Signs and Portents


Shortly after my mother died, I was taking a walk in the early evening around the fields in back of my home.  I am fortunate to live in a beautiful location, with expansive Eastern views and uninterrupted skies.  On this particular night it was clear, the moon was in its first quarter and the light it shed did not obscure the Milky Way, spread like a ribbon across the sky.

I was sad and grieving–of course I was.  Despite the fact that my mother had lived 92 years and was, in the end, at peace with dying.  She suffered no pain or final illness.  There was nothing to put on her death certificate other than “old age.”  She had chosen several weeks before to stop eating.  It was her time.  She was ready.  We got to say our goodbyes and hold her hand.  That was surely her greatest gift to us–her quiet ability to know when it was time.  She had often said she did not want to give up driving, but when her reflexes and sight began to dwindle, she put the keys down and did not drive again.  She had said many times she hoped she would not have to go into a nursing home.  After several months of increasing illness and inability to live alone, it became inevitable.  There was never a word of recrimination, a hint of disappointment with her children who had made that decision for her.  She looked around, saw others who were worse off than she, graced them with her smile and kind words.  She was grateful for any visit, phone call, a drive in the countryside.

The weeks since her death had been consumed with the practical things that are necessary, the phone calls, the service at home, the decisions about her possessions.  I had written a eulogy, planned a memorial service with my brothers, tried to provide comfort to my family.  But I did not know how to exist in this world now empty of her physical presence.

Walking in that calm nighttime, digging into the depths of my shaky spiritual core, I admitted that even though I knew in some vague way she would always be with me, I surely could use some kind of sign.  Just at that moment, a shooting star flew across the sky. I have looked up into this night sky for 30 years and have seen numerous shooting stars. But on many nights I would stand outside in the dark, neck muscles aching in their support of my tilted head, hoping to be looking in the right direction at the right time, without any luck. On this particular night, I was not looking for them at all.

So was that a sign?  Or a coincidence?  Or just the random operation of the unfathomable universe?  The part of me that is rational and scientific says it was just the random operation of the universe and a coincidence that I was facing in the right direction at the right time.  But the part of me that has roots in the ancient ties to the natural world says something different.  It says that there are signs that we cannot read and places beyond our ability to imagine.  That there are many things so far beyond our comprehension that we can only gasp in wonder and acknowledge them with joy.


©Martha Hurwitz, 9/27/17
Inspired by Daily Prompt:  coincidence

Patient Seeds

beans-72058_640The carob pods seemed so ugly.  Why would anyone ever think to use them for food or bring them to a potluck? Perhaps my prejudice came from all those earnest attempts back in my counter-culture youth to convince me that carob is a perfectly good substitute for chocolate.  Not a chance!  Carob may be useful in its own right, but chocolate it is not and never will be!!

I took one home and put the seeds in a plastic bag.  Did a little research on growing carob from seed.  But there really wasn’t much motivation on my part.  It’s not as if I am going to be able to plant a carob tree outside or have any interest in them as food. So the seeds lay dormant in that bag for many months.

According to my research, the seeds are very hard and tough and need to be “roughed up” in some way–perhaps with a piece of sandpaper or a sharp kitchen knife–and then soaked for a few days. The seeds are so tiny that I could not imagine using a knife or piece of sandpaper on them without taking off some skin or even a finger. But the bag sat on the kitchen counter and I glanced at it with a guilty conscience every day.  Then I had a brainstorm.  Into the food processor the seeds went. Four, five, six pulses of the blade barely made a nick in any seed.  Tough indeed. How do these seeds ever germinate in nature without human assistance?

carob soaking

Giving up on making any significant dents or cuts in the seeds, I let them soak for several days. Then planted them in a plastic egg carton.

carob planted

Carob SeedClearly I didn’t care too much about planting them correctly, because I used some old potting soil that had been left out in the rain and was clumpy and dense.  And yet … with a little water they sprouted within a few days and are growing fast.

I don’t really know why this intrigues me, but it does.  If anyone has grown carob as an indoor plant and has any advice, please share it with me.  You are welcome to any pods that are produced, while I indulge in a glass of chocolate milk!!

Mature Carob Tree







What’s in a Name?

strawberries-1350482_640Many years back, when both my husband and I could still bend over without crackling sounds and shooting pains coming from the general area of our spines, we owned and operated a pick-your-own strawberry farm.  This was an endeavor that he had started several years before I came on the scene.  In the rose-colored, early days of falling in love, I was eager to prove my worth as a field hand.  This freed him up to drive around in the air-conditioned tractor, while I made friends with the ticks and black flies and grew blisters on my hands from wielding a hoe.  Love is not only blind, but apparently also immune to pain, heatstroke, and mosquito bites on the behind.  (Obviously a farmer wife has a very different experience peeing in the woods than a farmer husband!)

I got to supervise a pack of teenagers desperate enough to agree to do manual labor in the hot summer sun, probably figuring it was a good way to impress the opposite sex by wearing Stanley Kowalski t-shirts or short shorts and tank tops.  Not that I cared so much what they were wearing, but I soon learned the truth of the old saying: “One boy’s a boy, two boys is half a boy, and three boys ain’t no boy at all.”  A more modern version might go:  “One teenager can weed a row in 30 minutes, two teenagers can weed a row in 50 minutes and three teenagers just got in an old jalopy and headed off to Dairy Queen.”

gardening-2448134_640Not that I blamed them much. Anyone who works the soil knows that it is hard labor, requiring not only physical stamina and perseverance, but also a healthy dose of optimism, faith and acceptance.  As hard as a farmer may work, she is never ultimately in charge of what may come of her endeavors.  Healthy plant growth requires a particular balance of good soil, sun, rain, light and dark, temperature, and freedom from pests or disease.  A lot of this may be under our control, but there is a great deal that is not.

Sounds a lot like human life, doesn’t it?  Which segues into my original memory that surfaced from “soil.”  After a long, hard day in the fields, I was desperate for a cool shower, not because of any fetish about being dirty or emanating an un-feminine body odor, but to ward off the on-coming heat stroke headache.  Shedding soil-covered clothes and shoes in the bathroom, I would often complain:  “Look at all this dirt.” To which husband would reply:  “It’s not dirt, it’s soil!”

I have to admit that for a long time I thought he was just being a snarky know-it-all, because really aren’t dirt and soil the same thing?  When soil is on the floor of the house where it doesn’t belong, isn’t it dirt?  No, not really. It may be out of place, or not particularly useful on the bathroom floor, but it is still soil–fertile, full of living organisms and capable of sustaining and nourishing growth.

There are many in our public arena these days who are trying to convince us that they are providing soil, when they are really only shoveling dirt.  We need to understand the difference and plant our common hopes and dreams in the rich soil of diversity, tolerance and acknowledgement of our common humanity. To live up to our great potential as individuals and as a nation, we need to realize that hatred, prejudice, deceit, and dishonesty are not the soil in which our best selves can flourish, but are the dirt that will ultimately bury us.







Beware the Swarm

Before responding to the daily prompt, I typed swarm into Google to see what definitions the word has of which I might not be aware.  It says a lot about our current culture that the first 10 hits led me to Swarm, a new game App that rewards players for visiting more places than their friends and through which you can even “claim mayorship of your favorite place.”  This game reminds me of a similar one I learned about a while ago that prompted me to think about our cultural and spiritual attitudes toward communal space and post my thoughts in Lost Sanctuary.

bees-1698249_640Even in its specific use relating to bees, the word seems to have a slightly negative cast, as if gentle honeybees searching for a new home are really more akin to hoards of hostile minions flowing over the hills and valleys to wreak destruction upon a peaceful village.

I would welcome a swarm if I came upon one today somewhere in the apple trees down the hill or in a hollow log fallen by the stone walls.  Because for many years now I have seen so few honeybees or butterflies and have heard so few birds on a Spring morning. When we first moved to this place over 30 years ago, it was impossible to sleep past dawn because of the massive chorus of birds that greeted the rising sun. Walking outside on a summer day necessitated planning a route that moved carefully past flowers and trees to avoid being dive-bombed by bees gathering nectar.
butterfly-1575701_640In the fall, the field of milkweed was alive with Monarch butterflies feeding eagerly before their long flight to their winter home in Mexico.

There are those who deny the devastating effects of human population growth and its accompanying technological destruction.  Unfortunately many of them are in positions of power.  I am no scientist or academic scholar and cannot offer research statistics or brilliant intellectual arguments to prove them wrong.  But I invite them to visit me and listen to the silence and look at what is no longer there.

Beware the swarm – of human ignorance and blindness and disregard for the fragile web that sustains our planet.  We cannot swarm like a crowded hive to find another place to survive.  This is the only home we have.