I wrote an obituary for Beverly Rathcke that was published in the Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America.
My friend and mentor Beverly Rathcke passed away on Thursday, January 6, 2011. She died comfortably at home in Ann Arbor after a short illness.
Beverly was my faculty advisor for my PhD dissertation in ecology, and in that role she helped me think critically and write clearly. Yet, she fostered more than my scientific interests, she recognized and encouraged the creative artist in me, pushing me to explore my interest in and talent for photography. We attended music and dance concerts together. And, she catalyzed the transformation of my perspective and thereby my life by introducing me to my meditation practice, Siddha Yoga Meditation.
Her beautiful Old West Side Ann Arbor bungalow served as a gathering place. She brought out the gourmet chef in all of us, as we competed to offer potluck contributions that could stand beside hers on the dining room table. She invited others to cook, drink, dine and dance in her home, and was always grateful when someone wanted to clean up the piles of pots and dishes created during a collaborative cooking event.
She lived a full and enthusiastic life and had, in my opinion, a good death, on her own terms, surrounded by devoted friends. I was honored to be with her and her friends in the days preceding her death as she slipped from consciousness. During the last few days I have met friends of hers new to me, and I have been impressed by her good taste. May I be as fortunate in my friends and in my passing. I feel so grateful to have known her.
I love Michigan. I love living here for many reasons:
- The weather is fine for knitting much of the year,
- Snow lining tree branches is gloriously beautiful,
- Spring ephemerals and flowering trees are a miracle after ice and sleet,
- Fall is crimson, fiery orange, and golden leaves, enjoyed in crisp sunshine and then tossed by moody winds, and
- Summer is grand – sultry, sunny, and replete with yummy local fruit.
The king of local fruit is the sour or tart cherry. The tart cherries are a semi-translucent red, like captured sunlight, which they are. They make the most amazing cherry pie. Oh, and they don’t travel well, so they’re not something that gets hurled across the globe with abandon: you have to enjoy them right here. And maybe because of that, for me, they’re also connected to memories of other summers and other pies.
I sat on my patio this evening, pitting these cherries with a hairpin, feeling their juice running down my forearm to my elbow. More than most things these days, these cherries are a signal of a particular place and a particular moment in the season. Slurp in the summertime.
Coming for dessert tonight?
We moved into a new place in August. For a while there we were almost camping because we had the kitchen ripped out…it didn’t feel exceptionally homey.
Our fabulous Ann Arbor construction crew gave us a working kitchen in our bump out just before Thanksgiving. We moved our plates, spices, glasses, and cookware into the kitchen the weekend before family arrived from Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
And, then, with the help of Dave’s family cooking at the house, china plates from my family, delivered a few days ahead so we could wash them, mashed potatoes and appetizers from Fenton, sweet potatoes from Kalamazoo, and ambrosia fruit salad from Rochester Hills, we had a great meal. The place was full – we had fourteen for Thanksgiving dinner. Six from the “Greiling” (Johnson) side: my aunt and uncle, my cousin and her family of four (hubby, two kids, and one on the way), and three on the “Bondy” (Sopt) side.
And, because of lovely memories and shared traditions, several more people were there in spirit. My Grandmother Greiling, whom I never met, shared her china with us. Grandma Higbie’s pie safe held the desserts, and Dave’s Grandfather Bondy contributed beautiful flower arrangements. I wore pearls my father gave me, and a bracelet from my mother.
I am thankful for everyone who blessed our home that day – to inaugurate our kitchen and celebrate with us. Now, finally, after a few months in the house and a handful of days in the new kitchen, the new place feels like home.
I’m on vacation. And I read The Tall Book: A Celebration of Life on High by Arianne Cohen today. Just sat down and read it, cover to cover, with a break for a fishing trip and dinner. Very pleasurable. I read sections aloud to my husband, to explain why I was laughing out loud. I learned a few things (why it can take generations to attain a genetic height potential, due to environmental effects passed down somatically)…and I definitely recognized a feeling and a pattern or two in this straight talking and funny book. Oh, and I’m quoted on pp. 169-170 (excerpt from my tall blog post).
Arianne Cohen details how the tall and the super-tall are privileged misfits – commanding higher salaries on average, but unable to find clothes or seats that fit. I’ve always been a misfit – knees jammed into the back of the airplane seat ahead of me, not in any way average, despite my desire to blend in. Yet this book showed me lots of ways I’ve benefitted from this, and made me thankful for my own tall mom who showed me the ropes and who did not make me feel at all like a freak (who knew people gave hormone therapy to tall girls to keep them from realizing their height?!).
I’m going to need a stack of these to share with tall friends, mothers of tall folk, those who love tall folk, and other humans. Learn more at TallBook.com.
I shared this story about my cat and my own experience chanting and becoming more joyful through chanting and meditation when I hosted a program earlier this month at the Siddha Yoga Meditation Center in Ann Arbor.
My cat’s name is Floyd, and the reason I want to tell you about him is that my experience with him parallels a little bit my experience in Siddha Yoga. It’s a story of purring to share increasing comfort and joy.
Close to 15 years ago, we adopted a stray cat. We were walking into the door of my apartment building, and a cat started calling to us. He came to us from across the little street, meowing the whole time. He was scrawny and bald in places where he plucked out his fur in response to flea bites. He looked ragged, and he was really hungry. He seemed sweet, not feral at all, and I brought him inside. He seemed to understand living with humans. He was hungry. He fattened up and his hair grew in and he remained a talker. He also had a very soft, very subtle purr. I recall being surprised by a cat with such a loud and demanding voice had such a tiny purr.
Well, the other day I realized in an affectionate moment, that he has a much louder purr than I remembered when we first met. His purr is more fervent now. I think that over time, as his comfort level and his trust have deepened, and so has his purr. When he purrs, he draws me in. His purr expresses happiness and prompts me to give him more affection so that he’ll continue to purr.
I did a little research on why cats purr. It was interesting. Cats purr as kittens when nursing, when receiving affection from us humans, and they purr sometimes when they are sick or scared. So, cats purr for communication, and depending how you interpret why ill cats purr, it is either for self-soothing or maybe healing. According to an article in Scientific American, the frequency of the vibration of the purring actually may help bone density and healing.
Well, you might wonder where I’m going with this. As I thought about all of this, I thought about my own experience with Siddha Yoga and how I have opened up like he has, how tuning into his purring and the practices and has helped me enjoy life so much more.
I showed up the doorstep of the Siddha Yoga Meditation Center just like that stray kitty, hungry for knowledge, hungry for peace of mind. I was restless, looking for something. I had always known I wanted to meditate. I tried a local class, and I ended up frustrated and sore from the sitting positions or asanas and no closer to the peace of mind I was seeking.
At one point, I shared this urge with my scientific mentor. It turned out she also had a meditation practice and a community, this one, and she invited me to accompany her to a satsang one Thursday night.
I arrived at the Siddha Yoga Meditation Center in Ann Arbor in late spring in 1998, right after the death of my father. That night, like most Thursday night satsangs, we chanted and sat for meditation.
It was the chanting that caught me. I was struck by how the chant started solemnly. In those slow early verses, I experienced a lot of the sadness I was carrying around. But then, something magical happened, the chant sped up, and I found myself carried along with its momentum, and the end was fast and joyful and fun. And I had the experience of going along that entire arc. And I had the sense that by giving myself to the chant that I would be soothed, met in sadness and brought to joy. And I had the sense that when I was singing solemnly, I felt solemn. When I was singing joyfully, I experienced joy. I had thought it was the other way around, but acting in those ways drew forth that experience, drew forth that same energy from the world around me.
I also found, as I still do, that the chants continued to give to me, sticking with me as melodies or words or just that lovely well being that I experience in the chant. The words or melody would popping back up in quiet moments, reminding me, reconnecting me to the experience, to joy.
So, chanting was like my purring. It was and still is a form of self soothing, but it is also a practice of expressing and of cultivating joy, and drawing it to me and sharing it with others.