Gratitude List: 1. Yesterday’s dawn: How the sky was a living breathing indigo until the horizon cracked open in magenta, a tangerine orange glow slowly seeping through. 2. Persephone’s footsteps, the crocus and anemone popping up everywhere. We have a large clump of white crocus in a patch of green chickweed by the porch. We usually only have one or two white ones. 3. Crows 4. Puzzles 5. The steady, unflappable people. If you’re feeling anxious about politics or viruses or the economy or whatever, find one of the Unflappables and bask in their settledness.
This month, I am trying to re-arrange some of my daily practice in order to make more space for writing. I have had two books floating about in my brain for some time, but I can never seem to find the time to work on them, so I thought I would give my first morning moments to the process and see what happens. So far, in the last two days, in the moments before I wake up fully, my brain has grasped a piece of dream-flotsam, and wrangled it into an image or phrase which I have used to begin a dreamy piece of super-flash fiction.
Perhaps I’ll be able to fit these into one of the books. Meanwhile, I am following the Dreamcatcher to see what she offers me.
In the past six or eight years, I have missed very few November Poem-A-Day challenges with Poetic Asides blog. This new process feels a little solitary, even lonely. But it feels like I have stepped onto a pathway, in much the same way that my first forays into Poem-A-Day were steps on a poetic pathway.
Here’s another thing: This week, I opened a Bag of Longing to see what was inside. This one was the idea of getting an MFA. It’s been haunting the deep corners of my brain for some time now. I decided to look at it more closely and see what it might look like this week. It’s so easy to get excited about it, but it’s hard to justify adding debt to debt when we have projects on the farm that must be fed money, and when the first of the children has just entered high school and will be exploring college possibilities himself before we can even catch our breath. Shall I close this Bag and stuff it back into a corner before it starts to eat me? Or shall I let the creature inside it out to roam, hoping it can find its own way home?
Gratitude List: 1. The many varieties of orange 2. That bright scarlet leaf on the neighbors’ orange dogwood tree was actually a cardinal 3. One small person humming quietly to himself in the car last night on the way home from trick-or-treating in town 4. November means cats in the bed, and that’s wonderful, as long as they give each other space and don’t start hissing 5. New practices
Gratitude List: 1. Keeping up with the work. I’m starting out better this semester. Better focus. Better organization.
2. The color orange. Saffron. Tangerine. Burnt Umber.
3. Student poetry. Really. I don’t know that I was trying particularly hard to impart the craft of the poem this semester, but some of these poems in the unit project are really quite amazing.
4. Reflection and reflection
May we walk in Beauty!
This is something I wrote in 2015, when Joss was 5 years old:
Today when we had walked to the top of the hill, we stopped to examine that big patch of ice that formed when water pooled just above the eastern corner of the fields beside the little grassy airstrip at the top of the ridge. It formed a nice ice-puddle which Joss immediately dubbed his very own skating rink. I got to increase the step-count on my pedometer by walking around and around and around the puddle, holding on to his hand as he skidded and slipped over the icy surface. It was a classic Christopher Robin moment, a small boy happily involved in the imaginative possibilities of the moment.
At one point, he lay down on the ice, and said, “Oh! It’s beautiful! There’s writing here!”
The ice had crystallized in a hieroglyphic pattern across the surface.
“Can you read it?” I asked him.
“No. It’s in cursive.”
But there’s not a shred of doubt in your mind, Small One, that the writing is there to be read, if only one can crack that cursive code. I know the feeling. I had experienced it myself only moments before, watching a flock of Canada geese honking their way toward the River in front of a Michelangelo sunset sky, the shifting patterns of Vs undulating across the clouds. I had the same feeling as we were watching the robins moving through the fields, the dark brown of their backs seeming to make the very earth bubble and boil like a live thing. I get that feeling when I see bird tracks in the snow like cuneiform writing on the most transitory of tablets. And it’s the same feeling I get when I see a branch or twig that has been burrowed by small insects who leave behind their trails in the wood, like a complex system of writing just waiting for me to figure it out.
Perhaps it’s just that age-old human trick of trying to make sense and meaning out of the seemingly random patterns of a chaotic natural world. Or perhaps it’s an intrinsic awareness that we all have, that even if the random patterns about us do not make alphabetical sense, there’s an underlying order or patterning to everything around us, a purposefulness.
Maybe the point is not so much the attempt to decipher the coded purpose in the pattern, but to notice it and wonder at it where and when we see it, to lie down right there on the ice and say, “Oh, it’s beautiful! There’s writing here!”
Two years ago, I spent some time meditating in an alcove at the Jesuit Center where Green Tara rested beneath a painting of the Madonna. Last year, she wasn’t there. This year, I am going to search for her again.
Annie Dillard says, “How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives.”
* “We have to consciously study how to be tender with each other until it becomes a habit.”
—Audre Lorde *
“Acknowledging our love for the living world does something that a library full of papers on sustainable development and ecosystem services cannot: it engages the imagination as well as the intellect. It inspires belief; and this is essential to the lasting success of any movement.” —George Monbiot
Gratitude List: 1. (What wakes you up?) Stiff, aching muscles from a 2.5-mile walk with my youngster yesterday. While the increasing aches of aging are challenging for me, this stiff-and-soreness is because of a delightful walk in the evening, where we just kept going. “Shall we see where the road construction began? Why don’t we just walk up Poff Road now?”
2. (What inspires you?) The friend who keeps running, keeps walking, keepings signing up for those half-marathons. Reading last year’s reflections on an educational seminar I took.
3. (What catches your eye?) Daylily, Chicory, and Queen Anne’s Lace are a-bloom again. Contrasting colors of orange and blue, and that lacy white among them.
4. (What keeps you in the moment?) The oriole calling from the honey locust trees by the parking lot.
5. (What draws you into the future?) Yesterday’s conversation with a teacher friend about the past year, about what sort of teachers we want to be. The gangly growth spurts of my children. The anticipation of next weekend’s solitude retreat.
I am overwhelmed by too much to do, but if I can find a spare twenty minutes today, I am going to write a letter to the presidentto ask him to intervene on behalf of the civil rights of the nonviolent protesters who are trying to block the Dakota Access Pipeline. In early September, the Obama Administration did step in with a temporary injunction which seems to have been completely ignored. Will you join me?
You know how sometimes when you wake up in the morning, there’s a fragment of something from your dreamworld swimming around in your brain? A piece of a song, an image of a snake with wise eyes, a voice calling your name. . . A couple days ago, I woke up with a voice that seemed to be calling me: “Sister!” That was all. Still, it sits in my consciousness days later. Who is calling, and why?
Gratitude List: 1. The color orange. Spring time is about all the shades of greens and violets. Autumn is the whole range of gold through orange to red.
2. The words of Rumi. This one: “Let yourself become living poetry.”
3. Sleep. I don’t get enough of it, and I don’t want to jinx this long insomnia-free run, but I have been sleeping deeply and well in recent weeks. One of my great pleasures is the moment I can let myself fall into sleep each evening.
4. Circles of friendship and support. The way love flows across invisible lines, holding those who watch and hold the space.
5. The healing and integrating power of stories.
I am finding the simple three-circuit labyrinth to be really satisfying. Like a spiral, each circuit brings you one step closer toward the center, yet there’s that unsettling turning at the end of the circuit. Wait a minute! I’m now going the other way! Still, despite the change in direction, I continue to move ever closer to the center. This hit me yesterday. Life has sent me reversals. I have had moments when I have suddenly changed directions. The whiplash can feel overwhelming, the sense of lost time or futility in what came before–but the turnings also bring me closer to the center. The apparent about-faces and the changes of plan do not mean that I am going backwards, undoing the past. I am still moving closer to the center. It all leads toward the center.
Gratitude List: 1. (What feeds you?) The red of the poppies. I think I could probably live on the food of that red. Such an impossible color. That and the orange of Oriole. And the thousands greens of the last week of May.
2. (What finds resolution?) I now have fewer balls to juggle, fewer plates to keep spinning in the air. I can look to caring for my children more intentionally, to tidying and cleaning and systematizing.
3. (What images draw you?) The labyrinth. We used the labyrinth as the structure for the service in church yesterday, and this Wednesday, I will be focusing on the labyrinth for my mini-course with my students.
4. (Who has been helpful?) Walt Whitman, Rachel Carson, Sojourner Truth–I will meditate on the words and lives of these wise ones this week.
5. (What helps you cope?) This little air conditioner. If I choose to live beneath the branches of a grand tulip poplar, I must have respite during its blooming season. This magnificent tree draws our orioles to us. Its leafy embrace cools us here in the hollow during hot summer days. It stands across from the sycamore like a sentinel. It is a city teeming with life, vibrant with the flashing colors, the buzzing and twittering conversations, the busy living of its residents. Its buttery blooms are elegant. . .and toxic to me. We make allowances. We adjust ourselves sometimes to live with those we love. For the week or two that it sends pollen to bless the world around, I spend my time at home in these rooms with the air conditioner on, venturing out for short periods to listen to birdsong, to watch the sun shift across the sky.
I have oranges in the dogwood tree for Oriole, but he seems uninterested. He prefers the sycamore fluffs at the tops of the trees. The dogwoods have lost their pink in the three days since I took the photo.
Gratitude List: 1. Cool May–whenever I start to kvetch about being too cold, I remember the beastly heat at the end of the year last year, and I am grateful. I have not started up my classroom air conditioner at all this spring.
2. Deep, flowing conversations.
3. Your heart. My heart. The strands of love and compassion that connect those dots.
4. White fluffy clouds in blue sky.
5. Passing on the Flame.
The thing you learn, of course,
before you strap your sword belt on,
is that the princess you pledged to save
is only yourself in another guise,
that the dragon you swore to smite
is simply your own roaring ego
belching flame in the mouth of the cave.
You are the villagers rioting in the streets,
and calling for the dragon’s blood.
You are the bells that pealed from the towers
when the dragon circled above the town.
You are the sword,
the shield, the very cave,
the small frightened mouse
trampled in the fray.
You are the village.
You are the mountain.
You are the day itself,
quiet witness to the story.
Gratitude List: 1. Compassion
3. The color orange
4. Routine. Breaking routine.
5. Clear vision
It’s seeding time again! Even though things are changing here, Jon is hard at work, planting seeds for the coming season. We’ll have a short late-season CSA this fall, but he is planning to sell tomatoes and other goodies individually throughout the summer. I keep wanting to call that a la carte,
I am becoming increasingly anxious and nervous about the continued popularity of a certain political candidate, despite his obvious and in-your-face xenophobia, racism, sexism, his narcissism and bullying. I don’t want to live in a country with people who support meanness over substance, who prefer bombast to thoughtfulness, who would rather have a showperson than a statesperson. I see so many potential terrible endings to this fiasco. I am angry and frightened, and more than a little shrill. I’m not sure that right now I can say with Anne Frank that I believe people are really good at heart. Where is the goodness hidden inside people who stand around and watch with glee while the playground bully gets ready to beat up another victim? Is this what we’ve come to? This is not the America I thought I knew.
Gratitude List: 1. Wind–scouring me, scattering me, pulling me out of my safe places.
2. Orange–a waking up color
3. Watching several of our seniors give their senior presentations last night. They tend to balk at the process, and wonder why we make them do this, but they rise so beautifully to the challenge. It’s like they’re stepping out onto the launching pad. See how ready you are to fly!
5. Thoughtful discussions with students.
(We decided that with young readers in the house, it might be nice to have a sort of family creed or motto on the wall for them to explore, so we bought this one from Flinchbaugh’s Farm Market and gave it to ourselves for Christmas. They read it out loud quite a lot. The one about doing loud really well is, of course, their most vocal favorite.)
Gratitude List: I have to be really careful to focus on the drive to work these days because I am driving into sunrise, and the colors tend to throw me toward a deep meditative mode. I suppose I could try to attach symbolic significance to the various colors and the way they deepen my meditative state, but I’m not sure that it’s something nameable. Yesterday there were wings of clouds that rose upward from the point where the sun was about to rise. At their base they were a (1) glowing tangerine orange, which shaded upward through (2) magenta into a rich, deep (3) violet. The tops of the clouds were rimed with a velvety (4) indigo, and behind it all was that pure and serene (5) aquamarine that I love so much. I had to stop and get some snacks for my Advisory Group, and when I got back on the road, everything had shifted, and the clouds were, for a moment, a simple shining (6) gold. I think I should take another art class with someone who can give me more vocabulary for color–the last art class I took was at Sunbridge College in 2002, and the color work we did there has become part of my regular meditations.