Long Enough

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Mary Oliver ends Such Silence with:

I sat on the bench, waiting for something.

An angel, perhaps. Or dancers with the legs of goats.

No, I didn’t see either. but only, I think, because

I didn’t stay long enough.

Morning coffee in the garden. Mike and I are about to move inside and get our respective days up and running. We pause, and here comes the hummingbird, whom we had been hoping to see. Settling back into our chairs, a pair of songbirds light in the dogwood which wraps the gazebo’s west side. One of them explores the latticework along the screen, a mere 2 feet from us, the gazebo serving as a blind. Its throat trembles with a melody, and Mike says, ‘If you wait, they will come,’ a twist on a line from Field of Dreams:  ‘If you build it, he will come.’

And next, three goldfinches. Following their swooping and chirping path above the garden, the moon about to set comes to our attention. Glory be.

Stay long enough today. Practice the Alexander Technique Pause.

Mutual Regard

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Walking along the north perimeter lane, I stop at the sight of a warbler pair, nestled side-by-side on a low-lying tree branch. We regard each other in the quiet, a light breeze between us.

The warblers are well-versed in physical distancing, and we could learn a thing or two from them. Appearing comfortable and at ease, they are also vigilant to my presence, and when I do finally step forward, they twitter lightly, lifting off their perch.

They received me. I had been seen; regarded. This moment brought to mind a long-ago Alexander Technique lesson Mike had with Barbara. He was deeply moved by her presence, and the way in which she received him with respect and calm attention, just as the warblers did with me along the fencerow last week.

Thank you, wee warblers. Thank you, Barbara.

 

 

 

Imitation

 

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photo courtesy of  Bushnell wildlife camera attached to bluebird box on the hill

The first step in learning how to work on yourself is to observe others. Looking at the world around you with Alexandrian eyes is extremely instructive, and pleasurable too …….and if you search carefully you will find admirable instances of good use around you.

I draw enormous inspiration from looking at….great athletes and dancers and musicians, at animals both wild and domesticated…such models of good use are worth imitating.’

Pedro De Alcantara, Indirect Procedures: A Musician’s Guide to the Alexander Technique

Morning on the hill. Feast your eyes on this elegant form. To know a fawn was lightly treading the meadow around our little cabin as Mike and I slept snug inside is to know there’s astonishing beauty all around us, always.  The wild world does provide us with inspiration—-

 

Maybe Tomorrow

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The annual Drama of the Fledglings is underway. This past weekend, it was a tree swallow soon to fledge, but not quite ready.  Her beak opened to bright orange-yellow on each fly-by of the parents. Landing on the box, the pair peered over the edge, chirping to their offspring, offering encouragement, but nothing doing.

On the porch for an afternoon of cloud watching, I  periodically checked on the swallow’s progress through the binoculars. She began to extend farther out of the box opening, her neck lengthening (yes, Alexander Technique students, birds do it, too!) looking up, down, and all around. Still in the nesting box, however.

End-gaining was not in evidence on the hill. Mr. Alexander would be pleased. He observed in himself and his students the common habit of gaining an end, i.e.–striving to achieve a goal, by disregarding how we use ourselves to get there, and mindlessly pushing to complete a task. He was adamant that instead of trying to please, get it right, and get it done, we would benefit greatly from pausing (what he termed Inhibition), and considering the ‘means-whereby‘ any task is best performed. 

The task of flying awaits the young tree swallow. Not responding just yet to the stimulus of cajoling parents, she pauses. She waits. We do ourselves harm when we push through our daily lives, using force of will and grim determination. Try a pause. Be kindly toward yourself in all that is required of you. The swallow will fledge. You will complete your tasks. Maybe tomorrow.

 

 

Wren, Again*

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Singers! So much to learn. Start with a wren in song. No better example of full embodiment and whole-body singing exists. The wren serenades were an on-going feature of last week’s visit to the hill. A wren pair were even attempting to build a nest in the front porch rafters, but with little to no overhead space in their chosen spot, project was abandoned.

The cabin is surrounded with young oaks, and their boughs are a favorite song perch for the wrens. Petite creatures that they are, I recommend a pair of binoculars nearby for quick access when the piercingly sweet melody begins. Bring binocs to eyes and follow the sound. With magnification, you will see the wee body lengthen just prior to the tiny beak opening for the first salvo of sound. Take note. That’s precisely what we need to be about in preparation for our singing.

Stay alert, and you will observe the wren’s throat pulse with the trills, its entire body engaged in singing, much like a baby who responds to your voice with arms and legs akimbo and in motion. (3-month-old Vivi visited yesterday with her mother, doing this very thing.)

Life is our teacher each and every moment; availing ourselves of the lessons, our choice.  Let beauty and amazement teach you today—

*Click here for previous Bird Life post.

 

Time Travel

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the very woods

Mike and I, along with my father-in-law Dick, are planting pine seedlings on the hillside. It’s a perfect and sunny day. Dick announces it’s time for a break. We stretch out, the three of us, in the field, Dick’s hands behind his head as he leans back, surveying the countryside.

Time folds in on itself.

I’m walking through pine woods, the ground a soft carpet of pine needles. Rounding the path down the hill to Watercress Gully, a breeze kicks up and ripples the pine boughs to my right, with a sound like gentle ocean waves.

I was there then. The hills were pasture fields. I am here now. It’s a forest. Fully present. Then. Now. Then gives me now. Because of then, there is a now.

Madeleine L’Engle called it A Wrinkle in Time, and as a 10-year-old avid reader, I devoured this fantastical tale. I never imagined experiencing a ‘tesseract in time,’ as L’Engle coined it, but on the beloved hill, time travel did happen, courtesy of two words, ‘fully present.’

On the hill, and nowhere else, planting seedlings. Walking the hill, seedlings towering overhead as full-grown pines, time becomes elastic. Alexander Technique students report this altered sense of time in their lessons, and as a teacher, I have learned to have a timepiece close by because I, too, lose the quotidian sense of time when immersed in the work.

There are many paths through the woods. Find your path to full presence, and be refreshed. The tyranny of time will subside, and aliveness will be yours to savor.

Surprise Me

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the first!

Weekend retreat. Friends. Cabin in the woods. Soup. Wine. Laughter. And needle felting.

What is that colloquial question…..’Who knew?’  Yes. Who knew I would delight in a brand-new experience, thanks to Cindy, who, in addition to bringing quiche, wine, and her wonderful self, also hauled bags of wool skeins, small white envelopes of felting needles, textured yarns, felt squares.

With a minimum of instruction, Cindy soon had Deb and me happily ensconced on the couch, surrounded by mounds of wool and scraps of yarn. We proceeded to cover the room with shreds of wool, scraps of felt, squiggles of yarn, and all the while birds flitted past the surrounding windows. Exclamations varied from gasps of pain when a needle missed its mark, to amazed wonder at the intense red head of the woodpecker.

And Deb had this to report, post-weekend, as she continued to create the most extraordinary felted animals. ‘I found you don’t need to jab super-hard all the time.’ She had stayed at the cabin for a couple extra days, and was, I believe I can accurately write, surprised to find herself immersed in a new pursuit.

Long-time readers of this Alexander Technique blog could surmise about where this  post is headed. Does ‘Light vs. Heavy‘ ring a bell? Or perhaps, ‘More-With-Less‘? Both recent postings, they address the on-going question in A.T. Land—-how much, or rather, how little is required of me, of you, to skillfully and adequately accomplish the task at hand, whether it be washing the dishes or making a felted creature?

Thanks, Deb, for this A.T. reminder, received via text as I resumed the daily rounds back in the big city. Most any and everything can be done with less, giving us more ease. I raise my felting needle to that!

 

Views

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Within the 12-pane window is a universe. Small oaks in the foreground, their rusty leaves framing the distance. Meadow grasses of pale, tepid beige. A sagging wire fence.  Fence row tree branches etched on overcast gray sky.  Dun-colored rolling fields beyond. A slice of red barn and silver roof. Deep, thick pine grove the only green. Distance hills in mist and dark.

If there is anything in the world more beautiful, I have no need to know what it is. This beauty will suffice, and does, each and every time I’m on the hill.

And then there are the mundane, even scruffy views, especially this time of year. Old piles of snow, an aging doughnut shop sign. With a beauty all their own. We each have a window to the world at any given moment; the view out a car windshield (see photo above, on back roads to a Ft. Wayne, Indiana friend), a sliver of sky seen from the office desk, a quick glimpse out the kitchen window as morning coffee brews.

Hill views not required. Receptivity is.

 

 

 

 

 

Away

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an Ohio dawn

‘There is no away.’ This statement was in reference to the plastic trash in earth’s oceans, and the capacity of a single plastic water bottle to travel the world on ocean currents. An oceanographer made the comment in the sobering documentary, A Plastic Ocean.

There is no away. There is only here, where bits of plastic lodge in the bellies of water birds and hasten their deaths. Only here, at the grocery store this morning, despairing of finding buttermilk in a non-plastic container. Here, in the Heartland, where my consumer choices affect water health.

Our precious planet is 71% water. Our bodies are up to 60% water; the brain and heart 73% water. There is no away. Only us in our water bodies in a water world. We strive to keep our arteries unclogged for good health; why not extend our self-care to the waterways of lakes, rivers, and oceans? We study the Alexander Technique to take better care of ourselves and improve our quality of life; why not study and act on what will bring well-being to the water world beyond our individual ones encased in skin?

Yesterday, I walked into a menswear store and purchased a set of socks for my husband’s new suit. (The first wedding of the nieces and nephews is in April!) The clerk quickly and efficiently tossed them into a small plastic bag. ‘Thanks, but no bag please.’ It reminded me of Mr. Alexander’s Inhibition Principle. We merely say ‘No thanks‘ to habit and then observe what happens in place of the habit.  The socks fit handily into my purse and off I went. One plastic bag lighter. Just like when I inhibit a body-use habit and find that I feel lighter and freer.

Today, may we, pretty-please, say ‘Thanks, but no thanks’ to habits that no longer serve us or our planet—

 

 

 

 

Apples and Roses

 

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Strolling through the Park of Roses, fall’s arrival was the big picture. Straggling branches, limp in the unseasonable heat, created a scene of tangled decay. The up-close view was quite different and surprisingly fresh and beautiful.  Here and there could be found the most perfect of rose blooms, exuberant in their beauty, even on the last Monday of September. (Yes, this one—–)

With concerns for  the future of American civility and fear of nuclear war as world leaders exchange threats, the big picture is grim and unsettling.  But up close, there is a walk in the park with Alicia and Leo, applesauce in the slow cooker perfuming the afternoon house, and an evening rehearsal of Haydn’s Mass No. 3 in D Minor.

So. I’m going with roses and goodness today. And what better way to celebrate late roses  and right-on-time apples than with Bourbon Butter Apple Skillet.  Sauce is adapted from Sherry McKenney’s  maple pecan cake recipe, found in her cookbook, A Taste of the Murphin Inn. Thanks, Sherry!

Bourbon Butter Sauce:  Combine all ingredients and stir until heated through.

1 Cup sugar

1/2 cup half-and-half

1/2 cup butter

2 tsp vanilla

2 tsp bourbon (with lots of spill-over)

Thinly slice a few apples (leave on the skins) and toss them in a skillet with some of the prepared sauce.  Use medium heat until apples are cooked through but not soggy.  (5-10 minutes or so)  Serve in dessert bowls with a small pitcher of cream for drizzling.