The Queen of Morning

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I approach her, but I do not speak until spoken to.

There is a fine mystery in this black walnut tree. And if I sit silently for long enough, maybe I’ll hear what it is.

I look at her every day before dawn, starting when I can just make her out against the sky.  Being near her feels like being near someone who is benevolent, powerful, rich and wise.  And somewhat intolerant.

She’s like a queen.

Walnut trees make beautiful, hard, rich brown wood, expensive and much prized. The nuts have a sweet, musky, woods-dirt flavor that reminds me of truffles.  They are locked away in a troll’s purse of rock-hard nutshell, and you really, really have to want the nutmeats to do the hammer-and-pick work of shelling them.  Just a handful will flavor a pound cake, but it will take you forever to get them, and your fingers can be stained black from the effort.

When the green nuts fall, if you think you might want some but you’ll come back to pick them up tomorrow, never mind. The squirrels don’t mind doing the work, and they don’t take coffee breaks.

Black walnut trees are also very territorial.  They select who they keep company with, and other plants have to be able to tolerate the environment in the Queen’s court.  By that measure the Resurrection Fern is the smoothest of diplomats, making a living literally in her arms.  On the bottom branch on the right of this tree there is a deep rug of resurrection fern, which expands and contracts with the weather, wet or dry.  We’re in a damp bottomland in the elbow of Tannery Branch, so the fern is prospering.

This morning I got a very clear feeling from The Queen, that she’s aware of her beauty, and the importance of her work providing food and shelter and a creative kingdom all her own.  She doesn’t seem to mind my staring at her until my eyes burn.  But I am wary of trying to get too close.

I will wait before getting my ladder and climbing up to join the resurrection fern.

Gifts and cackles

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Every year I swear I’m going to celebrate Old Christmas, or Epiphany, and gin up some joy before the grim reality of January presses me to the floor and holds me there. I always lose. But maybe not this year.

This morning while I waited for the sun, or at least less darkness, I thought I was going to lose again–  extreme cold is coming tonight, and I was worried about everything. Animals, people who don’t have jobs, heating costs, getting everything done on time (my go-to worry).  I set my mood on grateful-but-grim, and went through my morning routine determined to make some progress on my list, in priority order. Sunrise observance, lighting candles for prayers, reading inspirational text, done.

Next, chickens. They were squawking to get out of the coop, even in the rain. OK, girls. Let me put on boots, coat, hat, etc. Sigh. I’m a sissy farmer sometimes. I mean, it’s 50 darned degrees.

Wait, was that an egg cackle?  Naw. Again? The egg cackle doesn’t sound like anything else.  It’s that bawk-bawk-be-KAAAACK!  And this one was loud and in my face.

I got their clean water (note to self: dump the water fountain tonight or it will be frozen solid tomorrow– a royal pain), cabbage and scratch treat.  The girls asked me a lot of pointed questions and gave me looks implying double servings were in order.  Finally I wandered over to the egg box and looked in the section where they have always laid. Nothing. 

Just to satisfy myself I looked all the way down the row of four nest boxes.  So help me Hannah!

In the last box, where they have NEVER laid, were EIGHT eggs!  That means they’ve been laying certainly since New Year’s Day , and I didn’t see it because I wasn’t looking. The picture above is the eight 2014 eggs, the heaviest weighing 72 grams, the lightest 63. Contrast with the tiny eggs (bantam?) I got from my co-op last week, the smallest of which was 31 grams.

That was gift set #1 of Epiphany, from my perennial optimists Bennett and Agnes Scott. I love you girls.

Gifts #2 and #3 were in my Facebook feed and the N&O today– a digital stocking if you will. #2, Tim and Meg Toben’s Honeysuckle Tea House project has been entirely community funded as of last night, http://bit.ly/1aAY0Ba. This project is a true comeback-give back story. 

#3 grumpy Craig Lindsey got waaaay more than he asked for to make his rent after being laid off and face-planting in the writer’s economy (note: it’s tough) http://bit.ly/1aAYbwm. People gave him THOUSANDS of dollars, and he only needed $900 right now.

So we won, folks. Epiphany is here. The Three Kings of kindness, perseverance and optimism have visited, and left offerings.  People are a whole lot more generous and kind than I knew. A lot of people apparently believe in doing something positive, even if it’s small. 

I’m putting on some more music!

 

 

What’s coming

IMG_1302Sometimes I’m kind of psychic and I know what other people at a distance have just done, before I’m told.  It’s random and rare, and I don’t have any control over it.  Have always been this way.

It doesn’t scare me, though.  What is kind of scary is when I know what I’m going to do, before I actually think it through.  It feels wild, impulsive, out of control, definitely inadvisable.

Today during the dawn observance I was straining my ears to try to figure out which birds were chirping in the grey trees.  I wanted to say “squinting” my ears– I feel my senses getting scrambled when they’re all on full receiver mode– and I hear with my eyes, and so forth.  Everything tries to come in on every channel.

This morning, drinking hot tea in my flannel jammies and staring holes through the window glass, I realized instantly in my skin that what I need to do is GO OUTSIDE.  I just can’t pick up enough in here.

I know what it feels like, to be out before dawn, before other people.  That’s one of the great joys of camping, and the best camping trip of my life was one Bill and I took in December several years ago when the whole southeast seemed frozen over and the night sky was shot full of stars– so many it seemed the blackness would fall in rags to the ground and all we’d see would be brightness upon brightness.

I didn’t go out immediately this morning because it would have meant waking up my sleeping husband and dog, and that would ruin not only their sleep, but my secret mission.  It’s way more cool and spooky to go out in the dark when nobody knows you’re doing it.  But tonight I’m making not-so-secret preparations, since I’m writing about it.  I’m going out in the dark and staying with it as long as I can.

This feels completely wild and strange.  Normal people do not go outside and stand around when it’s freezing dark. We are supposed to stay warm– it’s what people tell us to do.

And we’re not supposed to know things before we know them, either.

It’s here

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I’ve become addicted to getting up early to watch the sunrise.  Not that it’s so hard in winter, when the sun officially rises at about 7:25 AM.  But the first cardinal proclaims day about 6:42, give or take a few clouds, and the show happens before that. Still there’s plenty of time to get my tea and be seated in my dark room facing the southeastern sky.

It’s magic to watch the trees emerge as individuals, from a ragged block of blackness. I feel there’s something I contribute by witnessing them take form, even though they’ve been standing watch all night without my attention.  The black slowly creeps toward grey, and I wait with a shiver not of cold but anticipation, waiting for the first bird song. Hearing the first sharp call in the crackling cold air makes it official: the sun has come back.  

I  realize this practice has become something like a meditation, with a little naturalist curiosity added.  I have become eager to put my feet on the cold floor in the morning and take my post, as though something were waiting for me. There’s no program, no mantra, just noticing, and trying to notice deeper every day, every moment, looking at the same frame and finding new details, new shadings and new sounds.

I am intensely alive in these moments.  It feels like a bone-deep calling to witness the angle of the sun as it climbs up the round belly of the earth from its far southern post.  Of course, it’s actually the belly of the earth turning herself toward the sun, but because we think we live on a flat surface, and because we think we are standing still, we think the sun comes to us.

That’s because we’re people, we think like that.  I don’t know what the trees think. Not yet.