Sunday, October 31, 2010

Doggy Heaven

The lights were off except the gently glowing moon shaped night light. She had told him a bedtime story, they had said their evening prayers and they had sung their usual goodnight songs. Just as the night’s silence settled over the room he fidgeted under the covers and said, in a small, sad little boy voice, “Mama, I miss Lucky.”

“I miss Lucky, too, baby. I’m very sad that she is gone.”

“Mama, where did Lucky go?”

“I wonder. Where do you think Lucky is now?”

“I think Lucky is in doggy heaven,” he said with the finality only a five year old can have.

“Mmm, yes. I bet you are right.” Silence settled over the room again. They could hear dry leaves blowing along the sidewalk and an owl hooted from the trees behind the house. A dog barked somewhere off in the distance.

“Mama, what do doggies do in doggy heaven?”

“I wonder. What do you think Lucky is doing?”

“I think she’s chasing squirrels. That was always her favorite thing to do.”

“Yes it was,” she said with a smile. “Do you remember that time Lucky pulled the leash right out of your hand? We had such a hard time getting her to come back.”

“Yeah! She ran and ran chasing every squirrel in the park. And remember when we took her to the river and she found the dead fish and rolled in it. She was so stinky and you didn’t want to let her in the car.”

They laughed and she replied, “Yeah, I do remember that. I bet there are lots of dead things to roll in in doggy heaven. What else do you think dogs get to do in doggy heaven?”

“Eat popcorn. And potato chips.”

“Oh yeah! An all you can eat popcorn and potato chip bar! And tuna, too, right?”

“Yeah! And there is a big field full of old bones to dig up and bury!”

“And she will never never have to play with dogs that scare scare her, or hear fireworks or get in Daddy’s truck. Lucky Lucky.”

He laid quietly for a little bit, but not sleeping yet. They could hear cars driving by outside and rain starting to fall on the pavement.

“Mama, what if I forget Lucky?”

“You won’t forget Lucky. Every year we have a special festival to remember the people and animals we loved who have died, remember? You know how next week is Halloween, right? Then the day after Halloween we have our Day of the Dead dinner.”

“Yeah. We decorated the nature table with pictures last year, and lit a candle at dinner.”

“That’s right. Last year we had pictures of Great Grandpa from World War II and of Grandma’s Grandparents on their farm, and my favorite piece of crochet from my Great Grandma. Remember how we also had a picture of my childhood dog? We can put a picture of Lucky on our nature table this year and tell stories about her during dinner. She is one of our Beloved Dead now, too.”

“Can we put some dog food in her bowl, like we make a plate from dinner for our Beloved Dead?”

“Haha, yes. We’ll have to keep the cat out of it, but we can do that.”

“Mama,” he asked again, after a moment of quiet, “who will take care of Lucky when she is in doggy heaven? Who will scoop out her dog food since I’m not there? And who will open the door for her or wipe her paws off?”

“Oh, don’t worry about that, baby. The Goddess will take care of Lucky while she is in doggy heaven.”

“She will?”

“Yes, every day they will go for long walks and Lucky will get to do all her favorite things. Every night The Goddess will make sure Lucky is tucked into a warm, soft dog bed. And every morning Lucky will wake up younger than she was the day before. Soon, Lucky will be a little Lucky puppy again.”

“We didn’t know Lucky when she was a puppy.”

"No, we didn't. But The Goddess did, and she will take care of Lucky when she grows young into a puppy again. And then, before not too long, Lucky will be so young she’ll be ready to be born again.”

“Will she come back to live with us, Mama?”

“No, baby, she won’t. She might be born another dog who gets to love another family. Or she might be born a person who gets to love another dog. Or she might get born something else. I don’t really know, only The Goddess knows that.”

“I think she’ll be born another dog and she’ll have another little boy, like me. Only this time the little boy will have her since she is a puppy and she’ll never have to go to the humane society.”

“I bet you are right.”

There was silence again in the room. She listened to him breathing, knowing he wasn’t asleep yet. She kissed his forehead and smelled his little boy smell.

“Mama, I miss Lucky.”

“I know. I miss Lucky, too.”

Drawing by Zlaika. Check out more on her Flickr stream.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Power of the Dog

The Power of the Dog
by Rudyard Kipling

There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie--
Perfect passsion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart to a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years which Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
And the vet's unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
Then you will find--it's your own affair--
But ... you've given your heart to a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!)
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone--wherever it goes--for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart to a dog to tear.

We've sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we've kept 'em, the more do we grieve:
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-term loan is as bad as a long--
So why in--Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

Lucky died on Monday, October 25, 2010. My dad found her at the Oregon Humane Society in August of 2005 and she lived 5 happy, happy years with us. She was old and sick and though we are all grieving and sad, she is no longer stuck in her failing body. Good bye, Luck-a-muck.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Rains Have Come

I am the autumnal sun
by Henry David Thoreau

Sometimes a mortal feels in himself Nature
-- not his Father but his Mother stirs
within him, and he becomes immortal with her
immortality. From time to time she claims
kindredship with us, and some globule
from her veins steals up into our own.

I am the autumnal sun,
With autumn gales my race is run;
When will the hazel put forth its flowers,
Or the grape ripen under my bowers?
When will the harvest or the hunter's moon
Turn my midnight into mid-noon?
I am all sere and yellow,
And to my core mellow
.The mast is dropping within my woods,
The winter is lurking within my moods,
And the rustling of the withered leaf
Is the constant music of my grief....

When I was back east earlier this autumn my brother in law accused western Oregon of not having real seasons. I retorted that we do so - the early wet season, the wet and cold season, the wet with flowers season, the dry with green grass season and dry with yellow grass season. In fact, that's five seasons which makes one more than your lame Mid-Atlantic climate can claim. He was not terribly impressed. The seasons have shifted in what seems like the blink of an eye and it is no longer the dry with yellow grass season. The rains have come and it is now, very much, the wet season.

This part of the wet season, though, is spectacular in Portland. The wooded hills above town are a mix of Douglas fir and western red cedars, which don't change color, with big leaf maple which turn bright golden yellow this time of year. The street trees in town turn a wide mix of fantastic colors. There are many deep purple leaved plums, sweet gums turning yellow and red, oaks turning blue and even a good number of Japanese and red maples adding their reds to the mix. Across the street from my work are some trees, and I don't know what they are, that are exhibiting this amazing range of colors that seem to fade across the tree - still green on the lower branches and the north side of the tree, yellow and orange in the middle fading up to scarlet on the top and southern side. Even some individual leaves seem to shade from green to yellow or yellow to red. We may not have colors like they do in New England, but we have colors enough for me.

One of my favorite things to look for in the mid to late autumn is the way the light changes. It is coming in at a lower angle so the reds and yellows of the foliage seem that much brighter. It bounces off the dew and mist, made all the more dramatic by the late sunrise that no coincides with my morning dog walk. Even the light at night is more dramatic. The full moon this month lit up the park like daylight one night and two nights later the fields were almost as bright with city light bounced off low clouds. In the spring it seems like the colors are coming out of the ground as the earth itself wakes up from it's slumber. Low flowers are the first to show color and then it creeps up into the higher branches of trees. In the autumn the colors are streaming down out of the heaven tinting the tops of trees first and only later the ground as the leaves fall.

With the change in the weather comes a change in eating habits. Gone are the salads and light snacks of late summer and come back are stews, baked goods and hearty braised meats. Last week I went to the local health food store and came away with a dozen apples, a pound of bacon and a pie crust. The checker guessed I was going to make an apple pie that afternoon and she was right, but there's more. It was a bacon apple pie. Oh, yes, what better way to combine the fruits of the field with the fruits of the pig farm. It was, indeed, everything I could have asked for and more.

Bacon Apple Pie

1 double pie crust recipe - home made or store bought
4-6 apples, peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch thick pieces
Lemon juice - about a tbs
3/4 lb of bacon, smokey and salty
1/3 cup white or brown sugar
1 tbs cinnamon plus other spices, if you would like
1/4 tsp salt
4 tbs butter

* Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Chop the bacon into 1/4 inch chunks and fry until quite done but not crispy. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and drain on paper toweling. Reserve grease for another use.

*If using home made pastry lay half of it into a pie pan and roll out and then cut the other half into strips to use for lattice. If using store bought pastry defrost it completely and then turn one of the pans worth out onto a cutting board. Roll the pastry flat with a rolling pin and slice into strips for the lattice top.

* As you slice the apples toss them with lemon juice to keep them from browning. When you are ready to assemble the pie drain the apple of any extra lemon juice and then toss with the sugar, cinnamon and salt. Some recipes call for a tablespoon of flour to get tossed in here too. I don't use it but you might like it.

*Start to layer the apple slices into the bottom pie crust. When one layer of spiced apples is in sprinkle some of the bacon bits on top. Add another layer of apples, more bacon and then a third layer of apples and bacon. You can pile the apples quite high in this pie, tucking them in and laying them well to form a solid mound. Dot the top of the pile of apples with butter cut into pea sized pieces. Sprinkle some sharp cheddar cheese over this if you are being really decadent.

*Follow these instructions to create a lattice crust on top of the pile of apples. Crimp all the edges well and place the pie pan on a baking sheet and then place in the preheated oven. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the pie is very fragrant, you can see bubbly juice coming up through the lattice crust and the crust itself is nicely browned. Poke the pie with a knife to make sure the apples are tender then remove the pie and let it cool a bit. All pies are just as good at room temperature or cold and it will hold together better if you let it cool a bit. It will be worth the wait.

Note: a key to this pie, besides the copious amounts of smokey bacon, is to pile the apples really high in the pie pan. The lattice crust does a great job of sinking down on top of the apples as they cook and decrease in volume so it is important to start with what seems like too many apples. Nobody wants a too-skinny bacon apple pie.

How is the season changing where you are? Have you noticed the change in the light, or in foliage or in the rains? How do you stay warm these days? Have you ever tried a bacon apple pie or created some other brilliant baked concoction?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Useful, Beautiful or Loved

It is the Sorting Moon, the time of year when the harvests are being brought in and it is time to decide what to keep and what to get rid of so that limited resources can be used well in the coming months. In agricultural communities this would be a time to harvest livestock so the winter hay supply could feed the breeding stock through the winter. In other communities it would be the time to check and re-check everything in the root cellar to make room for the new harvest and ensure that no "one bad apple spoils the barrel." On a larger scale, like that of a project or a business it is time to go over what success and failure came out of the plan and decide what to keep for the next cycle. On more macrocosmic level it is a time to look over what your life has been like and what you have learned from your lessons recently so you can meet new challenges with a full understanding of what you already know.

I've been feeling the energies of the Sorting Moon in a very real and insistent way. I have been on a serious stuff purge this last week. I have sent bags of stuff to the thrift store donation center and composted or tossed a fair amount of stuff out of my fridge and cupboards as well. A core principle of both Waldorf Education and Quakerism - two movements I've been finding a lot of inspiration from lately - is simplicity of living. People are often drawn to Waldorf education because of all the beautiful things like wooden play kitchens and hand knit toys. All of these things are, indeed, lovely but Rudolph Steiner was quite adamant that the best things for children to play with were natural, found materials. Quakers can also get bogged down in stuff, though those do tend to be things like books or free trade coffee varieties. Both Quakers and Waldorf teachers know that a house or room full of things is not very conducive to being present, calm or creative. Just last night I cleared off a shelf in my bedroom that had become cluttered with junk. When I got home from work today I felt a great sense of peace just looking at that shelf. Like a part of my brain that had previously been busy looking at all that stuff now got to rest and just be.

I've also been thinking about junk and treasure in a larger perspective - my whole life. Carrie over at The Parenting Passageway is adamant that a family vision statement helps families stay on the right track of mindful parenting and not get tossed around by fads or urgent but less important things. Steven Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says that a personal mission statement gives us a foundation to make "daily decisions in the midst of the circumstances and emotions that affect our lives." At first I felt really lost in the idea of writing a personal vision statement but a few google hits later and I had some good ideas. My favorite resource has been another Steven Covey website, the Franklin Covey Mission Statement Builder. Its free and appears to have no strings attached and most importantly, is good. It walks you through some really deep questions about your life and gives you a good rough draft of a personal statement.

The next step is the real Sorting Moon work; taking all those words and values and thoughts and winnowing them down into a concise piece you can really live with. I've been working on mine for days and am not down to a one page letter yet. Its a process of deciding what is really important and that is hard work. During the summer we were washed in the light of the universe as we worked and played outside. As the days get shorter and colder it is appropriate to bring the spiritual insights gleaned to work at this gargantuan task of identifying what is really important in our lives.

There is that old saying in self help circles that you shouldn't keep anything that isn't useful, beautiful or loved. It may sound cliche, but I think it is a useful measuring tool for deciding what really is worth holding on to. This time of year even the trees are getting rid of the outworn and unnecessary. What are you sorting out this month?
*** *** ***
The photos show of the pure simplicity found inside traditional Quaker meeting houses. The top photo, taken by Pete Reed, is of the Jordans Meeting House in the U.K. The second photo is of the Ramallah Meeting House in the Palestinian West Bank, one of the only Quaker Meetings in the middle east. The photo is by delayed gratification. Please check out these photographers' other photos.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Here Be Dragons

'Tis the season of the dragon. The story surrounding the festival of Michaelmas is one in which a dragon threatens a person or a community and a hero, harnessing the strength of heavenly iron and their own inner courage, fights and either slays or tames that dragon. The story of St. George and the dragon is the most well known story fitting this theme, but by no means the only one. The Chinese tale of Li Chi and the Serpent and even Tolkein's tale of Bilbo Baggins the Hobbit helping to slay Smaug the Dragon is of this pattern. One of my favorite literary pieces with this theme is Lewis Carroll's The Jabberwocky.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.'

Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!'

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood a while in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One two! One two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

'And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

**** **** **** **** **** ****

Dragons are a part of the mythology of almost every culture and have interestingly similar characteristics across vast geographical areas. In European culture dragons are large reptilian beasts that may have strange attributes like wings or talons and are usually terrifying. In Asian culture they tend to be more strictly reptilian and more benevolent. More like ancient spirits than malicious forces. Many folklorists believe that dragon stories come from the observation of dinosaur bones around the world. I tend to fall more into the camp of seeing dragon imagery as manifestation of ancient and deep fears.

The outer world is a very scary place and people of pre-literate consciousness (people of past times, of non-literate cultures and children) use imagry to wrestle with and come to terms with these fears. Medieval maps showed pictures of dragons in the empty, unknown places and everyone knew dragons or other monsters lived on high, uninhabited mountains or in deep, dark forests. We individuals with logical, literate consciousness can still access these images and use them to deal with the fears we face. We have less fear of the physical world - science and a generally more worldly understanding have given us answers to why earthquakes happen, whether summer will return again and how to deal with disease - but more fear of the inner world of our own minds and hearts. Dragons live there, too, in our insecurities, our loneliness and our anxieties about god and man and life.

Autumn is a time when our deep monkey brain is dealing with fears of the physical world. The days are shorter and colder and wetter - will there be enough food and warmth to make it until spring? At the same time, and probably not coincidentally, our feeling and thinking bodies are struggling with our fears of the inner world. We spend more time indoors, with just a few friends or alone. It is dark longer, giving us time and room to think those deep, dark thoughts. Who am I, really? Why am I here? Is it all worth it?

Sara at Love in the Suburbs reminds us that our dragons "deserve our attention again because they’ve been patient—even faithful—waiting for us to remember them." Stories and images of dragons and the heroes (or heroines, as the case may be) can be helpful in battling both sets of fears. Stories of individuals who find courage, with or without supernatural help, can help us find our own courage. Symbolic slaying of dragons through making and eating dragon bread or making and destroying dragon models can help us play out those battles in a safe way. The more I learn about the festivals Rudolph Steiner lectured about the more amazed I am at how deep and holistic his thinking is. This is deep stuff that works on so many levels at once, many of them we don't even understand or comprehend.

The morning of Michaelmas, Sept 29, I woke up dreaming about a dragon and knight mobile. I'm sure I had read about it on some Waldorf blog somewhere, but I couldn't find instructions or photos anywhere. So I made one. The wreath the figures hang from is wound ivy vines and Michael and the dragon are both made from silk tied around some polyester batting. I didn't have any dye so I just colored the dragon's silk green with markers. I pinned some felt pieces together to make the fire, sword and shield and tied it all up with some embroidery floss. It is still hanging above my bed. The dragon of fear and the heavenly hero twirling round and round during this autumn season of growing darkness.

How is the change of weather and daylight this autumn affecting your dragons? How do you use imagery, stories or poetry to pay attention to your dragons? What else do you do when feeling threatened by monsters? Have you ever made dragon bread or other dragon art? What's your favorite dragon story or poem?