BARE GRACE

My intention when I began this blog was to create a place to share reflections, essays, prose, poems and photos of the creatures that I have met or may yet encounter in the forest here in the western mountains of Maine or elsewhere.

As an cognitive ethologist and psychologist (Jungian therapist) when I observe animal behavior in the wild I am always asking myself what the animal might be thinking. I pay particular attention to the relationship that develops between an animal and myself over time. I also question the role of projection on my part when I am pulled into an animal’s field of influence without understanding why. Most important I follow gut feelings and any nudges when observing any animal. I am a woman with Native American roots – is that why I make the assumption that every creature has something to teach me? I think of the natural world as being a place of deep learning and wonder.

It is my experience that intention and attention on the part of the observer opens a magic door, and once over the threshold inter-species communication becomes possible. I would like to invite others to cross that threshold with me.

As a feminist, ritual artist, and a writer I am Her advocate, that is, Nature’s advocate. I believe that when I write about the animals and plants I am giving voice to their truths as well as my own.

I developed an intimate relationship with the black bear in the above photo for a number of years while I was engaged in an independent, trust based study of his kinship group (15 years). Little Bee interacted with me on a regular basis but always preferred to “hide” behind a screen of leaves and saplings while doing so. Whenever I was around him I felt touched by “Bare Grace”.

Please feel free to comment. I would love to communicate with anyone who wants to share experiences they have had in Nature or simply make observations about what I have written.

If you would like more information about me, please read the essay on how I became a Naturalist…

Unfortunately, I am dyslexic with numbers and directions and have a difficult time with the computer in general and with WordPress in particular so I ask the reader to forgive me for the errors I will surely continue to make.

Sara Wright

12/29/16

I am spending the winter in Abiquiu New Mexico and am currently using my blog as a journal of my experiences in this mysteriously beautiful place. I ask that the reader bear with me as I continue this process… some entries will, of course, be about my relationship with animals, but others will not.

As it turns out I am presently a “snowbird” having returned to Abiquiu for the winter and spring of 2017 and 2018.

With deep appreciation,

Sara

 

Nature’s Most Industrious Builder

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(photo credit Lynn Rogers)

“Yesterday I wondered why the beavers were making paths up the outside of their lodge. Today, they spent the day showing me. Three beavers repeatedly dove down and grabbed vegetation and mud from the bottom of the lake and walked armload after armload of it up the paths to the top of the lodge. They emerged from the water walking upright, using only their back legs to walk up the steep sides of the lodge with their very short arms holding the load against their jaws and cheeks. The picture was taken from over a tenth of a mile away… At one point today I saw two beavers walking up a path side my side, both on their hind legs.

One of the beavers also spent time on the food cache eating branches that were above water. Later they will be swimming out from the lodge underwater, nipping off branches, and carrying them into the lodge to eat the bark and cambium as we observed on a beaver cam (webcam) that was in this lodge 20 years ago. Scenes from those old videos now play in the Northwoods Ecology Hall of the Bear Center (NABC) after playing for years in the Duluth Aquarium.”

The above excerpt was taken from Dr. Lynn Rogers “Daily Updates” from the Wildlife Research Center in Minnesota (WRI). I have been following this beaver story with great interest remembering my own experiences with beavers while living in Andover, Maine 35 years ago…

A wide slow moving stream meandered its way to the sea below the house on the hill and beavers had made a solid dam and erected a domed lodge in the center of the stream. Early in the summer the parents would swim up to me with their kits as I sat quietly on my bench by the water (a bench my father had built for his daughter.) Watching those furry little heads with bright beady eyes peer at me curiously as they swam next to their parents is a sight that I will never forget.

I soon learned the lodge was occupied by three generations of beavers. The beavers spent part of each summer “logging” the poplars at the edge of the stream. They created open mud slides that led to open water and every night I would sit on the little bench and watch these industrious creatures cut off the branches and swim with their small logs to the dam. Upon arrival they gnawed smaller branches off the logs divesting them of most of the leaves which they ate. They took some to the dam to shore it up and repair any leaks. As long as I sat quietly the beavers went about their work as if I wasn’t even there, but if I stood up suddenly or tried to rid myself of mosquitos by waving my hands, one beaver or another would slap his tail making a great fuss!  By midsummer the little kits could be seen swimming with a slender stick or two towards the lodge imitating their parents. There was something about those bright-eyed little kits that stole my heart. Later in the summer the beavers began to disappear under water with tender poplar branches. Those tasty leaves and sticks would feed them throughout the coming winter.

Perhaps the most astounding experience occurred the night an adult beaver climbed out of the water and stood up only a few feet away from me. I froze, barely breathing, but spoke to this adult in a low voice thanking him for the trust he and his extended family had showered upon me by giving me such a spectacular glimpse into the beavers complex world.

As fall set in that first year and every year thereafter beaver activity increased and many evenings I witnessed the beavers walking up their lodges in exactly the way that Lynn describes. I also watched the slow moving stream slide under skim ice. I observed the beavers from my bench for shorter and shorter periods now because of the cold, huddled in my winter coat.

The first year I spent beaver -watching my father died suddenly on November 9th (the anniversary of his death is today, just three days before the full beaver moon). Just before I got the call I awakened from a dream that simply said:

“Your dad has become a beaver.”

As the shock wore off and grieving set in I thought a lot about my father’s life. By profession he was an aeronautical engineer who founded his own international packaging company. He was a driven man who had alienated his children with his unpredictable violent outbursts, and it wasn’t until mid life that he began to be accountable for his behavior. It was then that I was able to see for the first time that my father also loved both of his children deeply. Family violence had destroyed my brother’s and my earlier relationship with him, acts that would have tragic consequences for my brother who turned that violence upon himself – dying by a self inflicted gunshot wound after graduating from Harvard with honors. My brother was also an international runner of great acclaim. This same violence destroyed my nervous system for life.

After my father’s untimely death I thought a lot about the relationship between my father and the beavers. The one hobby that my father cultivated when he wasn’t working professionally was carpentry. He was what I would call an extraordinary builder and finish carpenter in his spare time. He and my grandfather built one of the homes we lived in and my father designed and engineered the entire enterprise.

To dream that my dad had become a beaver on the day of his death after I had spent an entire summer submerged in the beavers’ world seemed uncanny, prescient. After he died whenever I watched those beavers I also saw my dad, remembering how hard he worked, how generous he was to others in need, how loyal he was to his family. To think of my dad as a beaver brought me enormous comfort and gave me some hope that something of him lived on in a positive way.

As thanksgiving approached that first year I knew that I would be spending the weekend alone except for the beavers, who by this time, had disappeared under ice. I decided to honor my father and the beavers together by giving my friends a present. So on thanksgiving day I took my handsaw and chopped down two tender poplars after asking for permission to do so… Next I took a crowbar and bored a big hole in the ice not far from the lodge and stuffed the first poplars into icy black waters. Late that day I sat on my frozen bench and called to the beavers, telling them that I had a present for them. I stayed there until almost dusk half frozen – hoping for a sleek brown head to appear, but of course no one did. Yet, when I walked up the hill, I felt as if I had done something important that mattered.

That night I lit a candle for my dad next to the box of ashes that I alone was responsible for burying. The place I had chosen was in a cedar grove next to a mountain brook, but I had not yet finished clearing and preparing the spot.

The next morning I raced down the hill to the stream, and to my amazement and joy, the poplar branches had disappeared! For the next three days I repeated poplar gift giving after reopening the hole in the ice, though I never glimpsed my friends.

In a few days the cold set in for good and a light covering of snow covered the lodge. I loved the fact that the beavers were warm and toasty in their house under the ice. For some reason just knowing they were there brought me an amazing amount of comfort, and all that winter not one day ever passed when I didn’t think of my dad with love.

PLEASE CHECK OUT THE FOLLOWING RESPONSE – AMAZING!

Check out this article «BEAVERS AND FATHERS REMEMBERED»: https://www.martinezbeavers.org/wordpress/2019/11/11/beavers-and-fathers-remembered/

The Littlest Lizard

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A little voice called me to the door breaking my afternoon meditation. ‘The Littlest Lizard is out and about.’ Without thinking I grabbed my IPhone, opened the door and was disappointed to see that the sun had already left Littlest Lizard’s lair, a rocky crevice in the cactus garden wall.

 

Disappointed, I turned to re –enter the house and there he was, clinging to the wall like spiderman, just inches away from my face. “Oh, there you are” I exclaimed happily as I snapped a few pictures taking careful note of his girth. He bowed to me three times.

 

This sagebrush lizard is only about an inch and a half long (with tail) and is the only lizard that has been around for the last ten days. The other three little lizards must have fattened up enough to brumate, but this little guy is so tiny that he has to keep hunting to survive the coming winter.

 

I am pleased to report that Littlest Lizard is gaining the necessary weight. Every warm day I meet up with him and we have a conversation while he basks in the sun above his crevice or on the adobe wall keeping a sharp eye out for potential prey.

 

And every day when he appears I run for the camera only to discover that he has disappeared like a phantom. This habit of his has been driving me crazy because I wanted just one good picture of him, a picture that would indicate that he might really be as small as I say he is. Today I may have succeeded thanks to that insistent little voice. I love the way Littlest Lizard turned around to peer at me as if to say – ‘that’s enough’ after I took two pictures.

 

Most animals I know would prefer not to have a human peering at them through any kind of lens. My dogs are a good example. If they see me coming with a camera they immediately close their eyes or turn their heads away. I’ve followed bears that led me through thick brush and briar patches turning around every few minutes to check on the progress of the annoying human with the black box and never letting me get close enough to get one decent photo.

 

Don’t ask me why but sagebrush lizards are my favorite reptiles in the world. As a child I do remember going to the circus where my little brother and I could buy geckos for 10 cents that clung to our coats after being attached by a tether and pin. Of course I was too young then to understand the cruelty involved. Most of these hapless lizards soon expired. My mother showed us how to feed them by attaching a bit of hamburger to a piece of thread, and a couple survived for a while. I shudder now just thinking about those poor reptiles hanging on for life on cold winter days…

 

I’d like to think that my present relationship with sagebrush lizards has helped to even out my unintentional childhood unkindness towards the geckos that I so eagerly bought with my allowance.

 

When I first arrived back in Abiquiu I was distraught believing that all my house lizards were dead. The first day I ran into a very well fed garter snake that slithered into the cactus garden wall. Normally, I am very fond of snakes but when I spent three days calling for the seven plus ‘house lizards,’ and no one appeared, I despaired. With all the five – foot prickly weeds cascading over the overgrown garden and obliterating the path to the house I figured my sagebrush lizard family had all been eaten. Most of their basking territory was covered in an unruly green jungle.

 

Imagine my shock the fourth morning when I called out to my friends for a final time while attacking nasty weeds with a pair of clippers (that eventually left me with horrible blisters and bloody hands) when my favorite female lizard suddenly materialized with her very distinct markings. She was so plump! Thrilled to see her I moved slowly towards the wall. When she bowed to me I knew she remembered me and was acknowledging me as her friend. This lizard lets me pet her, and sure enough after a bit of conversation I was able to stroke her velvety back a few times before she moved away. Is she some sort of lizard “watchdog – woman” looking out for her own kind I wondered, because by mid afternoon most of my lizards appeared in their usual spots as if they had been there all along.

 

Why three days of invisibility? Did these lizards think I abandoned them? If they only knew… I thought about each of them every day all summer long. Unfortunately, I was missing a couple of adults; they never returned. But now I also had four new baby lizards – one of which was barely an inch long.

 

When the first hard frost hit early in October most of the adults disappeared quite suddenly except my favorite mother, her mate, and another pair that still appeared on warm afternoons. My beautifully marked mother was now so well padded that I wondered how she had room to swallow even one more ant! I last saw the mother who I have now re-named the “watchdog lizard” ten days ago. The four little ones continued to appear until the end of the first week in November. Now I only see Littlest lizard. I am delighted to see how canny this little one is, always keeping close to cover. As long as I am there without a camera he is quite friendly although he will not tolerate my touch (I actually have no idea if this lizard is a male or female because he’s too young to sex).

 

Now that the days are short and the cottonwood leaves are drifting to the ground even on windless days I know my time with the Littlest Lizard is coming to an end, but I am reasonably certain that this appealing little fellow will see another spring… and I shall be joyously awaiting his return.

 

A natural history note on bowing:

 

Bowing is a part of spring mating rituals and I have witnessed this behavior many times, but I have also learned that it is a form of communication that these lizards routinely use with me. I have never read anything in any literature about bowing with respect to general communication. When a lizard bows to me s/he is conversing with me in his/her own language.

 

A second scientific note about having a personal relationship with lizards:

 

Both humans and non – human animals have limbic systems within their brains that are closely involved with the regulation of emotions especially in the amygdala. The limbic system was present in the ancestors of reptiles, mammals, and birds. It is an ancient emotional activation system that we share with countless other species. The love I feel for my lizards is real and evolutionarily ancient. I have no doubt that these relationships are reciprocal.

Forgiveness as a Weapon of Self Destruction

 

Forgiveness is a “virtue” that I was taught too well. I have spent most of my 75 years attempting to ‘forgive’ people for wrongs they have committed with a great deal of success.

 

Recently, after yet another brutal betrayal I heard myself say to my friend quite desperately, “ I have to get over this” as my voice cracked with anguish. Even as I spoke the words the Voice of my body cried out “NO! Not this time.” And this time I listened.

 

Reflecting upon my limited options with regard to the usually hidden, sometimes outwardly shocking acts of violence that dominate my neighbor’s split psyche, I recently decided that I had only two possible choices. The first solution is simple; I had already considered it: I simply leave – walk out – for good. And it may be that this is my only realistic option.

 

The second choice is more complex and may depend more upon me, and my psyche, than his. After wasting two and a half years of my life trying to adapt to periodic insanity by a clever man who feigns stupidity or the fact that he didn’t hear what I said, a man who routinely uses lies and denial to cover his tracks, a man who refuses to take responsibility for his actions on any level, I surrender.

 

Because my neighbor has periods when he is generous and apparently kind I have been too long “coming to knowing.” In my defense, these last two and half years have had me locked into a perpetual state of confusion, trying to make sense out of insanity.

 

Responsibility for trying falls squarely on me, and has everything to do with my personal history – my 50 percent. And I admit it. There were many times I actually felt sorry for this man during his quiet periods. I also attempted again and again to befriend him in a genuine way, offering companionship, compassion, and forgiveness of wrongs done, although I made it clear from the beginning that anything more than friendship has always been out of the question.

 

But crazy takes its toll. It is impossible to trust a man like this and for obvious reasons my lack of trust mushroomed over time. I also was forced to put more emotional distance between us, and now I am at the point where I choose not to allow this man in my house.

 

If I can’t protect myself from this man’s senseless acts of violence on a psychological, emotional, and psychic level then I will leave.

 

Because he victimizes me by driving insanely fast and dangerously, I won’t go anywhere with him by choice unless I have no other alternative – a recent example of this occurred when I had to let him drive me for a heart test because I couldn’t drive myself. I am severely dyslexic with directions and cannot drive through traffic of any kind – few realize what a severe limitation this is.

 

I must make it clear that otherwise his acts of violence are not directed at me on an overtly physical level. However, with that much said, I also know that my health is adversely affected by his toxic energy when he is in this fugue state. When he first acted out viciously (this went on for months) I ended up severely ill. Because of his refusal to own his rage, it became a form of poison that infected me. I also wasted so much useless energy being angry, or conversely trying to ‘work things out’ so we could be friends and I could live here in peace.

 

Surrender has definite advantages. I am no longer interested in having any sort of relationship with my neighbor. I am no longer sure I want to live here at all. What I want is to stay here for the remainder of this winter and see how I feel in the spring. However, I have a back up plan in place in case I can’t. I will be able to return to my house in Maine during the winter if necessary because I am keeping the road plowed.

 

If I can live here safely without becoming ill I will have to use every resource at my disposal. I am putting up physical and emotional blocks in every direction. But I am also aware that because I am a “daughter of the earth,” that is, a woman whose relationship with Nature is primary, that I have very fluid boundaries that work against me in this sort of situation. This means that psychically I remain very vulnerable, and by extension so do both my dogs, both of which have also become ill in the last year that we have lived here.

 

Up until this last brutal act of violence (when this man severed the limbs of beloved cottonwoods that provided this “Tree Woman” with a sanctuary and a cathedral), during the quiet times I would find myself forgiving him for his disgusting behavior.

 

But all that changed the day I heard myself say to my friend that I must get beyond this last betrayal.

 

When my body screamed “NO” I finally heard her.

 

Later, reflecting upon forgiveness I wrote that it is often used as a weapon to control people and to allow abuse to continue to flourish. After writing these words I thought of all the years I wasted forgiving people who didn’t deserve my forgiveness and here I was living out this pattern again.

 

Today I am clear, perhaps for the first time. Forgiveness has no place in this story predicated on all kinds of abuse. I do not forgive this man for this latest act of violence. Instead, I hold him accountable even as I return his violent impulses to him.

 

And, I make a conscious choice to release my anger, while hoping that psychically I can hold a firm boundary between us, even build a solid psychic wall out of the ugly stones he piles up all over this property, at least for now.

November 2: All Souls Day

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“Women must know where they are going, how to get there, and how to get back.” Laura Shannon

 

Living part time in New Mexico, I see a lot of commercial skulls, witches, black cats etc. that mark this turning but I don’t see the rituals that once accompanied the ancient three day festival that is known as the Feast of the Dead and is comprised of All Hallows, All Saints Day, and lastly, today, All Souls Day.

 

Because I am attached to each cycle of the year in an intimate way I create ritual for each of these turnings using the Celtic calendar because it fits with what is happening around me in Nature. I am a Daughter of the Earth.

 

The leaves are falling and white frost covers the ground. Winter birds have arrived. It is too dark in the morning

 

This year I noticed how deeply private my ritual was, how focused my writing was on personal survival, structural integrity and health of my body, ‘my house’, the absolute necessity of honoring feelings in this body.

 

Normally during these three days I light candles for others and say prayers for those who have gone before, and remember my family – although family memory is rife with pain and betrayal .

 

This year these three days are passing with me aware of but not focused on the dead but on me. I have been wondering what it means that I need to turn so much attention on myself.

 

Making my way to the river through chopped off tree arms in the pre-dawn I was struck by the relationship between the severing of these beloved cottonwood limbs by the man who owns this property, the resulting destruction of my cottonwood cathedral, the powerful feeling that I was/am living the myth of the girl who had her hands severed by her father and his ax, the terrible violence inherent in this story, and how I close I came yesterday to chopping off my own finger while splitting kindling. But didn’t. My ritual intentions were/are twofold: protection of the structure and integrity of this body – house and to “re-member” what was done to the trees and me.

 

I don’t want to hold onto my anger but I want to remember.

 

By remembering I gain the necessary courage to create change.

 

During this writing has it become clear that this need for honoring trees in death is just as important as honoring them in life. I am more intimately attached  to my three – day ritual and the re kindling of the soul – literally and metaphorically – than ever before. On one hand I remember the dead, on the other I celebrate the sanctity of all life through trees – those that are maimed or dead, and those that are evergreen (a universal symbol for “everlasting” life). There is a wholeness, an integrity attached to this relationship between the days of the dead, my expression through ritual, and what happens in my life that I find especially moving. The souls of those tree limbs live on.

 

On my walk this morning I also discovered a perfect bird’s nest woven out of reeds and grasses, completely empty except for shriveled brown leaves. I gently and reverently removed the nest, and cupping it in frozen hands, brought it back to the house, placing it in the center of the tree that I adorned with lights and crystals just yesterday.

 

I have been lighting up an evergreen tree early in November for about the last 10 years without understanding why except that it felt right. I follow my instincts when it comes to ritual (unfortunately, the rest of the time I often succumb to logic and reason in inappropriate ways especially when under pressure). For the next three months I will be acknowledging my love for trees in a very deliberate and conscious way…

 

To find the empty nest on All Souls Day is significant for three reasons. The nest embodies loss but also acts as a container for the dead, (lost tree limbs)…and perhaps for me.

Bless Be the Trees that Bind

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Photo credit Lynn Rogers

 

Today I begin to honor all trees as we enter the dark months of the year. The (three) Days of the Dead are on our doorstep and the veil thins – this is a reality that so many refuse to experience out of fear. This weekend we will return to “natural” or Indigenous time – giving us a chance to rise with an early morning sunrise and to allow a darkening sky to wrap her velvet cloak around us as the days continue to shorten. Nights are long and sweet, inviting contemplation, dreams, and deep abiding gratitude to befriend us.

 

This year, perhaps more than any other, I am crossing this threshold feeling a peace that I haven’t felt in months. Not because my life is simpler – it isn’t – I face so many unknowns – conflicts remain and some have escalated as well as darkened, health issues are unresolved. However, I am emotionally aligned with this seasonal change and the loss of harsh white light – a fierce light that casts no shadow. We live in such a frenzied culture. I am so negatively impacted by the monstrous amount of violence, the hatred, the lack of empathy that surrounds us … somehow the darkness helps me to process these daily atrocities with more equilibrium…

 

When the Great Bear rises in the early evening at this turning of the wheel I give thanks knowing that bear slaughter is coming to an end in a few weeks time. Hopefully, because of the cold, most bears that survive the hunt are bedding down beneath the roots of welcoming trees…

 

All trees are my steadfast friends. Around the house I have tied bits of orange ribbon to new seedlings that will someday spread their canopies over an unyielding desert floor (if left to grow when I am gone).

 

I continue to water my junipers who are so well adapted to desert conditions that they can continue to absorb moisture much longer than other trees, these same junipers that are being sprayed with deadly herbicides to kill them off.

 

Inside during the next few days I will be adorning the base of my Norfolk pine with a ring of white lights to celebrate this season of tree gratitude.

 

I have already tipped fragrant fir, pinion, and juniper greens for a wreath that I will weave some time in the next few weeks to honor the Circle of Life.

 

Outside, my adopted juniper provides juncos, sparrows, chickadees, thrasher, and flicker with predator protection. My tree was starved for water after four months of probable, not so benign neglect in my absence, her growth stunted, bunches of needles withered and dry.

Interrupting this cycle with watering, quiet conversation, and the power of touch I notice the tree has responded by turning her needles a dark spruce green – a welcome change from former ashen gray. This tree has a star at her center to celebrate the sanctity of our bodies – the importance of genuine feeling – When I think of trees I also think of women, especially the women of myth who turned themselves into trees or were turned by others into them – but I also associate trees with genuinely kind, loving and heroic men like Dr. Lynn Rogers who has advocated for white pine trees in Minnesota for decades…

 

Because of my intimate relationship with trees and plants I experience their losses on a visceral level, and am presently dealing with the violence that one man enacted on the limbs of the gracious cottonwoods that once created a cathedral on the path to the river. I told this man that what he did to the trees by chopping off their limbs, he did to me, and of course, that was his intent. This act of personal revenge for some imagined slight has left me grieving.

 

What I didn’t realize until this morning is that my dreams forecast this egregious action before it occurred. It was written into the stars and part of one man’s pathology. What he gained is questionable because as a tree woman I will not forgive him… I create a deliberate intention to remember… and perhaps in the process I can in some way “re-member” those broken cottonwood limbs returning them to wholeness like the girl who lost her hands.

Forgiveness is sometimes a way to release one’s hold on truths that often need personal attention. And violence is perhaps most deadly when it occurs covertly because hidden brutality paves the way for “forget it and just move on,” not surprisingly, this tree maiming man’s philosophy… he lives it well.

So I approach this time of year grieving personal loss and giving thanks for the trees that bind; all of whom hold me in their arms with Love.

Lady of the Canyon

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And the canyon held her

Like a mother holds

a grieving child

who lost her holy place

to slaughter.

The trees wept.

Today,

she gathered pinion

pine, fir, and spruce

to acknowledge

the sanctity of trees

in this dark season

of golden winter light.

 

She gathers in the greening.

 

The scent of pitch

sticks to hands

tipping branches

In Love.

Giving thanks.

She imagines beloved

Black bears

dancing

behind boulders,

feels a powerful

beary presence nearby…

She has been

offered another gift

in this place

where clear spring waters

tumble down steep mountain cliffs

and watercress grows…

The Man with the Hat

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I met a man on a rumbling train who had hooks in his hat.

 

A fisherman, I thought with the usual dismay – brutal images of dying fish gasping for air exploded in thin air. Memories of my grandmother who took her eight year old granddaughter fly fishing also flooded my mind (my grandmother was a professional fly fisherwoman). I caught my first fish in the brook – a six inch trout. After landing the desperate creature my grandmother said, “ now we must kill it so the fish does not suffer.” And she looked for a stone.

 

Hit it over the head” she instructed handing me a rock she picked up nearby, and I did. Tears welled up. It broke my child’s heart to murder such a shimmering rainbowed creature.

 

When we got home that day, my grandmother praised me lavishly for my catch, promptly gutted the fish and fried it in a pan for me to eat. I forgot the anguish I had experienced, basking in my grandmother’s approval. The fish tasted delicious, and to this day I eat fish and other seafood.

 

As a lobstermen’s wife I learned quickly how to cook crustaceans by sticking their heads in boiling water so they would die almost instantly.

 

No fish ever suffered after it was hauled into our boat. I killed each individual myself, enduring ridicule in the process.

 

My grandmother had taught me well.

 

Yet, becoming a fisherwoman never appealed to me.

 

Instead I became a Naturalist…

 

When the man on the train began talking I politely asked him what kinds of fish he caught. “All kinds” he replied with obvious enthusiasm. Inwardly I groaned, quickly changing the subject to the hooks on his hat.

 

Each one was unique, and all were beautiful and when I told him I had a childhood friend who tied flies he took off his hat and gave it to me to inspect. After admiring the exquisite craftsmanship of each lure the man surprised me with his next remark as he replaced the hat on his head.

 

He exclaimed, “I love to catch fish but I never eat them! I throw each one back. If you look carefully at the hooks you will notice that none of them have a barb.”

 

How had this observation escaped me? Sure enough, each hook was barbless, and I understood that this way the fish could be caught and returned to the sea unharmed. I was suddenly overjoyed to meet the man with the hat. With words of deep appreciation I happily shook his hand, exclaiming how wonderful it was to meet a dedicated fisherman who released his catch!

 

We went on to discuss the merits of conservation with regard to freshwater fishing. Suddenly the man removed his hat again.

 

“I want you to have one of these hooks,” he said quietly handing the hat to me. “We are kindred spirits.”

 

I chose one small perfect fly and carefully wrappd it up in a paper napkin before putting it in my purse. Thanking him.

 

When I got home that night I already knew where the tiny hook would find home. I have a beautiful Norfolk pine and hanging from one branch is a tiny flask that Iren once gave me that I periodically re-fill with our river water. The diminutive bottle is tied to one end of the string and I carefully attached the barbless hook to the other end.

 

Every time I walk by that tree I give thanks for the water that flows from Red Willow River and I remember the man with the hat who loved his fish!

 

But there is more to this story. On my birthday this year Iren and I met someone who had a fish he had recently caught that was still gasping for breath in a plastic bag. I begged him to kill it, offering to do it myself. My offer was rejected and afterwards, Iren, who is a vegetarian, thanked me for trying to save the fish, acknowledging that the experience had been too upsetting for her.

 

Of course, I understood why.

 

Within two weeks of this painful incident I met the man with the hat and now when I pass by my tree I think of Iren, the man, and me. One of us eats fish; the other two do not. But all three of us abhor animal suffering. And that hook has become a symbol of hope. Perhaps there are more of us out there than I thought!