Saturday, July 19, 2014

Exploring a New Waterway

Ever since I bought a kayak five summers ago, my paddling has been limited to the river that runs in front of our house. For the second year in a row, I haven't gone on the river much because of the massive PCB dredging project that generates significant barge and boat traffic in our area. I also don't relish the idea of kayaking when PCBs may be resuspended in the water. But we don't have a kayak rack for our vehicles, so our kayaks stayed put, and I took precautions to protect myself from the environmental toxins.

My ex-husband recently moved to a fabulous home on a nearby creek and granted me kayaking privileges. Naturally, I took him up on his generous offer to use kayaks that already were there!

I brought my husband to the creek the first time I went, and I'm so glad he came with me. I wanted to paddle vigorously for exercise, but he wanted to slow down and take it all in. Sometimes I went ahead - but sometimes slowing down makes all the difference!

There was so much wildlife along the creek, including large fish splashing and more great blue herons than I ever could have imagined! It was like a heron paradise!

After paddling for a while, we saw a group of several kayakers up ahead of us in the distance. We noticed that their paddles were moving, but they weren't going anywhere. I assumed it was some kind of paddling class, and perhaps they were practicing paddling in the air (which doesn't make any sense, come to think of it) - for they were next to a large dock. It was a perplexing sight. My husband and I joked that maybe they're stuck, and if we kept going, perhaps we'd get stuck, too. It was quite odd. But we kept paddling in their direction, and eventually it seemed the kayakers were moving along.

That's when my husband spotted an old man standing outside of a rustic building along the creek. We paddled closer, and the man called out to greet us and ask where we are from. He told us he's 90 years old and went on to talk about his military service during World War II. He told stories about being the lone survivor in his military unit and seeing the atomic bomb explosion at Hiroshima from down below and thinking it was the end of the world. In no time, we realized this man had a real story to tell and some wisdom to share, so we listened closely. He told us that not too long ago, he received a box in the mail that contained beautiful medals from the Pentagon in honor of his courageous acts during wartime. He got teary-eyed as he explained to us that he didn't think anyone ever knew about all the things he did during the war until he received those medals in the mail. After the war, he built his house along the creek, got married, and raised five children. Also, it turns out he is an artist.

Eventually, my husband inquired, "So, what is your secret to living a long and happy life?"

The man replied, "Live life how you want." Not how you think you should or how others tell you to, but how you want.

He even gave us a boater's guide.

Even though I'm sure this man talks to lots of people passing by his homestead on the creek -  including, I imagine, that group of kayakers - I needed to hear this advice. If my husband weren't with me, I wouldn't have stopped, for I wanted to get exercise. I would have missed hearing the old man's story and his advice on how to live well. Wisdom often finds you when you slow down, and my husband reminds me of this often. It's something I truly appreciate about him.

Our conversation with the old man on the creek reminded me of the time we talked with an old farmer when we were out looking for monarch caterpillars. My energy had changed after talking with him. Something important had just transpired, and I paddled away feeling uplifted and inspired. As with the old farmer, my husband and I wished we could have filmed him speaking. But as with the old farmer, I can write about it. I love to write about the lives of old people and the wisdom and perspective they offer.

As we paddled away, I felt more connected to the life around me. My awareness had expanded, and I no longer felt the need to speed up and accomplish a goal (exercise), for I was more in being mode than doing mode. I was drawn to an exquisite water lily resting on a lily pad as if it were floating in a little boat (kind of like I was doing) and stopped to photograph and appreciate it.

Then I took out my phone to record some parts of the conversation I wanted to remember, and the time was 11:11 - a time that has special meaning for me, special energy. (My son was even born on 11-11.) Then two kayakers came along and asked if I knew what time it was - so not only did I notice that it was 11:11, but I also had to say it out loud!

The energy in and around me had shifted as a result of doing something new - exploring a new waterway and talking with a kind stranger - and slowing down and making space for something new and unexpected to enter in. Making space for yes.

While floating in our kayaks on the river in front of our house, my husband and I often talk about how blessed we are with the freedom to step outside and go kayaking whenever we feel like it. However, I realize now that we also are limited by that freedom because, until yesterday, we'd never explored other waterways in all the time we've lived on the riverside. There is so much else to see and experience in this world. Limiting ourselves to one (and in this case, highly contaminated) river is not freedom. Even though we appreciate it to the max, it's still just a small slice of what life has to offer. It's easy to become so comfortable with our surroundings that we forget there are so many other possibilities that are equally as awesome or even better. And fresh, new energy! I can't even begin to describe the shift in my energy field that occurred after exploring a new body of water!

The photographs in this blog and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a "custom print" in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears. 

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography ( with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Blueberry Story

"We meet ourselves time and again in a thousand disguises on the path of life."  
-Carl G. Jung

It is blueberry time in my little corner of the world - and just in time, too! Between my mom and me, we picked and froze enough blueberries last summer to last an entire year. We rarely picked blueberries together because I live so close to the blueberry farm and prefer to pick first thing in the morning before the sun gets hot, and my mom would go later in the day. When she was done, she'd stop by my house with a hot, red face and some blueberries to share, and I'd give her a refreshing jar of chilled spa water to cool her down.

In the weeks before she died, my mom told me to make sure to use up all the berries in the freezer. I just finished her last container of blueberries about three weeks ago, and it's been lovely to make smoothies and muesli from berries she handpicked. It's only one way in which her kindness has lived on and continues to nourish me after her death. I still have some of her raspberries, and in my dad's freezer there are a few remaining bags and containers of strawberries, sliced and prepared for strawberry shortcake. For the Fourth of July, I made shortcake from scratch, and we celebrated with my dad, savoring strawberry shortcake made with strawberries my mom had handpicked for that purpose. Honestly, I can't remember ever enjoying strawberry shortcake so much!

This morning, I made my first trip of the season to the blueberry farm. Although the picking was great, I was disappointed to learn that they had to spray all the sections because this year was so wet, and there were so many insects, including some new kinds. But I picked nonetheless, hoping that soaking the berries in a diluted vinegar wash - or some other solution - would help to some degree.

Berry field conversations are always interesting. Often, moms instruct their children on how to pick good berries and scold them for eating too many. People (usually, women) talk about what they are going to make with the berries. It's not that I try to eavesdrop; you just can't help but overhear since people tend to have to talk with some volume in a berry field.

To keep birds away from the berries, the blueberry farm I go to plays sounds of native birds in distress through speakers mounted on poles in wooden carts. The bird sounds start up again every couple minutes or so, and it's often amusing to hear first-timers try to make sense of them.

Shortly after I arrived at the blueberry farm this morning, a car parked next to mine, and two women got out. My guess is that they were mother and daughter, and the younger one was probably about my age. The older woman went further down the row, and the younger woman began picking close to me. After a couple rounds of bird sounds, she wondered out loud about the birds. I explained that they are recorded sounds and pointed to the speaker near us then continued picking berries.

A few minutes later, the older woman returned, complaining about how there are no good berries, and it would take all day to pick a container. How curious, for I was looking at a row of bushes overflowing with ripe blueberries. The younger woman replied that she found a great bush and suggested that the older woman look for a good one and just stay with it - and she'd fill her container in no time. But the older woman continued to complain about the lack of ripe berries. This is another typical berry field conversation. People debate whether or not the picking is good. You always can tell who is the pessimist and who is the optimist!

The bird sounds began again, and the older woman wondered out loud about them. Despite the information I gave her, the younger woman suggested that perhaps they have baby birds they are trying to protect. The older woman squawked, "Well don't worry! I won't bother your babies!"

Well, the bird sounds continued, and each time they started up again, the older woman expressed annoyance ("Oh, be quiet! I'm staying away from your babies!"), and the younger woman proposed theories about why the birds were making such a clamor. And it was a very loud noise. But then again, we were very close to the speakers - so close that I decided to move away in order to protect my hearing. But I still was able to hear the women's conversation from time to time.

And so it continued for about an hour. The bird sounds began again, and the older woman scolded the "birds" for making such a racket. I heard her say, "Okay, I get it! You like to make a lot of noise!" Then the younger woman said, "I'm beginning to think they're not real birds." I smiled to myself and shook my head. The older woman considered, "Yeah, maybe they're not real birds after all."

After a few more cycles of bird sounds, they figured out that the sounds were coming from the speaker. And then for the next half hour, I heard the older woman scold the speaker each time the sounds came on: "Why do you have to be so loud? Can't you be quieter?"

When I finally was done picking, I walked back down the row to my car and realized that the women still were picking berries right next to the speaker. In a huge, sprawling field of berries, they continued to stand right next to the speaker and complain about the sound, again and again and again. That struck me as hilarious. I paid for the berries with a big smile on my face, trying to contain my laughter, and then laughed all the way home.

We humans are such funny creatures!

It is interesting to notice what catches your attention as you go through your day. I found it so funny that in the huge berry field, the woman chose to continue standing right next to the sound that was irritating her so, without ever moving to another part of the field. WHY? Recognizing myself in the image of the two women in the berry field made me laugh because I realized the absurdity of my own behavior and attitude! I totally "got" how I do the same thing - different context, same basic behavior. And the wonderful and humorous part was that it was completely within the woman's power to have a more enjoyable time. The solution was so simple!

The photographs in this blog and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a "custom print" in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears. 

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography ( with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

On Retreat: A Most Incredible Journey

I just returned from a three-day/three-night, solitary Healing Retreat at Light on the Hill Retreat Center. (To read about a previous retreat experience I had at Light on the Hill, click HERE.)

Spiritual retreat is a powerful, transformational process. Removed from the usual distractions and energies, the process deepens each day. Going on retreat was my most urgent summer priority. After all the intensity of the past school year, including my mother's illness and death, I am a different person. The old ways no longer work. As often happens following a brush with death, life took on a greater urgency, and I felt a desperate need to integrate my new awareness and find my true North - for life is short, and I have wanderlust. I felt like someone ready to embark on a new journey on a boat that is tied to shore and slamming repeatedly against the rocks. Surely, the ropes served a purpose in the past, but now they need to be untied so I can sail to new harbors.

Day One

I arrived at Light on the Hill late in the afternoon and until the next morning was on my own to ease into the energy and solitude of the Meadow Cottage and surrounding environment. I eagerly anticipated the July "supermoon" that soon would illuminate the sky. I hadn't planned to be on retreat during the full moon; it just worked out that way. As it turned out, in addition to my guide, Alice, my retreat experience was facilitated quite dramatically by the moon and the weather.

Once settled in, I considered my intention to find my true North and sat down with a book of Hafiz poems. Trusting that I would open to exactly the page I needed to read, I nonetheless was surprised to open to a poem about a "golden compass," excerpted below:

I am a Golden Compass - 
Watch me whirl.

To the east and to the west
To the north and to the south,
In all directions I will true your course
Toward laughter and unity.
Watch me whirl into nothingness
Your fears and darkness - 
Just keep tossing them onto my golden plate.
My only duty that now remains
To this world

Is from every direction
To forever serve you wine and

Source: "The Small Table of Time and Space" from The Subject Tonight is Love: 60 Wild and Sweet Poems of Hafiz (versions by Daniel Ladinsky), Pumpkin House, 1996, p. 38-39)

I took a walk as the sun sank in the forest.

As the moonrise drew nearer, I headed to one of the two Chartres-style labyrinths on the property. As I walked the labyrinth, I noticed an orange glow in the window of the cupola of the adjacent Stillpoint Sanctuary chapel.

Ten minutes later, I spotted the full, orange supermoon floating above the treetops.

I continued to walk the eleven-circuit labyrinth as the moon lifted higher in the sky, savoring each step and knowing I would remember this experience for a long time. By the time I arrived at the center, it was quite dark. There was a pile of stones and some offerings people had left, and I knelt on the ground and balanced the moonlit stones. I barely could see them and balanced them by feeling their weight in my hands. There was one large and bulky rock that I probably wouldn't have been able to balance so easily if I had relied more on my eyes. Fireflies glowed all around as I walked the path back out of the labyrinth. I heard something rustle in the adjacent woods and felt a little frightened but maintained my slow, deliberate pace. Then an owl hooted the same rhythmic pattern over and over. I kept walking, delighted by the fireflies and moonlight and a little nervous about what lurked close by that I couldn't see.

The environment and your emotional responses are all feedback and data when you're on retreat. Everything seems to mirror and guide your inner process.

I returned to the cottage and fell asleep, serenaded by what sounded like hundreds of frogs croaking and making plucked rubber band sounds as the moon began its journey across the meadow, illuminating my dreams.

Day Two

In the morning, I met with my guide for an hour and a half and received some practices to work with until meeting with her the following morning.

I followed a path through the woods back to the cottage and wasn't a happy camper because I didn't have proper footwear, clothing, or bug repellent for the woods. I was worried about ticks (hello again, fear) and ended up taking a longer route to avoid tall brush. I wandered from the trail briefly when I was probably at the closest point to the cottage and was hot, tired, thirsty, and grumpy. I felt lost but knew I'd eventually find my way and get back "home," just not as quickly as I would have liked to since I opted for the longer, "safer" route. When I came out at last on the road, I heard these words in my mind:

When you are done being pissed at the world,
We are here (and always have been)
To help you find your way.

After regrouping at the cottage, I returned to the labyrinth and found the stones still balanced at the center.

I walked the labyrinth and balanced more stones - nothing special, but it reminded me of how drawn I am to balancing stones!

After walking the labyrinth, I retreated to Stillpoint Sanctuary, a chapel for prayer and meditation.

The view of the cupola above where I was seated looked like an octagonal mandala.

I had no energy at all in the afternoon, which is normal for the first full day on retreat. Every muscle in my body felt heavy and hard to move. I took a nap, listened to the rustling of wind in the leaves, did some practices, and savored the dinner that Alice's husband, Larry, delivered in a basket. Then more practices. And some crying - until I realized:

I don't have to fix anything.
I don't have to fix anyone.
I don't have to fix myself.
All is well.

It occurred to me that life isn't so draining when you get rid of the "shoulds." Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves and complicate life unnecessarily?

I waited for the moonrise with two darting dragonflies and a meadow of fireflies. I could hear firecrackers in the distance and the chirping of a single cricket. The sky was very dark by the time the moon floated above the the treetops and began its journey across the meadow. What a lovely night!

Day Three

This is the day when you go really deep on retreat. I woke in the morning from a dream in which I was absolutely livid. I met with my guide for another healing session. After two sunny days, the sky was overcast with rain in the forecast, and the first thing she told me was that the weather one encounters on retreat is exactly what is needed to help the process along. We did some guided imagery and addressed my fear, and I received more practices and materials to work with. I experienced healing around my existential crisis that manifested in lingering questions and regrets about my mom's final days on earth. I understood that other people and forces larger than myself were involved and that I was not in control of the process, despite my ego wanting to be.

I realized that my true North was obvious and that my next step was to reestablish a daily meditation, yoga, and exercise discipline. These practices were abandoned when life became intense, and I realized that I need them more than ever to help me navigate through life from one harbor to the next. They are my rudder. I felt certain that guidance will come if I ask for it, practice daily, and keep my senses open.

With my guide's help, I realized that I am in a time of transition, sometimes called "the valley of not knowing." This is a place that by and large is not valued by society, although it is essential for growth and requires patience. It is like a cocoon - the state of dissolution (disillusion?) in between a caterpillar and a butterfly. This is what it feels like to me:

To consume without knowing what I hunger for,
Not content to be a creature of craving.

There is a big difference between what feeds the soul and the mindless clinging and craving of the ego.

It began raining as soon as my healing session was over and rained all day for the most part. I took advantage of a brief interlude without rain and attempted to walk the labyrinth. No sooner had I reached the center, and the downpour resumed, so I returned to the cottage. The weather drew me more deeply inward. As I worked with the practices and materials given to me, I realized that even in the unlikely event that nothing further transpired on my retreat, it already was successful in that I:

  • Discovered my true North
  • Understood that this transitional "valley" has value and is essential for growth
  • Experienced a sense of certainty and an inner shift from which I gave myself permission from deep within (not just in my head) to let go of that which no longer sustains me

I felt profoundly peaceful.

When the rain seemed to die down late in the afternoon, I turned on my phone (which I had been instructed to turn off for the duration of the retreat) to check the hourly weather forecast and determine whether another trip to the labyrinth was feasible. However, an alarm sounded, and a message appeared: "A tornado warning is in effect for your area. Seek shelter immediately!"

So much for my peaceful state of mind!

I had experienced a devastating tornado while living in Florida back when my children were very young. It was the most terrifying experience of my life. When you are huddled in the laundry room with your young family not knowing whether or not the tornado already has gone by, you realize that Mother Nature is in control and that anytime you believed you were, you were mistaken!

I jumped into action, assessed my environment, and determined the best place to seek shelter. The clouds were dark and threatening. Surrounded by couch cushions, I kept my phone on to receive further updates. I remembered that when I had finished packing the car to leave for retreat, my husband - who loves to tease me about my fear of tornadoes - asked if I had packed my helmet. Haha - no, I didn't. My heart was pounding, and I felt a familiar sensation of fear in my body. Ideally, I would "go into" the fear and investigate it, but my mind was like a chattering monkey. I was not meditating or being mindful while taking shelter and waiting for the storm to pass. (It turns out there was a small tornado in the neighboring town that was headed in my direction but changed its course.) Once again, forces larger than myself were in control. I couldn't change the weather around me, only the atmosphere within me. And that's a pretty big deal, actually.

Once the sky appeared safe and the tornado warning had expired, it occurred to me that my ability to perceive beauty in the world was all fine and good - and has uplifted me through some very challenging times. However, I need to cultivate mindfulness and meditative awareness that equips me to work with the stubborn weed of fear so I am not immobilized or derailed by it. I need to practice daily so that when storms come I am ready. That was a very powerful lesson. It also made me think of the book of Mary Oliver poetry that I have misplaced and cannot find anywhere. Perhaps at this time I do not need to read about the beauty of this earth, for that comes so easily to me and reinforces everything I already perceive. Perhaps instead I need to learn to work with my fear, like those lines from the Hafiz poem:

Watch me whirl into nothingness
Your fears and darkness - 
Just keep tossing them onto my golden plate.

What a precious opportunity for transformation.

I also realized that taking shelter was very much like being in a cocoon, not knowing what was next. And what was next? The birds chirped merrily, the stream bubbled along, the mist rose gracefully, the lovely fragrance of milkweed drifted through the air, and the sun shone from behind the trees making the wet leaves and needles sparkle with light. Such wondrous peace. My world was wrapped in a mist blanket of peace and love.

 And then this:

Jaw-dropping beauty, lovelier than anything I could have imagined. Naturally, I had to go exploring.

Here is a view of the pyramid at the top of Inner Light Lodge, where my husband and I were married.

And here is a spectacular view from the back of Inner Light Lodge, of the surrounding hills and the mist rising all around.

I returned to a dark cottage, lit a gas lantern, and resumed my practices. After completing one guided visualization, something in me seemed to have shifted. I realized (really realized, not just "knew") that I am the daughter of Life. The birds, trees, and everything that is alive are my brothers and sisters - including my human parents. I cannot be orphaned, nor abandoned, for I am the daughter of Life and carry within me a divine inheritance. I have all that I need.

At that moment, I was able to let go of my mom. I wouldn't need to ask her to visit me or prove to me that she exists beyond death. Although I had told her I was letting her go as she was dying - and really meant it at the time - it was different now. I was releasing her to be wherever she needed to be. She did not need to hover around earth to take care of me. I am a daughter of Life, and she is a fellow traveler. I needed to break the ropes and let her fly, light and untethered.

That night, the nearly full moon floated into the sky and shone through the skylight above my bed. I fell asleep listening to the frogs and the bubbling stream. And I had the Most Incredible Dream Ever. It was the most prolonged, joyful, and poignant dream of contact with my mom that I have had since she died. It was long and detailed, and I won't go into it here, other than to say that she communicated very strongly through various objects. There was dialogue and gratitude and humor and so much love. By the end of the dream, I felt jubilant and exclaimed that life continues after death and that I have absolute proof of this now! The feeling continued when I woke up at 3:26 a.m. with tears of joy in my eyes as I wrote down the dream.

I got out of bed and climbed down the ladder, lit a candle and a stick of rose incense, and sat with the moon and this bliss. I began to sing a Sufi song that I hadn't sung in a good 20 years. Sometimes I had to whisper the words because crying made singing impossible. I sang it four times, and by the fourth time, my voice was strong and sweet. I felt that I was singing for my mom. And then I sang her favorite hymn, "Amazing Grace," four times, exactly the same way - belting it out strongly the fourth time. I felt she was harmonizing along with me.

I sat gazing at the meadow, which was filled with white, moonlit mist, thick and dreamy. It was like a dynamic stage. The moon had traveled about 3/4 of the way across the meadow, and I watched the clouds pass in front of it and noticed that some clouds couldn't obscure the light at all. The stream bubbled louder near me and softer down below in the distance - soothing, gentle, white noise. Then an owl punctuated the stillness with the same haunting call I'd heard in the labyrinth. A single cricket chirped. The world was quiet but for these sounds. The eastern sky began to soften and glow, but not from moonlight. The birds were sleeping, but not for long. I was filled with gratitude and wrapped in love, beauty, and awe.

What a powerful lesson I had learned about letting go. When I was able to let go of my mom, she came to me in a dream. Let go, and then something profound will come to you because you have cleared space for the unexpected to enter in.

Eventually, I went to bed as the birds awakened with the distant call of one. Then another sang merrily and energetically. Before long, there was a dawn chorus of bird prayer-song heralding a new day. Before falling asleep, I set an intention to awaken in time to see the sunrise.

Day Four

Two hours later, I awoke to a lovely mist all around.

I headed down the road to the labyrinth

...and walked the labyrinth as the mist floated lightly through the air and lifted into a blue sky.

Even after the previous day's stormy weather, a few stones remained balanced, and that made me smile. There's something deeply gratifying about balance.

I met briefly with my guide and then continued working with more practices and materials before packing up and heading home, feeling very satisfied with my retreat experience. On the way down the hill, I realized that I don't need to hold on to anything that has outlived its purpose in order to please anyone else, including my parents. I thought about my mom and felt certain that if I could speak with her after all she has been through (i.e. physical death), she would not advise me to cling fearfully to habits and situations from which my soul has withdrawn - but rather to withdraw my energy and go forth toward the places that engage and feed my soul. For life is short, and letting go in big and small ways throughout life is essential practice for our own inevitable death. And for living our life dynamically and magnificently.

Bless the dried up places, and let them go with gratitude for the gifts they have given us on our journey through life.

In any situation, what's the worst that can happen? You can die. (Or maybe even worse, not live?) But guess what? Everybody is going to die eventually. And I believe that our life on earth is a precious opportunity for transformation. So break those ropes of fear, and live your life!

Or in the words of the 15th century mystic poet, Kabir:

Friend, hope for the Guest while you are alive,
Jump into experience while you are alive!
Think...and think...while you are alive.
What you call "salvation" belongs to the time before death.

If you don't break your ropes while you're alive, do you think
ghosts will do it after?

The idea that the soul will join with the ecstatic
just because the body is rotten - 
that is all fantasy.
What is found now is found then.
If you find nothing now,
you will simply end up with an apartment in the City of Death.

If you make love with the divine now, in the next life
you will have the face of satisfied desire.

Source: The Kabir Book: Forty-four of the Ecstatic Poems of Kabir (versions by Robert Bly), Beacon Press, 1977, p. 24-25

The photographs in this blog and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a "custom print" in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears. 

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography ( with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Overheard in a Field of Daylilies

For the past several days, I have been searching for a book of poetry that seems to have vanished into thin air. I've looked everywhere and am now at the point of looking in kitchen cabinets and crawling around on the floor! It seems I've looked for it everywhere except for where it is. The book in question is Thirst by Mary Oliver. Our back yard is full of wildflowers, and I wanted to be inspired, for Mary Oliver and I perceive life through the same lens. However, since the book remains in hiding, I decided to write my own poem about the daylilies that currently dominate the landscape.

Overheard in a Field of Daylilies

Whispered the daylily:
Do not pity me for having
but one, brief day to bloom.
It is the blooming, not the longevity
that matters, and I have been
practicing all my life to feel
the darkness surrender
to color and light
and know this is the day,
and I am unstoppable
and ready to seize it,

To feel the sensation
of sepals and petals opening
together, little by little
then curling backward
into a perfect poem
of shape and color
and sending
from the secret center
a slender pistil
and six delicate filaments
donning gold-dusted slippers,

To announce without words:
Here I am, full and ripe
with pollen and nectar!
Come to me; let's dance
the dance of life together
and make this day count.

Dear human, your rhythm
falls somewhere in between
that of trees and flowers.
Do not pity me
for my brief moment of glory.
Truthfully, can you say
you have bloomed
so unabashedly in all your

-Susan Meyer

The photographs in this blog and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a "custom print" in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears. 

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography ( with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Milkweed Pioneers

I can't believe I haven't written much about milkweed yet. It is one of my favorite plants. I have developed a reputation for becoming exuberant when driving past a nice patch of milkweed. My teenage children filmed one such episode a few years ago, and I have made them promise it will never end up on YouTube.

What's to love about the humble, common milkweed plant? First of all, milkweed attracts monarch butterflies and is their larval food source. Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on the underside of milkweed leaves, and when the caterpillars hatch, they begin munching on the leaves. Each year at the end of August, my husband and I search milkweed patches for monarch caterpillars to bring into my classroom so my kindergartners can observe part of the monarch butterfly life cycle. (Click here to read more about that.) So, I initially became interested in milkweed because of its importance to monarch butterflies.

Milkweed produces a sticky, stinky, milky sap that is poisonous to many animals. When monarch caterpillars eat milkweed leaves, the toxins get stored in their tissues, and they become poisonous to predators. The connection between monarch butterflies and milkweed is profound, and the monarch butterfly's relationship with the milkweed plant is one of its greatest defenses! The presence of milkweed in the monarch butterfly life cycle seems so beneficent.

Once milkweed had caught my attention, I fell in love with the silky, white seed fairies that burst from mature, tightly packed seed pods that crack open in the fall. The image of seed fairies leaving the pod strikes me as so elegantly powerful and symbolic that I kept a large, framed print of the photo (below) next to my mom's bed when she was dying.

The silky milkweed "floss" has even been used as a filling for pillows!

Our yard overflows with wildflowers. It is a pollinators' paradise. However, there was no milkweed! Every fall for the past six years, I'd bring a few mature milkweed pods into our yard and watch over them as they cracked open and released a multitude of silky seed fairies into the wind. (I read somewhere that each pod contains upwards of 200 neatly arranged seeds.) Each year, I prayed that some of the seed fairies would touch down in our yard and nestle contentedly into the ground for a long winter's nap. But each spring and summer, I was disappointed to find that no seedlings took hold in our yard.

Until last year.

Last summer, we noticed a tiny milkweed plant growing near our compost bin! It never flowered, but at least a milkweed plant finally had taken root in our yard. Milkweed seeds are dispersed through the wind, but the plant also spreads through hardy networks of underground stems called rhizomes.

This year, milkweed is thriving on the riverside in front of our house, and the mother of all milkweed plants has claimed a spot next to our compost! It is more than five feet tall with a stalk that's nearly an inch thick, and there are two slightly smaller plants so close to it that from a distance they appear to be one plant. They - along with their unseen rhizome system - comprise our first colony of milkweed pioneers!

Although I assumed my appreciation of milkweed already had reached an apex, I have discovered new things to love about it. 

Common milkweed blooms in great spheres of pink flowers during the summer and attracts many pollinators. (The nectar and pollen do not contain the poison.)

Spiraling up from the bottom, each sphere (umbel) is in a different phase of flowering, with the lowermost sphere being the furthest along.

The upper spheres haven't opened yet.

Zooming in for a pollinator's view of the lower, flowered sphere, I discovered that each blossom has a five-pointed star at the center. I love to find hidden stars in nature!

Here is a side view of the flowers with petals folded down.

I leaned in to smell the blossoms and was delighted by the fragrance! It was nothing like I had anticipated, given the stench of the milky sap. My husband and I would remark about the beautiful fragrance in the air during our morning walks, and I was amazed to discover that milkweed was the source of it! Why aren't there milkweed blossom scented perfumes and candles?

I go outside every day to inspect and marvel at our milkweed colony. It is like greeting a dear friend. Of course, I'm hoping to find a monarch butterfly egg glued to the underside of a leaf in due time. But at the moment, I am content to observe the flowering. There is so much to love about this incredible plant!

The photographs in this blog and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a "custom print" in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears. 

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography ( with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Mom Moments

If you know me or have followed my blog for any length of time, it's probably clear that I'm quite open-minded when it comes to spirituality. However, there is a part of me that is surprisingly skeptical and discerning and searches for logical, rational explanations whenever something out of the ordinary happens - probably because I am so open and want to keep myself in check. So I'm not as easily convinced as I let on and tend to be more impressed when skeptics or non-believers have profound experiences than when I do. But I certainly have been having my share of "Mom moments" lately.

Here are a few examples:

I was driving home from grocery shopping one evening and felt a gentle nudge to turn on the car radio. The song that was playing was John Denver's "Back Home Again." Not only did John Denver hold a very special place in my mom's heart, but I don't recall hearing any of his songs on the radio in recent years. Hearing this song was out of the ordinary enough to really get my attention. And the refrain hit home: "Hey, it's good to be back home again." Not to mention, my mom grew up on a farm (as the lyrics continue).

I had another experience while driving. Every day - usually when I'm in the car - I say a little prayer in which I ask for blessings on my mom's soul and guidance and support for myself and others. Then I express gratitude for various things. This particular day, right after I said, "Amen," the car CD player turned on by itself! It clicked to a new CD and played the Crosby, Stills, and Nash song, "Teach Your Children"!

Here are some lyrics that really spoke to me:
And you of tender years
Can't know the fears that your elders grew by
And so please help them with your youth
They seek the truth before they can die
Don't you ever ask them why
If they told you, you would cry
So just look at them and sigh
And know they love you

Now, that was really weird! But sometime after the fact, my inner skeptic wondered if it was possible that I forgot I'd turned on the CD player. However, the surprise I felt when the player clicked on led me to believe that was not the case. The moment I got out of my car, I saw a friend who also had lost a parent recently. I told him about the "moment" I'd just had, and without missing a beat, he said the same thing had happened to him six times in a row. The player turned on, and my friend turned it off - six times! After the sixth time, he acknowledged his parent's presence, and the player didn't turn on again.

And then there was the time I sat in the living room with a basket of Universal Cards on my lap. Each card has a word written on it, and there's a companion book that suggests some possible associations for each word. I was really missing my mom that morning and asked for a message from her. I closed my eyes and picked a card, which was a card I'd been choosing a lot lately. No big deal. I put the basket of cards away and went about my business. About a half hour later, I returned to the living room and found one single Universal Card lying face-up on the floor in the middle of the room with the word "Healing" written on it. The entire "Healing" page in the book resonated with me. It began: "Healing influences and energies are around you... They can be called on to heal any aspect of your life."


There was the woodpecker pecking on the outside of the house right next to the window. I had only experienced that once before - when a woodpecker knocked on the door right after my mom received her cancer diagnosis. And there was the unexplained pounding on the window (heard by my husband, who was startled and looked for the source) when my husband was becoming impatient with me for taking so long to get out the door.

There was the sweet yet vulnerable cheep...cheep...cheep! of the baby birds in our yard who had just left the nest and were learning about flying and independence as the mama bird watched protectively over them from a distance.

The unexplained smells. The music that arrives fully formed and comforts me - and gives me goosebumps from head to toe when I sing it softly (without letting anyone else hear it because it feels too tender). Transcendent experiences that I wouldn't even attempt to describe because the feeling element is lost so easily in translation. (Honestly, I don't know if the emotional charge of any of these experiences can be transferred to another person.)

And then there are dreams.

Over the weekend - exactly one month after my mom passed away - she showed up in my dreams for the first time. It happened during a rare, late afternoon nap. I can't recall what I had been dreaming, but all of a sudden, I was at the performing arts center where my mom spent her 34-year career, talking with a few people at the very back of the amphitheater.

I noticed a woman who looked like my mom (about 15 years ago) coming toward me down the hill on one of the walkways. She was wearing a navy blue and white striped top and navy blue slacks and looked very happy, pleasant, and totally in her element. Yet, she was in a hurry, as if she had important responsibilities to attend to. She scurried by me, en route to the seats or (most likely) backstage, and I turned my head, thinking that she looked like my mom. Then I realized she was my mom, and I gasped and woke up, heart pounding! It felt so real!

A few days later, in preparation for a meeting with a newspaper columnist who is writing an article about my mom, I came across a video from her retirement celebration, which I'd never watched. At the end of the the video, there were a few photos of her with her very favorite artists, and in two of them she was wearing the same outfit she had worn in my dream!

This morning, I dreamed of her for the second time. In the dream, it was about 10:30 at night when I received a phone call from one of my parents' neighbors, who told me something we both felt my dad needed to be aware of. I wanted to call my dad right away, but my mom was still very sick, and I didn't want to disturb her by calling the home phone. So I called my dad's cell phone instead - and my mom answered. Then she was immediately in the room with me. I was in bed (where I actually was asleep and dreaming this dream), and she was standing at the side of the bed looking over me in a peach colored nightgown. I can't remember exactly what she said to me, but she acknowledged that she was dying. With tears streaming down my face, I replied, "I wish we had more time together." She bent over, and we hugged each other. I could feel her shoulder bones because she was so emaciated. But mostly, I felt the love.

I was at a used bookstore the other day and felt nudged to pick up a certain book and read the page I opened to. The words on the page were about the regrets you have after the death of a loved one being different than the ones you had previously. An example was regretting that you put your loved one through radiation treatments and all the related suffering. When I opened the book, I wasn't aware of any lingering regrets, for I felt so much healing took place between my mom and me during the past year. But when I awoke from the dream, I knew better - and cried a river of tears - for it occurred to me that my mom and I never really said goodbye. We never grieved together over having to part so soon. I tried my best to help her let go and to assure her that it was going to be okay and that what she was experiencing was normal. I did all my crying when I was alone. She read my blog faithfully until she was too sick to sit down at the computer, and some of my writing from December through May was a means for me to communicate to her that I knew she was dying without forcing the issue. I happened to arrive at my parents' house right after she finished reading one of my posts, and she came downstairs, gave me a hug, and told me that I have always been loved. In the week before she died, she beamed and exclaimed, "You're great!" The last understandable words she spoke to me were, "I love you so much."

We said goodbye between the lines but never came out and said it while she was still lucid. We had some conversations in which she indicated that she realized she was dying, but she didn't seem to want to talk about it. There was a line I felt I couldn't cross. I wasn't able to tell her how much I'll miss her and that I wish we had more time together - until she wasn't able to communicate. Most of all, I didn't want to burden her with my sorrow. I wanted her to let go and move on without worrying about anyone else. I didn't want to hold her back.

But in dreams, we get a second chance. We get to say goodbye. And it was for real.

Looking through photos, I realized that the peach nightgown my mom wore in the dream was the same nightgown she had on when she died.

There have been other experiences that leave me with a sense of awe, peace, sweetness, love, and/or relief, and my "Mom moments" have much in common with what other family members and friends have experienced. But I think that's more than enough for now.

The photographs in this blog and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a "custom print" in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears. 

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography ( with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Swamp Bliss

Today was the first official day of summer vacation, which is possibly the best day of the whole year! Nothing compares to completing the school year and having a sprawling summer ahead. Last night, I watched the extraordinary firefly show in our back yard and asked myself, "What should I be doing right now?" The answer? Watching the fireflies! What a great feeling.

After a year of tremendous gravity, my mission for the summer is to lighten up in every way possible - and to feel good every step of the way. I want to let go of anything that does not serve me. The time is right, and I am motivated!

After taking a walk with my husband this morning, I was torn between photographing roses at the Yaddo gardens and photographing water lilies in the swamp located within a wildlife sanctuary next to the river.

It's been a while since I've photographed water lilies - mostly because of the boat traffic from the PCB dredging taking place on the river for the past two years. It's difficult to achieve clear, sharp images if there's any movement on the water.

Last weekend, my husband and I passed by the swamp on our usual walking route, and I noticed it was filled with water lilies in bloom. Later that day, I tried to do my "work" work but realized I wouldn't be able to accomplish anything until I explored the swamp for the first time ever. Going into the swamp had never occurred to me until then!

My ex-husband used to talk about how much he loved swamps when he was younger, and I never understood why. But now I get it! There is so much going on in a swamp! Water lilies, dragonflies, and great blue herons, to name a few! I took the following shot from a considerable distance and had no idea that a dragonfly had touched down on the water lily I was photographing until I got back home and zoomed in!

It seems I find something new to fall in love with in nature every day of the year, but water lilies (and waterfalls) are right at the top of the list. Needless to say, the water lilies won my heart today, so I made my second, more leisurely, trip to the swamp. Oh, it was so peaceful! Here are some of my favorite images (minus the soothing sounds that accompanied them). Take a moment to sit with these images and feel the peace!

When I pulled my kayak out of the swamp, an older man was waiting to greet me. He worked for the Nature Conservancy and was just about to have lunch en route to an osprey nest. He asked if I had seen any herons, and I was excited to report that I did. He told me about other wildlife that lives in the wetland, including otters, muskrats, beavers, mink, and more. He was a wealth of information and cautioned me never to pick up a dragonfly nymph because their mandibles are very strong, and their bites hurt! I was so glad to run into him and to learn more about the wetland ecosystem - and to know that my presence in the swamp was encouraged!

When I set out this morning, my intention was to have it be my final time visiting the swamp. But those water lilies are irresistible. And there are otters...

The photographs in this blog and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a "custom print" in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears. 

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography ( with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.