Monday, October 27, 2008

oak leaves
Although I grew up in the country, I have never lived around oak trees. So when we moved into this house in August, I was surprised to learn that living near oaks is unlike living near any other kind of tree I’d ever been around. Let me go back in time a bit. It is the first morning after our first night stay in this house. After a very long day moving, we were extremely physically and mentally exhausted. I figured Kelly must be, too. So I was very surprised to realize he was already up and out of bed, though it was still pretty dark outside. I asked him what time it was – he answered, “5:30.” As in, AM. Ugh. I noticed through the dark room that Kelly was standing peering out of one of the large windows of the bedroom, toward the woods. Weird. “What are you looking at?” I queried. “There’s someone out there” he responded quietly. My sleep-induced fog lifted instantly. “Are you sure?” “Yeah, I can hear someone throwing rocks at our house. Listen!” I was quiet as I listened for any noise through the open windows. Sure enough, a few seconds later, the pitter patter of something falling through the leaf canopy could be heard, and a “thunk” was heard as it hit our roof and bounced off, landing on the deck. Shortly after that, I heard it again. Then another time after that. “I’m going down to the deck to see what it is” Kelly muttered as he headed out of the room. I stood still by the windows, looking and listening to the sound of the mystery objects still dropping through the canopy. First day back in the country after two decades of city living, and we end up neighbors to some nutty kid who thinks it’s funny to sling rocks at our house? It seemed way too early for any kid to be up, even a mischievous one. A short while later, Kelly returned, looking sheepish. “It’s an acorn” he stated simply.acorn The woods outside were gradually growing lighter. I could see squirrels chasing each other up and around and across tree limbs. “I suppose the squirrels could be biting them off and dropping them,” I mention. “It must be easier to pick them up off the ground than carry them all down.” And so the very first mystery of our very first night stay was solved. The “nutty kids” were squirrels, doing what squirrels do best. Gathering food. I guess I still had a lot to learn about country living. What I also didn’t realize when we first moved here was that not only do oak trees drop acorns incessantly, and lots of them, loudly and at all hours of the day and night, making us jump every time one of them dislodged and came bouncing off the car or deck or rooftop, they also drop lots of other things. Leaves. Branches. Sap. Our two cars, parked in the driveway, wore a constant sticky coat that bees just loved. Mostly hornets. Ug. Sometimes I swept the driveway clear of everything – the acorns, the branches, the leaves. But by the next day it was as if I had done nothing. And when summer turned into fall, well, forget it, it would be a full time job to keep it all clear. But we did discover something useful – the leaves that fell on the front porch and back deck could be easily swept up onto a tarp and dragged over to mulch the dirt area around the fire pit, an area we wished to keep clear of the weeds that we had so painstakingly cleared out upon our arrival. A nice big batch of leaves for the mulch, and only a few sweeps of a broom to collect them. I learned to appreciate piles of leaves on the decks. Easy mulch. collecting leavesI also started picking up acorns whenever I was outside, and placing them in a basket in the living room. They looked so earthy, and reminded me of my connection to the woods and my gratitude for this country home. The cat loves to fish them out from time to time and chase them around the living room. I was curious to see if there were any other cool ways to display oak tree gifts – leaves, acorns, branches, so I Googled acorns and came across an astonishing fact – native Americans considered acorns to be one of their most important food crops! In fact they referred to them as Grain of the Trees. I found recipes for creating acorn flour by drying them, cracking them out of their shells, then soaking them to leach out the tannins and then drying them again, finally grinding them into acorn flour. And people still do this! I had no idea. one of our many oak treesI can’t say that I have collected a crop of acorns to dry and process… yet. But the idea intrigues me. Here I am, in the woods, surrounded by food, falling abundantly from the trees around me. Another example of how we often miss the abundance of what is right at hand. But a little early-morning lesson from a nutty, furry neighbor reminds me to pay attention, and be aware of the blessings all around me.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

sunrise on north center lake
This morning as I lay in bed halfway between awake and asleep, I heard my husband, who was already up and dressed and ready to head downtstairs for breakfast, say "there's a deer in the backyard." I work from home, which means normally I roll out of bed about 15 minutes before I flip on my computer for the day's work. It was still dark out. It was definitely not time to get up yet. But I wanted to see the deer. I had not seen a deer in our yard yet, although I knew they were plentiful around here. So I rolled out of bed and peered over his shoulder. He had turned on the outside light and between that and the pre-dawn grey, we could just make out the white fur along the underbelly and tail. We watched quietly until Kelly said it was time for him to head downstairs. I lay back down, pondering my choices. Since I was up earlier than normal, and since it appeared like it would be a clear morning, I considered trying to squeak in a quick paddle before work. But I wasn't sure what time sunrise was, and I wasn't sure I could get out and back before it was time to work. So I switched on my computer and waited for it to boot up. By the time it was powered up and ready to Google search the local sunrise time, it was 7:30am. Today's sunrise time: 7:31am. No time to paddle. I ran through the house grabbing camera and warm clothes and gloves and headed out into the chilly 34 degree pre-dawn morning. It was clear and frosty, and I wanted to get down to the lake, about half a mile down the road, just as the sun was peeking over the trees across the lake. still waterI crossed my arms and hugged my quilted shirt closer to my body as I hustled down the road. Birds were already stirring and a flock of juncoes startled out of the bushes as I scurried by. In no time I was down to the lake where I often put in for my paddle. The sun was just poking up over the trees. It was as if the whole world held her breath and waited and watched as the sun rose. I stood for a few minutes, then got "busy" taking pictures. The light was fantastic, and there was still frost on many of the little plants on the grassy hill. milkweed angelI had to stop many times from my photo op and stare at the breathtaking scene unfolding around me. Mist rose off the lake, the remaining leaves on the trees were brilliantly colored. The lake was flat calm. And the frost - every tiny detail was enhanced by the frost. A single milkweed seed lay on the beach resembling a tiny angel, the frost quickly turning to droplets of water along her downy dress, a reminder that God really is in the details. Every direction I looked I took in more beauty. It seemed my lungs would burst with the fresh air, and I was overwhelmed with the beauty and stillness. I did not want to head back up the hill and back into the house. It felt so peaceful here. So connected. I hoped I could bring those feelings back with me, back to the rhythm and routine of the day.
frosted lamb's earI grudgingly turned off my camera and took one last look at the sunrise, offering a small prayer of gratitude, before turning my back and heading back up to the road, and back up the road towards home. Along the way I noticed the frost still clinging to the plants that had not yet felt the reach of the morning sun, so I snapped a few more pictures - smartweed and lambsear and thistle, visual memories to take back with me to remind me that beauty and stillness and calmness are there for me, any time. All I need to do is roll out of bed and go for a walk.
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