Hope For Spring

I grew up going camping all over the U.S. My parents loved camping and instilled it in me. My mother loved growing things. She was a master gardener. She had hoped to make it to see one more spring. This poem is another one she would like read at her service.

Spring

I said in my heart, “I am sick of four walls and a
ceiling.
I have need of the sky.
I have business with the grass.
I will up and get me away where the hawk
is wheeling,
Lone and high,
And the slow clouds go by.
I will get me away to the waters that glass
The clouds as they pass,
To the waters that lie
Like the heart of a maiden aware of a
doom drawing
nigh
And dumb for sorcery of impending joy.
I will get me away to the woods.
Spring, like a huntsman’s boy,
Halloos along the hillsides and unhoods
The falcon in my will.
The dogwood calls me, and the sudden thrill
That breaks in apple blooms down country
roads
Plucks me by the sleeve and nudges me away.
The sap is in the boles to-day,
And in my veins a pulse that yearns and goads.”
When I got to the woods, I found out
What the Spring was about.

–Richard Hovey

two medicine

Two Medicine, Glacier National Park

Why You Want a Physicist to Speak at Your Funeral

There’s a short essay on the Internet about why one would want to have a physicist speak at one’s funeral, by Aaron Freeman. I find it comforting to a degree. Yet today I also found Anonymous’ response to it that resonated. We only have what is present in front of us, yet somehow the unboundedness and connection suggested here brings me comfort.

“If I had a physicist speak at my funeral, I would hope that he would talk about a lot more than the conservation of energy. I don’t particularly care about what happens to my energy.

If I am lucky, he will speak about relativity. My family will probably have the mistaken intuition that only things in the present are truly real. Teach them about spacetime. They need to know that time and space are connected – that me being in the past is just like me being far away. The difference is that we will only have one way communication. Even if they will no longer be able talk to me, I will still talk to them through memories.

If I am not so lucky, he will speak about quantum mechanics. If I die young, my family will be grieving over the potential future I have lost. Teach them about many worlds. They need to know that our world is constantly splitting – that just before I died, the world split off a different future in which I am still alive. There is another world, just as real as our own, in which I survive. This world will even interact with our own in very tiny ways.

I want a physicist to speak at my funeral. I want everyone to understand that my continued existence is way more verifiable than a religious afterlife and way more substantial than a simple conservation of energy.”

Anonymous

A Message From My Mother

In recent conversations, Mom shared with me several poems she would love to be read at her service. Since we don’t know when that will be, due to travel restrictions and pandemic, I thought I’d share here. This is the first one.

Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

–Mary Elizabeth Frye

MacKerricher State Park 2019

mackerricher state park

Transition

My mother, Mary Catherine Nicklas Petro, died today. She was 86 and had two types of cancer. Three years ago, she was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma — her third experience with melanoma. She began Opdivo, an immunotherapy. It was her good fortune that she fell into the 30% for whom the treatment worked. It shrank her tumors to almost nothing. About a year ago, her breast cancer returned. She had a lot of arthritis, mobility issues, and pain. Yet she kept going as long as she could with the Opdivo, because she wanted to contribute to the research on the treatment for the sake of others. The breast cancer returned, though, and she knew she didn’t want aggressive treatment for it. Her body was struggling enough with side effects and ailments.

Mom was getting close to entering hospice. We had imagined more time, a gradual decline, a process where we could see her again and say good-bye. Something happened inside her yesterday that led to a swift end. She is no longer suffering. I had talked to her three days ago, and I am so glad I did. We lived 3,000 miles apart, and for now I must stay put. I live in an epicenter of Covid-19, am sheltering-in-place, and am in a vulnerable group. I don’t want to get it, and I don’t want to carry it to my siblings or my 89-year-old father. I spent a lot of time saying good-bye to my mother over the years, connecting with her, resolving things between us. I grieved some. Yet nothing prepared me for how this is, how it feels. The finality. May we all be peace; may we all be free from suffering.

Mary Catherine Nicklas Petro / October 6, 1933-March 16, 2020

Syracuse 2016

Photo taken April 2016 with my daughter

English Toffee Recipe

homemade toffee

English Toffee

1 cup butter
1.5 cups white sugar
3 Tbsp. water
3 Tbsp. light corn syrup
2 cups toasted almonds (slivers or flakes)
8 oz. semisweet baking chocolate (bar, chips, etc.)

Candy thermometer
1 qt. pot
2 qt. pot
double boiler pot
13×9 inch pan
cookie sheet
silicone spatulas
parchment paper

  1. Grease a 13 x 9 inch pan with some butter on bottom and sides. Put 1 cup of almonds in a bowl handy by the stove. Keep the pan close by.
  2. Put parchment paper on a large cookie sheet.
  3. Put water in the larger pot and set the double boiler on top. Put chocolate in. Break up if it’s baking bar chocolate. Turn heat on medium. The water will heat up and the chocolate will melt.
  4. Put butter, sugar, water, and corn syrup into the smaller pot. Turn stove on to medium. Affix the thermometer inside the pot so it makes contact with the melted ingredients but doesn’t touch the bottom.
  5. Stir constantly while mixture cooks. When it reaches 300F on the candy thermometer, remove from heat, add almonds and stir quickly, then pour the entire mixture into the 13×9 pan. Use a spatula to spread it evenly on the bottom of the pan. It cools quickly.
  6. Let the candy cool in the pan. (You can put it in the fridge to speed it up.)
  7. Once cool, gently turn the pan over onto the parchment paper and press. The candy should drop onto the paper.
  8. Using a spatula, spread half of the melted chocolate on the candy, then sprinkle .5 cup of almonds over the top. Allow it to set. (Again, refrigerate to speed it up.)
  9. Turn the block of candy over carefully and coat that side with remaining chocolate. Sprinkle with remaining almonds. Let set.
  10. Try not to eat it all at once.

This can be broken into smaller pieces for gifts.

An Attachment

There is nothing wrong with learning, or reading and owning books. Yet I recognize in myself an attachment to a delusion that words can end my suffering. Books represent security to me — the idea that if I read enough, learn enough, I can control life. I can create safety. The awareness that I don’t know enough, and that words and ideas will impart wisdom. Sometimes I tell myself I need to purchase a book because I cannot borrow it from the public library even via interlibrary loan (I like to read somewhat uncommon titles). At the root of this story, however, is the reflexive movement toward the familiar role of student. I delay action and avoid discomfort by returning to a role I know so intimately.

In the past I’ve purged books from my shelves. I engage in a little dance with the books that remain, telling myself that some of them I will probably use sometime (they number in hundreds). It’s an interesting experience to look at a book and decide whether it departs, and why. Sometimes I feel like a queen hoarding and counting her gold pieces.

And yet, books have been steady companions in my life.

Community Suit: Books

Choices To Be Made

You find yourself disillusioned with the irrevocable personal losses: your health, your lover, your job, your hope, your dream. Your whole life is filled with losses, endless losses. And every time there are losses there are choices to be made. You choose to live your losses as passages to anger, blame, hatred, depression, and resentment, or you choose to let these losses be passages to something new, something wider, and deeper. The question is not how to avoid loss and make it not happen, but how to choose it as a passage, as an exodus to greater life and freedom.
— Henri Nouwen

DSC04040

Practice

witches brew

I’ve had this mug over 30 years. I received it as a thank-you gift for supporting my local PBS station in Syracuse. It’s one of the best things I’ve owned, in that it is lovely to look at, comfortable to hold, a just-right size, and made of a clay that retains heat. To my amazement, it has survived 15 household moves, including two cross-country ones.

Every single morning, unless I’m ill in bed, I brew one pour-over mug of coffee. It’s a small ritual that anchors my day. As I looked at it this morning with steam wafting up, it reminded me of a witch’s brew in a cauldron. I’m entering my crone years, and I embrace the creativity and crazy wisdom that emerges in this age.

Last summer I realized there is another practice that I have inconsistently applied, one that opens me to appreciating and awakening to life. A practice that I need, because it really does help me be sane, and that can only help the world. I realized that if I can take time to make a single cup of coffee without fail every single day, surely I can do this other practice every single day. So, I committed. And 132 days later, it has become integral to my life.

Now I am looking at other practices that I know support my life and, indirectly, other people. I am setting an intention to do them, which means designating a time and place, and treating it as if I am meeting a loved one.

I would like to share this reflection on the power of small practices: Your Bed Is Your Head.

Polymer Clay Play

I began a painting over a month ago, but work on it has stalled. I did a little work on it today but it frustrated me. The urge to create something was almost overwhelming, so I turned to a different medium: polymer clay. I just desperately needed to make something. The result — three Christmas ornaments and two ring dishes. They are very petite. Just right for a stocking stuffer. I’m not sure who will be the recipients, and maybe I will just release them into the world.

polymer clay experiments

Aglow

A long time ago I stopped trick-or-treating. I remember taking my brother when I was about 16, but I stopped dressing up and getting treats at age 12. My daughter is 12 this year, and her desire to roam door to door hasn’t waned, in part because I’ve been an enthusiastic participant celebrating vicariously through her! And also because she has friends who want to go. However, this year I’ve been ambivalent toward Halloween. Didn’t really want to decorate; my daughter helped. Didn’t want to carve a pumpkin. However, Claire said she would be sad if there wasn’t a jack-o-lantern this year. She asked me to carve an Owo face. Being an uncool parent I had no idea what this meant, so she drew it for me. As it turned out, once I got started with the cutting and scooping, I felt calm enjoyment in the project. So here is the Owo pumpkin with its hat and without. Happy Halloween!

Owo pumpkin
Owo pumpkin aglow

Simply Pay Attention

Existence is hard; it is literal suffering. It has wonders and joys, amazements and fascinations, yes. And it has love. All of this along with suffering, which happens to us and which we inflict on others and our own selves. Claire once asked me, if life is suffering, what is the point of being alive? In the end it seems simple enough: we are Life experiencing itself. We are Consciousness holding everything. We are the Mystery. It doesn’t bear too much thinking about, because thinking is a distraction. Better to simply pay attention to what is happening right now, what is right in front of me, and to meet it as fully and with as much attention as I can.

Taking my own advice, I happened to notice the sunlight on freshly washed grapes when I made my lunch. After visually appreciating them for a time, before relishing them in my mouth, I snapped a photo to share.

grapessun