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Striving for domestic goddesshood

As I'm preparing for another move into my first experience of home ownership, I have to downsize. A lot. Again.

My last move was somewhat unexpected. I had a tight deadline (less than a week) to go from settled to completely moved out. I didn't have time to purge things. I didn't have the strength, either. I was still processing the end of my relationship and the loss of the happy little nest I had spent 5 years creating.

Though I have had much more time to prepare this time around, I admittedly haven't done well with pacing myself. Now that there's less than 2 weeks left, I realize I've saved about 75% of the work for the last minute. Partly out of procrastination and overwhelm and partly because in my childhood, we moved a lot, and I have a particular aversion to living in a half-packed house for any length of time.

Copyright Yancy Lael 2015

Copyright Yancy Lael 2015

But now, finally, I have no choice to pack. And with the packing and downsizing comes a lot of purging. I'm finding all the domestic treasures I made and/or collected for the house I had with my ex. Two years ago, at my last move, I considered these things precious, invaluable, a symbol of the hope and love I had in my heart. Today, I look at them and only see the burden I felt to create some unrealistic domestic paradise. Trying so hard to be worthy - a woman who could attract the love and commitment of a man, who could keep her home beautiful and cozy, who kept meals on the table, who constructed elaborate holiday traditions, who would one day become a mother (the most worthy creature of all) and continue juggling all these balls, plus night feedings and poopy diapers.

It pains me to see how much I strived back then. How much I've always strived. I aspire toward the domestic perfection I see in the movies. I aspire toward the domestic perfection I see on Martha Stewart. I aspire toward the domestic perfection I see in my friends and family members' lives. It seems like this incredible ideal that lives somewhere "out there" that I have never been able to attain and somehow, reaching for it, moving toward it, directing my energy toward it, has given me some level of comfort in all these years.

But it also set me up for massive disappointments time and time again. And caused me to miss out on the normal business of living - missing connection, missing the opportunity to engage in less stressful events, missing simplicity. Missing the chance to enjoy my life just as it is. Missing the chance to see myself as worthy without all the striving.

As I truck all of these items - supplies from my old business, handmade domestic frills, furniture the ex and I bought together - off to the thrift store, I feel a tinge of sadness and a ton of freedom. I don't know if I can live without striving - it seems to be a default setting within me. But to live with more awareness surrounding that still feels like an improvement.

What might come of letting go of these possessions…and what they were meant to symbolize?

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Where you can be yourself

A few weeks ago, I was at an event hosted by a local non-profit that works to get school-aged children out of the classroom and into the forest to experience more hands-on education. There's a lot of emerging research indicating that youth learn better in the outdoors and retain more information when education is more physical, more hands-on. (As you can probably imagine, this doesn't surprise me in the least.)

Copyright 2017 Yancy Lael

Copyright 2017 Yancy Lael

During the event, a kindergarten teacher began talking about the positive experience she was having with her class during their outdoor education days each month. She had a whole list of anecdotal evidence to share that made her believe the experience was worth pursuing, but one of the things she mentioned really struck a chord with me. She said that one of her students told her something like (you know, the kindergarten version of this): "I feel like I can finally be myself when I'm out in the forest."

When I heard this, it gave me the chills. I hadn't really put it into words before, but this is exactly what I feel like when I'm out in the woods. Finally, I understand what drove me to seek out those wild refuges! And of course, it was a 6-year-old who put it to words. Leave it to a kindergartner to put complicated truths into simple words and in the process, solve all the worlds problems.

The greatest privilege of being in the wild world is that we get to connect with our own wildness (which is what we really are, after all). We get so caught up in the myths we've created around being humans that we forget we are still part of the kingdom Animalia, the genus Mammalia. We are animals, belonging to the forest, the desert, the mountains, the rivers.

Out there in the woods, I never have to worry about how I look. I don't worry about the rituals of mating that we single gals think about so often. I don't have to put on makeup. I don't have think about whether or not my face is bent at an angle that's unattractive so someone standing across from me. I don't even have to wash my hair. I can lie in the dirt and stare up at the sky through the canopy of branches and experience one of the greatest freedoms I have ever enjoyed: Not thinking about whether or not I'm attractive enough to catch a man's eye.

Out there in the woods, I can sing. I don't censor myself and my love of music comes spilling out. I hum as I'm walking, I sing softly while sitting by the creek, I even call out loud tunes from the top of the hill to see if I can make an echo of song in the fields below me. I don't mind so much when I miss a note (which happens a lot). I don't worry that someone will walk in, see how much energy I'm giving to my song, and laugh at me for being so dramatic. I just sing and I know the squirrels, the vines, the owls, love to hear these melodies.

Out there in the woods, I can just be myself. I don't have to impress anyone. I don't have to worry about saying the right thing, about having good manners, about keeping the peace or being "spiritual." I can take in every sight, every sound, every texture and engage fully with what's around me, barely spending a second thinking about my deadlines, my obligations, the social missteps I made in the past week. I don't have to worry about investing or working out or saying just the right thing at the right moment. Everything I do in the woods is the right thing in the right moment. There's no judgment from the flowers, the deer. There's no one measuring my progress, asking for goal charts, demanding more growth and improvement. I am what I am in that moment and what I am is perfect.

The woods demand nothing of me. The woods take nothing from me. The woods embrace me - not imperfections, and all, but me, as a whole, with no judgment. There's no such thing as "imperfections." I'm just a set of patterns, fractals, elements, observations, pulses, and movements, just like every other living creature out there. We are, all of us, together, one.

I can be myself out in the woods. And what greater gift is there than that?

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Thorns & Prickles

I've been feeling quite prickly lately. Odd. Conflicted. Hard to fit. Even ugly, sometimes.

I've been spending as much time as I can in my grove (which isn't much time, at all, but some is better than none), and I noticed that the place where I sit is surrounded with prickly plants: Oregon grape, thistles, mullein, and some very thorny weeds.

They are all beautiful in their own way. I've always loved mullein and thistle and am developing a deep fondness for Oregon grape.

I touched the plants and even the prick didn't hurt that much. I thought, Maybe it's not so bad to be prickly. Maybe I can still be beautiful, and maybe my spikes and thorns can help me stay strong and protected.

Copyright Yancy Lael, 2017

Copyright Yancy Lael, 2017

There is a legend in Scotland, one of my ancestral lands, that the Norse invaders tried to surprise the Scots in battle during the night - when one of them stepped on a thistle and screamed in pain, alerting the Scotsman to the attackers' presence. So there's some value to being prickly, hmmm?

And beauty, as well. I think thistles are stunning. And Oregon grape is so smooth and shiny and boldly green.

But then there are all the ways that we see our prickly bits as more severe than they really are. We see them as shutting us away from others. We LET them shut us away from others. We judge ourselves based on thorns that aren't really quite so sharp as we fear.

My favorite fairy tale heroine, Briar Rose, has this prickliness to her. She pricks her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and falls into a magical sleep, protected in her castle by a wall of thorny brambles. Though there are dozens of symbolic interpretations of this story, I have often thought that her encounter with the spinning wheel represented her first true encounter with herself - and her inability to face her prickly side at such a formative age. At first, those thorny brambles protect her as her soul matures in a sacred sleep, as she begins to process the prickles. But eventually, they come to shut out the light of day. They come to shut out the love (not necessarily romantic) that is awaiting her. She has to learn to love her own thorns.

Like all things in life, there is no one way to look at our prickliness. It's good. It's bad. It protects us. It harms us.

A divine paradox, just like the rose. So beautiful, and just a little dangerous. Just a little painful.

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The Path of Totality

It was the middle of the morning, 9:30AM, when I went outside, put on my special glasses and looked up at the sun. I could already see the moon crossing over, leaving a crescent-shaped shadow over the sun.

It was amazing. Seeing the moon in shadow. In daylight. Seeing what appeared to be the two celestial bodies almost switching roles.

Copyright: C. Martin

Copyright: C. Martin

I didn't expect to sit through the whole thing, but that's exactly what ended up happening. I sat down on a lawn chair and watched the show for the next 40 minutes or so. Every few minutes, I'd put my glasses on and look up and see more and more of the sun disappearing behind the moon.

As time went on, I realized I was shivering. It was getting colder. The shadows were getting longer. The light turned to an almost gray color. The shadows were unlike the shadows I normally see. The lines and patterns strange, unfamiliar.

I ran inside to get a sweater about 2 minutes before the peak of the eclipse. I stopped short. The house was dark inside, except for a few more odd shadows laying themselves across the floor and walls. I stopped to take pictures, then ran back outside again.

The whole backyard looked gray, like someone had fiddled with the contrast and exposure settings on a picture. It was genuinely cold.

I sat down again, and suddenly…there it was. The moment where everything went almost completely dark (I was about 30 miles south of the path of totality). It was like that moment just before night falls. Total quiet. Chilly. Gray.

There was something almost creepy about it, but mostly it was fascinating. Awe-inspiring. It made me realize just how vital the sun is to our lives. Would we survive in that darkness? In that cold?

And then, almost before I could blink, it was light again. Even after the moon had only moved the tiniest bit, even only 90 seconds of that darkness…the yard became so light again that it felt as if someone had switched on a lamp. Just in a moment. Light to dark to light.

It was magic. Pure, beautiful magic.

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A moment of silence

There's been so much said since last weekend, when such unfathomable hatred broke loose in Virginia. Sometimes I feel I have so much to say. Other times, I feel that it would serve the world more to be and practice love rather than flap my jaw (or clack away at the keyboard) with more words, words, words. 

So I'm going to give the world my love today, rather than a whole lot of words that may or may not end up meaning anything in the end. But the love will remain. The love will matter. 

Photo by Kayle Kaupanger on Unsplash

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Can it be without conflict?

These past few weeks - maybe even months - I have run head-first into conflict at every turn. If there's even a possibility of conflict, it happens. It blows up. It escalates.

I have begun to think it's the eclipse. Right? Surely, it must be something in the air. Everyone in conflict. Looking for a fight. Defending themselves. Lashing out.

Photo by CloudVisual on Unsplash

Photo by CloudVisual on Unsplash

Why all of a sudden? Why now? Or is it always so and I just don't realize it?

I started feeling like I was a random cog in this chaotic whirlwind. Some of my edges are sharp. I feel like I blow into other people, knocking into them, rolling over them, hitting against them. Sometimes my sharp edges hit them. Sometimes theirs hit me.

It feels random and unnecessary and painful.

And it keeps going. Now I wonder if this is just the consequence of interaction. So many different people, so many different ways of living, speaking, breathing, being.

We are all alpha wolves about something. Maybe we are destined to butt heads again and again. Maybe the sharpening of our teeth and claws is part of our journey. Maybe getting territorial is part of the process.

I accept this so easily in literature. In fact, the second book of the Raedwolfe Trilogy that I'm working on now is all about the cyclical nature of conflict and how we can connect so deeply with others only to hit the wall again and again and again.

What is the purpose of it? I don't know. Practicing strength? Power? Or learning to let go? Compromise?

I don't know.

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Reading the Land

My first boyfriend was obsessed with a series of fantasy novels whose name I can no longer recall. He identified so strongly with the protagonist that he insisted everyone call him by that name instead of the one he was given. When we began dating, he said I was just like the female lead character. The girl in the story was a scryer - she threw stones and was able to find hidden answers in the patterns they made.

At the time, my boyfriend did not know what an intuitive I considered myself to be, how much I believed in magic, or even that I read tarot cards for fun. I found it incredibly affirming that he associated me, early on in the relationship, with someone who had such a strong connection to nature and such deep, intuitive insight.

As the years have gone by, I forgot about that book, about that character. My attention was caught again and again by other things.

Walking through the same woodland for 25 years, my artist's eye starting noticing the contrast between the different colors of bushes and bark. I became entranced with the dances the long grasses made when the wind blew. I especially loved textures and patterns - the way dead rabbitbrush would fan and flatten as it died, lying there alongside elegant twists and turns of living branches, or the delicious, slightly fuzzy bark that would peel away from the trunks of juniper trees.

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2017

I delighted in all of this, always wishing I could capture the beauty with more than just my camera.

And then one day, I read a blog post written by the luminous Sylvia Lindsteadt. She compares the detritus that washes up from the sea to runes and speaks about the secret language of the land that is hidden in these seemingly random items, in the patterns made by sea and sand.

I began to think about the patterns that, at one time I simply noticed, and that now I seek out - the random bone left behind by a coyote, the deer trails that crisscross the woods, the tiny, fluffy owlet feathers that still seem to appear in the most random places.

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

While I am glad to notice these things just to appreciate their beauty, what if there is more to our interaction than that? What if these are the runes of the land? What if these are the stones that we scry with? What if these items, these seemingly random placements and patterns, are not at all random? What if they are telling a very specific story of the land around us? What if those stories have instructions for us, information that could help us navigate through our own woodland (or seascape, or desert, or…)?

If we listen, if we read the runes, the stones, the bones, the feathers…what would they tell us?

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She-Wolf

I don't want to fight. But I will. 

I'm shy. An introvert. Quiet. Gentle. Sweet. In fact, when people describe me, the most common adjectives I've heard are "cute" and "nice."

The older I get, the more I abhor being described by these words. I've learned where "cute" and "nice" get you. As a young woman, I was a walking target. Classmates sexually harassed me, teachers insulted, terrorized and/or sexually intimidated me, and even friends weren't afraid to insult or hurt me in order to get back power when they'd lost theirs.

As I became an adult, I struggled constantly with trying to identify the line. Where exactly does one cross over into bullying, harassing, or just plain being a rude jerk-face?

I never knew the answer to that. I still don't.

I am usually alerted to this by the feeling I get - that feeling we all know so well of getting our feathers ruffled. That "Whoa, what just happened there?" feeling.

But is this a trigger?, I have wondered. Am I being triggered by something I need to learn and grow through or did someone actually wrong me?

Seriously, I still don't know the answer to that question, and by now, I'm all too used to assuming I'm the one in the wrong.

It seems like there's something in the air, lately, though, that either has me feeling "triggered" almost all the time…or there's just a spate of bad behavior going on. It seems like (particularly at work), I've been judged, intimidated, and even insulted dozens of times a week these past few months. And most of all, I've been criticized over and over, by many different people, for "not being strong enough."

Let me be very clear here that their definition of "strong" includes being loud, pushy, and aggressive. Three qualities that I just do not have and have no desire to cultivate. I don't want to be "strong" like that. I don't want to change who I am or adopt more masculine qualities* in order to appease the feminists at work who think this is what it takes to be a strong woman.

If they only knew what it was like to be this quiet and this gentle in the world we live in. It takes a hell of a lot of strength to be kind, compassionate, and patient. It takes a hell of a lot of strength to be soft in a world so goddamn hard.

I don't want to be like them. I don't want to keep my dukes up all day long. I don't want to fight back.

I am not afraid of the Big Bad Wolf. I am the Big Bad Wolf. 

Copyright: Yancy Lael & C. Martin, 2015-2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael & C. Martin, 2015-2017

But at the same time, I'm at the end of my rope. I'm tired of defending myself or ignoring rude, aggressive behavior. There is a part of me, reluctant as it is, that is ready to draw the lines around my territory and stand guard, knives, guns, and landmines at the ready.

This is my turf. This is my personality. This is my soul. Go find someone else to bully.

I am drawing on my wild canine totem for this, my she-wolf. I am ready to growl, lunge, and take down anyone who tries to out-alpha me in my own territory.

Just before I sat down to write this, I drew one of those lines. Hard. It was risky and I still don’t know what the fallout will be. I guess when two alphas fight, there's no telling who will win.

But I say again: This is my territory. This is my soul. So if I go down, at least I went down standing up for the one thing worth fighting for.

 

*Please note that I do not mean to perpetuate any gender stereotypes here. I am talking about the traditional associations of masculine and feminine energy, which may or may not have anything to do with a person and/or their gender. 

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Worn Out Selkie Skin

I had a reading last weekend and the main message that came through was: You need to die.

The person doing the reading (my sister) said I had already shed my skin like a snake, but that I kept putting it back on like a jacket. And it was time to let it go.

Ironically, I had just had a conversation with a very magical lady about selkies. We had connected before through a mutual friend, then she found an old post I wrote about selkies and asked me to elaborate on my selkie journey.

Photo by Alec Weir on Unsplash (Used with permission)

Photo by Alec Weir on Unsplash (Used with permission)

Selkie is an archetype I connected with after my last breakup, realizing that I had given up my selkie skin to be with the land-dwelling man I loved. I was irresponsible with that skin. I left it out in the open and it was snatched away from me. Lost.

When he left, I felt like I was finding my skin again and learning how to be very careful and deliberate with where I left it. But…I also felt something else I couldn't quite put my finger on until my sister made the snake analogy. Like maybe that old selkie skin didn't quite fit anymore…

I am still uncertain, even after days of thinking it over. Which part of me is the shed snake skin that I'm still wearing? Which part of me is the old, ill-fitting selkie pelt? And how does one find the new skin underneath? Is there such a thing as making that kind of fresh start?

Those who shed skins are the people and beings who walk between the worlds. In that sense, I find it very hard to pinpoint everything that's real and true about me. Some is real in this world and not in others. Some is true in other worlds but not this one.

But the word "true" makes me think of being true to yourself - true to your skin (whichever world you might be in). I still feel that I keep some of my skin hidden in the "real" world because I'm afraid to let colleagues and outsiders know what I do. I pretend my life as a writer and artist and blogger doesn't exist at work. Not true to my skin, at all. That feels like wearing a jacket. Like wearing a false skin to blend in with the rest of the "normals." (If there's really such a thing as being normal.)

And if that's the skin I'm supposed to shed once and for all…well, that just gives me the chills. (I need that jacket back!) I can hardly think of anything scarier than that. But at the same time, something in me knows I have to "come out" before the end of the year or I'm never going to get where I want to get.

I suppose it's possible that I can't even find my true-fitting skin until I start to let the shed skin go, once and for all.

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Ghosts, Bones, & Hope

The sun casts long shadows across the brilliant green grass. The branches of the junipers, pine, aspen, and hawthorn rustle in the cool afternoon breeze. The mountains stand proudly in shadow, shielding the sun as it prepares to disrobe for the night.

There used to be four dogs who tumbled across this lawn, barking and jumping. Two of them were lean and fast as foxes. One was a little slower, a little heavier, but her bulk never stopped her from taking flying leaps over the creek. And the youngest simply happily yipped and sprinted, just trying to keep up with everyone.

Amongst these furry creatures once ran three little boys who found pleasure sitting on the swings or play-acting swordfights with long sticks.

Copyright: Yancy Lael

Copyright: Yancy Lael

Everyone was so young and life felt like it was just beginning.

But on this afternoon when the wind is stirring our hair, when the birds are calling, and the sun is brilliantly orange, there is but one dog on the lawn. The three boys are older now, and have two little sisters in their circle. Despite the growing number of children, it has never felt so sad, so quiet, so empty here.

Two seemingly happy parents have been whittled down to one. A brother is missing. The three beloved dogs. There is no laughter. No more chaotic tumbling of 12 furry paws. No more choruses of barking.

The ghosts that are here now are deafening this afternoon. So loud in their silence. Even the baby owls have disappeared.

What remains in the empty space? Is there anything there, at all? Is it just memory, the bite we take that fails to fill our stomach, but tempts us to keep eating? Are there ghosts there waiting to comfort us? Or is it just the empty space that takes nothing, but has nothing?

Past the lawn, just down the hill, lies a pile of bones that once belonged to a young, vibrant buck. And beyond that, I have seen another buck, his antlers velvety, eating in the field. The animal who left the bones spoke to me once, a long time ago, about loss, about the seeming randomness of death. Then one day, this new buck, this living creature, appeared, and suddenly, the bones are not so loud anymore.

I hold on to the hope that one day another pack of dogs will sprint out across the lawn in a raucous tumble, knocking over several children in their path. They will appear just like the buck appeared. Without a lot of fanfare. Someday, they will just be there.

And the bones, the ghosts, will be there, too. They are always there, just in the foreground, or sometimes, a little to the left. We never forget our ghosts.

(This post is dedicated to Belladonna.)

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The friends we make in the wild world

I haven't seen my owlets in nearly two weeks. They grew up fast, as I knew they would. When I first encountered them, they could barely fly. Within 3 weeks, they were expert aviators. When I first met them, they would let me stand a few hundred feet away and take pictures and videos of them with my zoom lens. Within 3 weeks, the moment they heard me coming, they would fly away. I could barely catch a glimpse of them.

I knew they would be gone by the end of the summer, looking for their own territory. But I thought I had at least a month before they went off on their own.

But the last several times I've gone out to look for them, there has been no sign of them. I see feathers here and there that have been lying around for a while - nothing new, nothing fresh.

I listen so carefully, trying to hear their call, but nothing comes. I hear the magpies and the hawks, but no baby owls. Every now and then, I think I hear them…but when I stop to focus, the sound does not recur.

I have to admit, I really miss them. Watching them has been one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. What a privilege to get a chance to watch three baby owls grow into maturity.

Copyright: C. Martin, 2017, used with permission

Copyright: C. Martin, 2017, used with permission

In a way, they became my friends. I looked for them every Friday and Saturday evening. When you're owling, you have to slow down. You have to listen. The very act of walking so incredibly slowly, of looking into every tree for some clue of their whereabouts, was incredibly relaxing. It helped me manage the stress I've been struggling with at work. It helped me feel connected to a broader, wilder world than the one I currently inhabit.

Without little Lyra, Sirirus, and Vesper, I feel a little bit lost. Suddenly, the world feels so much emptier.

On Monday night, I walked the woods for over an hour, looking for them in the fading light. I began crying, feeling so hopeless that I will see their beautiful yellow eyes again. Was the last time the last time?

My sobbing startled a buck that had been eating grass several feet away. I didn't see him until he spooked and ran away. At the time, I was standing next to the bones of another buck who had died in November 2015, back when my own life was heading deep into the underworld.

The buck gave me some hope. He was young, his antlers velvety. Maybe another sign that my life is finally and fully emerging from that dark, deathly place it was in for so long. One buck left this world, and another has come into it, just beginning his life.

It gave me a little hope, even as I knew I had to face the fact that I might not see my little ones ever again.

I stayed at the farm on Tuesday night - something I don't normally do on a work night. I woke up just before my alarm went off, at 4:30AM. I laid there, staring at the ceiling, waiting for my alarm to go off at 5. Ten minutes later, I heard hooting.

I knew it was the mother or father owl sitting on the tree just outside the window, as they had done so often just before the babies were born. I couldn't believe it. After almost two weeks, one of them returned! Not one of my babies, but still…it was reassuring to hear one of the adults.

I went on with my day feeling much better, much more hopeful. Maybe I'll see them again. Or maybe the mother owl came to tell me that they were all moved out and happy in their new territories.

At work, a co-worker gave me a birthday present - a pair of owl-shaped earrings. It felt like the owls speaking to me, again, reassuring me.

I don't know if I'll see the little ones again. They might be gone forever, now. But I am grateful for the time I was able to spend with them. And I hope that the parents - or at least one of them - will stay on at the farm, letting me visit from time to time.

It is just good to know that we have friends out there, somewhere in the wild world, who touched our lives. And maybe we touched theirs, too.

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The Boss

I have always been the kind of person to struggle with authority. Not the way people usually mean that. I'm not a rebel, by any means.

No, I struggle with the fear of having an authority figure call me out, which is why I do what I'm told to do. All I need is someone to appear to have authority over me, and I will do whatever the hell they tell me to do.

I also struggle with having authority. In general, I don't want it. And when I do want it, I don't seem to have a powerful enough personality to wield it with any sort of power.

But somehow, I've always ended up in jobs where I have to play the role of an authority figure. I was a teacher for a long time, and now I run two programs and oversee about 20 adult staff members.

And I'm not very good at it.

It took me many, many years to draw the line in the classroom, which I suppose is pretty pathetic. Most people don't struggle at all with laying down the law with a child. But I did. I didn't want to hurt them, to scar them in some way. And I was deathly afraid that they would see me as the enemy and just want to keep fighting me all day.

I couldn't draw the line in my relationship and as such, he dated other women while we were together and I never once confronted him about it. I was terrified that he would leave for good if I "pushed" him by demanding his respect.

Sometimes I feel that I'm having similar problems in my day job. Don't want to listen? Great, no problem. Don't want to follow the rules? Your call. Don't respect me? Oh well!

How does the wild world model authority and power?

I think about my owlets and their parents and they operate in very specific ways when it comes to power and authority. The little ones sometimes challenge their parents, physically scuffling with them until the parents move to another branch. The parents hooted incessantly in the months before the babies were born, audibly marking their territory. When I stumble upon one of the owlets, they click their beaks at me, warning me that I am too close and expressing their distaste.

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

They speak up. They make themselves clear. They sure as hell aren't worried about whether or not I'll be angry with them or if I'll interact peacefully with them in the future.

And yet they are not unshakeable. Crows will sometimes gang up on one of the parents and peck at them. Tiny little birds will often dive-bomb the owlets, making the babies fluff up their feathers in disgruntlement. The owls don't do much in response to this - there isn't much to do. The attacks are usually short-lived, not worth the time to make a fuss over.

So what's the answer here? Speak up, speak clearly, draw the line, and let the little stuff go?

Perhaps. It seems so simple when put like that.

But the human world is always like the wild world. It feels like it should be - we are animals, too, after all - but there is so much more complication to it all. Or maybe we just make it complicated.

I don't know what the answer is, yet. Part of me feels like I'm just not good with being an authority figure and I should just accept it and shy away from that role. But we will all have to face that role in some ways during our lifetimes. It's not something we can put down and ignore.

Maybe there's only owlet-sized steps to take to practice speaking up, clicking my beak, drawing a clear line. Maybe that's enough… At least for now.

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Respecting the Space

I've been thinking a lot lately about how important it is to respect the space that we're in, as well as the things in it. There's nothing wrong with a mess from time to time, but overall, I look at unused desks piled with papers as disrespectful to myself and everything in the stack. I look at a sink full of dirty dishes as disrespectful to myself and everything in the sink.

One of my goals at work has been to keep my space clean. I failed incredibly at this last year, being so frantic that I would throw things into a pile in the corner, desperately just trying to keep any part of the surface of my desk useable. I don't have any more time than last year to organize anything or keep it clean - but I take the time. I prioritize that over everything else, because I want to respect my space, my time, my work, myself.

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

I have been helping to clean up the land at my mother's farm on the weekends. Some parts of the property haven't really been touched for over a decade. I've found trash, plastic, soda cans, old barbed wire… There's even junk out there from the last family who lived on that land, 25 years ago. No. Disrespectful. I'm cleaning that shit up.

My home is the biggest challenge for me at this point. I'm not often there, being at work and the farm most of the time. But when I see my office space filled with more clutter than any other space in the house (well, okay the garage is the worst), I realize why I'm struggling to keep up with the blog and get some freelance pieces out there. I'm not respecting - or even using, honestly - my work space.

The first area I tackled was my bedroom. I struggle with stress- and anxiety-induced insomnia and I realized, looking around my room, that I had started to bring my work in there. I had notebooks, calendars, and paperwork all over the place. Not at all a place for rest. I moved all of that out and haven't let myself do work in that room since.

I put off facing the office and living room because part of me doesn't want to face the mess. Part of me doesn't want to deal with all the stuff I need to sort through.

But it must be done. Every day I don't do it, I realize I'm not respecting myself, and I cannot let that continue to happen.

I've got to face it all and start respecting my space, my possessions, my home, and myself.

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Pay Attention

It always surprises me how challenging it can be to do the simplest thing - like pay attention to what's going on around me. Were we always this distracted?

I get thrown off by my cell phone dinging. I lose my focus when loud cars roll by or people spill into the office, talking loudly. I fall back into old habits of rushing not even always realizing that I'm doing it.

I'm trying to take a slower, more deliberate pace, especially at this time of year, when work is so stressful. I make time to write down my tasks in a date book every day, to help me focus on what I'm doing and where I'm going. I try to force myself to take breaks and to focus on taking care of my body.

Nevertheless, the rush creeps in. Just last weekend, as I was wandering the woods, looking for my owlets, I realized I was crashing through the brush at a rushed pace. Why on earth was I was going so fast?

Habit. Pure and simple. When I walk, I usually walk for fitness and am focused on what I have to get done when my walk is over.

But that's not the case when I'm owling.

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

I had to remind myself to slow down. I had to remember that I can't find those precious little creatures unless I walk very slowly and listen for their soft calls. I have to pay attention to every little thing around me.

I have to take notice of the magpies flying above. The way the wind is blowing. I have to look so carefully in the trees and listen with deep concentration so I can hear the owls' squawks.

All of this is a necessary reminder.

My bicycle commuting used to be this touchstone of focus for me. I can remember writing blog posts about how much bicycling slowed down my attention and helped me to appreciate the trees and flowers, how it allowed me to notice such "small" things like a beetle crossing the road - something I never would have seen from a car.

But all these years later, in another town, at a much faster pace, I have lost this sense of attention when I'm bicycling. I'm moving too fast. Hurrying too much. Trying to avoid the traffic, trying to get to work on time.

So now I must re-learn this lesson from the owls. Stop. Listen. Look around. Pay attention.

As I reminded myself of this last weekend, I stumbled upon a bush that was surrounded with owl feathers. I stopped, realizing my little owls had been there, probably not so long ago. My focus deepened, instantly.

Looking up for more clues, I found myself almost face-to-face with one of the owls. Right there. So close.

It took me several more minutes to realize that his sister was sitting right next to him, concealed by a branch. And another several minutes to notice his other sister just across the path from me.

There are a lot of things in life that sit quietly in the trees, waiting for us to notice them. It can be hard to see them. Hard to hear them. But if we remember to be deliberate and focused, we will take notice of the clues.

Go slowly. Listen deeply. Look closely.

Pay attention.

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In Mystery, They Remain

I spent last Friday evening looking for my owlet twins - with no luck. I roamed 40 acres of land and could not find a trace of them. I couldn't even hear their calls.

Disappointed, I thought I might not get a chance to see them that weekend. Until Saturday night came around.

After seeing their parents flying in the back pasture from the windows of my mother's house, I ran out with binoculars and camera in hand.

As I was snapping pictures, I thought I was imagining what I was seeing. Not two little fluffy white creatures…but three. What? Did I really just see that?

I turned on the video camera with its zoom lens and started watching the little owlet who had landed on a pile of hay (I was too far away to get a good view with the binoculars and certainly couldn't see well enough with my naked eyes). Another stood nearby. And then…sure enough, a third one flew in.

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

I could not believe it. What kind of blessing is that to have not one, not two, but three owlets growing up before your eyes?

I watched them in awe for nearly an hour. They were playing on a pile of hay that I had gotten it into my head to move a couple months ago. The pile had previously been sitting near the house (once a fort for my nephews) and had rotted over the winters into a pile of disgusting mush. I was so sick of looking at it that in March, I decided to haul it out to the back pasture, with my brother's help.

Well, I couldn't have moved it at a better time. The little owlets seemed to loved using it for hunting and flying practice. The short peaks made for perfect, modest "diving boards" (though they still face-planted an awful lot). They picked up chunks of hay and tried to lift them while flying (mostly unsuccessfully) to (presumably) strengthen their legs and build coordination, they went crazy over the buffet of bugs living in the decomposing matter, and most of all, I imagine, they were listening for the little mice who have since made a home in that pile, honing their ears for the day they will be hunting on their own.

They watched me watching them, often looking directly at me. Their parents fly away whenever I get within 300 feet of them, but the owlets are young enough not to care. I still remain at a distance, but unlike their parents, the young ones will allow me to observe from far away, occasionally looking my way to make sure I'm not coming any closer. Somehow, the mother and father owl will reappear in a nearby tree without my notice, flying away a second time when I get up to leave.

That Saturday night, as I watched and recorded videos, the sun cast a stripe of light straight down onto me and the owls. It was as if our little slice of the earth had turned to gold. I couldn't believe how beautiful it was. Did this happen every night, I wondered, and I was just too busy indoors to notice? Was it just this time of year, when the sun was at that particular angle in the late spring sky?

I didn't have time to ponder it much more - the light literally disappeared in less than a minute, casting the world into the last stages of dusk, that murky, beautiful gray-blue that emerges along with the stars in the sky.

Little Lyra flew across the field and into a tree at that point, nearly falling out, as she often does. She held on to the branch for dear life, falling upside-down, her wings extended. She looked like a giant, white, fluffy bat. I have seen her do this before and like always, she pulled herself upright again and caught her balance, sitting proudly on the edge of the branch, looking my way as if to say, "See? I got this."

Her brother, Sirius, soon followed her, almost landing on top of her, almost knocking them both off the thin branch that wasn't quite big enough for two birds of that size. Somehow, he managed to regain his balance and both remained steady on their perches.

Below them, their little sibling, the mysterious third fledgling that I had only just met that night, had perched on a fence post and was looking out at the mountains.

When I thought it was just two owls, I randomly decided that they were a boy and a girl (which may or may not be true). This mystery baby…I'm not sure yet. I suppose, in my gut, I think it's a girl. I'm a little stumped on what to name her. But I know she'll send me a clue when the time is right.

Just as the final light of day disappeared behind the mountains, the triplets' mother soared above them, landing in a tree several yards away. Always watching, no doubt. She and her mate are never far from those babies.

I love watching them. I love being reminded of what it means to really pay attention to something. I love the surprises in the world that we fail to notice because we don't go outside enough. Mother Nature is always waiting to remind us of her beauty.

But once the sun goes down, I have to surrender. After dark, I'm sure, is the best show of all - watching the owls hunt and fly and call to one another. But alas, I don't have their eyes. I cannot see in the dark. And illuminating their nighttime rituals with artificial light to satisfy my curiosity just wouldn't be right.

So in mystery, they will remain. I will get a few glimpses of them here and there - hopefully a lot more before these little fledglings move on to find their own territory. But what they do in the dark will stay in the dark, as it is meant to be.

As all mystery is meant to be.

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