A Boo-tiful Halloween

It was a dark and stormy night. I struggled to stay awake and keep my husband company as we drove home from a concert in downtown Indianapolis. In the pitch dark, our country drive didn’t have the peaceful quality it usually has. An eerie fog hovered over the road and in mid-air patches. Each blind curve of the winding road made my heart skip a beat. Trees reaching from both sides took on ominous shapes.

“It’s kind of creepy out,” Mike said, turning off the music to better concentrate on driving. A pair of red piercing eyes glared at us from the side of the road before we could see they belonged to an oversized opossom. I was about to speak when huge white owl suddenly descended, covering the entire windshield with his flapping wings. I screamed in unison with the creature as it swooped to the left and reappeared in the driver’s side window. The owl’s head and wingspan were massive, and its frantic eyes peered into the car, inches away from Mike’s blue eyes which had never been bigger. “Whooooooo!” it screeched as it beat its wings and disappeared from view.

When you live in the boonies, you get used to things that go bump in the night. Nature is home to the cute and cuddly, the beautiful and lovely, as well as the creepy and crawly.

Just in time for Halloween, it seems nature has gotten into the spirit of the season with a few decorations of its own. A Hunter’s Moon glowed mysteriously in the hazy sky this week. Spiders, snakes, and bats have all made recent appearances. Since the first of the month, pumpkin-size orange fungi known as jack-o-lantern mushrooms have decorated a fallen log on our property. Nature has quite a sense of humor.

One morning this week I was unpleasantly awoken by the repetitive, harsh, and shrill squawking of birds. More than a dozen large black ravens had overtaken and ravaged our bird feeders. They circled the frosted ground like soldiers and perched heavily in evergreen trees. A shiver ran down my spine. They are stunning, but have a menacing and sinister countenance.

They reminded me how I used to entertain my literature students on Halloween with stories of the headless horseman from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and the madman from The Tell-Tale Heart. To add to the atmosphere, I’d turn off all the lights and light a large candle in the center of the classroom.

To my wicked delight, I’d play the part of an eldritch schoolmarm by wearing all black and changing my demeanor by acting slightly macabre for the entire class period. Walking around the students’ desks, I’d dramatically recite Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Raven ~

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore – While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door…

I loved spooking my oh-so-cool eighth graders. Just like Halloween, teaching was so much fun.

One Sun Wishes Us All a ‘Good Morning’

Driving home from a weekend visit with my daughter in Chicago, I left the city before dawn to beat the Monday morning traffic. As I-90 led me into Indiana, the sky was dark and lonely, lit only by the glow of automated toll booths.

I had all but forgotten about the sunrise, as it was the kind that bursts rather than creeps into view. Suddenly the eastern sky exploded with blinding light, illuminating the sprawling steel mill that sputters and spews on Gary’s lakeshore.

It was magnificent! I instantly felt the sun energize my groggy mind and body. “Good morning,” I said aloud to no one and to everyone.

I thought of Maya Angelou’s poem On the Pulse of the Morning which ends ~“Here, on the pulse of this new day, You may have the grace to look up and out, And into your sister’s eyes, Into your brother’s face, your country, And say simply, Very simply, With hope, Good morning.”

My husband voluntarily rises before the sun nearly every morning. I do not, but the next day I inexplicably woke before dawn. I pulled on jeans over my pajamas, slipped on my sneakers and coat, and ran outside to greet the sun. The morning magic included a thick mist rising up from an invisible lake, a flock of graceful geese flying overhead, and five deer quietly foraging for breakfast.

My sun came up behind thick woods beyond a golden field in the Midwest, yet I vaguely understand the same sun rose over mountains, oceans, deserts, farms, and cities. It rose over mansions and huts. It rose over my house and yours.

I confess it’s difficult for me to wrap my head around that, as well as the sun’s scientific role. It is a star and the source of energy for life on Earth. It provides us light and heat. It allows plants to conduct photosynthesis, creating food to eat and oxygen to breathe. Its reflection off the moon offers a nightlight. It is the gravitational center of our solar system, keeping the planets in place. We use it to mark our days and our years.

What’s easier for me to grasp is the inspiration the sun offers poets, mystics, and artists, and the reason I was outside at dawn in my jammies watching it make its daily debut. Each sunrise brings with it a unifying reminder of the incomprehensible mystery, beauty, and wisdom of our universe.

No matter our differences, the sunrise is our common denominator ~ faithfully shining equally on every upturned, wishful face. So we can all wake up and say, very simply, and with hope, “Good morning!”






Embracing Change


A tall birch tree hugs the right side of our cove. Throughout summer, its lush green foliage partially blocked our view of the lake. Since fall’s arrival, the tree’s leaves have disappeared, and we can now see through bare branches clear to the other side.

Our improved view of the lake is like a parting gift from summer. Warm sunny days spent boating and swimming have come to an end, but from inside our cozy home, we will watch the water’s golden mist turn to silver frost.

I am reminded of this evocative thought written by Mizuta Masahide, a 17th century Japanese poet and samurai ~ Barn burned down. Now I can see the moon!

Now that’s a glass-half-full perspective.

Nature’s seasons are an apt metaphor and teacher for embracing life’s big changes ~ graduations, jobs, relationships, moves, parenthood, empty-nest, retirement, and a myriad of unexpected transitions.

As we move in and out of life’s seasons, it’s not always easy to hold Mr. Masahide’s outlook. My heart aches for evenings when my children begged for one more bedtime story or lullaby. I dearly miss decorating my classroom and discussing poetry with my students. You know I would be fibbing if I said I welcomed every crease and ache that come with growing older.

Yet, I need only observe the weather, the moon, a caterpillar, or corn field to understand that change is a natural state. Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “There is nothing permanent except change.” Whether the change is expected or hits us out of the blue, we usually have no control over the situation, only over our response.

We can lament the barn, or celebrate the moon. The choice is up to us.

I’m inspired by people who bravely face devastating changes brought by illness, poverty, disaster, and injustice. I saw my father accept a cruel death with logic and reason. I saw my mother accept widowhood with courage and grace. They both allowed faith and optimism to guide them through.

The falling leaves encourage us to embrace change, let go of what was, and enjoy a new perspective. Though we may reminisce our summer, youth, and yesteryear, we can choose to see the beauty of our life exactly as it is at this very moment.


Lessons from an Oak Tree

“Incoming!” my husband announced as we sat on our deck enjoying the fall evening. Covering our heads and beer mugs, we listened to the familiar sound of an acorn, dropped from a hundred feet above, hit the roof with a crack, bounce off the patio table, pop up several feet, strike the wood deck, ping off the metal railing, and land near the fire pit twenty feet below.

We’ve been under acorn siege since late August, so we’re getting used to the constant bombardment. A month ago, without warning, an acorn hit me square on the noggin, knocking off my glasses. Mike regretted laughing at me when he saw the nut-sized knot and bruise on my forehead. It was a painful demonstration of Newton’s theory of gravitational force.

Since this is our first fall living in the woods, we’re not sure if the abundance of acorns is typical. I do know oak trees have what’s called ‘mast years’ when they produce a bumper crop of acorns.

Scientists are a bit baffled by the phenomenon. Most experts agree masting has nothing to do with the upcoming winter forecast, but it remains one of nature’s mysteries.

In a non-masting year, oak trees produce just enough acorns for birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and deer to store and eat. In a mast year, an oak tree can produce 10,000 acorns! With more acorns than critters can possibly eat, there are plenty of leftovers for acorns to potentially become trees.

Oak tree, I get you. Sometimes I’m more productive than others, and there’s no rhyme or reason as to why. One day I can walk two miles, clean the house, paint the dock, grocery shop, check in with family, and write a chapter of my great American novel. Other days, I’m still in my pajamas at three pm convincing myself frozen pizza counts as dinner.

Some scientists believe the ebb and flow of acorn production help oak trees keep themselves in balance. Sometimes the tree is focused on reproduction; sometimes it’s focused on growing. That’s a little mind-blowing! An oak tree ~ a symbol of patience, strength, and endurance ~ is wise enough to keep itself in balance, without explanation.

Let’s take a cue from the mighty oak. It’s perfectly natural to have days, or even years, when we kick it into high gear and times when we need to take it easy. Following our instinctual wisdom is nature’s way of keeping us balanced so we don’t go completely nuts.