The Sandhill Cranes of the Lakehouse have had a tough year. The matriarch of the lake, Lydia, was injured early in the season. She was no longer able to defend her territory, be a suitable mate for Bud, or to care for her unhatched colts. In a strange twist, Crystal, Lydia’s colt from the previous summer stepped in as a replacement mother and mate to Bud. Lydia’s fate is currently unknown. She may be living on the fringe of the lake with the other unmated birds, or she may have died. Either way, her departure from the Lakehouse has been a devastating loss.
Crystal cared for the eggs as though they were her own, taking turns with Bud to keep them safe and warm. She has been a good and doting mother to this year’s colts, Hans and Solo. But as any mother knows, it only takes a moment for a child to step into danger. Hans did just that on Wednesday, May 29.
I could hear the horn of the passing car clearly from inside the Lakehouse. This happens from time to time. The cranes are, after all, birds and have very little sense about the dangers of the roadway. Most often, the cranes come away uninjured and unfazed by their close calls with passing vehicles. But in this instance, I felt quite certain that one or more of the birds were injured or killed. Bud & Crystal’s distress calls clearly communicated that a colt was seriously injured or dead. I searched for Hans along the roadside but found nothing. Perhaps I was wrong.
As the day passed, I watched the cranes closely. I saw Bud and Solo together in the bog, but not Crystal. I worried that Crystal, as a new mom, might have been unsettled enough by the event to abandon her new family. Or, maybe Hans was not gone and for some odd reason, Crystal was spending time alone with him. That, however, would be highly unusual. There is safety in numbers, and crane families stay together.
Around 8 pm, I heard Crystal knocking on the basement door. She normally does this to let me know that there is no bird seed on the ground. However, there was plenty, and there was no need for her to knock. She met me at the door and just stood there looking up at me intensely. I don’t know for sure what she wanted or what she was trying to tell me, but I believe she was sharing her loss. I said from my heart in my out loud voice, “I love you, Crystal, I know that Hans is likely gone, I am so very very sorry, I will miss him too. And, Crystal, I am so very proud of you. You did your best. You are a great mom.” She held my eyes with hers for some time. Tears fell as I focused on sending love from my heart to hers.
Thursday morning arrived, and no cranes came to the yard. I could still see Bud and Solo in the bog, but not Crystal. The afternoon passed, and then, the evening came. I could no longer accept Crystal’s absence. I had to find her. Perhaps I could see her more easily from the kayak. It did not take long to locate them. While I was saddened to see that Hans was indeed missing, I was relieved to see Bud, Crystal, & Solo together.
I was disheartened, but at peace. The remaining family was safe and together as a unit. For this, I was grateful. I paddled around the lake for a bit longer feeling my feelings, talking to God, and taking in the sights, and sounds of the lake. As the sun began to set, I recorded and posted a video on Facebook sharing the sad news of Hans passing.
On my return to the dock, I noticed the cranes settling on their nest for the night. I called out to them, “Come back to the yard tomorrow, ok!” At that moment, I saw something that was not right. It was a patch of orange where it should not have been. My heart sank, and tears began to fall. Hans lifeless body lay below Crystal’s feet. She must have carried him from the roadway back to the nest. The mystery of her absence from the others was now solved. Crystal looked down at Hans and then at me with an expression that was not unfamiliar. It was, in fact, an expression I hoped never to see again as long as I lived.
Grief has its own timeline. It comes and goes without warning. Sometimes it lasts for minutes but often lingers for days or even months. Grief feels like a lonely Godless place. No one, absolutely no one can feel your pain. No one can bare it for you. And, God, where is God when every cell of your being aches for someone or something that is no longer here? With just one glance from a distraught bird, vivid images from my mother’s final days played out in my mind’s eye, and I plunged into the depths of grief. Grief makes no apologies. It is an opportunist that shamelessly marches in, sets up camp, and stays until the heart heals enough to send it packing.
Three days before my mother passed, she was standing in our kitchen getting ready to take her night time meds. Instead of opening one section of her pill minder, the entire lid came off and one week’s worth of pills scattered across the floor. She quickly got down on hands and knees and began picking them up. As suddenly as she started, she stopped and stood up. She was confused. She looked up at me and like small child opened her upturned fists to show me what she held. She said, “I don’t know what to do.” At that moment, my mother realized that the cancer in her brain was winning. Her eyes pleaded in the same way as Crystal’s. Both were saying, Help me, can you fix this, won’t you please fix this. I took the pills from my mother’s hands and then held her in my arms and rocked her gently as she wept. I said It’s ok, it’s my turn to take care of you now. When she stopped crying, I put her to bed.
What is a person to do when pleading eyes ask the impossible? What is a person to do when there is nothing to be done? I could not fix my mother’s failing brain or make the cancer go away. I could not bring Hans back to life. I could not give my mother or Crystal what they wanted. In that helpless, hopeless place, all one can do is show up. To bear witness to the other’s suffering and in some small way, help to carry the burden. I sat quietly in the kayak and held Crystal’s gaze until she looked away.
Grief is a Godless place, but it is often where we find the Divine. It is frequently in our darkest moments that we call on God to lead us out of suffering and into the light. It is the journey back from the despair experienced during grief that strengthens our relationship with God and heals our hearts. As for me, I am shaken, and my heart is badly bruised. But, I know that the grief will pass and that the sorrow will be replaced with gratitude.
This piece is dedicated to the memory of Harold and Lynnie Howarth, Lydia, and Hans.
My connection to nature is a direct gift from my parents. It is where I connect most often with them and is where I see God. Without my mother and father’s demonstration of love and reverence for nature, I would likely have never befriended a nesting pair of sandhill cranes. I am grateful beyond words for my folks. They were good people. I am grateful beyond words for the odd connection I have with these splendid birds.
Song of the Post: How Can I Help You Say Goodbye By Patty Loveless https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4F_cXGQN9k
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2019© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
This evening I learned that a dear old friend passed away. Though I had not been in touch with her in many years, I thought of her often. I heard her words of wisdom, her laughter, saw her magnanimous smile accentuated by the deep lines and creases that come with age. But most of all her sparkling blue eyes that were alive with love, compassion, and a bit of mischief. Gwen was a beacon of light in a world that can so often be frighteningly dark. Gwen entered my life during a profoundly desperate time. She lifted me up, guided me, gave me hope, and helped me believe in myself, and my future.
I met Gwen purely by accident in my mid thirties. During a time when most of my friends had found successful careers, marriages, and had started families, I was still struggling. Nothing I tried was working. I had given up my dream of working as a park ranger, had failed miserably at two love relationships, and was working in the Detroit area at a low paying dead end job. To top it off, I had sustained a painful and debilitating upper body injury that left me unable to work for over a year. All the money I had saved had been spent on medical bills, and I could no longer afford to keep my apartment. Thankfully, my friend Mimi allowed me to stay with her until I could get my feet back on the ground.
Recovering from my injury was a slow and painful process. The only thing that eased the pain was massage and acupuncture. One day while I was getting a massage my therapist suggested that I get counseling for grief and loss. Having little money and little faith in therapy I quickly rejected her suggestion. However, she convinced me that I should join a group that met one weekend every other month. It would cost $50 and a dish to pass. Feeling I had little left to lose, I signed up for an upcoming workshop.
A few weeks later, armed with black bean and corn salad, I nervously entered the first of many meetings to come. At first glance I found the group of thirty strangers to be quite an odd lot, and not particularly friendly. There were men and woman of all ages and vocations. Some dressed in hippy garb, others in jeans and t-shirts, and yet others in their Sunday best. They came from many different religious backgrounds and had varied spiritual beliefs and practices. What I found on second glance was a group of folks that no matter their background had stumbled upon some adversity that had challenged them to look deeply within themselves. With Gwen’s guidance, they were able to explore and gain greater insight and strength. And finally, I found a loving, kind, compassionate group that accepted, and loved me.
Gwen took this odd group, disassembled our differences, and exposed our sameness. With each tale of hardship the group listened to one another, wept, and prayed for one another. In doing so, we were all on some level healed. We also, sang, meditated, created ceremonies, pledged in the Native American Tradition to Air, Water, Earth, or Fire. We created prayer sticks and explored the emotions relevant to each of the four elements. We opened our minds, bodies, and spirits to gain greater insights to ourselves and each other. Gwen guided us graciously through each process. Sometimes with gentle encouraging words of wisdom, and at other times, quick to call one on their misconceptions (otherwise known hog wash or b.s.).
I went to the workshops for several years. During that time I not only grew stronger mentally and physically, but also met the woman that made my career in dentistry possible. I literally went from the depths of despair to having most of my dreams come true, and from believing there was no hope to knowing that there is always hope. I have never had the words to thank Gwen for all she gave me. Thank you just seems too small and insignificant. But as I look heavenward all I can say is this: Gwen from the deepest and most sincere part of my heart and soul, thank you.
Gwen was 88 when she passed away. She was a wife, mother, grandmother, poet, and artist. She was also a teacher, mentor, and healer to countless numbers of people. During her workshops Gwen would occasionally speak of her transition. She was unafraid, as she did not believe in a true death, only a changing of one form to another. She spoke of this transition with joy and looked forward to continuing her journey on the other side. She would not want us to be sad, but to remember and to carry on, to live in love, with integrity, and to help one another when possible.
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© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
It is my father’s birthday, and I am lost in thoughts of the magic, mischief, and mystery that made up this man. He was a good man: honest to a fault, a hard worker, a great provider for his family, a great dad, a teacher, and a good friend to many. His joy was solitude, nature, food, and his family. His love for me, and mine for him, was as close to unconditional as I will likely ever know. He would tell me, “You are my sun, my moon, and all the stars above.” And though I never told him, he was mine.
My father was also a man of opposites. His needs were simple, yet his mind complex. He was deeply tenderhearted, yet he could spew words that would cut to the quick, leaving one feeling small and broken. In the out of doors, he was comfortable with silence, yet inside, awake or asleep, he was a living, walking, breathing, noise machine. He could condemn the church, yet quote scripture, and live by the Word better than many theologians.
My father loved winter. He always said everything made more sense in black and white. When all the distraction of foliage and colors were removed, the truth about a thing was much clearer. I always knew he was talking about more than the forest in winter. How appropriate, though, that he was born and died during the coldest of the winter months.
My father loved and respected nature. He saw not only the beauty of nature, but also its cruelty. In his own life, he did not turn away from the ugly or difficult parts. He embraced the good, the bad, and the ugly as a whole; not as separate items that could be compartmentalized, or ignored, just because it was not pretty, or convenient. He was a true realist.
My father loved food. He enjoyed cooking wild game and making soup. He believed that soup should always include carrots, and that any dish could be improved with salt, butter, tabasco sauce, onions, and perhaps a little more butter. He was famous for slum gum. Slum gum starts with eggs, butter, onions, and leftovers. I am pretty sure that in the beginning he was attempting to make an omelette. However, due to lack of patience or too many ingredients, it just became eggs and leftovers fried together in one pan. Sometimes it was good. Sometimes it was awful! But then again, those were the days we would just add a bit more butter, or salt, or tabasco.
I could tell you so much more about my father, but I believe I will stop for now. Today is his birthday, and if he were here, there would not have been much fuss. I would have given him a card that he would read once, then mindlessly, place upon the counter for my mother to put away. Mom would have baked him a cake, spice, carrot, or yellow, frosted in white. He would have eaten too many pieces, and she would object. But all he would have to say is, “What? It is my birthday!” And, what could she really say on his special day!
I love you and miss you, Dad. Though I cannot see, hear, or touch you, I know you are not too far away. You always said that heaven is here on Earth, and maybe you were right. See, since you left, I have come to believe that heaven exists only a short distance away, beyond a curtain that I am unable to see. l feel your presence every day, and I know that you are near. I hope that there is cake in heaven, Dad, and that today your favorite kind is served. Happy 87th Birthday!
Thanks to Carmel Steffen for proofreading and fixing my commas. I swear there were never this many commas needed when I was in high school or college.
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© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.