Duck, duck, goose.
Goose, goose, wren.
Mist, moon, mist.

October.

Gratitude List:
1. Maple
2. Maple
3. Maple
4. Dogwood
5. Maple

May we walk in Fiery Beauty!

“I lack the peace of simple things,” says Wendell Berry
and I concur, almost, because
of the frenzy of the daily commute, because
of the the houseful of stuff we don’t need,
that we trip over in the darkness, because
of the way I am so lost in doing all that must be done.

But Wendell, you know better than most how it’s all around us,
how you can settle your soul into the simple peace, because
of those flaming leaves falling all over my head, because
of the giggle of a five-year-old, because
of sleep, deep restful sleep, because
of the way the corn tastes yellow, but the beans taste green, because
of the way words weave and twist themselves
into something that means something akin to hope.

Gratitude List:
1.  Because of pumpkin pie and delicious Sunday Dinner with good folks
2.  Because of good class preparation time this evening
3.  Because of the color orange, orange in all its colors
4.  Because of Rainer Maria Rilke and living the questions, living into the answers, and because of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the world being crammed with heaven
5.  Because of that song: “In the bulb there is a flower”

Because we walk in Beauty.

Yesterday’s poem.  I wrote it in response to a photo I saw on my Facebook feed of a person standing in the doorway between two trees at the edge of a wood.

Every step you take is a doorway to somewhere new,
a choice between what was and what will be.
Do not fear the darkness behind you
nor the mists that rise in your path.

Pause on the threshold a moment.
Take a deep and aching breath,and straighten your shoulders.

Release the past with gratitude
for all that it has taught you,
and step forward in strength and beauty.

 

Gratitude List:
1.  Waking up late and lounging in bed.  After that last six-week string of insomniac nights, to finally be able to sleep long again, and then to wake up in the morning and just curl up under the feather quilt listening to the quiet sounds of man and boy talking downstairs–that was a joy.  I feel like Bilbo at Rivendell, rejuvenating to the sound of elves.
2.  Always in autumn,that slant of light.  The way it slips over the ridge to the southeast and hits the trees at the edge of the bosque in the western deep of the hollow.  The way it glows on the last of the golden walnut leaves.
3.  Breakfast.
4.  Rachel Carson.
5.  Water.

May the waters all run free and clean and clear.

The recent units in the college course that I am taking have focused on caring for the Earth.  One of the assignments for this week was to take walks outside and look at the sky, keeping in mind the reading that we did on climate change and the affects of human living on the health of the planet.  I wrote a poem in response.  I think when I have time to review and revise it as a poem, I want to work some more with the image of reversal that my son brought me when he declared it to be backwards day.  What reversals are possible?  What grace is there in the reversal?  What wishes for the future?

Wandering the Hill to Consider the Sky

Here in the hollow,
though still expansive
the sky is relatively small–
a blue bowl upended
on the green bowl here below.

Here in this lower bowl,
down in this green hollow,
we see the world pass above us.

High up, like white sharks
swimming near the ocean’s surface,
the small white forms of jets,
some days leaving their trails
behind them as they fly,
delivering their human cargo.

Below the planes are sometimes
eagles wheeling high
or peregrine wandering
the thin currents.

A layer lower, and the geese
remind each other of the journey’s peril,
calling to orient the family,
to place themselves in the context of flock.

And here, hardly another tree-height
above the trees, the robins and their ilk
come skimming each night in October,
a long low parade, in constant groups of twelve or twenty,
neverendingly to settle in the trees
which nestle deep within the glen.

I am always struck by how the horizon holds the sky here,
gives it weight, cloud-lined at the edges,
and by the layering of the high clouds above,
wispy whispers behind the summer thunderheads
and scudding puffball clouds of autumn.

It can be hard to imagine, here,
how we are harming it, to picture
the burden we’ve asked it to hold.
Some days–when Spicher sprays the southward fields,
or Fisher, up-ridge to the north, lights his burn pile
and the smell of burning plastic rolls down the hillside
like water, while the black smoke rises upward
like some dark mockery of what was once required for holiness–
some days, perhaps, it’s all too clear, here,
what we are doing to the sky.

It’s easy, some days, to ignore the smell of fumes
from my own shiny blue tractor,
my big red farm truck, my trusty old Buick,
easy to excuse my own acceptance of the way things are.

Here, now, on the ridge top,
eastward, looking outward,
the sky opens up and I can see
the hills across the River,
though that blue ribbon is hidden
deep beneath my line of vision.

A jay is calling from the dead oak
and little birds are chipping in the brush at woods edge.
Up here the sounds are more distinct and come from further off.
To west, a dog at Tome Farm across the hollow,
and more dogs from the kennels two hollows to the east.
And the trucks from the highway, from Route 30 and the bridge.

Once, driving along the ridge,
I watched a cloud come roiling up from southward,
like an omen of something sinister,
to settle like a hen over our hollow.
What does the wind carry,
besides geese, besides leaves?

Where do the winds take my leavings and litterings?
Where do the waters bear my dross and detritus?
Like the cobwebs of contrails that scar my sky,
I leave my own mark in the hollow and far beyond it.
What shall be my legacy of use and misuse?
The heritage I bestow upon my children:
consumption and dissipation?

Or will the webs be finer, more gossamer?
Like those of the spider who charts a course
across the spaces between the poplar and the sycamore,
those sentinels whose seeds nourish the wanderers
flitting through the highway of trees that run through the hollow?

Down from the hilltop now,
I turn my gaze from the sky to the henhouse,
and three eggs for breakfast.
A small boy has come from the house
to tell me that today is backwards day
and I must walk backward around the barn
until I bump into him,
coming reverse from the other direction.

After we dutifully collide,
we find chestnuts there.
He eats one,
and buries the other:
a wish for good luck.

The raucous owls were silent in their bamboo haunts
this morning as I rushed up the hill to meet the moon
emerging from her umbral shadow,
from her ombre ochre cocoon.

What moth will she become?
What butterfly will I?

I sat a moment at the junction where my road
meets the ridge, Mt. Pisgah Road before me,
then the tidy fence,
the dusky hill meadow,
a lacy line of trees across the hilltop,
and the changing moon above in chestnut orange glory
nestled into the indigo dawning.

I caught glimpses of her on my way down the ridge
and then in my mirror as I crossed the bridge
over the water and under the last dusk of night
and I saw then that she was only now just fading into the shadow,
only entering her transformation.

I had to leave her there behind me to do her work
behind the veils of dusky morning
while I drove into the shining pink of sunrise,
Venus riding high before me
and two crows above,
lifting their wings in alleluia.

 

Gratitude List:
1.  Moon.  Moon.  Moon.
2.  So much happiness everywhere.  Other things, too, but happiness.  Joy.  You see it when you look.
3.  I feel a little like I am a bit of a den mother for some of the PSATers.  I love being a den mother of something.
4.  That slant of light.  You know?  That slant of light.  Oh yes: the sycamore IN that slant of light.  We mustn’t–no we daresn’t–forget the sycamore in that slant of light.
5.  And then there were the children off on their way for the fire house open house with their dad.  So much cuteness.  And now, I must make hay while the sun shines or be the mouse playing while the cats are away, or something.  For I have grading to do, and some child-free time in which to do it.

May we walk in Beauty!  So much Beauty!

Last week, I wrote a short essay on the subject of the sacredness of the material world, how in my world view, mind and body are one.  I’ve always had trouble with the dualistic view that sometimes pervades Christian and Buddhist thought, that the spiritual self needs to transcend or abnegate the body in order to reach true spiritual depth.  I think we’re here in these bodies for a particular reason, to experience this material world through the senses, to learn how being human is to be in these bodies.  In my recent life, however, Body and Mind have been a-warring with each other a little, especially in the realm of sleep.

At night, as I am falling asleep, Mind gives Body reminders and instructions: “We’ve checked the alarm clock.  It’s loud enough and it’s set for the correct time.  You can sleep until it goes off.”

Body has already fallen asleep and missed half the instructions.  She’s good at falling asleep the first time.

3 a.m.  Body: “Umm.  Did we really check the. . .”
Mind: “Yes!  Go back to sleep!”

3:20 a.m.  Body: “. . .because if we ever forget, then we might not wake up on time. . .”
Mind:  “Shh!  Just go back to sleep.”

This goes on, every fifteen or twenty minutes, until finally Mind can’t take it anymore, and none of us can get back to sleep, and we get out of bed around 4:30 or 5.  We get some work done, and get ready for school, and then, just at 6:30, when we’re about to head out to the car for school, Body says: “I’m really tired.  Couldn’t we just take a 15-minute nap?”

This has been the pattern almost every night since school began.  Last night, however, we woke up at 4:15, settled back to sleep, and didn’t wake up until the alarm went off.  I only hope it’s the beginning of a shift in the pattern.

 

Gratitude List:
1.  Cheesy enchiladas for supper
2.  Making art with kiddos
3.  The table is wide.  So wide.  There’s room for everyone.
4.  Lying in the grass on the hillside to meditate
5.  The maple trees are bursting into flame

May we walk in Beauty!

This new life I have embarked upon has shifted my flow of energy drastically.  Working with teenagers is invigorating and energizing, but it can be incredibly draining, too.  I am finding my way back to a kind of equilibrium, but meanwhile I am treading gently, learning to say No again with the same sort of intentionality I learned when I had small babies.  Now my days are filled brimful with words.  I am on stage much of the day, putting word together into strings and strands of ideas to rush out upon the webs that connect my heart and thoughts to the hearts and thought of my students.  I am listening to and reading words.  Somehow, in the midst of this, I have developed again a shyness and a reticence about throwing down a poem upon the page in the mornings, to see what appears and where I can take it.  I will get back to that place again.  Perhaps I can begin to draw out some of the webs from my school life and work them onto this tabula rasa.

 

Gratitude List:
1.  Seeing Chiques Rock, and the River, and the bridges, in a different light each morning.  How the sun lights up the trees on the eastern horizon as I drive into morning.
2.  It happens every October when the air starts to get cold, but I love the desperation of kitty snuggles at this time of year.  Such purrings.
3.  I am still trying to find ways to be grateful through this early morning insomnia that I have developed again.  But I am truly grateful that I don’t have to fight myself to get myself out of bed these days.  That would feel really miserable.  Now I just need to find a way to bring 4 am a little closer to 5:30 in my body’s clock.
4.  Soup and the people who make it.
5.  Not being perfect.  This one’s hard.  I want to be super teacher.  I want to be the one who always nails every lesson, every question, every challenge.  I’m not that person.  Sometimes my lessons fall flat.  Sometimes I just don’t meet the challenges the way they need me too.  I can be too easy on them, or too strict, all at the wrong times.  But I think I am sufficient,and managing rather well most of the time, and as we said in the Waldorf school, I think they will learn simply from watching me strive.  I still wish I were an ace, a star, a golden child.  But short of that, I’ll settle for being sufficient, comfortable, and loving.

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitude List:

1. Remembering just in time to see the conflict moments not as things that get in my way, but as learning opportunities that I have been graciously given.  Oh, how lucky I have been to receive this particular little bit of conflict.  I am learning so much.
2.  Those heartfelt classroom conversations just get deeper and richer.  And I don’t feel as though I am doing anything much but listening and nodding and reminding people not to talk over each other.  Today’s conversation in one class in particular went down many rabbit trails, but by the time we reached the end of class, it had accomplished, with much greater depth, the work of the activity that I had planned before the conversation took over.
3.  I think the future is going to be in good hands.  Such competent hands, such clear-thinking heads, such compassionate hearts.
4.  That moment, each morning, when I get to the crest of Pisgah ridge, over by Sam Lewis Park, and the sun is just beginning to peek over the far eastern horizon.  This morning the valley was hidden by fog, but I was above the fog for just a few moments.  It made the whole day an adventure to begin it like that.
5.  Finding the next level of energy behind the veil of weariness.  I really wanted to find the energy to make up a Jeopardy game for my Academic Writing students tomorrow.  And I did.
6.  And an extra one today, because I am feeling like a rebel: the words of Anne Lamott.

May we walk in Beauty!

Sand Castle

Gratitude List:
1.  Gull feathers, gulls.  More than any other bird I know, the gull shows its developmental stages incrementally, and I can never tell who is who, because the plumage on one species may have five different stages.  Except the great Blacked-backed Gulls–they have all the plumage variation, but you can’t miss them for size.  We’ve seen dainty little terns, a pair of oystercatchers, several flocks of sanderlings flying in formation through the spray of the breakers, and a migrating flock of ten thousand swallows, stopping for a day or two on the dunes to refuel before they fly on.  We’ve seen a monarch or two, and I am hoping we just missed the main body of their migration.  Sometimes when we’re here for our September days at the beach, we’ve seen several an hour.  Last year, the dragonflies were migrating through when we were here, and I lost count of them.
2.  Playing on the beach with Christopher Robin and Galileo.  Galileo throws himself into the waves, body and mind, commenting on the feel of the force against his body, comparing the difference between a wave that is breaking as it hits him and a wave that has already broken.  He pays attention to the feel of the force of the undertow sucking at his feet while the next wave crashes over him.  He especially loves when two waves come right at him at different angles and he is caught in the corner between.  His attention to the physical and mechanical forces at work only increases his wonder and delight in the experience.
Christopher Robin is all light and air and dream and magic, wanting to stand out in the water as far as he can bear, holding tightly to his dad as the waves crash in, “Hold tighter!  Hold tighter!”  Or he catches hold of one of us as we stand watching the waves come in, “C’mon!  Let’s go-let’s go-let’s go!  See this!  Look at this!”  And my heart is hurting just ever so slightly because I remember that at the end of the Winnie the Pooh books, Christopher Robin leaves the Hunderd Aker Wood, and that small bear is bereft, and I think how probably that small bear was also A. A. Milne himself, and is me.  (It is good that I found a job for this fall because I think I would be sort of mopey and sad right now otherwise.)
3.  Forts and castles in the sand.  The boys spent the day digging their massive holes and setting ramparts about them.  The waves took them in a matter of half an hour at the end.  Me, I made a many-turreted Gothic cathedral with fine fairy arches.  We watched to see what the waves would do at the end.  One wave.  One wave took it down and left only a vanguard of shivering foam and a garland of bladderwrack, and no sign whatsoever that a castle had stood there moments before.  We are all sand castles, perhaps, or words scratched in the sand, here for a moment and then gone in a breath, yet hovering somehow, in the memory of the molecules that made us up.  So fleeting and enduring we are.
4.  Returning to all our favorite places.  This motel and its pool and the the towns here on the 7-Mile-Island are a memory place for the boys, and they remember now from year to year all the things we do.  Our trip is truncated to a single weekend this year because I am working, but we’re still able to pack in quite a bit of fun, and several of our favorite eating spots.  Take-out from Nemo’s Pizza yesterday (sausage pizza and a fried flounder parmesan sub), supper at Tortilla Flats yesterday (Navajo Tacos with Coconut Butterfly Shrimp, Shrimp and Scallop Fajitas–we skipped the Jersey Tomatoes with Fresh Crabmeat appetizer because the portions here are so enormous), and we’ll have breakfast at Uncle Bill’s Pancake House this morning before we play some more in the ocean or pool, or head back home–depending on our whim.
5.  Mentors everywhere.  I am so grateful for all the life experience of the people I know, you who have been parents and teachers and farmers and poets and writers and wisher and dreamers, and how you have been willing and gracious to lend a listening ear and a piece of requested advice when I have needed the extra support.  Blessings on the mentors.

May we walk in Beauty!

Today as I was walking down the hall, I noticed a small group of first years huddled in a little cluster not far from a grove of tree-like seniors.  The freshmen looked so young and innocent and small compared to the sturdy and confident older students.  I realized that it was only partly about their respective heights; it was also about their carriage and body language.  The blooming from childhood to young adulthood really seems to happen in these few years that they walk the halls of high school.  I also realized that those particular freshmen, who seemed so small in comparison to the seniors, were actually all taller than I am.  Heh.

I should be grading.  I have a big stack of essays that really need to be done by tomorrow.  But my gratitude list today is sort of centered around that stack.

Gratitude List:
1.  All these stories.  Perhaps it’s a little brutal, a little brusque, to ask these young folks whom I don’t really know to write essays for me, describing something that brought about a change in their lives.  Oh, how tender, how vulnerable, their responses.  I hold them like eggs, like butterfly wings, like whispers.  Tales of joyful tears at the birth of a niece or a nephew, of tenderly nurturing small creatures, of leaving their homes to travel to the US to study, of deciding to care about their futures and their dreams.  Oh, the stacks of grading can be a teacher’s bane, like mythological challenges to be overcome, but they hold such treasures.  Such powerful and fragile treasures.  Have I said how in love I am with these people who fill my days?
2.  How a little bit of unplanned time in the classroom can sometimes turn into powerful discussion time.  Yesterday, it was about how, when you stand up against something wrong, it makes it easier for the next person to do so.  Today, it was parenting techniques, and helping children to develop intrinsic motivations to choose the “right” option instead of forcing them to follow the extrinsic motivation of threats of parental punishment.  Really.  These are wise and thoughtful folks.
3.  Monarchs on the move.  I keep seeing them–it’s migration time.
4.  Wild geese.  The ones that fly overhead.  The ones in Mary Oliver’s poem.  The ones in Mary Black’s song.  The one some call the Spirit.
5.  Tomorrow we go to the beach.  The farm work will go on here without us.  The school work will get done in the cracks and spaces.  And I will have a day and a half to breathe seas air and refresh and rejuvenate.  Blessed be.

May we walk in Beauty.

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