Monday, February 28, 2011

Tom Dancers Gift of a Whitebark Pine Cone

You never know what opportunity is going to travel to you, or through  you.

Once a friend game me a small pine cone-one of a few he found in the scat

of a grizzly in Utah maybe, or Wyoming. I took it home

and did what I supposed he was sure I would do-
I ate it, thinking

how it had traveled through that rough and holy body.  It was crisp and sweet.

It was almost a prayer without words.  My gratitude to you, Tom Dancer,

 for this gift of the world I adore so much and want to belong to.  And thank you too, great bear.

I often aspire to be like Mary Oliver, but in today's poem she surpasses who I ever imagined myself to be. She ate seeds from bear scat.

Really?  Did she really?  Does she really do this and all the other things in her poems, or does she write poems from her imagination?

Who knows the truth of magic in our modern day shamans, but surely her power comes from somewhere. So why not through the leavings of bears?

As a veterinarian I think of disease transmission and imagine her boiling the heck out of that pine cone before ingesting it.

But perhaps I over estimate the need for sterility in this procedure, or in any other I undertake today. 

Maybe, just maybe, I will roll around in some shit today left behind from some wild being in the woods, smelling like I belong to the family of things, smiling like I know it.

What would you take in from the wild as food for your soul?

Just Around the House, Early in the Morning - February 27, 2011

Though I have been scorned for it
let me never be afraid to use the world beautiful.
For with is the shining leaf
and the blossoms of the geranium at the window.
And the eyes of the happy puppy as he wakes.
The colors of the old and beloved afghan lying
by itself, on the couch, in the morning sun.
The hummingbirds' nest perched now in a
corner of the bookshelf, in front of so many
books of so many colors.
the two poached eggs.  The buttered toast.
The ream of brand-new paper just opened,
white as a block of snow.
The typewriter humming, ready to go.

Having read this poem, I just walked around the house this morning, taking inventory of the beauty I see. It was like a walking meditation, a prayer.

Into the kitchen I see the refrigerator, whose freezer is full of locally grown leafy foods converted into the soup that nourishes me through the winter, made by the hands of my beloved spouse.

Out the window I appraise the growing sand pile, the leavings for the recently refreshed gopher tortoise burrow.  Maybe I will see her today, maybe not. But I know she's there and I guess in her turtle way, she knows of us.

The living room carpet has a few kernels of popcorn, the leavings of our family  night last night - cards and movies with spouse and son.

Down the hall I quietly lurk, peeking into the reading/meditation room where my spouse sits in healing silence and where the sun shines through the sycamore leaf  in the window. This room, now mostly empty after adopted son #2 took his leaving of us, likely permanently.

Then into the last room, darkened as to son #1's preferences, piles of clothes on the floor and dishes on his desk, showing the signs of late night study sessions interspersed with his constant chatter on phone and computer.  He has left for the day, though he leaves behind in me a gratitude for his sprawling, unique presence.

And now back to my computer, it humming until I feed it the words of the song within me.

What does your list of beauty and gratitude look like as you go around your house?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Fox in the Dark

A Fox in the Dark
February 26, 2010

A fox goes by in the headlights like an electric shock.
A fox goes by in the headlights like an electric shock.

Then he pauses at the edge of the road
and the heart, if it is still alive,

feels something--a yearning for which we have no name

but which we may remember, years later, in the darkness,

upon some other empty road.
Feels something-a yearning for which we have no name

But which we may remember, years later, in the darkness

One time upon a blizzard impacted remote road in Alaska a fox stopped dead center in the road ahead of my van.  It was hard at first to see who it was given the blowing snow, but as the fox did not move I was able to get quite close.  Almost upon the wild one, I wondered if he or she had been hit by a car or was sick, or like the rest of us on this journey, sticking to the road like a prayer that would keep us out of ditch and doom.  The fox began to trot and moved with me for a while down the road.  It felt a loss when the beauty finally decided to pause by the side of the road, and as I went on my way north, I could see the fox staring at me through the rear view mirror.

Looking back now, I still see those eyes, whispering through snow dusted whiskers  - I am with you, you do not journey alone. 

Who journeys with you?

Friday, February 25, 2011

How I Got to the Woods

Ordinarily I go to the woods alone, with not a single friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore unsuitable.

I don't really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of praying, as you no doubt have yours.

Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds, until the foxes run my unconcerned. I can hear the almost unbearable sound of the roses singing.

If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much.

I tell you I’d like to pray with Mary. 

I’d like to go on a hadj to her part of the world and bow down near the pond in humility and adoration.

I’d like to offer confessions to the ducks and trees that knew how to listen in their feathered and barked way.

I’d like to meditate in the fields, and perhaps share a smile with Mary as the hawk flies over with something still and furry.

I have gone to the woods for years as my church and temple, but so much of it is alone. 

Once when I was sitting on a hilltop in Guatemala, a jararundi (small wild cat) approached me from the trees and bounded by me only a few feet away.

Sometimes it helps to have the prayers answered, to know you are lovable and loving.

How do you pray?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

How Perfectly

How perfectly and neatly opens the pink rose

This bright morning, the sun warm on my shoulders,

Its heat on the opening petals.

Possibly it is the smallest, the least important event at this moment

In the whole world.

Yet I stand there, utterly happy. 

This dawn opened rather pink this morning up here in the cold north of Albany, New York.  I am attending the National Wildlife Rehabilitation Association Annual Symposium and I have a presentation to give this evening.  After arriving here and checking out the crowd and the room, I discovered that I needed to restructure this presentation.  So after a night of tossing and turning I have spent this morning “perfecting” my talk while watching the sun rise out the hotel window.  The irony doesn’t escape me that my seminar is about affirming how perfectly beautiful we humans already are.  What’s left to do is just tweaking, and grace in our lives.

Whatever slides I end up with, whatever jokes or points I make or don’t make, my strongest desire is that I can stand before the audience, utterly happy to behold their perfection, and mine.  Ours.

May grace so visit you and yours today.

How are you perfect?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

On the Beach

On the beach, at dawn:
four small stones clearly
hugging each other.

How many kinds of love
might there be in the world,
and how many formations might they make

and who am I ever
 to imagine I could know
such a marvelous business?

When the sun broke
it poured willingly its light
over the stones

that did not move, not at all,
just as, to its always generous term,
it shed its light on me,

my own body that loves
equally to hug another body

As a biologist, and a veterinarian, I have seen amazing variety in how animals express their bonding, gender, and sexuality, and I am learning all the time how this is true too in the human animal.  Just last night I saw a program about transgendered people, and a few years back I married a transgender couple and gave a sermon on the topic at my congregation.  Bodies and minds are such fascinating, awesome conglomerations of physics, physiology, chemistry, and biology, and then the macro-output comes out as one body hungering for the touch and affection of another in apparent infinite possibility, much of it beauty beyond words. I say "much of it" because harm can be mixed in with the body's powerful emotions and desires. So much of our ever present subconscious wiring motivates us, and also evades our understanding resulting in actions that are regretable. I speak of deceit, physical harm, and sexual abuse.

There is risk to responding to the body's intent, however I for one am glad that we live in age where the light of understanding "human" has shed a light on how to nurture healthy relationships. We know that we are capable of great love and remarkable companionship, as well as tragic actions and mournful  decisions.

I pray that today I, and others, will choose love and beauty over tragedy.

What choices are before you this day?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Of Time

Don't even ask how rapidly the hummingbird lives his life.
You can't imagine.  A thousand flowers a day,
a little sleep, then the same again,
then he vanishes.
I adore him.

Yet I adore also the drowse of mountains.

And in the human world, what is time?
In my mind there is Rumi, dancing.
There is Li Po drinking from the winter stream.
There is Hafiz strolling through Shariz, his feet
loving the dust.

I reflect upon Mary today with the words of 3 timeless poets: Li Po 8th century, Rumi 13th century, Hafiz 14th century, and their parchment scribblings now dust in our eyes.

Does thinking of time free you, or bind you?

Li Po - The Old Dust

The living is a passing traveler;
The dead, a man come home.
One brief journey between heaven and earth,
Then, alas! we are the same old dust of ten thousand ages.
The rabbit in the moon pounds the elixir in vain;
Fu-sang, the tree of immortality, has crumbled to kindling wood.
Man dies, his white bones are dumb without a word
While the green pines feel the coming of the spring.
Looking back, I sigh; looking before, I sigh again.
What is there to prize in the life's vaporous glory?

How should the soul not take wings
when from the Glory of God

It hears a sweet, kindly call:
"Why are you here, soul? Arise!"

How should a fish not leap fast
into the sea from dry land

When from the ocean so cool
the sound of the waves reaches its

How should the falcon not fly
back to his king from the hunt

When from the falconer's drum
it hears to call: "Oh, come back"?

Why should not every Sufi
begin to dance atom-like

Around the Sun of duration
that saves from impermanence?

What graciousness and what beauty?
What life-bestowing! What grace!

If anyone does without that, woe-
what err, what suffering!

Oh fly , of fly, O my soul-bird,
fly to your primordial home!

You have escaped from the cage now-
your wings are spread in the air.

Oh travel from brackish water
now to the fountain of life!

Return from the place of the sandals
now to the high seat of souls!

Go on! Go on! we are going,
and we are coming, O soul, 

From this world of separation
to union, a world beyond worlds!

How long shall we here in the dust-world
like children fill our skirts

With earth and with stones without value,
with broken shards without worth?

Let's take our hand from the dust grove,
let's fly to the heavens' high,

Let's fly from our childish behaviour
and join the banquet of men!

Call out, O soul, to proclaim now
that you are rules and king!

You have the grace of the answer,
you know the question as well!

Hafiz - Wake up Winebringer!

Wake up Winebringer! And pour me a glass of wine.
Throw dust on the head of this sad earth man.
I’ve taken off my snazzy blue coat and bare-chested
I clutch this full cup.
Even though the rich or the politicians call us “trash,”
To us their blue blood or fame means nothing.
Give me more wine! All their dust blowing around in the wind of pride
And desire is as worthless as a hole.
The smoke from my burning heart
Gags all those with ignorance as their goal.
My mad heart has a secret
That no one knows.
The Beloved has stolen even the sweet solitude from my heart,
And I am content.
No one who has ever laid eyes on this silver-limbed Cypress,
Would ever go looking in the woods for a cypress again.
“Hafez,” the voice of inner wine will say;
“Be careful what you ask for, you may just get what you want!”

Monday, February 21, 2011

What Can I Say

Begin Book Swan

What can I say that I have not said before?
So I'll say it again.
The leaf has a song in it.
Stone is face of patience.
Inside the river there is an unfinishable story
and you are somewhere in it
and it will never end until all ends.

Take your buy heart to the art museum and the
chamber of commerce
but take it also to the forest.
The song you heard singing in the leaf when you
were a child
is singing still.
I am of years lived, so far, seventy-four,
and the leaf is singing still.

I recall now how as a young child, in the years before elementary school began and up until adolescence I would go to the woods, and sing.  I sang to the trees and to the birds.  I don't remember the words I uttered or what I heard back.  Whatever were the melody or lyrics, I knew I did not sing alone. 

Then in the rush for acceptance and career, I quit singing and listening although the pied piper allure of the earth still pulled on me to follow. Eventually I went to work in conservation in Latin America, and I once again heard the notes loud and clear in the tropical forests.

A few years ago I spent about 3 weeks in the largest, wildest forest yet of my life - the Maya Biosphere Reserve in northern Guatemala.  When it came time to leave, I spontaneously wept for I was leaving my friend and journeying far from the beauty.

What I strive for in my days is to know that beauty is never far from me, for it is in me, in leaf, in bird, in you.  There is beauty all around, and it sings.

To whom do you sing?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Another Summer Begins

Summer begins again.
How many
do I still have?
Not a worthy question,

I imagine.
Hope is one thing,
gratitude another
and sufficient

unto itself.
the white blossoms of the shad
have opened
because it is their time

to open,
the mockingbird
is raving
in the thornbush.

How did it come to be
that I am no longer young
and the world
that keeps time

in its own way
has just been born?
I don't have the answers
and anyway I have become suspicious

of such questions,
and as for hope,
that tender advisement,
even that

I'm going to leave behind.
I'm just going to put on
my jacket, my boots,
I'm just going to go out

to sleep
all this night
in some unnamed, flowered corner
of the pasture.

If Thirst was about loss and seeking wholeness, then Evidence appears to be about aging.  It's not that Mary's poems or any collection of them can be said to be about any one thing, so perhaps it is me who is thinking about aging.  There is only one more Mary Oliver collection left to read after this one, Swan.  Mary is getting older, there may not be another book.  I see her walking, if not actually tottering, in her boots in field and on beach, and then collapsing, and then forever asleep in the night.

I too am getting older.  I wonder how many more field seasons I have where I am immersed in beauty among leaves and feathers.   When will my tottering under the weight of all the gear become too much for me?  There's no hope that I will be as I am for eternity.

Wait, I take that back.  I will always be wings and bark, born again ever anew with each hatching, sprouting, and rising.  And of course, my faint courage, dying again with each explosion of feathers from hawk's talons, with each crashing of tree from wind and rain, and with each setting.

There's no hope to that thought that I am not beautiful for all eternity.

What does aging mean to you?


Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Singular and Cheerful Life

The singular and cheerful life
of any flower
in anyone's garden
or any still unowned field-

if there are any-
catches me
by the heart,
by its color

by its obedience
to the holiest of laws:
be alive
until you are not...

those princes of everything green-
the grasses
of which there are truly
an uncountable company,

each on its singular stem
to rise and ripen.

What, in the earth world,
is there not to be amazed by
and to be steadied by
and to cherish?

Oh, my dear heart,
my own dear heart,
full of hesitations,
questions, choice of directions,

look at the world.
Behold the morning glory,
the meanest flower, the ragweed, the thistle.
Look at the grass.

What in the earth is there not to cherish?

The meanest human - Hitler?  The drug dealer?  The psychopath?

The full moon, with all its bright welcome in the dark night is down now and the owls are silent.  Danger roams the woods, at least I know it's possible, so I hesitate to go for a walk alone in the black pre-dawn.

There is gore and glory before me this day.

May my dear heart know of both, and remember to look at both...

The flowers boastful upon the tulip tree..

The surprised bones half buried in the back woods

But I think I will always hesitate, waiting for just a little more light before risking knowing the world, loving the world. 

Oh how my souls strives to rise up and my heart to open!

What in this earth do you cherish? Not cherish?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Broken, Unbroken

The lonely stand in the dark corners of their hearts.

I have seen them in cities, and in my own neighborhood,

nor could I touch them with the magic that they crave

to be unbroken. Then, I myself, lonely,

said hello to good fortune.  Someone

came along and lingered and little by little

became everything that makes the difference.

Oh, I wish such good luck

to everyone. How beautiful it is to be unbroken.

Is Mary saying that we are only whole when in relationship with those that linger in our lives?

Well then, aren't we always unbroken, for we are woven into the web of life from birth to death.

Maybe it's just at times that the strands that connect us are so faint that we can barely see them. 

Maybe in our sleep we grind our teeth on what binds us to life

So it is to us to wake up to the beauty

It is to us to open our eyes and train them to see the interconnection

It is to us today to bind up the broken.

What shall you weave today?