The House that Wren Built – Part III

My interest in the mother wren on our front porch has taken an unexpected turn, from hope to joy to mourning.  A few days ago I heard the sweet, high-pitched, chirp chirps of baby birds in the nest and was happy that the eggs survived recent freezing temperatures and new life was born! I felt the same joy seeing the red rosebuds and white blossoms on the dogwood and pear trees open. Their presence exclaims their hearty fragility to have overcome icy winds and burst forth in splenderous array. Having the mother wren nearby has taught me the sound of her great song in the mornings when she greeted the new day at dawn in the red, Japanese maple near her nest. I didn’t dare open the door to hear her song but peeked out the window and knew it was her praising her Creator as it is her innate nature to do so. My grateful heart for her surviving yet another cold night soared with her song. Hope rises with the sun in such moments.

Yesterday, however, was a different story. I had come home from a meeting feeling peaceful and stretched, like my spirit had gone to an exercise class. My body needed to stretch also so I took on the task of cutting back a dead palm that didn’t survive the January snowstorm. I had been avoiding the unpleasant task, hoping new life would spring forth like Lazarus from the grave. Somehow I faced the reality that a pruning of the dead parts is a good and necessary thing. As I worked I kept my eyes open for the mother wren and listened for the baby birds’ chirps. It was a warm and beautiful mid afternoon but all was quiet in the house that wren built. When I finished the palm bush I went inside for a break and didn’t emerge until later in the afternoon with my husband and the dogs for our daily walk.

As soon as we set foot out the door the dogs yanked me further down the sidewalk while Pedro locked the door. I thought they were overly excited for their walk, filled with spring fever like me. They stopped suddenly and started sniffing at what I thought were dead leaves but upon a closer look it was a dead,  baby bird. I gasped and couldn’t believe it. My shock gave way to horror. I moved it to the dirt with a stick near the statue of St. Francis and not far from where last year’s Easter lilies are popping through the soil. We continued on our walk but I was sad and perplexed. This was not the ending to the story that I wished to write.  I am accustomed to life and death moments as years of pets and even our walks remind us. A dead opossum in a neighbor’s yard under a shrub is a constant battle with the dogs every time we pass by. We did tell our neighbor it was there but she has chosen to let nature take its course.  Questions arose as we walked:  How could this happen? Who would do such a thing? How many baby birds were there?

My first inclination was to blame the squirrels. We have so many of them around the house and they are always scurrying about.  But that didn’t make sense since I think they like nuts and I have never seen them eating dead animals. Well then I started to blame predatory birds. I know buzzards show up for road kill but even they missed the dead opossum down the street. Pedro mentioned he saw a few birds fly away from the porch yesterday afternoon when he opened the door. He didn’t really get a good look though.

This morning I staked out the front porch with my coffee in hand. It was well past dawn and I had a late start but I hoped for some answers. I watched a gray feathered bird drink from the fountain and eat from the core of the newly trimmed saga palm. I watched the squirrels hunt for their buried acorn treasures and chase each other in the branches of the ivy covered oak. So far no predatory behavior to observe as I welcomed the new day from my rocking chair. I kept thinking about the poor baby bird who will never fly, whose life was cut short. I thought about the mother wren and wondered if she’d been taken too.  Sometimes death comes to our doorstep and robs us of our joy. The analogy extends to my own grief for my mother, father, grandmother, brother and brother in law. The recent deaths of the Parkland High Innocents welled up in me and I can only imagine the grief of the many parents who lost their children that horrifying day, on Valentines Day no less. My heart gave way to prayer that those who mourn will be comforted; that their tears will turn to joy and their mourning will turn to dancing.

Just as I was ready to go inside and make breakfast I noticed several wrens milling about on the sidewalk where the baby bird had been lying lifeless.  I hadn’t buried it yet when I moved it to the dirt. They chirped in short staccato notes, not the usual song I came to recognize at dawn. They appeared to be seeking the baby bird, returning for answers as humans seek to do also in times of tragedy. They found the baby bird lying in the dirt. I waited and watched and after they’d gone I buried the innocent near St. Francis. I hope mother wren will be alright one day soon. I know she has to move forward as we all do and that becomes possible with time and healing.  But even they must mourn and go through their rituals when death comes. This gathering of wrens was a mystery and I don’t understand their ways but I respect them and let them be.

As I write this a flurry of white blossoms has been falling like snow from a nearby tree and I see that the leaf buds have been reappearing and opening up as they do each spring. The blossoms come for a time and are carried off with the wind. The rich green leaves are with us for a time until autumn returns and the leaves are lost to winter’s resting place. I feel hope in spite of the long, frozen winter. I hear crows cawing nearby and now I want to blame them for the baby bird’s untimely demise. I can’t prove it though and don’t want to dwell on death when I know life here on earth is temporary for all.  Still, I want justice where there may be none, not here on earth anyway. I remember these wise words: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Matthew 6:19-21.

The House that Wren Built – Part II

My respect and admiration for wildlife photographers has increased exponentially in my quest to get a picture of the Wren who has built her nest on my front porch. I have tried several approaches to catching a picture of her tucked in her nest but with no success. Until today, that is!

With the onset of wind and cold temperatures the past few days I think she was more than ready to seek shelter at dusk this Sunday evening. We have all been surprised by the sudden weather changes but at least the wind has taken care of the pollen problem to some extent and we didn’t get a blizzard like the northeast.  Am I the only one trying to figure out what a “bomb cyclone” is? Where did these exaggerated terms come from? Can we dial it back a bit?

Excuse me, I digress a bit! Back to Wren…I opened the door to take out the trash and at first I didn’t notice her.  I wasn’t even tiptoeing or gently closing the screen door trying not to scare her.  I didn’t expect her to be there and she didn’t fly away! We momentarily stared at each other and I quickly kept going hoping she would stay there. Of course, I didn’t have my cell phone with me to take her picture. After a minute of pacing in front of the garage plotting my next move, I decided to risk opening the garage door and hope the squeaks it makes wouldn’t scare her away. I got my cell phone and tiptoed toward the porch  to take her picture. I think she was too cold to think of leaving her nest or maybe she is already warming her eggs but I was able to get these few pictures.  Look closely! There is her eye and beak!

I know it isn’t much but I feel it was a success! I  didn’t want to disturb her anymore so I went back inside via the garage.  Next time I am breaking out my 35 mm with the zoom lens in hopes of a better shot.  I think my photographer Dad, God rest his soul, would be mildly proud of my amateur efforts to capture a bit of nature on my doorstep.

The House that Wren Built

A week ago the beginnings of a nest were started outside my front door.  Then I went away to visit two of my four grandchildren in the upstate. When I returned yesterday this is the completed nest I beheld and wondered what little bird has come to make her home on my front porch? Spring has unofficially sprung in the south and I am happy to host this tiny occupant for as long as she wants to stay. I mentioned to my husband that I wonder if we will ever get to see our house guest as the opening of the front door naturally scares her away.

This morning, shortly after the break of dawn,  I quietly opened the door and I got a quick glimpse of a tiny brown blur that flitted from her nest to the nearby red maple by the porch. As she perched on a twig I had just enough time to determine if she was a sparrow or a wren.  I wasn’t sure but took a mental picture in my mind’s eye. Later, I verified that she is indeed a wren…a tiny bird known for its great song. I may never get to take her picture or hear her song but I know she will be nearby especially when she lays her eggs.

I love the unique house that wren built! She chose to make her home in a mollusk shell, a Chambered Nautilus, under the safety of the porch roof where no rain can get to her. This shell has been said to be symbolic of life’s unfolding mysteries as it contains the Golden Mean Spiral with each revolution completing a cycle of evolution. The Golden Mean is represented by the Greek letter phi (with the decimal representation of 1.6180) and is one of those mysterious natural numbers that seems to arise out of the basic structure of our cosmos. Phi appears regularly in the realm of things that grow and unfold in steps just as the Nautilus shell grows larger on each spiral by phi. A cross section of the shell of the Nautilus will show the cycles of its growth as a series of chambers arranged in a precise Golden Mean spiral.  The continuous curves of the spirals, which are feminine in nature, and the ratios between each of the chambers reveal the intimate relationship between the harmonics of nature and Sacred Geometry (a term used to describe the basic building blocks of the universe). This ancient science explores and explains the physical and energy patterns that create and unify all things, revealing the way that the Universe of creation organizes itself. (reference: > nautilusshell)

I am certain tiny wren with a great song is unaware of the metaphor she has brought to my attention but like all beautiful mysteries, I won’t ask why and will simply enjoy her presence with a grateful heart. The house that wren built will soon unfold the fertile mystery of new life and her song of motherhood will join the choir of birds welcoming Spring, birth, and rebirth! I will continue to visit this powerful metaphor during this season of Lent and may even get that picture of tiny wren in her house one morning. If the neighbors see me sneaking around in my bathrobe trying to take her picture, I hope they won’t call the police!

Powerful Images

5DDF8122-094D-4C52-B503-D7A243DF92FCSometimes I am swept off my feet by metaphors, powerful images in words that convey a deeper meaning and leave indelible marks in my soul. Today while reading The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning I was hit like a bolt of lightning with this one: I could more easily contain Niagara Falls in a tea cup than I can comprehend the wild, uncontainable love of God.

I closed my eyes to imagine this idea and tried to make a mental picture of Niagara Falls pouring into a tea cup held in my hand. Well, of course I would be unable to even stand in the presence of such a force of nature and would likely drop the tea cup in the process. When I opened my eyes I wanted to see if I could capture the metaphor in a photo. Hence, the image above. Under the shimmering blue cloth (water) is a photo of a painting entitled The Gift by Pedro Rodriguez and it depicts the Christ Child offered in the hand of God, the gift  of God’s Love.  The tea cup (the vessel, the self) holds a beaded angel made from safety pins and clear beads. It was given to me by my neighbor many years ago who wanted to thank me for the gift of my flute music which I sometimes played sitting in the backyard marsh. I don’t pretend to be that angel but only hope to be a vessel for God’s Love to shine through in spite of my weaknesses, sins, and brokenness.  Perhaps angels really are made of safety pins (to help hold us together) and clear beads (purification). I fall, flail, and fail daily but it sure helps to know God’s Love for me (and you) is more uncontainable than Niagara Falls in a tea cup!

Happy New and Renew Year!


I love the fresh promise of a new year, untouched and crisp like frost on the grass, where the hope of dreams new and renewed may be realized as the sun rises and warms the frozen earth. I hope this is the year that my dreams frozen like seeds under years of frost will melt and rise up to inspire creativity to flow again.  I want to believe in my dreams, new ones and renewed ones, to love them and hold them close in my heart like I once held my babies.  The babies grew up and went out into the world but the seed dreams have not yet matured and been let go to live and grow on their own. Perhaps this season of seed dreams unthawing in the warm sunlight will be the one where they will be resurrected to grow strong and tall, blooming in radiant colors and glorifying God by becoming what was meant to be.  There is much to do before the seasons change and inevitable winter comes once more to put my seed dreams to sleep.  I have learned some lessons to help them reach maturity but those lessons are fodder for another day.

This pen and ink drawing, “Resurrection,” is from a decade when creativity was flowing intermittently in the midst of life with three school age children and a pet menagerie running me ragged. Quiet moments for art were hard to find but once in awhile I managed some time away to draw, to write, to play the flute. The hope and promise of “Resurrection” is that dreams like prayers can rise up and be set free in the ethereal realm. Do you have a dream frozen in time? Remember it, love it, open the window shades in your soul and let the light in to warm it, revive it, and breathe new life into it!  Sometimes we have to get the blood flowing with vigorous soul rubbings to avoid frostbite and it is vital to get up and get moving! The creative juices will flow again and inspire new and renewed dreams.  Then let your dreams go when they are ready to shine in the light of God’s Love.

Tools in My Tool Bag

It has been a long time since posting in this blog. My life has been rather full of unexpected occurrences and my time has been occupied with bittersweet changes. Stress has been a familiar companion (though unwelcomed) and I have found myself relying on tried and true tools for coping that have worked well for me throughout many seasons of change. When I worked as an art therapist, I often used the metaphor of “tools in my tool bag” for helping clients identify healthy coping skills to deal with stress, anxiety, and depression. Each person is unique and the tools or methods one develops to become healthier will most likely reflect varied interests, skills, talents, and personality traits.  It is important to discover those tools and carry them with you in a metaphorical toolbag that represents your life journey.

The image shown above depicts some of the tools in my tool bag helping me recently to cope and to grow in trying times. Playing the flute helps me tremendously because of the breathing involved and the state of relaxation required to bring forth a good tone in the music I play. Sometimes a song is inspired and I try to bring it to life by writing it down. When I play it is always helpful to have a cup of coffee nearby and especially in a favorite blue cup that lifts my spirit along with the music and the caffeine.  Sometimes the music that helps me the most is to play favorite hymns and pray as I play.

I have other tools in my tool bag that also help me and they include making art, writing, walking, and spending time with loved ones.  It is my hope that you find what works for you to find peace in trying times. I ask this question frequently and it is worth repeating: “What’s in your tool bag?”


“Sit and Rest Awhile”

imageI may be getting old,
 My story is untold.
 The spider webs and velvet moss
 Cover me and conceal my loss.
 I seem unstable and overgrown
 With all the hurt I have sadly known.
 The poison ivy and weeds
 Arise in spring and spread choking seeds.
 My slats and frame are getting weak
 But will I ever hear You speak?

Many came and unkindly sat on me
 Squashed my spirit, kept it from flying free.
 But look, I am still sitting here, 
 Waiting for peace to draw me near.
 Others opened wide their arms of love
 And my joyful spirit soared above.
 In the Light of dawn I quietly glow
 And my true nature with mercy You know.
 My intricate design appears unstained
 And Your eternal Love is pre-ordained.

While the busy world goes clamoring by
 I wait with patience for the strength to try.
 I pray for wisdom to know Your will
 And when my time has come to be still,
 Only then will I be truly changed
 And my purpose in life be rearranged.
 But for You alone do I wait with hope
 And in darkness I've learned to pray and cope.
 Your Light will shine on me tomorrow
 And You will heal my every sorrow.

Come, sit and rest with me awhile,
 Find endless peace for every mile.
 To You, O Lord, I give all the glory
 As I listen and tell our love story.
 Some will wipe the dust from worn feet,
 While others rest and Your Spirit greet.
 It's not for me to judge another,
 But with Love, to hold as a mother
 Who sees in all their divine design,
 Whose beauty in the new Light will shine.

I can no longer let fear or blame,
 Hold back Love that heals sorrows and shame.
 For as my weary, lost soul can tell
 It is by His grace we are made well.
 I may be just a broken, old bench
 Who's ignored at the edge of a trench,
 But I am happy and able to say,
 "God created me in a unique way."
 Before you dismiss my existence,
 Know God loves me with fierce persistence.

Empty Chairs

It has been several months since I sat in these chairs in our backyard on Turkey Creek. These wooden, adirondack chairs have long been our vantage point to the natural world and a reflection place for the soul, comparable to the healing sought on the proverbial therapist’s couch. On the edge of this serene marsh growth and renewal take place. As the tides ebb and flow daily so have emotions, depending on the daily struggle to ponder or the joyful event to celebrate. As a result, many words have flowed from my pen to the pages of my journals through the nearly two decades of life here. I watched our children grow up, prayed for their well being and gave thanks for countless blessings, including welcoming grandchildren into the world. I grieved the deaths of my parents and worked on many issues, seeking solace and shelter from life’s storms. Likewise, laughter from joyful hearts soared with the hawks and eagles above the fray. Thirty years of marriage recently celebrated have also been the focus in these chairs which have served as a crucible for the last eighteen years where loving and suffering stirred in a bittersweet mixture of joy and pain. Thankfully, our love rises to the surface and keeps heart connections growing stronger and deeper, no matter the grief or turmoil that has befallen souls in a sometimes dark world.

The beauty of this place is cherished and respected but it has its problems due to tidal changes and floods. This reality hit home last fall when South Carolina experienced the worst flooding in centuries, donned the 1000 Year Flood. Water filled these empty chairs for five days, as well as the property and street. I was grateful that our home stayed dry even though the studio garage and crawl space under the house did not. Around the state we were at the mercy of mother nature and it brought back memories of surviving Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Flood water was not the issue for us then nor did we have to leave our home permanently. However, the anxiety and fear was high as I was nine months pregnant and we considered my water breaking in the path of a hurricane as a good  reason to evacuate. Living in the aftermath of childbirth or a natural disaster leaves indelible marks in the memory no matter the time that has passed. Great nuisances of daily life in the aftermath of either event are seen through the lens of gratitude for life sustained and protected from utter destruction, teaching lessons in not sweating the small stuff. Nevertheless, in the physical world of our current home, the tides get higher and chronic moisture issues affect the long-term health and safety of living here. The future is yet unknown but the possibility of letting go of the home we love and moving to a new home is a bittersweet change to consider.

Over the last few months the thought of sitting in the once reassuring laps of the chairs increased anxiety not lessened it, making them truly empty. I avoided them because the memories of the flood were too recent and time needed to pass for their healing effects to override the fear. Also, I’ve been very busy otherwise making it easy to do so. Recently, I sat in them for the first time since they were drenched in water and I was “flooded” with good memories from better days, the days when children’s laughter filled the air. In spite of becoming wobbly and more fragile from fluctuating tides and temperatures, the chairs still hold these happy memories. They may be too weak to survive a move, bringing their function and purpose into question. Either they will need to be fixed or new chairs may have to replace them from a different vantage point where concepts like “place,” “home,” and “purpose,” can be contemplated and redefined anew. Given what I have lived through so far, God has always provided and He will now. Change is a fact of life and the more it can be embraced with open arms, the better it will be. God’s grace and mercy will keep us in the shelter of His love.


Family Tree Revisited aka The Last Time I Saw my Mother


In the beauty of trees Mother Nature has always offered me a resting place I call home, one that feeds my soul and sustains me, that I can count on to always be there and whose changes I can observe through the  seasons of life.  Perhaps I read way too much into things but trees, especially the familiar ones I see frequently, are like friends that stand tall and bear the brunt of storms, surviving tempests and turmoil that can nearly level the most stout-hearted to the ground.  They look different in the changing light of day from early morning gray mists to the brutal yellow light of noon to the relief of the purple sky at dusk.  If I pay attention I can observe these changes and appreciate the unique beauty that each one offers at various moments in time.

The trees pictured here are two of my favorite resting places on Turkey Creek right in the serene backdrop of my own backyard, a marshy, swampy wilderness in South Carolina.  The cluster of two trees, twisting, touching in places with offshoots, is what I have titled “Family Tree” through all the nearly twenty years we’ve lived here.  I have watched the silent growth of these trees and compared it to the members of my immediate family, how we’ve slowly grown stronger, older and more stout-hearted through the years.  The long, hot summer has kept me from visiting in awhile and I notice the poison ivy creeping up the trunks like a choking toxin that needs to be eradicated before it takes over this precious tree.  I am reminded to tend to my own creeping poison ivy in my life, the areas of negativity and pain that only get worse if ignored and that certainly choke growth.

The other picture of the tree looking skyward is a giant pine growing in the middle of the wild part of the backyard.  I have often appreciated its towering strength rising above all the other trees surrounding it, including the “Family Tree.”  I never gave this tree a name but I feel like it now and will call it “Mama Tree” for the way its strong presence permeates all that exists nearby and provides shelter from the storms for wildlife.  I have seen many squirrels race up and down her massive trunk and chase in her sprawling branches.  In her lofty perch I’ve seen hawks and eagles rest and scout for prey.  I too have taken comfort from her and wandered about her trunk like a toddler playing in her mother’s skirt.  I have worried over this tree as well that her rooted base in the soft marsh earth moistened by the changing tides would one day cause her to topple over.  She has survived many a storm and a few hurricanes so far but for how long?

I can’t talk about the naming of “Mama Tree” without acknowledging that the inspiration to honor this tree is coming from the grief and sorrow I’ve been dealing with since my mother died over a year ago.  The picture here is the last time I saw her in Pennsylvania a week before her 85th birthday.  It was snowing in January that visit and I was like an excited little girl taking pictures of the snowy wonders I NEVER get to see in the south.  I got the nudge to go visit and flew there by myself to enjoy a long weekend with her and a few of my sisters, not knowing it would be my last visit.  I even got to stay with her and share the double bed in her assisted living apartment, something I’m sure hadn’t happened since I was a child.  It was a very special time to connect with my mom and feel her unconditional love that has blessed me my whole life.  On May 1st, 2014, she breathed her last breath and I wasn’t able to be at her bedside in the hospital with my siblings.  The long distance made that trip impossible to make in time.

My good-byes were by phone hours after the machines were unplugged and she lingered in a coma.  We were told there was no brain activity.  I don’t know if she could hear me but I appreciated my brother thinking of this and calling me.  I was with my son who was helping me drive around and take care of last minute work details so we could be at her funeral, when the time came.  I was an emotional mess and his presence calmed me as we sat in the parked car outside my job and I said goodbye to my sweet mom, telling her we loved her and Jesus was waiting for her.  She passed about five minutes later.  In the sacred mysteries that permeate life and death, I don’t know if on some level my mom was aware of the presence of my siblings at her death bed or my voice saying goodbye but I have some peace believing that she was also saying goodbye for now, letting go of this life to go to the glory of the next life where her husband, sons, parents, brothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends awaited her.

Studying this picture of “Mama Tree” I notice that  the top half of her seems cut off and since this picture was just taken earlier today, I wondered if a recent storm had indeed toppled part of her over.  I lathered myself in bug spray and trudged through the squishy mud from the recent tide to see for myself.  I walked around her massive trunk like that toddler in her mother’s skirts but covered in black mud on bare feet in flip flops and did not see any signs of fallen branches in a sea of elephant ear plants and a carpet of pine needles.  I did see a lot of poison ivy creeping up her trunk as it did the “Family Tree” and I know that I must come back and remove these toxic vines that threaten to choke these precious trees.  If I had thought to grab the garden gloves and clippers I would have done so right then.  I do know my visits to these special trees need to be more frequent, it does my soul good to rest awhile among their branches.

Black Cypress Swamp Song

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There is a silent beauty that isn’t really silent at all in the murky waters of a black cypress swamp.  Towering cypress trees shoot out of the water like elegant pillars marking time in an alternate world.  From their branches hanging like outstretched arms birds call out and all manner of insects swarm and sing a celebratory song to Life .  Walking here on a rainy, gray morning at the onset of spring I discovered the mint green blanket of foam covering the dark waters like snow and marveled at small miracles that bring this ancient place to life again.  A blue heron wades along a shallow, distant shore looking for breakfast.  She eludes the camera lens, dodging in and out of view among the trees with her graceful movements and sends ripples through the waters as well as my heart.  Gratitude bubbles in me that I can join in the song and feel the vibrations of a joyous heart also being renewed this spring day.  Deep in the woods of South Carolina at a place I love to visit once in awhile called Springbank Retreat, it does my soul good to come to this place of peace and rest.  I rarely ever want to leave and always want to go back.

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