Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A BLUE SO TRUE – The Awakening of Wonder

It's my favorite season of the year...or at least it should be. Spring here in Minnesota is unusually slow to awaken this year. Parts of the state are still adding to the several feet of April snow they've already gotten, and even here in the Twin Cities piles of snow still flank driveways and parking lots.

But there are signs of hope. Among the most welcome harbingers of spring are those first brave little bulb flowers that dare poke their heads out of the barely thawed ground: crocus, in all its fresh sherbet colors; fragrant hyacinth; and my favorite, the plucky, exuberantly-blue scilla, or Siberian squill.

          Still more wonders lie in store, both in 
          the earth and in the human psyche.

This spring, more than most, the squill gives me hope. Hope that, after this insufferable winter, after a few personal challenges that I've allowed to send my spirit into hibernation, still more wonders lie in store, both in the earth and in the human psyche, awaiting nothing more than a few more rays of sun, a slight shift
in the jet stream...and our loving attention.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

MINNESOTA EXOTICA – Wonders Close to Home

Minnesota exotica. If that strikes you as an oxymoron, you probably live here, and you're not alone. A culture of self-effacing modesty and moderation in all things—a legacy, I suppose, of our German-Lutheran heritage—tends to keep our enthusiasm about even the most spectacular experiences bottled up inside.

Even transplants to Minnesota, largely free of such constraints, hesitate to rave about the amazing natural assets they find here because no one else in the country would believe that a place they see as somewhere between wild west and arctic tundra could possibly offer anything more exotic than the characters in Fargo.

Their loss.

I must admit, with my own German-American heritage, to being afflicted with a bit of that uniquely Minnesotan modesty. But another factor in my not extolling the wonders of my own state is that universal human fault of failing to appreciate those things most familiar to us. This is one reason, I suppose, why I crave adventures in other countries, especially those where animals, plants and landscapes are very different from those I've come to take for granted here at home.

So I realized it might help me, and those of you who may also have grown apathetic to all the beauty you live with every day, to try seeing it as if it were for the first time. It helps if I imagine some of my friends from around the world coming here, and what I would want to show them. For, just as I have stood wonder-struck before the natural “exotica” of their Baja California, their Kenya, their Veracruz, AndalucĂ­a or Costa Rica, I know they would see my world in the same way I see theirs.

If you make room for wonder in your heart, you may find yourself awestruck by a speck of dust.

In three and a half years writing this blog, and another six or seven writing of my experiences with small wonders (work I'd later distill for my first book, Under the Wild Ginger – A Simple Guide to the Wisdom of Wonder, I've learned a few things about how people see—or don't see—the world around them.

One of those lessons is that wonder is as much a place in the heart and spirit as it is any specific object or event. You don't have to go to some faraway place to find it. It starts within you, right where you are. And if you make room for it among the clutter you may find yourself awestruck by a speck of dust.

Believe that all of Creation, far and near, beyond you and within you, is a lovingly beautiful place.

So keep your eyes—and your spirit—open. Indulge the curiosity of a five-year-old that still resides in you. Try to see even the simplest and most familiar of Nature's gifts as if you were seeing them for the first time. And, above all, believe that all of Creation, far and near, beyond you and within you, is a lovingly beautiful place. Expect wonder.

What are some of the workaday wonders you catch yourself taking for granted? Here are some from my everyday world here in Minnesota, USA.

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
Long-ear sunfish - PHOTO: Brandon Brown
Sugar maples ablaze – Autumn in Minneapolis
Snow on crab apple tree
Moose – Superior National Forest
Split Rock Lighthouse, Lake Superior - PHOTO: Brynn
Agate – PHOTO: Lech Darski
State flower – pink and white lady slipper
Birch trees
Painted bunting – PHOTO: Doug Janson
Surfing Lake Superior

Thursday, April 17, 2014

ANIMAL MAGNETISM – A Dream to Remember

How often do you dream? If it’s frequently, you’re lucky. Me, I very seldom dream—or should I say, remember my dreams. So when I do remember one it’s likely to be a beaut…like the one I had last week:

I was taking a nap in the living room. As I awoke, I noticed Charlie, an old friend who’d been visiting me from Boston, standing next to me. He was about to leave and head back home. Without as much as sitting up, I gave him a sort of awkward handshake, and he walked toward the door with his small carry-on bag.

A few steps behind Charlie tottered a very young horse, a winsome, long-legged, still-slightly-gangly  chestnut foal. Charlie opened the door, turned and beckoned his young friend to leave with him. Instead the animal stopped beside my day bed, glanced down at me, and lay down…right on top of me.

Not the slightest bit alarmed, I put my arms around the beautiful animal, marveling at its smell. It wasn’t that I’d expected it to smell bad, but I thought it would at least smell like a horse. It didn’t; it smelled even better, a sweet, warm-nutty scent something like the way your skin smells after you lie in sun for while.

You’d think having a horse of any size lying on top of you would, if not crush
you, at least squeeze the wind out of you. But this foal was nearly weightless.
I felt nothing but its smooth, still-soft coat, its warmth, the slow ebb and flow
of its breath.

It nuzzled with me.

       The big cat licked my face and then 
       nestled its head in the crook of my neck.

Charlie had left without a word, and I lay there overcome with wonder at this sweet animal’s affection for me; with what seemed like the opening of a clear channel of silent communication between us. It was as if our spirits flowed together into one. I closed my eyes and, basking in this magical moment, drifted off to sleep.

Later, when I opened my eyes, the foal had somehow morphed into a stunningly beautiful cat. Again, it was not the kind of cat you'd expect to be sleeping with—it was a cougar. It was looking right into my eyes, deeply, as if this was as extraordinary an experience for it as for me.

I studied every hair on the cougar’s face, the meld from fawn to white around its eyes and mouth, the little black spot at the root of each whisker. I could feel that
the animal shared my admiration and wonder.

The big cat licked my face and then nestled its head in the crook of my neck.
I did not lick it back.

When I awoke from my dream, I lay in bed for the longest time basking in the rapture of that transcendent experience. I felt a guest in a paradise of possibility, though, try as I might, I could not go back again and conjure up my enchanting new friends.

      Whatever life may throw at us, the only thing 
      we have to fear is failing to understand its
      place in that sacred reality.

I've shared my dream with my wife and several friends. Inevitably, we traded hypotheses about its meaning. I guessed it might have been inspired by my recent visit with my grandchildren, and our snuggling at bedtime.

My wife thinks that’s too literal, and that the animals and their calming, positive energy were more likely a manifestation of my father, come back to reassure me during a time of extraordinary stress and anxiety in my life.

One friend has an even more literal take on it than I do: that my close encounter with such improbable creatures was merely a playing out of the mystical connection I already feel with all living things. It arises from my deep conviction that every single organism, every rock, every cloud, every drop of water, even the vast emptiness of deep space, is part of a single, universal whole.

And that, when we come face to face with whatever life may throw at us, the only thing we have to fear is failing to understand its place in that sacred reality.