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Wendell Berry wrote that “there is a great restfulness in the sounds small rivers make.” When we mindfully stand and listen and perhaps close our eyes, we hear the restful sounds more clearly. We discover being rooted to a particular place, at least for the moment.

Those small rivers invite us to jump in and paddle as a child might. What the child adds to those sounds and waves are sounds of pleasure. There is no enjoyment while standing on shore, unless we close our eyes and listen closely. Besides the child, we might hear nature speak to us as it hums gently and touches us unexpectedly.

Jeanne Lohmann counsels us to be less serious and not to look for problems to fix as we move through life. The river serves as a wonderful metaphor and life calls to us to be present in each moment and to be fully present.

is whatever comes along,
practice always here while we

keep on shore, all the time
saying we want to get wet.

But the river has ways
of sound and light, ripples

and waves that tell us:
don’t be so serious, rumble in

where nothing is finished or broken
and nothing asks to be fixed.


Love’s Exquisite Freedom

When we love others, things, and places, there is freedom that comes with the constraints that love places on us. Maya Angelou provides a rich, poetic description of how love arrives and frees us.

Love arrives with histories and memories of pleasure and pain. Thomas Merton advised that we call it falling in love, because there are times it can hurt. Despite the possibility of pain, love calls us in ways that give us courage to overcome the risk and we are free to choose love. There is something in that person, that thing, and that place that call and hold us in that relationship.

Wendell Berry writes about affection for people, places, and living. It takes courage to step out and say, “I love this person, this place, and this way of living.” In saying that, what if the other rejects me or their love or that love is taken from me?

We, unaccustomed to courage

exiles from delight

live coiled in shells of loneliness

until love leaves its high holy temple

and comes into our sight

to liberate us into life.

Love arrives

and in its train come ecstasies

old memories of pleasure

ancient histories of pain.

Yet if we are bold,

love strikes away the chains of fear

from our souls.

We are weaned from our timidity

In the flush of love’s light

we dare be brave

And suddenly we see

that love costs all we are

and will ever be.

Yet it is only love

which sets us free.


Traveling at Home

Wendell Berry advises we do not experience the same route twice even in a country we know by heart. I wonder if we can know a country by heart? The chances change and make a new way.

We used to whitewater raft when the boys were younger. The mountain-fed river changed by the minute in June with the heat of the day and increased flow with melting snow. The rocks revealed themselves differently at various times of the day. In the morning, the river was lower and we could see the rocks, but with more water they became submerged. With time and experience, we could sense the differences in the river. Our vision was no longer the only way to know the river.

Heraclitus‘ quote about never stepping in the same river twice because it is changing complements the part about the person changing. We experience the world, its inhabitants, and ourselves as continuously changing. This calls us to be mindful and attentive to the living and the relationships we experience, seen and unseen.

Even in a country you know by heart
it’s hard to go the same way twice.
The life of the going changes.
The chances change and make a new way.
Any tree or stone or bird
can be the bud of a new direction. The
natural correction is to make intent
of accident. To get back before dark
is the art of going.

Be Still in Haste

When I read poetry, it gives me opportunities to consider the rich paradox that living brings with it. Wendell Berry proposes that in the title. How do I experience being still in haste?

David Bohm who was a theoretical physicist suggested that paradox dissolve unlike problems. Problems wait to be solved, but what if there are multiple ways to understand and solve the problem?

Bohm used the example of war and argued that people from all sides justified war citing problems with their enemies. Instead of asking about war, what if we asked about killing innocent children? Bohm suggested, for the most part, humans agreed that killing innocents was wrong. In that case, war is paradoxical and, when we begin with something we agree upon, we begin to dissolve the issue and see it through new eyes.

Time is similarly paradoxical. We act and speak as though we control, quantify, save, and manage it, but this moment is the only time we experience this moment. Time is fleeting and has qualities that resist us, dissolving in its fluidity becoming paradoxical. Time calls us to be present and mindful of the moment we live in, as it dissolves into the next never to be re-experienced.

How quietly I
begin again

from this moment
looking at the
clock, I start over

so much time has
passed, and is equaled
by whatever
split-second is present

from this
moment this moment
is the first.

Still Point

Max Reif describes the rush of life and the calling of nature somehow overriding that rush. The poem reminded me of biblical passage from Matthew 6:28 describing lilies as just being.

What is my hurry? What roots me in this place and time? I overlook the depth of those questions. I enjoy reading Wendell Berry‘s essays about farming. He reminds me that farming is a love of place and time. The small farm is home for people and nature. There is no separation.

My mother said farmers do not need Daily Savings Time. Depending on the time of the year, they understand their work based on the time and space they are in at that moment. When I think of the world as unpatterned, I sense its majestic wholeness and not compartments, rendering them virtual.

Leaving home
for work
each day

I hear the trees
say “What’s your hurry?”

Rooted, they
don’t understand

how in my world
we have to rush
to keep in step.

I haven’t even time
to stop and tell them
how on weekends, too,
schedules wait
like nets.

It’s only on a sick day
when I have to venture out
to pick up medicine

that I understand the trees,
there in all their fullness
in a world unpatterned

full of moments,
full of spaces,
every space
a choice.

This day
has not
been turned yet
on the lathe

this day
lies open, light
and shadow. Breath
fills the body easily.
I step

into a world
waiting like
a quiet lover.

“I” [“No, no, there is no going back”]

I purchased Wendell Berry’s latest book, Our Only World, on Sunday at Auntie’s, a small, independent book store since 1978. If you live in or near or visit Spokane, it is a nice location with restaurants near by.

After my purchases, I realized I had not used one of his poems in some time. I chose this one. I think it might be easy to say this is a bleak poem, talking about death. In a literal way, that makes sense. I take it figuratively.

Jacques Derrida contended that in becoming who we are the previous “who” repeatedly dies, but leaves memories and traces to be recalled. I read this poem, similarly. Who I am is metaphorically a grave of memories and traces that belong to me, but I share in various ways with others and the world. The tree is me standing guard over those memories. Guard might be too protective. Instead, similar to a tree’s rings signifying its age and even various years’ conditions, the tree represents the memories and stories about my living.

The tree allows me to recount my story, but not as it happened. My stories contain gaps, uncertainties, and ambiguity. I repeatedly edit them, filling in blanks, recalling events, and forgetting other things. As I recount my stories, they form a fictional account of who I am, where I’ve been, when I thrived, and when I struggled, similar to the rings on that poetic tree.

No, no, there is no going back.

Less and less you are

that possibility you were.

More and more you have become

those lives and deaths

that have belonged to you.

You have become a sort of grave

containing much that was

and is no more in time, beloved

then, now, and always.

And so you have become a sort of tree

standing over the grave.

Now more than ever you can be

generous toward each day

that comes, young, to disappear

forever, and yet remain

unaging in the mind.

Every day you have less reason

not to give yourself away.


Be Still in Haste

I find Wendell Berry’s poetry speaks to me about being mindful and attentive in each moment I live. It calls me to be present and explore the mystery in each moment, knowing each moment carries me like a river flowing without knowing where it is going.

The etymology of anarchy suggests we continuously begin anew in each moment. It is not a free-for-all with no rules. Instead, the universe provides us with the rules of what it means to live in that moment. In being present, I come to understand each moment is a re-beginning that is forever unfolding.

Taking the time to be present, allows me to be still even when the world and others are in haste.

How quietly I
begin again

from this moment

looking at the
clock, I start over

so much time has
passed, and is equaled
by whatever
split-second is present

from this
moment this moment
is the first



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