Circle of Life

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The nature of God is a circle of which the center is everywhere and the circumference is nowhere. Empedocles

Spring comes reluctantly to Northern Maine as the cold fingers of winter cling selfishly to the land before the relentless warmth of the sun forces her to retreat. Salmon Brook runs through our property and each spring, swelled with melted snow, it rushes with all the pent up energy of a horse long confined to a stall. It takes savage bites of the banks and seeks new territory to explore after its frozen winter imprisonment. It tumbles rocks and flings trees in its desire to flex its freedom and each year new channels are carved in its impatience to join up with bigger waters on their inevitable rush to the sea.

I eagerly await the moment when the snow melts enough for me to get to the brook’s edge to see what changes have been wrought by the spring runoff. Just across from where we have our firepit a small island splits the brook and some years the water cuts a channel towards the front of the island. These are the years that taking a nap in the hammock are accompanied by the giggling of the water as it tickles over the rocks nearby. Other years the brook jumps to the backside of the island and it creates a nice swimming hole to cool off in the hot summer months.

This week I decided to put on my waders and walk through the water to the island and try to determine if the brook has made up its mind which way it will go this year. I could see a new gravel bar along the side of the brook and uprooted trees were bridging another section. I thought about how life is like this brook. When we are young we are sure of our path and we rush headlong toward our goals. In our single minded need for success and happiness we fling obstacles out of our path without regard to where they will land. We don’t look back to see what damage we’ve done, focusing only on our efforts to reach our destinations.

As we progress in life some of the obstacles throw us into a different direction. Births, deaths, jobs, illnesses cut new channels into our path and take us into unplanned and uncharted territory. Just as the flow of the brook begins to slow as the summer months sap its strength and it can no longer manhandle boulders and impediments we begin to slow down as the years go by. We figure out that obstacles can be overcome by reason and ingenuity. As we tire we learn to value not the achievement at the end of our journey but the journey itself. We stop more often to enjoy the peace of the still pools and the beauty of the overhanging branches and wildflowers along the way.

As fall approaches the brook slows to a trickle, reluctant to rest on winter’s cold breast. As we approach our final destination we value each day more and more. And like the last of the summer wine, life becomes sweeter because it is the last leg of our journey. We remember with fondness when we galloped through life kicking up our heels with the sheer joy of living. We remember the boulders and limbs along the way that threatened to derail us and we marvel at our resilience to withstand the bruises and cuts they inflicted to emerge stronger and more assured.

As I near the last part of life’s journey I still have a kick or two left in me. I am no longer afraid to take a new path because experience has taught me that there is always something wonderful waiting round the bend. I don’t fret if I want to spend a day in contemplation and rest because those are the times when the deep pools can be explored and long hidden memories return and we embrace as old friends. Sometimes I wonder why we can’t have the insights we gather as we age when we have the exuberance of youth to enjoy them. But it is the journey of life that weaves all our joys, pain, laughter and tears together into the complete masterpiece God intended.  This knowledge reassures me that death is not to be feared, it is simply the end of the journey we embarked on the minute we drew our first breaths. When our journey is ended we will wake refreshed into the warm, loving arms of our Lord; reborn into the light, just as the brook wakes up each spring, for life is a never ending circle of birth and death, sleep and renewal.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die;

A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. Ecclesiastes 3

Singing The Winter Blues

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           Maine is a joy in the summer. But the soul of Maine is more apparent in the winter. – Paul Theroux

I lived in Georgia for the first 44 years of my life. In March the bright green stems of the daffodils would rustle their way through the brown detritus of fall and winter until their blooms burst forth into yellow trumpets that belligerently heralded the message “Spring is here!” I was born in March and daffodils are the month’s flower but it has always been my favorite flower because you cannot look at a daffodil and be gloomy. They delicately sway in the breeze, their petals are soft to the touch and their indescribable fragrance virtual screams cheer. Like shooting stars streaming through space they burn themselves out in a few weeks having done their jobs as a harbinger of Spring. That was in Georgia.

March in Maine is cold, snowy, bleak and depressing. I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, a mood disorder characterized by depression that occurs at the same time every year. Mine gradually starts to sneak up on me in October, lurks in the background through Thanksgiving and Christmas, then pounces on me with fangs and claws fully exposed in January. It tears into my psyche until depression falls upon me like a heavy, wet army blanket. It sucks at my energy until I am a miserable lump that craves light and carbohydrates in equal amounts. The only energy I can muster is to  open a pound pack of peanut M&Ms hoping for a sugar high so I can MAYBE pull my body off the sofa where I am binge watching my version of comfort video – British comedies. Usually I just lay there consumed in melancholia until I drag myself to bed in the early morning hours. In other words, I hibernate. Around mid-April I start to have a little stirring of life that I tease out until I burst forth in May like Persephone fleeing gloomy Hades for a few glorious months in the light.

Unfortunately, summers in Maine are short, barely three months. The heavily bundled, androgynous winter zombies that trudge the snowbanked streets are replaced by hordes of pale revelers intent on absorbing every bit of sun they can before winter starts sharpening its talons. You will never find anyone who enjoys summer more than people who live in the frozen north. The sight of fluorescent green leaves sprouting from tree limbs in the Spring can make you giddy with joy. For three months all is right with the world.

All summer I work on our land where we have a camp. I cut brush and limb trees and make beautiful meandering paths through the mixed evergreen and hardwood forest. Dripping in sweat, I dream of snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter months. THIS  year I’ll get outside no matter how cold it is. I’ll revel in winter! I’ll fill my lungs with the crisp, clean air of January and I’ll be triumphant in taming the life sucking tentacles of SAD. As I wipe my brow with my sleeve, I know I won’t. Next January will find me surrendering with a whimper to the clutches of depression. I do all I can to fight it. In the early part of winter I use a supplemental light designed for sufferers of SAD, take antidepressants, eat properly and exercise. But little by little, day by day, it wraps around me like weeds in a pond that wrap around my ankles and drag me down into the murky depths. But I know the daffodils will once again rise up like a bevy of avenging knights shouting to me “Arise!”

I choose to live in Maine because it is a way of life that is simpler. It is a place where you can buy vegetables by the side of the road, leaving your money in a box. It is a place of breathtaking beauty, abundant wildlife, culture and art. I am a Mainer now, albeit one with a heavy Southern accent. In a perfect world I would leave Maine right after Christmas and spend the remaining winter months thumbing my nose at the insidious fingers of SAD from a tropical beach, holding something that has a tiny umbrella in it in my hand. From June through December I would absorb the magical wonders of Maine. But for now, I will surf the internet gorging on photos of sandy beaches, turquoise blue water and M&Ms. So from beautiful northern Maine I salute all you who will see the daffodils in March. My lovely beauties, I’ll see you in June.