Tuesday, December 30, 2014


I just watched Eliza drive out the road on her way back to Cincinnati, and the emptiness that accompanies her departure has returned to signal the official end of our holiday time together. 

The Shook / Wilders had a wonderful 10 days together - a lot of time in the car with both kids, very special moments in Boone with Mom and Myra, and another Christmas dinner around the table with Aunt Lera, Richard, and the latest member of the family, Colton Moyer, a young man whom Richard brought home for the first time.

Samuel arrived on Christmas Eve morning. Eliza, Myra and I drove to pick him up in Charlotte where we stopped to have a brief visit with Aunt Linda, my dad's next to youngest sister.  She's a very special aunt, and since we don't gather around the table at Grandma Shook's anymore, having an hour or so with her helped fill that void.

Once we got home and Petie got her long-awaited hugs from Samuel, we decorated Mom's tree.  From her chair, she helped out by letting us know where to hang ornaments. Myra sparkled in her Christmas PJ's.  (She bought some for all of us, and eventually, we looked outfit-coordinated enough for one of those classic holiday family portraits.)

One of the many advantages of having adult children is that no one was up and full of energy at 6:00 AM - with the exception of a corgi who had to go outside to pee at 5:45 AM.  Mac was more certain that Red Wolf has ever been that he saw Santa, so yours truly was out on a walk before anyone (except Mr. Big Ears) thought about moving. All I could see while trying not to wake up completely as I slugged down the street was a happy little corgi butt, sashaying over to the rhododendrons to lift a leg. No Santa in sight!

I think everyone was ready to take it easy on Christmas day. We opened a mountain of gifts, had a couple cups of good coffee, and chilled until preparation time for our late lunch rolled around.  Myra, Eliza, and I were in the kitchen together at various times over the day.  The big debate on whether to have mashed potatoes AND macaroni and cheese was decided; Eliza prepared both, and both were appropriately consumed in their entirety.  Myra fixed the turkey and green beans while I prepared the table, cooked some collard greens, and made fruit salad. With Aunt Lera's rolls and cranberry salad, the Shook / Randalls celebrate Christmas Day together as we have for over 50 years.  It doesn't get much better !

All of us had another three days together before we had to return Samuel to the airport and before Myra headed back to Richmond. A bit of shopping, another good meal with the Randalls, a good long walk in the mountains with the dogs, and the annual University of Kentucky vrs. the Louisville Cardinals filled out the days. Time passed too quickly, but we sure did make some moments last!

Myra returned home Sunday morning after Eliza and I left to take Samuel down to Charlotte to spend the day with Harrison before Samuel headed back to Chicago.  Then yesterday morning Eliza and I packed up all our stuff and two corgis and headed back to the farm.  Tradition holds that she and I celebrate our Christmas once we return from NC, so she found some gifts awaiting her under the tree.  I was elated to find the 2015 Witches Calendar and two bird feeders under it for me! (My list is always an easy one to take care of thanks to Amazon.com.)

So now, I'm here with the corgis until tomorrow when I take off to spend a week with my friend, Laida, and a couple of other friends who are in from Cuba.  I look forward to being around festive Cuban energy for New Year's Eve.  I also hope to be on the beach for a couple of walks, as well as enjoy the outdoors without 10 layers of clothes. 

As I look forward to 2015, I know there will be many wonderful things that unfold in my life, not the least of which is RETIREMENT! I plan on getting my body in shape, traveling as much as my retirement budget will allow, making paper, taking photographs, and doing some "artsy" things.  I also will be honored to spend much more time with my mom during her 96th year.

Moving forward, I can't contemplate the horrendous atrocities and uncivil things that tend to define the world today, so I'll cling to my mantra here at the farm and look for those things that open my heart and make me laugh. 

Join my in putting this on your refrigerator and breathing in the spirit of these words into your life:

I swear I will not dishonor my soul with hatred but offer myself humbly as a guardian of peace, as a creator of beauty, as a healer of misery, as an architect of peace.

Best wishes to all for a wonderful, healthy life in 2015 and beyond!

Sunday, December 21, 2014


I don’t really know where to begin to tell today’s story, the day of Winter Solstice. The most powerful day of the year. A day of magic. A day of introspection. A return to the light.

Such was my Solstice experience today. I'll tell the story while it's fresh in my mind. I'm going to write it without edit for now, so it may sound a bit disjointed.

But first, I'll  digress for a moment in preparation for what comes later.

In in the past, one of my greatest holiday joys was watching Samuel’s and Eliza’s faces when they walked in the door from school to find each room decked out with greenery and holiday decorations.
Over the course of the past week, I putzed around the house and cleaned it top to bottom - literally washing down everything as if I were giving the house a bath in preparation of the Solstice, Christmas holidays, and Eliza's arrival. After the wash-down, I smudged every room from top to bottom and opened the window to release the smoke. Despite my pronouncement that decorations would be minimal this year, once I got started I found it impossible not to place all our family favorites around the cleansed house.  I moved from a good case of "humbuggedness" into celebration rather rapidly.

The other rationale for my busy-ness was to have everything in place for the arrival of the Solstice. I love to have my angels, goddesses, Santas, and candles placed as reminders for the return to the light.  I contemplated all week how I wanted to personally acknowledge the Solstice – what I wanted to include in my wishes and prayers for myself, my family, the Earth and its inhabitants. 

I read the story of the Stag and the Goddess several times, and it resonated in my mind. There's been a lot of deer energy around the farm this fall.  Back in the fall, our big farm buck came to let me know he again claimed the farm his territory this winter season; a friend had two unfortunate encounters with deer on the highway, and almost every morning since the leaves fell, I've watched a herd of the buck's ladies savor chestnuts in the side yard.

The Native American story of the deer as the animal who transformed a nasty ogre's foul energy into kindness is one I used to tell the kids in the car on long trips. I pulled out the animal card book to read the legend again.

My final decoration I made around the house was one for the picnic table outside the living room door.  There I placed a wreath I brought home from Boone at Thanksgiving, along with various antlers I have collected around the farm over the years and some that my cousin, Bill, gave me when I was home. They looked / look beautiful circling a Buddha who sits in the center of the wreath. I wanted the stag and his energy in clear sight for Solstice. 

I got up early this morning, had my coffee, played with the pups a bit, and stretched out to do some yoga with the thought I’d head out for a couple hours in the woods once I limbered up a bit. Mac and MerryBelle were impatient, and their eagerness to get outdoors motivated me to get ready immediately after I finished my practice.  They definitely wanted to me to get a move on.

So in my classic go-to-the-woods outfit, with my binoculars and my walking stick from Grandma Shook’s rhododendron patch in hand, I set out on  a beautiful sunny morning.  As I walked down into the field, the beauty of the flawless blue sky and the agitated squawking of blue jays atop the trees consumed me. Mac and MerryBelle ran spiritedly ahead, stopping to look back and make sure I hadn’t gotten lost in my thoughts along the way.

The Earth and all her creatures fix me.  I always stand in awe of her beauty.  Being on the land calms my spirit, brings me clarity, provides me with answers, defines my peace. I think I get that from my dad.When I am outside, I sense my his and grandma's presence. The Earth completely opens my heart with joy and happiness and transforms my sadness when I need comfort.  Always. Unconditionally. Always.

As we went further toward the woods, the dogs stopped cold in their tracks. At that very same moment, I sensed thrashing movement in the brush by the fence line and spotted a large buck that didn’t stand and bolt as we approached. I knew something was not right.

From the other direction, I saw two men coming across the field - my neighbor and a young man with a bow in hand. Immediately, I knew the buck had been shot, and fury filled my entire being. The Solstice stag - the one in whose eyes I have stared as closely as I have ever been to any wild animal- was dying.  I knew it was him, and I believe he knew I was coming, for he quit thrashing and stretched out to die when he heard my voice.

I screamed in consumed anger at the hunters,  “YOU KNOW YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO HUNT ON MY LAND!  WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?” And then, I couldn’t control my sorrow. There was nothing I could do. I couldn’t save the animal, so I sat down beside him. I placed my hands on his body and cried uncontrollably. (One of the hunters acknowledged he saw the buck quit fighting life when the animal heard my voice.)

My neighbor came over to comfort me, to tell me he had watched the animal all morning.  He said the big guy was sick and had been staggering around in repetitive circles in the field in front of his house.  My neighbor had watched the animal lose his footing, fall several times and  tremble violently several as if in a seizure; he had been close enough to it to see that one eye was badly infected and gangrenous. He had decided to end the animal’s misery, and when he shot the buck, it immediately turned, jumped the fence line and crossed the field onto my land. Having lived my life with a hunter, I understood. My dad's voice told me the man had done the right thing.

By then, I had the buck’s head in my hands, and I gently caressed his soft head and ears as he moved toward spirit. His white muzzle reflected his age, as his eyes indicated his illness. What had once been haunches of strong muscle were showing signs of emaciation. Yes, his passage would bring him release from whatever was ravaging his body.

He died with my hands on his head. I was on my knees hunched over him, whispering to him, comforting him.  Mac stayed glued to my side, as if to guard the sacred space from which the buck would leave us and take flight into spirit. MerryBelle instinctively returned home to stand guard there. All I could do was thank this incredible animal, our stag - the lord of the farm fields - for coming home to take flight.

While I stayed with the stag, the hunters went for a truck to carry him away.  They promised to bury him, for we agreed his meat was not fit for consumption given his obvious sickness. I helped them load him and allowed him to go with them with the promise his head would not be mounted on the wall; he would be buried respectfully.

Mac and I then went into the woods and stayed for a while

I know there’s a greater message in all of this for me.  It’ll come to me in time. I don't sense fear or an omen of bad energy surrounding today's event. Rather, I am very grateful I was witness to this amazing animal as he began his journey of rebirth. He has been the core of masculine energy at the farm for over a decade now. My mom assures me there is a reason for this to unfold as it did.

While I am somewhat quieted at heart this afternoon, I am not mournful.  The big buck's legacy continues....the products of his union with his many does roam the fields....the next generation takes charge....I have seen them, and I am blessed.


(photo:  Bruce Lane)