Wednesday, November 28, 2012

In praise of Earth-Lovers & Way-showers: Rachel and Amy

As an eighth-grader in 1963 I was working on a research paper about water pollution when a teacher placed a copy of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in my hands. I wasn’t yet aware of just how much controversy it had already created since its publication the year before. Her powerfully and eloquently written book was shocking the public into a fuller awareness of the environmental dangers of DDT and also calling into question the too-often unregulated use of pesticides in general. Opposition to her message was fierce, but she would not be silenced.  

I could not put her book down. Like me, she loved the natural world passionately, especially the ocean and all wild creatures. And while she might be disheartened at the destruction people could cause to nature, she was certain of our ability to wake up to what was happening and seek ways to begin to repair the damage. She helped her readers… us…to see the larger story of environmental degradation caused by humans, and also helped us to recognize our place and part to play within this larger story. There were things we could and should do. Reading Silent Spring awakened in me a life long passion to be a part of that effort.

Her legacy is immense. One part was first the regulation of DDT and ultimately its banning altogether (though it’s again in limited use in Africa's malaria-prone areas). Another was the birth of the environmental movement and the start of Earth Day in 1970. As a college sophomore, I was an enthusiastic organizer for our campus’s events that April day.

More was to follow with the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency. Even if its record has been uneven, it still represents Carson’s hope that “as mankind…we prove our maturity and mastery not of nature, but of ourselves.” This quote is from William Souder’s enjoyable 2012 biography of Carson, On a Farther Shore, written in honor of the 50th anniversary of Silent Spring’s publication and of her wonderful life.

That the Bald Eagle has made such a dramatic comeback after near annihilation from the effects of DDT, that there never has been a Spring silent of bird song, is due in large part to Rachel Carson’s dogged persistence and refusal to be silent. And without a doubt her life has instilled in me the unshakable conviction that one person can make a difference no matter how immense or daunting the task.

As I was finishing Souder’s biography, news reached me of the passing of another gentle, passionate Earth-lover, my Mystery School friend, Amy Ober Flanders. And like Rachel Carson who died far too soon, such is true of Amy’s going. They both were just 56.

Amy embodied a complete en-joy-ment of and intimate relationship with Gaia - Mother Earth - and all Her beings, sentient and insentient. She took heed of the words of Jean Houston, our mutual mentor, to "be fierce with your own reality". Amy fully inhabited her life, offering all of us this brightly lighted example for our own onward journeys.

It is my belief that Amy and Rachel are both “on a farther shore” to borrow Souder’s title. Someday I imagine that we’ll be catching up with them and giving our reports. While I am still here, I pledge to remain an unabashed Earth-lover as they both were.

And I have my voice. And I am not at all shy about raising it in both praise-song of this beautiful Earth and to help raise whatever clamor might be necessary in its preservation.

Thank you, Rachel, and thank you, Amy, for the blessings of your days shared here with us in this wondrous Earth-home.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Autumn Earth-Dancing 2012 - Part 2

God's World
~ Edna St. Vincent Millay ~

O World, I cannot hold thee close enough!
Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
Thy mists, that roll and rise!
Thy woods this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with colour! That gaunt crag
To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!

Long have I known a glory in it all,
But never knew I this:
Here such a passion is
As stretcheth me apart, -- Lord, I do fear
Thou'st made the world too beautiful this year;
My soul is all but out of me, -- let fall
No burning leaf; prithee let no bird call.

October New Moon

~ For showing me how
to embrace the World ecstatically,
always (always) thank you, Edna ~

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Autumn Earth-Dancing 2012 - Part 1

View from my window today!
 So the Great Wheel of the Year has slowly spun its way into Autumn. As I write on this mid-October day, it is nearly a month along. Last weekend the first hard frost drew down the curtain on 2012's growing season. On Facebook that morning my friend, Lynne, posted, "It's a wrap!" The night before I bid goodbye to my faithful cherry-tomato plant with thanks for the handfulls of yummy wee tomatoes it produced. Reluctant to let all the flowers go just yet, I did bring in the two pots of white begonias and am glad to be still enjoying their frilly blooms for just a while longer.

Rising steeply above the Susquehanna River, Round Top Hill is once again a way-station for migrating birds. I feel its wooded summit sends out a beacon to these small travelers offering a safe place for them to drop down and rest. Right now dimunitive warblers are passing through delighting me with swift-winged appearances as they dart from branch to branch. Summer regulars are mostly gone but sweet memories remain.  We were doubly blessed this nesting season by two pairs of wood thrushes whose flute-songs drifted through early summer's leafy greenness. Just before Equinox, one came to the bird bath at dusk and I treasured this special last visit.

Autumn engages our senses on so many levels, refusing to be ignored. Each Fall I grumble for a time as the hours of daylight are relentlessly whittled down, especially rising early as I do and now needing to turn on a light to find my way downstairs. But then what fine compensation to open the door to let the cat out for his first prowl and be greeted by gleaming Venus and the still bright stars! And at dawn in Fall's first weeks with the River's waters cooling, gauzy mist-wraiths rise in swirling drifts above the current. It makes for a magical start to the day.

And such fine, such splendid Autumn colors this my mind, especially befitting this Year of the Dragon. There was some concern that July's extreme heat and dryness might mute the leaves this Fall, but oh! what a glorious show these past few weeks. I've been stopped in my tracks more than once by my tree neighbors brilliant hues and by countless others along roads I've traveled. (For the latter, it should be noted that I do take care to not become a driving hazard!) The view from my window this very afternoon is reasonably well-captured in the first photo....summer's flame still flickering brightly in the glowing leaves. For a time, the two seasons join their energies together in a riotous, multi-hued  shimmy.  And this year's dance is more vibrant and breath-takingly beautiful than nearly any other I can remember.

Invariably, sometime during Autumn's golden days, words of the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay cross my mind when I come upon yet another gorgeous tree. This deserves a post of its own and so I invite you to Part 2 of Autumn Earth-Dancing 2012.  (and a reminder to click on photos to view full-sized)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Susquehanna Currents :: 2011...2012

This is a small story within a very large one of last September’s devastating flood that impacted not just my community here in New York’s Southern Tier, but far beyond. Though I have thought often of writing about it, it’s taken me literally a full year to find a way to say something meaningful in the face of such an overwhelming experience.

I moved to the outskirts of Binghamton to the village of Endicott in April, 2008. By last year, 2011, I was starting to feel quite settled in and a part of the area, especially of my neighborhood here near Round Top Hill with its beautiful small park overlooking the Susquehanna River. In the first week of September when it was clear we were in the direct path of Tropical Storm Lee, the area braced for the flood that would follow. There’d been a harrowing one in 2006, what people called a 100-year flood. Having survived and come back from that one, the Southern Tier felt ready to handle this one too.

The rains began to fall in earnest in the late afternoon of September 7th. That night when I turned off the light to try to sleep, I could scarcely believe how heavily it was falling: an onslaught, a deluge, a sound unlike anything I’d ever experienced. Around 3 am I was awoken by sirens and flickering lights. I could hear amplified voices announcing the neighborhood was under a mandatory evacuation. Police were going door to door with information about the emergency shelters.

I hurriedly threw some things into a bag and overfilled my cat’s food dish while he looked on totally bewildered. I told him I’d be back but didn’t know when, and drove off into the heavy rain, just one of the 30,000 evacuees in Broome County that dark night, heading for shelter and high ground against the swiftly rising waters of the Susquehanna River.  Making my way out of the neighborhood I at least knew that our street, high above the river on Round Top Hill, would not flood. Neighbors down nearer the flood wall could not be assured of this.

Lee’s 8.98 inches of rain came just eight days after Hurricane Irene’s devastating visit to New England on August 29th and proved well beyond the watershed’s carrying capacity. When the Susquehanna peaked below our hill that afternoon it was 38 feet above flood stage. By then, with power and water miraculously still on on my street, I came home.    

Over the next several days I witnessed extraordinary events, both Nature’s and of my human community. After Lee sailed off into Canada, the skies cleared to warm and sunny weather. The moon was just a few days from being full. With the power grid down nearly everywhere, once night arrived the suburban landscape was nearly completely dark, lit only by moon light. Many roads were closed including busy State Route 17 just across the river, its incessant traffic-hum stilled. That first night I stood at my upstairs window looking out on this eerily beautiful scene, the sound of the river’s powerful current swooshing and clattering high through the trees along its wooded banks. I will never forget this surreal landscape bathed in the moon’s glow.

Right from the first night, people reached out to help each other in gestures large and small. It is well beyond the scope of this blog post to tell much, but what I did witness on the second day I hope will capture some meaningful part of it, another small story in the mammoth one of the flood and its aftermath.

Only a few blocks away from me, despite the flood walls, water rose into the first floors of many homes. Many streets were impassable. The morning after the river crested, a Saturday, I walked down through the neighborhood, camera in hand, trying to capture some of the not-to-be-believed sights. I came to a corner and saw several people standing at the edge of the water mid-way down the sloping street. (click on any photo to see as a larger size)  
When I joined them they told me that a small dog had been left behind when the elderly owner had been evacuated. Her home was now unreachable and the neighbor who’d pledged to care for the dog was quite distraught. Then came the sound of an engine and a small boat came into view with two men from the sheriff’s department. They were going to each flooded house checking for anyone who might need help.

Our little group had grown to about a dozen people and we called out to them about the dog. Among us was a couple with whom the woman was staying. They’d driven over hoping to reach the dog and said how she was “worried sick” about her pet.

The men maneuvered their boat to the porch, lifted a pet carrier from the bottom of the boat, and went inside. We all waited anxiously, eyes on the door. In just a few short minutes they emerged beaming and gave us thumbs up, the dog secured in the crate. Everyone cheered and hugged each other as the boat made its way towards us. More cheers when one of the men was able to step out and carry the crate to dry land. 
By then many of us were in tears, especially so when the young man opened the crate’s door and scooped up the shivering little dog, hugging it against his chest.
More hugs for the dog’s rescuer and more hugs all around. We were no longer strangers, but uniquely connected in this sweet moment of shared humanity and community.

It has been a long year of slow recovery and rebuilding for all the communities affected by the September 2011 flood. There's more needed and more to come for many people.  2012’s unusually dry and hot summer has felt at times as a surreal opposite to the days of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. The deeper story of climate change is lurking in the background, I know without a doubt. But that is a story that must wait.

Just yesterday as I was working on this post, I went out to do some errands and drove past the Take-a-Break Diner which had been closed and under repair all this time. On Sunday, exactly one year after the flood, they opened their doors once more. As I passed by yesterday, four cars were parked in front. The “Open” sign winked at me. And I made plans to stop in soon and celebrate Take-a-Break’s return.
Susquehanna River below Round Top Hill, September 10, 2012

Friday, June 15, 2012

Waltzing with Ray & Venus

On a misty June morning in 2004, I stood in the dewy grass of the back pasture and stole a quick look at the rising sun. I was rewarded with a glimpse of a small black dot,   mysterious Venus making her transit across the face of the sun, beginning her eight-year journey that would scribe a beautiful rose pattern in our shared corner of the cosmos. (image and link below)

While Venus and Earth were doing this elegant, langorous dance month to month and year to year, my own life zoomed along, often a crazy-wonderful odyssey but filled with "magick, marvel, and Mystery". At its appointed times, Venus danced into view as the Morning or Evening Star, now and then appended to the sliver crescent of a new moon, breath-takingly beautiful. Earlier this spring, we Earth-residents were awed by the triad of the New Moon, Venus, and Jupiter, beaming at its maximum brightness.

As the last graceful curve of their eight-year dance approached its completion on June 5th, 2012, word of this rare transit...the last in our lifetimes...spread like wildfire around the globe. It would touch all seven of the continents and even help Queen Elizabeth conclude her Diamond Jubilee celebration. (What foresight of her planning committee!)With the Moon set to be at Full, there's never been a stage better set for a stellar extravaganza.

Last Tuesday a steady parade of rain showers held forth most of the day here and in much of the Northeast. The Sun's occasional appearance gave hope to those waiting with protective eye-wear and pin-holed papers. At least this time, 2012, there was the back-up option of viewing it on the internet.

So, in the end, an hour into the Transit, I stood in a wooded clearing with a view of the western horizon. Racing clouds, gold-edged by the setting sun, teased with momentary shafts of sunlight. Rain began to patter down once more and I felt I might as well leave my post. One more look skyward and there, a small opening magically forming. I held my breath and the Sun's dazzling disc appeared, sliding slowly across for perhaps half a minute before disappearing once more. I knew not to stare too long, just to savor the sense of it, of Venus hovering there between us, me and Mother Earth, and the Sun. It was enough.

Unknown to most of us, the beloved writer, Ray Bradbury, passed on sometime that same enchanted evening. Word reached me the next morning. During his 91 years here on Earth, he gifted us with so many wonderful books and short stories filled with "magic, marvel, and Mystery". As one person wrote in tribute, he was "a writer who had the map to the human heart."

I sat before my computer screen absorbing this news on Facebook, still buzzing with the Transit's marvelous energies. I was struck by how strangely perfect this was and posted this note to my cyber-community:  "I'm taken by the thought that Ray waltzed off in Venus's embrace, high into the Heavens.....dancing with the Stars..." 

When next Venus and Earth begin their paso doble in 2117, may whatever positive legacies we leave be ever-so-faintly still resonating, especially the breathless awe and deep delight of millions of us Earth Pilgrims as we beheld the beautiful mystery of the Venus Transit in the Year of the Dragon, 2012.

A video that shows this planetary dance wonderfully is here:
I'm grateful to this website for the image and great details about the Venus Rose:

Saturday, May 19, 2012

May Love-Letter to my Earth-Home

Dear Gaia & Dear Dragonfly Cottage,

Earth Day's 42nd celebration is a few weeks past.
I hope you forgive this tardy love note.....
but I have been even more mesmerized than usual
by this year's rebirthing and the rekindling of your
green fire.

I live in such a splendid place, a sweet small home I call Dragonfly Cottage. It's snuggly nestled at the edge of the woods, midway up the east flank of Round Top Hill, a hidden retreat in this pleasant city suburb. From this
secluded perch, I look out at the broad expanse of the Susquehanna River approaching around a tree-fringed bend. It's joined there by the waters of Choconut Creek, rising from the Pennsylvania hills just to the south. Then it sweeps around the foot of Round Top and towards the west.

It is my fifth May-time here. The rising sun has reached the position on the horizon that sends it arching over the waters, tossing river-diamonds in at my door. Such dazzlement leads easily to giddiness first thing on sunny mornings.

Just beyond this small dooryard, the wood's humble cathedral has reopened its lofty, tree-canopied corridors. 2012's refurbishment is nearly complete in every imaginable shade of luminous green, myriad patterns of leaf, and the understory's lusty new growth. No longer can I see down to the river, but the wood's verdant tapestry, gently pierced by sun rays and May bird-song, is rich compensation.

Yet an ominous shadow looms over you, over this wondrous, newly-blossoming landscape. Barely 30 miles from here, the "extraction industry" known as fracking is ravaging the Pennsylvania countryside. It grieves my heart. I am allied with others working hard to keep this from New York State as well as those laboring mightily in Pennsylvania to prevent further destruction. So many do far more than I.....

A writer I've long admired, E.B. White, once wrote "I awake each morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor the world. This makes it hard to plan my day." 

Not far from where I sit composing these words, our shy resident chorister, the wood thrush, pours forth his ethereal song. Time enough to venture off the Hill to join forces with others to protect you, dear Gaia, and to work to mend so much misguided damaging. For now, I will linger here at Dragonfly Cottage, savoring the ineffable beauties of this blessed corner of the Earth.

With such grateful love from my heart to yours,
 (your devoted Meadow & River Muse)
(both photos can be enlarged by clicking on them)

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Under the Wesak Full Moon

While there is not too much I can tell you about Buddha from personal experience, I do know that we're celebrating his birthday today and that that makes for lots of joyful energy the world around. And it just happens to coincide with the celestial event of the year regarding the largest Full in the one closest to the Earth, the Moon in perigee. On a Facebook post I spotted this phrase: Normally sober scientists call it a "super moon."

Via the often wondrous connections of the world-wide-Web, this sweet poem came to my Inbox two days ago (thank you Joe Riley,

Every day, priests minutely examine the Law
And endlessly chant complicated sutras.
Before doing that, though, they should learn
How to read the love letters sent by the wind
and rain, the snow and moon.  ~Ikkyu~

Apart from the promised love letter of tonight, yesterday Spring brought three feathered love letters to Dragonfly Cottage in the form of some special bird neighbors just back from their winter retreats. Dawn brought the unmistakable flute-song of the Wood thrush, and in the evening s/he hopped into the bird bath to splash about, washing the dust of the road off his(or hers) beautiful brown-spotted breast (yes, exercising a bit of anthropomorphic license here!).

Midday I took a break from my work to wash the dishes. The window over the sink gives a close-up view of Round Top Hill against which Dragonfly Cottage nestles. A small dark shape flitted of the butterflies that have been around this week, I thought. And then to my astonished delight, a ruby-throated hummingbird zoomed back into view, pausing for a nano-second to give me a beady-eyed look before darting on with his rounds. "Oh my! Welcome back!" I called after him. Any hummingbird appearance feels magical, and so this first-of-the-season visit lingered in my mind's eye all the rest of the day.

And then, when I went outside to watch the nearly-full Moon rise over the hills beyond the river, two gray-feathered catbirds swooped in full of their loud and saucy bird-talk. I want to think it's last year's duo back for another nesting season. And they certainly did arrive with confident authority, so I'm imagining it really IS them.   

I tend to fret a lot over the oddness of our changed weather patterns, the record-warm winter just past, the record floods of last September. Yesterday's love letters and tonight's promised one are serving to offset this unease, giving me reason to trust the annual promise of the year's growing light with all its potent possibilities.

So enlightenment awaits.
This evening as dusk deepens, may we all....sober scientists, overly-busy priests, techno-entranced consumers, all of us....just let go of all our various busy-ness and preoccupations and step out-of-doors to receive the love letter being beamed our way.

Hope you'll join me in a Marvelous Moon Dance! 


Thursday, March 22, 2012

For Spring, 2012

1st day of Spring, 2012...view of the Susquehanna from Dragonfly Cottage

{A poem written inspired by another Spring, once upon a time...}
 Trees rise…

Stars tangle in the night-black branches of the soft maple 
rising impossibly high against the mellow night’s 
light-pricked ebony velvet—
Orion, leaping ahead of the winter-born Saggittarius, 
is now caught by early dark. 
In January’s bejeweled & frozen skies, 
the chase lasted until mid-night. 

I sail off upon this star-current, trusting its familiar passage, 
following night-flighted birds heading homeward…
the Wheel lumbering us all along
with its gentle rounding-rhythm.

So we see the night through…
Birds alight to sleep…
I arise, summoned by quiet yet such insistent urgings…

Trees rise from mist-riddled bottom lands 
which resound and echo with the calls of birds 
exulting in the growing light & warmth of the year,
the Earth slowly spinning Her way into Spring.

We trust to growth, to life re-inventing itself…
to the oozing, leaf-mold muck yielding its verdant promises

I gather hands-full of dawnlight 
spilling through the livingroom windows, 
stirring and drawing up these hidden energy-currents, hooking into
this shifting, vital force – tidal vibrance, 
as subtle, as constant as the waxing & waning of the Moon 
– and as reliable, 
despite the illusion of its silver crescent 
to make us think the whole of its celestial body 
has been consumed by a nameless darkness.

March journal, 1998, the 28th

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Winter's Tale, the 2012 Version

Yesterday morning, a mid-February Sunday, my window framed a somewhat rare view of a snowy Round Top Hill. A Mourning Dove poked about seeking handouts after a starry, 15-degree night. For nearly all of the day it felt like "real Winter." What a strange season this has been as is true for nearly all reading this. Since putting up my bird feeders "late", right after New Year's,  I've had the usual visitors but not in sizable numbers....some warm days it's been a quiet scene outside the window. I've pulled on my boots maybe twice. And snowy driving conditions have played no hampering factor in getting about either.

For quite some time it's been the sense of awaiting Winter's arrival, like an expected visitor due at a certain time who has yet to show up. You tend to start worrying about what's possibly befallen this tardy one.

My lifelong residence in the Northeast has me hard-wired to the annual cycle of four distinct seasons and the delights each bring. By this time of year, as rugged as the Winter might be proving, there's such reassurance and satisfaction in the lengthening daylight and the first signs of Spring approaching. We're now past Winter's mid-point and this subtle rhythm that moves the days forward has been weirdly off-beat.

I've passed the point of being mollified as many are by lower heating bills whether for households or municipalities' road-care budgets. It's definitely hard not to fret what this too-mild Winter might mean, the foreboding sense of Global Warming looming large.  The last time I was at our local Agway buying sunflower seed, I heard the cashier saying just that to a customer: "Let's hope this wakes people up to the fact that global warming is really a problem we've got to deal with." Her comment came right after I'd noticed that the woman in line ahead of me was wearing summer sandals without any socks....sheesh.

For now I'm taking consolation in the fact that many a Winter has seen the most severe weather coming in February and March. There's the folk-saying, "When the days grow longer, the cold gets stronger."  Perhaps Winter, clearly "alive and well" over in Europe where they're having one of the harshest winters in 30 years, will pay us an overdue visit any day now and linger into's done this before. And then perhaps I'll come to complain about it overstaying its time. If so, I'll write another post to that effect...happily, I can tell you.

What I can report is that when I went out for a walk along the river yesterday afternoon, a snow flurry descended with biting winds and swirling curtains of snow. I strode along, my cheeks stinging from the cold, loving every bit of it!
 (click on either photo for a larger view)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Welcoming the Dragon's Fire

Day 2 of the Year of the Dragon ( Day 24 of 2012) seems a perfect time to reignite the fire of these Earth Pilgrim Notes after a long hiatus.  How perfect that 2012, this long-awaited and anticipated year, is paired with the Year of the Dragon!  It's the most powerful sign of the Chinese zodiac, a year that promises to be exciting, creative, and over the top.  Of the nearly numberless internet commentaries, I like Jonathan Linneman's description that "Dragon is also a symbol for transformation, just like the phoenix rising. This is the year of spiritual transformation for humanity on a global level."

And speaking of Fire, here on this propitious day our Earth-home is literally being lit up by a sun flare so powerful that describes it as "on the threshold of being an X-flare, the most powerful kind".  Hold on to your hat!  At the least we can start scanning the night skies for spectacular displays of the aurora borealis. 

As to other potent transformations, the anti-fracking movement here in New York State is gaining wonderful traction. Harnessing the New Moon's Dragon energies yesterday, hundreds of demonstrators stormed Albany's Capitol Building.* 

Brandishing loaves of bread, they chanted "Break bread, not shale".  I was absent from their efforts, busy with two like-minded women raising power of Dragon and Earth-energies here on Round Top Hill.  But, given the web that connects us all, I know we fed the fire being fanned in the Capitol.
And more.  As I got ready to start in on my very long-delayed writing this morning, I was thrilled by the visit of two Bald Eagles, an adult and a juvenile.  For several glorious minutes they both alighted in trees within sight of Dragonfly Cottage, giving me time to scurry outside with my binoculars for a closer look.  As the juvenile lifted from his perch (or hers) to follow his parent, the branch gave way and crashed to the ground. A better omen for the launching of my 2012 writing work I could not have.

When I see the eagles I am often mindful how not all that long ago, within my lifetime, they had very nearly vanished from the Northeast, victims of human mistreatment of land and waters.  Finally, with people like Rachel Carson sounding the alarm, concerted action was pursued to avert catastrophe. Slowly at first and then steadily the Bald Eagle's numbers grew and stabilized once more.  This recovery still feels a miracle, one of which we can be justifiably proud.

We have many more such miracles to perform as we work together to mend and transform the many damaged and broken places and things in the world.  But there are these hopeful signs and here we are at last in this auspicious year, 2012, augmented now by Dragon Fire.  Now that my life has brought me back to Note-taking, I look forward to documenting some of these encouraging events as they unfold in the months to come.

Let us be on our way!

* Times-Union article on Year of the Dragon Rally