This time of year, when warmth returns and spring rains prompt growth, the landscape really comes to life. Birds begin migrating to the north, their chatter producing a cacophony of noise and song as they make their way through the woodlands. Mammals who have long slumbered or kept inactive over the bitterly cold winter months, begin to emerge, looking a bit bedraggled as they shed their heavy winter hair and fur. Every living thing seems to awaken with the arrival of warmer temperatures and spring winds. I myself, am prone to spend hours outdoors, readying my flower beds and preparing the soil in the garden. To do so, we spread two-year-seasoned chicken poop on the garden plot, along with last autumn’s leaves and a bit of ash from the burn pile. Amending the soil this way is a yearly spring task. Weeding the flowerbeds and tending to herbs and perennials that survive the winter, are pleasant activities for me. But along with the joy, also comes a sort of fear that looms over me like a suffocating cloud.
One spring weekend morning more than sixteen years ago, I was busy planting flowers and a couple of new shrubs in the back yard, when something horrible happened. I remember the exact spot the tragedy took place – it was between two white peony plants. I was digging with a spade to make a shallow hole to plant some Ajuga as a ground cover, when I heard a strange squeal about the same time I lifted the spade from the ground. Sadly, I had cut into a toad and it was still alive. I ran to the house to fetch FD, who had to handle the toad while I cried and tried to mentally deal with what I had done to it. Unfortunately, the toad was beyond help, and no amount of consoling from FD made me feel any better. Later in the week, a friend told me I was being silly and stated that, “It is of no consequence”. While I understood that, for most people, the scenario probably was of no consequence, it DID matter to me. From that time on, I was never too anxious to begin digging in the ground in early spring until I was sure I had seen a few toads emerge as the warmer weather set in.
Over the past month, I have kept myself busy in the woodlands. I normally do a little work cleaning up fallen limbs and debris on the property during the winter months. It is important to me to keep our fence lines clear of downed limbs and to cut out new growth. In the woods, I cull out cedars to keep fire risk down. With that activity comes keeping a burn pile going, which is something I have always found to be very therapeutic. There’s just something soothing, almost hypnotic, about the warmth and flickering flames… And of course, there is also a respect of the power of fire that comes with the responsibility of burning. High humidity and a windless day are important in keeping a fire under control. And during the spring here in Oklahoma, a windless day is often hard to come by. But this past week, I got lucky. The weather conditions were perfect, and I needed the therapy of burning, as the last month had been a difficult one for me.
Recently, FD’s lifelong friend passed away suddenly. In all actuality, FD and Stubby were as close as any brothers could be. For more than a week after Stubby’s passing, FD and I found comfort in spending time with his family and friends, who I found to be very close-knit and genuine. Experiencing the warmth and love of Stubby’s family like this, it was easy to understand why FD loved his friend so much. Everyone suffers hardship in life, but these people were resilient and compassionate. Each person I visited with had suffered some kind of hardship or loss in their life, but they did not allow their woe to be their story. Their experience of life, and moving on in caring and love, was the message of their lives. But the greatest message I heard that week, was in the eulogy given by Stubby’s young, 29-year-old son. He told the story of a man named Alan, who was a classmate of FD and Stubby’s. Everyone in town knows him to walk the streets dressed in tatters while talking to himself. Alan’s life was changed forever by a bad drug experience in high school. On the way home, after hearing of his dad’s death, Stubby’s son found Alan hitch-hiking his way back to town from a neighboring community. He offered him something to eat and drink, then gave him a ride, and left him with a little cash before saying goodbye. This was something Stubby had done for Alan on many occasions. On this day, the son saw his dad in Alan’s eyes. Thinking back, he remembered his dad’s kindness to many people who were down on their luck. Stubby was the kind of person who gave up his last dime or the shirt off of his back to help someone. His actions let people know that they mattered, regardless of the color of their skin, or their standing in the community. I am sure there are many people who never knew that side of Stubby. I didn’t, until his son so eloquently expressed his experience of his father’s love and caring at the funeral. Unfortunately, I never really took the time to see the greater gift of Stubby’s life before his untimely death. How many times, I wonder, do we only look at people superficially – all too busy in our own, self-absorbed lives to truly get to know the real depth of the person?
Last week, as I kept busy loading and burning trimmings from part of a huge hackberry tree that was looming over our pool, I was thinking of other lives that matter. That giant tree was scheduled to come down two weeks ago, but after FD discovered five baby squirrels in the center of the tree, we quickly realized that only one huge limb of the tree could come down. So FD removed the babies prior to making the cut, and down came the leaning limb – right onto the south end of the pool!! Fortunately, FD found a way to repair the pool and keep the visual damage to a minimum. I worked to clear the area of cut limbs while FD worked on repairing the pool, and also spent time fashioning a slant roof over the remaining section of the tree to shelter the squirrel babies and their mama from the elements. That evening, we ate a late dinner on the back porch and waited there until nearly dark while watching for the mother squirrel to return. She finally did return, and for several mornings and nights since, we have seen her tending to her little ones. To some people, five baby squirrels perishing might have been of no consequence. Unfortunately, we humans discard animals, and sometimes even people, because we consider them below us, or we simply justify turning a blind eye to them.
As I stoked the inferno of burning logs, limbs, and branches that day, I watched a white butterfly come over the nearby knoll and flutter too close to the burn pile. The heat-created wind hurled the tiny insect to the edge of the burn pit. I immediately ran down to the ledge and cupped my hand over the wee butterfly, quickly scooping it up and tossing it in the air away from the heat. Amazingly, it flew up and over the knoll. I said a silent prayer for healing, and to send positive energy – I hoped it lived despite its perilous brush with death. Only at the end of the day did I realize I managed to singe my hair in my efforts to rescue the butterfly. The wild wisps of scorched webby-looking hair made me laugh. Not too many people, I think, would risk getting close to a fire to save a wee butterfly… after all, such a minute creature is of no consequence to most people.
And, yesterday’s work provided another message for me. I was cleaning under the deck of our big mower, when a confused mouse suddenly ran across my legs. I managed to capture it with my gloved hand. I had never seen a mouse so tiny. Was it a baby, I wondered, or perhaps a little field mouse? I walked to the house, carefully holding the mouse and thinking I would photograph it before letting it go somewhere down in the woods below. I had just managed the photograph, when suddenly, the little mouse wiggled from my glove and landed on the back porch decking. I could see it was now paralyzed. Moments later, it breathed its last breath in my hand, and died. Was it really necessary for me to get that photograph? Why hadn’t I been more careful and done the photography on a softer surface? I know… the mouse is a rodent, a pest, and most folks would say its death is of no consequence.
But to me, all life matters. I do not believe that “It (life or death) is of no consequence”. I believe there is a gift in every life… and even in death, if we only care to look deeply enough…
© 2016 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…