Crowz Nest

Because it's time... as it was once before.

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Location: Port Murray, NJ

I'm a bit old to be starting out in life again, but that's where I am. Sadly. Or gladly. It's where I am. Come along. Watch the fun. Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

My Funny Old Girl

When Crow was a puppy, she kept us moving. She had endless energy and creativity when it came to playtime. She carried far more fuel in her energy tanks than I could fit in mine, and at the end of a long day's work, when my tanks were empty, she was still running on full.

We had to compromise. As my husband at the time was wont to say I "don't do tired well." My patience and tolerance for constant motion were the biggest problems for me - not only forcing myself into motion beyond when I wanted to be, but dealing with the visual input of a constantly moving puppy were sure ways to push my buttons. At the end of the day, when I needed to sit with a book, with my knitting, with some television before bed, after Crow had been run with the older dogs, and had as much real, hard playtime as I could provide between getting home at 3:30 and the pre-bed wind-down time at 9:00 or 9:30 p.m., I would try to grab a little bit of quiet relaxation, and Crow would try to convince me that really, truly, honestly, she hadn't had enough to do, and she was going to implode if she didn't get more playtime. I would stand firm in my position that we were done for the day, because I felt really done and I really needed to be done.

Crow wasn't buying it. But she would accept that the big games were over. Still, she'd pace and pick things up and look for something we could do together that would be acceptable to me, too. Crow wasn't a puppy who could easily amuse herself. Once we got Hudson, I quickly identified the difference in the challenge of raising the two of them. Crow was all about "Will you play with this with me? Play with me!" Hudson's approach, much easier on my nerves, was "Can I play with this? Give me something I can play with."

So, at the end of the day, when I'd said I was done playing, Crow would accept that there'd be no more chasing the ball (a game she could play for hours.) But, she'd look around the room for something to do, and eventually, she'd bring me a tiny piece of plastic that she'd chewed off of a plastic water bottle, or an almond shell she'd stolen from the bottom of the parrot's cage, or even a scrap of paper she'd filched from the trash. She'd roll it around in her mouth and drop it on my knee. I quickly learned that yes, I could read, I could knit, I could even follow a movie if I just flicked the tiny piece of offering off my knee. She'd run and retrieve it, roll it around in her mouth, chew it a little more, break it up a bit, and select a successively smaller and smaller piece with which to continue the game. It was our compromise. It worked. And she was so cute, rolling those tiny pieces around in her mouth, finding them with her tongue so she could spit them out into my hand or ono my knee, that she often succeeded in truly engaging me once again in the game.

Well, Crow is now 12 years old. And we've long since found the levels of activity that work perfectly for both of us. It's Sunday morning. The sun is out. Hudson's out lying in it. He can see us through the screen door, and we can see him. It's his version of a perfect morning. They've been fed. I've had my Sunday breakfast. And I'm having my second mug of coffee while I watch the news and go through e-mail. And The Crow was curled up at my feet, since long ago, we discovered that the best part about living together is simply being together. She is always at my side, and always wants to be on the same side of the door where I am.

Just a few minutes ago, a dog nose poked my hand, and I looked up to see Crow, still so lovely to me, meeting my eyes, and clearly rolling something small around in her mouth. She dropped it onto my knee - an almond shell she brought down from the parrots' room yesterday afternoon. Her incomparable eyes were shining, asking me if I remembered the game. So I flicked it across the room for her, and she came back and dropped it into my hand so I could set it up on my knee and launch it for her once again.

Every now and then, the smallest thing reveals that it can hold the whole of something else within it - the scent of someone grilling meat on a late spring afternoon can recall in its entirety a day spent in the backyard of my childhood with extended family, aunts, uncles, cousins there; the feel of icy air on the skin can bring back the taste of hot chocolate in front of the fire, after an evening of ice-skating, and so on. Little snippets that hold people and places and things in place in my heart can unexpectedly open the whole vista of my life to me. And just now, nothing more than the feel of the end of Crow's muzzle in my cupped hand as I waited to receive the wet and ever-smaller bit of her chosen toy recalled her entire life for me.

My funny old girl. Sometimes you have driven me to distraction. Sometimes you've exhausted me and all of my resources. Initially, you often made me wonder if you were in the right home. But ultimately, you've always patiently worked until you found the compromise that would work for us. Maybe that should have been my job, but you turned out to be better at it than I was. That gentle muzzle-nuzzle that said this was your part, could I do mine? My funny old girl. We've been perfect together.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I lost a friend on Tuesday night. He was too young to die. Brain cancer. The final 16 months of his time here were spent in a fierce battle against this awful disease. I lost my father, at just about the same age, 19 years ago to the same illness. In some ways, as hard as that was, this is harder. I think we know throughout our lives that we will one day have to face losing our parents. I don't think I ever fully acknowledged that I would one day have to lose my friends.

Mike was a large man. So were his heart and his spirit. He adored his wife and daughter. As a husband and a father, he was the gold standard. As a friend, he was unfailingly kind and generous. He spoke loudly, laughed easily, and lived largely. His presence was like a bear hug. Just knowing that he was your friend fortified your sense of safety in the world.

His absence, while not unexpected, still feels starkly sudden. I'm grateful to have known him, better for having had his friendship, and stunned by this loss. My dear friend, I am grateful for your rest now. When the sharpness of this death has eased, I know that the kind presence of your spirit will be carried forward in all of our lives.

A Lapful of Sublime

I was up at the farm again last weekend. I worked kitchen duty with two other ladies for a seminar weekend. It was, as usual, a very worthwhile seminar, with an unusually good group of folks in attendance. Crow & Hudson and I shared The Den with Heather & Tar, a human and a dog both of whom are uniquely easy to get along with. I suppose a weekend like this would not be what many consider a good time, but it's the bread and butter of my peace and grounding to be there, whether we're there solely for R&R, or there to work and learn.

This trip, however, was made more enjoyable by the presence of the latest litter. Spider produced a litter of 6 beautiful pups back in April. They were just three weeks old last Friday. We arrived Thursday evening, after having put in a full day's work and battling heavy traffic on the NY Thruway. I was exhausted when we got there around 9:30, but perked up when I found my friends in The Den. I took the time to install Crow and Hudson, and let them stretch their legs in the yard while I unpacked the car and stowed my stuff. Then I went up to the house with Suzanne. Spider greeted me happily and proudly led me to the box, where her plump little brood was contentedly grunting, groaning, and kicking with full bellies in activated sleep.

I'll let the pictures tell you what happens to the physical stress of a 5 hour drive in heavy traffic, and the emotional and psychological load from a rough week at work when you're in the presence of these babies. Seriously. You find the words for this.

My breathing changes. My muscles loosen. My eye softens. Memories of all the dogs who have shared my life course through me, and I feel all the potential and promise and love that each of these young lives hold.

I'll be back in June. Twice. The puppies will be older, larger, more opinionated and able. More fun? Absolutely. Yet, I think they arrive with all the power of what they will be, and it may never be more apparent and rich than it is at the start, when they lie in your open hand, trusting and confident that you will hold them safely. These are the luckiest. For them, there is little chance that this trust will ever be betrayed.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Mother's Day

(Thoughts on the first Mother's Day following my mother's death: Eleanor VanSplinter Palmieri, Feb. 15, 1926-September 21, 2009)

I didn't think this would happen. It's seems really stupid and schmaltzy. I'm not given to noting anniversaries of losses, and have always thought that rather a strange response. Someone is just as dead every other day as they are on the anniversary of their death, and when I've lost someone, that loss is folded into me, becomes a part of me, and is noted and acknowledged with every beat of my heart. But it seems like Mother's Day is the kick off for the acute part of grieving the loss of my mother.

I've been paralyzed all morning. Every time I start to try to do something, a wave of grief so powerful and palpable that it has the ability to sweep the breath out of my body hits me. I've spent the morning alternately trying to rally myself and just giving in to tears. I'd been wondering when the "good cry" would come. I didn't cry much at the time of Mom's death, nor have I since. Well, ironically and unexpectedly, it's hit me like a tsunami on Mother's Day, a day which never warranted more than a bunch of flowers and a card from me in the past.

I am fighting a feeling of being so alone in the world that I can't
see that there is any life on it at all. I don't believe I have ever felt
as alone and abandoned as I do right now.

I miss my mother every day. In that sense, today is no different from any day since she died - or even more accurately, from any day since she retreated into the inside of her mind. At times, it felt hard or impossible to connect with her. My love didn't seem to penetrate the wall behind which she'd retreated. She was there with her mother and father, her brother, my father, and his parents, and everyone she loved who's already died. It felt, at times, like the love I so palely and feebly offered didn't matter at all. That is, sadly, a feeling I've come to know too well, but one which has no power to stop me from offering it. It's all I have. It's all I could give her. If it did or didn't matter to her didn't matter, because ultimately, it mattered to me. No other gift, no thing of this world could reach her. No flowers, no jewelry, no perfume, no clothes. There were no gifts I could offer that could be received. All I could do was sit by her side and, as the song says, let my love flow. And I did that every week for three years, while she took her time letting go. And hope it reached her. Now, after so much time of being able to do nothing more than that, it seems that I can't even do that. Yet it remains, more now than ever before, the only thing that I can do, even with her no longer by my side.

So, for a few moments, I give in to tears, and I miss my mother with the sort of physical, organic need that an infant feels when it's first laid aside and separated from its mother. The world feels hard and cold and foreign, frightening and hostile. And then, I rally a bit and go find something to do for a little while that contains this, and walls it off. But, it's a dam insufficient to the task, and the waters build up behind it quickly, and breach it soon enough. I guess this is grief. But just when it's got me good and threatens to drown me, I find a sort of native buoyancy, and I swim easily enough to the top. I can't get out of these waters just yet, but I can float where they take me. And I'm forced to acknowledge that just maybe what holds me up is that same love that was and is all I have to offer. Who knows? Maybe it's powerful enough that it is her hand that nudges me up from the depths, that love still flows both ways and has power. Maybe that is, as we see with the whales who nudge their newborns to the surface for that all important first gulp of air, what love is - that thing that keeps raising us up for the next breath.