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The Loon

I woke up Friday morning at about 2:30 AM and could not get back to sleep. Finally, I turned the light on and read from a book by Jacques Derrida. It was not as exotic as hearing a loon out on the lake Mary Oliver writes about, but I found refuge reading about the Derridean concept différance.

The word is a deliberate misspelling of the word difference in French and the verb differer which means both to defer and differ. It is the space and time we defer to what and who is different as we encounter it and them. A person would not hear the difference (différance) in speech, but would see it in print. Still, if I did not know the word, I could easily not see the difference in writing.

Needless to say, I found my way back to sleep in the magical reading I found in the hour or so that lapsed. Today, I recalled the times camping, hiking, fishing, etc. where the loon called and I stopped wondering whether it spoke to me or someone else in that moment? Was it deferring to some difference I could not sense and imagine.

Not quite four a.m., when the rapture of being alive
strikes me from sleep, and I rise
from the comfortable bed and go
to another room, where my books are lined up
in their neat and colorful rows. How

magical they are! I choose one
and open it. Soon
I have wandered in over the waves of the words
to the temple of thought.

And then I hear
outside, over the actual waves, the small,
perfect voice of the loon. He is also awake,
and with his heavy head uplifted he calls out
to the fading moon, to the pink flush
swelling in the east that, soon,
will become the long, reasonable day.

Inside the house
it is still dark, except for the pool of lamplight
in which I am sitting.

I do not close the book.

Neither, for a long while, do I read on.

Monarch

The universe we live in is magical. As Tere Sievers pointed out, nature arranges itself with slight of hand. A caterpillar slowly becomes a monarch butterfly. The caterpillar transforms from something we usually pay little attention to. In fact, we often see it as something that strips the last green leaf, but somehow nature keeps in balance in the caterpillar`s metamorphosis.

The striped suit fat worm takes a two-week nap and emerges bedecked in the ballroom gown of the monarch butterfly ready to begin its dance. When we take time and are mindful of the relationships that exist in nature, even those we do not sense immediately, there is something sacred in that process. Humans join in those relationships even when we do not see them. There is a co-dependency shared, yet not fully sensed. We live in community and communicate with all nature’s phenomena.

Black antennas twitch

as the caterpillar

strips the last green leaf

from the naked milkweed.

Striped flesh shed,

the green skin below

becomes a jade pendant

rimmed with gold,

hung by a black thread.

Nature, that green magician,

arranges a slight of hand.

The fat worm in a striped suit

slides into its chrysalis

naps for a fortnight

wakes,

draped in orange,

ready to dance.

Wind, Water, Stone

We continuously act on the world and it acts on us. There is a constant interacting shaping us and the world. Sabbath represents a space when we take time, a few moments, an entire day, and try meet the world more fully. We step beyond the busyness and entering a welcoming spaciousness that holds us.

Octavio Paz provided a beautiful metaphor that brings the continuous interacting to life. Humans, similar to water, wind, stone, hollow spaces, disperse their gifts, and provide shelter for each other. We act in ways offering uplifting opportunities to others . As we step into Sabbath’s spaciousness, we encounter the sculptures, the holding spaces, and the transforming that is always happening around us and in us. We take time and sing, whisper, and find stillness in those spaces.

The water hollowed the stone,
the wind dispersed the water,
the stone stopped the wind.
Water and wind and stone.

The wind sculpted the stone,
the stone is a cup of water,
The water runs off and is wind.
Stone and wind and water.

The wind sings in its turnings,
the water murmurs as it goes,
the motionless stone is quiet.
Wind and water and stone.

One is the other and is neither:
among their empty names
they pass and disappear,
water and stone and wind.

The Way Sunshine Smells

We picked dandelions and put them on the kitchen table in a mason jar. My mom would take them and put them there not saying they were weeds. Members of Kathy’s family ate dandelion greens as a salad. As our boys grew up, they picked dandelions and we put them in vases for a few days as the dandelions gave up their prime moments and shared the way sunshine smells.

Tamara Madison wrote this poem about daffodils not dandelions. It reminds me of the wonder we live in. Nature is transient. It moves at its pace and sometimes we pay attention to it. In a world filled with busyness, it is hard to realize we have little control over what happens outside our self. We control our personal responses to the world and its phenomena, human and non-human. When I reflect on what is was like to be a child and the many things I did not take for granted, it points out the transience I live with and a way to approach it. Daffodils and dandelions are the way sunshine smells and honoring me with their presence, as I honor them.

Ten daffodils stand in a pasta sauce jar
giving up their moment of prime
to brighten this cluttered kitchen table.

Yellow lovelies, I am honored
to have you here. Outside you’d be
just another bit of the great flowering world,
but in my kitchen, among the papers,
the bottles, the bananas growing tired
in the bowl, you are amazement itself.

Outside amid the orange blossoms,
the roses, the sweet alyssum,
your light scent would be lost.
Here, you turn this morning kitchen
Into a festival of fragrance – you
are the way sunshine smells.

Rhubarb

We have rhubarb in our backyard and it yields fruit through the summer. Kathy and I grew up where rhubarb was inexpensive and plentiful. It made great pies, jams, canned fruit, and was edible, with sugar, when eaten raw as it is tart.

It is interesting to note how, as we age, we notice things that seemed less relevant earlier. Larry Schug reminded me about rhubarb. I took this particular plant for granted as I grew up, but they create miracles as do other plants and animals in our world. Rhubarb provided an inexpensive dessert and snack that, as I recall, seemed available year round in some form.

When I reflect on nature, I see miracles and the ordinary is more powerful than when taken for granted. Nature is a great provider and takes care of human needs in ways that are not always readily evident unless I take time to see treasures provided.

By April, sour red stalks
push elephant-ear leaves
into near-earth atmosphere.
Rhubarb plans ahead,
years, decades even,
lives sustainably on the interest
of sunlight stored under ground,
having folded up its solar collectors
in September,
when the days grow too short
to make sugar.
See how simple is a miracle.

I Worried

Life has aspects we cannot change about and worrying simply comes to nothing as Mary Oliver suggests. There are many things we do not control even when we think we can. It is important to let go and recognize these phenomena as part of the unfolding of life.

Although Mary Oliver includes phenomena outside our control, she includes advice on how to deal with the lack of control. We can go out and sing or act in ways that are creative and life-giving. We can accept the world as it is and not try to correct it. Nature will do what she naturally learns to do. Our role is to be in the world, live in it lovingly, and attempt to do no harm in our living.

We control certain phenomena in the sense we can avoid what is destructive, but there are things that we learn and taught in living naturally.

I worried a lot.  Will the garden grow, will the rivers

flow in the right direction, will the earth turn

as it was taught, and if not how shall

I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,

can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows

can do it and I am, well,

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,

am I going to get rheumatism,

lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.

And gave it up.  And took my old body

and went out into the morning,

and sang.

Elegance

Kathy and I drove to British Columbia today. It is about an eight-hour drive so lots of time for quiet and conversation. Driving through mountains there is a lot to behold in the pure silence married to nature’s stillness.

At one point, Kathy commented how at this time of year the mountains in the distant seem closer with snow coming down further. During the summer, the mountains are snow-free and do not stand out the same way. Today, it looked like there had been snow in the past couple of days contrasting the darkness.

Linda Gregg’s poem captures how human silence provides humans with opportunities to witness nature’s pure stillness. In moments of pure silence, we feel ourselves embedded in something larger containing us and everything else. There is a sense of smallness and, yet, a sense of largeness in this exquisite elegance. In these moments, we feel a deep sense of caring from the world and towards the world.

All that is uncared for.

Left alone in the stillness

in that pure silence married

to the stillness of nature.

A door off its hinges,

shade and shadows in an empty room.

Leaks for light. Raw where

the tin roof rusted through.

The rustle of weeds in their

different kinds of air in the mornings,

year after year.

A pecan tree, and the house

made out of mud bricks. Accurate

and unexpected beauty, rattling

and singing. If not to the sun,

then to nothing and to no one.

Afternoon on a Hill

Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote this beautiful poem which reminded me about how the greatest things are sometimes about those things which touch us, but we do not necessarily touch them. The world greets us in the form of the sun, flowers, its geology, sky, etc. We sense these things in the fullest way. They reach into us and touch us deeply in a spiritual way.

When we are present in the world, it makes the world come alive, we only need to sit, and it makes us feel fully we are part of it and not outside it.

I will be the gladdest thing

   Under the sun!

I will touch a hundred flowers

   And not pick one.

I will look at cliffs and clouds

   With quiet eyes,

Watch the wind bow down the grass,

   And the grass rise.

And when lights begin to show

   Up from the town,

I will mark which must be mine,

   And then start down!

What Was Told, That

Rumi wrote poetry 900 years ago and it still resonates in the 21st Century. We see the world change and live in its busyness trying to keep pace with the change. It is hard to turn inwards, see the beauty that exists within, and acknowledging its importance in helping us keep pace.

Regardless of faith and even when we do not have it, there still exists a source deep within each of us that when we touch it and let it speak to us is able to guide us in wonderful and amazing ways. I found the peaceful drive today in the lee of the Rocky Mountains inspirational and something that I share with the world and with each person in the world.

What was said to the rose that made it open was said

to me here in my chest.

What was told the cypress that made it strong

and straight, what was

whispered the jasmine so it is what it is, whatever made

sugarcane sweet, whatever

was said to the inhabitants of the town of Chigil in

Turkestan that makes them

so handsome, whatever lets the pomegranate flower blush

like a human face, that is

being said to me now. I blush. Whatever put eloquence in

language, that’s happening here.

The great warehouse doors open; I fill with gratitude,

chewing a piece of sugarcane,

in love with the one to whom every that belongs!

Tewksbury Road

There is something about walking in nature that stimulates all the senses. I come alive in those walks and feel energized. We walked the North Saskatchewan River Valley two years ago during Autumn. The leaves turned colour. Over time, I smelled rich decay as Nature continued in her life-cycle.

Nature celebrates her Sabbath. It is a time of renewal emerging from what was alive. She never wastes.

John Masefield described a pastoral scene I imagined in a multi-sensory way. There is a universality in these scenes that touches the spirit.

It is good to be out on the road, and going one knows not where,

Going through meadow and village, one knows not whither or why;

Through the grey light drift of the dust, in the keen cool rush of the air,

Under the flying white clouds, and the broad blue lift of the sky.

And to halt at the chattering brook, in a tall green fern at the brink

Where the harebell grows, and the gorse, and the foxgloves purple and white;

Where the shifty-eyed delicate deer troop down to the brook to drink

When the stars are mellow and large at the coming on of the night.

O, to feel the beat of the rain, and the homely smell of the earth,

Is a tune for the blood to jig to, and joy past power of words;

And the blessed green comely meadows are all a-ripple with mirth

At the noise of the lambs at play and the dear wild cry of the birds.

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