Tag Archives: nature

Normantown News – March Week 4

Frank and I have now been home and off work for two weeks. Early in the second week, I started taking naps in the afternoon around three o’clock, that time of day when I get drowsy. On my third day of napping, I slept until almost 8 p.m., and now my sleep schedule is all wonky. I get up at my usual time, nap in the afternoons, and then I’m up again until one or two in the morning. About the same time the napping started, I lost track of what day it is. Not that it really matters, since I have nowhere to go.

I am so grateful that this quarantine hit during a time when the weather permits comfortable time outdoors. I have cleared all the flower beds and the herb beds, and Frank brought out and serviced the riding mower. I’ve been spending more and more time sitting on the back porch overlooking the lake. This is my Zen time, my calming space… My reprieve from the world, the news, the life that happens inside the house.

Spring is the return of light. In my heart, I celebrate the time change more than any other holiday. Suddenly time makes sense again, and the days adorn their evening accessories for the season. Evening walks are no longer dim adventures in the darkness, morning sunrises include sun rays that shine from the hilltops down into the valley. The gray of winter is gone, and I am glad. The coronavirus was confirmed in West Virginia the day before spring’s official arrival. COVID-19 may have dampened spring plans for humankind, but the West Virginia hills are unaffected and are bursting forth with life and color.

Spring is the return of sound. The peepers sing first, a nice change from the winter cawing of crows. Then slowly, different bird songs sing out to join them. Robins, red-winged blackbirds, sparrows, thrushes, finches. Somehow, I feel as though I can breathe better when the birds are singing. The birds bring activity back to the hills, flitting from hither to yon. I know the sound of the finch landing on the rim of the gutter, of the blackbird fluttering into the air to snatch a bug in flight. I know the sound of a duck coming in for a landing, the splash of their successful set-down upon the water.

Wild ducks come and go on the water all winter, and the geese joined them for a few weeks, until the regular pair chose their nesting spot on the island. After that, the spring turf wars began, and all geese but those two are forbidden at this body of water. The pair doesn’t mind the presence of the ducks, or the gray heron, the kingfisher, or the muskrats. But if another goose tries to stop by for a visit? Oh, the ruckus. Frank and I have observed this spring rite now for 21 years.

Spring is the return of color. My forsythia bushes are just glorious this year. They’re like botanical suns glowing at each end of the porch. The undergrowth in the forest glows light green at the base of the trees all in various stages of budding. After a day of rain, the hayfields were suddenly green again, no longer that faded beige they wear during winter. I see hues of pink here and there on the hillsides and in my yard—the redbud getting ready in the woods, the quince blooming along the fence.

The lake out back is a stopping point for white egrets on their spring migration, and two of them appeared two days ago. Their stark white was such a contrast to the background that their presence in the scenery as I passed the back door window stopped me in my tracks. Their purity almost glowed. The same day, I read about egret sightings on the Ohio River, and in Tucker County. The pair stayed for one afternoon, and moved on. In previous years, they have stayed up to a week. I have not seen Mr. Holiday, the eagle, in weeks but I have seen a hawk fishing—dive bombing the water like the kingfisher, from the branches of the ancient hickory tree on the far edge of the water.

My daffodils are blooming, daylilies and what I call Easter lilies are all up and growing, the hostas are peeking through and the sedum looks strong and steady. When I take Daisy (beagle) and Dandelion (yellow tabby) for our walks, I make sure to stop and check on the asparagus patch. A peeking sprout today could be a harvestable stalk tomorrow.

A friend and I recently discussed how painful and unfair it can be that life goes on following tragic events. We’re given no time to recover, no time to grieve, process, and adapt to the drastic change. But at the same time, how comforting that when the world of humankind screeches to a halt (individually or worldwide), the redbud will keep on blooming. Egrets continue to migrate, geese continue to nest and lay eggs. The robins and finches are not social distancing, the hawk is not afraid. How blessed we are to be quarantined amongst the spring beauty of these West Virginia hills.

Social distancing does not mean “stay inside.” Unlike those in urban areas, we have the space to wander and walk. This year, spring seems especially magnificent. Don’t let current events cause you to miss it.

While all other events have been canceled at this time, the Food Pantry at Normantown Historical Community Center will still be held the 2nd Friday of April. They are working on the guidelines for doing the pantry on April 10, which will include traffic control, taped boxes, etc. If you aren’t aware, the National Guard is helping Mountaineer Food Bank continue serving these community food banks, and how thankful everyone is for their assistance in keeping folks safe and fed. Keep an eye out for the new guidelines. Last month’s pantry fed 87 families with 217 people included in those families.

Vendors who paid for tables for the to-be-rescheduled Spring Vendor Event at NHCC will have their payments returned to them. Donkey Basketball has been rescheduled for

Thanks to Rose Beall for the freezer moved to NHCC, and thanks to George Rose for purchasing another freezer and refrigerator. Donations to NHCC can be made online at https://nhccwv.com/donation, or mailed to: NHCC, 3031 Hackers Creek Road, Jane Lew 26378, c/o Margaret.

If you have any 25267 area news you would like to share with community readers or any personal messages you want shared in local media, by Sunday morning for the upcoming week, send an email to hayesminney@gmail.com or leave a message on our machine at 304-354-9132. I also have a seasonal email newsletter that includes links to this column online. You can subscribe at tinyurl.com/two-2020.

Indian Summer (a poem)

To the casual driver passing through,
the hills might still look green.
But I see yellow in the poplar,
brown in the sumac,
tinges of rust around the oak.
The chestnut and ash are absent.

There used to be music,
but the summer songbirds
have all gone.
The cacophony now of
cricket chirps and katydid trills,
the fluttering wings of
dragon and horse fly.

Calendars claim it is summer still,
Indian Summer they say,
those warm days and cool nights.
Nothing blooms now but goldenrod,
ragweed, and untrained morning glories
the hummingbird no longer visits.

A crow calls out what’s coming in
the distance, and several friends reply.
The breezes are far too slight
to make the wind chime sing,
but plenty powerful enough to
loosen withered leaves who,
falling,
dance their way to death.

We Are Nature: July 2017 in Two-Lane Livin’

(This appears in the July 2017 issue of Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine.)

I love the way thunder rolls across the sky, how it rumbles in our bones at the first boom, then ripples, grumbling past the eastern hillside and on across the horizon. When I was young, we would watch for the flashes of lightening, like watching for fireworks, and count as we were taught to determine the distance to the strike. One, one thousand. Two, one thousand. But now, I am happy to listen to the rain and the thunder as the sky chastises the earth.

Today, a storm crossed overhead, with consistent rumbling for nearly half an hour. Instantly, the heat of the afternoon was erased. Rain fell steady, but not pounding, and ground drank it in. I spent as much time as I could on the back porch in the glider, as porches are made for storm-watching. You can experience the storm and be exposed to it, but remain dry and relatively safe.

After the storm passed, wisps of fog swirled up from the valley, moisture drawn up into the system, just to be dropped back down somewhere else. From the valley to the hilltop perhaps, to keep the cycle turning. Once the storm moved on, its grumble fading as it wandered across the atmosphere, the setting sun raised temperatures again, and new wisps rose and swirled. The orange light shone more than usual, heightened by the moist reflections of everything just washed clean.

There are no evenings to match a summer evening after an afternoon thunderstorm in the hills of Appalachia. I feel as though I am inside a terrarium, the moisture dripping down from a giant glass dome above. Sometimes, life here feels sealed inside a bubble, secluded from the rest of the world. Sometimes stifling hot and sweaty, sometimes baking, parched and dry, sometimes fresh and clean and sparkling.

As the skies cleared, and the water temperatures on the lake out back balanced, I watched the green duckweed expand again across the face of the water, no longer compressed by rippling waves, and a mother deer appeared on the bank of the island, and a fawn that had to be out for its very first walk it was so wobbly. With the rumbling over, bird song started again, and the chickens and the robins pecked in the saturated yard for earthworms and bugs. And in that moment, the fields around me and time itself seemed to expand, and the concerns of the world shrank to a pittance.

I felt relief. Relief from the heat of the day, relief from the stress of the week, relief in knowing there are still magical moments in this world–the way nature can make us feel small and immense at the same time, connected when we are or feel alone. Humans have forgotten that we ARE nature. We are hardwired to benefit from exposure to it. We get Vitamin D from the sun (statistically, the average American is Vitamin D deficient), and multiple studies show that 20 minutes in nature can lower blood pressure, relieve stress, depression and anxiety. We are not technical, mechanical creatures. We are (or were?) natural creatures. Writer Laurence G. Boldt says, “a society at odds with nature is a society at odds with itself.”

* * *

I recently attended the WV Writer’s Inc. annual conference at Cedar Lakes in Ripley, a weekend of seminars, readings, and networking. One seminar I took was how to remain focused on your life as a creative existence. Deep down, I hoped there might be a magical pen or technical device that would keep me in creative mode, impervious to the restrictive mentalities we all encounter in our culture and societies today. Perhaps a creativity pill I could pop every morning. Of course, these things don’t exist.

During the seminar though, I was reminded of many things I already know, but do not regularly practice. Stretch upon waking. Meditate. Be grateful for the little things. Be positive. Be open. Don’t get on the computer first thing in the morning. Limit exposure to social media and digital devices. Turn off the TV. Take a walk. Breathe. Immerse yourself in nature.

After the recent summer storm passed, I contemplated why that moment was reassuring, comforting. How that moment “outside” of society, disconnected from man but connected to nature, could soothe my spirit so. And again I was reminded of something Boldt says in his book, Zen and the Art of Making a Living. He said, “Society can be interested in a man or woman only as a political or economic entity; a culture is interested in more… Cultures care for their peoples as natural, spiritual beings and not simply as workers or consumers.” In other words, humans are not just political, economic beings. We were meant for more than work and consumption. We are nature, spiritual, but we live in a society that neither acknowledges, values, nor endorses us as such.

Boldt says, “Our whole effort is to gain and hold, acquire and defend.” The American approach to life and living is a mindset typically used for warfare. We are focused on getting–striving, consuming, keeping, maintaining–status, power, reputation, cars, houses, etc.–no matter the cost to our own well-being or the natural world around us. Americans live with a mentality to conquer and defend. No wonder we’re so stressed.

I believe this is why time in nature is so soothing to the soul. Nature is the ultimate level playing field. Nature doesn’t care about status, reputation, shoes, or the latest cell phone app. Social media, television series, all our little rat race games and power struggles are irrelevant. Our narcissism, prejudices, irrational judgments, daytime dramas, are insignificant. And if anything, that’s a relief.

Boldt says, “We cannot be fully awake, fully alive, fully human–and remain indifferent to the world in which we live.” The costs of denial and suppression are devastating to human happiness and creativity. Boldt notes, until our society changes its consideration humans as nothing more than workers and consumers, “it will continue to take uncommon courage, strength, and perseverance for individuals to realize meaning in their every day experiences.”

When we stop and take a time out with nature around us, Boldt says, “the mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing… the contemplation of beauty eliminates selfish desire.” In turn, “Ugliness depresses and diminishes life–sapping the creative spirit of the individual and weakening the character of society.” Did you get that? Ugliness saps creativity and weakens our character. No wonder the beauty of the hills after a storm provided me with such relief. How lucky we are to live where the natural beauty around us can soothe our souls.

Are you grateful? Do you take time to just sit and experience the natural world around you? What things do you do to keep your creative juices flowing? Send me an email with your thoughts and suggestions at info@twolanelivin.com.

Lisa is an Assistant Librarian at Gilmer Public Library & recently received her MFA in Creative Writing. For details, visit Lhayesminney.net.

In the Womb of Winter

A chickadee in the forsythia bush outside the window. Red cardinals flitting through the dark background of the side-yard pine tree. Snow fell earlier this week, but the ground was far too warm for any of it to accumulate. The temperature drop was enough to freeze the tips of the tulips that had emerged far too early though.

Without snow, mountain winters are brown. Hillsides strewn with dead, brown leaves, dark-brown tree trunks, beige fields, and muddy driveways. We have entered the womb of winter, and it is soft and soggy.

Twice a week, I work twelve hour days. I leave the house in the dark morning, and return in the dark of night. In winter, we can put in far more hours than the sun. I crave the sunlight, but these days those rays aren’t strong enough to warm the skin, and the frigid draft in the house today will simply be a light breeze come spring.

I am trying to teach myself an appreciation of this season, these winters without snow.  I don’t remember hating winter so much in my youth, but there was snow then, more consistently and more in accumulation. Winter was a season that varied yes, one that whitened with regularity, then slowly melted over several weeks. None of this “here today, gone tomorrow” disposable snow. Snow that doesn’t linger,  doesn’t stay a while.

I hear birdsong, in January, and though it is a blessing and a rare winter treat to hear something different than the cawing of the black winter crows, it is a song I know I truly should not be hearing.

I put out sugar water and wheat flour for our honey bees earlier this week in response to their search for pollenous food in a month when there is none.

It is not winter, but it is not spring.

The Pond

We’ve been living next to the “pond” for nearly 14 years now. Where there is water, there is activity. Where there is water, there is life.

After all this time, I’ve come to know the cycles of the waters, and the creatures who live from, in, around and with it. The Great Blue Heron, the Gray Heron, the Green Herons, which I call “Dippy Birds.”

Since Canada Geese mate for life, and can live past 20 years, it’s very likely that I’ve been watching the same couple nest on the island and raise their young here all these years.

Same with the turtles – soft shell and snapper. Just like the birds, they leave for winter and return in spring. In fact, they cross the yard from the driveway ditch to the water’s edge at almost the same exact place every year. More than once I’ve watched them silently work their way to these waters.

The Red-winged Blackbird nests in the same willow each year at the water’s edge. The Kingfisher has a favorite branch he likes to dive from down to scoop minnows and water bugs from the surface.

I’ve watched small mouth bass mate at the water’s edge, seen coyote and fox come down from the woods to drink, observed what I can only call a massive toad orgy one year. I’ve watched the Gray Heron spend 20 minutes one day choking down a bluegill three times the size of its own head. I’ve seen goose parents take turns flogging a snapping turtle who had their gosling by the leg and who – after 25 minutes of said flogging, actually let the gosling go. (It walked with a limp thereafter.)

I once caught a sun fish, unhooked it and tossed it on the ground whilst I reached for my water bucket to put it in, only to turn around to see a hawk swoop down and fly away with my fish. I’ve watched a friend catch 30+ bluegill and several bass in less than an hour with a single fishing pole (three hooks on one line).

Truly.

This year, the pond is different. For one, it’s about 3 feet deeper than I’ve ever seen it, and with that extra water, now spans more than 3 acres. But also, the water’s surface is no longer “down in” the surrounding banks. Now that the water level is higher and closer to the top of the surrounding dykes, the sounds on the water seem louder, and carry farther. The sound of the peepers can keep a light sleeper up at night. The sound of fighting and fussing geese? That’ll wake you up from a dead sleep.

In the summer, when it’s hot at night, we’ll pump up the air mattress and sleep on the back porch where it’s cooler. By then, the bull frogs will be singing as well – and that’s a sound that will put you right to sleep.

The pond is my connection to the seasons, my connection to nature. And while others can just sit and casually watch the activity of our ‘neighbors’, I know their stories. I know their lives.

Can We Overcome Our ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’? | Alternet

naturalsetting

“More people are more disconnected from natural systems than in any other time in human history.”

http://www.alternet.org/environment/can-we-overcome-our-nature-deficit-disorder

I’ve never heard the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” before reading the above article, but the term struck a chord with me. I’ve been interested in natural remedies for many years, and more recently have been studying Appalachian folklore traditions for healing, many of which call for interaction with certain elements of nature, just as do Native American and other cultures.

You cannot live in a rural area and deny the benefits of time spent with nature. Just ten minutes in a natural environment has scientifically shown to lift spirits and lower blood pressure. But the article above shows that this disconnect from natural also has social impacts. An interesting perspective on what is resulting from our society’s broken connection with nature.

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Unseasonably Warm

Like anyone else, I get a case of the blues now and then. Also like anyone else, I have the benefit of people in my life who make it a point to develop and create those blues for me. As much as I appreciate their efforts and attention to my life, I’m afraid the blues just can’t compete with an unseasonably warm day.

Most often, this time of year, I tend to dread the trips outside to check on the chickens, collecting eggs, feeding and putting the hens up at night.  Mud, cold wind, grey skies – not on my list of favorite things. Imagine my surprise today when I opened the door to sunshine and a warm breeze.

Our honey bees were already active, raiding the chicken feeders and buzzing around the porch. I’ve long-since learned the bees have little interest in me, as long as I’m not doused in perfume and cosmetics.

Even in mid-winter, our garden needs attention after the way we abandoned it in the fall of last year. So, I tossed my coat and hat on the roof of the chicken pen, and wandered out that way, with Daisy Dewdrop on my heels. Both the chickens and the bees seemed interested in what I was doing, clearing weeds and moving dirt. Both likely hoping I would uncover something for them to eat.

It didn’t take Daisy long to find the rabbit hiding among the high grasses, and if you know beagles, you know the chase was on. Since she can run up to 24 miles and hour (we’ve chased her in a car before) I tied on her leash and did my best to keep up. It frustrated her, me holding her back, but didn’t keep her from following the trail through the prickly Autumn Olive bushes, which scratched my arms. When she lost the trail (at the same spot she always does), I led her back to the house. Along the way, she stopped at the edge of the lake to get something to drink, and I took time to lift my face to the sun.

I don’t claim to have all the answers. I only claim to be constantly in search of them, and I’m often eager to share any I’ve discovered. One of the main truths I’ve found is if you can find joy in sunshine and warm breezes, it’s easier to survive the mean and nasties of the world.

Sure, I may seem crazy, offering buzzing honey bees warm greetings. Even more crazy still to think they’ve come to know me, know the sound of my voice, my scent. Crazier still to think they are my friends – but I have yet to be stung by any of our honey bees.

I know the wild ducks on our lake better than I know most people. I know who has mated who, which side of the lake they prefer to eat breakfast, and lunch, and dinner. I can sing to my chickens and they’ll sing back to me.

It’s difficult, among these friends, to be haunted by the pettiness of a few people. To bees, beagles, ducks and chickens, the words of men and women are meaningless. Tell a chicken someone hurt your feelings, and they’ll squat, poop and move on. Frankly, I think that’s good advice.

If animals and insects have food, shelter and water – they’re happy. Humans are the only beings who believe – for some reason – they need (or deserve) more. We’re the only ones who torture ourselves (and others) to achieve far beyond what we truly need.  We spend lifetimes making ourselves (and others) miserable simply because we want.

Part of simplifying our lives has taught me though – we make ourselves (and others) miserable only if we want to. And while there are those who obviously want to share their misery with us, I have to remember, that is not what we want. People don’t believe it. Because they want that misery and to share it, they assume we want the same.

But the bees know better, the hens know better, the ducks, the beagle and the sunshine knows better.

In many ways, we wanted to find the simple joys in life, like the blessings of an unseasonably warm day.