cat’s paw

like a cat’s paw

beneath the door

at first curious – then persevering

you stubbornly reached through

 

I opened up – just a crack

which was enough

for you

 

sgw // september ’18

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Migration

At the first sign of ice, the mallards left.  They had been hanging around the pond for weeks, dipping their heads beneath the surface and tugging up weeds.  They were storing as much energy as they could before the final leg of their journey south.

Last week the ice began at the shallow edges, slowly creeping towards the center.  By Friday, I realized something was different.  The pond was still.  No dabbling ducks, no rippling water.  Just ice and a patch of snow.  The mallards have migrated, and winter has arrived.

Some birds stay.  Between the snowy branches I hear a single note, repeated.  The call to a partner: “here I am, here I am”.  I stop and find the sound, a female cardinal, bravely perched like a flame against the monotonous brown. No song, no chatter, simply communication for survival.

So many winters before, I have felt the ache to migrate. I sought after a fresh climate and a new perspective.  I molted my feathers for the flight.  I craved change. But this year, like the cardinal, I will brave the winter.  I will take stock.  What do I have? What am I missing?  In the solitude and stillness of winter there may not be answers. But there is space and silence in which to listen.

I walk across the lawn to my back door and place my boots in the same footprints I made yesterday.  I have a routine now. There will soon be a trodden path from my door to the park.  I am here to stay.

On Jane Austin and “A Turn in the Park”

The heroines in Jane Austin novels all have one thing in common. They are avid walkers.  Is it just their sole opportunity for exercise in a long skirt? Or is it something more?

“To walk three miles, or four miles, or five miles, or whatever it is, above her ankles in dirt, and alone, quite alone! what could she mean by it? It seems to me to show an abominable sort of conceited independence, a most country-town indifference to decorum.”

Caroline Bingley, Pride and Prejudice

Lately I have taken to walking in the afternoon.  My workout with its strenuous cardio and strength training is early in the morning.  After a day of studying at a desk, my legs ache for movement.

Right before it gets dark, I go out the back door and head up the slope to a nearby park. I don’t take anything with me. I don’t consider the weather. I circle the pond in one direction and then reverse. It’s just over a mile, thirty minutes.

Indeed, Caroline Bingley, walking alone in the dirt brings me a sense of independence and indifference to decorum! It’s just me, alone, experiencing nature.  I am able to be present in the season outside, in the park, as well as the season inside, in my heart. Walking allows the mind to be free to think, to be unrestrained.  The body goes at its own natural rhythm, fast enough to keep warm yet gentle enough to not be tired out.  The tasks on my desk fall away.  What comes to the surface of my mind might be a memory from last year or a creative idea or a different perspective.  Emotions float away, lost in the midst of the swirling snow and darkening sky. Sometimes what comes to mind is only gratitude.  And the remembrance that gratitude is enough.

Walking in the same park every day allows me to see change. Yesterday the pond was just beginning to freeze, a thin layer of smooth ice at its shallow end.  Today, the frozen surface has expanded and a patch of snow accumulates in the center. I’m amazed by the mallard ducks, their green heads bobbing beneath the surface, seemingly unaffected by the frigid water.  Today they seem to be huddling a little closer.

I head home, snow and dirt stuck to my boots.  My chest is warm but my gloved fingers are beginning to turn numb.  In my solitude I have refocused, come back to center.  I see the path ahead, what is important, what is not.   I open the back door, step inside and feel the warmth of being home.

For women in Jane Austin’s day, and women in 2017, the meaning of a walk outside is unchanged. In the solitude of this simple experience, she finds her center, her true path, and always finds the way back home.

 

Owl Sighting

We wake up early in an urban apartment to the sounds of trains and screeching breaks.  The street lights cast a yellow glow on the bedspread.  We toss off the warm blankets and lace up our running shoes.  Its one of the last mornings in November.  We run north on Michigan Ave, past early morning dog walkers and quiet condos.  Sparrows feed busily in the grass by the sidewalk.  They scatter at the sight of our running shoes.  We head toward the sky scrapers then turn into museum campus and run along the lake.

It’s too cloudy to see the sunrise this morning.  We watch the sky change between the clouds.  She’s warming up: deep indigo turning to soft pink and orange.  We let our breathing slow and walk towards the beach.  There’s a path near the shore.  She says the old airport used to be here, just big enough for one runway.

Between the dune grasses, on an old log, we see something fluttering in the chilly air.  Just a plastic bag we say.  Then we see a round white head swiveling on a spotted body.  Sandy colored feathers waving in sync with the dune grasses.  For a long time we watch each other. She takes to the air, her expansive wings carry her silently across the water.

We stand in unexpected awe.  We feel somehow graced.   Nature – in her humble majesty – allowed us to be present in her midst.

With pink noses and numb hands, we turn back to the city, heading towards the sounds of traffic and a coffee shop.  We have the day to spend together, in the presence of just each other.  We are best friends, and this morning, we saw a snowy owl.

Winter Preparation

The days of fiery color and crisp sunshine are over.  The final days of fall are gray and bleak – unnoticed. It is too early yet for the holiday bustle yet autumn has passed. I  pull on a thick sweatshirt and boots and walk uphill to the park.  I take the trail around the pond, the same trail as always.  But this time I can see.

Without the foliage, nothing is hidden.  There are only decaying leaves on the ground, empty tree branches and dried out grasses.  Nature in her nakedness.  The ducks meander away when they see me – they have nothing to hide behind.  I spot a chickadee, his bright white head and black cap catch my sight even before I hear him chirp.  The sounds are different too.  There is no busyness, no nest building, no mating, no territories.  The squirrels have long since hid their nuts.  The ducks form quiet flocks, they are on the move. There is unity, cohesiveness, purpose.  We are all preparing for one thing – winter.

As I round the bend of the trail, I look across the pond to the sunset, yellow streaks across a white and gray sky.  There is nothing out of the ordinary here.  The earth is drying out, quieting down, preparing for the slumber of winter.

I come up to a small tree, with thin bare branches.  I stand on my toes and reach up to a tiny birds nest, long since deserted.  I pry the nest out of its branches.  It fits perfectly in the cup of my hand.  I carry it home.

I am preparing for winter too.  My first semester is coming to an end and I am settling into my new home.  The last leaves of change are falling.  I am turning inwards, looking inside myself.  Preparing, not for slumber, but for quiet solitude – awakening. I am letting the superficial, the unnecessary,  dry out and decay.  What is needed remains  – the roots of the tree, the water of the pond, the tiny twigs which hold together the nest.

give & take

crickets take their turn to listen

rasping wings held taught

dancing dragonflies go back and forth

with both their tails caught

the blowing breeze, can bend a tree

though she will groan in her reply

and just sometimes, the sun will let

the moon eclipse her in the sky

so I step back – into the shade

while you are shining bright

for only just one star is needed

to give the world all its light

but if your cup of joy runs dry

if there’s no room left to grow

give and take, I’ll empty out

so you may overflow

 

-sgw // august 22, 2017

Robin Song

The remarkable thing about birds is their abundance of songs, calls and conversations.  What other creature has so much to say?  Birds spend a considerable amount of their lives singing and listening.  In the nest, they hear their parents’ song, and learn to replicate it with detailed accuracy.  It’s part of survival.  Strength and precision of song determines social status and mating success. The various chirps and calls are communications about nearby predators or food sources.

I’m sitting on the cottage deck watching a robin who is perched on the roof.  She is quietly listening to another robin’s guttural song from the driveway light post.  I can also hear a mourning dove’s deep wailing and the loud wick-a wick-a of a northern flicker. High up in the trees is the whistling fee-bee of a black-capped chickadee. But the robin on the roof only has ears for the singing robin.

Not only are birds skilled vocalists, but they are also acute listeners.  Female songbirds choose a mate based on accuracy of tune and length of note, discrepancies too detailed for the human ear to pick out. The robin on the roof has been perched for many minutes, just listening.  I wonder what she hears, if she likes it, and if she will respond.  But if she flies away to a tall pine tree and he doesn’t get the mate, we can still be sure of one thing: he’ll keep singing.  

-sgw // July 17, 2017

Poetry on Change 

While Underneath a Willow Tree 

how is it that she grew to be? 

flexible yet fearsome strong 

straddling this plane and pond 

her roots reach out in every way 

her branches blow and softly sway 

but in an arrow – onward and up 

grows her straight and sturdy trunk 

what would it be to grow in place 

with just one square of earth as base? 

to never reach or run or fly 

to only see one view of sky

how beautiful it is to change 

to find yourself unknown and strange 

to wake up breathless, somewhere new 

discovering a different you

to walk and dream and hope and be 

underneath a willow tree 

– sgw // july 2017 

Need Not Apply 

I hoped my smile would make this easy 

but no results here

just empty coffee mugs, unshaven legs, 

rain soaked resumes 

so soon and I am sapped  

soggy – sweaty – stuck 

I saw a worm sinking in a puddle 

who showed more ferocity than me 

the morning burned up and slipped away 

but I have nowhere to be late 

so do you think I could make it – 

squatting on an upturned milk crate?

-sgw // ann arbor // june 13, 2017