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Monthly Archives: April 2020

Neighbours

Here is a wonderful quote from Abraham Joshua Heschel on how we should live life and, I think, view our neighbours in all their forms:

“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazemement [to] get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

I dip into my photographic archives and poems I wrote around them. Again, this is a trip to Waterton Lakes National Park. It is closed right now. It is interesting to revisit the images and remembrances they stir. It is a reminder of living life in radical amazement, taking nothing for granted.

During the trip, we hiked in an area where there were signs about the possible presence of grizzly bear. Its Latin name is Ursus arctos horribilis. The horrible is an apt description if you end up on the wrong side of one.

When I hike, I wonder what hides from my sight and is quiet as I pass. The dense underbrush path hides things from me, giving them a sense of security. The signs reminded me I am not alone, and our neighbours are not always human.

As luck had it, we saw bear that day. At first glance, this one had the right colouring for grizzly. A closer examination indicated it was missing the tell-tale hump on its back and the wider forehead of a grizzly and was a brown coloured black bear. Behaviour wise it was too close to humans, as it was right next to the road and a hotel. Grizzly are pretty reclusive neighbours.

This one was a black bear for sure. Its colour did not make identifying it a problem. As well, it was smaller. That suggests it was younger, probably born a year before we were there.

Even black bear are dangerous. I tell hockey players I coach about the bear rule to decide on what is appropriate language. I tell them, even with our friends, we don’t know what might trigger a negative (horrible) response. Bear attack about 1 out of 10 times they make contact with humans. We just don’t know which of the 10 times.

Hiking someone’s home

Treading warily, softly

Horribilis‘ habitat.

Not all our neighbours are fearsome. This mountain sheep posed for his picture.

I leave you with this poem about neighbours of various forms.

Neighbours near,

Some visible;

Ducks laugh and swim

Distract us, grouse–

Protect family and spouse

Woodpecker’s hunting lunch–

Delectable larvae, I’m sure.

Others less in evidence;

A fish plays–

Loon here and gone

Games of hide and seek.

A moose–

Signs they have been,

Tracks and droppings.

Insects whirring in the stillness’

Butterflies flitting and feeding

Moving seeds from place to place.

Phantom breeze brushing the floor,

Up high, solitary leaf responding

Waving

Trees sighing.

What watches me?

Neighbours present,

Unseen community–

Nature piecing its puzzles,

Seamless, yet not form fitting.

International Peace Park

I love to go to Waterton National Park and, by extension, to Glacier National Park. They border each other on the Alberta-Montana border and form what is known as an International Peace Park.

When I go to Spokane, I drive past the turnoff to Waterton and it brings back by fond memories each time. Kathy and I spent part of our honeymoon, roughing it in a tent, in Waterton. The scenery is beyond spectacular and, when we are in settings like this, the poet in is spoken to.

The first day we were there in 2012 this deer was in the townsite unconcerned about human presence.

We traveled down the big lake and crossed the Canada-US border. This was the boat we took. Despite appearances, the boat is over 90 years old and was refurbished.

Joining us together

Offering a hopeful message

Carrying peace each day.

Once we got to the American side of the border, we stayed and hiked into Kootenai Lake. We had our passports, cleared customs, and were able to take a later boat. Along the way, I saw some great sights. Having said this, the brush along the trail was so heavy we could not get off of it and I wondered what we missed.

Nature’s cathedral

Dancing lights mingle with shadows

Peace’s benediction.

Happy Haiku

As part of my PhD, the university required I take two ethics courses. In 2012, I took an ethics class. A central theme in the course was the role eudaimonia plays in one’s life. We often translate eudaimonia as being happiness. It is more than being happy in the moment, as that is fleeting. Instead, Aristotle expanded on it to mean human flourishing and even blessedness, which occurs even in moments of distress.

When we think of eudaimonia in that way, it opens up opportunites to reflect on how we experience flourishing. In my case, it is the human relationships, a love of sports, hockey specifically, and writing, particularly poetry. I began to write poetry again, not because I felt at ease with the world, rather because I was unhappy at the time. It was opening up my heart in ways to allow this unhappiness to be dealt with one in ways to help me flourish.

Writing haiku is one poetic form I enjoy. Part of writing them is fun I had teaching how to write them. Students challenged me to write a haiku on the spot. I always began with an idea usually, but not allows, about nature. I got three lines down and then went back to select better words and focus on the syllables.

Students seemed to engage differently as they saw me enjoying writing haiku. Adults sometimes complained. For example parents and administrators questioned teaching poetry. I responded with it is good to write poetry as we learn how to select and use language in precise ways, plus it is fun. They did not always get it. Students did.

Here are a couple of examples that come to mind. It is not that we write as much as it is a process of writing and being written.

coursing cool current

tearing over life’s rocks

crossing to healing

Language and words bridge one’s private struggles and and make it visible and public. I strugled with these haiku. I think I need more practice. I hope they make sense.

Wearing down rough edges

Bridging life’s busyness

Pausing to flourish.

.

Butterfly

Several years ago, a student took these pictures. It is a beautiful example of how we are part of Nature and have to learn our role within as we unify with it. In becoming one with Nature, we experience Nature as a vital piece belonging to a larger fabric of community. We move into a role of stewards, rather than a user and discarder.

In these unifying moments, we experience Nature’s richness and transform. With increasing awarenss and mindfulness, we can experience belonging to, in, and with Nature, rather than outsiders who exploit, use, and discard. The butterfly and each of us become intimate partners in Nature’s dance.

A result of these pictures is the accompanying haiku.

Resting on journeys

Alighting in this moment

Sharing time and space as one.

The student took a second picture from a different angle and in black and white. This led me to a second haiku.

kissing tenderly

stopping to rest on your way

A sensuous miracle.

Have a wonderful Earth Day 2020.

Nature and Progress

Several years ago, Kathy and I drove through the Crowsnest Pass to Spokane. I stopped at an overlook in Brocket. The Pikani Nation (Aapátohsipikáni, Piikáni, and Pekuni) people live there. The sight was awe-inspiring with a contrast between Nature and a wind power farm designed with precision suggesting humans control the environment. How different this idea is from farming in tradtional ways. Nature humbles me when I pause to understand and be grateful for my place and role in it, not as an outsider colonizing and domesticating.

Progress creates an illusion we control Nature. It humbles me when it reminds me that is not a true picture. It is humbling when I pause to understand what a small place I hold in its complete picture, a picture too large to be fully grasped by individuals and collectives.

It is times such as these, not limited to the pandemic, Nature holds the upper hand. It is a Creator, which can be understood in religious terms and in spiritual terms.

Acting as backdrop;

Mountains, sky, clouds,

Providing depth and breadth,

Contrasting our progress.

Human products,

Made by mortal hands,

Marching winged machines,

Small, almost indistinct on this canvas.

Without pattern, yet poetic

River meandering a perfect line,

Finding its way,

Unseen hands guiding,

Winding its way home.

Brocket 1

“Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth. This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. One thing we know: our god is also your god. The earth is precious to him and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator.” Chief Seattle

Nature’s Palette

Regardless of where we travel, we are always in a different ecology. In the mountains, I see how they reach into the sky and how they impact the sky my view. Quite often, I see this change as it is different than what I see at home. Change happens regardless and, when I am out of what I understand as “normal,” change appears different. For me, this is noticeable as the sun sets

Fingers reach the sky

Colours mingle with others

Day merges into night.

I took this picture several years ago on our way to Spokane. As we walked by the river, the sun set. It was a bit overcast and gray, so the colours blended together more than I am used to.

We walked and came around a back street getting another view of the mountains.

last colours dancing

this day slipping away

dark curtain sliding in place.

Rich palette in hand

Desert sky as a canvas

Nature painting masterpieces.

In early March, Kathy and I were in Phoenix. I walk every day and this was my last walk of the day. As I walked, I walked into the sunset and the sky lit up with vivid colours. I suspect being in a desert setting had something to do with it. It is hard to believe we were in a large urban setting.

I always try to remember Nature is all around me. Take care and stay well.

Companion

Etymologically, companion is breaking and sharing bread (panis, pa, and pain) with one another as we come together (com). It is associated with being on a journey, meeting others on the path, and stopping to eat with one another.

Companion lends itself towards metaphor, taking us beyond the literal. Faith and cultural traditions have stories related to helping one another, showing compassion and companionship to others. The word compassion means to share the joys and sorrows fo one’s life with others. When we do this, we do so because we can relate to what someone else is experiencing e.g. the loss of loved one.

On this quest we call life, we can questioning what it means to live this life. How do I share it? I am reading Parker Palmer‘s On the Brink of Everything. Parker repeats this need to understand and share in, sometimes, unexpected ways. It is not a calculated process, which humans often can fall into. After all, to be human is to fall short. It is to do the proper thing and bring out the better angels in ourselves and others.

I tend to think a lot, but this is a time where I am thinking even more. What forms of leadership do we want moving forward? How do we bring some harmony to a world often divided? How do we engage in meaningful dialogue to listen with open hearts to others who have much different experiences?

Arise,

This morning.

Tentatively step into the unknowable,

Discerning one’s voice afresh,

Discovering one’s purpose anew.

Asking,

What nourishes, waters, and heals one’s soul?

Who walks with us?

Who joins us?

Who shares the journey?

Who breaks bread with us?

How do we find refuge in one another?

As we pause and share the path,

Never quite able to step into the other’s steps.

Take care,

In one’s questing,

Speak mindfully, heartfully, graciously

Hear mindfully, heartfully, graciously

Your self and others encountered.

I took this picture in Waterton Lakes National Park. When I hike, nature reminds me to sense how much is closer at hand than I realize. What don’t I see? What don’t I hear? The coronovirus gives me time to reflect and question my priorities. What do I value? Am I true to my values? There are things and people who remain invisible and unheard, yet may be closer at hand than I realize. How do I become a companion and share in their journey without imposing?

John Prine

This was not going to be my next post. Fate steps in and calls on me to share one of the wonderful performers we had a chance to see live. John Prine is as as close as I am to someone contracting Covid-19 and, sadly he passed away last night due to complications. He had underlying health issues as he was a cancer survivor and was 73. The beauty is he leaves a rich book of songs and videos. I share three with you.

The last time Kathy and I saw John Prine he sang this song . It is normally a duet he sang with Iris Dement. Last night, we watched Kevin Bacon and Krya Sedgwick do it on Facebook. The audience howled with laughter as Prine sang the female parts. As you listen, you will understand the humour of the moment. It is called In Spite of Ourselves and is about a couple whose love is unquestionable and they are each other’s big door prize.

These links will take you to many others John Prine did, if you are inclined. He wrote and performed for 40 years and tackled social issues and love in various forms with humour and fearlessness. He is likely entertaining someone in the great beyond.

I played Paradise for students and it has a strong environmental message that echoes mine and I think Wendell Berry about what is lost as faceless corporations tear up Earth, haul it away in big trucks, and label it the progress of man. In Alberta, regulatory processes include land reclamation leaving it as good as it originally was . It reminds me ecology and economy are from the Greek oikos, meaning household.

I leave you with the Missing Years of Jesus, which was the first song I heard of John Prine. It is a tongue-in-cheek look at what we think we know about Jesus, a person we actually know little about in a historical sense.

Set the Backpack Down

Several years ago, I was in the midst of professional struggles and wrote this poem while attending a retreat based on Parker Palmer‘s work. At the time, I was reading his book, The Heart of Democracy. In the book, I came across the following quote:

“Suffering breaks our hearts, but the heart [that is] supple … breaks open, not apart, [and] can grow into greater capacity for the many forms of love. Only the supple heart can hold suffering in a way that opens to new life.”

Joanna Macy has a similar quote: “The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe.” If my memory is accurate it is this quote that informed Parker’s writing at the time. It is about hopefulness. Hopefulness is not going it alone. It is walking up the mountain together, with those who we can share the burdens of our mutual journey together. Companionship is about sharing bread along the journey, not hoarding it. This is an apt metaphor. What does bread mean in our daily lives?

Parker reminded me passion is not just about love that comes easily. Passion is love has moments of suffering, sometimes long moments. We can each grow through these moments or wallow in self-pity. The other part of suffering is I was not in it alone. Whether it was a colleague who listened, parents who came to check in with me every few days, or Kathy giving me space to make career decisions, I was not in these moments alone.

At the time, I was writing poetry for the first time in years and it was a healing space; a space where I tried to become whole. An essential part of becoming whole is speaking from the heart, which may not mean speaking out loud. In speaking to one another this way, I must listen more closely.

Weighing us down;

We set backpacks down,

Without companions,

The path terrifying,

The mountain is high,

Its peak obscured.

Sharing one’s load;

Trusting,

Settng one’s course right,

Being true to one’s heart,

Only other hearts hear,

Will others hear?

Speaking one’s truth;

Inviting,

Sharing

Lightening loads;

Strengthening our resolve,

Straighening backs,

Squaring shoulders,

Holding heads high.

Will we walk together?

Will we share our loads?

Will we lighten the journey?

I leave you with a wonderful short video from a Canadian performer, David Francey called Morning Train.

 

The Simple Life

I began looking through some poetry I have written over the years and the first one I came across was this one called The Simple Life. I am going through the poetry, as I think with the time provided, I might look to put them into a coherent form and publish a book of poetry. I promised myself I would do this and have been given the time to work on project.

I enjoy solitude. For me, it is time to recharge batteries. Even on holidays, I spend time with Kathy and not many others. We visit family and friends, and hike. On the trail, we meet people to see plants and animals of the area.

It is good to be alone at times,

Sheltered by comforting trees,

The wind singing its song,

Here, I experience freedom and peace,

For the moment, worries set aside.

Minnows dart at the water’s edge,

Dancing between light and shadows,

Seemingly, without a care,

There, they experience home’s safety;

Its primal call.

Here, this is me,

I exist within a simple space;

An unseen hand beckons me,

I wave to this life,

Enjoying it each time I return;

Nature’s beauty gradually revealed.

I wrote the poem after spending the day hiking in Waterton Lake National. The one reference is to standing by the lake and watching minnows dart in and out of the sun and shadows. In Arizona, we hiked in an area of Buckeye called Skyline Regional Park.

I took the pictures below over five or six days as the cactus blossomed. As a result, we walked the same path with some variations over that time. We got to see nature’s beauty gradually being revealed.

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