At My Funeral

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When I die…

Do not read Psalms 23.
(When the priest asked what he should read at my father’s funeral, it was the only thing I remembered, but found no comfort from it.)

I always think we should have played Three Dog Night’s Joy to the World.
Dad would have liked that.

So sing! Go ahead, sing at my funeral.
But no dirge please, and no nonsensical lyrics about heaven and angels, thank you very much.
For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

Sing Green Day I hope you had the time of your life!
Or Simon and Garfunkel Time it was, and what a time it was…

cause every little thing gonna be all right

Read a poem.
One of Emily’s perhaps — she wrote often and unfearfully of death.

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

Charge my mourners as Thoreau charged:

that we have henceforth to fulfill the promise of
our friend’s life also, in our own, to the world

Carve Edna on my tombstone:

I would I were alive again
To kiss the fingers of the rain

Or spread my ashes beneath a stalwart, old maple,
so its roots can comfort me in sweetness,
and I resurrect each spring:

From my rotting body, flowers shall grow
and I am in them and that is eternity.

Then drink! Drink whiskey, my friends, and say Amen.

Look not too far ahead! But go now with good hearts! Farewell, and may the blessing of Elves, Men and all the Free Folk go with you. May the stars shine upon your faces!

• • •

In order of appearance: Genesis 3:19; Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life), Green Day; Bookends, Simon and Garfunkel; “Because I could not stop for death,” Emily Dickinson; Journal entry, February 28, 1840, Henry David Thoreau; “Renascence,” Edna St. Vincent Millay; From my rotting body quote, Edvard Munch; translated quote, The Fellowship of the Ring, J. R. R. Tolkien.

Photo: Ghost Town, Terlingua, Texas, DeLinda Fox, 2004

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hope is the thing with feathers

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You may recall, a while ago, I wrote about how I created a vision board, how a quote founds its way into my sightline…

You’ve got to jump off cliffs

all the time and build

your wings on the way down.

…and how suddenly, feathers were appearing at every step.

Feathers continue to appear — more than two dozen since this all began — and they’re showing up figuratively as well.

On a small shelf in front of a cash register at a store recently, a book called I Just Wear My Wings, by Virginia Barrett caught my eye. With the bird on the front cover and the wonderful reference to Emily Dickinson in its title, I just knew I had to have it!

The book is a lovely collection of poems about nature, spirituality and meditation. Like this one that showed up midway through…

feathers
I often find
while walking
remind me
I can always
decide to fly

It is all connected, my friends. And WE are all connected.

Namaste.

• • •

Wings quotes by Annie Dillard. Feathers poem by Virginia Barrett from I Just Wear My Wings, which you can learn more about here.

On Turtles, God and the Intention of All This

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It has certainly been an exciting time in the woods lately! Such a great abundance of animals to happen upon — birds, snakes, turtles, frogs! And as I stop to take pictures and consider new writings, I find myself thinking about god.

How much closer can I get to the intention of god than to be walking in the woods and interacting – however so slightly – with these magnificent creatures? It’s like Emily Dickinson observed, “Some keep the Sabbath going to church, I keep it staying at home, with a bobolink for a chorister, and an orchard for a dome.”

Yesterday, I happened upon a Red-eared Slider Turtle that had been hit by a car near the preserve where I walk. Its shell was broken and there was blood. Blood! I felt at once the fear and pain of this small creature and knew it was my responsibility to do something. I would no more leave an injured human on the side of the road.

Why is it, do you think, that we can drive by an animal who has been hit by a car and feel no remorse, but highways are shutdown when humans suffer similar fate?

Why is human murder a crime destined as front-page news, but animal murder is considered sport?

How can we preach, in our churches, on our Sabbaths, about kindness and love and right action, when we leave those hallowed spaces and commit atrocities to our planet and its creatures?

These are the things I wondered about as I placed the injured turtle into a cardboard box and drove it across town to the local vet.

These are the things I wondered about while I stopped traffic to let a black rat snake cross the road just moments later.

These are the things I wondered about as I walked in the woods yesterday, hearing god in the sound of the rain and the song of the birds.

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Anyone would be hard pressed to put forth that animals are not perfect creations of God; they are just different types of creations. Humankind has always compared other creations with themselves, thinking always that we are the highest of God’s creations. For this reason many humans don’t think that other living organisms have souls, but how do we supposedly know that? Do we presume to know God so well that we can say that souls don’t exist in other living forms? Just because God supposedly gave us dominion over all living things (according to the Book of Genesis in the Bible), does that mean we can kill and mistreat them? Could not the word “dominion” also mean a responsibility to care for and ensure the survival of all living things?

— Sylvia Browne, All Pets Go to Heaven

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TURTLE UPDATE: the folks at the Branford Veterinary Hospital told me that they sutured up some bone fragments on the turtle yesterday and he seems to be doing fine today. They won’t be able to repair his shell until probably next week – they actually glue them back together – and they expect he’ll be a long term patient.

All of this, by the way, is a free service offered by Connecticut vets for rescued wildlife, although donations are always appreciated. I don’t know if other states do the same thing, but it’s great to know that there are resources when we find animals in crisis!

Turns out the Red-eared Slider Turtle is not native to Connecticut. It’s a southern species probably released as a pet into the wild. The vet said he seemed to have figured out how to live through the winters, since he was a rather large and well-developed fellow. Probably 15″ – 18″ long as I recall.

• • •

Essay ©2013, Jen Payne. Photo courtesy of Wikia Travel.

how happy

How happy is the little stone
That rambles in the road alone,
And doesn’t care about careers,
And exigencies never fears;
Whose coat of elemental brown
A passing universe put on;
And independent as the sun,
Associates or glows alone,
Fulfilling absolute decree
In casual simplicity.

— Emily Dickinson

• • •

Photo ©2013, Jen Payne

a moth the hue of this

It appears I have a houseguest. And a slightly mysterious one at that!

Last week, while snipping a little rosemary to use for dinner, I noticed this fellow ambling along a branch. Can you see him?

I consulted with local entomologist Carol Lemmon, who reported back a few days later: “I am unable to ID this moth as I can not see the configuration of the legs in this photo. I suspect it is a looper with legs in front and in back only, although I have gone thru Dave Wagner’s book of nearly 500 photos of Caterpillars of Eastern North America and cannot find one with this sort of head spotting. I can only tell you definitely…it is a moth…probably a looper.”

Thanks Carol! I suspect my visitor has now nestled in for the long, cold winter that decided to start this week!

For sure there will be flutterings of a winged sort come spring—and transformations to look forward to!

• • •

©2012, Jen Payne; “a moth the hue of this” is the first line of an Emily Dickinson poem: “A Moth the hue of this Haunts Candles in Brazil. Nature’s Experience would make Our Reddest Second pale. Nature is fond, I sometimes think, Of Trinkets, as a Girl.”

A Meandering Adventure of Connections

The following is an example of where a walk may take you. It began simply enough, with the appearance of Monotropa Uniflora, above, at my feet. It led to poems by Emily Dickinson, early 20th century ghost stories, an 1896 article about the relevance of American poetry abroad, a consideration of the accuracy of online plant classifications with several local botanists and plant people, and a fabulous collection of Cherokee Indian photography. Come along with me?

– – – – –

‘Tis whiter than an Indian Pipe –
‘Tis dimmer than a Lace –
No stature has it, like a Fog
When you approach the place –
Nor any voice imply it here
Or intimate it there
A spirit – how doth it accost –
What function hat the Air?
This limitless Hyperbole
Each one of us shall be –
‘Tis Drama – if Hypothesis
It be not Tragedy –

– – – – –

In this lovely poem, Emily Dickinson refers to Indian Pipe, Monotropa uniflora, also known as the Ghost Plant. According to Wikipedia, it is an herbaceous perennial plant, formerly classified in the family Monotropaceae, but now (possibly) included within the Ericaceae, the heath or heather family, along with cranberry, blueberry, azalea and rhododendron.

Unlike most plants, Monotropa uniflora is white and does not contain chlorophyll. Since it is not dependent on sunlight to grow, it can thrive in dark environments like the understory of a dense forest.

When I spotted Monotropa uniflora on a recent walk, it seemed familiar to me. And then I remembered! It’s the same flower that is embossed on my favorite volume of Emily’s poems. I’d read from it just last week at a summer solstice celebration with friends.

– – – – –

The bee is not afraid of me,
I know the butterfly;
The pretty people in the woods
Receive me cordially.

The brooks laugh louder when I come,
The breezes madder play.
Wherefore, mine eyes, thy silver mists?
Wherefore, O summer’s day?

– – – – –

As Christopher Benfey notes in his book A Summer of Hummingbirds, Emily called Indian Pipe “the preferred flower of life.” In a letter to friend Mabel Todd, Emily confides, “I still cherish the clutch with which I bore it from the ground when a wondering child, an unearthly booty, and maturity only enhances the mystery….”

But the mysteries of this eerie little flower were curious fare for other writers as well. Sylvia Plath mentions Indian Pipe in her poem Child, and Georgia Wood Pangborn weaves it into her ghost story The Ghost Flower, from 1908:

– – – – –

He held some Prince’s pine in one big hand and in the other a waxen, pearly, leafless thing with bent head like a novice at prayer.

“They both belong to the heath family,” he went on cheerfully.

Mrs. Thompkins spoke: “That’s an Indian pipe. I used to find them when I was a girl.”

He dragged the great table up to her chair at once.

“Have you studied botany?”

“A little-at the old academy and by myself. Another name is ‘corpse plant.’ You see they are blackening already, and they are cold and clammy to the touch.”

“Ugh. What a name!” shuddered Mrs. Banks, her manner implying that Mrs. Thompkins in mentioning it had committed a solecism.

“They call them ‘ghost flowers,’ too,” said Mrs. Thompkins. She examined the confused mass in the knapsack, and collected a dozen or so of the Indian pipes thoughtfully. There was a suggestion of dead and gone romance, of something that these flowers had once meant.

– – – – –

This plant is so bewitching, its reputation reaches out from Native American folklore as well. In her book Cherokee Plants and Their Uses, author and teacher Mary Ulmer Chiltoskey writes:

– – – – –

Before Selfishness came into the world-that was a long time ago-the Cherokee people were happy, sharing the hunting and fishing places with their neighbors. All this changed when Selfishness came into the world and man began to quarrel. The Cherokee quarreled with tribes on the east. Finally the chiefs of several tribes met in council to try to settle the dispute. They smoked the pipe and continued to quarrel for seven days and seven nights. This displeased the Great Spirit because people are not supposed to smoke the pipe until they make peace. As he looked upon the old men with heads bowed, he decided to do something to remind people to smoke the pipe only at the time they make peace.

The Great Spirit turned the old men into greyish flowers we now call “Indian Pipes” and he made them grow where friends and relatives have quarreled. He made the smoke hang over these mountains until all the people all over the world learn to live together in peace.

– – – – –

And so there I was, wandering in a place where “friends and relatives have quarreled” so long ago, walking in the woods looking for my own peace, and finding it here, in the meandering adventure of connections.

Thank you for sharing the journey!

• • •

RELATED LINKS

• Read an Except from A Summer of Hummingbirds by Christopher Benfey, or click here to buy the book.
• Learn more about Monotropa Uniflora
• Find our more at US Forest Services: Wildflowers
• Read a discussion about the relevance of American poetry abroad from The Nation, 1896
• Special: read Georgia Wood Pangborn’s The Ghost Flower in its entirety
• Check out some amazing photos and ephemera at the Hunter Library Digital Collections