Friday, December 25, 2009

Steve's Sycamore/Christmas Day

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.

You may search the blog for "Steve's sycamore" to see the tree as it has changed through the seasons over the past year. Clicking on the pictures will take you to their larger versions.

At the darkest time of the year, we celebrate return of the Light. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter

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.

And because I grew up in Florida, I'm used to a lot of sunlight. I don't lie outside to tan any more, but if I go for too long without sunlight, I begin to feel a bit comatose. That winter in Berkeley, I'd get up, walk to work, come home, and go straight to bed. I'm trying to resist the temptation to do the same thing now, but it's hard.

All this rain is knocking the remnants of autumn's leaves off all the trees. Pretty soon, beauties like the one pictured above (a pignut hickory, maybe?) will be bare skeletons, reaching bony arms to the sky.

And if we needed any certain signs that winter is upon us, they have come over the past three nights—the high chirruping cries of sandhill cranes, arriving (late, I think) for the winter.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Fall in Florida/Proof #2

Here's more proof—a couple of autumn-hued beauties on the banks of the Santa Fe River.

Season of melancholy! Eye's enchanter!
How pleasing to me are your farewell hues—
How I love the pomp of fading Nature,
The trees arrayed in gold-vermilion dress,
The fresh wind blowing through their tops and
The dense and darkly undulating skies,
The sun's infrequent ray, the early frost,
And grizzled Winter's lightly murmured threats.

-Alexander Pushkin, from Autumn (A Fragment)

Fall in Florida/Proof #1

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.

We haven't been so lucky this year, but we are finally seeing some good fall color. Here's proof, in the picture above—a carpet of leaves at the nearby spring.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The River Styx, View #2

Here's a view of the actual river. I've always thought it very beautiful.

Remember that you can click the picture for a bigger view.

A Visit to the River Styx

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).

Just to prove I'm not making this up, here's a picture of the sign at the river crossing.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Autumn Abundance

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.

Here's just one part of the tableau, above, complete with an "autumn person" like those sold in the craft stores this time of year.

Somewhere there must be a heaven where it is fall all year long.

But then, wouldn't the season lose some of its sheen?

A (Semi) Vegetarian Thanksgiving

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.

The main part of the meal, pictured above, was acorn squash stuffed with white & wild rice and assorted vegetables and topped with bechamel sauce, brussels sprout hash, cranberry chutney, and cornbread. Still to come: pumpkin pie.

And oh yes, we do give thanks. Many thanks.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Steve's Sycamore/Nearly Thanksgiving

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.

Remember that you can click on the picture for a larger view. Also, you can search the blog for "Steve's sycamore" and all the pictures of this same tree will come up.

Ferals' Progress, Part 7 (Hortie in Bed)

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.

I honestly never thought this day would ever come. However, Forrest--who earned the nickname "Chicken Jah" a few years ago for his rapport with some free-ranging near-dinosaurs--has managed to lure this most-feral-of-all-ferals to the futon.

Also in the picture: Bootsy, the trendsetter--the very first of these ferals to become a housecat. And Sake's tail; that's the grey blob between Bootsy and Hortie.

Can happy winter snuggling be far behind?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Goddess of the Springs

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.

What interests me is not so much that these images show up—because I know our brains are designed to find patterns in our surroundings, and also because I do believe that there are instances of spiritual energies that manifest in the elements for whatever reason—but how people react to them.

Several years ago in Clearwater, Florida, there was a stunning image of the Virgin Mary that appeared in the windows of an office building. Many people were drawn to the image to wonder and to pray. So many people came that the building was eventually sold to a local church. Unfortunately, a local high schooler decided to toss some ball bearings through the window with a slingshot, and destroyed the image. Too bad; I don't think that kind of destructive energy serves anyone well.

The cypress knee pictured above at first reminded me of the Virgin Mary, but since she's dipping a rather elegant toe toward the aquifer, I think I'll just call her the Goddess of the Springs.

Proto Canoe

This old log in the springs reminded me of a canoe.

I wonder if the sight of an old log like this inspired the creation of the first canoe?

Afternoon Light at the Springs, Fall 2009

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.

Here's a view of the springs near my house, taken one day last week when I did seize the opportunity to try to get some good shots. I think I was really about an hour too early to get the kind of light that I like—maybe I'll get another chance soon.

Pink Muhly Grass

In our search for pretty things that give fall color to the yard, we discovered pink muhly grass.

The grass is pretty spectacular when it catches the last rays of the setting sun, as it was doing last week--shown in the picture above. (You can click on the picture for a bigger view.)

And, best of all, muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is native in Eastern North America from about Massachusetts down to Florida and then west along the Gulf Coast--so it's relatively easy to maintain.

Our grass benefits, I'm sure, from being in a part of the yard that gets watered by sprinklers during the hottest part of the summer months.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

This Body Is Not Me

This body is not me, I am not caught in this body.
I am life without boundaries. I have never been born,
and I shall never die.
Look at the ocean and the sky filled with stars,
manifestations of my wondrous true mind.
Since before time, I have been free.
Birth and death are only doors through which we pass,
sacred thresholds on our journey.
Birth and death are just a game of hide and seek.
So laugh with me,
hold my hand,
let us say goodbye,
say goodbye, to meet again soon.
We meet today.
We will meet again tomorrow.
We will meet at the source at every moment.
We meet each other in all forms of life.

-from "a verse that is drawn directly from a sutra written by the Buddha," cited in the article "Becoming Truly Alive" by Thich Nhat Hanh in Buddhadharma magazine, Winter 2009, p. 46.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Waiting for the Cranes

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.

We have a small, year-round breeding population of cranes that live here, but their numbers mushroom every winter. We haven't heard any cranes yet, but we're watching the skies, and listening...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Creation Stage

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.

If you know others who might be interested, please spread the word. Thanks! -AWW

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

The Faery Ride

Forget the hearth,
Forget the roof,
Set the wheel aside:
Leave your weaving,
Warp and woof,
Steal out to us this Samhain-Tide.

Steal out to us, our tossing hair
Sets sun and moon and stars aflare.
The racing winds are hounds beside
The cloud-maned horses that we ride.
Come ride with us, have heart to dare
The plunging steed; the steeps of air;
The swirling, high, tumultuous flight,
The aery hooves — this Samhain night!

-Ella Young

These our actors
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit shall dissolve,
And like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

-From The Tempest, William Shakespeare

It is remarkable that the gypsies regard the witch as utterly horrible, diabolical and damnable. She is with them simply a woman who has gained supernatural power, which she uses for good or misuses for evil according to her disposition.

-From Gypsy Sorcery and Fortune-Telling, Charles Godfrey Leland

In memory of my grandmother, beloved Mama Kitty, who was called Gypsy.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Remembering Isis

It was a quiet morning at work one day in 1994 when I got a call from a colleague with news from across campus.

"I've rescued a litter of kittens from under our building," she said. "There's only one left; do you know anyone who wants a kitten?"

I hesitated for a minute. My husband had threatened to leave if I brought home any more animals.

"I don't," I answered, truthfully. But then, already knowing the answer, I asked, "What color is the kitten?"

Sure enough, the kitten was black.

I have an overarching fondness for black animals. My favorite pet of all time, George (the cat you see in my picture on this blog's profile page) had died in 1989, and since then I hadn't had another all-black cat.

And this rescued kitten was most certainly all black. She was also incredibly tiny. When I held her, she fit in the palm of my hand. My heart melted.

She went back with me to my office for the rest of the day, then straight to the vet's so she could be ruled out for diseases before being taken home to meet my other animals.

I called Forrest when I got back to my desk. I held the kitten in one hand, the phone in the other. "A kitten needs our help," I told him.

"All right, but I'm leaving," was his reply.

Later on, he told me that his co-workers gave him some grief for his unyielding stance. "How could you be so mean?" they asked. To which he replied, "Do you think anything I say will affect whether she brings this kitten home or not?"

We named her Isis. I was doing a lot of reading at the time about the re-awakening of female/goddess energy, so Isis seemed a good pick for the name of a magical, mystical kitty.

Her tininess and inexperience with the world were remarkable. Because I knew small kittens need to eat frequently, I'd put her at her food dish whenever I got up at night to use the bathroom. From this, she learned that Human Getting Up = Trip to Food Bowl, so even long after she was grown, when I'd get up, she'd get up and run to the bowl. I'm sure these nocturnal trips over the years added to her soft, feminine kitty curves.

I also had to teach her how to use the litter box, but I will spare readers that particular part of the story.

Where Myrtle had a most definite, strong-girl-cat personality, Isis was a quieter soul. She was content to stay in the background and let other cats take center stage, but over time she developed her own center-stage act. Not wanting to deprive her of the attention claimed by our other pets, we created a ritual that we called "Worshiping the Goddess" that involved picking Isis up and loving up on her until the purrs became deafening. She ate up this affection, and we were happy to give it.

One year I sent the picture of her, above, to a pen pal from a Buddhist discussion list. I hadn't gotten to know him very well, but it was Halloween and it seemed like a good time to share a picture of a black cat. "What a magnificent cat," he wrote back. Yes, she was.

Isis and Myrtle became good friends. I thought this was unusual for girl cats who weren't litter mates, but they'd hang out together, eat together, and curl up and sleep together. Many cool or downright cold nights, they'd join me in bed for a cuddlefest.

Isis died last July 31, a victim of lymphoma. My Buddhist calendar said that was Guru Rinpoche's birthday--a day set aside to honor Padmasambhava, who is credited with firmly establishing the practice of Buddhism in Tibet and whose energy is, even today, said to be responsible for establishing Buddhism in the wild borderlands where there are beings who are difficult to tame.

Isis wasn't difficult to tame, but she is difficult to miss. I miss her every day. She and Myrtle are buried together--in death as they were in life--near the Buddha statue in our front yard.

So at Halloween, traditionally a time for honoring those whose lives were lost in the past year, it seems fitting to post this tribute to her. She was much loved, and gave much love in return.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bat Pumpkin

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.

Of course, the only pumpkin I have ever carved has a lopsided grin with triangles for eyes and nose, so I turned to Forrest for his artistic help.

Inspired by our recent trip to see the big fruit bats at the Lubee Bat Conservancy, I suggested a bat theme.

The result is shown above. I am awestruck.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Mummy

This is the scroll of Thoth
Herein are set down the magic words
by which Isis raised Osiris
from the dead.

Oh! Amon-Ra — oh! God of Gods —
Death is but the doorway to new life —
We live today —
we shall live again —
in many forms shall we return —
Oh, mighty one.

So begins my favorite movie, The Mummy, made in 1932 and starring Boris Karloff and Zita Johann.

Why is this old black-and-white film my favorite? Long before I "discovered" there was a place called Tibet, I was fascinated by the art and culture of ancient Egypt. The Mummy is set entirely in Egypt, and its plot themes—a love that lasts for centuries, reincarnation, the occult sciences, good versus evil, the power of the old gods—are themes to which I have always resonated strongly.

What's not to like about a visually stunning film that opens at an archeological dig and introduces us to an honest-to-goodness scary monster, then understates the horror and invites us to use our imaginations to supply some of the chills?

The opening sequence is one of the two best openers I've ever seen in a horror film (the other being the graveyard sequence in Night of the Living Dead). An archeologist and a master of the occult sciences realize they have unearthed a weird mummy and discovered a box containing the Scroll of Thoth, with the spell that enabled Isis to raise Osiris from the dead; they make the mistake of leaving a curious assistant alone with the box. Bramwell Fletcher, who played the assistant, should have won an Oscar for his rendering of the line, "He went for a little should have seen his face!"

There are more great lines throughout. "I regret I am too occupied to accept invitations." "Had to! Science, you know!" "No man has ever suffered for woman as you have suffered for me." And more.

I've had Universal's Legacy collection of Mummy movies for a while, but tonight was the first time I'd watched some of the bonus material, in which film historians and children of some of the people involved with the film talk about the making of the movie and the personalities involved.

Out of all the actors, it's Zita Johann who fascinates me the most. Evidently she was a student of the occult who prayed before her performances. She was a well-known Broadway stage actress who disliked Hollywood, but she certainly made a great film when she made The Mummy. I would love to know more about her spiritual path, and her body of work, but couldn't find any evidence of a biography other than some meager information on the internet.

In a kind of cosmic coincidence, the introduction to the supplemental movie material was filmed at a theater where my husband used to work as a projectionist—the Vista, on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. He had some great things to say about working there late at night, with spooky shadows being cast by passing cars. Wasn't the Vista rumored to be haunted? Perhaps he'll post a comment and clue us in.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

My Previous Life as a Witch

When the king's men
killed my husband
I went back
to the cottage
far in the forest
took my black cat
the tortoiseshell
what I could carry
on my back

left towns & cities,
company of others

threw it all
over for
blankets of moss and leaves
wildflower perfume
walls of oak and vine
meadow windows
onto ceilings
of stars

gathered weeds for food
bathed in sacred springs
learned the cries of crows,
the courses of rivers
heard the earth speaking

watched the year wheel
beneath the Seven Sisters
while sun and moon
spun storms, breezes,
summer's hazy heat
and clarity of autumn,

learned the herbs
and how to use them
how to kill and
how to heal

midwifed the birthing
and the dying—
human and animal,
flower and tree
worked magic under full moons
and dreamed the future in the dark

danced the summer in
through fires at Bealtaine
called the dead
at Hallowe'en

came to see it all
as cosmic holy pulse—
how shapes, like universes,
shift and dance through time
came to see
even "time"
as fallacy


all the same

towards enlightenment

under whirling stars
to come back


to help

-by A Word Witch
copyright c. 1996


I'm not much into past lives; though I believe we have all lived them, I think what's more important is what we do right here, right now. However, I was gifted with this poem back in the 1990s. It came from somewhere, not sure where. I count it as the one clear vision of a past life that I've ever had. Waverly Fitzgerald, then-editor of The Beltane Papers, kindly agreed to publish it in issue #11, Samhain 1996.


“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.

Ferals' Progress, Part 6 (Bookends)

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.

It only took them 5 years to decide it was okay to come in the house and hang out with the humans.

Beautyberry in Prime, Closeup

"I'm ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille."

Beautyberry in Prime, Purple

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.

I think our bluebirds had been nibbling on the berries even before I took this picture, but it will give you an idea of how beautiful one of my favorite fall foliage plants looks this time of year.

Remember, you can click on the picture for a better view. I will post a closeup next.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Two Ghosts Converse

I died for beauty, but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.

He questioned softly why I failed?
'For beauty,' I replied.
'And I for truth, — the two are one;
We brethren are,' he said.

And so, as kinsmen met at night,
We talked between the rooms,
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names.

-Emily Dickinson

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Ashes of me,
Whirl in the fires I may not name.
Lick, lovely flame!

Will the fagot not burn?
Throw on the tired broom
Stabled till in my room.

I have ridden wide and well.
Shall I say with whom?
(Stop the town bell!)

Listen now,
Listen if you dare:
I have lain with hope
Under the dreadful bough,
I have suckled Judas' rope
As it swung in the air —

Go find the silver pieces in the moon.
I hid them there.

-Leonora Speyer

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Halloween Tree!

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!

Forrest used an old fake Christmas tree we got from my mom right after my dad passed away. I actually prefer to have a real live tree at Christmastime--because I love having tree smell permeate the house--but we used this little fake tree for quite a few years until we could once again afford to get a "real" Christmas tree.

And now, the little fake tree is helping us get ready for my favorite day of the year!

When I was about 14, my parents and grandmother and I took a trip to Washington, D.C., and New England. Along the way, we visited various historic houses. I think it was at Stratford Hall, the birthplace of Robert E. Lee in Virginia (my mom was a huge fan of Lee's), where I saw this old English poem on a souvenir, and memorized it immediately because it struck some kind of chord:

"From ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties, and things that go bump in the night, good Lord deliver us."

Stay tuned for more about ghoulies, ghosties, and beasties.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Remembering Myrtle

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

Happy Harvest Moon!

Here it is. The Harvest Moon. The full moon closest to the Fall Equinox. So beautiful! I'm going outside to enjoy it.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Kunga Loter/Treasure of the Intellect, Joyous to All

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

My hermitage is home to a cat and a mouse;
Both are furry creatures.
The cat is fat and sleeps in broad daylight;
The mouse is thin and scampers about in the dark.
The cat is blessed with talent,
Able to deftly catch living things for its meals.
The mouse is cursed,
Limited to sneaking bits and pieces of food.
A mouse can damage containers, it is true,
But containers can be replaced,
Not so living things.
If you ask me which creature incurs more sin,
I'd say the cat!


Autumn Road, Afternoon

The Great Way leads nowhere,
And it is no place.
Affirm it and you miss it by a mile;
"This is delusion, that is enlightenment" is
also wide of the mark.
You can expound theories of "existence" and
Yet even talk of the "Middle Way" can get
you sidetracked.
I'll just keep my wonderful experiences to
Babble about enlightenment, and your words
get torn to shreds.


Steve's Sycamore/First Full Day of Fall

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).

This picture was taken on the first full day of autumn, September 23. I think the afternoon light is especially beautiful this time of year--and even more so into October and November. My challenge will be to try to capture some of that beauty for the blog as we move deeper into my favorite season.

Fall always feels like a new beginning for me--maybe because so much of my life has revolved around academic calendars.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Lion Sleeps Tonight: Remembering Edward Kennedy

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

Orb Weaver

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.

I'm not sure what type of orb weaver we have here. If anyone knows, I'm all ears.

When I showed F. this picture, he said, "Oh, that's a good one for your WEB page."


Yes, we have big spiders in Florida. Forrest made the mistake of sending his mom (in California) a picture of one of them, a large wolf spider as big as the coffee mug it was hanging on.

She has never come to visit us.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Beautyberry in Transition

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.

Here's a glimpse from our garden spot, with our red garden Buddha's head in the background.

Dawn, Last Day at KTD

Dawn was breaking as I left KTD this last time--maybe the last time ever?

The clouds were still pink, and the light was still on outside the north entrance to the shrine building.

There are no guarantees in life, other than the oft-repeated death and taxes, and I do know that my travel will be restricted for quite a while--the result of having to buy a car to get back and forth to work.

This is another view I will remember for a long, long time.

Thanks to the alert reader who pointed out that this is blog post #108. "Cosmic," as we used to say (and sometimes still do).

KTD Morning View, Looking North

Here is a view I will always remember--looking north from the road just outside the front gate at KTD.

There is something about being in the mountains that lifts the spirit the way nothing else can.

Stone Wave at KTD

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.

You can see her work in stone in KTD's driveway, right in front of the bookstore and dining patio.

I imagine that these stone waves will be covered by fallen leaves a bit later in the year, so make sure to look for them soon--or next spring, after the snow melts.

Remember to click on the picture for a bigger view!