Friday, August 31, 2012

A Puzzle Solved

My husband and I have had a number of interesting experiences with our most industrious river neighbors, the beavers. 


Although they haven't made their presence known much this summer, beavers are a common sight in our area, especially near a small island I refer to as "Beaver Island." There are numerous signs of beavers all around the island, from dams to trees.


When I paddle around the island, I often will see a little head bobbing along for a while before the beaver dives underwater with a loud, alarming slap of its tail. I never know where it will resurface and often hear another tail slap before getting a glimpse of the elusive rodent.


But I understand; I, too, am quite protective of my privacy.

One summer afternoon, my husband and I were kayaking through the canal and saw a head bobbing along in a beaver-like manner up ahead in the distance, so we figured beavers were in that area, as well. But when we got closer, we realized eventually that it was a human...which gave us a good laugh. Later that week, we were paddling through the same area and recalled with laughter the person we saw there the previous time. And then we saw another bobbing head! As we got closer, we realized again that it was a person. This time, my husband struck up a conversation with the person (whose name is Phil) and told him we mistook him twice for a beaver. We all laughed. My husband and I still laugh about it. (Perhaps you had to be there...)

Earlier this summer, I was kayaking off to the side of "Beaver Island" close to the riverside when I saw what looked like a small beaver moving through the water toward shore - again, a little head bobbing along. Since it was beaver territory, I didn't think twice about it other than to assume it was a baby beaver because it was smaller. When the creature reached the shore, it jumped ashore and dashed up a tree. I was perplexed. Either it was a tree-climbing baby beaver or a swimming squirrel! Then I paddled across the river back to our dock and saw a large animal disappear into the bushes on the shore. This time I was confident that it was a beaver, and I watched for movement in the bushes or to see where it would emerge. It was elusive. All I saw was a peculiar, beaver-shaped piece of wood at the end of the bushes!



That day, my beaver stories were met with raised eyebrows and expressions that questioned my sanity. I researched whether squirrels can swim and learned that they can, but it's hard work and done only when necessary. My husband's theory was that it was a squirrel who fell into the water from a tree branch hanging over the water. But I never knew for certain.


One day when I was focused on photographing a great blue heron, it took quite some time for me to realize a beaver was right next to me nibbling aquatic plants with his/her eyes closed. It was a really sweet sight.


Anyway...

Fast forward to earlier this week when I was kayaking with a friend, and we saw a small creature of some sort bobbing along through the water. It was fairly close to the middle of the river heading toward the western shore, dog-paddling what appeared to be quite a distance. As we got closer to the animal, we saw that it was a squirrel!



I have no idea how that squirrel ended up so close to the middle of the river, but at least I have found the answer to my original puzzle.

Who knew?

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all 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 (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Preserving Summer

For the past week or so, harvesting our garden has been competing with river therapy. This is the first year we've been really serious about gardening, and it's been an excellent harvest so far, with more to come. We have a variety of tomatoes and peppers, herbs, broccoli, eggplant, zucchini, cucumbers, potatoes, and green beans - with cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and acorn squash ("volunteering" from the compost bin) on the way.


At this point, I have canned 30 quarts of tomatoes, made and frozen eight quarts of Italian tomato sauce, and dehydrated a few jars of spearmint leaves and eight jars of cherry tomatoes. 


I had never canned before this summer but am experiencing it as such a satisfying activity! I feel aligned with the energies of the nearly 200 year-old house in which we live, as well as my ancestors - especially my beloved grandmother who passed away nearly two years ago. When cleaning out my grandmother's house several months after she died, I found one long forgotten jar of carrots tucked away behind cobwebs on a basement shelf. That little jar spoke so much of the life she lived many years ago and brought back so many childhood memories. Canning is an act of love.

People who can seem passionate about it and eager to help a newbie. For example, an old high school classmate whom I hadn't seen or spoken with in more than 25 years called me from Virginia to encourage me and talk me through the whole process after I inquired about canning on Facebook. It is an activity that fosters connection and goodwill.

It has been so wonderful to step outside and be greeted by the intoxicating fragrance of spearmint on a summer breeze. My favorite beverage this summer has been ice water with mint leaves, which is incredibly refreshing. The mint plants have taken over their corner of our herb garden, and so I began dehydrating the leaves to make mint tea for my family and my students in the middle of winter - and also to make space for the basil, lavender, rosemary, and scallions competing for space in the garden.


And then there's the smell of the tomatoes. Each time I pick a ripe tomato from the vine, I pause to inhale deeply its earthy fragrance. I do that when I pick up a bunch of tomatoes in the grocery store, too, but there's nothing like the smell of tomatoes fresh from your own garden. 


I started some of these plants from seed back in the spring, as a hands-on science experiment with my kindergarten students - which makes the harvest even more gratifying.


I wish that growing vegetables would be a common practice in all public schools because it helps children understand where their food comes from and what is involved in growing it, and also connects them with the earth and the miracle and cycles of life. I think children would fall in love with vegetables, too.



Today the eggplant was ready for harvesting, so that means more sauce to make and plenty of baked eggplant parmesan to freeze


...and another load of cherry tomatoes to dehydrate. 


But I also intend to take a break for some river therapy! 



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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all 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 (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Gaggle of Geese: Leading, Following, Caring

My New Year's resolution this year was to photograph something beautiful each day for the entire year. Interesting how quickly a little practice like that can transform a life! I never anticipated that it would evolve into taking 100 or more photos most days and increase both my awareness of beauty and my interest in photography to such degrees as it has. My iPhoto library has become my new gratitude journal. There is so much I could write about every day; it is often difficult to choose. Over the past week, I have noticed an idea popping into my head about a blog topic, and then that topic manifesting physically at some point during the day as if to nudge me along. It's pretty neat. That is the process by which I came to write about a gaggle of geese today.

Toward the end of my morning walk with my husband, we traveled over a steel bridge that crosses the river by our house just in time to see a gaggle of geese in the middle of the river navigating toward the bridge. (I was psyched to have brought along my point-and-shoot camera!)


For some reason, they decided to change direction - first the ones in front


... and then the rest.


One became alarmed 
 

... and then they all flew away.


I love watching the way the geese navigate, with leaders and followers and changing formations. It reminded me of a day early in June when I was kayaking near a gaggle of geese (perhaps the same one) that had been navigating the river since the goslings were old enough to swim. They all huddled near the shore when I must have come too close for comfort, with the adults surrounding the little ones on all sides.


I watched the geese navigate for quite some time, intrigued by how the adults worked together to keep the little ones safe and on course. They seemed to know instinctively when to lead and when to follow. What a wonderful and harmonious example of cooperation and teamwork.


How safe the young geese must have felt with several adults around them caring for them with such vigilance and harmony. It made me think of how it really does take a village to raise a child. It is difficult for just one or two parents to keep youth from going astray with all the threatening influences lurking in the environment each day. What a difference it would make for human children - and adults as well - to have a clan to which they feel they truly belong.  A clan consisting of several caring and committed adults working cooperatively and harmoniously for the greater good.


As is sometimes the case with human caregivers, the adult geese didn't always make the best choices; I watched the gaggle wander into the yard of a (human) family who lives on the river and get shooed away loudly and aggressively. However, with several adults working together, they maneuvered smoothly and with ease back to a safer place. They moved on.

Watching the gaggle of geese that afternoon really touched me. I found it inspiring and felt that humans have much to learn from the geese.

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all 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 (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sunflowers: Growing Toward the Sun

"Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight."  -Benjamin Franklin

Our neighbor has a lovely garden overlooking the river, and I find the sunflowers irresistible. They have such an uplifting, cheery effect on the spirit. The stem of a young sunflower tilts the flower bud to face and follow the sun as it travels across the sky from sunrise to sunset, making the sunflower a heliotropic symbol of optimism and hope. How interesting that once the sunflower blooms, it remains stationary and no longer moves to follow the sun. It's as if it has taken in enough sun energy to actually become the sun, expressing its own sun qualities through a physical resemblance - with petals that look like sun rays extending outward. I also appreciate the beautiful and highly efficient spiral pattern of the sunflower's seed head. What's not to love about sunflowers? Sending along some sunflower images from my neighbor's garden to start your week off on a bright note!








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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all 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 (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Great White Egret: Our Newest Neighbor

Earlier this week, I spotted a great white egret stalking the shoreline across the river - a newcomer to our river community. I have spent a lot of time observing this masterful hunter this week and allowing it to be my teacher. The slow, controlled movements this bird makes with such obvious focus reminds me of walking meditation as taught by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh.


I feel myself becoming more calm and centered simply by watching the great egret move so slowly and gracefully and at times stand completely motionless with highly alert eyes focused on the water.


Then all of a sudden, it jabs its long, yellow-orange, spear-like bill into the water and usually emerges victorious with a fish, which it swallows whole.


The great egret exudes alert stillness and quiet confidence. Without carrying on or making any kind of show, this bird focuses intently on what it desires, recognizes opportunity, and takes swift action. It knows when to move on and where to go. It brings full presence to what it does and achieves results.


This morning, I looked out the window and saw the pure white figures of three great egrets across the river. Later, when putting the photos on my computer, I noticed that in some of the photos a great blue heron was standing in the background. There is some serious heron/egret energy around our house lately!





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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all 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 (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Flowers on the Shore

Over the past couple months, the riverbank has been the site of a parade of colors as one type of flower after another dominated the shoreline for a while before being replaced by the next. The parade began with the daisies, which gave way to black-eyed Susans and orange day lilies, then purple chickory, fuchsia thistle, and now Queen Anne's lace. 


When the daisies arrived in June, I snapped this photo (above) and felt an immediate sense of gratification. The image felt somehow powerful to me. It looked like the daisies were greeting the sunrise and looking upon the river, but there was something more. I ordered and framed a large print and placed it on top of the wood stove in our tiny living room.

That's when it hit me: The flowers on the shore are like spirits of those who have lived here before us and reminders of the larger life rhythms of which we ourselves are a part. 


We are the current residents of a house that was built nearly 200 years ago and has seen many people come and go. When I look at the framed daisy photo, I think of the different generations of families and individuals who have lived and loved within these walls and looked upon the river from the very same vantage point. The view I see when I get up in the morning is the same view they saw. Like the flowers, each generation of residents becomes part of the landscape. However, no life form lasts forever, and all are replaced by others in turn. We are part of this parade.


The land on which the house sits has witnessed even more history, from the seasonal camps set up by Native peoples long ago to the French and Indian wars, the Revolutionary War, the opening of the Champlain Canal in 1823 (right around the time when this house was built) which brought prosperity to the area, and the eventual decline of the industrial era. It's all so much like the flowers.

On the Fourth of July, my son and I sat on the dock listening to the booming sound of fireworks in the distance and watching a spectacular display of heat lightning moving southward slowly along the river. The heat lightning continued long after the fireworks had ended, although the night air was punctuated every now and then by the sudden bangs of private celebrations. A campfire glowed softly in the distance on the opposite shore. Taking in these sights and sounds in the darkness, I thought of how people probably sat in this very same spot amidst the very real and intense sights and sounds of the Revolutionary War or border warfare with the Mohicans. It was easy to imagine the sound of cannons echoing around the river and the sleepless vigilance of scouts and pioneers. Next to our house is a shed that I was told served as part of a Revolutionary War hospital. When I walk around the yard at night and all is quiet but the crickets, I can feel its history, and I feel my own footsteps becoming part of it.


Not only do the flowers have their own daily rhythms of opening and closing, but they have their own graceful life cycles of growing and dissolving, which are part of larger life cycles of the year and of generations. The cycle of a year includes so many different kinds of flowers blooming in their own time, almost like notes played in a musical composition. Everything blooms in its own time and drops seeds so the whole dance may continue, going around and around again. I find great comfort in being part of these natural rhythms. 


How blessed we are to be here now!

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all 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 (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Dance of the Morning Glories

This year, we are growing morning glories for the first time. Whereas the full blooms are pretty to look at, I find the rolling and unrolling processes of opening and closing even more compelling. I'm amazed by the different parts of the flower and how they work together to open and retract so gracefully throughout the rhythm of a day. No words are necessary here; images tell the story much more effectively!


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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all 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 (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.