Slough. (slŭf) n. An outer layer or covering that is shed or removed.
Humans continuously slough skin cells, millions every day. Sometimes I speed up the process by using a little abrasive cleanser to smooth the rough spots, or get a facial at the spa to peel away the tired, dead cells. It feels good to be rid of that dull layer, to turn over old cells for new. And you know this one…as we age this process s-l-o-w-s, less collagen is produced, and we can’t replenish the cells as quickly as we once did. This causes our thinning skin to sag and wrinkle. I get skin checkups with my dermatologist, to check for skin cancer, and rub lotions and oils on my body, especially over the area that I had radiation. And I fall for products devoted to “sensitive, aging skin” that promise to bring back a youthful glow. When I look in the mirror, I try not to be critical, but I see OLDER ME.
Red spots and bruises dot my body, some from Pepin when she jumps up on me, but some just appear, adding to the freckled, speckled pattern of my outer layer.
Skin is the largest organ of our body. It protects us, allows sensation and forms our body image. It holds us together, will expand and contract if it needs to, and is our cover. The phrase, “Beauty is being comfortable in your own skin,” (or variations on this premise), have been quoted by countless celebrities. And often as we age, we find it easier to claim this comfort in ourselves. Let go of what others think of my outfit, or my varicose veins when I wear shorts. I can wear my wrinkles and age spots with a smile, less concerned about the appearance of my outer self.
Shed. (shed) v. To cast off some natural covering. n. Something (such as the skin of a snake) that is discarded through shedding.
Phil brought me a snakeskin he found in the woodpile, where he had been clearing. If it had been a live snake I would have been less than thrilled, but this was the shed of a garter snake–a tubular, transparent sheath embossed with a diamond pattern–thinner at the tail, wider at the head. I wondered why the snake chose the woodpile for leaving its skin behind. (I checked out this resource from DNR. ) A snake’s body continues to grow, but its skin doesn’t. It knows how to grow a roomier skin, and discard the old. Just prior to shedding, the snake will rub its head on something sharp to tear the outer layer. It then crawls through a tight space, like the narrow places between stacked wood, sliding out of its skin. Like peeling off a sock, in one continuous piece.
Finding a “shed” is prized evidence of growth.
To Native Americans, the snake is a symbol of transformation and healing. Often a young snake will shed before reproduction of after giving birth, and will find a safe place to hide out. Before a snake sheds its skin, it begins to look somewhat bluish in color and its eyes look opaque or clouded over, because the newly formed skin will cover its eyes. Once the skin is shed, the eyes clear, the skin is supple and moist. and with it carries on in a new form. Snake’s message to me is you need to shed your skin, when you have outgrown the old . Be vulnerable to the wisdom and knowledge gained by this process, to see the world from a new perspective.
Fledge (flej) v. to rear until ready for flight or independent activity.
August can be a restless time, an urgent countdown to fit in the last bits of summer fun, to take in a ballgame, one more picnic dinner, or trip to the DQ. Our calendars remind us that school starts in a week, cool nights and shorter days are coming. Already the light has changed, sunsets come earlier, and the grasshoppers whine us to sleep.
We have had house wrens nesting in the tiny bird house that hangs under the eaves of our porch. It is a very attractive house measured by a human esthetic–shake roof, hand-painted flowers on the front and sides.
In early Summer, when we start eating on the deck, we see the nest building begin, the little brown birds carry grasses and twigs through the hole of the house. And one day we hear the sound of little ones calling from dawn to dusk. The parents keep one eye on us as they make trips back and forth to feed their noisy chicks. You can see the wings of moths or the long legs of a spider stick out of their tiny beaks, as they deliver each bit, landing on the edge of the opening. It is hard to imagine how tiny birds can produce the volume of their scolding, chattering calls, the moment mom or dad flies off for more food. The house swings back and forth with their raucous activity.
The latest group has fledged. Tonight sitting on the deck at dinner, the bird house is still. Not unlike our own house when our children left for college, and now when the grandboys go home after a day with us. Watching the constancy of care and lively activity of raising young makes me both tired and satisfied that much of my work is done. The energy it takes is an expenditure I can no longer make, now more content with the quieter and slower pace of nurturing. Still, this time of endings and beginnings is a time to reflect on the endless metaphors of the empty nest. What I might shed, how I need to grow, and when I might leave the safety of home.