Shining Encouragement

24 08 2015

Dancing girl with sunflower 001It is summer and I am walking up the hill through a tree-covered archway on a dirt road, as I have done regularly for the past thirty years. I pause, as usual, at the Dancing Girl, a spindly hemlock with its trunk and roots resembling a gracefully moving young woman. But today, a few feet away from her splaying roots, in the gravelly till of the roadside, I catch sight of a splash of yellow rays and I stop short. Dead in my tracks, as they say.

For years, I’ve noticed this tree, with its roots exposed and clinging to rocky outcrops. They resemble legs, its trunk a torso, and its branches the swaying arms and head of a dancing girl. For decades, I’ve hiked up this dirt road and encountered a host of oddities, including discarded condoms and bundles of the Hartford Courant, enormous dead fish, blood-red saprophytic plants, and glimpses of fisher cats and red fox. One day, I was stung under the rim of my glasses on my eyebrow by a yellow jacket. Another, I tumbled head over heels into a ravine for no reason at all. “Okay”, I’ve shouted to whatever essence was floating around me. “Enough. I will find and tell your story.“

Now, I have started my story, writing what I was meant to write. It has taken me years, decades. All this time, I walk by the Dancing Girl and pay tribute, thanking her, my muse, for this story. Giving the Dancing Girl updates on my minuscule progress, I watch her succumb to hemlock wooly adelgid and become a bare skeleton, as her tops break off and her bark chips settle on the ground. Yet, she still clings to the rocky roadside.

I have begun, the story is being told, and as I write, I discover it’s not just the Dancing Girl who has changed over these years, but both of us. I have moved from one who identified the species of trees and gave all things names to someone who experiences those things’ presence. I have changed from one who experienced those things’ presence to someone who realizes I am actually those things, just as they are me. We are all interconnected, and all filled with the same grace that permeates our world, if we are open to it.

I pass through the tree archway, no longer evergreen hemlocks but tall swaying oaks and maples and ash. But there I am, naming again. I open my heart to these sheltering trees and I hear them whisper, “We will protect you.” I sense it so strongly; I feel tears of relief. I belong, I am them, they are me, we are part of this living organism, this earth. My role is clear: to live as present and harmoniously with life as is possible. And to tell others about it.

“We have begun, the story is being told.” I tell the Dancing Girl, even though she is dead, that her tale will now live on past her decaying trunk. I encourage her to let go and crash to the ground and finally come to rest. Yet, she stubbornly stays.

And now, today, I am startled by the splash of yellow. A small sunflower has pushed up through this hostile, shady, nutrient poor, salt-filled substrate and is smiling at us. He humbles me in his simplicity and beauty, optimism, and sense of continuity. “Dancing Girl,” I say, “you are still here.”

Hiking for Friendly’s: Tyler Mill Preserve and North Haven Friendly’s

19 08 2015

17 August 2015

Tyler Mill Park Wallingford w Diane Saunders 08.17.15 005

Diane Saunders

It may not have been the hottest or most humid day of the summer, but it was close. Regardless, Cherry and I met in Durham at 8AM to continue our Hiking for Friendly’s.

Route 68 towards I-91 was shut down due to an accident, but fortuitously, the detour took us directly to Tyler Mill Preserve in Wallingford. Armed with a map I’d downloaded, we parked and took off at 8:30AM. We entered the 1,000-acre park at its northern end and found the well-marked red trail. We started a clockwise exploration, moving quickly past it’s junction with the yellow and then orange trails. We enjoyed crossing forested wetlands with high rock outcrops on the eastern edge.

Cherry had just returned from a week’s silent retreat where she appreciated daily walks and swims plus an occasional massage. I’d just hosted a beach day attended by 25 of my beloved family. Life was good.

We reached Tamarac Swamp Road and swung around towards our parking area. Suddenly, I was confronted by a sign suggesting a continuation of the red trail not on my map. We decided to be adventurous and take the 2.2-mile extension. Shortly, we encountered another decision point, loop to the left or right. We chose left.

Cherry was excited about an upcoming party she’s hosting where her friends and family will meet each other. After hearing about sisters Missy and Holly and stepmother Barbara for years, I too was looking forward to the event. I shared my current strategy of taking August as vacation—trying to do as much as possible to recognize and meet my needs.

When we saw a fenced area, we stopped to read the sign describing a wildflower restoration area done with the assistance of Lyman Hall students. As we contemplated the project, a woman approached and described their activities removing invasives (multiflora rose and Russian Olive) and planting bird and butterfly-friendly natives. Suddenly, both Cherry and this woman, who turned out to be Diane Saunders, recognize each other as former colleagues at UCONN Extension! We got a personal tour of the project and guidance to some of the unusual sights in the area. And a revised copy of the map to get us back to our car. Three hours after starting, we arrived, covered with sweat but pleased with both the property and serendipity that life can bring.

And then, to North Haven Friendly’s where a cheerful Danielle allowed me to grab a printed paper roll filled with mazes, word searches, and other kid-friendly activities. (She even gave me crayons!) Searching the menu, Cherry discovered we were entitled to a ten-percent discount and free sundaes due to our senior status. Will the surprises at Friendly’s ever end?

While devouring sandwiches and sundaes, we looked at our list of Friendly’s to determine our next month’s stop. To be announced!