Category Archives: Nature

Plants: My Trump Winter Balm

Gaillardia & Gerbera
on the Windowsill

Two weeks ago in the Northeast, in the midst of the Russian /Flynn /election connection and the endless Trump twitter maelstrom, spring temperatures warmed the ground. Clumps of daffodils began their stretch to maturity. Lily leaves peeped out. Buds appeared on shrubs. I embraced the warm air.

Spring in February, a seductive distraction, seemed too soon. Within days, a  snowstorm blanketed every bud and plant with soft snow, a coating that is protective. After the spring thaw, some leaves will look fragile and need to be cut. Thankfully, the blossoms will emerge intact and open.

The seduction of spring stuck. Just as the plants began to stretch upward in the warming earth, I culled my garden catalogs and began to fantasize about rich colors and new plantings for my garden.

There is nothing more appealing to a winter-shut-in-gardener then the  sight of red, yellow, peach and pink primrose plants at the entry to the super market. My first choice was a red plant, my second choice, yellow. Primroses are easy plants. They like “wet feet,” meaning that every few days they require watering from the base up. It’s easy. I simply pop the plant into a bowl of water and let the plant infuse what it needs. I then place it in the sink to drain out the excess moisture.

The next week, I was tempted but hesitant to buy a bright orange gerbera. My prior efforts at growing gerbera in summer have resulted in wilt. But this was a winter experiment. I had the intuition to water my orange beauty the same way I watered the primrose. Gratefully, the plant has thrived and produced multiple blooms.  My hope is to set it in the garden along with the yellow and red gaillardia with its effervescent blossoms.

My gaillardia and gerbera plants on the sunny windowsill draw me into a practice of mindfulness. Every day I check each leaf, each bud for wilt, aphids, any sign of distress. When a blossom fades, I cut it off to engender more nourishment to new buds. A drooping blossom signals the need for water. Rotation helps the plant stay tall, otherwise it bends too far  into the sun. It’s about reading the signs.

As a child, I enjoyed  the freedom to indulge in flights of imagination and play in the backyard. Often, my dad joined me as he trimmed shrubs or cut the lawn. During World War II, I watched as he chose a half moon shaped tool to cut the edges of a bed and turn the soil for planting tomatoes, green beans and peppers. Every summer day, he tended his garden. It was part of the war effort. My father was a careful man; he understood the signs. At the right moment, he invited me to pick a lush tomato to bring to the table for supper.

I am thankful for the lessons of my father: gardens and plants engender beauty, food and connection to the earth; nature is nurture. Especially during this extended Trump winter, I am thankful.

 

Grateful My Mom Was an Immigrant

Goldie, My Mom

If my mom were alive today, she would be shaking her head in disbelief and concern about the stories of immigrants being rounded up and deported with little warning. At the age of ten, she journeyed from Lithuania to Boston Harbor with her mother and brother to join her father and half sister in Portland, Maine. Strangely, there were no stories or pictures of that time and all during my childhood and teen years, I never thought of my mother as an immigrant.

Unlike my great aunts and uncles, she spoke English without trace of an accent. A business school graduate, she identified as an American. She attended the Fanny Farmer Cooking School where she embraced modern cooking and hospitality. An adventurous and creative cook, she was known for her excellent baked goods and desserts.

In retrospect, it’s remarkable how little I knew of her first ten years in Lithuania. She enjoyed the “American Way” and relished the role of wife, mother and homemaker. I was about ten when I first realized Mom had a different life before arriving in America. We were visiting a family at a lake when the host invited us for a rowboat ride. In an instant, my confident and relaxed mother shook her head and said, not for me, and encouraged my brother and me to get in the boat and drift onto the water.

Years later, after another similar incident, she was willing to tell me the story of her nauseating and frightening 2 week voyage in steerage; she ate stale bread with water and lay on a hard bench for the entire trip. It would be many more years before I fleshed out the story of how my great grandfather, worried about the conscription of Jewish young men, made three trips from Lithuania to New York to assure safe passage for the entire family. Sadly, in the end, he was turned away because of a cough.

Last night, on television, I watched a segment about refugees, fearful of Trump’s ban and ICE roundups, finding their way to cold and icy Canada. At the border, an American and Canadian custom agent approached a lone pregnant woman. It was heart breaking when the American agent asked if she had a visa. Her body shrank in defeat as he placed her in a patrol car.

I’m grateful Great Zadie had the courage to forge the way for the entire family to undertake such a long and arduous journey. It was a time when health was a key requirement for admission. I believe Mom’s silence about what she endured was as much about her sadness for her beloved grandfather left behind as the upset from the listing boat traversing those miles of ocean swells.

I am grateful for the ACLU, the lawyers and many citizens who embrace and defend the safe harbor of America, the America who welcomed my mother, the America who sheltered and educated me, the America whose values we need to honor and protect.

Why I Stick With Gratitude

a grateful moment

In this fast paced, twitter-tweet-news-in-the-moment world, gratitude slows me down. When I consciously focus on the question—for what am I grateful today— the question in and of itself slows my monkey mind. After two and a half years of daily practice, I have trained my mind to slow and seek out the answer.

Lately, and to my delight, my friend Carol gave me feedback about her own experience of experiencing gratitude. She described it as a “process,” an apt description. In these weekly essays, I try to show how the process of gratitude engages one’s sense of self to include other human beings, the natural world and beyond.

The more I engage with the question—what encounter, what experience of noticing makes me grateful— the more I slow and go deeper within myself. In practice, the seeking is a spiritual quest, to go beyond the immediate and tap into what appeals and resonates with one’s being.

Yesterday, I attended a class with eight other mental health professionals. The topic, A Hot Button Intervention Model, was taught by Stanley Gross, Ed.D. Close to ninety, this was Stanley’s last teaching engagement on a subject he has studied and taught for much of his long career. We all have “hot buttons”—events out of the blue which set off reactivity and behavior that is familiar and often, uncomfortable.

I needed CEU’s for my professional license, and signed up in the hope that I would come to understand my quick, impulsive reactions in the face of a threating situation. Each of the participants shared a recent hot button experience. Mine was with a recent unexpected bout with vertigo. Stanley is all about process, and the need to take time to assess and evaluate the unconscious origins of a hot button reaction.

After six hours, I came away calmer, more aware of the how I over-reacted to this particular incident and its source in resurrecting a similar childhood experience. Stanley’s knowledge and teaching skills, a man in a similar life stage to my own, offered an experiential training. You can see how such a gift of new information and behaviors could bring immeasurable gratitude.

Additionally, I reconnected to a social worker/writer friend and renewed memories of a colleague we have in common. It made my gratitude experience all the sweeter.

In these Trumpster times, we need ways to move out and beyond the immediate, to give pause, to engage and refresh our senses. Each of the participants, all therapists who spend much of their workday dealing with others shared their relaxation practices. They included: swimming daily, dance, hiking, walking, working out, especially with weights. I practice David Dorian Ross’s Tai Chi Flow, a breathing/meditative/movement practice.

I am grateful to share my recent experience and the benefit that comes from a deeper engagement with unconscious aspects of myself. I am grateful to those of you who are reading this and would enjoy your comments about a recent gratitude experience.

 

The Robin’s Feast

Robins on the Back Hill,
February, 2017

I witnessed a flock of Robins foraging in the leaf litter on my back hill today. I’d been wondering about robins since yesterday, how it was the brown/orange female robin flitting around in my front garden looked so well fed.

Peter Guren, the creator of the comic strip, Ask Shagg, answered my question, in part. In response to a reader’s inquiry about why robins don’t eat from a bird feeder during winter, he replied, “ Robins that don’t migrate will hang around and eat fruit in the winter.” That made sense; a few red berries, blue berries, still tethered to my holly and juniper shrubs, though a little spongy, lay in wait.

I write this post at my kitchen table with a sweeping view of the back hill. The out door thermometer reads 58 degrees, a February thaw. I cannot say what drew my attention up the back hill, beyond the erosion/planter inserts filled with green pachysandra, to the bank of exposed leaves. The leaves were moving—flitting, fleeting, fluttering, leaping, turning. It was as if I were witnessing a live video on camera. But what was propelling all that action?

I stood at the patio door to focus up the thirty yards where the scene was playing out. It took a sustained and conscious effort to zoom onto what seemed surreal, my imagination at play, when I caught sight of the red/orange breast of one, two, three, ten, twenty or more robins in a feeding frenzy. The sight of so many in the common search for food, their coordinated dance, the sense of their innate radar— food for nourishment beneath the melting of new snow, the moist leaves abundant with earthworms, beetles, spiders, and more.

My anxious gut fluttered with gratitude, a release of pleasure, uncoiling with delight, this 30th day of Trump’s presidency,  The robins had not flown south; they had stayed close to home, this homestead surrounded by oaks and American Beeches, the branched lily tree in the front garden which nests 3 to 4 chicks each spring.

Since President Trump’s 77-minute press conference, his rant of free association, my mind craved grounding, a way to sort and sift what I had heard, a way to make sense of what made no sense. The birds offered a lesson.

I am grateful to be reminded of what lies beneath the surface, to refocus, to shift attention from the chaos of breaking news to the quiet rhythms of nature, music, reading, reflective writing, and once again, list making. My friend, Rosemary, offered an interesting response to my last post. “I think of lists as containment, ways to hold in place (if briefly) what can otherwise roam wild in our minds.”

The flurry on this hill—at first sight—seemed wild, out of control. Brown, matted down, leaves were being propelled by an invisible force. Orange/red rounded bursts, grey wing- shaped pulsations, caused me to pause and focus more intently until the full sweep of what was occurring came into view. I am grateful for the lesson.

Lists and Mental Health

Amaryllis in Window

I find list making calming. With a half-awake president wandering the darkened White House corridors at 3:00 a.m., asking his National Security Advisor about the benefits of a strong or weak dollar, tweeting edicts for the a.m. news, we are rapidly becoming a nation of insomniacs and worriers.

When I worry, I make lists—in my head, on legal or skinny sized notepads, where the eye can scan down, take note and experience a semblance of control.

First and foremost, my ever-present go-to is the grocery list. It’s comforting to use the last bit of blueberry jam and pen it on the top line. As if by magic, I have replaced it, a mental guarantor of a satisfying taste for the start of my day.

“To do” lists serve a similar purpose— phone calls to the plumber or a friend; e-mails, mostly personal, a prompt to send a birthday card or a note of sympathy.

As I writer, I list ideas, random thoughts, phrases, words which evoke, please, resonate. I list projects— essays in process, essays to submit, essays submitted— acceptances and rejections.

The most helpful and yes, the list requiring the most discipline and effort is the gratitude list. Since Trump’s election, my mental health depends on finding a balance between sources that nurture my inner world and those that direct my energies outward. I offer this week’s example.

Week of February 8, I’m grateful for:

  • My fluffy amaryllis, wide open with four striped petals and a lime green throat—a beautiful gem which opens my heart every time I stop to notice, to touch its creamy skin.
  • Breathing in the unexpected warmth of Wednesday’s spring-like day, temperature near 60, earthy smells, my clogged sinuses opening with lightness.
  • Relating to the Diane Rehms (2/10/17) blog post— “Inside The White House and Coping in an Age of Anxiety.” A well thought-out distillation on considering anxiety as a resource and the positive attributes of harnessing anxiety in the cause of resistance.http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2017-02-10/inside-the-white-house-and-coping-in-an-age-of-anxiety
  • The 3-0 unanimous decision of the 9th circuit’s court of appeal to maintain the stay on Trump’s order to restrict travel from seven ( predominantly Muslim) nations. Relief that the checks and balances are holding.
  • Elizabeth Warren, who though silenced on the Senate floor, appeared on the Daily Show, spoke out on The Rachel Maddow Show, and disseminated a video where she persisted in reading Coretta Scott King’s letter and talking about Jeff Session’s role when African-Americans were beaten away from the polls.
  • An unexpected part-time job offer from the Team Leader at the Whole Foods Whole Body aisle with whom I often swap nutrition and supplement info. Job requirement: knowledge of health issues and supplements, check; job experience with people, check; ability to stand on feet, check; climb ladders, lift 50 pound boxes, forget it! Nice fantasy, especially at my age.

If you have experience with list making and its mental health benefits, please share in the comments section. I’m grateful for  thoughts and ideas on this timely and important topic.

 

 

 

 

QUIET

Companion Oaks
January, 2017

The first snow came this past Friday morning— a white, powdery quilt cover —tucking away and hiding the slimy, wet leaves matted down, scattered over the driveway and hills. For the first time in weeks, I perceived order; there was quiet.

I am grateful for the calm of this brief snow. The winds of change swirl all around. Senator McCain conducted a three-hour hearing on Russian hacking yesterday. The radio and Internet are abuzz with anticipation over how the president elect will respond to the in depth release of the CIA’s long investigation. When I switch to AM/FM or to CNN or MSNBC, I am anxious, anticipating disquiet.

From my kitchen window, I am grateful for the sight of a rough hewed oak trunk mottled with snow clumps. The tree is sturdy and steady, sheltered, in part, by a lean companion pine with its green feathery needles stretched outward. The sight brought to mind observations of Peter Wohlleben, the author of The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate. 

These trees are friends. You see how the thick branches point away from each other? That’s so they don’t block their buddy’s light.

I decide to look closer, grab my IPhone and sweater, step out onto the snowy steps and patio. Close up, there are two grand oak trunks leaning towards one another in a “V” shape, root-linked.

Trees like to stand close together and cuddle. There is in fact friendship among trees.

I am grateful for the presence of these two companions just as I am grateful for the friendship of my women’s group. We met yesterday, five of us huddled under hand-knit shawls, to fend off the chill on our necks, our backs as we shared news of family, and worry for our country’s future in anticipation of Trump’s inauguration.

Last night, Marv and I shared Shabbos dinner with two couple friends. The ritual is familiar— we light the Shabbos candles, say a prayer over wine and challah. We talked—first of pleasantries, the winter, plans for travel, one couple, “snow birds” for six weeks, my envy hidden. Mid-meal, we land on Trump, the GOP, their mission to repeal, the topic of dissent— how to make it positive, avoid backlash. What I know, deep down, is that we must stay alert, just as when one tree is attacked by insects…electrical signals pass through the bark and into the roots and from there into fungi networks in the soil that alert nearby trees of danger.

As darkness comes, I lose sight of the trees, turn to the television for news, the worry of new Trump Tweets, its effect on programs I believe in. Would that I could remember, call to mind at will, the soft comfort of calm my morning companion trees invoke. Calm, like gratitude, must be invoked with the deliberate intention to dial down and focus on the in and out breath, the deepening sigh at the sight of snow.

 

 

Seeing Red: Lesson from the Birds

Apple Blossom Tree Berries, December, 2016

December 12: Boston Globe headlines: CIA finds Russia Worked to Aid Trump: secret report sees ties to hacked DNC e-mails given to Wiki-Leaks.

Upon lifting the shade, I notice three red plump robins leaping about on the branches of the evergreens outside my bedroom window. The fact of their plumpness in early December, the question of what they might be foraging to feed such ampleness, gives me pause. The morning is chill-bone cold, the result of the Polar Express winds roaring through. The garden, the pond, the soil are frozen.

Within minutes, I notice more birds— blue jays in fast flight, their striated wings propelling them across the line of evergreens and back towards the front garden, out of my vision. Soon, there are more: grey and black chickadees, a small flock of black birds, all hurried, appearing excited, fleeting towards and away from the evergreens.

It is the lone red cardinal, on the ground, in flight across the evergreens to my neighbors yard and back again to the front garden, that propels me to a front window. He joins the fat robins, lights on a limb of the apple blossom tree loaded with small, fleshy red berries thawing in the low sun.

I am grateful to delay reading the stories behind the headlines, to resist flocking to the maelstrom surrounding the Putin/Trump bond, Trump’s cabinet choices.

I am grateful to focus on the wisdom of birds, their attraction to acts of nature for their nurture. According to Mother Nature Network, birds are attracted to fruit bearing trees and pick fruits that persist on the tree; the smaller the fruit, the easier it is for the bird to eat.

I dress, grab a coat and my I-phone. I am compelled to see the red berries, the branches, close-up. I face the sun, click on a hazy image, walk more slowly, the sun at my back, to take three more shots. The last, close in, is the best. I want to show the red wet, spongy flesh, like the cranberries I simmered in a wine sauce for Thanksgiving dinner.

In due time, I return to the headlines and delve into the stories. All day long, I flitter in and out of the news, attracted to the possibility of Russian involvement, its meaning in terms of the election, the electoral college, the authenticity of the results. I have lived through red scares—McCarthyism, the Cuban missile crisis, the Cold War and now, the Cyber-insurgence, the war of undo influence.

This morning, the birds have flown, the evergreens are quiet; the grey squirrels are back. I am grateful for the lessons learned: to pay attention to the unusual, to take the time to pause, to notice, to dig for meaning. Sometimes, there is delight in red.