In the Pool

Image result for water images freeHere I am. Impossibly early in the morning and already a few of the regulars are treading the warm blue of the pool. Milly, our social director introduces everyone to everyone else – just in case names have been forgotten since yesterday or last week. Ted presses his bulk forward in the chest-high water, strides timed to the rhythm of his conversation with another man of equal volume. Georgia is doing her squats in the shallow water on the steps at the far end of the pool, her ears plugged with waterproof music. She sings quietly to herself as she bends and rises again and again, creating small tsunamis that break across the floating lane barrier dividing the deep side from the shallow.

This early, music of the USO era croons seductively below the constant buzz of social conversation floating across the water. A few folks sing along with Begin the Beguine and The Man I Love. Later, when the water aerobics class begins, the music will shift to Michael Jackson and Journey, energizing the ladies pumping Styrofoam iron with their waggling arms.  The water-weightless bobbing of their jumping jacks will animate the pool to frenzy.

But now, in the relative quiet of the early morning here at the aquatic therapy center, I sit astride a buoyant, yellow noodle on the deep side and pedal furiously up and down the length of the pool; five lengths, six lengths, more, until I’m breathless. I switch to an upright backstroke and breaststroke to work my arms until they feel like cooked spaghetti. Then it’s off the noodle and on to the kickboard to work the abs and glutes and quadriceps.

I’m pretty much alone on the deep side, this early in the day.  I like it that way.  That way I can pretend I’m different from the large, crooked, halting ones – the ‘older’ ones on the other side, gossiping their way to prolonged mobility. I’m still vigorous and strong, and much too busy to socialize.

Truth is, I am just as old. And the decades have worn on me in ways I cannot deny. I may be a little luckier, right now, than some who come here, but as I shower and get dressed, and feel the pull in my back as I bend to tie my shoes, I have to admit – I’m in the same pool.

Image result for water images free

Already Redux

5:00 AM, the last day of August. Already there have been nights too cool to leave the windows open, mornings where sweaters are needed. The post-eclipse sun remains hot, midday, but the trees look tired of it all. The bright green of June and July is dulled with a film of ennui and already, red and orange Pollock the sidewalks of the neighborhood.

Already the crickets have slowed the urgency of their tempo.

So, too, my urgency of care for the garden.  Already the weeds have taken advantage of this final chance to dominate.

Already there have been hints at November skies – lead-purple clouds. Winter-weight clouds. These have passed and the buoyant cumulus and high cirrus have returned, but their rocky heaviness still presses on the heart of summer.

It’s 6 AM now. Between the measured beat of crickets and the relentless tocks of the Seth Thomas, already the night has pulled itself away from yesterday; stepped across the threshold into this last day of summer.  

And just now – a ‘V’ of geese trumpeting south.

Already

5:00 AM, the last day of August. Already there have been nights too cool to leave the windows open, mornings where sweaters are needed. The post-eclipse sun remains hot, midday, but the trees look tired of it all. The bright green of June and July is dulled with a film of ennui and already, red and orange Pollock the sidewalks of the neighborhood.

Already the crickets have slowed the urgency of their tempo.

So, too, my urgency of care for the garden.  Already the weeds have taken advantage of this final chance to dominate.

Already there have been hints at November skies – lead-purple clouds. Winter-weight clouds. These have passed and the buoyant cumulus and high cirrus have returned, but their rocky heaviness still presses on the heart of summer.

It’s 6 AM now. Between the measured beat of crickets and the relentless tocks of the Seth Thomas, already the night has pulled itself away from yesterday; stepped across the threshold into this last day of summer.  

And just now – a ‘V’ of geese trumpeting south.

Rainy Day at the Wildlife Center

It’s a rainy day in the Perkins Wildlife Center.  Not too many visitors, but there are some, making use of the transparent umbrellas the Museum provides for days like this.  In a kind of alchemy, the rain has transformed the bark of the hundred-year-old beech trees from pewter gray to the worn bronze of a Buddhist temple bell. The surface of the water in the wetlands area and the otter pool is alive with stippling raindrops. Tall flora in the woods garden bend low over the path under the weight of accumulated moisture, applying damp brush strokes to visitors’ hips and arms.

The rain has made the dark channel of fur along Ember’s back even more pronounced as she trots her mud-caked feet through the puddles, chasing after her coyote brothers. Over near the Aviary, Sunny and Cloudy, the barred owls, stand resolute on their perches, ignoring the shelter provided for just such a day. A small fluff and twitter shakes off the rain from time to time, then they settle and preen the moisture from their feathers.

Coyotes Tex, Red and Ember (l-r) on the roof of a den at the Wildlife Center

The animals don’t mind the rain – or the snow.  Scarlet the red fox curls like a furry crustacean on her favorite high platform regardless of the weather; panting in the blazing sun, frosted under an inch of snow or, like today, occasionally stretching, shaking off the drops in a mini-shower of her own, then settling right back into her curl. The otters probably don’t even know it’s raining – they’re almost always wet anyway.

River Otters in the Wildlife Center

The Museum works hard to give the best life it can to these rescued, injured or otherwise survival-impaired creatures. Every day, in the sylvan, generously designed Wildlife Center, the staff invests their care and expertise to make the animals’ lives as rich and natural as possible, at the same time providing all that is needed for their health and long life.

We know these particular creatures could not live out there in the wild.  But one cannot help but wonder if they have a sense of their own fragility. While the animals don’t mind the rain or snow, I wonder if they mind the wire net and sweet-scented wood of their enclosures.

I’ve often thought that compassion for animals is an easier emotion to summon up and even feel more deeply than what we feel for many people. I have thought this is because people have the potential to understand and adjust to what hurts or distresses, and to whatever extent possible, choose to make the effort to rise above it.  We think animals are less able – maybe unable – to do this.  They can adjust, but can they understand? Can they understand that, because their wing is injured or their eye occluded or a foot was lost to a steel trap that they are better off sequestered here? Certainly, in captivity, they have no creative choices or capacity to change their situation. If they did, I wonder, would they choose to stay and be safe? Would they choose our interventions over letting nature take its course – no matter how hard or harsh that course might be?

Scarlet

We will never know what the animals think about our caring for them.  But it seems there is evidence that many of them do what is in their nature to do to remain as wild and independent as possible. Scarlet chooses the open air – the high exposed platform in her enclosure, to the cozy den provided for her.  The coyotes sleep on top of their dens, or under trees – never inside, no matter how cold or wet.  The raptors ruffle and preen through the storm, high in their trees and perches, emblems of endurance and acceptance.

And I wonder, as I wander along the winding paths of the Center, about what they are thinking and hope, if perhaps they are not happy, then at least they are content.

Wading Through Joy in Royal Heights

Across the street and a few houses down from mine, the owners of a typically ‘relaxed’ Cleveland Heights home have made their front yard into a child’s story-time playground of the imagination.   Grass and flowers have been replaced by a jumble of stones across which are assembled an ever-shifting ramble of scenarios, played out in miniature; toy cowboys and Indians, Storm Trooper and Super Hero action figure battles, tiny tea parties and idyllic farm scenes.

Little Green Men

Scout Pig.

These scenes change on a regular basis so on weekly walks around the neighborhood you are invited to stop and see what’s new.  Have the Storm Troopers encountered the cowboys?  Did the tea party get overrun by farm animals?  What new stories have been suggested by the Lego creatures now climbing the rocky cliffs or the green army men lying in wait for the sheep?

While these scenes change, one area of the yard has not – the serene Japanese pebble river that winds around and down from a green hillock in the middle of the yard, in the center of which a shark’s fin rises in mock menace, heading toward the sidewalk – and you. 

This is the most inventive and out-of-the-box front yard I have encountered on my walks around the “Royal Heights”* neighborhood, but not the only one where residents have taken a playful attitude to landscaping.  A row of painted sports balls (bowling, soccer, basketball) on broomsticks instead of flowers blooming below a front porch.  A delicate Victorian teacup and saucer on a small pedestal, nestled among a glorious spray of lavender just at the sidewalk edge of the driveway – a delight for the passerby, more than the home owner.

I could go on and perhaps will in future postings.  The point I want to make, however, is that there is something special about Cleveland Heights that invites creativity.  The City itself has a tag line; “Home to the Arts” which refers in part to the fact that so many of the people who support and deliver the arts to the community live here.  We abut University Circle where the Art Museum, Orchestra, Natural History Museum, Botanical Garden, Case Western University and nearby the Cleveland Clinic, are located.  So we are rich in artists, arts workers and educators as well as doctors and scientists – all people for whom imagination is key.

And it is clear that this attribute of imagination and its partner, a sense of play, have permeated the culture of the community.  Here, no one would bat an eye if you planted your whole front yard in wild flowers, or set out a bucket of sidewalk chalk and invited all passersby to leave a message or a draw a picture. (Actual examples I have encountered.)

I love this eclecticism.  It speaks of tolerance, inclusion, and a kind of shared joy that sustains me as I wade through the shared creativity and generosity of spirit spilling onto the sidewalk on my daily travels through my “Royal Heights.” (Named informally by the residents on Queenston, Kingston, Princeton and Canterbury Roads.)

A motley crew

Babes in the Weeds

 

 

 

 

RAVEN: Evermore Wild and Wonderful

Image resultIn the clean, well-appointed raptor center, home to birds of prey temporarily off-exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the newest resident took its first steps (hops and flaps, really) into its private apartment.

Sleek as satin, darker than deep space from beak to eye to claw, the raven never hesitated: two hops out of the large carrier which had been its transport, and up onto the head of its courier, the wife of the museum’s chief naturalist. (One could not help thinking of Poe’s ‘bust of Pallas.’) From there it accepted an offered wrist, raised high to support a full view of the room-sized, airy enclosure; its nonchalance like that of a potentate who knows all doors will open, and the path ahead will be strewn with jeweled rugs.

How I wanted it perched on my wrist – to have the privilege of acceptance by this wild, fierce and fearless being!

What is it that makes some of us yearn for and even seek after communion with the wild things of the world? And what makes some of us fear the wild to the point of desiring its extinction? Is it the ‘wild’ that remains in us, unconsciously needing release — or repression?

I think of these things as I spend long hours watching the animals in the Museum’s Perkins Wildlife Center – un-mindful of us and unselfconsciously just being who and what they are.


Fun Facts About Ravens.

  • They are among the smartest animals – as smart in their own way, as dolphins and chimpanzees.
  • They play.  Ravens make ‘toys’ – sticks, pine cones, found objects like golf balls – to play with one another , or just to amuse themselves.
  • They recognize specific people and other birds they like as well as those they don’t like and can remember them even after not seeing them for up to three years.
  • They often hide their food and, if another raven is watching, will pretend to hide it in one place then secretly hide it in another.
  • They are empathetic, often consoling one another over the loss of a mate.
  • They have been known to push rocks on people who were getting too close to their nests.
  • In Norse mythology, Odin had two ravens; Hugin (Thought) and Munin (Memory), who he sent out each day to return and report to him of the doings of the world.

A Small Howl Against One American Tradition: Violence Toward Nature

“American policymakers have always needed enemies, and with wolves gone, the coyote stepped unsuspectingly into the glare”
― Dan FloresCoyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History

In my retirement I am trying to focus my time and energies on the things I care most about.  One of those things is the natural world. This led me to volunteer for the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.  I’m a member of the Geological Society there, which gives me a chance to learn about rocks and fossils and the stewardship of the environment. Readers of this blog also know I have taken courses in astronomy there, and have waxed amazed by our nearest neighbor in the cosmos, our moon.

Me, with Linus, a river otter.

But the part of the Museum that has captured my deepest and most enduring interest is the Wildlife Center, where I spend two afternoons a week as a Perkins Steward – a kind of animal docent – helping visitors learn about the animals we have there, but also paying close attention to the critters as a part of the Museum’s need to be observant regarding their health and the safety of their environment.

Although I don’t like to use the word, one of the big attractions at the Wildlife Center is the coyote environment.  (The Museum is not a zoo – we do not collect animals for the sake of display or entertainment.)  The Museum is a teaching and preservation institution. All the animals there are either rescued, injured or they have been raised by hand and cannot succeed in the wild.  And all are native to Ohio.

Coyotes Tex, Red and Ember (l-r) on the roof of a den at the Wildlife Center

The three coyotes in the spacious enclosure (Red, Ember, and Tex) that visitors see when they first enter the Wildlife Center were rescued even before they were born, having been delivered from the deceased body of their mother, who was hit by a car, and raised by hand for the first part of their lives. They are beautiful, and despite their sense of familiarity as members of the canine family, they also carry the mystique of the exotic, stemming from our shared history and the lore of the American wild west.

Coyotes remain for us, emblematic of the wild, free spirit we embrace as Americans.  But at a deeper and more elemental level they also call forth the fear and the knee-jerk impetus to eliminate all that threatens to disturb our comfortable, 21st century lives.

I’ve learned a lot about coyotes in recent months and in the process have had to confront some very disturbing facts about myself as an American – someone who has often taken pride in the independence and rugged individualism that is part of my unspoken birthright as a native-born U.S. citizen. This was brought home to me from reading a terrific book, Coyote America by Dan Flores (read a transcript from an NPR interview with Mr. Flores here) and from a recent news article about how America is the most violent country in the world.

What is it, in us, that instantly defaults to rejection, to the point of desiring elimination, of anything not comfortably within our limited understanding and experience? A case can be made here for not just animals and people who are different, but ideas, traditions and values as well.  Why are we so threatened by sharing space and resources with those not of our immediate tribe?

Setting aside our country’s embarrassing first place rank in murder and gun violence – I believe a direct correlation to our romanticized gun-slinging wild west past – look at what we have done as a nation to kill by violent means anything we consider undesirable in our domination of the natural world: wolves, of course, buffalo, otters, the passenger pigeon, among many, many other animals – and coyotes.  The story of our efforts throughout the 19th and 20th centuries to eradicate* these clever, adaptable, wholly native American animals is shameful and sickening. And, like our efforts to do the same with so many species, resulted in some very negative consequences for us that we were too stupid or arrogant to foresee.

Yes, coyotes scavenged some of the weaker members of the cattle and sheep herds that ranchers had brought in to graze the vast plains once the buffalo herds had been slaughtered. But then the rabbit population soared, devouring the grass that the domesticated livestock needed to survive and forcing farmers to fence their crops against the proliferation of voracious rodents.  And when wolves were re-introduced into the national parks after having been hunted to extinction, the booming coyote population was reduced to a level that allowed both species to co-exist successfully.

Everything has a place in the order of things, and that order, if it is to remain balanced, must be allowed to sustain itself, with as little manipulation and savagery from us as possible, for the long term – centuries if not eons. This is as true of coyotes as it is of glaciers, fruit bats, the ozone layer, coral reefs, and bees.


FUN FACT: Coyotes are able to manage their own populations.  Females can conceive up to 15 pups in times of scarce resources to ensure that enough survive to carry on.  They can also limit their reproduction to just a few pups to maintain a sustainable population and not overrun their environment’s food supply.

ANOTHER FUN FACT: According to experts, due to their (yes) wiley and highly adaptable nature, it can be reasonably calculated that a coyote is now no farther than one mile away from every person in America – no matter where you are.


* More than 1 million coyotes killed a year during the last decades of the 19th and early 20th centuries, through shooting, trapping, poisoning and biological warfare: inoculation with canine-deadly disease.

 

 

 

No One is Alone

”People make mistakes, holding to their own, thinking they’re alone.”  No One is Alone, from Into the Woods, by Steven Sondheim

Yesterday, while working the Times crossword and finishing my second cup of coffee, a centipede slithered out of nowhere, weaseled its way across the carpet and disappeared under the coffee table.

Last night I fell asleep reading about the ancient connection between humans and coyotes. This canid, according to the author, is now present within one mile of anyone in America, including me, reading in bed.

Later, I was awakened by the distinct odor of that white-striped denizen of suburbia passing through my backyard.

This morning, a rabbit, a squirrel, a chipmunk and an assortment of birds foraged peacefully together among the leavings from the bird feeder. Each danced unconsciously around the other, minding, yet not minding at all, the act of sharing sustenance and space.

*   *   *   *

When asked, I say I live alone.  But none of us do. While I certainly could do without the centipedes, and maybe the skunks, I’m certain they have a place in the grand order of things, and so I am content to live with them.

The order of things — a frighteningly fragile construct, requiring balance between need and greed.  Between owning and sharing – space or resources. Between caring for ourselves and others. So I could not help feeling a seismic shift in the order of things as I read that, following the America First President’s trip abroad, Angela Merkel declared that now, Europe is on its own.

Objets de ma Vie

First in a series of meditations on things collected from my life.

Let’s begin with this small stone; not two inches long, not an inch thick. It sits on a shelf in the living room, amid photos of past travels.

Rusty brown and gray-green, worn unevenly by time and who knows what other forces that shaped the here and now of its existence.

Plucked, blind, from the bottom of an icy pool; water, clear as air.

The stone, unremarkable except that it echoes, in memory at least, the stepped wall; water, falling loudly, feeding the stream and the forest pool. Water bouncing off the staircased rock of the wall. Water, plummeting; cascade upon cascade into the tiny gorge; the secret gorge, happened upon while wandering alone in the towering rhododendron forests of West Virginia.

First, the sound of water, rushing, somewhere ahead. Then, almost a path through the improbable looking-glass shrubs, last remnants of their extravagant bloom pinking the white sand-red clay forest floor. Almost a path but not quite.  Perhaps a deer’s trail, or beaver’s, scribing a tentative diagram of their wild empire, their invisible existence.

Sound rising as the filter of leaves thins and a splash of sky is seen up and ahead. Sound rising to the white noise pitch of silence. Rising, crowding out all distraction, honing and focusing attention at the nerve-edge of other senses.

Step forward. The air in the clearing; sharp.  Everything microscopically defined through the diamond lenses of fractured molecules flung from the crashing falls. Ozone so thick as if a fish, breathing water.

Another step and the screen of green closes behind. The clearing of the pocket gorge, a private room. And on the smooth blue surface, the polished blue table of the pool – an invitation.  
Now, sitting in this small room, early in the still-dark morning and late in the darkness of a darkening year, this touchstone plucks a bright chord of remembrance, a quiet note of something shining; another invitation.

The dark is not forever. There will be clearings. A pool – un-rippled by the deafening cascade of dissonance, waits.  Come. Dive deep. Seek the silence. Pluck and hold and keep the bright thing, hidden beneath the din.

Here is a poem I wrote some time ago about ‘collected things’ and the memories they evoke.The Things We Cling To

Serendipity

Happiness kanjiAs Friday’s events launched a new and uncertain era in our country and the world, I was struck by the seredipity of the January 20 entry from 365 Tao: Daily Meditations by Deng Ming-Dao, a book that has offered me daily insights for many years. Here is the entry.

HAPPINESS:  Let us not follow vulgar leaders who exploit the fear of death, and promise the bliss of salvation. If we are truly happy, they will have nothing to offer. . . . If we attain freedom from the fear of death, a sound way of health, and a path of understanding through life, there is happiness and no need for false leaders.

 

And this from Carl Sagan, On Moving Beyond Us And Them, written shortly before his death.  From the wonderful Brain Pickings Newsletter.

 

 

 

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