Letting Go of Leaves and Things

On a crisp autumn morning I shuffled into the kitchen in my robe and slippers and stopped. Something was different. Our home was flooded with bright golden light. Through the glass doors, the rising sun, usually filtered by thick woods, was in full view. Falling leaves cast confetti-like shadows on the floor and walls. They danced and swirled through the air singing, “It’s time to let go…”

I was suddenly inspired me to let go of a few things myself. The trees showed me the way. I remembered how their budding leaves thrilled us when they appeared in the spring. How they shaded us all summer and graced us with their autumn colors. Soon their leaves would lay on the ground like faded and forgotten toys.

I was reminded most things in life aren’t meant to hold onto forever ~ that’s what people and memories are for.

I spent the day searching our home for things to let go. By afternoon the pile on our kitchen table included a cheap shirt that looked shabby after one wash, a miracle cream that wasn’t, two scratchy throw pillows, an avocado slicer that works no better than a paring knife, old towels, a pair of uncomfortable shoes, a couple decorative doodads, a stack of magazines and a few good books someone else might enjoy.

Are there things in your home you’d like to let go of? Worn-out things. Useless things. Ugly things. Broken things. Meaningless things. Uncomfortable things. Too many things. Perfectly wonderful things that don’t suit your season of life.

Don’t over think it. It’s kind of like raking leaves. There are lots of ways to tackle the job. Just start somewhere.

It’s amazing how letting go of a few things can change our perspective. With the clutter gone, I saw our home in a new light. I appreciated its bones. I noticed a subtle shift in the way the rooms felt, in the way I felt. I think I even found a little clarity under some of that stuff.

That evening I watched the sun sink below the horizon. The clear autumn sky seemed endless, and my view of the lake was unobstructed. Bare trees stood like graceful sculptures, and I thanked them for showing me how to let go. §

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Squirrel’s Guide to Happiness

A squirrel crossed the road slowly due to the heavy load it was carrying. In its gaping mouth was a hickory nut the size of a billiard ball. He stood on his hind legs and bounced his head back to get a better grip on his work. He labored forward again in a precarious balancing act just as a garbage truck came flying around the corner. Making a quick decision, the squirrel dropped the nut and scurried to the other side of the road.

As the truck zoomed by, the nut blew down the street. Running towards it, the squirrel uttered a two-syllable squawk that sounded like a martial artist’s battle cry, “Kiai!” He pounced on the rolling nut, tucked it awkwardly into his little mouth, lumbered across the road and made his way through thick underbrush.

At last, he heaved the giant hickory nut inside a hollowed out tree. The squirrel let out a satisfying sigh, raised his furry paw in a rewarding fist pump and smiled at his cache of nuts. He spent the rest of the morning frolicking in the leaves, swinging from bird feeders, leaping from limb to limb and generally enjoying life.

Watching that tenacious squirrel got me thinking. What would happen if the same squirrel decided collecting nuts was too difficult, boring or unimportant? What if he waited around for someone else to gather nuts for him, tried to steal another squirrel’s hard-earned nuts or devised some greedy plan to gather all the nuts in the woods for himself? What if, in some esoteric philosophical meltdown, he realized he’d be much happier if he wasn’t a squirrel at all?

Okay, that’s a little nutty, but couldn’t we all learn something from that joyful critter as we search for a life of meaning and satisfaction?

The self-help section of our library holds dozens of books with similar titles ~ Happiness, True Happiness, Real Happiness, Stumbling On Happiness, The Happiness Advantage, The Happiness Project, The Art of Happiness, How Happiness Happens and Happiness Now! (The exclamation mark is actually a demanding part of the title.)

Happiness is a hot topic. Yet, statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health are increasingly grim. Maybe we’re putting too much focus on this happiness thing. Maybe the more we humans intellectualize the intangible idea of happiness, the more elusive it becomes.

That squirrel reminds me of a few folks I’ve known who never seem to give much thought to the idea of happiness, yet always seem content. People who do what needs to be done at home, at work and in the community. People who find enjoyment in the simple things ~ hard work, hot soup, cold beer.

People who, at the end of the day, let out a satisfying sigh, raise their hand in a rewarding fist pump and smile at their own cache of nuts. §

 

 

 

 

 

Things Unseen from the International Space Station

“There it is!” a woman said pointing to the dusky western sky. “I see it!” chimed another. Half a dozen others looked up to watch the bright light of the International Space Station move steadily from one horizon to the other.

At one point, it shimmered strangely directly above the small group of people who gathered around a glowing fire outside an apartment building on a chilly October evening in an ordinary town in America’s Heartland.

It was an impromptu get-together of residents including three widows, a single retired teacher, and a gentleman and his wife who needs constant care. Two others joined them, adult children each visiting their mothers from out-of-town.

Whether they were companions that evening out of chance or destiny, a feeling of fellowship passed over them as odd and surprising as a space station hovering 250 miles above.

From lawn chairs, they tracked the space station as it came into sight somewhere over Montana and five minutes later faded out of view over West Africa. Comments circled around the fire pondering ever-advancing technology, the future, and their own smallness in the universe.

As they stared into mesmerizing orange-blue flames, there was quiet conversation against a backdrop of nature’s nighttime noises and constellations that grew brighter in the darkening sky.

Inside the space station, roughly the size of a football field, a six-member crew conducts experiments in human research, space medicine, life sciences, physical sciences, astronomy and meteorology. They orbit the Earth every 92.68 minutes gathering data and testing hypotheses.

Despite costly and important research, it’s doubtful the crew could ever quantitatively measure or observe the most important qualities of the human spirit, like those displayed around the small gas fire pit more than a million feet below them.

Strength to carry on after losing a loved one.

Courage to face illness and pain.

Love to care for another person.

Determination to overcome loneliness.

Wisdom to keep learning and growing.

Hope to stay encouraged.

Service to community.

Faith to believe in a better world.

The cameras and crew on the International Space Station have awesome views of our planet, but what they couldn’t see as they orbited the Earth that chilly October evening was the human bond of unlikely friends sitting around a glowing fire outside an apartment building in an ordinary town in America’s heartland. §

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Ways Nature Inspires Healthy Eating

As a nature-lover, I lean towards a more natural lifestyle. I prefer to wear natural colors, decorate with natural objects, and use natural beauty products. In theory, I like to nourish my body with natural foods. So I feel like a real poser when writing about nature while artfully eating a small stack of Oreos.

Do you have an unhealthy food or beverage habit you’d like to break?

Do you want to make healthier eating a priority?

We have three more months to make good on those long-forgotten new year resolutions. It’s time to rally! Let’s hear it for more fresh fruits and vegetables and less processed sugar, fat and impossible-to-pronounce ingredients.

So how can nature inspire healthy eating?

The first step is to spend more time outdoors. Shake off the artificial sights, sounds and smells of indoor environments. Use your senses to get in touch with nature. Take a quiet, meditative walk and consider these five ways nature encourages us to make more nutritious choices.

  1. Nature’s Abundance ~ Most of us get our food from grocery stores, cafeterias, restaurants, vending machines and drive-through windows. Think about the original source of our most nutritious foods. Contemplate the miracle of food growing up from the ground and hanging from branches. Gratefully enjoy the healthy foods nature generously and abundantly provides for our sustenance.
  2. Nature’s Simplicity ~ Mankind has invented some pretty awesome things, which may or may not include double-stuffed Oreos. But when it comes to healthy eating, can anything top the simplicity of an apple? Leonardo Da Vinci wrote, “Human subtlety will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple, or more direct than does nature because in her inventions nothing is lacking and nothing is superfluous.”
  3. Nature’s Wisdom ~ In 2018, the U.S. weight loss industry was a 70 billion dollar market. Like so many things, we’ve made eating unnecessarily complicated. In Genesis 1:29, it is written, “Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.'” There is such wisdom in nature, and I trust it far more than any celebrity peddling the latest fad diet.
  4. Nature’s Beauty. When I take a walk, I’m shocked by the amount of litter that spoils nature’s beauty. My trash bag quickly fills up with beer cans, chip and candy wrappers, fast food containers, plastic cups, lids and straws. Imagine how much less trash there would be on our planet if we didn’t purchase the unhealthy food and beverages that come wrapped in all that packaging.
  5. Nature’s Purity. The more time we spend in nature, the more attuned we are to what we eat. We connect with the seasons and cycles of our ecosystem. We notice the artificial colors, fragrances and flavors that are a normal part of the modern diet. We find the junk and gunk in processed foods distasteful. We long for pure, clean food as much as we long for pure, clean air.

Nature has always provided valuable answers and inspiration for our nutritional health. In 400 BC, Hippocrates said nature was the best physician and encouraged a natural diet to prevent disease. The father of medicine is attributed to this piece of advice, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Easy for him to say. Hippocrates was never tempted by an Oreo. §

An Artist, a Tree, a Poet and Me

In the heart of Nashville, Indiana, on a walking trail that runs along the banks of the Salt Creek is a sycamore tree that would stop most observant travelers in their tracks. If they heed the call to come closer, they are rewarded with gifts of man and nature’s creative collaboration.

The tree stands about a hundred feet tall with two big trunks of equal size rising from a massive exposed root system. The thick roots naturally form what looks like a bench, perfect for a person to rest, or think or pray.

Upon closer examination, the gnarled roots at one end of the bench are expertly carved to look like a large benevolent hand. Five sturdy curved fingers rise out of the flat root bench to gently hug anyone who stops to sit under the sycamore on the bank of the Salt Creek.

As I relaxed in the tree’s embrace and absorbed the beauty of nature and art, I was struck by the deep relationship between the two. I imagined the sculptor reverently asking the sycamore for its permission to cut into its roots to co-create something that would celebrate its magnificence.

When I rose from the comforting spot, I noticed a piece of paper hanging by a nail on the primary trunk of the tree. I climbed up the roots to get a closer look. At the top of the page it read ~ Friends, if you like this poem, please take a copy. The poem was titled View of Life by Andrew Hubbard.

Ceremoniously, I removed the white laminated paper off the rusty nail. My heart soared before I even read the poem. Under the fading fall canopy of a sycamore, I felt I’d stumbled upon a secret society of poets, artists and mystics as inspired by nature as I.

The irony of a poet posting a poem on a tree amused me. At a time when people hastily share their every thought on social media and the Internet, I found Hubbard’s post refreshingly clever, quaint and genuine.

On the back of his poem, Hubbard wrote that this month marks five years since he began hanging poems on the tree “partly in an attempt to publicize myself, and partly just for fun.” He posts a poem every other month and replaces copies as they are taken.

With my eyes on my gift from the sycamore tree, I slowly walked down the Salt Creek Trail feeling crispy leaves crunch underfoot. The dappled sun danced on the page through yellowing limbs and wild sounds along the creek vibrated as I read Hubbard’s poem and contemplated my own tiny mark. §

View of Life

Of all nature’s metaphors

The one that takes my breath

Is the blast of October wind

(Sometimes with a slap of rain)

Tearing loose a million leaves

And twirling them to crisp drifts

That will fade and collapse 

Under the stern weight of winter.

On every tree each fallen leaf 

Left a tiny mark, a place

For a new leaf to push 

Its way into sunlight

When the infinitely slow, infinitely certain

Pulse of spring sings to it.

The ones who went before, 

Leaves and people,

Have little trace or memory

And there is sadness in that

But grandeur also.     

Andrew Hubbard is a poet who lives in Nashville, Indiana. He has published three books of poetry titled “Things That Get You”, “The Divining Rod”, and “Meeting the Moon Halfway”. Hubbard’s books are available at Amazon.com or by contacting him at ahubbard1050@yahoo.

 

10 Ways to be a Fountain, not a Drain

A decorative water fountain sits on our front porch. Every time I open the door to go out into the world, the trickling sound of the water urges me to be a fountain, not a drain.

When my father died a few years ago. I was given a gift certificate to purchase something special in his memory. My husband and I decided to get a fountain. We were at the garden store deciding between two designs. “I wonder which one my dad would like best,” I said. After several seconds of silence, Mike confidently stated, “He likes this one.”

“What makes you think so?” I asked. Pointing to the ground, he said, “He put that penny right in front of it.” Mike picked up the coin and put it in his pocket. That same penny has rested in the basin of our fountain ever since. (My husband continues to find coins left by my father the same way my mom knows every hawk is my dad flying by to say hello.)

The fountain is a sweet daily reminder of my father and the lessons he taught me. The elegant shape, soothing sound and inherent symbolism bring me comfort and joy. The continuous flow of the water represents the endless nature of unconditional love and the transcendent mystery of eternity itself.

Leonardo da Vinci said, “Water is the driving force of all nature.” Certainly, life can’t exist without water and many of us find peace in its sight and sound. When I see a fountain, I often find myself humming that Sunday school hymn deep and wide, deep and wide, there’s a fountain flowing deep and wide… 

Among all of his words of wisdom, I never heard my dad use the expression, “Be a fountain, not a drain,” but he embodied the philosophy.

Ten Ways to Be a Fountain ~

  1. Be calming. There are more than enough people in the world who like to stir things up. Let your presence be a calming influence.
  2. Be energetic. The water in a lovely fountain is never dull and stagnant. Be full of energy and vitality.
  3. Be hopeful. Where there is water there is life, and life is always full of hope and promise.
  4. Be welcoming. A beautiful fountain beckons all to come closer and rest in its hospitality.
  5. Be cool. Angry, hot-headed behavior seems to be acceptable these days, but try to keep it cool, man.
  6. Be refreshing. The world can make us weary. Do what you can to refresh your soul and pass it on.
  7. Be cheerful.  Bubbling water sounds a little like laughter. Make a joyful sound.
  8. Be gentle. Aim for your words and actions to be soothing, like water flowing from a fountain.
  9. Be clear. A fountain filled with dark, murky water loses its beauty. Be transparent and honest in your interactions.
  10. Be peaceful. There is so much disharmony in the world about which we can do little, but we can all work towards creating peace in our homes, relationships and communities. §

 

 

 

 

Finding Inspiration When You Want to Quit

My husband and I planned to spend the whole day in places guaranteed to fill my well with bucketsful of inspiration. We started our day at a lovely botanical garden. We strolled through winding paths lined with flowers and butterflies, trellises and arbors, sculptures and reflecting pools. My romantic soul swelled with appreciation for nature’s beauty, and my mind overflowed with ideas for my blog, The Simple Swan.

Just beneath my joy was the familiar fluttering anxiety about the fate of a book I’d written with a friend from my teaching days. An editor at a well-known publishing company had reached out to us more than a year ago about our self-published book, Lessons in Loveliness.

Legal contracts were signed, several painful rounds of edits were made, and a sample version of our book went through two test markets. The editor told us she would have a definitive answer for us by the end of August. It was the second week in September and more than fifteen months since the process began.

Mike and I were enjoying lunch at a favorite outdoor restaurant when my phone dinged with an email from the editor. Her message was to the point; the answer was no. My co-author and I briefly consoled each other. It was a learning experience, and we certainly had no regrets. I assured Mike I wasn’t upset and was ready for a fun afternoon at the zoo.

Then the voices appeared. Why did you ever believe you would be a published author? The book wasn’t very good. You’re a terrible writer. Your blog is stupid. You should stop writing. Tears flowed, but only for a moment. I remembered a quote by Vincent Van Gogh, “If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”

The animals at the zoo further lifted my spirits. As we were leaving, we saw two white Trumpeter swans gliding on the far side of a lake. I was content to watch them from a distance, but my husband spied a path behind a building where he thought we could get a little better view.

Leaning against a fence, we noticed the swans were swimming closer to us. I snapped pictures on my phone, certain they would soon turn away, but they swam right up to the bank about a hundred feet away. Unbelievably, they walked out of the water and moved closer and closer to where we were standing. I held my breath, not wanting the magic to end.

Just inches away from us, they pranced and posed gracefully like ballerinas in a private showing of Swan Lake. I was mesmerized by their curved snow white bodies, long elegant necks, and jet black beaks. Their inky markings stretched across their eyes like glamorous masquerade masks. They occasionally made a soft sound like a single note on a trumpet. After nearly half an hour, I thanked them for filling my deflated heart with an enchanted combination of awe, happiness, creativity and faith.

I am sure the swans were a serendipitous sign from the heavens that I should keep writing. A skeptic may say the swans came to us because we were standing where they’re often fed. Thankfully, I am a romantic. Nature, my muse, came through at just the right time, with just the inspiration I needed.

And you, my friend, must find your muse. What inspires you? Is it music, art, children, athletics, academics or something else? Seek it out and let it sink deep into your pores so it becomes such a part of you that you have no choice but to let it out and share it. Keep doing the thing you were made to do, no matter what the voices tell you. §