Even peaceable kingdoms have challenging times. In the last two weeks both of my beloved dogs have had major surgery, and for too many days I’ve feared they might die. It’s been a time of gritted teeth, wrung hands, and tension. And important lessons. Continue reading
A few weeks ago sleet was falling, and the sky was as gray as lead. I’m tired of this blasted cold, I thought and wished a magic carpet would spirit me away to the Caribbean.
When my friend David called, I grumbled that our ferocious winter had destroyed my garden. In the snow, my roses and fruit trees had shed their leaves, as usual, but my lavender and evergreen hebes had browned – and maybe died. My daylilies had seemed to give up and melt into the earth, and all that was left of my dahlias were bare stalks and desolation. Just looking out the window made me shrink back, discouraged. Continue reading
Meet Mr. Yote, a coyote rescued at Washington’s West Sound Wildlife Shelter, where I love to volunteer:
On the left, you can see him as a pup just after he’d been found, desperate and alone on the side of a road. His sad face beside his teddy bear tells you how scared he was and how much he must have missed his mother. But on the right, about six months later, Mr. Yote has become a sleek and handsome fellow, testimony to the Shelter staff’s care. You’d never know from looking at him that he has severe eye problems, discovered when he could only find his food by sniffing to the bowl. If he were returned to the wild, he’d surely have died. So he was sent to a sanctuary, where he’s now living happily among his own kind.
I want to show you a beautiful (but very sad) photograph, taken recently in Teresopolis, Brazil, just northeast of Rio:
If you look in the lower left corner beside the cross, you will see Leao, a blonde Lab sort of mutt. He is lying beside the grave of his person, Cristina Maria Cesario Santana, who was recently killed in the 900 square miles of floods and landslides that ravaged the area. The mass graves in the picture only hint at the loss of life. At last count, 207 people were missing, and 741 had died.
Leao must have witnessed more terror and destruction than many of us have ever seen. He’s surely frightened, and flashing through his mind must be haunting memories of suffering, loss, and grief. And yet there he is, a symbol of grace under pressure. His loyalty shines through and shouts to us that beauty can cling to the underbelly of suffering. Continue reading
It’s early morning, dark and silent outside. In a couple of hours I will sneak away and carry out my secret Christmas celebration as I have for the last five years. Armed with a loaf of wheat bread and a five-pound bag of unsalted, unshelled peanuts, I will set out for the forest and leave little piles of food around tree trunks and on rocks. On this chilly, damp day, the wild creatures will get a Christmas dinner and a boost to their spirits. Continue reading
My Afternoon with James Herriot
Many of you will remember James Herriot, the author of All Things Bright and Beautiful and other splendid books about his vet practice after World War II in England’s Yorkshire dales. His real name was Alfred Wight – and it hurts me to say “was” because he died six years ago of prostate cancer.
So if he’s dead, you may be wondering, how did I get to spend an afternoon with him? Well, two weeks ago I went to his brick, ivy-covered home and veterinary surgery in the tiny town of Thirsk, just north of York. As soon as I stepped through the door, I felt his presence as surely as if he’d been smiling at me in the entry hall and asking if he could take my coat. Continue reading
I’m rushing to pack for England, where I plan to visit the Hill Top Farm of Beatrix Potter. Her Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle-Duck, and Squirrel Nutkin have enchanted me since childhood, and I also loved Mr. John Dormouse and his daughter.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about dormice, those cuddly, furry-tailed little creatures with huge brown eyes that tug at hearts. Dormice are your usual mice in many ways; but they get their name from the Anglo-Norman dormeus, which means “sleepy one,” because they hibernate for up to six months a year. Once they wake and spring back into action, they travel mostly by tree at night.
My dear friend David has given me twenty-one begonias. Some are newly propagated babies, but most are beautiful adults. And they clearly have an attitude. They don’t hesitate to let you know that they know they are gorgeous, and they seem to sprout new leaves just to prove their confidence.
Their self-assurance is not surprising. They come to me from pampered lives in David’s greenhouse, where a computer regulates the window shades, temperature, water, and mist. Once the begonias are residents in my house, though, they lead a more Spartan existence. I feed them twice a month from spring to fall and often talk to them, and I’m attentive. But misting? Never.
Winter is coming early to our Washington island, and everybody’s grumbling. As clouds gather and rains dampen the woods, the world seems to quiet, birds fly south, and conversations on the ferry become serious and muffled.
Especially affected by the weather change are my beloved dogs: Logan, a German shepherd, and Phoebe, a beagle. On our newly cold mornings, the dogs lounge around on their beds later and with more conviction than they do in the summer, and they seem to want to eat more and store up fat for winter. They also resist going out into the rain. When I call them to the door, you’d think I was trying to coax them to their execution. I become the vicious ogre whom they wish they could ignore.
When I squint at the sun, I see a miracle. Five billion years ago, hydrogen atoms came together to make the sun, and every second it transforms four million tons of itself into light. As it pours out energy, it enables the salmon to swim up streams near my house, the towhees to sing in my hedge, and the chard to grow in my garden, nourish me, and give me strength. Molecules energized by the sun course through my blood and enable me to think and do my work. The sun is fueling this blog and, I hope, helping me reflect some of the light on the beautiful, interesting things in the world.