Clearing My Head

There are some annoying and discouraging things happening in my life. Sometimes I amazed that at my age I can still be so upset about some things that people do that cause me pain. Let. It. Go. I tell myself and can feel the tension starting to release. Still agitated. Then I go to the beach.

I needed solitude, the wind, a large sky, the sound of the water lapping the shore and the sight of the winter ducks bobbing in the waves. Fortunately it is only a ten minute drive for me to the shore of the Long Island Sound.

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It was just what the doctor ordered. As I walked onto the beach I loved the contact of my sneakers with the wet sand and pebbles underfoot and the slight angle of the spit of land I was walking on.

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It was a little harder to walk on the pebbles and sand than at the park, but the challenge was what I needed to work out my angst and my knotted muscles.It was almost low tide so there were a lot of wet pebbles and shells to walk on.

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As I stepped forward I picked up my head and noticed what a beautiful S-shaped curve the beach made today. Every time I walk here this sand spit is shaped and reshaped by wind and water.

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Along the way I picked up a few objects as I often do. Although I am overly familiar with what the tide usually deposits along this shore, I nonetheless felt the need to scoop up a few nicely scallop-edged oyster shells (for which these waters were once famous), as well as a couple of pieces of beach glass which are a rare find these days. The tactile contact with these gifts from the sea helped to calm me.

Now and then I paused just to gaze at the seascape and take it all in. I needed those deep inhalations of sea air to clear my body of my personal toxic fumes. There was just enough of a breeze to feel the cleansing action of my breathing.

Overhead sea gulls were plentiful and very busy snapping at shellfish and dropping them from above in an effort to break open their shells. The sea gulls were quite noisy today providing a constant background of squawking and squealing which I found quite soothing in its familiarity.

Then suddenly, in the curve of the shore, I noticed them: a group of Brant floating at the shore’s edge. It hasn’t been a typical winter, warmer than usual as is the case mostly everywhere, so the usual winter ducks haven’t always been around. But the Brant were here today and they were close enough that I got to hear their honking sounds.

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I walked a bit further and turned back. The sun, wind, sand and water had done their job. My raw edges were softened a bit and I was able to sit and read for a while in the fading sunlight.

Winter Wellness

We are winter souls. My daughter and I spend a lot of time together and share a lot of thoughts and feelings. I absolutely love silvery winter sunsets. She loves sitting by a roaring fire in our fireplace. One of our favorite shared feelings is our “love of winter.” We don’t like crowds or crowded spaces, so we rejoice when winter arrives and fewer people are out and about. One of our favorite places to be in winter is walking in our park.

Apparently, there are others who share our feelings because they are also in the park on some of the coldest winter days. We call them our winter peeps. We are always glad to see them as the park can be almost empty of human presence in winter.   We share our secret: That the park is “all ours” on those days.

But we do have company in the park besides the occasional human faces. There are certain birds that arrive in the pond that we see only in winter. For the past several years we’ve had four ring-necked ducks arrive in the pond around December/January. This year there’s another, making a total of five. And they all seem to be males! We can’t figure that out, but we do enjoy their presence

An occasional loon has shown up over the years, sometimes a group of buffleheads and mergansers, and this year a single gadwall. This could all change in a week or two with the arrival of some new ducks, but so far, birdwise, it’s been an uneventful winter.

Last week we walked along the shoreline of our nearby beach in search of my daughter’s favorite winter ducks: Oldsquaw, otherwise known as the long-tailed duck. The name Oldsquaw delights us because it is so descriptive of their noisy squabbling as they bob up and down, barely visible. the waves. They usually show up on a windy, cold day and you can usually hear them before you see them.  We were lucky enough to find a bunch, too far off shore to see very well even though our binoculars.  It’s always worth braving the elements to catch sight of them and hear their noisy chatter.

Today I read a wonderful article online about the psychological benefits of immersion in nature: Ecopsychology: How Immersion in Nature Benefits Your Health

(https://e360.yale.edu/features/ecopsychology-how-immersion-in-nature-benefits-your-health)

A growing body of research points to the beneficial effects that exposure to the natural world has on health, reducing stress and promoting healing. Now, policymakers, employers, and healthcare providers are increasingly considering the human need for nature in how they plan and operate.   

In this study the author indicates that two hours of nature immersion weekly are essential for a person to have a sense of “well being.” I strongly urge you to read the article, put on your warmest jacket, hat, scarf and gloves, and long-underwear if necessary, and take a winter walk. Become a “winter soul.” You won’t regret it.

Lessons for 2020: How to Fight Back Against Ecological Grief

It’s a new year. Hell…it’s a new decade!!! I took a long break from this writing community… but now I’m back. I’ve spent a year and a half deeply involved in a civic action group I co-founded. It was a tough baptism, but I’ve learned a lot. An article in yesterday”s NY Times Sunday Review section by Emma Marris, Stop Freaking Out About the Climate, inspired me to reconnect today because it affirmed the lessons I have learned in the past year and a half and wish to share with you in the first days of this new decade.

As most of you already know, a third of Australia is burning up; thousands of families there are displaced and millions of unique animals are dying each day. People across the world are coping with floods, storms, droughts, earthquakes and other natural catastrophes undoubtedly due to climate change that are forcing them to flee their homes and sometimes their countries of origin. So what’s an ordinary person supposed to do to avoid despair? My daughter tells me the newly coined phrase for this feeling is “ecological grief.”

The above-mentioned NY Times article affirmed what I have spent the past year and a half learning and today want to share with those of you who might also be experiencing ecological grief. Here are the recommended steps from the article and my “take” on them.

Step 1: Ditch the Shame
“As long as we are “competing for the title of ‘greener than thou’ or are paralyzed by shame, we aren’t fighting the powerful companies and governments that are the real problem, and that’s exactly the way they like it.” (NY Times)
I dumped my own feeling of powerlessness in the face of our degrading environment when I co-founded our civics group, a very small cadre of like-minded friends and relatives who decided to join forces to oppose the decisions being made by our local government that were harmful to our town’s ecological health. We have had a few successes, several setbacks and even a defeat or two, but we have developed a following in out town and our efficacy has grown proportionate to our growing numbers.

Step 2: Focus on systems, not yourself
Our small group of passionate citizens bonded over the potential demise of a small business in our town to be replaced with high-rent apartments and boutique shops. To make matters worse the new construction was to be poised atop a crucial wetlands area. To fight this battle we had to dig deep. We searched the local archives and found documents that in fact prohibited anyone from building on this property. This discovery opened a can of worms that has led to the unveiling of the political “systems” at work in our town that demand our constant vigilance. We succeeded in stopping the project.

Step 3: Join an effective group
We became our own effective group through a lot of hard work and inviting others to participate. There are other groups in town that have banded together at different times for different causes and together we are learning that the more we work together and share information, the more effective we become when it comes to voting for or against an issue. We recently banded together to stop a zoning change that would have allowed continued overdevelopment; the town is now considering our input.

Step 4: Define your role
This is an important one. “Take care not to overdo it at first and risk burning out.” After our first year I was nearly ready to quit. And so were the others. We had to talk it out and decide what we could realistically continue to do. Each of us plays a role in our group that we feel comfortable with. “Set a sustainable level of involvement for yourself and keep it up.” I knew I could not continue to be part of a struggle that consumed my energy and attention 24/7. “As a bonus, working with a group will increase the richness and diversity of your personal relationships, and may well temper your climate anxiety and depression.” I now take breaks when I need them, allowing me to have the energy to step up to the plate when I am needed. I have made some great, lasting friendships. Right now we are all awaiting the results of our latest pushback against zoning changes in our town. While waiting, we took the opportunity to get together during the holidays and celebrate our successes.

Step 5: Know what you are fighting for, not just what you are fighting against.
“As we fight it is important for our mental health and motivation to have an image in mind of our goal: a realistically good future.” This is so important. I keep remembering how pristine my local environment was during my childhood. The beaches were never closed; the seafood and shellfish were plentiful and safe to eat; the air was fresh and our drinking water was safe. Life was not perfect; even then we lived with the pollution of cars and parents who smoked. My personal goal is to help restore the healthy conditions of my youth, for as many people as possible, in the area where I live. If enough people do the same in their neighborhoods, there’s hope for all of us.

It’s good to be back in this writing community. This decade really matters; I’m counting on you!

 

Between Seasons

Today (Sunday) was a perfect fall day.  Yet it still feels like we have one foot in summer because the humidity remained unseasonably high.  We have yet to close our in-ground pool, put away the lawn furniture, cover the grill, empty the flower pots of annual flowers, and, of course, the most dreaded task…. rake the leaves.

But there are definite signs of a seasonal shift. The squirrels almost become like crack addicts in their frenzy of gathering and hiding acorns. They scamper from dawn to dusk, walking on the edge of fences, across the backyard on electric and telephone wires, and up and down the surrounding trees.

Leaves are already accumulating in my neighbor’s front yard, dropped by the grand oak tree that grows on the border between her property and ours. For now most of the leaves are on her property, thank goodness.

Daylight is disappearing.  By 7 o’clock, the sky becomes dark.  We haven’t really adjusted to this change and are still in full swing as the sun goes down, wondering “where did the time go?” Kids are no longer in the park past 5 o’clock.  Instead they are at home on their smart phones or computers.

The crickets have been deafening of late. They serenade us at night if we happen to be outdoors finishing a task, or just popping out to bring out the garbage or steal a glance at the “harvest” moon.

(Fall moon 2018, known as harvest moon)

I am making a promise to myself to try to notice when they stop singing. Most of our outdoor plants are on their way out.  Many have been savaged either by slugs or moths who chomp through them at night when we’re not looking.

The occasional goldfinch still shows up for a dip in our backyard bird bath. The sunflowers have come and gone, so they won’t be around much longer.

We haven’t seen the cardinals for weeks, nor the titmice or woodpeckers.  We stopped feeding them mid-summer when we realized a rat was showing up for the food, so the cacophony of birds that delighted us with the arrival of spring has dwindled to nearly nothing.  We miss their songs which have been replaced by the chattering of busy squirrels burying their acorns throughout the day.

Along the harbor road the seasons are noticeably changing.  The exotic birds (herons, egrets) have moved on to warmer places, but the cormorants are perched in groups on the boats still anchored there.  Goldenrod is abundant everywhere we look, and the bees are grateful for that.

Almost without noticing, at home we have switched from summer fare to more substantial grub. We have eaten yams a few times lately, as well as roasted chicken and potatoes.

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At the supermarket I find myself eyeing the pork loins and meatloaf mix.  The occasional mojito at a nearby happy hour has vanished and isreplaced by red wines and frothy beers. Suddenly, we crave pumpkin soup, baked apples, cauliflower, baked squash and apple cider.

As a family we are mostly winter people.  My husband craves the silence of winter and the relief from tedious outdoor chores including mowing the grass and doing the necessary pool and yard maintenance.

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My daughter loves winter walks in the park nearby and along the shores of our coast.  Together we’ve learned to identify several species of ducks, but there’s so much more we need to learn. My son is congenitally biased toward winter holidays, his favorites being Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

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I love brisk autumn and winter walks, when the bones of the landscape become visible.  When there are no leaves to obstruct the view of the horizon. When you come across an abandoned osprey nest and wonder where its former inhabitants have gone and whether they will come back.

Ancient humans were much more in tune with the change of seasons. Their survival depended on it. Many of their remaining ruins remind us of how important the movement of the sun was for them, as they were aligned to capture the summer and winter solstices.

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(Summer solstice dagger at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico)

I am fascinated by how, for centuries, we moved almost unconsciously into the next season as we adapted to the changes.  How much longer will we have actual distinct seasons…or will we suffer extreme weather in our winters and summers? Will we be driven back into a deeper awareness of the seasons because our lives will again depend on that awareness?

 

 

 

News Flash! The Eagle’s Nest Is Still There

As promised, today my daughter and I went back to check on the eagle’s nest we recently learned about in a nearby town near a pond. On our first visit a few days ago, we spotted the nest, but alas, no eagles.

Today, two days after a ferocious nor’easter, we returned to check on the nest, hoping it would still be there…with its inhabitants. When we pulled in to the parking lot across the street, we saw the nest intact, but again no eagle. As we walked back toward our car, my daughter, ol’ “eagle eyes” herself, spotted the eagle in the nearby trees.

We quickly jumped in the car and drove across the street to the parking lot adjacent to the pond where several bird watchers were standing with their binoculars trained on the eagle in the trees.

After watching the eagle which was perfectly still for about ten minutes, and chatting with the local birdwatchers, it suddenly lifted off the branch it was perched on and flew majestically and slowly across the pond toward its nest. A big “oooh” and “ahhh” went up from the crowd as together we watched the eagle put on its display.

Its wingspread was majestic as it flapped over us, in no hurry, as though it had decided to demonstrate to us just how amazing a bird it is. It landed on the nest and proceeded to do some rearranging or tearing something apart (perhaps some food it had captured).

I didn’t get to see it, but my daughter saw the eagle’s mate pop her head up for a moment, enough to be visible to those with binoculars. The male eagle continued with whatever he was doing, then moments later, again took off. This time he went in the opposite direction, toward the LI Sound, no doubt hunting for food.

At that point we birdwatchers were all chased away by the manager of the motel whose parking lot we were in. This made me sad as we were a quiet group of nerdy birders, thrilled with the eagle’s display, far removed from the actual motel. Why couldn’t he understand our absolute joy in this moment?

I’ve never before seen an eagle on Long Island, much less in mid-suburbia. The ospreys have made a huge comeback in this area since the ban on DDT, but seeing an eagle is equally, if not, more of a thrill because it is so rare. Of course, we’re all hoping we’ll see babies in the spring!

A Church Full of Musical Saw Players in Queens, NY!

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There were at least 60 of them, from all corners of the world.  For the first time, an orchestra of saw players from Japan came to perform.  The person who traveled the furthest, and won an award for doing so, hailed from Australia.  There were several players from France, and a first-time collection of English saw players who were dubbed “the invasion of the Brits.”  Several old-timers who perform every year hail from the Caribbean islands.  The West Coast was represented by a funky Californian who played old-style rock and a Coloradan who was dressed in a rodeo-styled outfit and played with  yippie ki-yay bravado.  There were the more demure players who live throughout  the USA and have been playing their saws since they were children. They included saw players who grew up in a religious tradition and play sacred music on their saws. And there was my daughter who has played the saw for the past eight years and performed in about five of the eleven saw festivals held so far, as well as participating in a jam session at the Santa Cruz, California Saw Festival three years ago. Here she is performing Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty Waltz at the Queens festival.

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The founder and inspiration for the NYC Musical Saw Festival is a lovely woman named Natalia Paruz. She took up the saw after a catastrophic event; a car crashed into her costing her her career in ballet. Learning to play and perform on the saw helped her spirits and her music soar, and she can now be heard in orchestra performances around the world as well as in the subways of NYC. The NYC Musical Saw Festival is her baby and she has brought it from its infancy to an event that now draws players from all over the world to a borough that boasts the most diversity of any city in the world.

The location of the saw festival for the past several years has been a lovely Lutheran church in Astoria, Queens.  The gothic ceilings soar high above the participants and give their playing a resonance that can only be produced in a cathedral such as this one.  The audience is surrounded by stained-glass windows which provide natural dramatic lighting for the long afternoon event.  The intricately carved woodwork of the altar provides an amazing backdrop for the performers and an interesting contrast to the nonsecular music that is taking place. I couldn’t help thinking, as I sat in the pew, that this is what churches were built for…the coming together of people to celebrate their shared joy.

Can anyone play the saw? Yes, according to many of the saw players in attendance.  Their advice: Just look around for an unused saw in an old toolbox and begin to fool around with a bow.  If you still feel passionate about it after a few months, try a more user-friendly musical saw.  Patience and persistence are the key.

The festival closed, as it always does, with a group performance of Ave Maria and Somewhere Over the Rainbow.  If you are curious enough to want to hear the other-worldly sound that only saw players can produce, then log on to the website listed on the poster above where you can find a link to the recent festival.  But be forewarned…doing so can change your life as it did ours!