The rain has stopped—for now—and there are breaks in the grey clouds. I sneaked out during the most recent break to take this picture of our neighbor's sycamore tree, which stands now like a skeleton in the winter landscape.
Friday, December 25, 2009
The rain has stopped—for now—and there are breaks in the grey clouds. I sneaked out during the most recent break to take this picture of our neighbor's sycamore tree, which stands now like a skeleton in the winter landscape.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
It's been raining and cold and we haven't seen the sun for about a week—reminiscent of one new year's in Berkeley, in the early 1980s, when I counted 10 days that we didn't see the sun.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Here's more proof—a couple of autumn-hued beauties on the banks of the Santa Fe River.
Yes, we have it—fall is an actual season in the part of Florida where I live, although in some years the colors are more intense than others. A couple of years ago, we had a really spectacular fall, so much so that the local newspaper even ran large full-color pictures of the foliage.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Today we paid a visit to the River Styx. No, not that one; the one out near Cross Creek, where the blue flag iris grow in the spring--and the one named in the prophecy about my friend, Janis Nelson (search for "Mistress of Magic" on this blog).
Thursday, November 26, 2009
For some reason, nothing says "abundance" to me better than pumpkins—lots of pumpkins. So I was struck this year by a wonderful fall tableau outside a school in the small town where I work.
We decided not to eat a dead bird this year for Thanksgiving, but our meal wasn't completely vegetarian either--Forrest (the cook at our house) made a delicious crab bisque. Then we had a lovely salad of lettuce topped with bleu cheese, pecans, dried cranberries, and mandarin orange slices, topped with balsamic vinaigrette.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
This beautiful tree has shed enough leaves so that its "bones" are becoming visible; soon, it will be completely bare. I thought it looked particularly beautiful when I took this shot--about a week ago--its leaves rustling and almost twinkling in the gorgeous afternoon autumn light.
It's happened. Hortense, the tortoiseshell feral, has decided that a comfy bed is the place to be, even if it means letting your muzzle be stroked by a human.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
I am always intrigued and amused by the sightings of people—both holy and mundane, as in the Virgin Mary, Mother Teresa, and Elvis—in trees, office windows, food, and other various places.
This is my favorite time of the year for afternoon light, but unfortunately my work schedule doesn't give me many opportunities to get out and about at that time of day.
In our search for pretty things that give fall color to the yard, we discovered pink muhly grass.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
This body is not me, I am not caught in this body.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Usually around the middle of November, our area welcomes hundreds of sandhill cranes who arrive from up north to spend the winter in our marshy areas. We watch the skies, listening for the cranes' distinctive cries.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Pushed by a strong intuition, I have created a new online group to explore the connections between Buddhism, dharma practice, and creativity; it's called Creation Stage, and you can find it here.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
The Faery Ride
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
My love of Halloween earned me the distinction of being picked to carve our department's entry into the annual pumpkin contest at the place where I work.
Monday, October 26, 2009
This is the scroll of Thoth
Saturday, October 24, 2009
When the king's men
“Hi,” said the fruit bat with great pride,
“My wings are nearly six feet wide!
I eat soft fruit, I’m glad to tell,
I find it with my sense of smell.”
“Hi,” said the little bat with great glee,
“Blind as a bat does not mean me.
I see quite well; I’ve got great sight
When I go hunting every night.”
“Bye,” said the bat, “I’m going home.
It’s not too far from where I roam.
A cave, beneath a roof, a tree,
Protecting all my friends and me.”
Forrest and I took a pre-Halloween trip to the annual open house at the Lubee Bat Conservancy, an international non-profit organization dedicated to protecting biological diversity through the conservation of fruit bats. We found the poem, above, on a message board outside the room where the educational programs were being held.
It was impossible to get a good picture of these giants of the bat world through the mesh of their cages, but I did spot this one batty fellow (above), who seemed to be having a good time even though he wasn't eating any fruit.
Here are littermates Baybee and Grover (left to right), proving that ferals CAN become happy housecats. Looks to me like they each need a nap.
The beautyberries have been in their prime now for several weeks, but a 6-days-a-week work schedule and other writing priorities have delayed this posting.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
I died for beauty, but was scarce
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Ashes of me,
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
True confession from A Word Witch: Halloween is my favorite holiday. Has been, all my life. So I was thrilled to get home from work today to find something I've always wanted—a Halloween tree!
Sunday, October 11, 2009
She was just a small kitten when I first saw her, somewhere between cute-kitten stage and gangly-teenage-kitten stage. She was wet, and cold, and hungry, and there was something wrong with her tail; it was not a Manx tail, but shorter and stubbier than it should have been, like she had had an accident and lost about 2/3 of it, or someone had cut it off—maybe that was why she was wandering around at Dudley Farm on cane grinding day in early December 1996, wet and cold and hungry and miserable.
Someone came up to the park service information table where I was working. “I heard you rescue cats,” he said.
“No!” I thought I gave an emphatic reply. At home, I was overloaded with cats—or so I thought.
But one glimpse of the tiny, wet, cold, hungry, black and white tuxedo girl cat was enough to soften me up. I took off the purple cotton cap I was wearing (yes, it does get cold enough in Florida that we need winter clothes sometimes) and put the small cat inside the hat, and hugged her to warm her up. She snuggled close, shivering hard, and purred real loud.
Another Dudley Farm supporter wound up taking her to the vet down the road, where I arranged to pick her up after her initial physical exam. The vet called me the next day. “How many people did this cat have contact with at your event?” she asked.
“Because she has mange.”
The kitten got her initial mange treatment at the vet’s. When I went to pick her up, she was brought out to me by a very muscular young man who had a lot of tattoos up and down his arms. He was not the kind of guy I would have pegged to work as a vet’s assistant, but he was very gentle and affectionate with the kitten.
“Are you going to keep her?” he asked. “Because I’ve kind of fallen in love with her. She’s real good, and just sits real still in her mange bath.”
By that time I, too, was attached. I took her home and because she had to be separated from our other cats until her mange treatments were finished, she lived for a while on our small, enclosed back porch. My husband and I would pet her with gloves on, so as not to spread any stray mange mites to the other kitties, and she would stand on top of the water heater and run at our faces—we called it “rushing our faces”—when we went to visit and pet her.
A couple of weeks later—mange treatments complete—she moved inside the house. I started calling her Myrtle, in honor of Miss Myrtle Dudley, who willed her antebellum farm to the State of Florida so it could remain intact as a state historic site.
One day we were sitting at the dining room table and Myrtle was sitting on Forrest’s lap, being petted. There was still some debate about whether we should try to find a home for her. She looked up at him with her tiny face and shot him what can only be described as a love beam.
“Honey,” he said, beaming back at her, “you just won the home lotto.”
Myrtle and all our other animals had the benefit of a wonderful blessing a little over a year ago when our local dharma group hosted Khenpo Ugyen Tenzin on his first visit to our area. “Many cats,” Khenpo-la commented, the first morning he was here. “After breakfast, all animals in one place, and I give blessing,” he offered.
So we gathered everyone on the back porch, where Khenpo-la chanted many different mantras, for a long time, and went around and blew gently into the faces of those animals that would let him get close.
Khenpo-la looked at Forrest and me afterwards, and moved his hands to indicate “all these animals.”
“Next time, a better birth,” he said. I took this to mean what we in Buddhism refer to as a precious human birth, in which we can meet our dharma teachers and engage in dharma practice.
Myrtle passed away yesterday, right before halftime of the Florida-LSU game. She had breast cancer surgery over a year ago, but the disease came back, metastasized, and claimed her during breast cancer awareness month.
In between that December day in ’96 and yesterday, there were almost 13 years of love, cuddling, and play—often punctuated by kitty calls of “look what I’ve got” as Myrt walked around the house carrying various-colored versions of Kitten Little, her favorite catnip toy. She always seemed to want kittens; I think, now, we should have let her have just one litter because if she could have nursed, maybe she wouldn’t have caught the cancer that killed her. But of course, we’ll never know.
We played the CD of Liberation Through Hearing fairly constantly as Myrtle neared the end. Forrest and I were both with her when she died, and both present at graveside when we buried her this morning.
Rest in peace, Little One. We will meet again, and this particular cycle of suffering has ended, now, for you. May your next birth be a fortunate one, in which you meet your teacher sooner rather than later.
May all beings have happiness, and the causes of happiness. May all beings—even cats!—be freed from the sufferings of samsara.
P.S. Many thanks to the members of Gainesville Karma Thegsum Choling, who dedicated the merit of their practices this morning to Myrtle (among others).
P.P.S. My vet tells me that "...there is not any evidence that nursing a litter protects against breast cancer in cats, and I would hate for people reading that to allow another unwanted litter into this world in order to try to protect the mother from breast cancer. We already euthanize 5,000 kittens every year in this county alone.Pregnancy in humans does confer SOME protection, although not much. Besides, most people don't get spayed when they're teenagers, so you can't make any valid parallels to cats. Don't doubt yourself for having her spayed.
We know from many, many studies that spaying prior to the first heat is the single most important thing you can do to protect them from breast cancer. Cats and dogs spayed before the first heat have a nearly zero incidence."
Saturday, October 3, 2009
Saturday, September 26, 2009
It is said that your ancestors were oracles.
You are an old man now, and your arms tremble slightly as you stretch to place and steady the long-life offerings, wrapped in white katas, on the base of the empty throne of your guru.
There was a time when you would not have had to stretch so far, or so carefully.
When you leave the shrine room, you move deliberately—a stocky man in a maroon robe, yellow shirt, and burgundy socks—stepping slowly, stopping to gaze at the faces in the portraits and on the sacred statues. You turn and bow to us before you leave, even thank us; we bow and thank back.
I watch your back, drawn somehow to the slight, slow shuffle of your feet in dark socks.
Knowing how impermanent are the things of our world, I wonder if this is the last glimpse I will ever get of you, my refuge lama.
I wonder if this is how I will remember you—as an old man shuffling out of a big shrine room, leaving a bit of your vast light behind, lighting each of us.
Thus shall ye think of all this fleeting world
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.
I have a photograph of you that I treasure, taken at the Karme Ling retreat center in upstate New York. You are holding a bell and dorje, and you seem to be fading into the ethereal woods that surround you—dissolving into the elements, as if into a dream.
Our lives are so much like fleeting dreams. What seems important now can fade into dusky memory, or be forgotten, later. Small things that now seem inconsequential can, over time, become more vivid and begin to glow.
My memories of you, my teacher, have begun to glow.
So long ago
Was it in a dream, was it just a dream?
So long ago…It was nearly 20 years ago when I saw you for the first time, teaching in a private living room to a small group of curious people. As I sat and listened, I became aware that something extraordinary was happening—each time you spoke and your words were translated, just one question would arise in my mind, only to be answered in detail with the next translation, while just one more question arose.
Was it just a dream that the whole teaching continued in this way, point after point, question after question, answer after answer, until the dream ended?
And was it any surprise, then, that my heart opened when I heard your teachings, so much so that I literally jumped up to take refuge with you when refuge vows were offered? This was clearly no dream! And yet, so long ago…
I know, yes I know
Seemed so very real, it seemed so real to me
In another dream/memory, my friends and I planned to go together for a private audience with you, simply to ask your blessing. We planned how my friend’s husband would go first, then my friend, then me, and then their daughter—but when we walked into the room and you saw my friends’ small daughter, you beamed and reached out your arms to her—so she was the first one to receive your blessing as your forehead touched hers in the traditional Tibetan way. So much for our planning!
It seemed so real to me, then, when you touched your forehead to mine. My hopes and fears had dropped away when you reached out to that young girl, and I opened to your blessing in a way that was completely new for me. Completely new, and completely real.
Took a walk down the street
Thru the heat whispered trees
Then there is the dream of driving some distance, with a friend who had just had surgery, to take a special empowerment from you—an empowerment of Green Tara of the Sandalwood Grove.
At the end of the ceremony, not knowing the etiquette, I prostrated to you three times. I learned later that’s only done when you know you are never going to see your teacher again. And so I wondered if that was the last time I’d ever see you.
It turned out to be the last time I saw you for many years.
I thought I could hear
Somebody call out my name as it started to rain
Two spirits dancing so strange
Many years later, you visited again, this time for a weekend teaching and empowerment into the long-life practice of White Tara.
I remember feeling, as you described White Tara to us in detail, that I could—if I dug deep and used my imagination—begin to visualize myself in her form, with her attributes and qualities—a kind of imaginary dance back and forth, back and forth, between the real me and the dream me, in the form of Tara.
Dream, dream away
Magic in the air, was magic in the air?
And then there was the actual dream, the one in which I poured small, ground-up bits of precious jewels from my hands into yours, the jewels radiating lights in a rainbow of colors.
We didn’t speak. There was only the action, that precious pouring, a gift of jewels and jewelled light. Magic in the air.
I believe, yes I believe
More I cannot say, what more can I say?
Many years after the dream of the jewelled gifts, a golden window of opportunity was opened for me. I believe that this gift was the result of the blessings of my teachers—all of them. And yet what this opportunity offered me, specifically, was a chance to reconnect with you, my refuge lama.
It began with a series of teachings over 10 days. I had gone to hear the beginning of teachings about Machik Labdron, the great Tibetan woman teacher who fused the practice of severance, or offering the body, with mahamudra as a way to cut ego clinging, develop compassion, and attain the wisdom and bliss of realization—teachings I had longed to receive for many, many years.
But before we could get to Machik, you had to finish the teaching you had started the previous year—a teaching on Gampopa’s instructions to the assembly.
It is said that you may be an emanation of Gampopa.
Several days into the teaching, I realized that what we were actually getting were pointing out instructions, in which the teacher demonstrates and explains to students the nature of their own minds.
Days upon days of pointing out instructions. The kind of experience students dream about.
I was dumbfounded, so I asked if this was really what was happening. Yes.
“If you ask me about Gampopa,” you said one day, in response to another question, “then I will simply be an old man sitting here weeping.”
And you did weep. Tears of devotion.
On a river of sound
Thru the mirror go round, round
The next year, at a continuation of the Machik Labdron teachings, you surprised all of us in attendance with a special gift—the chance to hear Machik’s practice, chod or severance, chanted by lamas who had learned the practice in retreat.
One of your students asked you, “What should we do with our minds as we listen to this practice?” You encouraged us to address our prayers to Machik herself: “Great Mother, grant me your blessing.”
And so—carried away on that river of sound, the chanting and the drumming and the bells—I asked Machik for her blessing, and realized that I had already received it because I was there, that I was indeed receiving it at that very moment because I was hearing her practice, and through the blessing of my teacher, that I would no doubt continue to receive it for as long as I would open myself to it.
And I realized, very directly now, how the whole blessing cycle works, from teacher to student and on and on, again and again, from mind to mind throughout time. On a river of sound, becoming mirrors for each other—the whispered lineage.
I thought I could feel
Music touching my soul, something warm, sudden cold
The spirit dance was unfolding
So much warmth in that big room, almost like we were lit from your own inner fire!
And cold chills, too, when you unexpectedly brought Machik’s teachings home for me in a very personal way, with a story about sky burial, chod, and ganachakra feasts, a story that reconnected me with the music of a favorite poem that had deeply affected me years before I even met you.
And the thrill of Machik’s teachings about spirits and guardians of the land, hearing her words coming through your voice, the voice of my own teacher.
Was it just a dream, or was Machik really there, dancing for us?
His Holiness Orgyen Trinley Dorje, the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, has written of you, “The price of living a long life in this world of ours is our duty to offer some contribution to everyone’s welfare.” It is a price you have paid, and continue to pay, with every breath and every fiber of your being.
I’ve heard that Karmapa once sent you a large photograph on which he had written the words “Kunga Loter,” meaning “treasure of the intellect, joyous to all.”
An apt description of Karmapa, true, but just as aptly a description of you, my own dear teacher—Khenpo Karma Tharchin, Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche.
The long italicized passage is from the Prajnaparamita Sutra. Most of the shorter italicized passages are lyrics from John Lennon’s song, #9 Dream.
Friday, September 25, 2009
My hermitage is home to a cat and a mouse;
The Great Way leads nowhere,
Steve's sycamore is showing us that fall is here. The leaves have taken on a decidedly more yellowish cast, and have begun to fall. You can see some of them on the ground below the tree (remember to click on the picture for a larger view).
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Back when I was a teenager in Orlando in 1960, I did volunteer work for John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign—I addressed and stuffed a lot of envelopes at Orange County’s Democratic headquarters.
I was thrilled to watch the presidential debates on black-and-white television, and even more thrilled when “my” candidate became the new president of the United States.
Since then, my memories of JFK and his extended family hang like a string of beads that connects places from one end of the United States to another—from Boston to Washington, D.C., Dallas, Los Angeles, Chappaquiddick, New York City, Martha’s Vineyard, Hyannisport.
With Senator Edward Kennedy’s death, it seems those beads have come full circle.
I find it especially interesting to hear what some of Sen. Kennedy’s Republican counterparts—and often, his legislative opponents—are saying about him now:
U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona): "My friend, Ted Kennedy, was famous before he was accomplished. But by the end of his life he had become irreplaceable in the institution he loved and in the affections of its members. He grew up in the long shadow of his brothers, but found a way to be useful to his country in ways that will outlast their accomplishments."
Nancy Reagan, former first lady: "Given our political differences, people are sometimes surprised by how close Ronnie and I have been to the Kennedy family. In recent years, Ted and I found our common ground in stem cell research, and I considered him an ally and a dear friend. I will miss him."
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah): "Today America lost a great elder statesman, a committed public servant, and leader of the Senate. And today I lost a treasured friend. Ted Kennedy was an iconic, larger than life United States senator whose influence cannot be overstated. Many have come before, and many will come after, but Ted Kennedy's name will always be remembered as someone who lived and breathed the United States Senate and the work completed within its chamber."
Former President George H.W. Bush: “Barbara and I were deeply saddened to learn Ted Kennedy lost his valiant battle with cancer. While we didn't see eye-to-eye on many political issues through the years, I always respected his steadfast public service—so much so, in fact, that I invited him to my library in 2003 to receive the Bush Award for Excellence in Public Service. Ted Kennedy was a seminal figure in the United States Senate—a leader who answered the call to duty for some 47 years, and whose death closes a remarkable chapter in that body's history.”
Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts: "The last son of Rose Fitzgerald and Joseph Kennedy was granted a much longer life than his brothers, and he filled those years with endeavor and achievement that would have made them proud. In 1994, I joined the long list of those who ran against Ted and came up short. But he was the kind of man you could like even if he was your adversary. I came to admire Ted enormously for his charm and sense of humor—qualities all the more impressive in a man who had known so much loss and sorrow. I will always remember his great personal kindness, and the fighting spirit he brought to every cause he served and every challenge he faced."
In this day and age where rabid name-calling and untruthful appeals to base emotions seem to have replaced rational political debate, nothing would be a more fitting memorial for Ted Kennedy than if Republicans and Democrats could join together to make sure that every citizen of our country has access to health care as a right, not a privilege.
I wonder if everyone who is bad-mouthing government involvement in health care at town meetings is going to decline Medicare and Social Security when they turn 65. If government involvement in our lives is so bad, I wonder why they aren’t demonstrating just as loudly against the wildly successful “cash for clunkers” program that has proved to be a boon for the automobile business. I wonder if they will send back those diplomas they earned in public high schools, colleges, and universities.
In short—If other countries can offer all their citizens health care, why can’t we? What are we afraid of? And what could be more important for the long-term health of our union?
Tonight, my fervent hope is that some of Teddy Kennedy’s spirit of public service will rub off on the Romneys, McCains, Bushes, and Hatches of the world, who will then stand up and do what is right for the country—not just what some pundits think is right for their political party.
If you think universal health care is a good idea, it’s time to take pen (or computer) or telephone in hand, and let your Senators and Representatives know how you feel.
Do it for your family.
And do it for Senator Edward Kennedy, the Lion of the Senate, who is sleeping tonight.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Here's one of our summer friends, an orb weaver who has spun a large web in the carport. That's Forrest's hand and pen for a size comparison.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Sometime between my last trip to KTD and today, which is the first day I haven't worked since I got home, our beautyberries have begun their annual transition from green to purple.
Dawn was breaking as I left KTD this last time--maybe the last time ever?
My friend Sandra, who lives at KTD and is an exceptional artist, has created several very lovely and unusual pieces based on His Holiness the 16th Karmapa's dream flag designs.
While KTD's shrine building has been complete for years, the rest of the monastery is still under construction and nearing completion.
Here is a view of prayer flags in the morning light at KTD, near the front gate.
This lovely small thangka hung in my room on my most recent visit to KTD.
I was walking in the driveway in front of Meads Mountain House when I spotted it, all alone and small and glowing on the gray gravel--the first fallen leaf of autumn, my favorite season.
Friday, August 7, 2009
For many years now, Meads Mountain House—originally built in the 1800s as an inn for people who traveled by horse-drawn coaches—has served as the staff living quarters, offices, guest rooms, bookstore, kitchen, and dining area of KTD.
I started my day of travel to KTD before dawn. I was lucky enough to be called by Forrest to see the just-past-full moon setting over the pine trees in the west. Just beautiful, how Luna lights the pre-dawn hours.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Something made me start carrying my camera around with me this week. This morning, on my way to work, I was glad I had the Fuji. Luckily there was a safe place to pull over when I saw this beautiful iridescent cloud in the east, as the sun was coming up.