Another Dog Story May 4, 2017
NOTE: I just received a comment about this post I wrote 6 years ago and wanted to share it with you. The new book is coming along very well. I’ll keep you updated from time to time. XOXO
As I write this I’m agonizing over something that happened earlier this evening. During the summer I live in a remote, mountainous area with curvy, dangerous roads. This evening I was headed to town to attend a lecture by an eminent theologian when I came upon a huge, black-and-white shaggy dog standing in the middle of the road looking very lost and confused.
My first thought was to stop and help it. My second, that it could be sick, rabid, mean, filthy, etc. My third, that I really wanted to hear the lecture. As I slowly passed the dog I looked out my rear-view mirror. It was standing in the road forlornly watching me drive off. I felt as if it were saying, “Please help me.” I considered stopping. I drove on.
That look haunted me all the way into town where I discovered that the lecture had been rescheduled for two hours earlier and everyone had gone home. So I headed for the grocery store, arriving just in time to see the last two employees leaving. They close early on Sunday nights. My only option was to go home. As one who seeks meaning in everything, I wondered: Was I being given a second chance to help the dog? I drove home more slowly than usual, scanning the roadside. If I saw it I would stop, look for a collar with a phone number, try to help.
Halfway home a teen-aged girl dressed in white staggered across the road and flagged me down. She had hit a big shaggy black and white dog which had run off howling, and her car had spun into a ditch. She was shaking violently and limping a bit, and there was a dark red globule of blood above her heart where the seat belt had bitten into her skin. This leg of the road has no cell phone service. While we tried to decide what to do, two more drivers stopped and one volunteered to drive the girl to the next town where she would call her father. I went looking for the dog. After searching along the road and in the woods below the embankment I left without finding it.
Back home I sat on the porch pondering these events. I realize they were not all about me; nonetheless, I can find meaning in them. The message I received was that I chose to listen to my head, which wanted to hear the speaker, instead of my heart, which wanted to help the dog. Had I followed my heart the accident would not have happened. With that realization I saw a small, odd-looking lump on the deck and went over to inspect it. It was a dead hummingbird. Symbolically, hummingbirds are spiritual messengers. The subtle message became a blaring headline: Woman’s Desire to Hear Wise Spiritual Words Trumps Spiritual Behavior!
After my parents divorced then my father died, being smart and “spiritual” became my major sources of comfort and self-esteem. But at what cost? I can write profound things about the meaning of religion and the importance of caring, but has my tendency toward intellectualization dulled my capacity for actually behaving with compassion?
I know I’m beating myself up over this and few would condemn me for a choice most of us have made, but the truth is, someone with more heart would have skipped the lecture and helped the dog. Had I done that it could be happily lying by my side right now where Bear used to snooze. Another dog, another death. Another thing to forgive myself for. At least I buried the hummingbird.
Time Out January 31, 2017
My son brings Izzy, his four year-old golden retriever, to our house. We will dog sit until his family returns from their winter vacation. She’ll be with us for five days. I love this dog, but she’s not easy. She’s big, rambunctious, needy, demanding of attention. Will the time and attention I’m willing to spare be enough for her? I hope so.
We take a little walk. She sniffs around, does her business. Good. We return to the house so I can work and she can rest.
It’s evening. I feed her and leave for my ukulele lesson. When I return home Fred says our daughter has invited us to join them for dinner at their favorite Italian restaurant. We are delighted. Izzy will be fine alone for a while. She’s been here many times. I give her a treat, tell her we’ll go for a walk when I get home, say goodbye.
Over dinner our granddaughters recount last week’s accomplishments. A perfect score on a difficult and important math test. A thrilling promotion from the junior varsity to varsity softball team. Does anything feel better than this time out with them?
Back home, Izzy wakes up from her nap on the kitchen floor. She looks up at me, tail thumping, waiting to see what’s next. I wrap her leash around my shoulders, stuff a green doggy-waste-bag in the pocket of my blue jeans, and we step out the front door. Our little neighborhood is small and secluded so the leash is just a back-up plan in case we run into cars or other late-night dog-and-human-walkers.
I love being outdoors at night. The fresh cool breeze off the nearby lake. The quiet. The shadows. The open space. The peace. No people to talk to. No cars to avoid. A few pale street lights…just enough to keep Izzy in sight. The pleasure of giving her this time out, knowing she’s enjoying it, feeling confident and secure because I’m there with her.
She stops in the middle of the road, sniffing road kill. It’s too dark and the creature’s too long gone to tell what it is. Was. Osprey, raccoon, opossum, squirrel? I look at the stars, happy to wait, enjoying her pleasure. She glances back at me. I step forward, so does she. We move on to the next olfactory infusion. She stops, transfixed. I stop, transfixed. Does she remember I’m here, or is this new smell her entire universe in this moment?
We walk on. She sniffs something else, looks back, reads my body language. “It’s okay. You’re okay,” my body says. She understands and moves on. I’m still her lighthouse. I follow her lead. Knowing we’re connected as surely as if she were on a leash. Gratified that we trust one another so much that she doesn’t have to be tied physically to me. Pleased that she’s free to follow her nose. Humbled that we’re so acutely aware of the significance of each other.
We approach a crossroad. She looks back at me. Looks to the left. Looks to the right. Starts off to the right. No, I think. Left toward the lake is better. No traffic that way. She’ll be safer. I whistle one note. She freezes. Glances back. I point to the left. Just a slight movement of my arm and index finger. She turns around and goes left.
I feel a surge of joy. This moment. This connection with Nature, this utterly delicious intuitive knowing. This trust between two animals who have such different languages and ways of processing life.
So different, and yet….we see each other. We know each other. In some invisible way we are touching each other, our minds sharing the same time and space. It feels magical. Miraculous. We’re part of a mystery so vast my mind can’t encompass it.
But, oh! I can enjoy it. This night under a starry sky. This dog who trusts me, who I trust. This connection to the unknown. I’m filled to bursting with gratitude and love. Does anything feel better than this time out?
Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at Kobo, Barnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.
A Zen Summer August 16, 2016
You trust your unconscious as if it were a loving father. But it is nature and cannot be made use of as if it were a reliable human being. It is inhuman and it needs the human mind to function usefully for man’s purposes. Nature is an incomparable guide if you know how to follow her. ~Carl Jung, Letters Volume 1, Page 283.
Remember Mr. Miyagi, the Japanese handyman who was a Karate master in the classic 1984 film, Karate Kid? Everyone’s favorite part was the way he used hard work, specific movements, and mantras to train Daniel, a misguided youth. “Wax on, Wax off. Sand the floor. Paint the fence. Paint the house.” For Daniel, the work was grueling, pointless and demeaning until, as shown in this dramatic scene, his suffering led to a revelation akin to a transformational spiritual awakening.
Mr. Miyagi comes to mind when I think about this summer in the mountains. I’m a writer and practitioner of inner work and contemplation…not much of a physical doer. I look forward to being here all year, imagining the pleasures of no deadlines, no agenda. I picture myself spending long hours on the porch reading and writing in peaceful meditation. Then I arrive and barely find the time to publish a weekly blog post or finish reading a book.
Here, my life is centered on my granddog Izzy, and Nature. Like Mr. Miyagi, both are exacting masters. Feed birds. Feed fish. Feed dog. Groom gardens. Groom trails. Groom dog. Pick up trash. Avoid poison ivy. Wash dog. Worry about trees. Worry about rain. Worry about dog. Appreciate boulders. Celebrate rain. Pet dog. Four of these were especially prominent this summer.
Appreciate Boulders. I found a new favorite stone on the trail our handyman blazed through the dense forest last winter. It’s huge, mossy, and wrinkled as an old lady wearing a hat of ferns. Or is that Green Man whose face I see in the shadows? I can’t resist reaching out and patting him/her when I pass by. A few days ago I found this in one of my favorite blogs:
“The central symbol of the Zen garden is the stone. For Jung, it signified “something permanent that can never be lost or dissolved, something eternal that some have compared to the mystical experience of God within one’s own soul;” for Cirlot it is “the first solid form of the creative rhythm —the sculpture of essential movement, and the petrified music of creation.” Stones are pure and perfect in their simplicity, yet powerful, mysterious and inscrutable like the gods.” From Symbol Reader, Symbolism of Gardens.
Worry About Trees. The hemlocks are being decimated by a parasite and we’re treating many of them with biennial doses of medicine, but we can’t save them all. On every hike after a big wind I have to remove or circumvent heavy branches and another fallen tree or two. A neighbor across the creek has several dead ones still standing. A few threaten to land on our house.
One evening after a storm with gale force winds we heard a commotion out on the main road. A giant oak had fallen and neighbors with chain saws were cleaning it up. It was there a century ago when the dirt road leading to our property was carved out of the mountainside, and over time its roots were exposed and weakened by erosion. Luckily no cars were beneath it when it finally surrendered to nature’s purposes.
Celebrate Rain. I don’t know what it is about rain, but it feels magical. One evening Fred and I were rocking on the porch and watching black clouds gathering above the mountains when suddenly the ozone-scented breezes and whisper of raindrops coming up the valley transported me to an unusually intense meditative state. Curious, I checked my heart rate on my Apple watch. Within moments my normal resting rate of 61 beats per minute plummeted to a shocking 45. Cool.
A woman too has a peculiar attitude toward nature, much more trusting than that of a man. ~Carl Jung, 1925 Seminar, Page 123.
Was Jung right, or was he still conditioned by some of the prevailing stereotypes about women in the early 20th century? I don’t know. But I do know I am deeply connected to this land. I love it and trust it, and sometimes I worry about it. Will my grandchildren and great grandchildren love it as much as I do? Will they feed the birds and clear the paths and pat the boulders and love the trees enough to learn their names and do their best to protect them?
Feed Birds? Last week Izzy’s fierce barking woke Fred at 1:30 in the morning. Exhausted from a day of “doing,” I was sleeping like a stone. Thinking she had to go out, Fred took her downstairs. But instead of heading for the front door, she stood transfixed at the glass door to the side porch. What was going on?
The mystery was solved the next morning when we found our biggest, sturdiest, squirrel-proof bird feeders mangled on the ground. Only a scattering of seeds remained. Somewhere in the Nantahala National Forest up the mountain a contented bear was snug in its den dreaming about last night’s tasty meal.
The Asian martial arts are rooted in Zen Buddhism and Taoism. Their spiritual elements gave purpose and meaning to the ancient warriors who loved and practiced them.
The same can be said of those of us who find purpose and meaning in loving Nature, our Mother. If our practices have a spiritual element, so do hers. After all, inhuman though she may be, we come from her, and she’s an “incomparable guide if you know how to follow her.”
Credits: Thanks to Lewis Lafontaine for the Jungian quotes. Karate Kid video from YouTube. “Anyone can slay a dragon quote” image by Brian Andreas from www.pinterest.com. “Try not to change the world” quote by Sri Chinmoy from www.srichinmoybio.co.uk
Signs at the Crossroads September 8, 2015
“To understand is quick and exciting but to embody is slow and penetrating.” ~John Tarrant
As I write this post I find myself at a crossroads; it’s my last week in our Smoky Mountain summer home. By the time you read this I will have left. Part of my heart doesn’t want to leave this sanctuary; the other part looks forward to returning to my Florida home and family.
Both places hold special charms for me. Here it’s secluded, cool, mountainous, and forested. Everywhere I go I’m surrounded by nature’s wild beauty. My life is slower, less “mental”, more contemplative and physical—perhaps I should say, “embodied.” I have lots of solitude, plenty of time to listen to my inner promptings and do whatever appeals, a large granddog companion to accompany me on daily hikes, and occasional house guests to enjoy and entertain…all at an easy, reasonable pace that feeds my soul at a deeply satisfying level.
My life in Florida has a different kind of beauty with its daily and weekly routines: regular workouts, ukulele lessons, social commitments, holiday celebrations, and fun times with my family, always with enough time left over to write. The pace is faster and more exciting, given Orlando’s thriving and diverse cultural offerings, but since I prefer a minimum of “fast and exciting,” I usually manage to stay within my comfort level there too.
The meaning of events is the way of salvation that you create. The meaning of events comes from the possibility of life in this world that you create. It is the mastery of this world and the assertion of your soul in this world. ~Carl Jung, The Red Book, Page 239.
The thing that makes dividing my time between these two paths work so well is that I’ve finally learned to listen to how I really want to spend my time and to look for meaning regardless of where I am. In Florida I find meaning in my family and friends, writing, music, and art. Here in the mountains I mostly find it in nature, a road less traveled in our fast-paced world.
I’d like to show you what I mean. These are some of the meaningful signs I’ve found in nature during this crossroads week. Each one speaks to how I want to live my life, regardless of where I am.
This morning I saw this magnificent display of light in the bathroom. It came from a single sunbeam that found its way through the slats of the window blinds.
The first thing Izzy has to do on our walks is chase the trout around the pond while I feed them.
As we stepped onto the trail, the trunk and green necklace circling the base of this beautiful old tulip poplar captured my imagination.
The next thing to catch my interest was this unusual curved tree trunk.
Izzy loves to run ahead, nose to the ground, while I like to take my time on the trail. But she doesn’t go far, and before long, she always comes back to check in.
Yes, she does wait for me, but not always where I would prefer!
She also waits at crossroads to see which way I’ll go.
I think she prefers the road less traveled too.
The other day our friend, Sam, found what we’ve decided is an old moonshine jar almost buried beside the new path. Over the years, Mother Nature has turned it into a terrarium filled with green life. We left it there for Nature to do her thing, and to remind us of the history of these mountains. And to enjoy on our next walk.
We were being serenaded by crows near the end of our walk today when I found a crow feather. At the trail’s end I placed it on our Crow Altar.
This last sign came when we returned from town one twilit evening. I heard a loud rustle in the woodpile and saw a hawk fly up to a nearby branch. It peered down at us with interest and patiently waited while I pulled out my cell phone and took pictures.
Jean Raffa’s “The Bridge to Wholeness” and “Dream Theatres of the Soul” are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at Kobo, Barnes And Noble and Smashwords. “Healing the Sacred Divide” can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.
Artemis and Demeter’s Legacy August 18, 2015
Our children and grandchildren have left now and I’m alone except for Izzy, my son’s golden retriever. She keeps me company when Fred has to be away for a few days. At the moment she’s sleeping contentedly on the bed while I’m writing at my desk. It gives me enormous pleasure to have her and my family here.
The source of my pleasure goes way back and deep within. I spent my early years as a horse- and woods-loving Artemis, the Greek virgin goddess of the wilderness and the hunt…who was usually accompanied by a dog. But Artemis stepped aside during my young adulthood to make room for Athena, daughter of patriarchy and Goddess of wisdom, who helped me with my education, teaching, and soul-searching; and for Demeter, goddess of motherhood and fertility, who showed up when I gave birth to my children.
Like all gods and goddesses of myth, these favorites of mine are humanity’s projections of archetypal energies in every psyche. Nobody activates them all, however. We each have our own preferences that may emerge at different times in our lives…or not at all.
For example, after serving Demeter and Athena faithfully during my young adulthood and middle years, I invited Artemis back. Her desire to expose our children (and, we hoped, grandchildren) to nature motivated our decision in the early 80’s to buy this land in the Smoky Mountains from Fred’s parents and build a cabin on it. Years later she inspired me to buy a horse and add a small pasture and stable where Shadow could live in the summers.
A main feature of the original cabin was an open loft with a bedroom on either side of a bathroom for our teen-aged daughter and son. To our great joy, grandchildren eventually came along. Now our son’s bedroom contains 3 twin beds plus a bunk for the five grandchildren, while our daughter’s old room is an enclosed guest room which her teen-aged daughter recently claimed.
The cabin and land continually evolve with new projects almost every year, always with the family in mind. For a while we entertained the idea of building a tree house for the kids in a stand of giant hemlocks at the top of the mountain. That idea was squashed when the hemlocks were infested with the wooly adelgid parasite. As the dead trees fell we found other uses for them. Most of the wood was chopped into firewood to warm our and our neighbors’ cabins in winter.
Then a few years ago Algie, our friend, neighbor and a gifted builder, used the most promising fallen wood to make a table that would seat the eleven of us. He’d never built furniture from hemlock before. No one around here does because the wood tends to be too soft and twisty and it cracks and warps easily.
But after some experimentation he crafted a beauty. As you can see, despite year-round exposure to the changeable weather, it’s holding up well on the screened porch beside the creek. So are the lights we bought in Mexico to hang over it: eleven rusted metal birds, each with its own Edison bulb…for the light in each of us.
When my family’s here, Demeter’s a proud mother hen keeping an eye on her chicks (and grandchicks) as they enjoy the property and local attractions. The best time is when we return to the nest each evening for a family dinner that everyone contributes to and shares around our special, hand-made table.
Last winter’s project was a new foot trail that branches off the main one into the remote parts of the property. A few places are piled high with dead hemlocks. The rest is dense with poplars, oaks, maples, and tangled masses of wild rhododendron. Until our yard man got hold of it, it was largely unexplored. Now, after a winter of clearing, digging, fortifying and general magic-making, it’s done, and hiking it with Izzy and the grandchildren has become a major pleasure.
On this summer’s visit our nine-year old granddaughter and seven-year old grandson decided to build a playhouse on a levelish space above the waterfall. Initially, it was their secret. Our granddaughter made a detailed design complete with elevations and measurements, (she may have inherited her father’s architect genes…or maybe it’s her mother’s interior designer genes), and they cleared a trail and leveled the space. It wasn’t long before the older three demanded to know what was going on and started helping. Soon, the fathers and Grandpa/Boppy were involved too.
By the end of the week they had constructed an 8 X 10 wood plank floor supported by four 4 X 4 posts. Our son and his sons stayed up late Saturday night to finish the floor, and Fred drove in the last nails Sunday morning after they left. It was the archetypal childhood “build a tree-house with Dad” experience with the added twist of being a waterfall house that is satisfyingly hidden by tree branches all around. They plan to finish it on subsequent visits.
At bedtime the night before they left, our seven-year old grandson wistfully told his mother, “I wish my arms were long enough to wrap all the way around the cabin.” My Artemis and Demeter are still doing a happy dance! Seeds have been sown, and I can rest easy knowing my love for family, nature, and wilderness is a legacy my grandchildren will carry on.
For more on the goddess archetypes, check out Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen’s wonderful books, especially Goddesses in Everywoman. I just finished and enjoyed her latest: Artemis: The Indomitable Spirit in Everywoman.
Jean Raffa’s “The Bridge to Wholeness” and “Dream Theatres of the Soul” are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at Kobo, Barnes And Noble and Smashwords. “Healing the Sacred Divide” can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.
Reflections on Refuge July 7, 2015
“…in the world of inanimate objects, extraordinary significance is attached to nests. We want them to be perfect, to bear the mark of a very sure instinct. We ourselves marvel at this instinct, and a nest is generally considered to be one of the marvels of animal life.”
I sit in my rocker grooming Izzy. She’s unnaturally still. I follow her intense gaze. A Carolina wren sits on the porch railing, a worm dangling from its beak. It looks left and right, up and down, hops closer. A flower box is attached halfway up the wall to my left. When we arrived for the summer I was delighted to discover it contained a nest. How did the birds know how to build it? Now the eggs have hatched.
Izzy and I are only a few feet away. I sit very still, willing the parent to reach the nest before we scare it off. Izzy whips her body around hoping the brush in my hand will scratch the itchy space where her tail and back meet. Startled, the wren flies away. I release my breath slowly, regret having alarmed it, feel like an intruder on my own porch, wish the birds weren’t afraid of us. Izzy noses my hand. I brush her obligingly.
The Smokeys are filled with sources of fresh emotions that remind me of my own instincts. This morning when Fred went out to the porch to enjoy his coffee, a squirrel jumped off the chaise lounge. The yellow wool throw at the end of it was churned into a lumpy mass. Apparently the squirrel had used my cozy wrap for a nest.
It’s been cool and rainy for the past two weeks. When misty drizzles swell into weightier drops the birds desert our feeders. I feel sorry for them, worry about how they’re keeping dry.
Luckily, the wrens’ nest is high and dry under a covered porch. I’m comforted by this when I watch the rain from my rocking chair. Yet, there’s a down side to this location. How were Mama and Papa Wren to know their refuge in this mountain valley is also our nest, and that it would soon be invaded by a four-legged, waggy-tailed, creature as well as some giant two-leggeds?
As living near man-made habitats can be problematic for birds and other wild creatures, so Nature’s sanctuaries can have down sides for humans. On our first walk last summer, Izzy and I were in a narrow space bordered by dense undergrowth when she raced ahead of me past a lethal timber rattler less than 3 feet away. I was both frightened and fascinated, and have avoided that spot ever since. The next day our neighbor came over with his rifle and stalked it. But we never saw it again. Perhaps its instinct for survival compelled it to find a safer haven in a deeper, darker part of the forest. The same instinct makes me wary of such places!
“It is striking that even in our homes, where there is light, our consciousness of well-being should call for comparison with animals in their shelters. An example may be found in the following lines by the painter, Vlaminck, who, when he wrote them, was living quietly in the country: ‘The well-being I feel, seated in front of my fire, while bad weather rages out-of-doors, is entirely animal. A rat in its hole, a rabbit in its burrow, cows in the stable, must all feel the same contentment that I feel.’ Thus, well-being takes us back to the primitiveness of the refuge. Physically, the creature endowed with a sense of refuge, huddles up to itself, takes to cover, hides away, lies snug, concealed.”