Thursday, October 31, 2019

Hydrangea Bear

Here in New England, i often see scarecrow-type figures out on people's lawns at this time of year. My favorite this year is a bear made of dried hydrangea blossoms.

Isn't it funny how i say "bear" and see "bear," but there's no bear there at all? This is what our perception does--sees resemblances and patterns and names it "bear." Like the constellation Ursa Major (big bear), which includes the Big Dipper. There's no dipper, and there's no ursa (or bear). We are simply naming the pattern.

Our entire world is made of these perceptions. Fear is one of them. Anxiety another.

But this is the time of year when we sort of like to be scared; we like to scream--especially if we're trick-or-treating with friends.


Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Calavera Norteamericana

Mexico has its Calavera Catrina--dancing skeletons celebrating Dia de Muertos. Once in a while, i find a New England version of La Catrina. This one has long white hair, a long skirt, and many scarves. She sort of looks like someone i know.

Actually, we all look like this skeleton. But we are so busy looking at the packaging--the body shape, the skin, the clothes--that we fail to notice what's inside the package. Bones. Bones that will remain much longer than the lifespan of our flesh-and-blood bodies.

One meditation practice is to walk down the street, and simply notice the skeletons all around you. What a great practice to celebrate these next few days of Dia de Muertos.

For one of these days, we all will be muertos.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Glowing Mums

As i'm sitting at the breakfast table, i look across the lawn to the woods. There, in a 3-foot square corner, i've planted some eye-popping mums, which are a pleasure to look at.

This little area is not an official flowerbed. It's usually just background. In the spring, it's filled with forget-me-nots and ferns in the summer.

But as i look across my now barren flowerbeds, the mums make me happy.

In the autumn of our lives, as age muddies our sense doors and hearing, seeing, smelling, and tasting become more fuzzy and indistinct, where do we find our happiness? Happiness despite outer conditions.

The mums glow even on a rainy day.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Japanese Maple

I am loving my Japanese maple trees right now for their brilliant red leaves, which really stand out against the bare branches of trees around them. The red leaved-tree is a focal point--a place where my eyes rest every time i look out the kitchen window.

In meditation, our focal point is often the breath or body sensations. Our focus aims to keep our mind tethered to the body. Since the body is always in the present moment, tethering the mind to the body puts the mind in the present moment also.

Garden Zen.
Red maple
Falling leaves.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Fall Anemones

Fall anemones are still blooming in white or in pink. These tall, graceful flowers light up the fall garden.

Several years ago, i focused on buying fall-blooming plants, so nowadays, i have a blooming garden throughout September and into October.

In meditation, we set an intention at the beginning of our sitting practice. This morning my intentions were to name the hindrances and, especially, to be aware of the early warning signs of dullness (my most frequent hindrance). Bit by bit, our meditation comes into alignment with our intentions.

Plant by plant, our gardens come into alignment with our intentions.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Still No Frost

Still no frost.

Global warming is happening right here in my garden, in my yard. I used to bring houseplants indoors on Labor Day. Last year, the first frost came in mid-October. This year, it will be November.

Oh, there have been some close calls. It was 33 degrees when i woke up one morning last week. By 7 a.m., the thermometer said 32 degrees. The rain on the outdoor table had turned to ice. But the dahlias were still blooming.

My neighbor's garden, downhill and about 100 feet lower in elevation than mine, was frosted in mid-October.

Aging is like being on a battlefield. People (or plants) are dying all around you, and you are still standing. You don't know why.

Gratitude for the life--and death--that is all around me.

Friday, October 25, 2019


The difference between a weed and a flower is one of judgment. In the spring, i allow wild asters to grow in my flowerbeds because they add a white or lavender mist of color in the fall. When their flowers have finished blooming in October, i pull them out as if they are weeds.

What about those people we would like to pull out of our lives? Those weedy people whom we have a little grudge against, those weedy people who rub us the wrong way. It's all a matter of judgment--ours.

The fault lies not with "them," but within ourselves. Even then, we have already judged ourselves as having a fault, but since it's too ugly, we cast out our projection and land that fault on someone else.

The fall asters are not to blame. They are simply being their aster-ish selves.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Full Solarium

My solarium is packed full of all the flowerpots from the front step, the back step, and in front of the garage. Geraniums and petunias are blooming as is one agapanthus. I even have cherry tomatoes growing in one pot. Not sure how those got there.

Some annuals, such as coleus, are leggy and woody, and i don't expect them to last long. I take cuttings in order to root them.

As much as i like to keep old plants, some plants have a short lifespan. In order not to lose them completely, i keep taking cuttings.

Death is certain. The time of death is uncertain.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Bear-Proof Compost Bin

My neighbor, Ahren, showed me his bear-proof compost bin. Made out of 2x6's and "nailed" into the ground with rebar rods, this compost bin is heavy-duty. The bears won't be getting into this bin nor tearing it apart nor rolling it away.

What kind of protection do we use when a bear-of-a-problem is lurking in our minds?

Our number one defense is mindfulness. Our number two defense is not putting ourselves in problematic situations. As soon as we notice worry, for instance, we remember that worry is not a healthy habit, and we redirect our minds toward an antidote. Mindfulness, for instance. Or gratitude.

Let that problem compost itself.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Ground Cherry Surprise

While cleaning out a flower bed, i found a surprise. Ground cherries!

Ground cherries are a husk tomato, similar to a tomatillo, but much smaller, sweet, and yellow-orange when ripe.

I planted them one year, but found that my growing season wasn't really long enough. Plus they're small and, therefore, labor-intensive to harvest. Even though that was years ago, these ground cherries keep showing up in unexpected places. I suppose they go into my compost and, from there, into various vegetable or flower beds.

We need to be careful about what mental seeds we sow in our minds and what action seeds we sow in our behavior. "Just this once" lays down the track for a habit, which becomes easier and easier to follow.

Let's sow sweet and delicious seeds of kindness and patience.

Monday, October 21, 2019

More Beans

My pole beans kept producing beans into October, right up to the first frost. I was astounded.

My sweetie groaned. "Not more beans!"

I felt delighted. "Yes! More beans."

Our freezer is already full of green beans.

"But look at those big beans," he said.

"Yes!" I said. "Just look."

I grew up on overcooked green beans. My sister calls them hundred-hour beans. With shreds of ham from a ham hock, and a lot of onions, the beans are more like a stew than a fresh vegetable. Tasty (according to me).

This little civil war in the kitchen continues. Yes. No. I want. I don't want.

Fortunately, we remain civil and kind to each other.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Pink-Orange Dawn

This morning's dawn startled me with pink-orange clouds in a blue sky.

Any day can dawn with startling news--news that we didn't expect, news that we don't want. Surprise!

We know and yet we don't know that Life can go in any which direction. Some of us have more resilience than others. Some of us have more tolerance for ambiguity.

A new day dawns. And i am startled.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Raining Yellow Leaves

A heavy rain last night rained yellow leaves off the maples, the birches, the hickory, the ash. The yellow leaves that were up above yesterday are now down below my feet.

The world is upside down. The sun sinks lower and faster. Fall is falling through my hands, into my lap, onto the ground. I can't catch or stop any of it.

Life flows through my fingers.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Breathe In Sweet Bouquets

Related image
by Guest Blogger, Dawn Downey

I was the only black person touring 30 Americans--an exhibit of American life seen through the lens of thirty contemporary black artists. I felt out of place among the white onlookers, even though I was an onlooker, too, gawking at my own life. Four hundred years of black emotions—mine, the artists’, our ancestors’—compressed into claustrophobic passageways and alcoves. 

I chuckled at a historical montage of black hair. Yup, I’ve used that hot comb, endured the sizzle and odor of burning hair. I levitated with joy at the human-shaped sculpture made entirely of flower blossoms. You couldn’t identify gender, race, or age. Yes, let me see only gardenias when I look at my enemies. Let me breathe in sweet bouquets, instead of noxious opinions. But as soon as each happy piece disappeared from my sight line, its inspiration evaporated. 

Maybe I have a greater capacity for despair than optimism. Despite the intermittent uplift, four hundred years squeezed me down to: It’s hopeless to be black in America.  

Read the rest of this post at

Find out more about Dawn Downey at
Dawn Downey

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Beneficial Ladybugs

Image result for suddenly ladybugs
Suddenly, ladybugs are everywhere. Crawling in the window casings, flying, even swarming.

Ladybugs are a beneficial insect. They eat aphids, mealy bugs, and other pests, so i like to see them crawling around on my houseplants.

Let's be as beneficial to the ladybugs as they are to us.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Alyssum & Nicotiana

Midway through October, the perennials have petered out, and the annuals rule. White clouds of alyssum puff along the sidewalks and patio. Nicotiana stars smell intoxicating at night. A little verbena here; a little silene there. Color!

Six months ago, i sprinkled alyssum seeds along the edges everywhere. One teeny tiny seed gives rise to a white cloud of joy.

Now in this closing-down season color and fragrance prevail. May it be so in the closing-down season of my life.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Delicious Dogwood Fruit

My variegated dogwood tree (Cornus kousa x wolf eyes) has lots of red fruit this fall, which makes the tree look quite festive. The fruit is small and delicious. I think it tastes like paw-paws; someone else thinks it tastes like a cross between mango and pumpkin.

I love a tree or shrub that looks interesting in at least two seasons. The variegation of the dogwood makes it interesting to look at in spring and summer, and now in the fall, it looks rather Christmas-y with red balls of fruit hanging all over it.

I planted a fruit tree without knowing that i was doing it!

Our meditation practice yields the fruit of the spiritual path. Two of the first fruits are equanimity and fearlessness. Both of those sound delicious. Calm and freedom from fear.

Even beginning meditators notice the calm of meditation. There it is. The first fruit waiting for you to notice it.


Sunday, October 13, 2019

Chinese Forget-Me-Not

Chinese forget-me-not (Cynoglossum) is the show-stopper of this late fall season. It's sky blue flowers grab the attention of visitors to my garden. "What's that?" they ask.

I pull up the dead ones and hand the entire plant to my visitor. "Here. You'll have it next year."

Each blue-blue flower turns into a tiny bur of a seed. I often find dozens of them sticking to my pants legs or gloves or shoes. This sort of sticky seed is called a hitchhiker because you can carry it for miles, unaware of your role in the dispersion of this plant.

The word "meme" originally meant a behavior or gesture or manner of speaking that is transmitted by repetition and replication (in a manner analogous to the biological transmission of genes), such as when you find yourself sounding like your mother or using your good friend's turn of phrase or gesture.

When we clean up our moral act, we can transmit kind and caring words and gestures. And isn't that what we truly want to do? Perhaps especially in our polarized society, where memes of meanness and even cruelty are too often perpetuated.

Forget me not mindfulness.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Bandana Protection

Image result for dog wearing bandana in the woods
It's hunting season here in the north woods. Time to wear bright orange or dayglo yellow when i go for a walk. Neighbors tie red bandanas around the necks of their dogs.

The subject is deer. Those sweet Bambis who graze in our yards. Deer are so over-populated (30 per square mile instead of the optimum 18) that they are desperate for food. Our rhododendrons and other shrubs suffer. My star magnolia has a "waist" at deer nose height where all the buds and branches have been nibbled.

Deer also carry deer ticks, which in turn are carriers of Lyme disease.

We want to protect ourselves and our loved ones when we are walking in the woods. This wish can be incorporated into our loving-kindness phrases: May i be safe and protected. May i be safe from inner and out danger.

Loving-kindness is our antidote to fear. Fear of hunters, fear of ticks, fear of our own minds.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Leopard Moth Caterpillar

Amazing how many butterflies are still flitting about. And what about all those caterpillars? Today i saw a BIG black fuzzy one with red skin underneath. Turns out this is a leopard moth caterpillar, which i cannot say i have ever noticed before.

This is the fun of nature-watching. Seeing beautiful and amazing creatures I have never seen before. Though i'm pretty sure they've been here all along. I just haven't been paying close attention.

Paying close attention is what meditation is about. We begin to notice things we have previously breezed right over.

For instance, i've been paying attention to how i fall asleep in meditation. I can tell you the precursors. Sometimes i can even catch myself falling asleep.

This is one definition of awakening: When falling asleep wakes you up.

Image result for leopard moth
Leopard Moth photo by scooterwolf

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Gray Turkey

A flock of turkeys often visit the field near my vegetable garden. Yesterday, i did a double-take. A gray turkey with white wings strolled in their midst. The turkeys didn't seem to notice this difference.

We all know that a turkey is a turkey. One is not better than another. No difference except feathers.

Do we know--really know, deep in our bones--that skin color is also no difference. Except that we act as if there is a difference.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Little Shop of Horrors

Image result for spikenard aralia
Several years ago, i planted spikenard (Aralia racemosa) as a big background plant in my woodland garden. Last spring, i found several spikenard seedlings in a 30-foot radius from the original plant. I began to get a sinking feeling--this was going to be way too many five-foot tall plants. The closer i looked, the more seedlings i found. Finally, i asked the gardener to dig the original plant out of the ground and throw it on the burn pile. I didn't want to take any chances with this plant, which i nicknamed Audrey, after the monstrous plant in The Little Shop of Horrors.

The gardener chopped off the greenery and dug around the plant and got down to a five-foot wide woody rootball. Oh-oh. Dangerous! It took her more than an hour to uproot the little horror.

Sometimes we plant habits in our life, thinking how beautiful we are going to look with this habit. My mother, for instance, smoked cigarettes like Bette Davis. And she did look beautiful. But... Then it's awfully darn difficult to get away from that habit. The root is thick and deep.

Today the gardener discovered another big spikenard growing in the opposite corner of the garden. Oh-oh.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Fire Fly Cherry Tomato

Image result for tomato fire fly
My favorite cherry tomato this summer was Fire Fly, an All-America Selection for 2019. This blond, pale yellow tomato surpasses even my very favorite Sungold.

I'm just now harvesting my very last tomatoes. Alas, the tomato season has come to an end, as we must also.

I'm taking training at hospice to become an Advance Directive volunteer. But first, i need to update my own directive for the end of my "season" here on earth.

When tomato season ends, i simply pull the dead tomato plant out of the ground, and store away the tomato cage. When the season of a human body is coming to an end, the decisions are not so simple.

Have you filled out your Advance Directive? Named your agent? Given them instructions for what to do when you can no longer speak for yourself? It will be so much easier for you and your family if you take care of this.

Monday, October 7, 2019


Image result for pole beans
I am still harvesting green beans--a basketful every day. In the midst of all that greenery, some beans have escaped my notice and become big bean-y beans; others are young and tender. No matter. I blanch and freeze both. My sweetie insists on labeling the big beans so that when he takes a bag of beans out of the freezer, he'll know what he's getting.

Labeling our meditation object is a good practice to remind ourselves what we are doing in meditation. Hearing. Hearing. Or Feeling. Feeling. Or even Seeing. Seeing. Labeling is a big help in our mindfulness practice.

I'm wondering if i can be mindful enough to pick my pole beans every day.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Yellow Leaves

Poplar, Yellow Leaves, Falling Leaves, Autumn
Yellow leaves are falling, falling. A blizzard of golden leaves in the air. A carpet of sunny leaves on the ground.

Leaves that were once high up in the treetops, fluttering in the air now lie in stillness on the earth.

Fall. Falling. Change. Changing.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Earth Worms are Migrating Too

Image result for earthworms
Birds are flying south. Monarch butterflies are winging south. Snowbird friends are migrating to Florida, North Carolina, or Arizona for the winter. 

Earthworms are migrating too. They head deeper down into the soil to spend the winter below the frostline. Here in the North Country, that's at least 3 feet deep.

As you consider the cool and cold seasons ahead, where do you want to burrow down?

There are lots of distractions out there, but what does your heart of hearts really, truly want? Listen.

Mine wants to burrow into a couple or three particular meditations. I want to burrow into the subtle dullness that so often arises. I want to practice loving everybody. Yes, that's right. Everybody. That's where i'm burrowing this winter.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Wild Grapes

While on retreat last week, i took several quarter-mile walks along the country road which is more like an extension of the retreat center driveway. Every few hundred feet, i could smell grapes! Wild grapes. So deliciously grape-smelling.

I picked a few. The grape skins were sour; the seeds were mouth-puckeringly sour; and the inner grape--well, it was sour too. Oh, but that smell of grapes was over-powering.

The sourness of New England grapes stems, in part, from the acidic soil in which they grow.

What's your inner mood? What's your "inner soil"?

Meditation helps us change our natural mood setpoints toward positivity. When the inner climate is sunny, the words that come off your tongue will be sunny too.