his buds in the spring, his shade in the summer, his fruits in the fall and, in the winter of his life, he gave us his heart.

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Oh Deer!

Each day I pick my little one up from school and we pass a house on the corner of an intersection which has brought us immense joy.  Situated on the edge is a deer which, to our delight, always seems to be dressed for the occasion.  At Christmas he sported a Santa hat and my little one and I were tickled to see the deer rocking a New Year’s hat for 2018.  What has captured our fancy the most, however, is how you see him pictured here.  Cleary he is between holidays and yet he is wearing a festive scarf and ear muffs.  My six year old and I have HOWLED as we’ve passed by.  Clearly someone cool lives there who is dressing him according to the season.  Recently I decided to ring the doorbell and inquire about the deer on the corner who is so nattily attired.  An 81 year old woman named Nancy responded and informed me that “Bob” the deer had been in her yard since 1990.  She wanted a deer that her first grandchild could ride and he is named after her brother-in-law Bob.  Multiple attempts have been made over the years to steal him, but her husband cleverly placed him in cement and had him rebarred for good measure.  Somewhile ago a heart wreath was placed around his neck for St. Valentine’s.  Another time Nancy came outside to discover dear Bob had been cheerfully festooned with Mardi Gras beads complete with a sequined mask.  She said someone volunteered to outfit him for St. Patrick’s Day this year.  Since no one has claimed the patriotic holidays of Veterans’ Day, the 4th of July, and Memorial Day I have requested them.  Bob has acquired quite the collection over the years.  He already has rabbit ears for Easter, an inflatable raft and sunglasses for the hot summer months, and even a Hawaiin lei.  And the two-leggeds are not the only ones who have noticed.  Nancy says she has gotten to where she can identify a lot of the various dogs who bark at him as they pass by.  “Bob has been to rehab like me,” she said as she told me of the repair she has done to his front and back legs.  She has learned to mix cement to fix his signs of aging and has also painted him several times to keep him looking good.  I greatly admire this widow for staying active and maintaining a playful sense of humor.  Wayne Dyer, the American motivational speaker, once said:

”The child inside of you knows how to take things as they come, how to deal most effectively and happily with everything and everyone it encounters on this planet.  If you can recapture that childlike essence of your being, you can stay ‘forever young at heart.'”

So what adventures are next for Nancy and Bob?  I can only say, “Oh deer!”

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Gone Bats In The Caves

After Christmas and before the New Year, my husband, daughter, and I took a little road trip to San Antonio.  Our little girl could not remember her first road trip there and we wanted to go during the holidays because the lights are so magical on the river.  On our return, my husband had the brilliant idea to visit Natural Bridge Caverns.  I had been before with my parents and also once with my husband, but realized our little one had never seen them and six seemed like a good age.  She adores science and we all love geology so we hoped she would love it.  The outside temperature was in the teens, which is cold for the southern part of Texas.  As we waited in line, I felt like all the other tourists that stood there shivering and huddled against each other were questioning my sensibility as a mother.  She and I, both hot natured, stood in only long sleeves with no coat.  After a five minute wait our group began the slow descent into the caves.  Discovered in 1960 by a group of four college students, the natural limestone bridge extends 60 feet.  The average temperature inside is 70 degrees but I would submit it is a great deal warmer with the humidity.  And my little family does not take heat well, the hubs included, despite us all being natural Texans.  The Natural Bridge Caverns are the largest known commercial caverns in Texas, located in the Hill Country.  Turns out the humidity rate is 99 percent and no one seemed to be giving me the side-eye as they all quickly worked to divest themselves of coats, hats, and scarves, which they now would have to carry for the next hour.  The deepest part of our tour was 180 feet below the surface, and our entire journey was paved with the slick, slow trickle of rainwater traveling though layers of rock as it had for millennia.  The water flows and drips, causing the formations to retain a waxy luster which I tried to capture in my pictures.  I explained to my little one about stalactites versus stalagmites, and much of our tour centered around her trying to pronounce the difference as well as to remember them.  I am proud to say by the end she had it somewhat mastered.  I also noted some of the adults had rings of sweat around their shirts as my little one continued comfortably upon her scientific quest.  Before leaving the last “room” in the caverns they had cleverly (and thoughtfully) set up water fountains produced by the cave’s own natural water.  It was wonderful!  The American writer and nauturalist Diane Ackerman said:

“Just as our ancient ancestors drew animals on cave walls and carved animals from wood and bone, we decorate our homes with animal prints and motifs, give our children stuffed animals to clutch, cartoon animals to watch, animal stories to read.”

Our little one was crushed we did not see any bats along our tour but the guides did point out with their flashlights where a bunch of bat dung hung copiously and somewhat gracefully, way up high and far removed from where we were.  She insisted upon taking a plush animal with her and I thought back to how often I had done the same as a child.  I have always connected with animals and I was lucky enough to marry a man who loves them just as much.  We are rearing a child who lives with wolf hybrids, cats, mice, turtles, and koi.  Neither her father nor I were particularly surprised when our little one begged to have a plush bat from their gift shop.  Steering her toward a less expensive mouse, we realized that, like us, she had gone bats in the caves.

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Nature’s Heart

I believe I have mentioned my little one has gotten big enough to go on longer walks with us now.  We talk, and for once I’m not staring into my iPhone.  Around a creek we make a circuit, simply enjoying nature, as we delight in her mysterious, fresh, earthy smells.  Right now is a very precious time because autumn in Dallas is such a fleeting season.  The leaves on our many trees are turning red, orange, and yellow.  As we walk, the wind will gently blow a few down to earth in front of us, laying them at our feet like precious gems.  We have found acorns, pecans, and different types of seeds and pods from trees which I lament I do not know.  There is a little bridge we cross over where we like to pause and reflect.  I told my little one that creeks were the highways for wildlife, and she was fascinated as I explained to her that they used them to traverse the city, seek shelter, and to eat and drink.  I have seen coyotes, owls, raccoons, turtles, songbirds, possums, armadillos, hawks, and tree rats — which frankly are adorable.  We have heard the rustle of frisky squirrels chasing each other around the barks of large trees, and have witnessed the majestic sight of a predator bird’s broad wings spread gracefully in ascent.  When the creek is high we have heard ducks quacking, and this time of year we have seen the V-shaped flight of wild geese silhouetted against the sunset.  Having a child has helped me rediscover slowing down and savoring time … especially outside.  We have examined rocks and felt the first chill of fall in the air.  It’s a time to tune out and tune in, to feel alive and savor the wonders of Mother Earth.  My little one found this leaf on the ground and handed it to me exclaiming, “Mama, look!  A heart!  I want you to have it.”  “Thank you so much!” I said, thinking she already had mine the moment I knew I was carrying her.  John Muir, the Scottish-American naturalist and early advocate for the preservation of wilderness in the United States once said, “Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods.  Wash your spirit clean.”  I hope we all remain close to nature’s heart.

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Batty

In my little one’s class right now they’re studying bats.  I love that there was a poll taken on whether they’re creepy or cute and cute won.  Bats are mammals whose forelimbs form webbed wings, making them the only mammals naturally capable of true and sustained flight.  I find that fascinating.  After rodents, bats are the second largest order of mammals, representing about twenty percent of all classified mammals worldwide.  Bats mostly feed on insects, but some, such as flying foxes, eat fruit.  Bats are present throughout most of the world with the exception of extremely cold regions.  They perform vital ecological roles of pollinating flowers and dispersing fruit seeds.  Bat dung has been mined from caves and used as fertilizer.  It is a shame that in many cultures they are associated with darkness, death, witchcraft and malevolence.  Bats have incredible senses and their echolocation is a perpetual system where ultrasonic sounds are emitted specifically to produce echoes.  By comparing the outgoing pulse with the returning echoes, the brain and auditory nervous system can produce detailed images of the bat’s surroundings.  This allows them to detect, localize, and even classify their prey in complete darkness.  Incredibly, bat ears are so sensitive, they can detect the fluttering of moth wings and the movement of ground-dwelling prey like centipedes and earwigs.  I used to joke under my breath that my mother had the hearing of a bat.  To which she would reply from another room, “I heard that.”  The Nobel Prize winning American novelist Ernest Hemingway said, “I like to listen.  I have learned a great deal from listening carefully.  Most people never listen.”  I think that holds true today.  I know I have formed opinions and like expressing them.  However, I think I shall strive to listen and become more batty.

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Nature’s Recycler

Because of my deep love of wolves, I have often wondered how some animals throughout history have been chosen to be demonized while others have been revered.  It seems to have carried over in our collective conscious for centuries.  Even the animals that are eaten vary around the globe.  My feeling has always been why is one life more valuable than another?  That is also why I love St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment.  I think he gave animals far more credit than most and famously preached a sermon to the birds.  Speaking of birds, I have noticed a lot of decorations going up for Halloween with crows, owls, and vultures.  I know different stories around the first two from Native American culture and they do involve the spirit world.  Perhaps their stories and myths made their way into Western culture.  I also realize people can be repulsed by vultures.  We saw one soaring recently and I explained to my little one they simply ate animals that were already dead.  They don’t kill; they just clean up the mess.  They serve a vital purpose in our world and I think they are interesting creatures.  “Mama, like recyclers!” she exclaimed and decided they were cool.  Then today I came across this young fellow as he was feeding on a squirrel some thoughtless driver ran over.  He was just doing his job and surviving and I stopped to talk to him.  He never moved and watched me with a keen eye.  Finally he resumed eating and I got the shot you see here.  If that poor squirrel had to die, I was glad to see its body was being used to nurture another one of God’s creation.  The only positive quote I could find about vultures was from the American lead singer of the new wave band Blondie.  Debbie Harry said, “I’m a culture vulture, and I just want to experience it all.”  I really like that.  We fear what we don’t know — much like our friend the vulture:  nature’s recycler.

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Solace

As you can see from this picture, we have a small pond in our side yard.  A great wolf presides over it all while St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of the environment, looks on.  It is so peaceful to come out and feed the koi (and I presume the toads as well) while listening to the gently soothing sounds of the waterfalls.  With the advent of our privacy fence, however, it has become a true source of solitude.  We can sit and relax in peace as we enjoy being outside unseen on our own little piece of land.  There is something about it that is freeing, although I cannot adequately describe it.  The first President of the United States, George Washington, said, “Observe good faith and justice toward all nations.  Cultivate peace and harmony with all.”  I can say I honestly strive toward having good faith and justice towards all.  But to cultivate peace and harmony, I believe it must begin from within.  That is what our little pond does for me.  Despite the stresses of the day; the problems and challenges; I know I have a place which I can always go … and it offers me solace.

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Well Hello Toads!

Much to my husband’s seasonal torment, I am delighted to say that for years now our pond has attracted toads.  At first I thought they were frogs but I have since discerned the difference.  I love to hear them at night (my husband does NOT) and there is an even greater joy in seeing countless tadpoles in the water covering the rocks like tiny black dots.  Few will survive into adulthood.  I realize that is nature but I still pray for them all.  As for their parents, once a cycle has completed they will start up their nightly chorus again.  We are not overrun with amorous amphibians; I believe that is nature’s way as well.  But we have been blessed to have several generations now and the whole processes is amazing to watch.  I should qualify that my pet peeve is the word “amazing.”  Clothes do not qualify as “amazing.”  Food most definitely does not qualify as “amazing.”  And shortcuts (do not even get me STARTED on the word “hacks”) do not qualify as “amazing.”  The word has been so misused and overused I will go so far as to say I have not used it in my daily blog of over a year and a half so much as once.  Suffice to say I do not use the word lightly.  Now that I’m writing I realize at some point I have blogged about the toads, tadpoles and babies.  I suppose I would have placed it under the nature column as I have done here.  The funniest story ever is when my husband “rescued” a pair of toads that were on top of each other.  “The big one was saving the little one from drowning!” he innocently exclaimed and I wondered how we had ever had a child.  I instructed him to put them down IMMEDIATELY and to just leave them alone.  Of course I always pick them up, pat them, and kiss them before sending them on their way.  As the Scottish writer Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind in the Willows, once said:

“It’s never the wrong time to call on Toad.  Early or late he’s always the same fellow.  Always good-tempered, always glad to see you, always sorry when you go!”

Anytime I am lucky enough to encounter them I always begin by saying, “Well hello toads!”

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A Green Thumb

Since I do not seem to be a very prolific gardner, I thought I might convert our vegetable garden (read dead plants) into an herb garden.  Possessing my father’s tenacity, I refuse to fail … I just thought I might simply try a different method.  Behold!  You my friends are looking at my humble herb garden in all its raised glory!  It might be hard to discern, but at the very back are scallions (I ADORE them,) and on both the left and the right sides are spinach.  I forget what type they are; I was stunned when a neighbor of ours called them out by name.  I was doing well just to know they were spinach.  In the very center you will see mint growing, which I love for tea … and for “killing” the taste of water.  To the left underneath are some rather scrawny oregano plants (I’m trying) and to the right in the bottom corner is a type of “creeping” rosemary.  Completing our somewhat circuitous clockwise circuit in the upper right corner is my solitary oregano plant.  It is all organic, from the plants, to the fertilizer, to the soil.  And they are all still managing to survive in the merciless Texas heat and despite my novice clumsiness.  It may seem paltry, but it is a lot for me.  The American vegan physician and creator of NutritionFacts.org, Michael Greger, said, “Ounce for ounce, herbs and spices have more antioxidants than any other food group.”  So my family may not have any vegetables from our garden as of yet, but at least they will have herbs.  Since I have apparently failed with our vegetable garden, I hope to be more successful with our herb garden.  And, in the process, maybe I will be able to grow a green thumb.

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A Living City

There is something so peaceful about watering the garden.  Mostly I just have container plants and the sprinklers take care of the lawn.  But I love the fresh smell of damp earth stirred up in the early morning air.  I like watching the water sluice in rivulets down the spines of the ivy leaves and plop in fat droplets from our rose bush.  It is my time of quiet contemplation and a brief chance to connect with Mother Earth.  I also never know who will turn up.  This picture was on top of our swing (I finally have the ivy trained to go all the way up and over the trellis!) and this sexy boy agreed to let me capture him in a photo.  I had just caught him with his throat popped out trying to impress a lady who was watching him coyly from the ground below.  I do not see “doodle bugs” as prevalently as I used to as a kid, but when they’re around I never fail to pick them up for a moment to say hello.  It’s the same with “June bugs.”  I made my daughter hold one (she thought they looked gross) and explained to her that they were harmless and really quite interesting.  I then launched into a discussion about scarabs and watched her revulsion lessen just a touch.  I have seen lady bugs, earthworms, and garden snakes as well as butterflies, spiders, geckos, dragonflies, caterpillars, bees, ants, and moths that I can readily recall.  It is always an unexpected joy to see who will turn up.  We have some resident toads which I regularly like to pat … OK, and kiss.  Once I inadvertently made this huge, macho repairman working outside issue a shrill scream worthy of a teenage girl at a boy band concert.  Apparently he was scared to death of them.  I love this quote by the American marine biologist and National Geographic explorer, Sylvia Earle, who said:

“Look at the bark of a redwood, and you see moss.  If you peer beneath the bits and pieces of the moss, you’ll see toads, small insects, a whole host of life that prospers in that miniature environment.  A lumberman will look at a forest and see so many board feet of lumber.  I see a living city.”

That is exactly how I feel every time I am outside … I see a living city.

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