Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Rites of Spring : May Bears

This has been a quirky Spring to say the least. I have noted the arrival of hummingbirds, and scarlet tanagers. I’ve wondered over the fate of four pairs of rose-breasted grosbeaks that have yet to join the two pairs in residence. My flock of canary yellow goldfinches is down to five from the thirty-five usually summering with me.Stormy weather all over the US could have played a role in this...
I have waited and watched, but the visitors that I missed most of all were the black bears that usually appear by mid-May.
I have had up to four at a time in my backyard, but it always varies. Last year I had one handsome male that I named Silus, for his silent comings and goings. He spent every afternoon for a couple of weeks here, rolling in the grass and of course munching on the sunflower seeds put out for the birds. I got to the point where I could converse with him softly from the deck and he’d just sit there and listen, then slowly stand and shyly head off into the woods. But just when I had started to give up on bear visits this year, I noticed both cats were acting oddly. They seemed to be picking up a scent that I couldn’t.
I pulled them back inside and was on the phone when I glanced out the window and to my delight there was a beautiful Mama bear and two tiny cubs about the size of cocker spaniels. Last year's Silus was a one-year-old male and maybe 75 pounds but this female was much bigger. She helped herself to the wire birdfeeder but just emptied out the contents and deftly used those big paws and claws to rifle through the grass and pick up seeds. The little ones tumbled around her playing in the afternoon sun as she snacked. This bear has a distinctive cinnamon circle on her right flank; the rest of her is shiny black, except her nose, which is also a cinnamon brown. I think I’ll call her Domino.
It is quite windy today. The lilacs are in full flower and perfuming the air, fragrant narcissi are still blooming and adding their distinctive aroma to the mix. The large rhododendron is just opening her magenta blossoms and is literally abuzz with bees and hummingbirds. All of a sudden Domino stood up and sniffed the wind in this direction, where most of the flowers are. As she did this, the precious little cubs scooted into the woods and quickly climbed up a tree. I was taking pictures through the window glass and trying not to be seen, as surely they would all bolt.
Domino came right up on the deck and pressed her nose against the glass of the sliding door and looked in, three feet away from me. Of course I missed that shot, as I stepped back behind the curtain for undetected observation. She sniffed at the furniture and birdbath and slowly, carefully moved around not disturbing a thing. The cubs began calling her and come running toward the deck. She gracefully moved down the three steps and led them around it and they all slip back into the woods as quietly as they came.
I have had other mother bears with cubs on my deck in the 15 years I’ve lived here and never have they disturbed anything on it. The birdfeeders were taken hostage quite a few times however, sometimes in the same day. And I really had a battle of wits with a male years ago as he would sneak in all times of the day,grab the feeder and abscond with it.I managed to play keep away and was quite pleased with myself. The next morning I opened the front door and stepped into a pile of scat left on the doormat, nothing else touched, everything neat and orderly... but I got the message! I had to laugh at him pointedly choosing that spot and getting me good!
I am so pleased to have had this traditional visit and hope I’ll have a few more before they head deeper into the woods. Now this crazy season seems a little more on track…
I have a deep and special affection for these shy creatures and wish them a long and healthy life. For your amusement I’m posting a great shot of Silus from last year and today’s Domino and her cubs, shot through the kitchen window and the flowering lilac outside it.

May you have pleasant encounters with whatever “bears” cross your path today!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Buddha’s Birthday

The full moon of May that occurs tonight in the Himalayas and tomorrow night here in the West is known as Buddha Purnima, the Buddha’s Birthday, and is celebrated by many Theravada Buddhists and Hindus at this time. The Tibetans will observe this auspicious occasion at the full moon next month.
I had the pleasure of attending the prayers and festivities for Buddha Purnima years ago at Swayambunath, the iconic stupa with the all seeing eyes of Buddha finely painted on pure gold, that represents Kathmandu and Nepal in the minds of many.
High atop a dusty hill, west of this ancient city, and reached by a very steep flagstone stairway, pilgrims stoically ascend through mists and smoke in a tiny woods populated by a tribe of very charismatic monkeys, ever alert and very well fed by passers-by. More than a dozen small stupas painted white, Tibetan prayer stones etched with powerful incantations, and orange robed seated Buddhas are scattered about the grounds. They provide an excellent excuse to stop and linger and catch your breath as yet two more wizened grandmothers pass easily ahead and up the steep incline.
On reaching the main platform crowds of people, sweet smoky incense, garlands of orange marigolds and millions of tiny oil lamps mingle as Tibetan prayer flags snap in the breeze. Everyone falls into a loosely formed line to circumambulate the main stupa going in a clock-wise direction and spinning large prayer wheels that line the base at shoulder height. Music plays, women draped in shawls and gossamer skirts barely missing the tiny tongues of fire everywhere, chant their prayers and stop to light more candles for requested blessings. Every human sense is stimulated, old friends excitedly greet each other, hands folded, Namaste softly spoken… It is a lovely Birthday party,and surely enjoyed by all.
I sit many years and a world away from the dusty knoll of Swayambu in my lush green hills of New England. A strong wind is roiling through the sea of electric green leaves. Trees moan and creak as they sway from the next forceful wave. The rhythm of the rustling leaves makes me momentarily forget that I am landlocked, until a brilliant scarlet tanager startles my eyes and quickly disappears into the tender,leafy,surf.

May you and yours find many blessings and personal illumination on this auspicious night!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Mother's Gifts

Here in the US, we recently celebrated our annual Mother’s Day. It is a time of mixed emotions for many people. Some gamely put aside on-going personality conflicts to select an appropriate card or gift in hopes of evoking the ideal in this most complex and deeply felt connection. Others will make a phone call that never seems to come often enough for the receiver. Most mothers would just love a little time with their very busy children. Time is what few of us have anymore…
My own dear mother passed away nine years ago. And any experienced personality challenges have sweetly softened to memories of the gifts that only she could have given me.
For Mother showed me how to see with an artist’s eye. To carefully look at nature and catch the subtle nuance in the slant of an old tree that expresses its personality, to read stories in delicate patterns of shadows on the wall, to see faces of cupids or imps on the knees of otherwise ordinary folk, and as I matured in awareness to notice how these faces reflected some character traits of their owners! (Try this the next time you are at the beach!)
She made fairy goblets out of gum wrapper foil and created charming “secrets” for me to find. These fanciful creations were shallow holes filled with arrangements of tiny flowers, stones, berries or seeds under a piece of appropriately sized glass that made a little window. The dampness of the earth kept these natural tableaus fresh for a week and I truly delighted in them.
Mothers in traditional cultures around the world made wonderful textiles and carrying cloths embroidered or appliqu├ęd with auspicious or protective signs to protect their precious newborns and young toddlers from disease and misfortune. The Miao in China and SE Asia as well as most of the “minority groups” of these regions make exquisite baby carriers that are rarely sold. When they do, they usually remove the carrying straps or other parts
In Kohistan, in N. Pakistan, mothers sew coins for prosperity, mother of pearl buttons to deflect evil and sun symbols and trees for strength and long lives. Little girls are given exquisite hats and little boys receive sleeveless jackets gaily embellished with metal safety pins and Western style zippers. Each one is as unique as the woman who makes it and the child who receives it.

What was the gift your mother gave you that could have come from no one else?!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Spring Songs ...

After days of raw, and cool weather, the sun has graced us once again.
Now warblers are joined by Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and the bright green woods echo with birdsong. Early this morning I heard the first dulcet tones that I eagerly await all winter to hear. A male Wood Thrush is practicing the first notes of the season. In a few days the full repertoire will performed and I will be aurally transported to heaven… at early morning and early evening until late August.
The little hummingbirds haven’t arrived, though last night, a raccoon helped himself to the nectar I have had waiting. The daffodils are just starting to bud at this point, so not much in the floral department, to offer the hummers after their long trip North,especially in the stormy weeks just past.
Other Spring songs are in the air besides the birds however. A large group of friends ventured out into the rain and fog from diverse locales to celebrate a significant birthday in a remote area of the Berkshires. A delightful rustic barn with fire roaring dramatically in a large stone fireplace provided the perfect antidote to the bone-chilling damp. And fellow travelers were treated to hearty food and soulful songs from our birthday minstrel.
By midnight, in the flickering light, kids tucked into bed, we adults joined in with the band to raise our voices… singing songs of our youth and laughingly botching the lyrics, once so profound, that somehow our middle-aged brains had forgotten!
Ah, Spring! Ah,youth…!
May you find something to make your heart sing today… in tune and with the all the right lyrics!