Bloomington, Indiana, is having its own unique spring. My Oregon friends are telling me of freaky snowstorms and high-water rivers. My friends in California are writing to me about floods and endless rain. Here in my little corner of the world, we are seeing an uncommonly warm, vibrant, and early-sprouting spring.
Down in the hollows, everything began sprouting and flowering in March. March!! The flowering things in my yard, which usually appear in an orderly procession, all came on at once. Dogwoods, bluebells, violets, asparagus, comfrey, shooting stars, oregano, pond lilies, chickweed, mustard, blood root, toothwort, trout lilies, and dutchman’s breeches are all in the same spring chorus at the moment. I’ve never seen so much color in my yard, garden, or the forest. And certainly never at this time of year.
And I am so grateful. We are hoping to be packed and moved by Mid-May, onto our new life in Oregon. I had been sorrowing about all the spring things I would be missing this year. We don’t know yet where we will be living in Oregon. Haven’t managed to nail that one down yet, but I am counting off all the things I will never be seeing again when we drive away from this enchanted place: Box turtles, sugar maples, blue bells, redbuds, geodes, and cardinals. My garden plants, which have become dear friends to me, the frogs in my two little ponds I can now recognize by sight. Fireflies and flying squirrels and cicadas.
We are moving to be nearer to family and old friends. And I am leaving behind a forest and an ecosystem that has become to me like family and friends. New friends, yes, but friends none the less. It is always this way in any new undertaking in life—the open hand reaching out in hopeful expectancy for the new. The other hand, opening to release what is to be left behind. I open both hands—one to expectancy, and one to the grief of loss. And my heart rests right between those two hands, balanced in a paradox of delight and mourning.
Here in Indiana, I lost and then regained much of my health. I’ve constructed a nourishing rhythm to my days that includes gardening, writing, forest wandering, cooking, puttering with my small ponds, and reading. I would say that the center of my days and months is my vegetable garden. Throughout the spring, summer, and into the late fall, the garden anchors my attention, fixing me there in a healthy, sustaining way. Come winter, much of what I grew in that garden is packed away in my freezer, and distilled into herbal oils and tinters for healing, so the garden extends itself into the winter season of my life, as well.
I decided not to plant the garden this year, leaving it instead to the new homeowners, but in doing so I find myself utterly adrift. I have little time or energy to write. I fit walks in where I can, between appointments with realtors and carpenters, trips to Goodwill and the dump, and packing. My little ponds are caring for themselves. The garden is heavily planted with perennial vegetables and edible weeds, which I gather hastily in the late afternoons for dinner salads and soups in the increasingly rare opportunities I have for serious cooking and meal prep. In the forefront of my mind is an irrational fear that has been growing in the shaky, unsettled chambers of my addled brain. It whispers this to me early in the morning when I awaken in a limbo-land fog and keeps running like a loop-tape in my head all day long: “When you move from here, you will have no garden. No herbs. No pond. No enchanted forest. No rhythm and rhyme to your life. For awhile, you will have nothing but commotion and upheaval and stress. How will you stay healthy then?” This is my fear of choice at the moment. I’ll admit that when left to its own devices, my mind conjures fears with shocking regularity. Some fears are more mundane than others, like the fear of forgetting to take the soup out of the freezer to thaw and thus having no dinner on hand, or the fear of running out of shampoo in the middle of a shower. Then, there are the bigger fears, like what if I get cancer again, or what if this move kills me.
I have learned that trying to stuff my fearful thoughts away under the weight of sheer will is a fool’s errand. Dwelling on my regular assortment of fears is equally nonproductive and deadly. The healthiest way I have found to deal with the toxic inner jabberings that barrage me is to go to a place where those blathering thoughts simply don’t show up. And in that place, I have wonderful moments of peace and respite from the irrational insanity that seems so much a part of the human condition.
Where is this place I go? I call it sanctuary. I have kept or crafted sanctuaries wherever I have lived ever since I was a child. Always, these are special nooks and crannies somewhere out in nature where I can enter into a very peaceful, silent, and restorative soul space. Here in Indiana, my sanctuaries have included my garden, my pond, and the grove of ancient beech trees just across the hollow from my home. Lately I am finding—horror of horrors—that my toxic jabber-mind has been following me into my treasured sanctuaries. In the past, these holy places of respite were immune to the assault of my inner crazy person. Always, my miserable thoughts would stop outside the invisible, imaginary door at the outer edge of my sanctuary space. The jabber-talky never had the balls or the inconceivable rudeness of invading sacred space. But I think that the sheer physical and mental exhaustion that comes with the territory of major moves (or any major change) has weakened the boundaries of my treasured sanctuaries, and they are less able to serve me as places where crazy-mind simply does not show up.
This is why, especially in this past moon cycle, I have been thanking all gods and goddesses for the flying squirrels. They had left me for a year, you know, those big eyed fairies we call flying squirrels. I have no idea where they went during that time. I had assumed, with great sorrow, that they must all be dead—victims of my neighbor’s two new hunting cats whose paw prints I find on my deck and car. But this spring they returned in droves, sailing in like tiny, weightless potholders tossed onto the platform bird feeder I affixed to the big sugar maple on our deck. I nearly cried when I saw them. My heart had missed them far more than my head realized.
In the evenings now, just before dusk morphs into night, I turn on the porch lights and step outside to the metal trash can where I store the black oiled sunflower seeds. Instantly, I can hear them beginning to call, their high-pitched voices ringing out like tiny bells throughout the forest. “She’s here! She’s here!” I imagine them saying. “Come, come!” they call.
I shovel a large portion of seeds into the feeder and move quietly to the metal chair I’ve placed just a few feet from the lip of the feeder. My head tilts slightly back, just far enough to see the first squirrels flying in over my head. One, two, three. They fly without a sound and land noiselessly on the trunk of the maple tree. In the porch light, with the moon behind them, they skittle to the edge of the feeder, quick and nervous as lizards. I hear the almost imperceptible clicking of their toenails on the tree bark. One hurries to the back end of the feeder where the seeds are piled thick. He positions himself there, curled into a half-circle, and starts putting the seeds to his lips, one at a time. Meanwhile, the other squirrels race to and from the feeder quicker than my eyes can follow them, grabbing seeds and racing off to hang upside down on the side of the tree. Now, there is the sound of the seed hulls cracking and falling to the deck below. Every moment or two, a squirrel will hurry behind the tree and call out in urgency, “Come! Come! There is so much food! Come! Before the raccoon gets here!”
I sit in my newest sanctuary, bounded on one side by the lemon-colored porch light and on the other by the vanilla light of the moon. The squirrels carry strong, happy magic, and they drench me in its wonder. They fly over my head in a gentle benediction. They stop to stare deeply into my face with their black, bottomless eyes and radiate their peace to me. In this circle of squirrels, with the voices of the coyotes behind me in the black reaches of the hollows, and the first fireflies of the season twinkling like stars between the trees, nothing but grace can touch me. No bothersome thoughts are strong enough to wrestle this squirrel power. Here in their presence each night, I find the self I long to be, and I rest in her for as long as the squirrels fly and the night sounds surround me.
At some point, I will thank them for the healing, and turn away toward the house and whatever awaits me there. After all, there must be some privacy for the raccoon who follows the feeding frenzy of the squirrels, and will not sit still in my company.
I wanted to share the wonder of the flying squirrels with you this day. I hope you saw them floating over your head, arms and legs spread wide to cup the night air, and heard their sharp nails clip the sides of the old maple. I hope their bell-like voices reverberated in your heart, and brought you peace from whatever foolishness has been assailing you this day. May we all find sanctuary from that which stalks us, in whatever guise it takes.