Spring is a Time for Awakening

Maple ree flowers and leaves 1Though I am fonder of some than of others, for me every season has its unique blessings. Autumn has always been a favorite of mine because I like the crispness of the air and the vivid colors that paint the scenery. However, the cycle of the seasons produces different feelings in everyone and we all have our favorites. It may be that as a poet I am more sensitive to or pay more attention to the change of the seasons because I feel it so keenly. Winter for me is a time for rest and often for extra sleep. The dark hours encourage it. During the winter, like the bare branched trees and the hibernating creatures, I am less active and more inclined to quieter occupations.

It’s easy to sleep late in the winter. The light does not come through the curtains until morning is well advanced. Chilly weather does not encourage leaving warm covers for frigid floors. Yet as the light hours grow longer and the dark ones shorter, the day calls to me sooner and sooner. Reluctant as I may be to get up from my bed, it becomes less alluring to linger than to rise into the day. Even as the trees and the birds greet the brightening weeks, with the spring, something in me begins to wake up.

Winter encourages me to make soups and stews. My pantry and refrigerator are stocked with warming foods. With the advance of spring I think more about salads and lighter meals. I toss the cold weather recipes that I have accumulated yet not found time to make and clip out more recent ones geared to fresher, less sturdy meal components. Now that I can see it, when I look around at the winter dust on shelves and surfaces, I feel more diligent about eliminating it. Somehow when I can’t see it, it is so much easier to ignore. Now it no longer is.

When I was out and about, my eyes had become accustomed to bare trees sleeping in the cold. All winter I admired the still shapes of the bare branches against the sky. Now as the trees blossom and leaf out, they seem to be dancing with joy. The spring breezes flutter the trees’ new emerging clothing as they dress themselves in their fresh spring wardrobes. When I go about my errands, my heart sings along with the turning wheels of my car.

When I used visit my daughter in Italy, she would come into my room of a morning to waken me from my jet-lagged sleep. She would open the curtains and turn to me as I clung to my pillow. “Wakey, wakey,” she’d say with a smile. Finally I’d open my eyes and greet the day, glad to be awake and alive, ready for a new adventure. Spring feels like that. It is time to pursue the new, the untried, the innovative. Time to put away the darker, heavier winter clothes and put on light, bright colors and fabrics, to free the feet of boots and don sandals. Time to awaken to the new season and to rejoice in it.

Spring Has Truly Sprung

Spring blossoms, white          When I was a child in grade school, each year our music teacher organized May Day celebrations. Every class participated, and a May Queen was selected from among the girls in the ninth, the topmost grade. The younger children had their own maypole. I found it hopelessly confusing. You had to go over one and under the next as you wound your ribbon around the pole, weaving it into the others until there was only a little left. After rehearsals, much to my relief I wasn’t chosen to do it.

There were dances and songs–I still have a printed paper program from then in a scrapbook made for me by a devoted relative. The songs were of British origin and invoked the days of “lasses and lads” who met and parted though the specifics were a mystery to my young mind. No one talked of the fertility symbols or the meaning behind the rituals centered around the day we were celebrating.

The first of May is the midpoint between the Vernal Equinox and the Summer Solstice. Nature is pushing forward. The increase of the light from now forward reflects the brightness of the days that begin their most obvious decline around the first of August. In the northern hemisphere there are many celebrations associated with this date. They reach far back in the history of humanity, symbolizing our connection with the earth and its fertility.

Most recent is of course the “May Day” workers’ celebrations of the former Soviet Union. My mother and I were in Moscow on that date twenty six years ago. I remember the colorful flags hanging everywhere, and the crowds of people in Red Square. However, from far back in human history, May Day has been one of the great spring celebrations of Europe and the British Isles. It is associated with fertility for both crops and farm animals, promoted through ancient rituals, many of which involved fire.

In these modern times we believe more in fertilizer than in fertility rituals. Few people these days will dance around a maypole–an obvious phallic symbol, or go off into the woods with a partner to insure that the fertility of land and pasture will continue. There is no need. Supermarkets are stocked all year round with almost every seasonal vegetable and fruit–no need to wait until June for strawberries or fall for apples. Those who have never experienced this timing cannot miss it, but in some ways I do.

Yesterday Stephen and I drove along a wooded country road in the sunshine. The light illuminated the unfolding blossoms of the trees clustered around it. The cloudless blue sky above and the sunlight filtering through the branches above us lifted our hearts and filled us with joy. Summer with its own delights is in the wings; spring is on the stage revealing its special beauty now. It seems important to take time to notice this delicate time of unfolding.

An Easter Basket of Memories

Rabbit in Cabbage 2On Easter my family usually went to dinner with Great Aunt Alice. Until my sister was born when I was 8, I was always the only child present. Aunt Alice had several toys she would bring out to amuse me. One was a little truck loaded with colorful blocks. They had letters, numbers and pictures on them. Even now I can see that red and yellow toy with a string to pull it by. The bed of the truck was loaded with the blocks, and I was always careful to put them back when it was time to go upstairs to dinner.

The other toy was a very special, ancient rabbit that lived inside a head of cloth lettuce. When it was wound–only adults were allowed to do that, and the golden knob on the side was pulled out, the rabbit head would emerge, extend itself and turn. Its ears would rise into the air. Then it would chew on the small piece of cloth lettuce in its mouth. When it finished, it would retract into the cloth lettuce with a little snap as the ears went back against its head.

I thought of that rabbit when I was contemplating what I would write for this column. I wish I had it now. I remember my children being shown it when they were little. Though I don’t know if they remember it the way I do. I loved patting it. It was covered in soft, white actual fur. It did not play music or do anything more than just that. I believe it had been in the family at least since my Great Aunt was a child. when I was contemplating my column and it leapt vividly into my mind as though I had seen it yesterday.

Once we arrived and took off our coats, the adults stood around and drank cocktails, while I had ginger ale. Aunt Alice, who favored simple appetizers, always served a plate of peanut butter on crackers and there were also nuts in a bowl. Too young to read, I sat on the big rug and played with the blocks. Dinner was served upstairs in a large dining room. The oval mahogany table gleamed with silver and cut glass. The platters and bowls of food were brought in by women in black uniforms with white aprons. There was usually soup, then a roast and vegetables, and finally, dessert, followed by fingerbowls to dip fingers into and cloth napkins to dry them with. My treat would be the chocolates for after dinner, something we never had at home. My mother did not think it was healthy to eat candy and never bought it.

Time is a strange accordion. It can compress decades into years, and years into moments. I can see so clearly the large thick rug I sat on to play with the alphabet blocks and watch again the white bunny with the pink glass eyes rising up out of the faded green cloth leaves. It looks so real as it turns its head, the ears rise into the air and it chews on its bit of green cloth. I can feel again the soft fur as I pat the head and the ears, stiff with wire beneath the fur. What was only yesterday has added itself to now creating an Easter basket of memories for me to enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

Gifts of the Moment by Tasha Halpert

Drops caught 2 If I hadn’t been paying attention to my surroundings, I wouldn’t have noticed it. I was standing at the supermarket counter choosing some fish for the chowder I was planning to make for later in the week when I saw the lobster on the low shelf in front of me. It had already been cooked, packaged and priced. Stephen loves lobster and this week it was on sale. Since I had nothing special planned for supper I immediately thought how the lobster would make a fine treat for him. Happy to be able to provide him with this nice surprise I picked it up and put it in my wagon.

I had other groceries pick up and so I continued on my way, collecting them and checking off the items on my list. When I finally finished, I made my way to the checkout to pay for my groceries. How glad I was that just at that moment I had been aware of the lobster and seen it waiting there for me. If my mind had been wandering and my thoughts elsewhere I might easily have missed that opportunity to provide us with an extra helping of joy. Bringing someone you love a special treat constitutes a treat for the giver as well as the person receiving it, a win/win situation.

I have noticed that when I focus on where I am and what I am doing I often see things that represent a kind of gift for me. An interesting cloud formation, flowers growing by the wayside on my morning walk, the first touches of color in the trees as I drive on the highway, a snatch of song that I enjoy playing in a store as I walk in, all these and more are little presents I receive when I am aware in the moment.

However, the gifts that lie within any given point in time are only available to me when my eyes are looking around to see and notice them. If my mind is occupied with thoughts or speculations, with worries or apprehensions there is no way I can pay attention to what is around me. At that point my eyes are figuratively turned inward, paying attention to whatever I am thinking of, not looking outward at what is there. I remember once when I spoke to someone about the lovely colors of that year’s fall, she looked at me sadly and confessed that she had been so lost in her thoughts and concerns she had never noticed.

Meditating regularly has certainly helped me stay mentally focused. Observing my thoughts as I learned to do in meditation gives me the option of letting them flow as they will or of refocusing my attention on where I am and what I am doing. Sometimes it is perfectly all right to let my mind wander about. As long as I am not driving or doing something else requiring my full attention my mind can do what it pleases. Even so, I find that keeping at least some of my attention on the present moment can often pay off in gifts.

A Joy To Behold, by Tasha Halpert

Wedding 5 A&K and little girlsGrowing up I don’t remember going to any weddings. My mother’s relatives did not live in the USA and my father’s immediate family was small. I didn’t even go to a funeral until I was twelve, when I wore my first pair of nylons to the obsequies of an elderly cousin. The first wedding I attended was my own, a small affair because the children’s father and I eloped.

Weddings are always special, and the one Stephen and I recently attended in San Diego was no exception. Recently we flew there to join with family for the beach side wedding of our nephew. We were also fortunate enough to travel with my daughter and her fiancé, giving us an opportunity to be together with them at the same time. It was a joyful occasion and one I will long remember. Glimpses of the experience remain in my mind like photographs in a memory album I can now share with readers.

One special remembrance is of jumping in the waves of the Pacific with Stephen and my daughter. This was a great treat for me. It brought back a cherished happy memory of how as a child I used to jump the waves with my father. Staying at my aunt’s beach camp, we would venture out on a day when the ocean was excited from a recent storm, and holding on tight we would jump up as the waves engulfed us, surging against our tightly clasped hands.

The waves of the blue Pacific provided a musical background for the blue and white themed wedding. The bridesmaids wore blue dresses of their own choosing, the groomsmen blue ties and dark suits. The blue and white hydrangeas they carried were echoed in the carnation boutonnieres of the groom and his groomsmen. Blue table covers joined the various places to sit, as well as covered the serving tables of the delicious buffet we enjoyed after the ceremony.

My brother and sister are empowered by the State of California to perform weddings; they conducted the touching ceremony that linked their son with his lovely Korean bride. Her mother, father and relatives including her twin sister, her husband and their adorable four year old son the ring bearer, had come from Korea to witness the marriage. The groom’s sister, her husband and daughters one of whom was a flower girl, family members of my sister-in-law, and her 94 year old father were also involved.

As I stood with those watching the ceremony I felt a surge of love in my heart at this beautiful beginning to the married life of my nephew and my new niece. The participants gathered for the ceremony and for the various celebrations before and after it were equally excited and happy. There were many opportunities to mingle and get to know these new family members. The pictures I took and posted on Facebook are available for all to see. The images that I could not capture on film remain in my mind, a precious joy to behold.

Spring Mood Swings

It as been my experience that many, if not most people would like to believe that spring consists entirely of balmy breezes and blossoming trees, along with pleasant showers that bring May flowers. Perhaps this is only their wishful thinking, yet it seems to prevail among people with whom I have casual conversations. A few days of delightfully warm weather and they are sure that spring has arrived. Then when the weather turns cold, as it may for at least six or more of the weeks of Spring, they say that winter has returned. Yet nature knows best. The cycle of gradual warming and cooling allows for trees, plants and animals to partake in their awakening process at their natural speed.

What people may not realize is that were it to become summery all at once, the natural world of plants, animals and even people would not be equipped to deal with that enormous influx of energy. Try plunging your hands into hot water when they are severely chilled. It’s painful. Victims of frostbite must be warmed up gradually. Our bodies need to get used to the change of the seasons also. Spring foods like asparagus and rhubarb are good for that.

It would be nice to think of the season of spring as entirely warm and pleasant. Yet it actually begins on the Equinox with equal hours of light and darkness. The gradual lengthening of light awakens the life energy in plants and animals. The hours of daylight have been increasing perceptibly since the beginning of February. Now we have reached the actual balance between the hours of dark and light. From now on, light is in the ascendance.

Living as we do in a world where electricity can turn night into day, we may not be as aware of the nurturing quality of darkness. I find I enjoy the dark hours as much as I do the light. While I love the light and appreciate the lengthening days of spring, I also remember with pleasure the snugness of the long winter’s nights and the coziness of the covers when it is dark outside. Balance is good. The ups and downs of spring weather remind us of that. I am glad I live where the seasons bring an obvious change. As I drive I smile at the swelling, pinkish buds of the as yet bare trees as they reach toward the sun and its warmth.

The relief we feel when the sun warms us is surely increased by our natural reaction to the bitter cold. The grief we feel as skies cloud and chilly breezes blow reminds us of what we seem to have lost. Yet as a wise person has said, spring brings hope. Even during the days it seems to retreat we can maintain that hope by acknowledging how we much cherish the longer hours of daylight as well as the slow but steady increase in the pleasing warmth that swells the buds of the trees and urges the spring flowers open.

Spring flowers 2 for copy

The Blessings of Simple Pleasures

Queen Ann's Lace with BindweedThe Blessing of Simple Pleasures,

by Tasha Halpert

I was fortunate in that I learned fairly early in life to practice my attitude of gratitude. There were two experiences in my life that prompted me to do this. One came in the form of a telephone call from a friend and teacher telling me to be grateful and to say this prayer of gratitude daily: Beloved Lord I do greatly thank Thee for the abundance that is mine.” When I protested she said sternly, “You have much to be grateful for–a roof over your head, food to eat, people who love you, now do as I say and repeat that prayer at least three times daily.” Because I respected her, I did as she suggested.

That was the beginning. Then I encountered mysterious woman at a spiritual gathering who told me a little about myself and then said, “Never take anything for granted.” Her words gave me pause and have resonated in my life ever since. At the time I did not know that my entire life would change radically within weeks. And while it changed for the better, almost everything in my life as I knew it then disappeared to be replaced by new and different circumstances. Nothing could have prepared me for that, however I was blessed to move through it to a new life for which ever since I have been grateful.

That was a great many years ago; and much time has passed with many experiences lived through. As I have moved through them I have grown in the expression of my gratitude. Nowadays when I turn on the shower on a cold winter evening and climb into its warmth, I give thanks. Although they may not live close to me, there are many who do not have the luxury of hot water from a faucet. When I cuddle my clean cotton sheets and the warm covers on my bed around me, I think of, and send a prayer for those who are homeless and have little to comfort them in the cold.

An attitude of gratitude as we are often reminded by teachers from Oprah to Eckert Tolle is one of the pillars for the foundation of a happy life. My own personal experience has proved this to be true. I have also learned to realize how important it is to be grateful for that which at first seems less than fortuitous. However in general I prefer to focus on those things that bring me joy rather than those that do not, even while being grateful for those as well.

Small and simple pleasures–a phone call from one’s child or grandchild, the wagging tail of a treasured animal companion, the smile of a neighbor encountered unexpectedly in the supermarket, or the friendly help of a stranger in locating a hard to find item–these lovely, serendipitous experiences provide a splendid symphony of joy. As I live my life, it plays in the background as an accompaniment to my everyday doings. Listening to it I am reminded again and again to be grateful.