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Category: unlocking the sacred

a cry for holy Earth…

earth from moon, apollo 8 mission. 12.24.68

A historic extraterrestrial sky—the Earth viewed from the Moon, Apollo 8 mission, Lunar orbit, December 24, 1968

a cry for holy Earth…

or might it be a cry from holy Earth?

i’ve been up since the chorus of dawn awoke me. the night, as it faded, grew thick and thicker in cacophony of high notes, the ones that warble from the breath of birds. IMG_9333

i tiptoed down the stairs, and planted myself in the awakening of the day. i watched the sun rays, inch by inch, rise above the fence on the eastern edge of my garden. watched the sunlight wash the stems and leaves in slant of incandescence. watched the shadows come. and the patchwork play: dappled morning proof.

the day’s upon us. and the earth must want to crumple under heaves of tears. the heavens, certainly, are crying.

that blue marbled orb above, the one afloat in sea of darkness, it’s holy Earth, the one small orb upon which souls live and breathe. souls delight. souls mourn. souls hold hands and dance. they collapse in sorrow, too.

that one marble in the universe, it’s ours to keep. it’s where the theatre of life plays on and on. from socrates to shakespeare and beyond. it’s held horrors — horrors beyond divine imagination: the holocaust. the civil war. vietnam. the awful wars — wars I and II.

but, too, and mostly, it’s been the stage for risings up of the human spirit. it’s where Gandhi walked. and the land where Jesus drew lines in sand. it’s where the brave souls of Selma gathered to march across the bridge. it’s where each and every day unnoticed acts of heart play out — the special needs kid charging down the soccer field with the ball, who then notices his little friend off on the sideline, crying for the ball, so he takes a U-turn, runs the ball to his friend and lays it at her feet, so she can score the goal.

every once in a while, the act of goodness is so spectacular, the whole world takes notice. (consider here the three who, on a portland train last week, rose up against anti-muslim racism, laid down their lives in the face of evil, and then the grieving mother of one wrote a letter to the President, writing of her son, “in the face of hate he did not hesitate to act with love.”)

it’s the planet we call home. it’s where our everyday acts of heroism and atrocity play out. it’s ours to keep. to tend. to till. to caretake as it takes care of us. we are its harbor masters and its holy guardians.

for me, it’s not only where i plant my feet, it’s where my soul finds breath, takes flight. it’s my cathedral, the sanctuary that taps me on the heart and whispers, God is here. did you catch the moonlight through the leaves? did you see the mama bird pluck the worm and fly it home to where her babies chirp? and what of the butterfly, the one that alights on the meadow rue? or the monarchs who every spring and autumn, criss-cross half the planet, returning to the very same tree, generation after generation?

those are the everyday wonders, the ones that unfold just beyond my kitchen door. i’m not even talking majesties, the likes of yosemite and china’s nine “most-sacred mountains.” the ones that just might melt me at the knees, leave me gasping to fill my lungs with breath.

there is so much magnificence i’ve not seen, so much i can barely begin to imagine.

but it’s been entrusted to us. all of it.

as i lay under my sheets, listening to early morning’s song, i began to cobble a wonderlist, those sacred blessings of holy earth, the countless wonders that set my soul aloft. for me, they’re all keys unlocking the doorways deep within, inviting in the swirl of heaven here on earth. they’re where God comes in, takes me by the hand, takes me soaring. where prayer and breath are one…

  • the pit-a-pat of rain, against the leaves, the roof, or window panes. no matter. it’s simply the susurrations of element to earth that lull me every time.
  • the roar of wind, or even the gentle tickle, the interplay of air and leaf. i’ve been known to stand stone-still, ears perked, hair awhirl, absorbing every decibel.
  • any day now, firefly flicker, original flash of wonder.
  • the “audible stillness” of the night, as nathaniel hawthorne so finely, so poetically, put it. that prelude to darkness just before the crickets pack away their chirp, or the cardinals offer up their closing notes…
  • butterfly couplets shimmering across a lazy afternoon.
  • moonlight casting midnight’s lace upon the lawn.
  • inflamed twilight sky, rosy-streaked, purple-bruised, ablaze with setting sun.
  • the lonely haunting cry of the unseen geese’s night-crossing.
  • resilient mama bird instructing flight, over and over and over.
  • those mysteries we learn from books: how baby birds memorize the night sky, fix their inner compass to the lone star that never shifts; the barely-conceivable workings of the monarchs’ thousand-mile migration, on wings that weigh less than half a grain of aspirin.

the list goes on and on and on…..i could — and should — keep a life list. in fact, maybe i just will. and in the meantime, i and all of us who know this earthly orb as a one-time gift from the heavens, we will rise up against the counter-tides. we’ll not let the sacred be wiped out by obstinance and ignorance. we’ll stanch the cries of holy blessed earth, apply the few wise balms we know….

please, please, add to the list of wonders brought to us by heaven and earth in their ineffable gloriousness….

and may your first weekend in june be blessed…..

earth from the moon

hang on, holy Earth. we’ll not abandon you….

holy ground

IMG_7249

from Pope Francis’ encyclical, June 2015, quoting Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew:
“It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet.”

in these hours when my heart feels hollowed, i find myself staring out windows, through panes of glass, into the garden, sweeping my eyes across the mostly fallow faded landscape. mostly, all i feel is empty. the thrum of a heart’s ache drowning out the usual song. but then, i fine-tune my attention, i look more closely. i am drawn out the door and into the rinse of springtime’s particular shade of sunlight.

it hurt, at first, to imagine this year’s garden absent its cheeriest animator, the old striped cat curled into his napping coil, occasionally opening an eye, giving chase to a robin, lumbering back to the spot where he crushes whatever nubs tried to grow beneath him.

but then i started to tiptoe down the bluestone walk. i plopped onto the stoop just beyond the kitchen door, beside the mailbox that holds all my garden tools. i looked for signs of life, of earth’s wintry crust breaking open, giving way, cleaving apart so the season’s first stirrings had room to trickle back to the surface, bursting forth.

more than any year in a long long time, this month of march has my fingers — and my heart — yearning to dig in the dirt. to brush away dried and shriveled grasses. to cut back stems and sticks that reach to nowhere. to nip and tuck and prune. to break apart the winter’s hard-pounded soil, to comb through clumps, sprinkle seeds, tuck in roots. to make way for the earth to bloom in the ways it so insistently blooms, hope-filled spring after long hard winter, again and again, year after year. no matter the pounding our hearts have taken.

it’s holy ground, the acres and acres that invite us in, to begin a close and careful examination. to witness the astonishments the earth offers up, offers forth.

IMG_7252and so, this Good Friday, this holy friday, i walk in silence, and i whisper the prayer of the earth once again unfurling in beauty. earth knows just how parched our soul might be in this the season of starting over again.

it’s the garden, the woodland, the gurgling of the winter’s thaw in the creek, these are the places that animate the coming back to life — of the earth, and the curled-up spirit within me. the one that just might find the courage to reach once again for the softness of springtime’s return.

i take to heart the words of dear pope francis, above quoting the patriarch bartholomew. i subscribe to the belief that God wrote the Book of Nature, and that each and every unfurling tendril, each and every bulb that shoots down roots and shoots up that periscope of green, each and every quivering of feather or leaf, it’s all here to whisper the presence of the Divine and Holy Wisdom. all we need do is plunk ourselves amid its quiet narrative, all we need do is pay attention, and the lessons and learnings will tumble upon us. breathe healing into our brokenness. breathe hope into our hollows. breathe, again and again, the story of resurrection, of life tiptoeing in to all the moments and places where we thought only death was left in the wake.

may this Good and holy Friday fill you with prayer. and with hope to wash away your deepest sorrow. should you prefer a more solemn meditation for this day of crucifixion, i offer this post from the past, the eloquence of silence.

how do you find hope in the shadow of your sorrow?

snowdrops

cradled

sunflowers

cradled (v.) hold something gently and protectively.

that’s the dictionary doing what it does: defining.

and then we come to the part i always love best, the underpinning of every word, its linguistic DNA, its etymology, its roots reaching back in time, across oceans, deep into the vault of centuries past. and here we read this (from my friends at the online etymology dictionary):

cradle (n.) “baby’s bed,” c.1200, cradel, from Old English cradol “little bed, cot,” from Proto-Germanic *kradulas “basket” (cognates: Old High German kratto, krezzo “basket,” German Krätze “basket carried on the back”). From late 14c. as “device for holding or hoisting.”

in the sixteenth century, circa 1500, the etymologists tell us, the noun slipped into its form as a verb, and that’s how i like it best. to be cradled. to cradle.

i was humming around in my head, coursing the bumps and the vales of my brain, in search of a word that means “what’s keeping me from wafting away.”

“grounded” didn’t work because it sounded like i’d been sent to the doghouse. “tethered” came close, but only if you pictured a space walker tied to a lifeline, the sort that NASA so solidly builds, a lifeline that allows for floating, drinking in the sights of the heavens. literally. “tethered,” if you pictured a leash, did not work.

and then, in that way that sometimes makes you feel there’s an angel plopped on your shoulder, leaning in, whispering words in your ear, suddenly, out of the vapors, “cradled” appeared. and all at once, i felt my shoulders go soft, in that exhale of a way. when you whoosh out your worries and cares, and all’s right with the world, as robert browning once put it (“song from pippa passes”).

and so i am — we are all — being cradled. each and every day. breathing or not. we are cradled in great tender arms that hold us. i particularly love the notion from the german Krätze, “basket carried on the back.” breathe that one in for a moment.

right in here — the past luscious whirling days — i’ve been feeling a wee bit lightheaded, and my heart’s been pounding so hard i worry, as i so often do, that it just might give up the ghost. so, as if my life depended on it this morning, i pulled myself out from under the sheets. and i tiptoed out to the holy cathedral just outside the kitchen door, the one that vaults to the heavens, the one that this morning was lit by a crescent of moon. looked to me, more than anything, like one big eye winking at me. God’s eye?

and all around me, the dawn’s soft cool blanket fluttered, as if on a clothesline. the cardinals, cloaked in scarlet as always, were up and chirping away — it’s fairly hard to beat a cardinal out of bed. the dew glistened. my toes took a bath when i tiptoed across the yard to fill the feeder with seed.

i stood there breathing. feeling the arms wrap around me. winking back at the moon. then, i looked to my old shingled house, melted at the buttery light of the kitchen, glowing. sighed a deep sigh of thanks for the house that never fails to keep me safe.

i stood there for a short little bit, unfurled my morning vespers, felt the soles of my feet sinking soft into the earth that holds us, always holds us. and then i puttered back toward the kitchen, where a lunch box awaited, and upstairs, a growing boy slept.

as i poured my first mug of coffee, i stopped to drink in a clutch of sunflowers that peeked from the old chipped milk pitcher. i thought of the blessed beautiful friend who had scooped up those wide-faced wonders from the farmer’s market. and then i climbed the stairs to wake the sleeping boy.

i pressed my cheek against his, longer than i usually do. i drank him in, my sweet sleeping child. and, as i’d been doing all morning, i leaned; this time, on him. i leaned on all of these wonders — winking moon, chattering bird, morning’s dew pearled, old blessed friend, and miracle child — and fortified myself for the hours to come.

i was cradled.

the cradle is there, always there. if we’re willing to climb to the basket strapped to the back — the glorious, heavenly back — that carries us, even on days when we’re dizzy.

what cradles you? as in what are the wonders that hold you gently, protectively? 

every morning’s wonder: ululations at dawn

ululations at dawn

it all started because of the cat. the noisy cat who pays no mind to numbers on clocks. the cat who thinks zip of unzipping a yowl at 4:49 in the morning. he had an itch, it would appear, to wend his way down the stairs and into the murky haze of the dawn. and so he let it be known.

which is where i come in.

one quick glance at the glaring red digits, a flip back of the soft summer bed sheet, and before i knew it, my feet hit the floorboards and padded straight toward the light and the door and the dawn.

wasn’t long — no more than the time it takes for one brain wave to leap across the synaptic gulch that comprises the wiring of the waking-up human — till i noticed how noisy it was. all around. coming from every nook and cranny of the great beyond.

it was the ululations of the dawn, and it knocked me upside the head, the wonder of birdsong at its thickest, in that one short interlude when first light is licking the sky, and most of the world — or at least the folks in my neck of the woods — are fast asleep, just beginning to crank up the dreams in that pre-alarm-clock revving of REM, the rapid-eye-movement cycle of slumber when visions are spun, and spun wildly.

there would be no REM for me this day. i blundered into something far more mesmerizing.

i followed the cat straight out the door, me and my flimsy old nightshirt. and there i stood, drinking it in. or trying to anyway. truth is, i could barely swallow a drop of it. i just let is wash over and over me. a blur of glorious sound: cheeps and warbles and trills. vowels banging hard up against consonant blends. (i’m certain audiologists have names for these audio bit-lets, but i call them simply the wonder of dawn measured in decibels.)

i tried, hard as i could, to pick it apart. to pluck one note from one bird that i knew: the cardinal’s cheer-cheer-cheer, the rise and the fall of the wren’s blessed warble. but mostly i just marveled, drank in the whole.

wasn’t long before i imagined the whole of them — the flocks and flocks who must have been darting among the summer’s greenery, or perched at the ends of boughs, filling the dawn with their music — in classic morning silhouette: standing before the bathroom mirror, faces creased from a long night’s slumber, eyelids still at half-mast, warbling away at the dawn. as humans have been known to do as they run the tap, await warm water for the day’s first splash. smear the squiggle of toothpaste clear across the toothy bristles. only i pictured zillions of birds frothing away at the morning sink, clearing their throats, unfurling their dawn song (minus the toothpaste).

that made me laugh. but then i got curious. so, once the groundswell of sound slowed to a trickle (and it didn’t last long, this ephemeral chorus, which only makes it all the more urgent), i pulled a few books off my shelves, and turned a few pages, studying the birdsong of dawn and why it’s so very raucous.

here’s a bit of the wonder that i discovered:

birds do their warbling because their little sound box, called a syrinx, isn’t placed up high in the throat, as is a human’s. rather, their syrinx is down low in the airway, at the juncture of the two bronchi, or tubes that funnel air into and out of the lungs. there, it allows the birds not one but two sources of sound, the air flowing in and out of each of their little bird lungs. and the membranes of each bronchus — think strings of the violin, or holes in a flute — allow separate sounds to be made.

and perhaps you’ve wondered how it is that the wren can yodel for minutes on end without keeling off her branch from sheer lack of oxygen? well, she and all her avian choristers have mastered the art of the mini-breath, each one timed between notes. so you can’t tell she’s filling her lung-lets, but in fact she is.

the burning question for me was this: why are the birds at their operatic noisiest at dawn, and only dawn?

the answer, one of those ones that melts me off my chair, and gives rise to goosebumps at the thought of the Brilliance who dreamed this all up: the birds sing at dawn because it’s when sound travels best. scientists who measure these things determined that sound at the dawn is 20 times as effective as midday sound, when the cacophony of life makes for stiff aural competition.

reason no. 2: other than belting out their tunes, there’s not much else for birds to do at dawn, according to ornithologists who ponder these things too. light intensity is low, so it’s a bit of a chore for a bird to forage for breakfast. because night temperatures drop, the insects — aka breakfast — are hunkered down on the ground, amid the relative warmth of grasses and dirt, and not yet available for plucking. so why not sing a morning tune? let the neighbor birds know you’ve made it through the night, and just might be available for a little daybreak dalliance, if you know what i mean…..(insert bird wink here).

it gets better: birds adapt their songs to whatever will travel best in their native habitat. so, the birds of the forest, where trees are thick and sound bounces off leaves, go for short bursts of aural punctuation. birds of the great plains opt for a buzz that clears across the wide-open canvas of wheat fields and pastures. and if a bird calls home some place near rushing waters, it will dial up its frequency to be heard above the aqueous roar.

before we wend to a close, consider this magnificent passage from british nature writer gareth huw davies, for sir david attenborough’s PBS series, “the life of birds”:

The vocal ability of birds has inspired poets and musicians, from Chaucer to Wordsworth, from Handel to Respighi. Birdsong can be a natural phenomenon of intense beauty. But our enjoyment is incidental to the main purpose, which is one bird communicating with others. Birds became the world’s master musicians in order to convey to potential mates, rivals and predators all the important things they have to say, from “Clear off!” to “Come on!”

And their songs have been shaped by their environment, just as the rap musician of New York delivers a different “tune” to the yodeller in the Swiss mountains. The musical detail would have impressed the great composers. The nightingale, for example, holds up to 300 different love songs in his repertoire. The canary may take 30 mini-breaths a second to replenish its air supply. The cowbird uses 40 different notes, some so high we can’t hear them. The chaffinch may sing his song half a million times in a season.

Indeed, British musician David Hindley slowed bird song down and discovered parallels between the skylark’s blizzard of notes and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony; between the woodlark’s mind-numbingly complex song and J.S.Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues. It changes its tune according to the rules of classical sonata form.

by 5:15, a far-too-brief 26 minutes after i’d stumbled into it, the bird sonata had quelled, and in rolled the soundtrack of civilization — the cars rumbling, trains bellowing, and far too soon, the early-bird lawn mowers coughing and spewing and disturbing the peace.

i miss the morning song already. but i’m betting on my wide-eyed cat to wake me on the morrow, so once again i’ll launch my sunlit hours on the wings of the glorious chorus of daybreak.

however sleepy i’ll be for the rest of the day, it’s so deeply worth it.

if you, too, are curious about birdsong, take a peek at this fine primer. or this guide to north american songbirds, with marvelous lists of birds based on whether they sing one or two or three notes.

and do consider shuffling out of doors at dawn to see what you might hear. know that you won’t be alone. me and my nightshirt will be there too. 

and how do you launch your day with your daily dose of wonder?

prayer for a camper

dear mother God of woods and tangled roots, of see-through lakes, and dawn’s first light, of moonbeams drooling on the meadow grass, and birdsong waking up the day,

i have delivered to you my precious child, my tender heart, brave heart. he is yours now, for two whole weeks, yours to hold, to guide along the trails in deepest darkest night, yours to wrap your arms around in those shaky moments just before the sleep comes, when thoughts drift home, when home feels faraway and hollow fills the void.

he is yours now as he leaps off the dock into soft-bottomed sandy swimming hole. he is yours as he climbs the ropes and buckles onto that shiver-me-timber woodsy trick, the zip line. he is yours as he climbs endless dunes and jumps for dear life. hold those ankles straight, dear mother watcher God. keep those bones from cracking into twos. keep bees away, and while you’re at it, please shoosh the darn mosquitoes. ditto poison ivy.

perhaps, too, you could drift down into the dingy cabin — he’s in no. 6, in case that helps — and tap him lightly on the shoulder, whisper in his ear: “don’t forget the sunscreen. slather on the OFF!” and when he loses things, say, the water bottle, or the flashlight, maybe just maybe you could guide his searching little hand to the very secret spot where said essentials are playing hide-n-seek.

dear mother God of star-lit dome, of lake breeze, of rustling in the cottonwoods, you now tend my first-time camper, you hold him to your moss-carpeted bosom. i pray you open up the woods to him, reveal to him the mysteries of your quiet ways, your crashing-booming majesty.

for two short weeks, we’ve unplugged him just for you. he’s all yours now. he has drawn in a deep cleansing breath, shaken off his deep-woods worries, and surrendered to all the glories you have to offer him.

tap his tender heart. unspool for him the depth of confidence that’s buried deep down where he doesn’t always know it dwells. allow him to emerge from these woods, from these weeks along that crystal lake, from romping with the troupes of boys and abiding by generations-old rules of woodsmen’s games, knowing just a bit more solidly how much he has to carry into this blessed world.

if so inclined, please be there when the hour comes, at last, for him to light his torch, and lift it high — to illuminate not merely his way, but, as well, the twisting paths of all of those who walk beside him.

hold him tight, dear mother God, when he needs a squeeze, and be the wind beneath his wings when he glances down and sees that he is soaring, gliding where the eagles glide.

oh, and one last thing while i’m on my knees here begging: see if, just once or twice, you can make him reach for the milk jug  — instead of glow-in-the-dark “bug juice,” a vat of red dye no. 2 — when it’s time to fill his lunchtime glass.

that’s pretty much the whole of it from here on the home front, where i’ve nothing left to do, but turn to you, and trust with all my heart.

thank you mama God, God of dappled afternoon light, God of pit-a-pat of summer rain, God who wraps the campers in her arms, and holds them safe and blessed ever after.

so begins my two-week vigil, my prayer for my little one’s safe keeping. it wasn’t a trip without tears, wasn’t one that did not demand an oversized butterfly net to catch the wayward worries. but once there, along torch lake in northern michigan, he allowed the pure pine-woods air to fill his lungs, and animate his every step. he found particular joy in discovering his big brother’s name painted onto a plaque that hangs not far from his cabin, a place he’ll pass morning, noon, and night as he passes to the dining hall, and lakeside campfire. i like to think it’s a bit of a woodsy patron saint, keeping watch on the little one. right in here, we’ll take all the eyes we can muster. be safe, brave camper. but even more: be joy-filled.

mr. mousey’s snow picnic

of all the mounds and miles of snow, of all the ice rivers and hurling winds, of all the times i thought my front door might blow wide open, off the hinge and dangling in a tunnel of arctic gusts, of all the jaw-dropping majesty that whirled and swept and fell and blew, the moment that caught me most stilled this blizzard-piled week, most falling-to-my-knees, was when i discovered the fat gray lump in the snow mound just outside the kitchen door.

it was not at all what i’d expected when i first eyed it from across the room, what i’d thought i’d seen a hundred times before. no, it was not a junco, one of those gray-topped snow birds with the pure-white waistcoat, the darlings who romp in the snow as if dressed for a mid-winter ball.

no, what it was was something i’d never before been invited to watch from a front-row bleacher seat, to share a long winter’s afternoon, enchanted.

it was a fat little mouse, soon addressed by the surname mousey, as in mr. mousey, with the biggest roundest ears i ever knew a mouse could have, and the busiest itty-bitty teeth as he chewed and chewed through the cornmeal mush i’d tossed out for whomever was hungry after the storm. er, blizzard. make that, blizzard-of-the-decade.

for the better part of an afternoon, i watched the little fellow, watched him up close like he had walked into my unwitting science experiment: mouse tunnels 101.

why, that hungry boy, he’d dug gazillions of labyrinths in and through and under the snow. what i’d mistaken for a hole put there by a falling clump of ice, was in fact mr. mousey’s grandest opening, the launch to all his under-snow festivities.

he showed me how it worked: he’d nibble a while, and then when his belly was full, or perhaps digesting an especially granular cornmeal chunk, he’d take to the entertainment part of the show, and wiggle his little self up and down and sideways through all of his underground pathways, punctuating every passage with the POP! of his sweet little head (and ears) out through the peek hole. why, he showed me just how industrious he’d been since the snows started falling–or perhaps once they’d stopped.

there must be a good half dozen crisses and crosses in that undersnow highway of his. and every last one leads back to the prize: the wide swath of cornmeal i tossed to the winds.

and somehow, despite the fact that the backyard was aswirl with all of my flocks, despite the fact that i’d stood there among them one cold afternoon, shortly after pouring a bucket of seed, and felt the flap of their wings, so close to my head did they swoop and chatter and make like noisy carousers at a mid-winter’s feast, it was one wee mouse who most captured my heart.

i’ve not seen a mouse in such close action, not outside of a cage. oh, i’ve seen swishes of tails now and then, heard the scampering of little mouse feets, but a mouse out in daylight, a mouse undeterred by the gaze of a curly-haired person, a mouse willing to show off his tunnels, why that was a mouse who got me to thinking.

it was as if the blessed cloak of nature—sacred wrap that it is, stitched with spools of mystery and wonder–had been pulled back, amid the extremes of snow and cold, and allowed me a rare peek inside, into all the ways the little critters stay alive, fend for themselves, ingeniously employ the snow to their advantage. and rely, on occasion, on the whims of souls who consider it among their holiest duties to scatter seed and oats and grains, and plumped-up dried fruits when cupboards allow, to nudge them along through the cold hard winter.

it’s a holy equation indeed, a sublime one. for the cost of a few cups of seed, of cornmeal, of suet cut from the beast, we offer feed to the flocks, the winged ones, the long-tailed-big-eared, the soft and the fluffy. and they, in return, throw caution to the wind, they seek out sustenance even if it means baring their ways to the humans.

one wee mouse, now claimed by my little one as his very own mascot and pet (and thus the name), brought me to my knees yesterday, and i watch for him again this morning.

he reminds me, without words, how very much we are all a tethered web. and how we need each other, mouse or bird or human, to weather all the storms that blow and hurl through the thick of our lives.

what little miracles did you witness this week?
and, out into the vast whiteness, i send the deepest birthday wishes to my brother who will always be my little one, the one whose birth felt so much like a dream come true. a miracle every soul should get a chance to brush up against. and lucky me, i did……

a world cloaked in the beautiful

i was dashing–the verb that most often fits me. the air was the sort that sweeps up behind, roars up your neck, wakes you up with a tingle.

it was morning, not long after dawn.

i’d not quite rolled from the bed. as so often happens, a wisp of the last worry of the night before was there before i was, wriggled into my waking-up-ness, before i was even awake. that sort of pit that weighs you down while your legs, leaden, try to shake off the sheets and the blanket. where one night’s fret melts into one morning’s dread.

i hadn’t had time to shake it off, think much about it. it was simply there, a part of the weight of the still-groggy dawn.

but then, not long after, not too long anyway, i loped out the door, and i saw–beheld, really, stopped and beheld. the tangle of grasses and weeds, transformed into the beautiful. nearly blinding.

the first frost of the autumn, the glass-beaded luminescence that captures the slant of the sun, refracts it, refines it. wraps it up in a ball, makes it more than it was, broadcasts it.

practically shouts: look here, absorb the poetry, the power, that comes without words.

the world is at work in its tasks that trace back to the birth of all time.

there was darkness, there was light. genesis says so.

and so began the miracle of sunbeams captured in wee globes of dew.

or might it be the cold sweat of dawn’s labor, the hard work of night turning to day?

when first frost comes–when the architecture of water and cold finds itself frozen–that morning light is magnified, glorified, held up for ovation, a show that won’t last.

all part of the whole-cloth majesty that is the autumn.

when leaves drop their drab summer-worn green for jaw-dropping amber and gold, copper and crimson. air turns wake-me-up chilly. pumpkins weigh down the vine.

the slant of the sun as it drops in the sky, as we twirl farther and farther away, it all is a call to attention.

don’t pass me by, whisper the blades of the grasses. do not disregard the morning light captured, contained for a fraction of time, the white glow of october’s first breaths.

holiness unfurled like a sparkling carpet. gospel spread forth on the tongue of a bent strand of grass.

without clanging or cymbal, i stumble time and again on the truth that, for me, the natural world is some sort of a 24-7 wi-fi connection to the almighty Divine.

just when you think the only thing that matters is starting the car, getting to school before the big hand sweeps to the 5, getting the boy in the seat there beside you into the door before the scritch of the teacher’s pencil marking him late. just when you dare let that trivial thought distract you, get in the way, the white light of dew frozen stops you.

forget not that this is a web of water and light, air and creation. we are but players. and the dramas and plots we hold in our hearts, they pale put up against the jaw-dropping, breath-taking magnificence that is the first light of the first frost of the autumn.

the Divine is among us, always among us. if only we open our eyes, and drink in the wordless call to attention that dares to stop cold our mad-dashing, our mad-sad-dashing farther and farther away from what truly matters.

big weekend: jack’s baby boy gets married. the man i married marks the official pub date of his latest adventure in book-writing, “terror and wonder: architecture in a tumultuous age.” the firstborn i birthed decides which college. my faraway brother from up in the mountains comes home for a whirl. dear friend’s baby girl is bat mitzvah. so many glories….

what stopped you in your tracks lately?

humming my song

i’ve never thought i’d make the cut.

the hummingbird cut, that is.

the wee things, the size of thimbles, the weight of five extra-strength aspirins, it’s been said, flap-flap-flap their wisps of wings some 2,000 miles, nonstop across the oily gulf of mexico, praise be the thinkin’ birds.

en route from way up north in canada to down in costa rica, the little darlings keep their eyeballs peeled for a comfy place for roadside grazing. if you flapped your wings up to 80 times a second–do the math, that’s 4,800 times a minute, nearly 7 million flaps a day–you too would wanna drop the landing gear, suck up a jug or two of nectar.

and, i’m told, the wee things have braincells that do not forget. should you put out the welcome mat, but then forget to keep the sugar water fresh, those birds will cross you off the list, never forget that your stale waters made their wee, wee bellies ache, and never ever stop again.

you’ll be blackballed by the hummers, i was told in unforgiving terms.

so that made me 1.) worried, and 2.) afraid to even try.

i couldn’t stand the thought of my ol’ house and garden being X’d off in the hummingbird map across america.

so i did the wimpy thing: hoped they’d like my nodding flowers, and left it at that.

oh, i might have caught a glimpse here or there, one popped its nose in the rhododendron a spring or two ago. then maybe, by the black-eyed susans, at the end of some summer, i might have seen another.

but, well, my mama, she’s no chicken. no feeble-heart is she.

she reached right in the cabinet where she keeps her bird supplies and she marched up my walk with the very bright red feeder i’d not long ago given her.

while the feeder itself came in a box, complete with “hummingbird solution,” a mix of this and that that came with darn directions (thus ever raising the bar on whether i could make the cut, could cook up the holy nectar for the passersby), my mama pooh-poohed all that.

said, sugar and water is all you need. change it once a week, even every 10 days. none of this make-it-fresh-before-the-crack-of-dawn-each-day-or-your-birds-will-keel-and-X-you-off.

up she hung the feeder on my tree. and back she stood to watch the hummingbird brigade.

i dared not hope.

but then, out of the corner of my doubting eye, i spotted a large cicada darting through the trees.

or so i thought.

the large cicada, hovering, stuck its nose down the gullet of the pale pink anemone.

and then i realized: that was no cicada.

that was my mama’s promise come to roost.

ever since, it’s been hummingbird haven around here. the little things are darting here and there, practically coming to my nose. they fly forward, backward, up and down.

even the cat has taken to watching all the aerobatics.

and i’ve not yet been scolded by a hummer for letting all the sugar water go sour. or dry.

fact is, i think they’ve taken a shining to my little bird hostel. they’ve been sipping and darting now for nearly two whole weeks.

and i have found my end-of-summer bliss in the watching of their antics. they come so close, they dart so quickly, they seem so downright unafraid, i can nearly imagine the cartoon clouds coming from their little beaks, the bird words spewing, as they chatter back and forth. chase away the big birds. never mind the cat. order up another batch of hummer’s brew.

they are said to be pugnacious, and pugnacious they are. who would think it of a flying thimble?

and i have come to delight in their fearlessness. marvel at it, really. have tried to absorb a drop or two, from their lesson plan: how to rule the world, even if you’re no more imposing than a gardener’s thumb.

i’ve no real clue how long this show will last, before the sun and wind and moon call to the wee ones, beckon them to return to their long flight.

i’m told, though, that the flip side of that brain that won’t forget is that they’ll remember. they’ll come back. these very same winged blessings. they will remember, perhaps, the blue table where i pull up my chair, where i sit beneath the trees, where i keep watch, and whisper sweet thanks.

they will remember the long-necked anemones they drink from. and the bright red feeder my mama hung so boldly, so believingly.

they will be back.

and i’ll be ready. bold and believing, just like the birds who cross the globe, knowing they’ll find sweetness when and where they need it.

i sat down to write this morning but first found word from my beloved little brother that his most beloved golden retriever, max, might not make it through the night. if dawn came, they’d be driving max to the nearest best big city and hoping the vets could work a miracle. i cannot tell you the depth of ache for my brother who has already buried a retriever he loved. and who took years before he was ready to love another so dearly. my little brother had just turned 13 the day my papa died. he was the one who walked in the hospital room as they tried to save my papa. please whisper a prayer for my sweet bri, and for max, the dog who has been his dearest friend these past few years….
heartache comes in so many forms. and all we can do, besides wrap our arms around the ones we love, whisper hope in their ear,
is keep prayin’ and loving.
for all the heartaches gathered at this table. and all the moments of rejoicing. amen.

so what life lessons might you have learned from winged things, or dogs that nuzzle up beside you?

and, p.s., in case that photo up above proves to be an optical delusion, there is a wee hummingbird just to the left of the red feeder. see him, pointing his long nose toward the hummer nectar that i cook up? the shadowy little thing in front of the willowy pink anemones?
oh, and in case you too want to cook for aerobatics, it’s simple: 1/4 cup white sugar to 1 cup boiling water. stir sugar till dissolved, let cool (hummers don’t like to burn their two-pronged tongues) then pour into a hummer feeder, or i am sure there is some alternative feeder, just something into which they can stick their long noses…..

fading…

her teeny-tiny trumpets now have fallen to the ground, a carpet down below of brown-skinned souvenirs of what was.

her perfume, too, is lost. dissipated. lost to world beyond. the world of car exhaust and dryer fumes, lawn mower smoke and bacon burning on the griddle. the world of spring parading on.

lily-of-the-valley’s up next, the beauty queen whose reign is on the rise, demanding our attention as she sticks up and out her tender neck, heavy with those nodding bells that lure you to your knees so you can get a whiff.

she, my sweet viburnum, is just barely hanging on. my fragrant friend, on her final exhalations, and then she’s gone.

i thought it worth returning one more time. to pay heed to the notion that sometimes, oftentimes, we lose what left us dizzy. besotted. utterly and simply with head up in the clouds.

it–the thing that had us swooning, considering a cartwheel–is but an interlude. precious. sacred. it’s here and then it’s merely memory.

and it is the evanescence, the here-then-gone, that yanks our hearts, and stirs us, whispers in our ear: bless this moment, it is fleeting, always. like the tide, it washes in, trickles up the sand, and spills again, returning to the sea, the lake, the deep beyond.

but you knew that already. and so did i.

somehow, though, pausing, bowing as she passes, seems the thing to do. she is beauty fading, waning, drifting to the earth below in perfume-petaled snowflakes.

left behind, up where once she preened, she is little more than one last trumpet and a clutch of stubby little necks, each with head cut off, not unlike a clump of grapes denuded of its succulence. naked, as my mother calls the plucked-off concord stems, can’t abide them, cleans the mess with scissors, reprimands those who dare to leave behind a skeleton of what had been the clump of grapes.

so it is with viburnum on the distal end.

it is time then to genuflect, to drop our heads and thank the hardy bush, the one that asks for no attention, makes no demands all year. except for that single week or two when she is joy ascending, bursting, beckoning all who wander by within an acre of her puff-puff-puffing tailpipes, spewing ’round-the-clock, top-secret nose-bewitching formula.

she reminds, as she fades from foreground to unnoticed backdrop, that we all, all of us, have our shining moments, and then for 50 other weeks of every year we simply breathe and reach for sunshine, and swallow rain, because without it we’d be parched.

and she signals, too, this passing thought: even when we appear as ordinary as a bush with plain old leaves, we have, somewhere deep inside, what it takes to be a momentary, holy, neck-craning, oh-my-goodness-did-you-see-that-smell-that-sense-that source of radiance.

most of the time, day in and day out, we are not so much something to write home about. we are ordinary. waking. chewing. making beds. chasing after dreams. hauling out the trash.

but in any given moment–depending on what’s asked of us, how deeply we dig down into the luminescence that dwells inside–we, like sweet viburnum early in the month of may, can become holy transcendence.

we can exude a sweetness, and all that’s truly wholly fine. step out from our ordinariness and remind the world: even a plain old bush, when given half a chance, can assume a stance of unabating beauty.

and when she fades, she is radiant still. it’s only that she cloaks it beneath her humble plumage.

come her turn again, she’ll show the world of what she’s made.

and that, it seems, is why she’s more than earned her post just beyond my kitchen window. she never fails to wow me, even in her faded, lasting wisdom.

once again, the gospel of the garden.

fading. coming and going. rise and fall. these are the universal themes of life, and surely of the seasons. ecclesiastes, i believe, spells it out. and year after year, the lesson is repeated and repeated. what lessons does the springtime bring to you? who are your teachers in the world abloom around you?

bottom of the barrel

the morning, it seemed, was unraveling in the same way as the dinner hour that preceded it.

the night, those long dark hours that sometimes steady the unsteady, alas, had not shaken off the sorry sense that somehow i was scrambling in a way that isn’t good for any one, and certainly not for me.

the eve before, it had been one of those full-scale collisions on the calendar. when mama works all day, and barely makes it home in time for the calculus that awaits. when child A needs to be decked out in full baseball regalia, fed and on the field at hour X. and child B, for reasons that don’t wholly compute, had to be fed, in tux (that would be tuxedo, mind you, for 14-year-old, complete with cummerbund and cufflinks and how-on-earth-do-these-things-wiggle-through-the-little-holes-on-daddy’s-wrinkled-fancy-shirt studs) and on stage at hour X+30 minutes.

in order for all this to unfold according to flawless mathematical equation, the lowly chicken roasting in the oven had to be cranked to overdrive which was setting off bells and whistles at increasing frequency and velocity. the father of said children had missed his train. and the grandmother, attempting to keep peace in roiling frothing seas, kept mostly quiet except to roll her eyes and mutter something about how in the old days such nonsense would never have unfolded on a school night.

to beat the odds, and keep my flagellating to myself, i just kept driving. child A from here to there, on time, and left in care of what i took to be someone’s trusty grownup. back to train to fetch the missing father. home to scoop up child B, still fumbling with those studs, and off to stage where he stumbled to the music stand in the very nick of time.

upon ditching out of concert, at so-called half-time, to retrieve long-abandoned child A, i discovered tear-streaked little person with aching throbbing head, and no bat, which, i discovered even later, his train-missing father had purchased just the week before for close to what i spend for groceries in a week. okay, make that two days’ groceries. but that’s only because food these days ain’t cheap.

much soothing later (and i mean of the throbbing-headed child, although i myself could’ve used some soothe if there’d been any left to spare), i plopped in bed, at weary last. and, promptly, heaved a sorry sigh.

awoke to grizzly bear stalking kitchen. was told i’d need to do X, Y and Z before the day was done.

and that’s when i looked out the window. caught the flight of many wings. flapping. diving. ruffling feathers in the branches of a bush i could nearly touch.

that’s when i felt the calm set in. or what passed as calm in a passage best described as bumpy.

and that is when i thought: i know, i’ll feed the birds.

for a make-believe farm girl like me, there is a soothing that comes in slopping for the herd. now, my herd might not moo, or oink. and, dang, there is not yet a clucking in my yard. no cock-a-doodle-nothin’. but i do make believe my wild things depend on me. and i’ve come to understand that i depend on them.

the cord between my heart and soul and the scrambling things outside is short, and getting shorter.

my ties to the world of nature, i do believe, are thick and thicker. part medicine, part religion, i step outside to heal what ails me. these warming days, i can’t stop walking. it’s as if the air itself is a masseuse’s fingers, and it rubs away the winter’s ache.

i am sure to stumble soon because i never look where i am walking. i look up, in trees. i catch mama bird resting her big belly on a branch that bends to hold her and her many belly-popping eggs. i see squirrels entwined, and i do not think they are merely dancing the watusi. i look way away from where my feet fall, into where the tender beauties of the spring are unfurling by the hour. i catch the light play tag with leaves, and watch the shadows try their darnedest to keep up with where it’s out-of-bounds.

it might at last be spring (although i heard that summer’s coming by the weekend), and the birds might find their fill with all the tiny buds and worms that have awakened.

but i am stingy. i want my birds to stay nearby. i don’t care to share them with the woods, not all day anyway.

so i thought i’d lure them back to where i need them on the days when all the world is yanking on my sleeve. that’s why i opened up the bird seed barrel. and that’s when i saw just the scantest bit of bird lure.

i saw that empty bin. i knew just how it felt. to be without the stuff that fills you.

so now i’m heading off, to buy some sacks of seed to soothe my soul. and keep my birds, as close as they can be.
until i fetch a cow to keep me company.


what soothes you on days when all forces conspire to bring you down at every turn?

i should mention that today is a day to mark for all who live for words and prose and poetry. today’s the day the bard was born. and here’s a bit about wm shakespeare that came to me from good ol’ garrison keillor, who every morning, like a kindly neighbor, sends me a snippet of poetry and wordly wisdom for the day. sayeth the one from wobegon…

“Today is believed to be the birthday of William Shakespeare, born in Stratford-on-Avon, England (1564). He was a playwright and poet, and is considered to be the most influential and perhaps the greatest writer in the English language. He gave us many beloved plays, including Romeo and Juliet (1594), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1595), Hamlet (1600), Othello (1604), King Lear (1605), and Macbeth (1605).
Only a few scattered facts are known about his life. He was born and raised in the picturesque market town of Stratford-on-Avon, surrounded by woodlands. His father was a glover and a leather merchant; he and his wife had eight children including William, but three of them died in childbirth. William probably left grammar school when he was 13 years old, but continued to study on his own.
He went to London around 1588 to pursue his career in drama and by 1592 he was a well-known actor. He joined an acting troupe in 1594 and wrote many plays for the group while continuing to act. Scholars believe that he usually played the part of the first character that came on stage, but that in Hamlet, he played the ghost.
Some scholars have suggested that Shakespeare couldn’t have written the plays attributed to him because he had no formal education. A group of scientists recently plugged all his plays into a computer and tried to compare his work to other writers of his day, such as Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, and the Earl of Oxford. The only writer they found who frequently used words and phrases similar to Shakespeare’s was Queen Elizabeth I, and she was eventually ruled out as well.
Shakespeare used one of the largest vocabularies of any English writer, almost 30,000 words, and he was the first writer to invent or record many of our most common turns of phrase, including “foul play,” “as luck would have it,” “your own flesh and blood,” “too much of a good thing,” “good riddance,” “in one fell swoop,” “cruel to be kind,” “play fast and loose,” “vanish into thin air,” “the game is up,” “truth will out” and “in the twinkling of an eye.”
Shakespeare has always been popular in America, and many colonists kept copies of his complete works along with their Bibles. Pioneers performed his work out West. Many of the mines and canyons across the West are named after Shakespeare or one of his characters. Three mines in Colorado are called Ophelia, Cordelia, and Desdemona.”
–from “the writer’s almanac,” (2008)