August Rain

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“August rain: the best of the summer gone, and the new fall not yet born. The odd uneven time.” — Sylvia Plath
Just past mid-August and the leaves are already showing hints of summer fatigue, curling and yellowing around the edges. Photosynthesis has become a repetitive chore.

Like them, there is only so much sun I can absorb before I say, “Enough!” and beg for clouds and drizzle. Dig a little and my roots cry out for a drenching downpour.

I fear the best has passed me by and I wasn’t paying enough attention to know. It is an already-but-not-yet limbo of anticipating autumn’s descent into dying when I fervently hope I’m still very much alive.

This is an odd and uneven time of recognizing what is to come so I must slowly loosen my grip on what has been.

The time to let go is coming.

Just not quite yet.

There’s work to do, chores to wrap up.

Then not yet may come, drenching my roots.  I’ll be ready.

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Photos by Josh ScholtenCascade Compass

Going out the Door

photo by Nate Gibson

“It’s a dangerous business… going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
— J.R.R. Tolkien

Every day it appears I embark on adventure, like it or not.  The moment I wake from dreams and acknowledge a new morning, when my eyes and ears open and take it in, when I first step onto the floor and start my journey–I pray the road rises to meet me and leads me where I need to go.

Inside my head and inside my house, all is routine and certain.  The moment I walk out the door, down the steps and make my way into the day, there awaits an unpredictable and often hostile world.   Rather than armor myself, girding for disaster, I want to “keep my feet.”  If I know where I’m about to step, I’m more likely to be ready for the one after–less likely to stroll blindly into a deep ditch, stumble oblivious into a hornet’s nest, disappear unexpectedly into a hidden crevasse, swept completely away in a gust of wind.

It’s a dangerous business, this waking up and living.

But someone has to do it.

photo by Nate Gibson

A Taste of the Forever Summer

“All in all, it was a never-to-be-forgotten summer — one of those summers which come seldom into any life, but leave a rich heritage of beautiful memories in their going — one of those summers which, in a fortunate combination of delightful weather, delightful friends and delightful doing, come as near to perfection as anything can come in this world.” ~ L.M. Montgomery, Anne’s House of Dreams

Time lurches ahead in imprecisely measured chunks.  Sometimes the beginning and ending of seasons are the yardstick,  or celebrating a holiday or a birthday.  Memories tend to be stickiest surrounding a milestone event: a graduation, a move, a wedding, a birth, a road trip, a funeral.

But Summer needs nothing so remarkable to be memorable.  It simply stands on its own in all its extravagant abundance of light and warmth and growth and color stretching deep within the rising and setting horizons.  Each long day can feel like it must last forever, never ending, yet it does eventually wind down, spin itself out, darkening gradually into shadow.  We let go with reluctance; we feel as if no summer like it will ever come again.

Yet another will, somehow, somewhere, someday.  Surely a never-ending summer is what heaven itself will be.

Perfectly delightful and delightfully perfect.  We’ve already had a taste.

 

Poems in Hiding

photo by Josh Scholten

I’ll tell you a secret: poems hide.
In the bottoms of our shoes, they are sleeping.
They are the shadows drifting across our ceilings the moment before we wake up.
What we have to do is live in a way that lets us find them.”
Naomi Shihab Nye

Poems stayed hidden from me for decades.  I was oblivious a hundred times a day to their secrets: dripping right over me in the shower,  rising over hills bright pink, breathing deeply as I auscultated a chest, settling heavily on my eyelids at night.

The day I awoke to them was the day thousands of innocents died in sudden cataclysm of airplanes and buildings and fire, people not knowing when they got up that day it would be their last.  The poems began to come out of hiding, show themselves and I began to see, listen, touch, smell, taste as if each day would be my last.

I have learned to live in a way that lets me see the hidden poems and now they overwhelm me.  They are everywhere.

And I don’t know if I have enough time left to write them all down.

Spicy Feet

photo of bee on a lemon blossom by Nate Gibson

“Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.”
― Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine

I admire the honey bee’s ability to become pollinator and pollen gatherer simultaneously, facilitating new fruit from the blossom as well as making sweet honey that carries the spicy essence of the flower touched.

As a physician, I wish I might be as transformative in the work I do every day.  I carry with me tens of thousands of patients I’ve seen over thirty years of medical practice.   There is no way I can touch another human being without keeping some small part of them with me–a memory of an open wound or the scar it left behind, a word of sorrow or gratitude, a grimace, a tear or a smile.  Each is a flower visited, some still in bud, some in full bloom, some seed pods ready to burst, some spent and wilting and ready to fall away.  Each carries a spicy vitality, even in their illness and dying, that is unforgettable and still clings to me.  It has been my privilege to be thoroughly dusted by those I’ve loved and cared for.  I want to carry that on to create something wonderful.

Each patient changes me, the doctor, readying me for the next patient by teaching me a gentler approach, a clearer explanation, a slower leave-taking.  Their story becomes part of my story, adding to my skill as a healer, and never to be forgotten.

Physicians do have blessings in the work they do, you know, and if they don’t they should, for they are dusted with stories from a million patients visited.

Nothing could smell as spicy and nothing could taste as sweet.

Snapping Green Beans

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A reblog from 2006:

Our garden is now in full harvest mode.  I have just finished picking the bush beans and spent several evenings sitting and snapping them, preparing them for blanching and freezing, with visions of green bean casserole during the winter months dancing in my head.

Bean snapping is one of those uniquely front porch American Gothic kind of activities.  Old black and white Saturday matinee movies would somehow work in a bean snapping scene with an old maid aunt sitting on her ranch house porch.  She’d be rocking back and forth in her rocking chair, her apron wrinkled and well-worn, her graying hair in a bun at the nape of her neck and wearily pushing back tendrils of hair from her face. As the sole guardian, she’d be counseling some lonely orphaned niece or nephew about life’s rough roads and why their dog or pony had just died and then pausing for a moment holding a bean in her hand, she’d talk about how to cope when things are tough. She was the rock for this child’s life.  Then she’d rather gruffly shove a bowl of unsnapped beans in the child’s lap, and tell them to get back to work–life goes on–start snapping. Then she’d look at that precious child out of the corner of her eye, betraying the love and compassion that dwells in her heart but was not in her nature to speak of.  If only that grieving child understood they sat upon a rock of strength and hope.

Just as I sat with my mother snapping beans some 40+ years ago and talked about some difficult things that were unique to the 60′s,  I sat snapping beans this week together with my family, talking about  hopes and disappointments and fears and listened to our children grumble that I was making them do something so utterly trivial when from their perspective, there are far more important things to be doing. My response is a loving and gruff “keep snapping”.  Of course we really don’t have to snap the beans, as they could be frozen whole, but they pack tighter snapped, and it is simply tradition to do so.  We enjoy that crisp satisfying crack of a perfectly bisected bean broken by hand–no need for knife to cut off the top and tail.    We prepare for a coming winter by putting away the vegetables we have sowed and weeded and watered and cared for, because life will go on and eating the harvest of our own soil and toil is sweet.  We must do this. Indeed it is all we can do when the world is tumbling down around us.

Truthfully, there are times when I would prefer to be more rubbery like a bean that doesn’t snap automatically under pressure and is more resilient.

There is an old Shaker Hymn that I learned long ago and sing to myself when I need to be reminded where I must end up when I’m at the breaking point.

I will bow and be simple,
I will bow and be free,
I will bow and be humble,
Yea, bow like the willow tree.

I will bow, this is the token,
I will wear the easy yoke,
I will bow and will be broken,
Yea, I'll fall upon the rock.

As people of resilient faith we seek to wear the yoke we’ve been given to pull, bow in humility under its burden and know the freedom that comes with service to others.  Even in the midst of the most horrific brokenness, we fall upon the rock bearing us up with love and compassion.

It is there under us and we’ve done nothing whatsoever to earn it.

Time for us to get back to work and start snapping–life does go on.

Baffled and Impeded

photo by Josh Scholten

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
Wendell Berry  “Real Work”

Who among us knows with certainty each morning
what we are meant to do that day
or where we are to go?
or do we make our best guess by
putting one foot ahead of the other as we were taught
until the day is done and it is time to rest.

For me, I wake baffled each day
that I am allowed
to eavesdrop on heartbeats,
touch tender bellies,
sew up broken skin,
listen to tears.

I wake humbled with commitment
to keep going even when too tired,
to offer care even when rejected.
to keep trying even if impeded.

It is only then I learn that
obstacles slow but cannot stop
the flow of time,
which overflows its banks with
uncertain certainty:
my real work and journey
through life.

May I wade in deep~ listening~ready to sing along.