The early half of this winter was one of the most restful, peaceful, lovely seasons of my life. I actually managed, for the
first time, to settle into a routine of serene activities—baking bread, writing, cooking, tending chickens and bunnies, making potions and salves from my summer herbs, and watching old TV series on Netflix (I missed the X-Files the first time around).
All this luxurious quiet and contentment fortified me for the second half of winter, which was neither. As many of you know from following me on Facebook, hubby Carter entered the hospital on January 20th for a ventral hernia repair. Three weeks later, after bouncing between intensive care and the surgery wards, interrupted by two nights at home mostly consisting of dizzy spells, falls, and an ambulance trip in the middle of an ice storm back to intensive care, Carter returned home.
He came home with a new scar, a few less inches of intestine, and a team of home health care professionals consisting of a nurse and two physical therapists.
I’ll wrap up the flavor of his hospital stay with a few select moments. There was that moment when the critical care nurse told me that his blood pressure was hovering at dangerous levels. And that moment when I decided to board the dogs and move into the hospital for six days where I slept on recliners, floors, and pillows as Carter moved from ward to ward.
Days afterward, there was that terrifying moment when I drove our car over roads glistening beneath three-inch-thick ice in the black of night because the nurses told me I’d better come. And that moment at the edge of Carter’s bed when I asked him if he would survive and he said, “I don’t know.”
I remind you that I’d had weeks of glorious, restorative time to draw upon during that time of The Big Scare, but as you might imagine, there were nature moments tucked between the horror moments that served to sustain me in those difficult weeks. Tiny events from out of the blue brought me back to awe and delight in the middle of the hurricane.
There was, for instance, that ice-incrusted morning when the Carolina wren began to sing outside my window—head up and throat trilling—and my heart thawed just a bit. One evening after a long day at intensive care, the hens surprised me with their first (frozen!) egg of the season.
Another evening, returning from the hospital at dusk, I watched as a giant flock of crows flew over my car. They extended ahead of me as far as I could see. Glancing out the back window, I saw they filled the skies behind me as well. And to the sides of me. Crows in numbers I’d never seen. I broke into a huge grin from my eyes down into to my belly, warmed by that flush that hits you when you see something you never imagined could be.
I drove for several miles through a magical black cloud of gleaming crows that extended to every horizon I could see from my car window.
Along Second Street, they began roosting. I marveled at the sight of crows so thick in trees they bent the branches. Crows so numerous that the barren winter trees were suddenly shimmering with onyx foliage. Crows like black, gossiping fairies shimmering in the late twilight.
During the dangerous days of the ice storms, I giggled watching birds slip on the icy deck and fall on their feathered tushies, or slide clumsily off the deck handrails. One day, a flock of migrating Sandhill cranes began circling me when I called out to them and told them how glorious they were. They stayed until I called a goodbye to them, wishing them a safe journey. I watched a red breasted woodpecker fight with a red headed woodpecker one morning over a block of suet. While they chased each other, screaming loudly, a tiny downy woodpecker flew to the suet block and ate and ate and ate while the other woodpeckers continued to holler and fuss.
All these small wonders I shared with Carter as he lay tangled in a bundle of tubes in the hospital. He would smile at me and ask questions and his eyes would be bright for a moment before going cloudy with medication-induced delirium. “ Whose house is this?” he would sometimes ask, or “When you come back to visit again, will you bring our weapons of choice?”
Phone calls from family and friends supported me as those little nature moments brought me back to life time and time
Sadly, our culture is turning us away from nature and toward techno-gadgets for connection. And we are losing a relationship that has been precious and reciprocal for millions of years. Who are we without our close relationship with the Earth? Are we even fully human anymore? Cut off from nature, I shudder to think of who and what I would be.
Smart phones, apps, and Facebook alone would never have kept me sane in the midst of chaos. Call me old fashioned, or prehistoric, or behind the times, but I still need a trilling bird, the gentle reassurance of an unexpected breeze through a forest of bare trees, afternoon coffee with a friend, a lick on the knee from my dog.
A few days ago, Carter took his first walk in the forest since last fall, with a walking stick in one hand and his physical therapist by his side. And yesterday, I saw the first frog return to our pond. When friends ask me how I’m holding up, I can honestly say—thanks to the contributions of friends and family, woodpeckers and crows, maple trees and budding crocuses, I can honestly say I’m doing just fine.
What connections are keeping you grounded these days?