My beautiful aloe plant took a beating this winter. We had multiple days of frost and even a bit of snow. I wrote about the healing powers of aloe including a picture of its fall flowers here.
I was sad to see the thick succulent leaves go dark and squishy as the freezing temperatures came and went. This morning, though, I noticed that the centers of each spiral of spiny leaves is bright green. The frost killed the outer parts of the long leaves, but somehow the leaves huddled together in the center were able to ward off the cold.
Now that we are heading in to the second half of February we are unlikely to see freezing temperatures this season. Despite the setbacks of the winter, my aloe is prepared to recover.
You too may have experienced some setbacks this winter. Caregiving has a way of serving up hard times and making ordinary difficulties more burdensome to bear. The way you have been huddling with others, seeking and giving support, has been protecting your center all this long while.
Even though you have suffered some damage there is something intact and resilient at your core. The very center of you is green with cream spots and scalloped edges and spines, ready to put forth new growth when conditions are right.
You may not feel this potential every day. You may see the withered leaves and brown squashy bits that look pretty grubby, but they are composting to put their nutrients back in the soil. They too will nurture you when you start to grow again. For now, they drape their unattractive brownness over you to protect you from a surprise late frost.
There is nothing for you to do differently. The ugly bits and the beautiful bits are working together to protect you. When the day comes, you will have what you need to recover.
You might wonder whether this silly little flower in my loropetalum is even worthy of a photo, but I like it, so here it is. Worth is an odd idea anyway. What is it that makes something or someone worthy of love or friendship or appreciation or photography?
We differ a lot in what we find worthy. There is probably someone who photographs cars and finds them a worthy subject: classic muscle cars, antique roadsters, and Formula 1 racing cars. I take pictures making an effort to be sure that cars don’t appear in them, with the exception of one rusty truck here.
Since there is no absolute measure of who or what is worthy, we can make our own private decision. Consider then the matter of whether you are worthy of love. On the one hand you might think not. After all, you know better than anyone else that you are flawed. You are not always kind and supportive. You are sometimes short-tempered. There was the time you said the thing that was almost true, but not quite. You never returned the gizmo you borrowed and promised to return. A list of your flaws or mine would be a long one.
On the other hand I love the chaotic tumble of weeds in the yard. You love your dog, who has never returned anything she borrowed on account of eating whatever that was. When we think of people and creatures we love, we see how worthy they are.
I don’t know why we see how lovable others are and see our own unworthiness, but this imbalance can cloud our vision. We need others to remind us that we are worthy of love. It seems something we cannot do on our own.
Maybe you know someone who is struggling, burdened with caregiving or health trouble or grief or financial difficulty. Choose one person and remind them today that they are worthy of love. This is my reminder to you.
On a walk by the creek this week in a grove of cedar elms, I saw these long dead trees with their complex root systems still holding on to one another. For some reason I thought of the time when we sisters were small girls. In times long past three cedar elms seeds dropped onto the creek bank. They sprouted close to one another. When they were little seedlings, they looked like separate trees, one over here and another over there. Over time as they grew bigger, they had to make accommodations, so each could grow, and one would not be too much in the shade of another. The three trees grew for years on the creek bank. They saw the water level rise and fall, saw fish and turtles and the dry cracked mud of drought. They were there when little fawns were born in the spring and when old deer came to the creek to refresh themselves in the heat of the day. Turkeys and songbirds roosted in their branches. They saw the pasture turn from thicket to plowed field to the wildflower meadow that it is today. For some years cows grazed on the opposite bank; for some years there were sheep. As the trees grew large, their branches formed a single canopy, where sunlight got to all the leaves and there was a shady understory below. Their roots intertwined, each adding stability to the others. Seasons turned, and eventually they stopped growing and dropped seeds of their own. The grove today largely descended from these original three. The trees got old. About a century after they sprouted, the three died within a short while of one another. Today, even though most of their bark has sloughed off, their tall trunks still stand close together. Songbirds and turkeys still roost in their branches. Woodpeckers find insects in holes in their wood, and their roots even in death are intertwined and holding on to one another. Everyone in all the world should have sisters like this. How glad I am to have you.
There is a breathtaking stretch of road running along a creek valley near the Bossy Spa. I was enjoying the drive when Mark noticed something out of the corner of his eye that seemed not right. I was surprised when he stopped the truck and backed up. Against the bright green backdrop of grass was a fluffy white animal that registered as too big.
A white llama was grazing like an oversized sheep. He was right by the road and looked at me with wary curiosity when I hopped out with a camera.
Ranchers sometimes add a llama to a herd of sheep because in the absence of other llamas, they bond to the herd and will protect the sheep from predators. There are few natural predators of llamas in our part of the world. Llamas are gentle, but big, and nothing wants to tangle with them.
This llama has a job to do, and it is a job he didn’t choose. He is a caregiver for the sheep. Fortunately he is part of a team. The sheep look after themselves to some extent. There is undoubtedly a shepherd in the mix somewhere. And from time to time the sheep are probably seen by a vet.
Still the llama has a daily job and he is never off duty. This llama is not just looking after the sheep, he is taking care of himself, grazing on the tasty grass and enjoying the sunshine. Look how fluffy and clean his fur is! He even takes time for recreation, getting to know someone new who approaches with a camera.
Even though you have not figured out how to digest grass, I know for a fact you are smarter than a llama. Today let your team do their part. If you have a medical question, ask the doctor and go along instead of doing your own research. Do what you need to do to protect the person in your charge, but also take time to eat tasty food, bask in the sun, fluff your hair, and examine something curious.
If you do these things, I cannot promise you will be as beautiful as this llama, but you are not bad to begin with, so I like your chances.
Our neighbors to the south are currently in possession of 22 hens and one slightly overwhelmed rooster. Suffice it to say they have an abundance of eggs, which they generously share. These are a couple of their beautiful girls. The warm brown ones are Rhode Island reds. I don’t remember the other kinds, but I love the pattern on the feathers of the black and white one.
The chickens live in a large open-air coop with a half dozen cozy little nesting boxes. They lay white and brown and green eggs, depending on their kind. When I went into the coop to take pictures, they were curious and welcoming and unafraid.
They eat grain and all manner of kitchen scraps, composting them instantly into a rich fertilizer for the garden, which last summer produced the world’s most prolific okra. Perhaps these ladies are the reason why. It is so sensible to convert this season’s leftover vegetable scraps into next season’s fresh vegetables, and chickens do the processing to make that all possible.
Chickens help you deal with the garbage, especially the stuff that smells bad if you let it sit. They work rather like a friend who is a good listener. Life has a way of handing out some yucky stuff along with the good stuff, and you can get submerged under the difficulties if you don’t have a friend who will listen.
The compassionate listening of a friend is how we process our unattractive scraps into usable food for the soul. Funny too how it is listening that does the work, not advice giving. We actually don’t need someone to tell us what to do, and our ideas of what other people should do are often not useful to them. Empathic listening, though, is relationship gold.
When you have a friend who is a good listener, who lets you be where you are instead of telling you who or how you should be, you have found something really precious. Next time you are with friends acknowledge a good listener if you have one.
If you have a friend who loves to give advice, tell her you would love her to listen and support you without advice giving. See if she’ll give it a try. An ordinary relationship can grow into something more nurturing and helpful, but it might take a nudge from you.
Make sure you have a way to process any emotional garbage in your life. A friend who is a good listener is as good as a couple dozen chickens for getting the job done.
Harassment doesn’t only happen in human interactions. This is a picture of a harassed turtle. On one of my first photo safaris with a phone capable of going under water I saw this turtle, about a foot in diameter, swimming along the edge of the creek.
Unfamiliar with the camera workings I tried all sorts of ways of capturing a photo of him. Each time I slapped the phone on the surface of the water to take another shot, the turtle looked up in exasperation. Eventually he felt sufficiently harassed that he went to the creek bottom and pulled his head and legs into the shell. That gave me plenty of time to get the light and the rest of the shot right, though you don’t get to see him swimming, which was pretty nice.
Still, he’s a lovely fellow, all bluish green, and I like how he handled my harassment. He gave me the message, “Hey, you are annoying me,” and put up a boundary to make himself a lot less interesting to annoy. This simple approach wouldn’t do any good in a situation where there were bombs exploding or anything dramatic like that, but it is a fantastic way of handling daily stresses.
Being turtle-like is all about finding quick relief. As its simplest it is a place to go inside yourself for calm. A caregiver has got to cultivate this ability because there is so much in your day that can assault your equilibrium. An external ritual may help you find that calm place inside, perhaps a ritual of doing ten deep yoga breaths or push ups.
Is there something turtle-like that you can add to your bag of tricks for dealing with daily stress? One caregiver takes a book into the bathroom for ten minutes in the evening. This is a habitual turtle, who makes a point of spending time in his shell every single evening.
What other turtle-y things can you do when someone is slapping the water above your head? Recite a poem to yourself. Sing a verse of a silly song or a sad one. Massage the acupressure points in your hand. The point is to keep the stressful moment in front of you right now from upsetting your inner peace.
You’ll want to choose a few tricks that suit your temperament. Then practice using them. Discard what doesn’t work and try something else. Over time you will develop a small repertoire of ways to hold onto your inner calm. Good decision making flows from the ability to maintain your equilibrium, and a caregiver needs this more than anyone.
Life will undoubtedly serve up an opportunity for you to practice this sometime today. What small ritual will you use to help you remain connected to the steady center of yourself?