Moon When Deer Paw the Ground

white-tailed deer – USDA photo by Scott Bauer

The media made a big deal yesterday a boy the coincidence of a Harvest Full Moon occurring on a Friday the 13th. But the Moon didn’t reach fullness in Paradelle until after midnight, so that wasn’t;t exactly true for me. And anyway, the 13 part is just a coincidence of calendars and nothing celestial.

The name of this month’s Full Moon as the Moon When Deer Paw the Ground comes to us from the Omaha people.  The Omaha people are a federally recognized Midwestern Native American tribe who reside on the Omaha Reservation in northeastern Nebraska and western Iowa, United States. The Omaha people migrated to the upper Missouri area and the Plains by the late 17th century from earlier locations in the Ohio River Valley.

Why do deer paw the ground at this time? This is one of those nature signs that Native Americans (and today deer hunters) would notice. It concerns scrapes which is a sign that is important in tracking deer during the rut. Scrapes are made when bucks paw the ground at the foot of a tree, creating a bare patch of earth on the ground, and then urinating on it to leave a sign of their presence. In this way, a buck can attract does during the rut. The buck urinates down his rear legs and onto his tarsal glands, which create a stronger and more pungent odor.

The rut (from the Latin rugire, meaning “to roar”) is the mating season of certain mammals, including deer, sheep, goats, and bison. This is when males have an increase in testosterone, increased aggression and interest in females. In most species, males mark themselves or their habitat with mud, secretions from glands or their urine.

Some of the many names given to this September Full Moon include: Nut Moon, Mulberry Moon, Singing Moon, Barley Moon, Elk Call Moon, Fruit Moon, Corn Moon, Wine Moon, Gypsy Moon, Moon of Leaves Turning Color, Moon of Spiderwebs on the Ground, Big Feast Moon, Haligmonath (Holy Month), and  Witumanoth (Wood Month).

September sometimes is the month of the Harvest Moon but in some years that is in October. That is because that name is given to the Full Moon that occurs closest to the autumnal equinox.  The equinox is on September 23 this year and the October Full Moon is on the 13th, so today’s Full Moon is the Harvest Moon for 2019.

For any readers in the Southern Hemisphere, this September Full Moon might be called by our Northern spring names, such as Worm Moon, Crow Moon, Sugar Moon, Chaste Moon, or Sap Moon.

deer scrape from a game camera by Jennifer Jilks on Vimeo.

L’espirit de l’escalier


My French is very limited, but my wife is fluent. So, when I saw the expression L’espirit de l’escalier, in my reading,  I asked her what it meant.  She said it is a French term for when you can’t come up with a response to a comment, but then you think of the perfect reply when it’s too late to respond.

It seems to me that other languages have more of these expressions for complicated situations than English (which does have plenty of its own idioms).

The origin of l’espirit de l’escalier is from the French philosopher, Denis Diderot. He explained in an essay that he was at a fancy dinner and was “overwhelmed by the argument levelled against him” and confused could only think clearly again at the bottom of the stairs.

The “bottom of the stairs” for Diderot’ came to mean that a reply is only thought of after you have left the confrontation. The literal translation is closer to meaning “staircase wit.”

I think I am safe in saying that all of us have experienced this.  I was just recently talking about this idea with some friends when we were remembering all the missed opportunities of our school days when we couldn’t think of that “comeback”  that would silence our attacker until we got home.

English speakers sometimes call this “escalator wit”, or “staircase wit” and “afterwit” is a synonym, with “forewit” as its antonym.

Diderot thought this was a situation that was more of a problem for introverts than for extroverts who are generally sensitive in nature and so might be left speechless, especially in social situations.

Can you prepare yourself for situations of l’espirit de l’escalier? I did have a “comeback” training situation with one of my sons when he was in elementary school and getting some abuse from other boys. We prepped some ways to respond to some of the common comments that were being hurled at him. It worked. The comebacks were clever but also funny and that combination is a good one, and having some things prepared gave him confidence.

The putdowns and the need to prep don’t end with high school graduation. I found a book, Comebacks at Work: Using Conversation to Master Confrontation, that is a workplace guide to helping to end your “I wish I’d said” moments.

Here is an example from the workplace of George Costanza from Seinfeld.

We all have wished at work or outside that we could have a “do-over” after a conversation. It can work in different ways. Maybe you regret what you’ve said to someone. But here we’re talking about when you’re mad at yourself for not saying something better, stronger, more precise, or for just not saying anything in the moment.

L’espirit  de l’escalier affects the introvert and the extravert. We all need the ability to have “staircase wit” before we get to the bottom of the stairs.


Quieting My Monkey Mind


I first heard the term “monkey mind” when I was speaking to the late John Daido Loori Roshi at Zen Mountain Monastery.  I was there for a weekend retreat. I wasn’t brand new to Zen Buddhism but I was new to the idea of formal study at a monastery.

It was a weekend of zazen meditation, liturgy, and work practice.  I only learned later that the early experiences I had with zazen (literally “seated meditation”) were of the Japanese Rinzai school, which included the study of koans. The approach at ZMM was closer to the Sōtō School without koans and where the mind has no object at all. A name for that approach is shikantaza which unlike other forms of meditation does not require focused attention on a specific object. I had been taught to focus on my breath, but now I was trying to empty my mind and just sitting in a state of conscious awareness.

But I had a lot of trouble emptying my mind. I know people who have never done meditation find it hard to understand the difficulty in emptying your mind. It’s not daydreaming or just sitting stupidly. Thinking about emptying thoughts is, of course, another thought.

In my private talk with Daido Roshi, I told him what I was feeling sitting there on my zabuton. He replied, “You have a monkey mind. Like a monkey hopping from branch to branch.”

I thought it was his term, but it is a widely used and old description for restless, confused, chaotic thoughts. It shows up in Buddhist writings and was adopted in Taoism, Neo-Confucianism, and in poetry, drama, and literature.

Mandala zabuton (floor pillow)

My monkey mind exists outside of mediation. When I can’t get to sleep at night the monkey is very active. If you have ever experienced that feeling, you know that quieting the monkey is very difficult.

My ability to focus, which is connected to the ability to clear the mind,  has decreased over the years, and so I feel the need to get back to trying to control the monkey in my head.

It may not be the recommended method but the way that helped me in meditation was to give in and let the monkey and my mind play. I allowed my mind a chance to be heard and free. I recognized each thought. And then I let each go away.

I was immediately drawn to kinhin, the walking meditation that is practiced between the long periods of the sitting meditation known as a sesshin.  I found the break out into nature very helpful. You would think that the sights and sounds of the world outside – bird songs, the wind through the trees, the sound of a small creek or rainfall – would all be additional distractions for me and attractions for the monkey. It doesn’t. In fact, the place where I can most easily clear my mind is a beach.

When monkey mind hit and you’re not meditation – such as when working – meditate. Mindfulness through meditation readjusts your focus. I don’t mean an hourlong session, but rather 5/ 10 or 15 minutes os zazen or kinhin.

I read about it being best to meditate early in the morning and that you need a quiet place and that certain music or scents like lavender will help you find your center. That might be, but one of the attractions of meditation is that it really requires no equipment, special clothing or memberships to practice.

When science meets mindfulness at
Looking at calming monkey mind in students

Labor Day

Today is Labor Day in the United States. It’s another holiday that seems to have lost a lot of its meaning.  Like some other holidays – Veterans Day, Memorial Day, some would even say Christmas – we now view this as a day off and a long weekend. Many children associate today with the end of summer and going back to school.

The first American Labor Day was marked on a Tuesday – September 5, 1882 – organized by the Central Labor Union in New York as a day of rest for working persons.

The Haymarket Riots (or Haymarket affair or Haymarket massacre) was a demonstration on Tuesday, May 4, 1886, at the Haymarket Square in Chicago. It started out as a rally in support of striking workers. Someone threw a bomb at police as they dispersed the public meeting and that resulted in gunfire from the police, the deaths of eight police officers (most from friendly fire) and some civilians.

The legal proceedings that followed got international press and eight “anarchists” were tried for murder. Four men were convicted and executed, and one committed suicide in prison, although the prosecution conceded none of the defendants had thrown the bomb.

U.S. President Grover Cleveland supported moving the holiday to a September date to avoid associations with the Haymarket riot and Socialist May Day associations. He signed a bill into law making the September Labor Day observance a federal holiday in 1894.

Most other countries celebrate workers on May first of each year. “May Day” refers to several public holidays but is associated with International Workers’ Day, or Labour Day, a day of political demonstrations and celebrations organized by unions and other groups.

Americans don’t really do much to celebrate work or workers today. We have barbecues, backyard blowouts, watch early college football games. And yet, now is not a good time for workers. Unemployment is high and businesses are cutting back. It’s not a good time for labor unions either. There are lots of demands for concessions by unions on their contracts and some politicians are calling for an end to unions.

America is a work-obsessed culture and it seems a shame that this holiday doesn’t have more of a connection to the positive aspects of work and workers.

Men and Friendship


This is a followup to my earlier post on friendship.  When I was writing the first one, I came across several articles that talked about men and friendship. I’m sure someone can write the women and friendship side too, but I will limit myself to my gender.

One article says that “Men are hurting, and, according to many researchers, masculinity is what is hurting them and making it hard for them to maintain friendships.” A study on the harm done by toxic masculinity points to this view.

Though I think it is less true today than it was 50 or more years ago, society still tends to signal to males that they should be stoic, not showing their feelings and still encourages physicality and aggressiveness.

A TEDMED talk by Niobe Way, author of Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection says that the idea that “boys will be boys” is a harmful myth. It’s a phrase that’s often used to describe the mischievous, competitive, or aggressive behavior of some boys and men. But it helps to perpetuate a stereotype and the dismissal of these behaviors.

We live in a time when there are increasing rates of suicide and violence among boys and young men. The American Psychological Association did a study about harmful masculinity. 

A less academic article in Harper’s Bazaar talks about the ways that straight men lean on women (especially wives and girlfriends) to do their emotional labor. And this article in GQ looks at another view of that writing about men whose friends are mostly women.

Even when men have close male friends, the ideas of intimacy and vulnerability in a friendship may not be even addressed. A part of this is clearly based on a desire to be seen as masculine and not wanting to cross over into femininity. And another part, I believe, is a hesitancy to ask personal questions and dig below the surface topics of a friendship. In that way, friendships remain acquaintances.

The research shows that it is very important for children (especially boys) to have enriching friendships with adults who are able to express emotions. This means beyond the relationships of parents and close relatives.

Observations such as the fact that researchers find that men don’t try very hard to maintain friendships once they’re married. Their new mal friendships often come from the workplace and remain at the workplace and maintain a “business-like” demeanor.

It’s confusing. We still use the expression “man up” (even at times directed at a woman) to mean follow those male stereotypes. And yet much research unsurprisingly finds that boys and men are nor really any different from any humans. They are empathic and yearn for close friendships more than anything else.


Making, Keeping and Losing Friends

friends girls

This past week, I met for drinks with a friend from elementary school. We were good friends when we were in school together, but he moved when we were 10 years old and we lost touch. Through the connections of the Web (I still think of that www as meaning something different from the Internet), we reconnected. Our meeting was fun and nostalgic. I’m sure there were synapses firing in our brains that night that had not made those connections for a long time. That’s because we had not seen each other for 56 years.

The word “friend” has undergone some redefining in the age of social media. Even though I may have hundreds of Facebook friends, I know that very few of them are what I consider to be friends.

It is totally human to want connections and friendship with people. Setting social media aside, making and keeping friends takes some work.

A segment on NPR’s  Life Kit (a collection of podcasts on making life better) about friends has the interesting three-part title of Accept The Awkwardness: How To Make Friends (And Keep Them).

There is the awkwardness of making a new friend sometimes and accepting that awkwardness can be a problem for someone that limits their opportunities for new friendships. Then there is the actual starting of friendship, and then there is the cultivation of a friendship so that it lasts.

I have many people who I would have classified as friends from school (kindergarten through college) and from my workplaces who I never saw outside of that setting and who I rarely or never see since that setting ended. Are they still friends? I don’t think so.

Facebook once promoted using friend lists and I set up about a dozen using school, work, former students, poetry people, etc. They seem to have fallen from favor and I’m not even sure where to find them in the app anymore.  One default category there was “acquaintance” which I think is a good word to describe a person you know slightly, but who is not a friend.

The NPR podcast had several suggestions. One is “Accept the awkwardness and assume that other people need new friends, too.”  That uncomfortable moment of introducing yourself,  in person or via an email or text or whatever, is a time when you feel somewhat exposed. There is the possibility of rejection, which no time wants.

Another suggestion is the optimistic “Remember that people will like you more than you think they will.” I’m not sure even this late in life that I have arrived at that conclusion about myself.  NPR talked to a researcher who studies the “liking gap,” which says that the little voice in your head telling you that somebody didn’t like you very much is wrong, so don’t listen to it.

They also say that you should “invest in activities that you love” because doing things you’re passionate about will naturally draw people to you, and you’ll naturally connect with other people who share something already.

I mentioned the possibility of rejection earlier and that for me was a major problem for me when it came to dating. I separate making new friends to making connections that I feel would be romantic. But their advice is “to treat friendship as seriously as you would dating.” I don’t think I agree, but since I have been out of the dating game for decades, I can’t really evaluate the 2019 situation.

To maintain a friendship you really do need to be present. You have to turn off the many distractions and really listen and notice things about your friend. I have become a friendship notetaker using my phones’ notes and contacts apps to remember birthdays, anniversaries, children, relatives, jobs other life information to make connections with friends’ lives.

ADDITIONAL: Gillian Sandstrom’s research on the liking gap found that after strangers have conversations, they are liked more than they know. She gives detailed instructions for how to in her scavenger hunt instructions – you can even take part in her research.