Our friends, Greg and Sherry, bought an old barn on a large piece of property in Minnesota a couple of years ago. Since then they have spent a lot of time between here, Jacksonville, and there, making changes, clearing a few trees around the barn, and putting on an addition to the original structure. Out of the old barn has emerged a lovely living space of two bedrooms, a bathroom, an open plan kitchen, dining room and lounge area, plus a nice comfortable screened in porch.
There is still a lot of work to do, but the main thrust is there. The rest is mainly “accessorizing”: putting in permanent flooring, deciding on décor and finishes, and painting the exterior. The barn-house is surrounded by woodland and even though there are two sets of neighbors living close by, the trees almost completely hide the other houses from view.
Five days into our retirement ride we stopped to visit with Greg and Sherry. In fact we spent 4 blissful days with them in their “little piece of paradise” (my label). One element of this new habitat that I really enjoyed is that they have installed floor to ceiling windows in the dining room and on both sides of the spacious lounge. This means that not only does a lot of natural light fill the home but it also seems like sitting in the middle of the woods – but with all mod cons!
While we were there, I spent my early morning quiet time sitting in a chair right up against one of these enormous windows. With my meditation books in hand and a cup of herbal tea close by, I was truly in “God’s space”. Greg and Sherry have placed several bird feeders within a few yards of this particular window and the morning activity was quite frenzied. Nuthatches and Downy Woodpeckers vied with Hairy Woodpeckers and Chickadees as well as some small sparrows and titmice, while the hummingbirds buzzed in and out. I also saw a bluebird one day.
The squirrels up there were enormous, about twice the size of squirrels down here in Florida. Although Greg and Sherry had installed a really interesting squirrel feeder for them, they still came and tried to access the bird feeders once in a while. But they also had a plentiful supply of corn down on the ground because our friends also took care of the numerous deer that would come almost up to the house in search of food.
Every evening at about 9pm we would spot movement out among the trees. We would turn off the lights inside the house, and soon we would see the deer emerging cautiously from the trees and coming toward a large block of salt that Greg and Sherry had attached to a tree, and also toward a long wooden palette that lay close by on the ground piled high with corn. They are such graceful creatures and are a delight to watch. One evening we were treated to the spectacle of a mother deer with her two young ones.
During the four days that we stayed, I also got to see an animal that I had never seen before – at least, not in real life. I’m sure you’ve all heard them “singing” and maybe even seen them in an animated movie. Yes, I’m talking about the chipmunk. I was so amazed at how small they were! I had always imagined chipmunks to be the size of a squirrel, but instead they are these tiny little animals probably about the size of a hamster. They were very entertaining scampering here and there in the undergrowth. Richard managed to get some really good pictures one day as a chipmunk decided to sit on a small fallen log not far from the window and complete his/her morning ablutions.
Although they did not come into the yard, we also saw many Canadian geese and wild turkeys not too far from the house as we made various trips in the surrounding area. There were two very large fields on opposite sides of a nearby road that had been mowed recently, and the geese were there in large numbers mainly in the morning, probably more than a hundred at a time, feeding on whatever geese feed on. The turkeys were usually in a lower section of the field apart from the geese.
It was such a joy to be surrounded by so much of nature’s wonders that God created for our pleasure. I am so grateful that Sherry and Greg gave us such great hospitality in their tranquil haven, and I hope it won’t be too long before we can go back and enjoy it some more. We have to go back anyway, so that we can see the finished product that is their summer retreat!
As I slowly emerged from my “dark ages”, poetry was a medium that I used to express much of what was happening in my life. The free-flowing poem below represents a kind of summary of my downward spiral, followed by my first attempt to “come back to life”. It reminds me of how I desperately gasped for air during my near drowning experience at age nine.
In search of life and love I boldly ventured forth,
Or so I thought; I wanted all and wanting took in greed,
Each sensation grasping with both hands
To then remain dissatisfied for wanting more.
This world to me must yield its very soul
Its every palpitating breath,
That I might live each passion to the core
And drink the cup of happiness that I deserved.
Come vaporous vine!
Take me into your sun-drenched arms,
Enfold me in your warm embrace.
What ethereal Utopia is your gift
Of deep oblivion.
No pain can touch me, nor bitterness
Taint my chalice of perfection,
With you beside me as my constant friend.
But what is this that you demand?
You crave attention more than I.
Indeed, not mere attention – this is total slavery!
Where are your magic powers and promised reverie
For those who sip your nectar so divine?
I asked not for this mad confusion
Nor this tormented soul!
Dear God, I feel abandoned and alone.
This kaleidoscope of colors many hued
By children of innocence is perhaps enjoyed,
But my tired eyes and heavy head
Crave not such gaudiness.
Where are my jewels, my crown and scepter gold?
Where is the kingdom that I rule
With all prostrate beneath my very feet?
Why does my head pound to the rhythm
Of a thousand dervish drums from hell?
To me was promised heaven - paradise!
Merciful night comes down upon this nightmare,
But I find not solace in my sleep
As bitter yellow bile rebels within my guts.
Cool hand of death that you were near
To relieve my tortured and tormented soul.
No! No! I do not want to die,
To pass unnoticed into the spirit world.
And yet this is not living –
This agonized confusion in my heart.
Can this be the grandiose person that I was,
Who craved so much for life and living?
Who now grovels at the feet of Bacchus,
Leering god of ultimate rejection.
Dear God where are you in my hour of need?
Dare I call upon you whom I have long ignored?
Your once proud child in new humility
Beseeches your assistance, your support.
I am not strength personified as I believed,
But rather like a motherless new-born babe.
Be my Mother, be my Father too
For this death wish is just another fallacy,
Another road to take, to run, to hide, to flee
From life that I so truly long for.
Lift this veil of visions from my eyes,
And let love flood my soul,
For I would drink no more of Bacchus’ opiate,
But of the cup of life.
And if to gain my freedom I must burn,
Then I am ready to accept the flame
Of your immense and deeply cleansing love.
Knowing that you hold the healing balm
Will give me strength to suffer what I must.
For now I see your hand stretched out toward me
That for so long has waited patiently,
You never did abandon my lost soul,
I chose to wander losing sight of thee.
My life till now has been an emptiness
Of barren spaces void of any truth,
Honest feelings always have escaped me;
Yet no, if truth is what I search, let truth prevail,
‘Twas I escaping everything.
Now I must learn to take my steps again,
To fall, then rise to fall once more
And ever rise again –
But not lose heart.
For you my Father, Mother, and my Friend
Will walk with me if I but meekly ask.
And in your love so infinite and wise
Will I find strength to seek reality.
© 20 September 1980
My third up-close encounter with dolphins took place at Discovery Cove in Orlando in early September of 2003. Richard and I had just installed our daughter in college in St. Augustine and were spending a few days together in Orlando before heading back to Italy.
The previous ten days had been hectic. We had touched down in Orlando and gone straight to Disney. We had always promised Melissa a visit to Magic Kingdom, so did it really matter that she was eighteen years old? After three days of “doing the parks” we headed up to Jacksonville where we stayed with friends while we acquired Melissa’s “stuff” for college.
Several hundreds of dollars later and having formed an intimate relationship with Wal-Mart and Target, we took Melissa and said “stuff” to college. We stayed overnight in a nearby hotel and fielded calls about more “stuff” that she needed, necessitating another late night trip to Wal-Mart where I almost had a heart attack as my daughter smugly told me in yet another phone call that she had just been laid. ( As in having a lei placed around her neck – the correct spelling didn’t come across the phone!!!)
I was more than ready for a few days of peace and quiet in a beautiful hotel resort and some quality time with my husband. Apart from lazing around the hotel pool, enjoying room service, and watching some TV we only had one grand plan. When Richard had booked these few days he had also acquired tickets for a day at Discovery Cove.
Discovery Cove is nothing like a Disney Park. Yes, it is a man-made paradise but it is just that – a paradise. I’m not sure exactly how big it is but they limit the number of people that can enter in one day to one thousand, and we never felt crowded. There is lush tropical planting, gorgeous flowers everywhere, lovely walk ways, and a “river” that surrounds the whole park that you can tube in.
At the Center of Discovery Cove are three man-made lagoons but they look very natural and very real. One lagoon contains over 800 species of fish and after donning the wet suit that we had been provided with we slipped in among the rocks and swam around. It was quite an incredible experience to snorkel in the middle of hundreds of fish of different shapes and sizes and colours. I reached out several times and touched Mantas as they swam by flapping their “wings” in slow ripples of movement. Nature is truly a great marvel.
In the middle of this lagoon was an island with a ship-wrecked boat on the other side. To get round there we swam through a deeper section of the lagoon where larger fish swam lazily back and forth. As we approached the ship wreck we saw a huge gash in its side and I almost had another heart attack. Inside the hole were many sharks. It took me a moment to realize that there was thick glass across the opening and that the sharks were contained in an aquarium of sorts.
The second lagoon was created as nature intended. There were a few rocks along one side and the rest was surrounded by beautiful white beach. We chose a spot and took possession of our sun beds and deck chairs and settled in for some serious R & R. It was quiet and peaceful and such a joy to be in these beautiful surroundings. But I could feel a steady tingle of anticipation building in my stomach. The highlight of the day for me was yet to come.
As a special treat Richard had booked me to have a dolphin experience. And so later in the afternoon I went and took my place over at the third and largest lagoon where the dolphins are kept and trained. After watching a video about dolphins and how we should treat them if we should encounter them at sea, we walked into the lagoon. We were divided into small groups of five or six per instructor and then other instructors joined us and gave signals and up came our dolphins. What a magical moment!
I realized immediately that our dolphin was different. He didn’t have the typical snub nose of the bottle-nose dolphin and his forehead was not as pronounced. He reminded me of the dolphins that I had seen depicted in old mosaics over in Europe. The instructor introduced him as JC and explained immediately that he was not a bottle-nose.
We then began to interact with JC as he swam around us and performed various maneuvers at the instructor’s command. We each had the opportunity to hold him in our arms and as he lay there he would roll over so that we could see his underside. I was in another world. I couldn’t believe that I was actually holding this beautiful creature. He was so docile and I was struck by the soft yet intelligent expression in his eyes, and I was reminded of my dolphin in Rimini.
I am not a good swimmer and, due to an almost drowning experience when I was nine years old, I stay in water where I know I am in my depth. So when the instructor said “now you will all have the opportunity to go out to the deeper water and let JC bring you back to shore”, my stomach plummeted, my heart plummeted, and I felt desolate. But immediately I knew I wanted to do this.
I explained my predicament to the instructor and he eased my fears. He promised to swim out there with me and to stay close to me. He told me if at any time I should feel panicky, to let him know and he would support me. He could see I really wanted to do this. But for me it was more than a want or desire; I needed to do this. With my heart in my mouth and forcing myself to stay calm we headed out to the middle of the lagoon.
What can I say. I made it out there and the instructor was wonderful, beside me all the way. Then he made me tread water and held my hand and before I knew it JC had suddenly appeared in front of me. And there we were, face to face, and I knew a total peace and understanding in that moment. The instructor gave a signal and JC slowly turned around and came along side me. Following instructions, I took hold of his dorsal fin with my right hand and his side fin with my left hand.
The next moment we were off, surging through the water with amazing power. Just a few flicks of his tail and some incredible thrusts of that sleek but strong body and we were flying. There was no time for fear. There was no place for fear. We were doing this together, JC and me, and I felt like I could have followed him with no hesitation to the ocean floor. How magnificent I felt in those few moments that it took him to bring me to the beach, and how sad I felt as I realized that I had to let him go.