Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Such Singing in the Wild Branches

It was spring

and finally I heard him

among the first leaves -

then I saw him clutching the limb

in an island of shade

with his red-brown feathers

all trim and neat for the new year.

First, I stood still

and thought of nothing.

Then I began to listen.

Then I was filled with gladness -

and that's when it happened,

when I seemed to float,

to be, myself, a wing or a tree -

and I began to understand

what the bird was saying,

and the sands in the glass


for a pure white moment

while gravity sprinkled upward

like rain, rising,

and in fact

it became difficult to tell just what it was that was singing -

it was the thrush for sure, but it seemed

not a single thrush, but himself, and all his brothers,

and also the trees around them,

as well as the gliding, long-tailed clouds

in the perfectly blue sky - all, all of them

were singing.

And, of course, yes, so it seemed,

so was I.

Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn't last

for more than a few moments.

It's one of those magical places wise people

like to talk about.

One of the things they say about it, that is true,

is that, once you've been there,

you're there forever.

Listen, everyone has a chance.

Is it spring, is it morning?

Are there trees near you,

and does your own soul need comforting?

Quick, then - open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song

may already be drifting away.

The Wood Thrush of North America has a song some describe as hauntingly beautiful. As a child I walked frequently alone in the woods and though this bird sang just for me. Whenever family confusion got stirred up on our home and my soul needed comforting, to the woods I went to hear a reprieve. I'd enter the doorway of trees with heavy feet and after a walk singing I'd leave the woods flying. The song of a bird tells us all that we all have a chance for liberation, even the most tortured, even the torturers. Within the deepest recesses of the fractured human dilemma of competition versus collaboration, and care versus harm, we are hauntingly beautiful. May you hear such a song of freedom today.

If you could give yourself a new chance today, what would it be?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Some goldfinches were having a melodious argument at the edge of puddle. The bird wanted to bathe, or perhaps just to dip their heads and look at themselves, and they were having trouble with who should be first, and so on. So they discussed it while I stood in the distance, listening. Perhaps in Tibet, in the old holy places, they also have such fragile bells. Or are these birds really just that, bells come to us-come to this road in America-let us bow our heads and remember now how we (are) used to do it, say a prayer. Meanwhile the birds bathe and splash and have a good time. Then they fly off, their dark wings opening from their bright, yellow bodies; their tiny feet, all washed, clasping the air.

I am recalling how in the Christian scripture there is a story of their prophet Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. Highly acclaimed as a symbol of service, this is an act deemed to be a humble confession that the greatest is here only to serve the least of us. Our precious sparkling goldfinches come into our backyards and we give them a place and space to wash their tiny feet. We the humbled before such beauty are brought to awareness of service with every bird bath and feeder. Like the bell in far of Buddhist lands, these birds tone out a call to interconnecting clarity and compassion.

I was once humbled with a goldfinch. Biking back from my work at the Raptor Center in Davis, California I saw a dead goldfinch upon the road. He was so gorgeous that I picked him up, stuffed him into a plastic bag and my back pack, and then pedaled off to a potluck social. During the evening there started a buzz about a foul smell, which was finally located within my backpack. Eyes around the room saw me take out the still form that had perhaps laid too long upon a hot summer's road to keep preserved. I don't know if those gathered suspected my embarrassment or resonated with my impulse - death does not end beauty and if anything calls us ever closer to service, be it Jesus, Buddha, or birds.

What reminds you that you are here to serve?

Monday, June 28, 2010


All day the flicker

has anticipated

the lust of the season, by

shouting. he scouts up

tree after tree and at

a certain place begins

to cry out. My, in his

black-freckled vest, bay body with

red trim and sudden chrome

underwings, he is

dapper. Of course somebody

listening nearby

hears him; she answers

with a sound like hysterical

laughter, and rushes out into

the field where he is poised

on an old phone pole, his head

swinging, his wings

opening and shutting in a kind of

butterfly stroke. She can’t

resist; they touch, they flutter.

how lightly, altogether, they accept

the great tasks of carrying life

forward! In the crown of an oak

they choose a small tree-cave

which they enter with sudden quietness

and modesty. and, for a while,

the wind that can be

a knife or a hammer, subsides.

they listen

to the thrushes.

the sky is blue, or the rain

falls with its spills of pearl.

around their wreath of darkness

the leaves of the world unfurl.

Once when a teenager I saw a Northern Flicker grieving. I was a teenager on an errand with my father driving when the car in front of us struck a flicker. The mate that had been flying ahead, turned, and flew back to the ground to stand by his companion. My father stopped the car to see if there was anything we could do. There wasn't. Her beauty was now stilled. We could not believe that the male bird did not fly away as we approached, his quiet stillness beyond words. I could never really guess what my father was thinking or feeling, he being rather stoic and undemonstrative. On this occasion he had tears trailing down his face to see such sadness and loss, echoed in his own heart I do believe. His sadness, the bird’s mourning, and my own grief never leaves me, and neither does this bird’s beauty. Flickers are such lusty, furtive, spontaneous beings as Mary suggests, and their wild bonding brings not just new life, but a centering in how much beauty means to them and to us.

How might loss, mourning, and grief help you grow a life based on your values and life giving actions?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Dipper

The Dipper

Once I saw

in a quick-falling, white-veined stream,

among the leafed islands of the wet rocks,

a small bird, and knew it

from the pages of a book; it was

the dipper, and dipping he was,

as well as, sometimes, on a rock-peak, starting up

the clear, strong pipe of his voice; at this,

there being no words to transcribe, I had to

bend forward, as it were,

into his frame of mind, catching

everything I could in the tone,

cadence, sweetness, and briskness

of his affirmative report.

Though not by words, it was

a more than satisfactory way to the

bridge of understanding. This happened

in Colorado

more than half a century ago-

more, certainly, than half my lifetime ago-

and, just as certainly, he has been sleeping for decades

in the leaves beside the stream,

his crumble of white bones, his curl of flesh

comfortable even so.

And still I hear him-

And whenever I open the ponderous book of riddles

He sits with his black feel hooked to the page,

His eyes cheerful, still burning with water-love-

And thus the world is full of leaves and feathers,

And comfort, and instruction. I do not even remember

Your name, great river,

Since that hour I have lived


in the joy of the body as full and clear

as falling water; the pleasures of the mind

like a dark bird dipping in and out, tasting and singing.

I saw a dipper once high in the mountains of California. I was on a field trip for my class in Ornithology at the University of California, Davis. We students visited a field station that had an underground room with a clear glass plate that formed one bank of a mountain stream . We got to observe fish, insects, and the dipper bird that came swimming by with her furtive wings flapping, showing us all how to fly underground, underwater, and overwhelmed in beauty. We spent that day marveling at birds and writing field notes about them. Returning to university grounds, we had a test about what we were learning about birds. We answered life’s questions concerning awe and interconnection in terms of ecological description and anatomical terms. Perhaps I was compelled to study hard for that class because like Mary, the dipper was perched on my field notebook, examining and encouraging my studious presence to the beauty around me. This was the only college level class where I procured not just an “A” but an “A+.” Really though, the excellence goes to the dipper, who allows me to delve deep into my faith and gratitude in interconnecting being, and thus touch joy.

What brings you joy, simply?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Storm

Now through the white orchard my little dog

Romps, breaking the new snow

With wild feet.

Running here running there, excited,

Hardly able to stop, he leaps, he spins

Until the white snow is written upon

In large, exuberant letters,

A long sentence, expressing

The pleasures of the body in the world.

Oh, I could not have said it better myself.

A dog playing is a woman composing poetry. A child crying is a tree falling in the night. A polluted Gulf is white icing on a cupcake. Isn’t it time we quite pretending that you and I are different; from each other, from the cause of our demise, and from the source of all joy and beauty?

Where does feeling like you don’t belong or are different keep you from joy?

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Whistler

All of a sudden she began to whistle. By all of a sudden I mean t hat for more than thirty years she had not whistled. It was so thrilling. At first I wondered, who was in the house, what stranger? I was upstairs reading, and she was downstairs. As from the throat of a wild cheerful bird, not caught but visiting, the sounds warbled and slid and doubled back and larked and soared.

Finally I said, Is that you? Is that you whistling? Yes, she said. I used to whistle, a long time ago. Now I see I can still whistle. And cadence after cadence she strolled through the house, whistling.

I know her so well, I think. I thought. Elbow and ankle.. Mood and desire. Anguish and frolic. Anger too. And the devotions. And for all that, do we even begin to know each other? Who is this I’ve been living with for thirty years?

This clear, dark, lovely whistler?

I just watched a Jim Carery movie last night, “Yes Man.” The story line had Jim saying “yes” to everything as a way to happiness. He had to say yes when people asked him to do something. This led him to experiment with new experiences and opened up his life to relationships and learning he might not have already had. The paradox was that by learning to say yes so often and so whole heartedly, he learned to say no. He came to lead a more authentic life based on his values of love and connection. So I am wondering where in my own life I am constricted and want to offer up an automatic yes or no, instead of stepping out unto this new day with an open heart that might respond with the choice of either yes I will or no I won’t. No matter the answer, my choices come from the heart. Who knows, that might even mean I return to the whistling of my child hood, or some other adventure that might just startle me and others around me into joyous harmony.

What might you say yes to today that you normally say no to?

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Maybe the idea of the world as flat isn’t a tribal memory or an archetypal memory, but something far older-a fox memory, a worm memory, a moss memory.

Memory of leaping or crawling or shrugging rootlet by rootlet forward, across the flatness of everything.

To perceive of the earth as round needed something else – standing up!-that hadn’t yet happened.

What a wild family! Fox and giraffe and wart hog, of course .But these also: bodies like tiny strings, bodies like blades and blossoms! Cord grass, Christmas fern, soldier moss! And here comes grasshopper, all toes and knees and eyes, over the little mountains of dust.

When I see the black cricket in the woodpile, in autumn, I don’t frighten her. And when I see the moss grazing upon the rock, I touch her tenderly,

Sweet cousin.

Key words: family, wild, insect, season, fear, stone, animal, plant, world, evolution

In our congregation we often say that we are a community of memory and hope. We lift up values, stories, and science to remind us of what we already know – the deeper wisdom underneath the quotidian events of our lives. What is that wisdom? It seems that deep within our psyche is the knowing that we are all family. And let be me frank here. We have the just as deep knowing that we’d like to be done with this family – a family that brings pain, suffering, war, disease, broken relationships, and death. So we leave the trees for the savannah, stand up, run, chase, fly, and enter in space. One day I imagine we will leave this planet, some remembering in the millennia to come that it was round, a circle of life unbroken with connections, and others thinking it was flat, empty of depth and full of death and misery. The moss sees level beauty, and we humans can see into multidimensional universes. God of glory, god of wisdom, may we never forget either!

How do you see the world?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Three Prose Poems


Oh, yesterday, that one, we all cry out. Oh, that one! How rich and possible everything was! How ripe, ready, lavish, and filled with excitement-how hopeful we were on those summer days, under the clean, white racing clouds. Oh yesterday!


I was in the hold burn dump-no longer used…Here a pair of hummingbirds lived every summer, as if the only ones of their kind…I strolled, and was almost always sure to see the male hummingbird on his favorite high perch near the top of a wild cherry tree, looking out across his kingdom with bright eye, and even brighter throat…a plane, a black triangle, flew screaming from the horizon, heavy talons clenched and lumpy on its undersides. And, lo, the hummingbird cringed, it hugged itself to the limb, it hunkered, it quivered. It was God’s gorgeous, flashing jewel: afraid. All narrative is metaphor.


After the storm the ocean there was the world: sky, water, the pale sand and, where the tide had reached the day’s destination, the snow. And this detail: the body of a duck, a golden-eye; and beside it one black-backed gull. In the body of the duck, among the breast feathers, a hole perhaps an inch across: the color within the hole a shouting red. And bend it as you might, nothing was to blame: storms must toss, and the great black-backed gawker must eat, and so on. It was merely a moment. The sun, angling out from the bunched clouds, cast one could easily imagine tenderly over the landscape its extraordinary light.

Is life just a moment, balanced between fear and tenderness? Does the tide come in and yesterday was lush and we feel expansive and open, and then the tide goes out and we constrict with fear and scarcity? It seems to be so. We are God’s precious jewels sparkling in the sand, eater and eaten, afraid. Okay, maybe I can accept this. What brings me angst and a hollow thumping of the heart though, is that I will seek to blame God, the world, the gull, the plane, you, me. And as the tide goes out and the sun sets, I will think that I am lonely, alone worthy of praise or blame, of praising of blaming. Oh be still my cognitive self and let the story rest for a while in the calm of an intertidal zone, for all stories are metaphor as Mary says. Beneath it all lies shared being – no life, no death, just sparkling amazement lying amongst the ever present grains of fear.

Who or what do you blame? Praise?

Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches? June 22, 2010

Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches
of other lives --
tried to imagine what the crisp fringes, full of honey,
from the branches of the young locust trees, in early morning,
feel like?

Do you think this world was only an entertainment for you?

Never to enter the sea and notice how the water divides
with perfect courtesy, to let you in!
Never to lie down on the grass, as though you were the grass!
Never to leap to the air as you open your wings over
the dark acorn of your heart!

No wonder we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint
that something is missing from your life!

Who can open the door who does not reach for the latch?
Who can travel the miles who does not put one foot
in front of the other, all attentive to what presents itself
Who will behold the inner chamber who has not observed
with admiration, even with rapture, the outer stone?

Well, there is time left --
fields everywhere invite you into them.

And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away
from wherever you are, to look for your soul?

Quickly, then, get up, put on your coat, leave your desk!

To put one's foot into the door of the grass, which is
the mystery, which is death as well as life, and
not be afraid!

To set one's foot in the door of death, and be overcome
with amazement!

To sit down in front of the weeds, and imagine
god the ten-fingered, sailing out of his house of straw,
nodding this way and that way, to the flowers of the
present hour,
to the song falling out of the mockingbird's pink mouth,
to the tippets of the honeysuckle, that have opened

in the night

To sit down, like a weed among weeds, and rustle in the wind!

Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?

While the soul, after all, is only a window,

and the opening of the window no more difficult
than the wakening from a little sleep.

Only last week I went out among the thorns and said
to the wild roses:
deny me not,
but suffer my devotion.
Then, all afternoon, I sat among them. Maybe

I even heard a curl or tow of music, damp and rouge red,
hurrying from their stubby buds, from their delicate watery bodies.

For how long will you continue to listen to those dark shouters,
caution and prudence?
Fall in! Fall in!

A woman standing in the weeds.
A small boat flounders in the deep waves, and what's coming next
is coming with its own heave and grace.

Meanwhile, once in a while, I have chanced, among the quick things,
upon the immutable.
What more could one ask?

And I would touch the faces of the daises,
and I would bow down
to think about it.

That was then, which hasn't ended yet.

Now the sun begins to swing down. Under the peach-light,
I cross the fields and the dunes; I follow the ocean's edge.

I climb, I backtrack.
I float.
I ramble my way home.

I am in the north of this continent, not so very far, but far enough that the sun rises much earlier and sets much later than usual. I awoke with a vision of amazement – thinking of the Scarlet Macaw of Mesoamerica. I cannot think of that bird without thinking of death, and of loss. Reading yesterday in the book, “Seven Names for the Bellbird,” which is a book about how people value birds in Honduras, I came across a section on the Scarlet Macaw, the Guara Roja. The author found that the Hondurans speak of the Guara in terms of how much loss of the natural world they have seen. So the Guara came to me today, a bird of life and a bird of death and a bird of amazement. I so strongly feel that to be on a journey of amazement I must also set one foot in the door of death. For this is presence of what is, which stuns me with the finality and infinity of my shared being. So here I am at the annual gathering of Unitarian Universalist ministers in Minneapolis, hearing the call not to shared ministry, but to shared being.

Where do you journey for amazement, and is death a part of this path?

Monday, June 21, 2010

West Wind


If there is life after earth-life will come with me? Even then? Since we're bound to be something, why not together? Imagine!...


You are young. So you know everything... But, listen to me... Lift the oars from the water, let your arms rest, and your heart, and heart's little intelligence, and listen to me. There is life without love. It is not worth a bent penny, or a scuffed shoe. It is not worth the body of a dead dog nine days unburied...


And the speck of my heart, in my shed of flesh and bone, began to sing out, the way the sun would sing if the sun could sing, if light had a mouth and a tongue, if the sky had a throat, if god wasn't just an idea but shoulders and a spine, gathered from everywhere, even the most distant planets, blazing up?...


And what did you think love would be like? A summer day? The brambles in their places, and the long stretches of mud? Flowers in every field, in every garden, with their soft beaks and their pastel shoulders? ...In one room after another, the lovers meet, quarrel, sicken, break apart, cry out. One or two leap from windows. Most simply lean, exhausted, their thin arms on the sill. they have done all that they could. The golden eagle, that lives not far from here, has perhaps a thousand tiny feathers flowing from the back of its head, each one shaped like an infinitely small but perfect spear.

Mary speaks to her lover here perhaps after some disappointing scuffle, asking her/him to consider that love is not just a flower, but a spear of beauty. Love is not for us to put into a box but is the god of the open waters that is merciless to the rowboat of our lives. Perhaps as humans there is no way we cannot give up on love simply because we tire of the constant struggle, of the constant rows and fights we have with those with whom we have found disappointment in love. I mourn the number of times I have considered that love should be a garden, when I see litter cluttering up a relationship. And so I tire of picking up the trash, and my love drifts away. We humans fight like lice upon a bird - the lice of the left wing say my way is correct, and the lice of the right wing say no my way is correct. In the meantime, the eagle soars on. Perhaps I'll do some gliding today, tomorrow, and all the days to come so that I may rest with an open heart, ready not for a row, but to row.

Is there anything that is not a paradox?