The Rivers and the Bridges

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Nag Hammadi and Susquehanna (via Dreamscope app)

Being able to weave together two different photos gives me the chance to blend my obsessions. Here, the Bridge over my River, and a piece of ancient Coptic text on a papyrus. I don’t have much time these days for personal researches, but when I have a free moment, I often turn to texts from the Nag Hammadi Library. Right now, I keep a page of The Thunder, Perfect Mind open on a tab on my Chromebook. Those texts are both a bridge and a river for me. I love how this mash-up placed text where the leaves of the sycamore would be in summer, and how there seems to be the suggestion of a greater arch in the sky above the arches of the bridge.

Gratitude List:
1. The willows are putting on their shiny green dancing clothes for spring.
2. The way flocks of little birds connect the dots across the sky.
3. Three crows in a field in the dawn, bobbing their heads up and down, doing obeisance to the sunrise.
4. Tea. It has been such a non-frigid winter that I haven’t often felt the need for tea to break the chill. Lately my students have been making tea in my room, and I enjoy a couple cups a day with them, and then some in the evening. It takes away the craving for the second cup of coffee and leaves me feeling warmed from the inside out.
5. Teenagers. I don’t know why I used to be anxious about the idea of teaching in a high school. The brilliant minds, the bursting creativity, the great hearts, the developing critical thinking skills. I love them. I am learning so  much. They are also my rivers and my bridges.

May we walk in Beauty!

Beloved Community

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A couple years ago, I had a girl in my freshman class who entered every classroom on high alert, ready to attack at the slightest provocation. She didn’t wait to be bullied or insulted–she was ready to lash out at the least hint of a slight, the least whiff of aggression. Within days, most of her classmates were steering a wide path around her, terrified that they might accidentally look at her the wrong way and find themselves on the receiving end of her wrath.

One of the things I love about my school is the restorative way that teachers and administrators work with students. Teachers kept reminding her to keep her language school-appropriate, to speak more gently with her classmates. Students who felt harmed by her sharpness were cared for and comforted, and she was held accountable for the harm she caused. Still, she was treated like a person herself, not like a perpetrator, not like a problem. The adults understood that she was experiencing an extreme sense of vulnerability, that her social anxiety and the pain she was dealing with in her personal life made her push people away before she could be hurt.

Gradually, she began letting other students and adults near her. She discovered that people liked her for who she was, that we appreciated her quick wit, that she could make us laugh and smile. She began to talk and write about deeper things, too. When she lost someone she loved, instead of retreating to her cave and biting anyone who came near, she wrote it out. She talked about it. She let her friends hold her and care for her.

Now she’s a junior.  She’s finding her voice, catching her stride. She can still make you cringe when she gets into a temper. She’ll always be good at speaking her mind. But the aggressiveness is tempered with gentleness. Instead of masking her vulnerability, she uses her tender heart to find connections with others who hurt. She’s beginning to speak out about issues and causes that matter to her, using both reason and passion. She’s becoming a leader. I am proud of her, and grateful for this community that helped her find her way to her best self. She’s going to be one of the ones who changes the world.

Gratitude List:
1. Beloved community that provides a place for us to fail and try and fail and try and learn and become.
2. The way the sunlight spilled across the fields as dawn arrived.
3. Magenta, Indigo, Aquamarine, which is to say: The clouds at sunrise.
4. The way those five crows flying in a perfect line laced up the clouds they flew between.
5. The members of the Silhouette Magazine staff. They’re witty, earnest, playful, and thoughtful. I’m proud of the assembly they presented this morning.

May we walk in Beauty!

Messages from Skunk

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Blessed are the watchers, the sentinels, the keepers.
Blessed are the ones who pause and listen
for the quietest voices on the wind.

Blessed are the ones who let truth whisper
in the curling spirals of their ears,
who take it in and feel it in their marrow,
let it settle in their bellies, in the gut, the womb, the blood.
Blessed are the ones who sit with that bright coal
that grows and glows within them
as it reaches flaming fingers into every artery and vein.

I have been in conversation today with a friend on the subject of truth. While I love truth as an ideal, and I have worked on impeccability as a spiritual discipline, I have tended to be uncomfortable speaking of truth because of the way it has been used–particularly in religious circles–as a bludgeon. Too many times I have heard people speak of the One Truth: “I have a corner on the Truth, and unless you believe exactly as I do, you are believing lies and falsehoods and you are hopelessly lost.” Poor, poor Truth. She’s so misunderstood.

And lately she’s become such a commodity. When people in positions of power are slicing her up into tiny fragments, stitching her into their webs of falsehoods, and selling her to the lowest bidder, she’s lost all her sense of purpose in the world. It behooves people of integrity to take her in, harbor her, give her sanctuary. My friend suggested taking Truth inside, and observing your physiological response. How does she feel inside you? These times call for a new and wide-awake relationship with Truth. She’s an ally, not a weapon. She’s a teacher, not a dictator.

Gratitude List:
1) You know how I chose skunk (see February 3) as my symbol of nonviolent resistance? This morning as we were driving between corn-stubbly fields on the way to school, a great big skunker with ambled out of the thin line of woods and looked at us passing by. I love seeing skunks at any time, but today it felt like an affirmation.
2) Crows. I think we saw all 20,000 at once this afternoon. No kidding. They were swirling in the wind above a field like a little cyclone, sitting in all the trees along the highway, flying above us in the sunset. They also feel like a message.
3) All the migrators. Along with the crows, the sky was simply filled with all the wing-folk today. Flock of small birds layered behind the crow flocks, and behind and above them, skeins of geese.
4) That seahorse cloud. Golden-white against the pinking sky. Like an embossment. Far away, it kept its shape longer than other whimsy-clouds tend to, almost the whole way home from school.
5) Vision. Sight. Seeing.

May we walk in Beauty!

Three Crows

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This is a public domain stock photo that I filtered. I wanted an image of three crows in a tree.

Today we packed up Christmas. I like to keep the decorations up through the twelve days, but then we need to get our space back. The tree makes me feel claustrophobic after a while, and the rug needed a good vacuuming to get the needles out. Suddenly the living room has space again. We’ve let Lego-land completely take over the library floor, so it’s especially nice to have a mostly empty floor in one room at least.

As I was standing in the breezeway getting up the courage to go out in the cold and take down the wreath and bows, a pair of house finches flew in and sat on the wreath, checking it out for winter quarters, perhaps. I decided to hang the wreath (minus the bow) from one of the trees out back so they can use it if they want.

The person who loses out the most from the Christmas clean-up is Fredthecat. The tree had become his haven. He loved sleeping beneath it. Jon is thinking of buying a ficus to give Fred a tree to sleep beside. Now that’s a good man. But I already knew that.

Gratitude List:
1. Fox prints by the pond. Yesterday after school, Joss and I went walking in the snow by the pond, and we saw fox prints: eight prints and then a three foot space, eight more prints and a three foot space, then eight more prints again. That fox was running. At one point, there was a little spot where someone had scrabbled in the soil, and a little mouse hole was exposed. We figured that the fox got a little snack. But then we noticed that a set of rabbit prints converged with the fox trail, and so we wondered if the fox got a dinner. There were more rabbit trails around, so perhaps the rabbits and fox were out at different times. My Christmas wish was to see a fox. Knowing one was racing through yesterday after the snow makes me feel as though my wish was partly granted.
2. I saw a flock of turkeys today, crouching along a bramble patch on a snowy field.
3. Three crows in a winter tree against a winter sky. There’s something primal and elemental about three crows in a winter tree. I saw two such groups in my driving today.
4. Supportive colleagues.  Wise collaboration with curriculum design.
5. Packing up Christmas. Moving on into January.

May we walk in Beauty!

Nannies and Grannies

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Gratitude List:
1. Crows in fields, in trees, in sky, and snow
2. The Children’s Program at church this morning–baby angels tossing their halos into the air, kings wearing their crowns at jaunty angles over their ears, little drummers and shepherds and all
3. Taking a nap at my parents’ house this afternoon–having someone just take care of me
4. Hot chocolate
5. That family of four deer that came down the hill in the bosque, crossed the stream and the road, and went up the bluff and over the ridge.

May we walk in Beauty!

*****
Even kings have grandmothers, and nannies. It might be the grannies and nannies who hold the world together, or who bring it back around to rights when it’s gone off the deep end. Slow and steady, one story at a time.

The Eighth Wolf King, Astra Djin, had three children, the youngest born the same month of the same year as Bilhah the Baker. The two boys, Mussa and Ahmbra, were educated in the traditional military academy where there father and grandfathers had also learned to read and write, to rule, to fight, and to venerate the Djin-Wolf, fiercest of all gods. The middle child, Behna, was a girl, and she was instructed in palace graces and etiquette by her mother and her many governesses. In the late afternoons, when the boys’ schooling was finished, and Behna had completed her palace duties, their nanny would take up her spinning and the children would settle around her like kittens and wait for her to begin spinning a tale.

“Once upon a time,” she would begin, for all good stories begin thus, “the city was ruled by a Wolf-Queen.”

The children would laugh and protest: “Nanny! There’s no such thing as a ruler queen!”

“This is a fairy tale, my darlings. Only a fairy tale,” she would tell them, her eyes glowing in her crinkly smiling face.  “Once upon a time, there was a Wolf-Queen named Rama-Shala-Mehbaz. But the people just called her Queen Rama, or Your Majesty. She was a great ruler and loved by her people. When she was Queen, all the girls in the city went to school, too, just like the boys. And no one in the city ever starved for lack of food, and there were no soldiers in the streets, and there was a great temple in the center of the city to honor the Wolf Mother.”

“Nanny, that’s just wrong,” protested Mussa. “There is only the Djin-Wolf. You must not say Wolf Mother, as though it were another god as great as Djin-Wolf. Even for a story. And even you know that we must have soldiers in the streets to keep the peace. Otherwise the people might fight and kill each other. The people are like children, and they must be treated with harshness and a firm hand.”

“Perhaps,” said Nanny to the boy, whose face was a mass of grey confusion. “Don’t worry, my princeling. This is only a story, and I am a silly old woman. Would you like to hear more? Well, it was said that the Queen would often disappear on nights when the moon was dark. She would walk out of the city, not returning until the first rays of dawn rose over the river, leaving a trail of bare footprints in the dew.

“The legends say that when she reached the riverbank, she would transform into a great wolf, and stand in the darkness, singing the wolf songs until all the wolves in all the hills around the city would meet her there on the riverbank.  One morning, she returned from the river carrying a tiny squirming wolf cub in her arms. She carried it to the palace, and before the day was out, the cub had transformed into a human child, and Queen Rama raised her as a daughter, and she became queen in her turn.  It is said that all the ancient queens were shape-shifters, gift-cubs from the wolves, and that is why the city was so peaceful–they lived as wolves do, caring for the sick and the young and the elderly, looking out for the good of all.”

Mussa’s face was still cloudy. “But it’s only a story, isn’t it, Nanny?”

“Hmmm? A story? Yes, it’s a story, certainly. Now off to bed with you.”

Moon Cakes

Gratitude List:
1. Those UNICEF kids. I didn’t think I would have the energy to help them pull off a party tonight, but they came together and set up with a real will. What a terrific bunch of teenagers.
2. Flan. LaRice makes the best flan I have ever tasted.
3. A weekend to rest up.
4. Crows
5. Walt Whitman

May we walk in Beauty!

moon-cakes
Moon Cakes

Rana the Baker needed an apprentice, and her niece Bilhah needed work that would keep her closer to her foster daughter instead of out in the fields and orchards. Bilhah took to her work like a wagon wheel to the rutted lanes of Low Street, steady and sure.  She often worked with baby Leeta tied onto her back with a long strip of cloth.

On days before the full moon, Rana’s shop was always full of customers, women requesting the round almond moon cakes that were one of the baker’s specialties. And on the days of Equinox and Solstice, and the corner days between them, Bilhah and her aunt could barely keep up with the demand for the tasty treats.

In this way, Bilhah was ushered into women’s society. She didn’t ask many questions, but she kept her eyes and ears open, and soon she had learned quite a bit about the rites and rituals of women, the keeping of time by the moon, the celebrations of the sun cycle, the moon cakes offered to the Queen of Heaven.

One early morning, carrying a squirming two-year-old Leeta on her back, Bilhah opened the bakery door to a wall of billowing smoke. Neighbors came running, and waded through the smoke to the kitchen where they found a batch of moon cakes burning in the oven. Rana had died of a sudden stroke mid-batch, and the cakes had burned.

Gormlek the Mourner himself took his sister to the houses of the dead, where he prepared her body for the cremation. Lawyers who opened her sealed testaments discovered that all her worldly possessions she had left to her niece Bilhah.  And so it was that Bilhah became Bilhah the Baker, and Leeta the Wolf-Child came to be raised in the company of women, with the exception of her doting and adored Babu Gormlek.

Wind-Tossed

 

EPSON MFP image

Fox

Wind-buffeted,
the crows remain aloft,
daring the sky to toss them higher,
calling each other through the gusts,
daring the air to throw them through branches.
Shall we be crows, too?
Instead of expecting the breezes to gentle us tenderly,
shall we surf the gales with that fierce joy?

Gratitude List:
1. The foxes of Skunk Hollow, and getting a chance to see that flash of orange, that bottle-brush tail, streaking across Cabin Creek and up into the bosque.
2. Professional development opportunities are available everywhere.  Yesterday, because I had a day off, I got to be the parent helper in first grade at Wrightsville.  I helped them write short paragraphs.  It was incredibly informative to see how writing and language arts are being taught in first grade, how some kids get it right away and others struggle to organize their thoughts.  I am really delighted with the competence and compassion of my son’s teacher.
3. Kale for lunch.  I can take a little more time with my lunches on days off.
4. That little willow tree.  I love watching it become its own person.
5. Watching the mesmerizing movement of the trees by the pond during yesterday’s big wind.  It looked like there were layers of wind going opposite directions, and the trees were moving with such intensity, I thought they had to break off, but they had enough flexibility.

May we walk in beauty!

Being Interpreted

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Remembering my days of quiet contemplation at the monastery last summer.  Longing for another weekend there in a few months.

Gratitude List:
1. Elderberry syrup, which being interpreted means: I have kept the cold at bay so far.
2. The coming 3-day weekend, which being interpreted means: Sleep.
3. Those crows–how can I stop writing about the thousand crows?–which being interpreted means: Something inside me is flying into the wind.
4. These quiet morning moments of feeding the introvert, which being interpreted means: Silence.
5. Poetry, which means words, which means layers of language, which means a bridge.

May we ever walk in Beauty!

Ode to a Flock of Crows

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Too much in a hurry to seek out a birdy sort of photo for today.  Here’s a picture of the late fall farm season.

On the Two-for Tuesday prompts, I usually try to combine the two pieces of the prompt, to let the opposite ideas create a dynamic tension in the poem.  Plus, I hate to feel as though I am missing out on any part of an experience.  Today’s is a little more complicated, and I might just have to settle for one piece.  We’ll see what happens.  Here’s the prompt:

 

  1. Take the phrase “Ode to a (blank),” replace the blank with a word or phrase, make the new phrase the title of your poem, and then, write your poem.
  2. Take the phrase “(blank) is for the Birds,” replace the blank with a word or phrase, make the new phrase the title of your poem, and then, write your poem.

How they wheel and settle,
wheel and settle.
Their business is their own.

When the trees along the tracks
have lost their leaves,
and reach their naked branches
into the salmon-colored sky,
their crowns fill with crows.
Connect the dots,
a web of birds fills the world.

These are the people of the wind,
the warriors of autumn.
Watching them, even I
can turn my face toward the winter.

Gratitude List:
1. The crowd of crows.  I always feel like I have to qualify this for the people who have to live more closely with them, because I, too, get tired of the purple pokeberry splotches all over my car from the starling flock in the hollow, but I love the crows that wheel and settle in the trees near the mall.  I love seeing them just as the sky is beginning to turn orange, and they dot the treetops and electrical wires.
2. Challengers.  They give you a chance to look at your internal world, and remind you to keep checking in with yourself and to be faithful to your inner truth.
3. Compassionate hearts.
(I wasn’t really going for a C theme today, but now I think I need to finish it out.)
4. Coffee.  It gets me through the morning.
5. Creativity.  Building up and creating are a great antidote to despair and rage.

May we walk in Beauty!

Geese and Crows and Oh-the-Wind!

Gratitude List:
1. That gypsy wind yesterday, on Brighid’s Day, that scoured the sky, scooped me through the afternoon, tossed geese and crows about like winter leaves.
2. Those crows, those devil-may-care rebels, those renegades, those defiant fliers.  They leapt into the wind, fierce and fearless.
3. Those geese, less jaunty than the crows, more at the mercy of the winds.  Still, they motored on through the gales.  And then one group banked against the grey background of cloud, and they were snow geese, sojourners already returning.  And then there were whole flocks, and some were dark, the Canadas, who live here all year long, and some were the frosty white northerners with their jet black wing tips.  And did I mention it was Brighid’s Day?
4. And on the subject of the wind, there is that new art installation at the new train station in Lancaster with all those twisty bits that whirl in the breeze and stop my heart for just the briefest moment before it goes dancing away with the wind.
5. And then there was that tangerine glow this morning, and two rays of sunlight shooting a magenta X across the low grey cloud, an X that seemed to mark this very moment in time, the quarter point between the cross points of the Solstices and Equinoxes, this Quickening season of Brighid, of the Candle, of the Time-of-the-Small-Animals-Awakening.

Beauty all Around!