(photo of Muddy River by Rebecca Arnoldi)

February 3, 2022

Today I hung out with a goose.

 I was at the Muddy River, and was in love with the landscape; creamy yellow and faint turquoise melting ice, texture and marks of birches and patterns of reeds and weeds. Then I saw a tree, a beautiful strong oak tree with roots flowing into the trunk in a symmetrical halo. I saw that it had small round indentations on the bark. I got close and saw that countless round holes had been made in the trunk. The ones at eye height and lower still had the nails in them that someone had used to make them.  I looked at this beautiful strong tree and felt angry and sad at the thought that someone would purposely try to harm it.

I contemplated cruelty and beauty.

 I wished I had my art materials but it was drizzling so I had none with me. Then, suddenly,  a Canada goose flew towards me. It landed close to me. I said hello, and it walked right up to me. We stared at each other. Its dark eyes imploring. I could see every feather. There were some white spots on the crown of its head. I squat, looking at the goose and it at me.  I asked if I could pat its back and it let me. I studied the details I had never been this close to: black scales on its legs, each small sharp claw protruding from its webbed feet,  and frayed feathers, from weather, wear, or maybe malnutrition. 

I realized this visit was probably not just to say hello, but a hope for food. I don’t normally feed geese. In fact, I have even been in a position of authority as a park ranger telling folks not to feed them. But the snow and the frayed feathers made me want to help. I wished I had a little something. “I’m sorry, I have nothing.” I held out my empty gloved hand and the goose reached its bill toward my palm but immediately recognized no food present. I looked around on the ground and saw snow and mud and some sticks. I walked over to an oak, the goose following me, and I began to search for acorns at the trunk. There were many pieces of shells squirrels had left behind, but no acorn meat. Finally I found and offered a dirty stunted acorn to the goose. It inspected but rejected. I pushed the snow away from the tree trunk and we both looked at the green moss. It ate a little bit. It seemed moss was not a preferred food.

I crossed the path and dug into the snow on the river bank.  Under the snow was a thick layer of brown fallen oak leaves.  I dug them away and the goose joined me pulling one oak leaf away and then another with its bill. I dug out a space about as big as the goose. There, under the winter snow and fall leaves, was the green of another season. I felt like together we were learning about winter survival. I found some crab grass under the layers. I offered it to the goose ; it quietly nibbled enthusiastically at the green bits I placed beside it. I kept searching and invited the goose to come over to my findings and take them but it looked to me to unearth each piece. I dug pieces out and stepped back, trying to invite it in, and finally it did move into the dug out area and look for itself. We continued like this for a  few minutes, searching for green surrounded by snow, brown, leaves and mud.  I felt a quiet and a peace and a joy of sanctuary of oneness with wild. Then, it seemed that I should leave. Go back to the human world of frying pans and eggs, bread and toasters and toilets. We separated. I crossed the bridge and the goose walked along the worn path looking for bits of anything that had been dropped by people or trees.

On the other side of the river, I biked by three Canada geese doing exactly what we had. Unearthing green by the base of an oak tree and nibbling on findings.  Somehow the goose that visited me had learned to look for people when hungry instead of looking for food. I assume it had been fed early in life, and maybe never learned the survival skills all geese need.

I have great ambivalence about feeding wild animals. There is something so beautiful in the connection with wildness. We humans need more of that. And it feels funny to have so much and not share it with those that  are on the edge of starvation. But we can alter populations and cause huge problems in our desire to help. In Cape Cod, a few years back, some well meaning folks fed coyotes on the beach. The coyotes began to come to bonfires and beach blankets searching for food. People were scared. In the Fall and Winter, when people hunt coyotes, it seemed that there was a battle cry to kill as many as possible. The next Spring, the population had gone down. But of course, it can climb again as each coyotes has more rabbits to eat. Nature has the balance worked out. But, are we not part of nature? I don’t plan to bring food to feed any wild animals. But I also don’t regret at all helping one very hungry goose find some grass in the snow.

November 1, 2021

I have been sleeping outdoors on a porch for the last 4 months. I love being surrounded by the sounds of crows and wrens, crickets and song sparrows, robins and cardinals. Sometimes coyotes wake me up in the middle of the night, and now that it’s cooler,  I also hear tree frogs singing.  In the summer I woke up to warbler melodies high in the trees and hummingbirds buzzing through the sky. I love turning on my side to see the moon beside me low in the sky and stretching out from under blankets to feel the breeze on my face. It’s hard to feel lonely outdoors. Loneliness, for me, exists in the illusion of disconnection; when I forget that my gut is a microbiome of bacteria and that I am part of everything- human and and more than human communities, I can feel lonely. 

The chickadees call, the crows call and the wind blows and I breathe the same air as the chickadee, the same oxygen that the tree releases. And the trees breathe my breath as well. 

Why do we disconnect? Build boxes of disconnection which we struggle to keep life out of?

If we acknowledge and allow ourselves to be part of it all, we know that we cannot control our body and our mind and all that makes us individual. We know that we will, sooner or later, cease to exist as individuals and become bacteria and worms and robins and hawks and garlic mustard and rabbits and foxes and coyotes. Regardless of different thoughts on the spirit, I think we all agree that our skin, our bones and all of our cells become part of all life.

So today, day of the dead, maybe I can, you can, we can, if we want, feel the fact that there is not true separation between all the living beings, not to mention the dead. Death and life are one big recycling of cells, mingling of breath. 

Walking along the sidewalk in my neighborhood I saw the dark, reddish brown, shiny, beautiful broken body on the concrete. A life ended by a footstep. I thought of burying it but to keep up with my companion I left the  beetle corpse where it lay. A couple of days passed. Then sitting on my yoga mat outdoors, I saw a small reddish brown shiny being walk from the grass onto my mat and pause. Its back end sank low and its front body and head were held high; it was as close to a seated position as a beetle can have. 

I felt this was a special visit. I had been thinking of Lila, my beloved recently passed canine companion, and then the beetle arrived, and stayed.

(photo by Rebecca Arnoldi)

 It looked at me and I looked at it, got close, drew it, painted it, talked to it, and patted it. It had a small hole in its elytra or back outer wing. I identified the beetle as a female Reddish-Brown Stag Beetle, Lucanus capreolus. This beetle lives for years as a grub in dead wood before emerging as an adult for a summer long adult life of mating and egg laying.

When I pat the beetle’s back it stretched its legs out but did not move or threaten with its strong pinchers. I couldn’t really see its tiny eyes but they were directed toward me.

Tears came. I wondered if my beloved canine’s spirit was in this beetle.

I also wondered if there was a message, like, from death comes life. Or, Death is not an end

(image by Rebecca Arnoldi)

The beetle and I stayed together for an hour. I didn’t want to leave but the busyness of life was calling, so I went inside to do inconsequential things that seemed important. When I returned, bringing my busyness with me, the beetle was just about to walk off the mat. I sat down and said, Wait! I’m back!. It stopped and stood still while I stroked its back and spoke to it. I reluctantly turned back to the computer to be part of a zoom meeting. When I glanced down the beetle was stepping off the mat into the tangled forest of grass.

 I don’t know what happens after death. I don’t know if a spirit can live on and visit loved ones. I don’t know if the beetle visitor had my dog’s spirit in her, or not. What seems true is that special encounters with other species and spirits happen when I step out of business into simply being. 

(image by Rebecca Arnoldi)

Today….March 30,2021

“ I have to be honest with you, I don’t think anything is going to help, I was just throwing stuff out there as a kind of hail mary… she’s been ill for a long time, and I think what is going on with her walking is from her disease, and I think her weakening state is exacerbating her disease and her disease is making her weaken and she’s been going on because you’ve been keeping her alive, with care that is probably intensive, and that’s great….”

Or something like that

Ego stroked feeling better,  if I did okay than it’s kind of okay, right? Not my fault?…not sure…Did I do wrong? Did I do right? Medications, no medications, which medications… harm by waiting, harm by doing….I may have done everything wrong or nothing wrong.

“ I would do what I’ve said all along. Give her the antibiotics first, and if that doesn’t work, give her the pred”

I want to get it all down. I talk to so many vets and the calls always come when I happen to be focused on something else, like now taking the wolf spider out of the bathtub and into the yard and registering it on i-naturalist, and using the bathroom myself and wondering if I am also sick and trying to put titles to the 7,000 year old “vessel in the form of a resting hare” into a key note for a class I will lead on zoom next week.

He also said,

“I have to be honest with you…… blah blah blah… she’s dying.” Charlie Brown’s writer, schultz knew what he was doing when he wrote his blah blah blahs….how did he say it? Wahwahwah…” I hear the words but it’s only certain phrases that stick, like “ I have to be honest with you” and “she’s dying” and now as I write that, finally crying. Dry lips dry tears, like there’s no moisture left in me to mourn what is a long process. How can we really mourn a long process when It’s not done? How can we not.

But,,, Jay… says the Jay…. I always have hope… hope that baytril or goldenseal will wipe out infection if she has it and she will be better than before… hope the prednisolone will not just enable her to walk but make her better than before, able to close her eyes, able to walk further….able to regain her weight and be strong and healthy until she dies peacefully in her sleep….

What he said was, “ I have to be honest with you, I don’t think any of it’s going to work” or maybe he said, “ I have to be honest with you, it might not work” all I really know is that he said “ I  have to be honest with you” and “Your care” and “ she’s dying”

I thanked him for his honesty, and told him that it could be helpful to know that nothing might work, because then I could relax, and just be my best self with her… But, I’m not quite there. I haven’t quiet given up. And up to now, neither has she. As long as she doesn’t give up, I won’t either.

And outside, in the yard on warmer days, it sometimes seems okay, or tolerable, and there are moments when I can relax.

“her body is weak and she’s affected by a lot of stuff…” or something like that.

It’s all just words in a pandemic world where at best we see folks on a screen or hear them on a phone or maybe at best we breathe with the trees. 

And grandpa died today 13 years ago.

And then… in the afternoon after writing all of that, grandpa, or a mourning cloak butterfly, came to visit.  I was talking on the phone with a friend who was recommending euthanasia. The butterfly suddenly appeared on the fallen oak leaves in front of me.

They told me, just before Grandpa died that he looked up from his bed  and reached upward. Or at least that’s how I remember what they told me.

And then the butterfly flew up. I thought that it was gone, but then looked at my shadow on the grass and saw that it  was perched on my hat. 

I thought, I can’t feel it, or see it, but it’s there. With me.  Maybe grandpa’s letting me know he’s with me. Or that she will always be with me.

I got another phone call, and I tried to take pictures of the butterfly and do others stuff that is so much less important than being with the butterfly, and my busyness  made it fly away, but it kept coming back to me, to my hat, to my head. I stretched my arms above my head and photographed it with my cel phone.

 Lila seemed to need something so I left the butterfly to take care of her. Later when I carried her to a place to possibly pee,  I almost stepped on it, the butterfly suddenly flew up in front of us.

Maybe grandpa, or the mourning cloak, is letting me know, with wings outstretched, death might be a liberation. For us all. 

It’s a seed. Planted today… and maybe over and over again, starting many years ago, with each peaceful death of a loved one.

And to make it even more symbolic, the butterfly then perched on an old toy of hers that had lost its outer layer just like she’s lost so much of her muscle and fat and even some fur. It’s a moose I think but it looks like a dog. In that moment I forgot it had once looked like a moose, I saw a fallen dog with legs crossed unnaturally, and a mourning cloak butterfly, wings a bit tattered along the edge from the winter, but still showing deep, rich, warm splendor in the sunlight.

The cardinal boy has a mate again! Maybe a new mate? Cardinals never leave their beloved’s side and after his dash into the bushes weeks ago in a state of alarm (loud fast calls) I hadn’t seen her. Now she appears with him. Maybe it is the same mate? Perhaps after a close call with a hawks talons she became the quiet master of camouflage? What could we learn from cardinals about courage, altruism and survival?Thanks to the shrubs and trees for providing them with shelter.

Happy Tu’Bshvat! Happy Birthday trees.

Riding my bike along the shallow muddy river I saw something beautiful. Three small, beautiful ducks swimming swiftly. They seemed very shy; they noticed me on the opposite side of the river looking at them and with furtive glances swam quickly away. The iridescent green stripe on their face was visible, then hidden, then visible again as they swam at different angles. Bright buff colored feathers under their tail, green iridescence contrasting with rusty brown on their face, delicate grey feathered pattern of their back and their shy behavior all made me excited to see this beautiful bird. The Green-winged Teal, Anas Crecca. This duck is common in our North East Winters, but I haven’t seen many. My phone was out of juice and I had no sketching materials so I could only record what I saw in my mind.

I came home and took out my art materials. No Green-winged Teal to be seen, I sketched a grey squirrel leaping and searching among the oak leaves. Blue-grey and rusty brown fur, dark eye circled by a cream colored line… was this furry being intrinsically less beautiful or exciting then the duck I had seen? I thought about our species’ search for the exotic. Maybe this search has helped us survive as a species. Does it still serve a purpose? Maybe, but we also lose something in the search by dismissing what is around us all the time. Is there any way to change this human trait? Maybe by just looking deeply at what is right here now. I think if we really look, we will always see beauty in nature, right now, right here where we are.

“The lure of the distant and the difficult is deceptive. The great opportunity is where you are.”

― John Burroughs

pastel drawing by Rebecca Arnoldi

I just saw and heard a cardinal swoop down into a shrub in my yard calling loudly and quickly. The calls got quieter and softer. Then he was silent and just looked around for several minutes. Now he’s gone.Cardinals are always with their mate and make constant contact chirping calls to each other. There’s a couple that hang out in and around that shrub. Quick loud chirps like this cardinal made are an alarm call… I fear this cardinal I’ve been watching may have lost his mate to a hawk. Predation… so natural and necessary and yet I feel for the guy. This is him.

Friday I was at the beach and the green heads were plentiful. I don’t like killing. I especially don’t like killing tiny mamas trying to get blood to make babies, but I admit I was just about to. Then I saw a Robber fly (probably Efferia albibarbis) go after one of the green heads. It failed, then grabbed another. I felt a bit like I’d been saved by this tiny hero. I was glad I let the fly go to a good use. I thought about the fact that I prefer one life over another, and that the life I prefer is one of a predator; not a parasite who just takes a bit of blood, but a predator who kills. It’s hard to watch one creature kill another, no matter who they are; Yet when it comes down to it, the animal world is all about one life consuming another. Oh to be a plant and live off sun, or a bee and live off nectar. But even the plant and the bee are getting vital nutrients through soil and nectar that come from decomposing creatures. We are constantly consuming lives of other beings. If we let go of the idea that we only live as individuals, then you could say we all live on as long as there is life on earth. There is a great song about this titled “we will live again”. I think about this as my almost fourteen year old dog is struggling for breath in the heat… as the mosquitoes bite me and her… as I sit down to eat egg and lettuce and olives and wheat and some other beings on my plate… as the catbird hunts for insects. We are part of one big flow of life eating and being eaten, living and dying and living again.

Watched a honey bee on milkweed and soon after saw a bee mimic robber fly with a honey bee.

(all Photos and text on this site: Rebecca Arnoldi)

Sometimes the brilliance is tiny and hidden. If we look carefully and patiently beauty may surprise us, OOp….it’s everywhere.. (Milkweed Beetle, Lady Beetle, and Leafhopper on milkweed- Rebecca Arnoldi July 2020

Ants hang out around scale insects and other insects that suck plant juices. They feed on their sweet “honeydew” secretions.  They also sometimes feed on the insects themselves, helping the plant in this way. These are on Rosa Rugosa.

Horsechestnut flowers change color after being pollinated so that they are no longer attractive to their pollinators.