the original mother nature
we didn’t know it, her little brood. we thought everyone’s home movies had pans of tree tops, flashes of scarlet tanager in between the frames of children waddling, waving, being silly for the camera.
coulda fooled us. didn’t every mother teach her hatchlings to hush when an oriole was in the yard? to rush out and scatter halves of oranges, the winged things’ sweet reward for populating her old oaks.
doesn’t everyone get daily, heck, hourly if warranted, phone calls with the up-to-the-minute news of the baby screech owls whose mama pirated the wood duck house, high up in the trees, and taught her babies to fly, right over my mama’s head?
when you grew up with my mama, you took these things for granted. you had no clue how much you’d learned, how much she’d taught you about the world of God’s creation while other children were merely trying to memorize the capitals of algeria, and bolivia, and, perhaps, the republic of congo.
it came slowly to my attention one day sitting in the newsroom, when an extremely intelligent friend of mine, a friend who grew up in queens, was wondering what the red bird was, not the one with the orange belly, she said, but the one that was red all over.
you mean the cardinal? i asked, as if she’d asked which letter followed C.
but you didn’t even look that up in a book, she cried, unnecessarily impressed.
well, no. but my mama is the original mother nature. or at least my original mother nature, my very own earth mama. and some things, you just absorb.
indeed, i and my four fraternal nestlings, each one of us has tales to tell about growing up assuming dinner conversations, even tense ones, would regularly be interrupted for the latest sighting of a flash of scarlet or orange or indigo.
or making the fifteenth round-trip to the nature preserve, far-enough away, little chipmunk bumping along in the back in some towel-cushioned box, because my mother didn’t like what the chipmunks were doing to her poppies, so she moved them, the chipmunks not the poppies, one by one.
my brother david remembers the parish priest pointing to my mother and calling her a pantheist, one who finds God everywhere. hmm. my brother, then and even now, couldn’t tell if the old priest meant that as damnation or salvation. sometimes you just can’t tell with these people of the cloth.
but far as i could tell, the padre could only mean it kindly. for my mother’s reverence for the divine in every romping squirrel, unfurling maiden fern, hopping jenny wren is, well, the very definition of divine.
her whole life, or all the parts i know, is a narrative with nature snapshots glued on every crucial page. the who-what-where is often faded, but the 3-by-5s of heaven here on earth are bright and clear and lasting.
i still remember the hush in her voice, the goosebumps on my spine, when she called, in the aching hollow days just after my father died, to tell me she now knew, because of a hawk, that my father was safe and well, and very much at peace.
seems she’d been out walking dickens, our beloved golden retriever, near a woods, and the hawk, out of nowhere, came swooping from the clouds, nearly brushed her head, circled tightly, and then went on.
as my mother told it, serenely, other-worldly, it was word from my father: she needn’t worry, needn’t be afraid. he was safe, the hawk was saying, she could carry on.
and so, of course, she did.
just days before my first was born, a days-old fawn somehow made it to my mother’s garden and curled up inside a window well, where all day long it waited, as its mama was off chomping leaves and grasses, most likely someone’s garden.
the mama deer, smart lady, knew in that way that nature does, that my mama was safe harbor, and the little fawn would be duly watched all day.
again, my mama took it as a sign that all would be well in my delivery room. and it was.
i will admit that when i was young ( a long, long time ago), i didn’t always love that i had mother nature for a mama. all the other girls had moms who took them out to lunch in malls and shopped for clothes in pink, i swear.
i had a mother wearing mud-splotched wellies and knee-worn jeans. her accessory of choice was the binoculars she roped around her neck. she was panning the heavens for shockingly-painted feathers, while the mothers of my friends were poring over racks of what was new for spring.
but now i am old enough to remember how she took me in the woods as a little, little girl, and taught me sacred awe for the trillium, a rare, endangered three-petaled woodland beauty that returns each spring to those who tiptoe deep enough into the underbrush to discover it once again.
and i am old enough to ask her every question i can think of, knowing, always knowing, there will be an answer. and probably a follow-up phone call, after she has gone to the library or the 1966 world book that leans beside the binoculars or the webster’s unabridged, and looked it up.
i am old enough to know that i must ask it now, before it’s too late. before i’ll be left to go alone to the library or the world book or the webster’s, aching for the answer lady who has taught me most of what i know about the world of God’s creation.
what odd-duck, yet still amazing, gifts has your mother given you?
what a beautiful tribune to a beautiful lady! i love this one.
My mother loved the garden and her favorite bird was the cardinal. We would walk through the garden and point out the perennials as they poked through the earth. It became a spring ritual which began when I had mistakenly dug up an entire bed of phlox thinking they were weeds poking through and left the “pretty pink flowers” that were weeds! I miss those walks with her, but I have my own children to teach about the flowers and the birds. My son is better than I at recognizing bird calls. His first word was book followed closely by bird. Today he is nine and I can’t believe how quickly time is passing.Happy Earth Day…I will remember our mothers heaven and earth this weekend as I begin the care in the garden.
I’m one of Barbara’s “four fraternal nestlings” mentioned above. My Mom, by enhancing every day of my youth with statements like “Look–the male Rose Breasted Grosbeak, Michael”, would enable me to stop (before getting on my bicycle to ride to football practice, for instance) and see the gorgeous creature, and reflect on the tiny red, white and black Master-piece up in the Oak…There lies a legacy from Mom. She taught us HOW to stop and reflect–while we go–by her simple example only. Do what Mom does! Just take a moment and reflect. Inject some wonder in your mundane. Slow down, you move too fast! Thanks Mom for imparting this beautiful attitude.
Barbie, you write tunefully. I love the play in your line. But you never miss the downbeat. My heart waltzes when I read your lines. You are proof that “work is the highest form of play”. Hats off, gentlemen, a genius.
well, my mother instilled in me, a respect for all critters. From ants on the sidewalk to stray neighborhood animals. Even the mice in the house were carefully trapped and brought across the street to the park. They probably had a direct path back to our home but we still gathered them up in the “have a heart traps” and repeated our attempts. My sister’s family is about to adopt another stray. Dominique, my brother in law has been in the Bayou installing a new engine in his tugboat, the Mis Lis. Last week, he heard one of the “dock dogs” barking in distress. He went over to inspect, and a young black pup had fallen into the filthy water and couldn’t get back out. Dom pulled her out, dried her off and found her some food. It seems she’ll be joining the family which already includes 3 or 4 adopted cats (can’t keep track) and another young rescue dog.
A lovely tribute to a woman of nature who’s legacy is transformed into life each day through your writings. Thank you!While my own mother nurtured in our Chicago backyard – Sweet William – her favorite flower- and phlox – the flower that my mother taught me to water with “keep their clothes dry but their feet wet.” Most creatures who moved (in the alley) were avoided and remained unnamed. What did interrupt our family walks and rides in the car were the Chicago landmarks – if you passed the Reliance Building or Carson’s, my Mother’s refrain was, “see the Chicago windows”. Lady Liberty in Jackson Park guaranteed to grab our attention and to learn stories of the World’s Fair. Pass the Fine Arts Building and you were reminded of its former life displaying Studebackers. Chicago’s buildings and its neighborhoods were her garden for the 6 of us (children) to learn about and to honor for all its spendor.
For my mother, it was nothing of nature, but instead Broadway musicals and what she called “show tunes”. We grew up hearing them on the phonograph. I got a lucky 13th birthday present trip from MN to NYC with my mother (40 years ago). We saw to original “Auntie Mame” with Angela Landsbury and the original “Cabaret” with Joel Grey. As I write this missive, I am listening to the Broadway recording of “Pajama Game.”
Like some others here, I am an FOF (friend of family) and know your mother nature who has taught even this unruly student a thing or two. It’s all about her and just there for, well, the picking, to extend the metaphor. You, too, punctuate your conversations with sightings and observations and I learn just from being around. I have noticed this during our many years on the phone, and now I understand its genesis. It’s fun, reading your blog, and knowing parts of you that we don’t tend to get to in the furtiveness and urgency of a quick chat in busy lives. Like spying, kind of.I wish I could meet/could have met all your moms and hear from Carol’s mom about show tunes (I love them, too) and MBW’s about landmarks and their meanings, and have a walk with KD-NJ’s mom. Reading your comments reminds me of the diversity of offerings from one mom to the next. Lucky kids who are good matches to what is available. Mine was more of a lunch and pink sweater mom. She is a wonderful cook and taught me to cook at a young age. She has lovely taste which informs her holiday parties in the form of an always-gorgeous table and presentation, and her clothes, still beautiful at near 75, and bought well (on sale). She had lots of sayings to live by. One she drove home often was “never give unasked for advice,” which she has never followed. This is a lyrical piece, my friend. Reading this and your comments today, I think of Susan.
Random odd gifts from my mother: love of art museums, jazz, baseball, boxing. And reading, reading, reading. Her strange plethora of far-reaching knowledge in many odd categories: the politics of the western Indian reservations, Dodger trivia, arcane accomplishments of unsung individuals. Her character traits that have given me much to think about well into adulthood and continue to puzzle and inspire me: the utter eschewal of gossip, the total refusal to be a buttinsky, the general happy acceptance of everyone she met. She was the most live-and-let-live person I ever have known, and the least judgmental. As so often is the case, in her life she was an enigma to me; since her death I can only aspire to be more like her.
is it not a curious and blessed thing, the crazy quilt of mothers who grow children who somehow find each other, and find the threads that entwine, that lead us straight into each other’s hearts…..the mothers who know the dodgers inside out, the ones whose orioles run the bases of the trees, the mothers who tend gardens made of bricks and stone, the mothers who loathe the mall and the ones who find them repositories for all sorts of treasures. it is a blessed thing to stop and learn from whence we came, so that the shadings and the shadow take on all the more luminescence. and for the blessed mother of my blessed friend susan, we keep our lips in prayer. as susan says, i don’t know for what i pray, but i keep praying…..it is achingly achingly hard to watch a friend, who is SO blessed to adore her mother through and through, to have always counted her as among her closest best-loved friends, watch that mother writhe. and the daughter writhe right with her. we hold you, sweet susan, in our circle that now spreads across an ocean.
HOW could I forget “bugs are our friends”? That may indeed be the main odd thing my mother taught me. Ever since I have been dispatched to handle the bugs encountered by those in my radius. Sadly, this lesson does not seem to be transmitting to my own children, small urbanites who are suspicious of everything that lives and creeps outdoors.
[…] at the chair, i’ve written before what amount to thank-you notes to my mama. the original mother nature is one, and so is grammy […]