Thursday, December 31, 2020

Old Year, New Year

 "What the heck is this?" my sweetie asked. He was lying prone on the kitchen floor, peering under the refrigerator. "Give me something long."

I handed him some extra-long chopsticks.

"No, longer."

I handed him the fire poker from underneath the wood stove.

"It's brown. Ugh. What is this?" He held up a mummified pomegranate.

"Well, that's been there for at least a year," i said. "I only buy pomegranates for winter solstice, so...."

"A year? How about twenty?" he asked.

The old year dies today. All of us cheer "Hooray! Goodbye 2020. We are done with you. Goodbye. We can hardly wait to see the backside of this COVID year."

Another year of my life has gone. Everything i cherish will change and vanish. I cherish my life, and one year of it has vanished. I can see/feel the moments vanishing as i type these words. Each moment arising and passing, faster than i can say "pomegranate."

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Extruding Ice


We hiked on a wet hillside on a 33 degree day, and ice crunched underfoot. The water had frozen into ribbons of ice called extrusions. Water, which would normally be in the ground, expanded as it froze and "grew" or extruded out of the ground. Continued water seepage underground forces the extrusions up above the soil and leaf litter.

It looks like i'm hiking on crystals. It sounds very crunchy.

An oft-repeated behavior--gesture or word or thought--crystalizes into a habit. The habit hardens into our character and becomes our personality. That's who we think we are. By the time we're old, our personality can be downright crunchy. Perhaps you know someone like this.

Let the water flow through your life. Let Life flow through your life.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Watercourse Way

The melting snow shows the flow of water through my lawn--something that is normally invisible to me.

The leach field on the north side of the lawn melted. Unusually, i can see the path of the pipe leading from the septic tank to the leach field.

The snow on the septic tank melted first. This snowmelt is usually one of the first signs of spring, but i know that, in December, Mother Nature is just teasing me.

Another waterway is the footing drain from the house, which feeds into my small fishpond and then drains off into a swale, leading, 200 feet downhill, to a seasonal and unnamed stream.

These two waterways are tangent to each other--so close, yet asymptotic, not touching.

How often, in our lives, do we almost, but not quite, touch another person? We chatter on about our lives. They yammer on about theirs. Are we touched? By their joy? By their pain? By their delight?

Too often, our comparing mind compares my experience to theirs and judges it accordingly. Two streams flowing in different directions. Yet we will all meet at the river of Life.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Tracks of Mother Nature

The melting snow shows the footsteps of Mother Nature. The bounding tracks of squirrels melted first, looking like giant footprints through the snow.

Animals are looking for food, water, and shelter, so their tracks usually tell one of those stories. These melted squirrel tracks come from the apple tree in our yard straight to our deck, where the bird feeder is.

If we could see our own invisible tracks, they would show us going from one craving, one desire to another. Refrigerator. Music. Computer. Where did i put my phone? TV. Toilet. Bed. Refrigerator.

If we could see the tracks of our minds, oh, what a merry chase they would lead us! Hopping from one mental desire to another. It can be very instructive to simply write down our stream of consciousness for a few minutes.

Rest your body. Rest your mind. Come home to the here and now.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Winter Harvest


My friend Paula harvested greens from her winter garden--collards and kale.

It's a good thing we have autumn harvest stored away for the winter. It's time to eat from the freezer and the root cellar.

What do we harvest from our lives for our own coming winter?

Now is the time to practice kindness and mindfulness. Now is the time to live your one wild and precious life. Your life. No one else's. Your unique life.

The big chill is coming.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Vacation Day

 Merry Rainy Day. 55 degrees and 2 inches of rain, which melted our 20 inches of snow. 

I took advantage of the thaw to run out to the garden and dig up more Jerusalem artichokes and pull the last of the turnips. Now there is truly nothing remaining in the garden. Nothing. Empty.

Still, i feel delighted to wander around my garden. Some green growing plants give me joy as a warm southern breeze melts more snow.

Winter returns tomorrow. But today, we had a vacation.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Vole Running Around the Bonfire

As the solstice bonfire leapt toward the sky and began to melt the snow in a three-foot ring around the fire, a vole started running around the fire. It surprised us, and i'm sure we surprised it. The fire surprised it. The heat surprised it. 

Voles don't hibernate. Come spring, we can see the tracks of their snow tunnels running this way and that in the brown grass.

I suppose the vole's snow tunnel suddenly melted. The vole was suddenly quite warm. People everywhere. Where to go? It finally took shelter in a small pile of kindling.

You've heard me talk about the voles eating my broccoli seedlings--all 36 of them. The voles take quite a toll on the spring garden. At the same time, mother voles are the most prolific of all rodents, having as many as 12 litters (= 100 babies) each year. Destruction and creation. Quite a keynote for these COVID times.

Where do we take shelter from the social change, change, change that surrounds us?

I take refuge in the Buddha.

I take refuge in the Dharma.

I take refuge in the Sangha.

A more enduring shelter than a pile of kindling.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Icicle Uncertainty

 A very long icicle formed on the corner of the roof--a sword of Damocles poised to drop on the unwary. I kept my eye on it every time i set foot on the deck.

Death is certain.

The time of death is uncertain.

Given this uncertainty, what's the most important thing for you to do in order to fulfill your life's purpose?

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Love Steers the Stars

As soon as our solstice bonfire got started around 6:15, the clouds parted and the half moon shone through. A few more minutes and the stars popped out. Our view of the southwest sky was blocked by hills and trees, but Jupiter and Saturn set at 6:19 and 6:20, so we weren't going to see the Great Conjunction anyway.

Since the planets were conjunct at zero degree Aquarius, some astrologers say this is one more step toward the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.

Peace will guide the planets.

And love will steer the stars.

May it be so.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Yellow Hibiscus

In the spring, i bought a yellow hibiscus and planted in among pulmonaria, forget-me-nots, and blue salvia. I forgot all about the hibiscus until just before the first frost. I dug it up and brought it indoors, where it is blooming so much better.

My sweetie can't remember its name, so he uses a mnemonic: "Hi! Biscus."

When it bloomed yesterday, i put it on top of the asparagus fern facing the living room. What a bright and happy face to look at as i walk back and forth, hithering and thithering.

The hibiscus remains still and joyful, reminding me of the possibility of un-busy-ness. "Hi! Cheryl." Remember mindfulness? Remember joy.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Frozen Parsley

Just before dark, i went out to the garden and picked all the parsley. At 23 degrees, it was frozen stiff, so it simply broke off, like green icicles, into my gloved hands. I laid it on the kitchen counter to thaw, and an hour later, it was fresh as a daisy. Or maybe i should say fresh as parsley?

What a recovery from life-threatening circumstances! 

One idea that threatens our life is the belief in death.

Look closely. Where is your 5-year-old self? Dead. All the cells in your body have likely been replaced since then. 

Where is your teenage body? Your young adult self?

Where is the last breath you breathed? Gone.
Where is your last heart beat? Gone.
Where is what you saw in the moment before the last eye blink? Gone.
Where is your last thought? Gone. Forever gone.

If every moment dies, and our bodies are dying in every moment, then what--really--is death?

The parsley lives.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Right Wing Flutter

 I was fascinated to watch the birds learn how to use the bird feeder that i put out with the first snowfall. 

I woke up to 6 inches of snow, so i shoveled the deck and threw out a few sunflower seeds, which were promptly covered with more snow. I installed the bird feeder, but the birds kept looking for seed in the usual places--on the deck or on the deck railing.

After about 10 minutes, a titmouse experimented with the bird feeder. Success! A couple of minutes later, the first chickadee flew away with a seed from the bird feeder. Meanwhile, the cardinal--usually a shy visitor--kept looking and looking for seeds. He flew to the back of the bird feeder. He perched on the top of the bird feeder. He landed on the bar in front of the seed buffet and fluttered his right wing to balance, then flew away. Is there such a thing as a right-winged bird?

A dozen chickadees, several titmouses, two house finches, and a junco were all enjoying the common wealth of seeds in the bird feeder, but the cardinal didn't seem to understand how to join in with everyone else.

Finally, after several more minutes, success! The red bird joined the party.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Time to Put Out the Bird Feeder

 Six inches of snow today make it official: It's time to put out the bird feeders!

The bears are supposed to be asleep in their dens.

Doesn't it feel good when your bear of a problem goes into hibernation?

The birds of joy have been there all along, but the mind has been so focused on threats to the self that the negativity bias rehashes that same old problem.

Feed the birds. Feed your joy.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Skeleton in the Living Room

The forecast calls for snow tomorrow, so today my sweetie and i are running around--putting away lawn chairs, storing away any remaining flower pots, and building the solstice bonfire. What shall i do with my Halloween skeleton that has been sitting on the front step?

The lawn chairs are spending their winter vacation in the basement. I turned the flower pots upside down next to the potting shed. The skeleton is sitting in the living room at the moment, till i figure out a better place to put her. Maybe in the solarium?

One retreat center i went to had a real skeleton meditating in the conservatory, surrounded by big-leaf begonias and philodendrons and looking almost jungle-y in the winter.

The Buddha recommends 5 daily reflections: 

  • I am of the nature to grow old. Aging is inevitable.
  • I am of the nature to become ill--whether i want to or not.
  • I am of the nature to die. Death is unavoidable.
  • Everything i cherish will change and vanish.
  • Karma is the only thing i own. (Think of your good and bad habits. That's it. That's what you own.)

Today, fall is aging into winter. It's 14 degrees outdoors. Tomorrow, fall dies to winter with 6 inches of snow.

Having a skeleton in my living room reminds me: every living room will also die.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

One More Minute

The sun is setting one minute later today than it did yesterday! One more minute of daylight at the end of the day. Hooray!

The mornings, however, are continuing to be darker with the sun rising one minute later every day. The balance point is, of course, the solstice--one week from today--when the gain of light outweighs the loss.

Do you hear desire? The desire for one more minute. Simply notice desire when it arises. "I want...." Say it again. And again. Feel how desire feels in the body.

The minute comes. It goes. Desire goes too. Poof!

Monday, December 14, 2020

Drooping Daisies

 My birthday bouquet is impermanent. It's aging into pieces. 

The gerbera daisies drooped on the third day, as they do predictably. So i cut the stems short and floated the flowers in a bowl of water, where they seem to be happy. I am certainly happy looking at them.

Old daisies. Old me.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Broccoli Christmas Tree

 It's finally time to start eating out of the freezer because any remaining vegetables in the garden are frozen. (I'm ignoring the turnips, the Jerusalem artichokes, and the small kale leaves.) I've been preparing my freezer for this day, and it is brimming with possibilities. 

Oops, my sweetie went to the food coop and saw the organic broccoli Christmas tree. He had to buy broccoli. We are having broccoli for dinner. The freezer will have to wait.

Desire strikes. Fresh organic broccoli looks so much better than a cold frozen vegetable.

Maybe tomorrow.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Chewed Up Gourds

The little gourds that decorated my front step have frozen, and somebody is eating them. Or trying to eat them. I find them scattered five feet away from the places i put them, so i suppose a squirrel is trying to carry them off. But are they worth it? Is there any nourishment in a gourd? From the amount of crumbs lying around, it looks like they're not interested in the meat of the gourd.

What do we chew on that provides us no nourishment? Old wrongs? Old grudges? Resentments?

As Pema Chodron says, "Anger is like eating rat poison and waiting for the rat to die."

Grudges and resentments are useless. Really useless. All that (mental) energy to what end?

Take a lesson from the squirrels and forget those grudges. Forget those gourds.

I'm throwing the chewed up gourds into the compost.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Flowers Spell L-O-V-E


For my birthday, my sweetie brought home a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Such a delight to have fresh flowers on the kitchen table.

F-L-O-W-E-R-S spell love. So does T-A-K-I-N-G  M-E  O-U-T  T-O  D-I-N-N-E-R.

Love comes in many disguises. Some are sweet and feel good, like a hug. Some disguises are hard to swallow, such as tough love. And some disguises feel so entirely ordinary that you take them for granted--the air you breathe, the chair you are sitting on, the body that makes you think you are a self or have a self.

This self thinks she's a year older. A year older than what? 

The self is born anew every second.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Taming a Nuthatch

My sweetie is training chickadees to eat out of his hand. Today a nuthatch picked sunflower seeds out of my open hand.

I had to brag that i was the first on the block to hand-feed a nuthatch.

What is it about being the first on the block to....? 

It's fun to brag. I've had this experience, and you haven't. I've got this new toy, and you don't. 

Bragging is a way to reify the self. For a moment, and it is only a moment, i feel better than, superior to that other person because.... I'm so special. For a second or two.

And then the nuthatch flies away.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Winterberry Feast


The winterberry shrub is becoming a bird and squirrel feast. Today several chickadees were eating the berries. Then a squirrel visited.

That wallflower of a shrub is the center of attention now that December has arrived. What fun to look out the kitchen window and see surprise visitors eating to their heart's content.

What contents our hearts? What contributes to our contentment?

Contentment is wishlessness--not wishing for anything different than what is. When we eat to our heart's content, we are satisfied. One definition of dukkha is dissatisfaction.

Look around you right now. What satisfies you? Our negativity bias wants to focus on dissatisfaction. 

Calm down and look at your environment right now. Temperature? How does sitting feel? Desire for food? In a lot of ways, my heart is already content. Simply notice that.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

December Vegetables


Today i harvested the last 3 sprigs of broccoli and one turnip. That's a meal for one--turnip soup and steamed broccoli.

The vegetable garden keeps giving and giving. Even though this offering seems pale by comparison to the abundance of summer, it's enough. 

Thanks to the bright green and purple generosity of the garden.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Injured Cardinal

The day after Thanksgiving, i walked into the woodshed attached to my garage and found a female cardinal. Cardinals are very skittish, so i knew i couldn't approach her directly. I left the woodshed and went around to the side door. When i opened that, she hopped toward the garage and hopped out the open door. She didn't fly. Two of her wing feathers were sticking up.

She hopped across the driveway, toward the compost bins. I didn't see her again after she hopped into a hemlock hedge. I scattered some sunflower seeds around, but The chickadees, however, found the sunflower seeds within minutes.

Ah, well. Nature will take its own course.

I was surprised to see her again yesterday. As i was walking to the compost bin, she hopped out of some very thin cover next to the garage. Hop, hop, hop--across the driveway. She fluttered about 6 inches off the ground for 6 feet. That seemed like progress. I scattered more sunflower seeds on the ground, around the garage, the driveway, the shrubbery.

Just like the cardinal, i too am of the nature to become disabled. Whether i want to or not. Maybe she had a broken wing. Maybe i will break a bone. Maybe her wing was sprained. I too am of the nature to have sprains.

Nature takes its own course.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

No Electrons Running Through the House

The coldest 90 days of the year start on December 9, but it feels like they started December 5 this year. The sun is pale; the wind was strong enough to knock out our electricity. The electricity blinked a couple of times, and then, at bedtime, went out for 45 minutes.

Cold. Windy. Dark.

Pleasant or unpleasant?

It was so delicious to go to bed in the pitch black, before moonrise, with no electrons running through the house. Out like a light.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Doubting Tulips

 I ordered tulips last month--not to plant in the ground. When i don't know [fill-in-the-blank], i come to a complete halt. Doubt assails me.

Where would i plant tulips? Where could i plant tulips? I have no idea. I do not know.

It's interesting to realize that my obstacle is doubt. Previously i would have called it procrastination, but that carries a judgment. My bad, which pretty soon feels like i'm bad for not planting tulips.

But doubt is a different mind quality. Doubt is a worthy opponent. I watch its characteristics. I-don't-know mind  stops me in my tracks. 

Knowing the ways of the I-don't-know mind, i can predict when doubt will show up, and i can guess what will come next. In my case, it's dullness. One obstacle gives rise to another. If this happens in meditation, i doze off. If it happens in the garden, i forget the tulip bulbs.

But i've figured out a way around doubt. My work-around is to plant the tulips in pots and winter them over in the garage. I'll decide where to plant them next spring.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Native Sun Chokes

 It's time for Jerusalem artichokes, which are now marketed as "sun chokes." One friend says sun chokes are better than potatoes. Sun chokes are just a little bit sweet.

I like all the perennial vegetables (and fruits) that show up in my garden. I do hardly anything, and voila! There they are.

If i want to decolonize my diet, sun chokes are a good way to begin. They were grown by the indigenous peoples of North America. They are native to this continent. No fossil fuels were used in the transport of this vegetable. Just foot power. One foot for the spade to dig them up, and two feet to walk them from the garden to kitchen.


Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Skeleton in Bardo

That skeleton i bought at the hardware store for Halloween is still sitting on my front step. She's halfway between holidays, wearing a red scarf and surrounded by fall gourds.

The weather has not yet turned wintry. We are halfway between seasons--no longer fall, but not quite winter.

In Tibetan, the between place is called bardo. We can practice dying by being aware of the stages of falling asleep--that bardo of not awake but not quite asleep either.

The skeleton is in the bardo of between lives. The former fleshly life is gone. Who knows what happens next?

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Welcome and Unwelcome

 This morning i meditated outdoors on the deck at 6:00 a.m. The temperature was balmy and the breeze light. The sun didn't rise until after meditation ended at 7:00.

Welcome December.

I haven't meditated outdoors for more than a month, but if it's over 50 degrees, i sit on the deck and meditate with the birds and the squirrel. (They are doing eating meditation.)

It's too warm for December, and that's unwelcome, but the day was delightful. So easy to spend it outdoors doing some more last-minute chores. Putting up Christmas lights was fun.

We welcome even the unwelcome.

Empty Wreaths

I bought 3 grapevine wreaths at the last Farmers Market of the summer season. The last Farmers Market i could go to in person. Now, the Farmers Markets around me have switched to order on line with curbside pick-up.

I thought the wreaths would be fun to take to the annual wreath-making party at a friend's house, but, of course, she has cancelled that event for this year. So now i'm home alone with 3 empty wreaths. Sigh.

Empty. Thanksgiving empty of friends to eat with, but not empty of friends to share thanks with. A wreath-making party empty of party, but not empty of wreaths.