Tag Archives: Nature

2015 – A Strange December

Carol A. Hand

I awoke this morning to December rain
The temperature is still well above freezing
Yet Christmas lights glow in the night

DSC01066

Photo: Pulmonaria (Lungwort) – Duluth, MN – December 6, 2015

True, these are the dark days in the northern hemisphere
I can understand the need for light and joy

DSC01069

Photo: Duluth, MN – December 6, 2015

But I remember the years of firelight and candles
The warmth of family gathered round
Now lights on the outside of each lonely house
Merely symbolize the illusion nothing has changed
It’s not a comfort to me to know so few understand

DSC01070

Photo: Phlox – December 6, 2015

Is there hope in politicians who party?
On the left, the Sometimes Prophetic Greens
On the right the Mean-Spirited Obscenes
In the middle the Self(ish) Preservationist In-Betweens

DSC01067

Photo: Columbine – Duluth, MN – December 6, 2015

Still I awake with hope in my heart to do what I can
Live simply, plant gardens, share, be honest but kind
Lead by example – let my house and yard be darker or solar-lit
Let the light of love glow in my thoughts and heart instead
In all seasons for the best of all reasons
The survival of all depends on loving enough
And breathing that spirit into all that we do

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Why Are We Here?

Carol A. Hand

There are questions that I still cannot answer after almost seven decades on the earth. Still, I feel it’s precisely those questions that are the most important to continue exploring. Recently, I’ve been thinking about something Neil deGrasse Tyson shared on one of the episodes of Cosmos: A Space Odyssey. His deep, poetic words are important reminders to remain open to the inexplicable mystery and wonder of life, to be honest enough to admit what we don’t know, and to question everything we’ve learned, especially if it comes from sources that claim to know the one truth.

We were born into a mystery,
One that has haunted us
Since at least as long as we’ve been human.
We awakened on this tiny world
Beneath a blanket of stars,
Like an abandoned baby left on a doorstep
Without a note to explain where we came from,
Who we are, how our universe came to be.
And with no idea how to end our cosmic isolation.
We’ve had to figure it all out for ourselves….

We hunger for significance,
For signs that our personal existence
Is of special meaning to the universe.
To that end, we’re all too eager to deceive ourselves and others…

(Neil deGrasse Tyson (2014), Episode 3 – When Knowledge Conquered Fear)

night sky

Photo: Night Sky

Sending you all wishes for a wonder-filled day.

Counting Words in a Morning Poem – Writing 101

Carol A. Hand

A
Peaceful morning
Gentle Autumn Light
A    cool    breeze    whispers
The blooming translucent clematis dances
Captures  sun creating moving shadows  below
Children      are      on      their      way     to     school
Passing   by   on   the   sidewalk   now
Lost in thoughts perhaps dreaming
Of   things   to   come
Let    them    find
Peaceful times
Ahead

Acknowledgments:

This poem was written in response to an assignment for Writing 101 – to count words in order to learn how to convey ideas as simply as possible. It turned out to be a fascinating challenge. After thinking about the myriad of ways it could be approached, I was at a loss. It wasn’t until I sat quietly on my front porch, drinking my morning coffee, that the ordinary beauty inspired me. When typing out the words that flowed, I decided to take the assignment literally. Each line increases by one word, and then decreases likewise. Like the sights of my brief morning reflection, brief memories of one unique experience are recorded in a bubble of time.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Time of Transitions

Carol A. Hand

I realize this is a little early. Yet these were my thoughts as I greeted a cool morning of glistening dew-covered grass, watching squirrels busy preparing for the coming winter.

October, Binaakwe-giizis, failing leaves moon
A time of learning and change
A time for letting go and greeting new life
How many more autumns will I see
How many more lessons to come?

8-autumn-orange

Photo: Autumn Leaves

As leaves begin to turn golden
I have only this moment
To be grateful for the precious gifts
Of a life that has brought both joy and pain
Let me savor every moment
Knowing it will never come my way again.

In the falling leaves moon season of my life
This is all that I ask
Please let the wisdom of life stored from the sun
Fall from me gracefully to touch the earth
To nourish generations of life that are yet to come.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

It’s a Matter of Balance

Carol A. Hand

Be moderate in all things:
Watch, listen, and consider:
Your deeds will be prudent.
(Midewiwin Code)(Source: Johnston, 1976, p. 93)

When it comes to gardening, I do read and listen to what the experts have to say. And then I study my environment. I watch how the light changes during the day, notice the various types of soil and plants that grow in different spaces, and observe how the land changes with the seasons. And then I contrast what I observe with “expert wisdom” – the newest fads and what the experts say is really true now.

Other experts got it wrong in the past. But now we know the truth. Don’t dig in the soil. Weeds are beneficial.”

All of them? Even if they’re deliberately-planted species from other parts of the world that have no natural controls in this environment and quickly smother indigenous life? From my perspective, that sounds too much like the colonial and capitalistic hegemony imposed on Ojibwe people for centuries. “Don’t think for yourself. We know best!” It’s taught me to question those who believe their way is the only right way – those who are too certain of their infallibility.

crabapple tree 2015

Photo: Crabapple Blossoms – June 2015

What happened to the spirit of inquisitive inquiry? Will I really harm the earth if I remove the nails, metal fragments, glass, plastic, concrete slabs and building debris that has been scattered for an untold number of years throughout my yard? Should I simply leave the land banked and contoured so all of the run off from the rain flows into my basement, or into my front yard from the neighbors’ artificially raised yards on two sides? I do know that I have no way of knowing what’s in the new dirt I’ve trucked in to address these issues, fill the newly-built raised beds, and improve the hard-packed nutrient-deficient soil.

I don’t have the answers, but I’m willing to undertake labor-intensive experiments. Of all the various home remedies I’ve used to deal with deer, only a high fence worked. Using the sod I dug up when I created gardens to contour the slope of the land away from the house worked, even in the flood of 2012. Removing concrete slabs and gently contouring the land on both sides of the front yard seems to be working as well – not just in terms of preventing the formation of mini-ponds after heavy rains, but also with improving neighbor-relations.

DSC00791

Photo: Gardens – June 2015

Some things don’t work as well. Straw mulch does control weed growth and minimize the need to water during long dry spells, but there’s a downside. It provides slugs with an ideal breeding ground in a long, cool rainy spring. Once firmly entrenched, they’re truly destructive. And while high fences keep deer out, they don’t deter hungry squirrels who have discovered their appetite for small green tomatoes and baby squash.

I have also learned that maintenance is crucial, but there are always competing priorities in a fixer-upper yard and house. Still, it’s a great learning lab for creative problem-solving. Many innovations come from economic necessity and repurposing resources, like the sod I dig up or the boards I salvaged from the old fence. They’ve become part of the system to address higher land on either side or my yard.

ava's garden june 2015

Photo: My Granddaughter by Her Garden – July 2015

The other lesson I keep learning? It’s the process that matters. I can’t help trying to breathe health and beauty into the places I live and work, even though I know nothing is permanent. Everything could change tomorrow. What isn’t as likely to disappear are the memories my granddaughter has of watching the seeds she planted grow into flowers. Or the memories of my grandson who learned that it’s wisest to approach challenging jobs by selecting the least destructive alternatives even if you’re strong. In the long run, it often takes less time. Or the memories of my neighbors who say their lives are enriched and inspired by the gardens and flowers they can see from their windows or as they walk by.

11226929_10205610151630268_297401247376457742_n

Photo: My Grandson Holding His Team’s Rugby Trophy – 2015

Deciding whether to dig and weed is really a multidimensional conundrum nested within a specific geographic and human context. I don’t know what long range outcomes will follow from the decisions I make today even though I do my best to watch, listen and consider. I’ll be long gone, and perhaps my house and yard will be gone as well. It could be part of an extended parking lot for the church and apartment building across the street. It could disappear in a storm like the one that broke a huge branch from my beloved willow tree this year. Regardless, I do believe that the love we put into the things we do and the places we live survives as an essence in the places and people we touch long after we pass on.

Work Cited:

Basil Johnston (1976). Ojibway heritage. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Music of Flowers

Carol A. Hand

When I first moved here almost four years ago, it was October. The leaves had fallen, old branches were piled to the top of the four-foot fences, and the yard was filled with an odd assortment of metal poles and lawn ornaments. Of course, they were all set in concrete and it was difficult to tell if there were any plants other than raspberry bushes and unhealthy baby trees all along the fence line.

IS1mnzpqntwis2r

Photo: Front Yard – Real Estate Photo – 2011 (the windmill and metal tree are gone now)

In the spring, there were a few surprises – an assortment of the most invasive ground covers one can encounter – lilies of the valley, snow on the mountain, yellow woods violets, creeping bellflowers, and or course the ubiquitous creeping charlie. There are a number of other plants with similar characteristics that I have yet to identify. They all have dense, deep root structures that form an impermeable cover over the clay soil that lets little water through. The removal process means jumping up and down on a steel-bladed shovel to clear at least the first foot of soil. Of course, every seed that has been waiting to germinate now competes to totally fill any open space. Viola tri-color flowers and forget-me-nots are lovely. I suspect that they were favorites of the previous owner who planted them anew each year because of all of the plastic plant tabs I find in the soil (along with nails, glass, shingle shreds, and other sundry garbage). The little seeds have been patiently biding their chance to grow – and grow they have – choking whatever else I try to plant.

There have been other discoveries as well – cow parsnips and buckthorn trees. Both are beautiful, but the sap of cow parsnips can cause serious blisters on skin when exposed to sunlight, and buckthorn tress spread rapidly and are threatening the health of Minnesota forests.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the challenge of trying to breathe new life into earth that has been neglected for so long. It’s a matter of having patience to try to reestablish some kind of balance. I’m inspired by the miracle of witnessing the astounding variety of life that emerges from tiny seeds. Who could guess?

DSC00922

Photo: Gardens have replaced the windmill and metal tree – August 30, 2015

As I contemplated the plants that need to be harvested next – carrots and beets – I heard a song on the classical radio station that my parakeets listen to during the day. I discovered that flowers have inspired some of the most beautiful compositions. Today, I decided to share two of them: The Flower Duet  (from the opera Lakmé by Léo Delibes) and Waltz of the Flowers (from the Nutcracker ballet by Piotr Ilich Tchaikivsky). I know I do have a somewhat unpredictable eccentric taste in music – but can’t you hear the flowers sing and see them dance when no one is looking?

zinnia

Photo: Zinnia from my Granddaughter’s Garden – August 30, 2015

The Flower Duet – Sung by Anna Netrebko & Elina Garanca  (Lyrics with English translation here)

Waltz of the Flowers (from the Nutcracker ballet by Piotr Ilich Tchaikivsky)

 

The Art of Unlocking Stories

Carol A. Hand

This morning, I was reminded of a picture I posted on Facebook four years ago
Honestly, I can’t believe I had the courage to share something so imperfect
But it was part of an exercise to unlock stories with faculty colleagues
Who were likewise challenged by not wanting to reveal our childish art.

Pick some objects from the collection,” our workshop facilitator advised.
Choose one that represents an important event in your life,
And two others that you find interesting.”
The collection included a shell, a stone, a feather, and an assortment of plastic toys.
The natural things were the first to be chosen as the basket made its way to me.
As I gazed at what remained, all that was left were plastic toys,
A reminder to me of all that was wrong with the world at that moment.

Instead of faking it, I took the risk of sharing my honest feelings –
I think I’ll sit this one out. None of the plastic garbage left inspires me.”
The facilitator was not offended and offered an alternative
It will be harder, but you can try to find an image in your mind.”
As others were busy drawing, I closed my eyes
I thought about plastic garbage, capitalism, and consumerism.
What memories do these concerns trigger?

I thought about nature and life, and I remembered Sister Lorita.
When we finally hung our works on the wall to explain our memories,
This is what I shared four years ago today, August 17, 2011.

291279_239712482733534_100000843525245_666830_4545514_o[1]

Photo: Sister Lorita Holding a Blade of Grass

My amateurish atempt to honor Sister Lorita, my advisor from St. Xavier College for Women.
The students made fun of her because of her weight and her enthusiasm for her subject, botany.
Her words have stayed with me.

I don’t care if people make fun of me. I know what they think,
But it’s worth it to me if they learn to see
The wonder of life in a blade of grass.”
Chi miigwetch, Sister Lorita, for the gift of celebrating life.

I regret that I never had a chance to thank her
Or tell her about the profound impact her words had
For the struggling young woman she tried to reach and inspire.
Her words and example stayed with me when I worked with students,
Help them see “the wonder of life in a blade of grass.”

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

“Draw a Monument”

Carol A. Hand

It was a July morning in 2011. An odd group of faculty, mostly from the English and art departments of a university, gathered for an in-service to learn how to use art as a vehicle for unlocking people’s stories. The instructor began.

You have two minutes to draw the first thing that comes to mind for each of the words or phrases I mention. Don’t worry about technique. That will just interfere with your ability to tap what is most important to you.

Draw the ‘safe place when you were a child.’ Draw ‘pressure – the pressure you feel from all of the demands that you deal with in your life.’ Now, draw a ‘monument.’”

For me, the images I drew that day were all linked to nature, to the natural world. That has always been my source of balance and solace in times of challenge and uncertainty. And now, as nature is threatened ever more by forces of exploitive disregard and destruction, it’s hard to hold on to a sense of hope and peace some days.

Unlike my colleagues, I didn’t draw an edifice of marble or concrete, I drew a tree – a living monument of what helps us survive on this planet. If Jared Diamond’s (2005) thesis is accurate, could it be that one of the final death knells for societies is the destruction of the forests that blanket the earth and give us all oxygen to breathe?

tree

Photo: My beloved old willow tree after it lost a huge branch in the wind – June 5, 2015

“The process through which past societies have undermined themselves by damaging their environments fall into eight categories, whose relative importance differs from case to case: deforestation and habitat destruction, soil problems (erosion, salinization, and soil fertility losses), water management problems, overhunting, overfishing, effects of introduced species on native species, human population growth, and increased per-capita impact of people” (Diamond, p. 6)

“The environmental problems facing us today include the same eight that undermined past societies, plus four new ones: human-caused climate change, buildup of toxic chemicals in the environment, energy shortages, and full human utilization of Earth’s photosynthetic capacity” (Diamond, p. 7)

I believe that many people feel the risks we face, but don’t know what they can do. I ask myself what I can do in a world controlled by the intensifying invasive tentacles of psychopathic corporate environmental destruction. I don’t have an answer. I ponder this question as I work on saving what I can in my own yard first – the years of neglect and expedient solutions – burying garbage (old concrete slabs, glass, nails, and shingles) and covering the landscape with a variety of invasive plants and trees that have been neglected for decades by people who were simply doing the best they could with the knowledge and resources they had.

Often it feels pointless and selfish to spend my days trying to preserve what I can and clean up messes. As a retired change agent, I often feel I should be doing something “more important” on a larger scale – on a community, state or national level. But I don’t have answers for others. I need time for healing and reflection. (For now, I have the luxury to do so, if I’m willing to live very simply. I can’t remove the storm windows by myself or afford to replace them, but I can plant flowers in the flowerboxes beneath them.)

DSC00825

Photo: July 10, 2015

As I work at grueling physical labor,
I watch my thoughts and feelings,
I sweat and swear,
Laugh at myself and my struggles – and find peace,
Sometimes present and other times floating in memories of past times and places,
Talking to plants and earthworms,
To the robins that are watching
Eagerly waiting to explore the earth I’ve just uncovered
And swatting at mosquitoes (I’m sorry to say).

I arise the next morning knowing there are still new jobs to be done. There is no ego or allure of fame and fortune involved. I know what I am doing will not save us from the future, but it gives me comfort to know that around the globe, people are tending the earth with hard work and loving care. Living simply and breathing love into the work we do whatever it might be – it’s what we can do for ourselves and the future of our grandchildren and our world.

“Actually, while it won’t be easy to reduce our impact, it won’t be impossible either. Remember that impact is the product of two factors: population, multiplied times impact per person.” (Diamond, p. 524)

The trees and the gardens we tend and the love we breathe into the world around us are the most important monuments we can leave.

Work Cited:

Jared Diamond (2005). Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed. New York, NY: Viking Penguin.

 

One with the Storm

Carol A. Hand

Suddenly the sky fills with dark clouds,
Lightning flashes and thunder rumbles,
Echoing from the hill to the west, intensifying its power.
Heavy rain begins to fall, buffeted by the wind.

I offer tobacco with a prayer,
Please spare us all from harm.”

Suddenly I am one with the storm raging overhead
I can feel its energy coursing through my body
My heart is aglow and I feel the warmth
Of healing energy flowing from my hands.
I send out love to all those who are suffering,
And to those who cause others to suffer.
May we learn to live in peace with each other
And in balance with the earth we all share.”

The storm quickly passes,
The sky clears and the wind calms,
Leaving only rain-soaked gardens in its wake.
I offer tobacco again, “Chi miigwetch.”

I wonder, “Is this the key for surviving other storms?”

garden june 29 2015

Photo: June 29, 2015

*

Patience

Carol A. Hand

Patience –
it’s not my strongest attribute –
but I do try as I anxiously wait for spring to really arrive.
Sometimes, I feel the need to take risks because winter often comes so early.
I plant things before June.
For two mornings in a row this week, I looked over my gardens,
grateful that my neighborhood was spared a killing frost.
I hope other neighborhoods were spared as well.

It’s the first spring in the four I’ve experienced here
that the columbines might flower before being eaten by deer,
the first spring that the tender little plants might be able to grow tall enough to survive torrential, pounding rain.

DSC00744

Photo: Looking southeast as the sun sets – June 1, 2015

As I watched the gently moving shadows created by the sunlight
filtered through the newly emerging leaves this morning,
I wondered how many people in the world today
were able to awaken to a peaceful sanctuary.

This morning and every morning to come,
let me remember to envision peace for all
no matter where I am.

bleeding hearts

Photo: Bleeding Hearts – one of the first flowers to bloom despite very cold nights – May 22, 2015

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.