#ThursdayTreeLove | Coping with the Madness of 2020: Spend Time with Trees

“Autumn Road,” November 2020

In a cool solitude of trees
Where leaves and birds a music spin,
Mind that was weary is at ease,
New rhythms in the soul begin. –William Kean Seymour

I’ve written enough about tree therapy on the blog for you to know that “talking to the trees” is definitely one of the ways I cope with life’s challenges. You’ve probably figured, then, 2020 has driven me to the trees more times than I can count.

I could not find time this week for a full tree therapy session, but I took advantage of drive time for quick doses.

The sight of autumn taking over as I drove to work was thrilling, and the drive through campus was like entering an autumn heaven. The reds, yellows, and oranges vied for my attention.

Some mornings, I parked, stood outside my car in the early morning quiet (before others arrived), and took it all in. I listened to the wind and trees sing in perfect harmony as the crisp leaves danced across the parking lot.

Even such short pauses with the trees shake off the madness.

If you want to read more about how trees help me cope, take a look at some of my older posts or click the #ThursdayTreeLove hashtag below:

Hopefully, the posts will persuade you to try a bit of tree therapy!


I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

Coping with the Madness of 2020: Shut It Down!

Grainy Black and White: Fallen Magnolia Leaves

Plans for my “Coping with 2020” series were slightly derailed because, as one of my former students put it, this week was “ugly.” There’s no other way to put it. I worked 14-19 hour days almost every day this week. COVID-19 numbers rose daily. Zeta knocked down trees and power in NOLA and other places. And it seemed the whole world expressed anxiety about what we might wake up to November 4. By Thursday, I was livid because there was no relief from the noise.

One part of 2020’s madness for me is too much doing, too much noise all the time. Everywhere we turn. Noise. Someone or something telling us what to do, how to do it, how to think. Noise. Piling up our plates. Vying for control of our time and energy. Noise. Noise we seemingly can’t escape because doom and Zoom are everywhere.

Grainy Black and White: Impatiens

So how do I cope? I shut it down. Everything. Computers. Phone. All of it. And I sit, drive, or walk in total silence.

I’ve always loved the early morning and late night quiet and the rare but not impossible moment of respite from the daily noise in the middle of the day. But silence is different. We can always find quiet. Silence, ever-present and always within reach, seeks us, but we have to be intentional about being found.

Silence. When there are too many words and too much doing. Silence. When it’s easy to grab the phone and chat away whatever spare moments we can find. Silence. When we can put in our earbuds and tune out the world through music and podcasts. Silence. When the world is loud and boisterous and simply too much.

Grainy Black and White: Begonias

So this week—in the middle of the umpteenth multitasking Zoom meeting, just after the department’s student assistant knocked with one more issue she couldn’t address—I hit mute, closed my eyes and sat in silence.

I’m sure I was on the brink of screaming, “uncle!” That moment in the midst of the chaos saved my sanity.

When the world feels like too much—get off social media, turn off the tv, turn off all screens, ignore the phone and all the doing, and hit mute.

There is freedom and calm right in the middle of the silence.

Grainy Black and White: Magnolia Pods

To Autumn, or, Little Girls with Apples

It dawned on me this morning as I opened an envelope from Fran B, one of my Love Notes pals, that we are nearly a month into the season, and I have not done any “odes to autumn” on the blog. Shocker, right?

I assure you, I have been soaking up the goodness of early autumn as much as I can–the milder temperatures, the gentle breezes, the random highlights [bright oranges, yellows, and reds] in the trees. Academic life during COVID-19 is a level of busy I have never, ever experienced, so it’s been a bit of a struggle getting to the blog, especially since I’m typically screen-weary to the point of tears–or madness.

The artwork featured on the card Fran sent is worth my risking my sanity.

“Cider Mill” (1880) by John George Brown. Oil on Canvas. Daniel J. Terra Collection.

Cider Mill by John George Brown (1831-1913) features five little girls feasting on scrumptious apples they’ve just picked outside a cider mill. It speaks volumes about girlhood, apples, and autumn. The art is part of the Daniel J. Terra Collection of the Terra Foundation for the Arts. [Click the links to learn more about the artist and the masterpiece].

This is a delightful piece of art, but it grabbed my heart because the intensity of and seriousness in the eyes of the little girl with the red bow remind me of my baby niece, Lu, whom you’ve seen on the blog before.

Don’t you think she would fit right in?

Oh, and there’s a bonus–the first stanza of John Keats’ “To Autumn” was beautifully imprinted on the back of the card! If you’ve been keeping up, you know that he’s my favorite British Romantic poet:

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
   Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
   With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
   And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
      To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
   With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
      For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Oh, there was even more autumn goodness inside the envelope, but you’ll have to wait for that. 😉

First Day: The New Academy, Hell, and Miracles

My favorite building on campus

Forgive me for what is sure to be a rambling, pointless blog post. Despite my weariness, I promised myself I would write a post today because Microblog Mondays are part of my normal. I need as much normal as I can get these days.

For many complex reasons, my university decided to offer in-person instruction, but students have the option to attend virtually. Today was the first day of classes. I’m not sure how I feel about it. I met students in my office via ZOOM instead of in a classroom. Only a couple of my students are back on campus for in-person instruction. The others are learning from their homes because neither they nor their parents are comfortable with the still rising [COVID-19] numbers.

There’s so much more to think about during these COVID times. There are so many ways of navigating academic life that has been remapped. We wear masks and face shields; place protective shields on our desks; check temperatures and sanitize our hands when we enter buildings; we carry gloves, hand sanitizer, extra masks, and disinfectant spray; we are overly conscious of our hands and face; we remind students to “stay back” the magic distance of six feet—no hugs for those beautiful ones we haven’t seen in five months; we teach fewer students in instructional spaces and try to construct our courses so the students build connections through the digital divide.

To make matters even more interesting–here we are in the hottest part of a southern summer, and the air conditioner in our almost 80-year-old building decided to go on strike. So 95 degrees outside. 105 inside while wearing a mask. I had a taste of hell today.

Strange start to the academic year after an odd too-long/too-short summer. In these first moments, getting through [another] COVID semester seems impossible, but I keep reminding myself, the impossible gives birth to miracles.

Two Cards | Appropriate for These Times | #WordlessWednesday

Art by Nola C. Specially colored for me by Christine B.

I read a Washington Post article this morning that reported the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations is rising in several U.S. states.

The card says it all.

It’s hard not to worry, but I am consoling myself with the hope that we are giving birth to something new and healthy.


About the Images: I received the cards in this #WordlessWednesday post from my friend and fellow Love Noter, Christine B. One arrived in April and the other late May. They are so appropriate for these times. The über cute “Socially Distant Hug” coloring card features the artwork of Nola C. She designed a number of free Corona coloring pages. You can find this card and others on her Facebook page.  The pretty “This Sucks” card is from Paper Raven Company. 

“Some Keep the Sabbath Going to Church”

Please note:  WordPress coding is misbehaving, so forgive me if the line breaks are rather random and ill-placed in this post. I’ve followed all the rules, but I get a different result each time. :-/

Chapel of Peace, Whippoorwill Academy and Village, Ferguson, North Carolina. 2012

Emily Dickinson’s Poem 236, “Some keep the Sabbath going to Church,” is appropriate for our Corona times. We tune into virtual services, but they’re not the same. After all, we attend services for reasons beyond a sermon and a song.

If you’re missing fellowship with other believers, try spending time with God in nature. “All the earth worships [Him] and sings praises to [Him]” (Psalm 66:4), so you will not be in fellowship alone. Maybe, you’ll find that you’ve needed this type of worship also.

Emily Dickinson

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church (Poem 236)

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I, just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton – sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I’m going, all along.


About the image: The “Chapel of Peace” is an older image. It was featured on the blog about seven years ago.

“When Giving Is All We Have”

Terrance Osborne, “Front Line”

This morning as we began our final Shakespeare session for the semester (sad face), one of my students requested prayer for the nurses who are suffering under the strain of watching far too many patients die as a result of COVID-19. Just moments before that, I read a Facebook post in which one of my friends, Dr. Scharmaine Lawson, a Nurse Practitioner and author, announced that after prayerful consideration, she’s heading to New York City to help with the COVID-19 relief effort there.

I often think about the health care professionals who are on the front line of this thing day after day after day. No matter how well-trained they are, no matter how often they see death, it is still inexplicably HARD.  The connections between nurse and patient or doctor and patient–however brief–matter, and every death carries emotional weight. With COVID-19 doctors and nurses are bearing witness to far more than the “usual” and they are still out there, weighed down with the grief and burden of so much loss, fighting to save lives.

Some might wonder why someone like Dr. Lawson, a busy NP with a booming practice and a very full life of her own, would uproot and rush into this daunting challenge. Albert RÍos’ poem provides the answers—not only for why we give in the big ways but also why we do so in our smaller, daily interactions.

When Giving Is All We Have
Alberto RÍos

One river gives
Its journey to the next.

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater from the difference.

About this poem, RÍos wrote:

This is a poem of thanks to those who live lives of service, which, I think, includes all of us—from the large measure to the smallest gesture, from care-giving to volunteerism to being an audience member or a reader.  I’ve been able to offer these words to many groups, not only as a poem but also as a recognition. We give for so many reasons, and are bettered by it.  –from poets.org

Thank you to our health care professionals and to all our public servants and other essential workers for whom the stay-at-home order does not apply.  Thank you to all of you who give daily in your own spaces, outside your own spaces, and “in-between” spaces. We are making something new, something beautiful when we give.


About the image: The image above is the work of New Orleans artist, Terrance Osborne. He created Front Line—a nod to Rosie the Riveter—“to show the men and women on the front line that we love and support them.” [Did you catch the fleur de lis–symbol of New Orleans?] Osborne generously offered the image above as a free phone screen saver and gave 1000 posters to local hospitals. A lithograph ($75 signed; $40 unsigned) can be purchased via his website. To see more of this phenomenal artist’s work, please go to his website. You’ll feel like you’ve just taken a tour of my beloved hometown.

“Separation”

The short poem for today is for those of us who are suffering the sting of far too much loss during this period of COVID-19–when in many cases we can neither see nor touch our loved ones as they slip into rest.

Separation by W. S. Merton

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

It’s perfectly okay for you to sit with the loss. It’s okay for you to shut down and cease all the doing and shun all the words firing at you like darts, making your head spin.

This loss, this separation gives you permission to lean into the grief and allow yourself to feel all the things. Or to not feel anything.

“Everything Is Waiting for You”

Last night I participated in a “Write Together” workshop with about 15 beautiful souls. The workshop was organized and hosted by Love Notes founder and coordinator, Jennifer Belthoff. I needed the time to write and think in the community of others, so I am grateful for Jennifer and her willingness and openness to offer the workshop during this challenging time.

After participants shared in response to one of the prompts, Jennifer read a poem by British poet David Whyte. I was not familiar with his work and I’ve had little time to process this poem, but it resonates with me.

Everything Is Waiting for You
David Whyte

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the
conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

Even though pretty much the entire world is going through the Corona Virus crisis together, we are disconnected from much of our normal. This might make us feel isolated and alone, particularly as we grapple–in our individual ways–with the toll this pandemic is taking on humanity.  I appreciate the invitation to tune in to everything [else] that is waiting.


About the image: The postcard above was sent to me by my swap-bot/book-lover friend Geraldine J (Nannydino). It is the work of Australian artist, Loui Jover. Needless to say, I love this piece, and am looking forward to learning more about the artist.