Winter Moon at Dawn: Possibility and Potential

With what degree of certainty does the Old Farmer’s Almanac guarantee its weather predictions? Add twenty percent to that. I promise you that I can predict when arctic temperatures will hit the Hudson Valley almost without fail.

For the past several winters we have taken care of my folks’ dog while they are off on vacation. Next winter, give me a call and find out when Mom and Dad are heading south – it means that the thermometer is plunging southward too.

Chris Darling, EveryStockPhoto.com
Chris Darling, EveryStockPhoto.com

Through the tiny gap between my scarf and my Red Sox ski cap I watch Saoirse, the oh-so-delicate 100 lb. black lab nose along the tracks tracks of some mysterious creature who is not hiding in a cozy den, despite the frigid wind. The moon lights the western sky at just after 6 a.m. and I feel as if I am walking through a different world. Amazing how being a dog minder introduces you to the smallest details of a new neighborhood at the most unusual times of day. Only when she has moved on and I raise my eyes from the icy snow banks do I realize that the whole world is markedly brighter. Pastel morning is just beginning to color the east, and the landscape glows as if someone just turned on a light in a distant room. In this case, I guess that would be Connecticut.

Even in the near blackness a surprising number of cars idle in driveways, trying to motor themselves awake in the bitter cold just as their drivers nurse that last cup of coffee. As much as getting up early and donning boots and shearling is a chore, Saoirse’s visit offers me my my first chances to learn the rhythms of my neighbors’ lives by piecing together what clues they leave in this coldest, darkest time of the year.

There is so little to go on – you have to have impeccable timing to catch the bundled figures gingerly make their way across the ice from the coziness of the kitchen to the tepid warmth of a car whose heater strains to keep the windshield from fogging. Instead, I am left to look into the glowing windows and see figures passing back and forth, engaged in the sacredness of the morning routine.

What is it about looking into the glow of a home’s lights at dawn that seems so much more intimate that seeing those same lamps ablaze in the evening?

mypictureWe are all a confederacy of early risers. Though some may be cheerful enough morning people, we are bound by what still seems an unnatural act, getting up when it’s dark as midnight. Who are we to rise before even the sun has climbed into his seat in the sky?

I found my heart warming to the residents in the houses where I could see someone standing before the kitchen sink, washing up a few breakfast dishes before she dashes out the door. We begin and end this day as strangers, but for this handful of moments between rising from bed and braving the world, we are all united in this process of preparation for the work ahead.

In this brief time between night and day I can believe wholeheartedly in a common humanity that we all share. A dream of still warm blankets and hopefully someone we love who lay beside us while we slept. A vision of hope for the day ahead before the winter chill and the vicissitudes of life challenges our resolve.

To think like Anne Shirley, this is the time when it is still a new day with no mistakes in it yet. All people and events are merely beautiful possibilities in the frozen morning lit by the grace of a waning moon.

Rescuing Childhood from the Jaws of Maturity

I am not sure where I got the idea that I was lousy at being a kid, but it is something that I have known for a long time. I realize that is a pretty negative thing to say, but hunches about one’s personality are rarely rooted in kindness or even reality. Perhaps it was when, at about ten, a friend told me that I was in too much of a rush to grow up. I remember feeling the need to abandon dolls for my first lip gloss and silly teen magazines and being shocked at her resistance to such “progress.”

By college, when friends were writing these insightful seeming essays about playground experiences that had changed the course of their lives, I realized how distanced I felt from the early years of my life. Really, who wanted to hear about what I did in the waiting room before I got through the door of full-fledged personhood? As soon as I could I spent a great deal of the time reading novels full of what might be called “mature themes” in a desperate bid to figure out the mysteries of adulthood and, in turn, life in general.

Now, I may lapse into great bouts of silliness and I am known to lose my mastery of complete sentences in the presence of truly adorable puppies, but I don’t tend to have the stomach for cartoons and I think I have the sense to avoid trying to write for the trendy new audience hungry for adolescent fiction. These days I have a bit more respect for the child I once was; in college I was too focused on the future to sift through elementary school experiences for gems of the past. But still, my own ancient history never seems to have the resonance of more recent events.

The lingering connection to my child self became powerfully apparent this weekend, however. A friend’s exuberant canine friend was doing a tour of the house. I hoped it would calm her down if she explored the place a little so the humans could drink some wine unaccompanied by whining (I was confident that the cats were clever enough to hide well out of sniffing range). We chatted for a while, but then my friend showed she knows her dog well enough to get a little concerned when she is quiet for any length of time…

She reached the happy hound in time to save my teddy bear’s face, but not his nose.bear.jpg

Maybe it was the lateness of the hour, or maybe it was that extra glass of wine, but before I knew it, my tears were falling on a fuzzy face already damp with doggy drool. I never would have thought myself capable of such a visceral reaction over a twenty year old bit of plushness, but it was as if the direct line to my girlhood had been tampered with. Of course, I am a woman who brought a teddy bear to her marriage bed, so I cannot claim such sophistication that this eruption of sentimentality was a complete surprise. At the same time, what I thought was a familiar thing to hold while I fell asleep was actually a palpable link to the version of me that existed before all of the books and theories marked my sense of who I am.

This incident brought to mind a half remembered adage about coming to God like a child. I guess I was thinking of that verse that seems to be from Matthew: “Unless you become like little children you will never enter the kingdom.” I have seen this idea surface in so many modern commentaries, mainly to advocate the idea of stripping away the ego and recovering that sense of wonder and trust so that you can be aware of the mysteries of the Divine.

Because I bought into the cult of maturity at such a young age, I think I was really convinced that the way to succeed in life was through amassing more knowledge and shrugging off the mantle of innocence. A missing plastic nose made me realize that I may not be so cerebral and worldly after all. Reflecting on this experience, I realize maybe I might not want to be. My child-self may not be the indistinct shadow I once thought necessary. I think I may finally be getting old enough to embrace her again.

Up Dog. Down Dog. Bad Dog?

Saoirse on the matLife took something of a turn in the days since I walked my parents’ dog Saoirse under that Epiphany sky on Sunday. The most notable causes of difficulty this week were the left ankle I sprained later that very night while on one last stroll with the the beloved hound as well as the fact that said canine was such a nervous wreck in the face of two territorial cats that she has alternately panted or whined through the night since she has arrived. Any semblance of routine my husband and I might be trying to establish in this new year was dashed as I hobbled around with this old injury I thought I had left behind me and we learned what it is like to add a loving omega puppy to the pack.

Tonight I was going to accomplish everything on my list including an ankle-safe walk, whipping up dinner, and finally doing some yoga to unkink these confused muscles and sinews that were shocked by the indignity of lurching around on crutches over the last few days. When I finally had a chance to get to my mat, Banshee, the savasana kitty who loves Saoirse UP CLOSEto curl up on my belly the moment I lie down, started her bid for affection. Saoirse was not about to let that sort of love pass her by, so she quickly took her spot in my lap – all 100 pounds of her. I pushed, I yelled, I growled, I pleaded, I tried to extricate myself but she just kept twisting us both in knots of limbs and tail and seeking doggy tongue.

I have just started reading Eknath Easwaran‘s translation and interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita. I am sure I will be writing a great deal about it, but my first impression was just how true and practical and applicable it all can be, especially through this wonderful teacher’s perspective. He talks about an Eightfold Path that lead to Self-realization, and ultimately to the realization of the Divine. In one of those rare moment when I actually have the ability to practice what I read, I recalled two elements of his Path: slowing down and putting others first. Though I was seeing a sweet, disobedient dog as a distraction to what I was meant to be doing – practicing what yoga I could on one foot – what if I stopped for a moment and looked at what she might need? What if I recognized this situation not as a lack of training but as the Universe suggesting I try something else? Here is a six-year-old only “child” who had been stolen from her life that features daily walks on the beach who is now being left alone all day with strange little creatures who look like little dogs, but most assuredly are a very foreign other. She has had to walk thought mountain slush and ice in woods full of deer and coyotes and other creatures that are so foreign to the sand dunes she is accustomed to roaming. The person sitting on the floor in the middle of prime puppy play space is her only link to that regular life she knows and loves, and now this person is rejecting her.

Surely Easwaran’s wisdom can be lavished on much more complex and serious issues than the classic struggle of yogini versus black lab, but this is a decent place to start, I should think. How is it that we think we can fill our house with adorable, furry fonts of unconditional love without occasionally stopping to realize what their experience of life must be like? The moments I spent holding on to her were the closest to meditation I had experienced in days, but I had fought them as ferociously as she fought for my attention. For once I feel a little closer to understanding what it means to listen to nature and silence that demanding ego-driven self who needs to believe she is in control.Angelic Saoirse