Archive | nature RSS feed for this section

Riding with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

2 Dec

I am getting excited about my annual tradition of rereading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which I do every year between Christmas and New Year’s. The action unfolds in Medieval England and begins on New Year’s Eve, finishing a year and a day later.

Image Courtesy of Hurley Century Arts - http://www.cjhurley.com/artwork/gesso-green.php

My favorite translation is a relatively new one, by English poet Simon Armitage.

I am fascinated by the story (an alliterative romance, for the experts) for lots of reasons:

  • Setting – The story is set in the North West Midlands, the general area of England that my ancestors came from. It just seems right that I should be reading this poem.
  • Symbolism – The author (unidentified) interweaves sexual tension and hunting (deer, boar and fox), temptation and self-control (including losing one’s head and giving away a girdle), nature and civilization, the mores of chivalry and courtly love. What else is there to discuss?
  • Story – This poem is an adventure to read. The story stands the test of time. There’s suspense, even though the themes are mostly about human nature. The writer does keep you guessing. And I’ve found that each time I reread it I pick up on a nuance I missed in previous readings.
  • Language – For me, this is the best part. (Caution: My undergrad honors thesis was on Cajun French morphemes. I’ll admit it: I geek out on words.)  I recommend a side-by-side translation. The original was written in Middle English, enjoyable to read because if you abandon all fear of the unknown the language is surprisingly understandable. Just don’t try to decipher every word. Think of the process as an adventure! Anyone who’s learned to read in a different language knows what I mean. The Armitage translation is lovely, because he’s a poet and knows how to do justice to the rhythm, sound and meaning of each word and verse.

Do yourself a favor and give the Green Knight a careful read. Steep yourself in language, and storytelling, at its best.

For those who have interest in learning more about how to intersperse your writing with Green Knights and other such characters, I recommend checking out this  Joseph Campbell book: The Hero With a Thousand Faces. I just found this helpful review from the Fuel Your Writing folks and am planning to give it a read.

Advertisements

Listen Here, Whippersnappers!

29 Nov

In the spirit of being Old Enough To Know Better (the long version name of this blog), I have reached the point in my life (officially 44 on Dec. 20) where I freely offer advice, to just about anyone.

Being old comes with privileges like that. Doesn’t matter whether or not people listen. That’s not the point. How handy to have this blog to help in my endeavor!

Along those lines, this post is a random collection of items that make me happy in life. Of course you want to know about them because they are sure you make you happy as well. Consider my tips an improvement over what you might find in high-brow periodicals, such as Martha Stewart Living, Oprah’s O Magazine or Real Simple—only better. The great thing is that I am sharing these happiness-makers with you for FREE, via my low-brow blog!

Here are five FREE! happiness-makers:

1. Make the bed every morning. No matter what.

This is something that I can easily control, even when the rest of my day is insane. Bonus: When I collapse in bed at the end of a long day, the covers are not in a messy heap. This gives me the illusion that I’ve conquered all chaos in my life.

Extra credit for remembering to sprinkle some baby powder between the sheets while making it…keeps things extra fresh.

2. Sit on a ball, not a chair, while at work.

I am not kidding. Unless you work in a profession that gives you frequent freedom to move about, your body is getting weaker every second you spend in that chair. Scientists agree with me, as empirically proven by this one study, as well as plain common sense.

At least sitting on a physio-ball ($20 from your local Target) keeps you working core muscles while you are sitting, because if you don’t work your core you will fall off the ball. The entire process will make you feel better. Especially the part about not falling off the ball.

Anyone who thinks you’re a weirdo has too much free time on their hands to be worrying about you and your ball…suggest that they get back to work and let you continue being on the ball.  Who can argue with good posture?

Extra credit for one or two backbends during the day, supported by your trusty ball. If you are both self-conscious and stealthy this can be accomplished while co-workers are in the kitchen or on bathroom breaks.

3. Even if you don’t like habits, pick a few that give you comfort and practice them every day.

I like change and don’t enjoy a lot of repetition in my days, so this is not an easy discipline for me. What hooked me on habits is that they are both nurturing as well as efficient use of time.

Getting ready for work or school and arriving at the same time every day is a simple habit that most of us have to do anyway, so that’s easy. Fitting in some time for meditation and journal-writing prior to work is something that I have grown to enjoy. Practicing an instrument is another.

If you have too many habits, make it a habit to drop some of them. This would include frequent trips to the office stash of Reese’s Cups (one of my too frequent habits).

4. Walk more than you do now.

This is something that just about anyone can easily do. I have for many years owned dogs that will drive me crazy if I don’t get them out for a walk or hard playtime in a field. This is terrific motivation.

There are so many little things that I notice about the world around me by moving more slowly than I can by car, and my body is thankful for the chance to blow off some steam and soak up the outdoors. Even in bad weather, being both outside and simply walking gives me a mood boost.

5. Pick one day each week when you will not use social media or electronic devices.

This is very difficult for me. I really hate it at first because I am quite obsessive-compulsive with being “in touch,” but it’s very beneficial for my peace of mind to go off the grid and not be always connected to everyone and everything.

All of it is still be there when I plug back in the next day. Most things can wait and don’t need immediate response. The Arcade Fire’s “We Used to Wait” is a good reminder that not so long ago we communicated with more delay between the send and response.  Immediacy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and being off the grid is a good reminder of how the world keeps spinning without my interventions.

There’s a 30-day money-back guarantee on these tips. I will give you a full refund if you are not happier after putting all of these into practice for a month. Promise!

Bed Bugs and Buddhism

23 Aug

The bedbugs have made me into a better Buddhist. Or Catholo-Buddhist. Or whatever mish-mash of “religions” I’ve become.

Here’s why: I have been a disciplined practitioner of eliminating my attachment to earthly things over the past days.

Meaning I have thrown out A LOT of stuff in a very short period of time. To quantify: One dumpsterful plus a double-load for bulk pick-up.

I thought it would be interesting to explore some Buddhist and Christian quotes on attachment and “worldly” living, made all the more interesting thanks to my new frenemies (props to Eric Calvert), the bedbugs.

Starting with this Buddhist quote:

The greatest generosity is non-attachment.

So, I’m being generous to the city dump, since no one wants my bedbuggy stuff? (Well, I suppose that’s not technically correct. See here for more on people who grew attached to my stuff, thereby taking on my former attachment with the added bonus of bedbugs.)

This next quote (also Buddhist) unmasks the illusion of the uniquely human trait–saving face:

The greatest wisdom is seeing through appearances.

This is a special shout-out to any of my neighbors still speaking to me, after the several days of trash piled on my front lawn, followed by the dumpster sitting in my driveway after that. Now, we’re just back to the small pile of mulch at the bottom of the driveway, with several small trees growing out of it.

Hey, what can I say, that mulch pile was several feet high at the start of the summer. That’s what I call progress! So, even though I appear to be “that neighbor,” I’m really an extremely upstanding citizen wholly focused on saving the world, starting with absolute bedbug elimination.

Here’s one from the Bible:

You adulterous people! Do you not know that
friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a
friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

(James 4:4 (ESV))

Ignore the first part. It’s just a pithy lead-in to the meat. What this quote really means is that I am VERY close to God. I now despise my worldly possessions. Every time I throw a new load in the dumpster, I both curse AND say a little prayer. No matter that it mostly focuses on a swift death to all bedbugs in my near vicinity.

To further emphasize my hatred of my worldliness, all of my earthly possessions are now encased in giant trash bags, so that I cannot even tell what they are. It’s now as if I own almost nothing. I am no longer a friend to the temptations of acquisition. Less is more, because it means fewer bedbugs and less hassle for me.

I’ll admit that I have felt a bit like Job with this bedbug business. Why me, God? I didn’t do anything (seriously) wrong!

Much like Job’s protests, mine haven’t done anything to change my circumstances. Life happens, and it’s up to us to figure out how to deal with it. For now, apparently the best course of action is to downsize.

(P.S. Out of sheer curiosity, I did check for Biblical and Buddhist references to bedbugs and found none (although a host of other insects, including white ants, do crawl into certain verses). But I did find this interesting commentary on whether or not Buddhists are permitted to kill bedbugs. The post also explores some interesting thoughts on what it means to be reborn as a bedbug. Wow.)

Glassblower, Snowdriver

8 Jan

On Christmas Eve, the glassblower awakens molten dripping

On the end of a six-foot stick

And makes it grow like dough in the oven.

He says, “The Gorillaz give me the best beat,

But the glass won’t always shape my way.”

His trouble is to blow enough, and no more.

A fence’s distance away, he wills the glass into itself,

Which is akin to driving in snow and ice.

A tactile challenge: To feel the road,

Hands on a wheel and feet on pedals,

Through machine to four tires and layers of precipitation

To pavement.

In the crush of holiday travel on I-90,

The front tires are my hands, the back my feet

On this road that must be finessed

I can touch its salt and slick,

Divine a slide before its start.

Like the glassblower feels a vessel gel into base, curves and lip,

Without a finger risking burn.

The Company of Canines

25 Aug

I never knew how much I enjoyed the company of dogs until I didn’t have a dog. Over the past month, I’ve said goodbye to two canine companions—one expected passing due to old age and another unanticipated loss initiated by behavioral issues. Neither was easy, and both were quite different grievings.

IMG_0085Hera was a dog we adopted from the Humane Society as a puppy, back in 1993. My husband and I had been married for just three years when we brought her home with us. We were young and so was she. Her passing is a milestone in our relationship that bookends her adoption. We took her on vacation, worried over her every need and trained her to be a civilized beast. She was the smartest dog I’ve known. Despite being smaller than most of the dogs we had as buddies for her, she out-maneuvered every other dog. She was the canine equivalent of a chess champion. If she wanted a toy, she pretended that she was in love with another fetch-worthy item until the dog who had the toy she wanted couldn’t help but drop it with unwitting greed. Hera thought well into the future, a quality that most dogs lack.

Her face was unique. She had a black mask like a raccoon’s, and it grayed with age so that by the time she died it was 100 percent silver and quite striking. The last few years of her life, we had to call her name loudly even when standing next to her, and cataracts made her eyes mood-ring cloudy and she was apt to run into things. When she stopped being able to get up reliably on her own—at all—and seemed to be just biding her time, we made an appointment. She really, REALLY hated being carried around and resented us terribly for it. Her time had come. The vet came to the house, and the family gathered around Hera in the back yard on a beautiful day. It was a very peaceful passing, and she is forever resident underneath the big pine tree at the back of the yard.

IMG_0295Mobley was a big black hundred-pound mess of supposed Black Lab and Newfoundland melange. Since he didn’t like water and couldn’t retrieve to save his life, I am not entirely sure about his rumored lineage. His head was disturbingly large—providing ample breathing room for a sadly undersized brain. No dog welcomed the world of the backyard in quite the same way as Mobley. Every morning, he could not wait to get outside. The phrase, “He could not contain his excitement,” does not begin to describe Mobley’s insane exuberance. I was routinely knocked over by him either in his goings or comings. I still have bruises and scratches to prove it.

Mobley was only six when we had to make the decision. A heart-wrenching decision. We had invited very good friends to come to the house to say their goodbyes to Hera. They brought their dog with them, and I should have told them not to. As he got older, Mobley became more and more aggressive towards other dogs similar in size to him. Instead of telling our friends to take their dog home, I locked Mobley in the house behind two closed doors while we visited with Hera, our friends and their son and dog in the backyard.

Everything was fine until circumstances went awry. Children came in and out of the house. Doors were opened inadvertently, and Mobley got into the backyard. As he burst out the back door, I knew it was going to be bad. And it was. Mobley viciously attacked my friends’ dog and grabbed its throat in his jaws. He would not let go. We did many things over the course of 10 very long minutes to get the dogs apart. My girlfriend was smart enough to think of turning the hose on the dogs, so that finally we were able to separate them.

My friends’ dog was terribly injured. Both my friends and I had been bitten. That night, my friends spent all night in the ER after taking their dog to MedVet. I went to the urgent care. We all got tetanus shots. As for Mobley, he  knew something bad had happened. He just didn’t know that he caused the problem.We were grateful that we had the presence of mind to send the kids all into the front yard while the dog fight was in process.

I rewound and replayed the entire series of events over and over in my mind all week long. I should have told my friends not to bring their dog. I should have locked Mobley in an upstairs room. We should have worked harder to socialize him. Why were we such miserable dog-owners? My failure to control my dog surely made me unpardonable, I told myself.

Mistakes were made, but there’s no rewind in real life. Decisions were imminent. We had to really be grown-ups about this. Because after things happened, we realized that we could not in good conscience adopt Mobley out to another family knowing that this could happen again. We knew we couldn’t keep him safe from other dogs. He could vault the fence and was strong enough to pull us over when leashed. We’d had dogs that we were able to find homes for in the past, either dogs we’d owned ourselves or fostered. And we knew that we had worked hard to train him. There was just something weirdly off with him, something that affected him early in life when his social skills were developing, so that once we adopted him at 2-3 years of age there wasn’t much that could be done. Perhaps he had been trained as a fighting dog. Who knew? He had been rescued after living with numerous owners before us. His behavior was getting more erratic. During a walk during his last week of life, he snapped at a person who wanted to pet him. He was not a bad dog, he was just a dog who would never really change. Although incredibly loyal and devoted to humans, he was a loaded gun with other large dogs.

We talked with our friends whose dog got hurt more than once a day for the week afterwards. And we talked with the family that owned Mobley before us. We told them what we were thinking. That despite the fact that Mobley was true and good in most ways, we felt that as his owners the only responsible choice we could make was to put him to sleep. Sadly, everyone agreed. The affirmation was both validating and painful to hear.

Mobley was a dead dog walking. Because there were bites to humans during the dog fight, we had to quarantine him for 10 days in the event of rabies. And so we bided our time. In some ways it would have been easier to put him down right away, saying our goodbyes and taking swift action. Our house was already quieter for having had to say goodbye to Hera that same week. But we knew that our decision to say goodbye to Mobley was the right one. His former owners came over for a visit. We took him for his last few walks. And we loved him for who he was, nothing more and nothing less.

The passing of Mobley was like his life: tumultuous. We took him into the vet. Because of his size, and because he got nervous around shots, we wanted to be able to help things go smoothly. Well, they didn’t. The vet had to give him two doses of a sedative to get him calm enough for the shot of sodium pentathol. He had to be double-muzzled to keep from biting the vet. And then the anesthesia had to be administered three times because he was so full of life. I am sorry to say that he just would not go quietly. The entire event took about an hour from start to finish. We were physically spent from helping to keep him still, and emotionally worn out from the trauma of making the decision and then seeing it through.

The kids were with a neighbor during all of this. On the way home, I talked with the mother and apologized that we were so late, explaining why. She said, “Well, God didn’t mean death to happen that way.” She didn’t mean to be harsh, and I wholeheartedly agreed with her sentiment. And I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else, dog-owner or dog.

It’s been about a month now since everything happened. I hesitated about posting this. Judgment from people about situations like this can be quite cutting. Fair warning: If anyone comments about the decision, giving advice about why we should have chosen differently, I won’t publish the comment and probably won’t read all of it. I just can’t second-guess the choice we made. Making the decision was difficult enough.

I believe that as animal “owners” we become the stewards of our animals. They are like family members. If you’d asked me a year ago whether I would ever consider having to take this course of action, I would have said no. And I would expect most people to not really understand getting to the point of having to make this kind of decision for an animal in their care. It is truly the worst possible decision to make.

We have been healing, but we’re missing our dogs. Hera and Mobley were incredible companions. We know that their souls have moved to the great beyond. With some trepidation, we are taking steps to get a puppy that we can train from the ground up. We’ll see where this goes, but if I had to guess I’d say that we will soon again be in the company of canines.

Wild Ohio

10 Apr
cave-of-the-springs

Image provided by Columbus Underground.

I just chanced upon this post by a Columbus Underground blogger. Includes excellent information about Ohio springtime flora and fauna.

Highland County’s lovely woodlands are being reclaimed by Larry and Nancy Henry and Highlands Nature Sanctuary. My husband and I have visited their site several times and have found the area to be among the most beautiful in Ohio. We are also fans of Glen Helen and John Bryant Park in Green County, as well as Zaleski Park.

Do yourself a favor and get outside in Ohio this spring. It’s worth it.