In the Family of Things

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snowgeese in Whatcom County = photo by Chris Lovegren

 

…Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
~Mary Oliver from “Wild Geese”

 

 

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snow geese in Whatcom County – photo by Chris Lovegren

 

Snow geese are populating the Skagit valley and farm land, as numerous as the scores of colorful tulips which soon will fill nearby fields.  The din of the flocks as they land and feed, then rise again in the air is astounding: a symphony of honks and hollers carried from one goose family to another in a ruckus of joyful abandon.

The Skagit flats become the New York City of snow geese for a few weeks, never sleeping.

Over the past few years, more snow geese wander up north closer to home here in Whatcom County to pepper our surrounding dormant cornfields like salt,  sprinkled half a dozen here and there across the Nooksack river valley.  When there are only a few together, their calling seems so melancholy, almost a disconsolate cry of abandonment carrying over the lonely countryside.

So too am I ensconced away from the clamorous masses,  preferring always to be part of an out-of-the-way rural landscape.  There may be moments of melancholy, to be sure.  Yet here,  as nowhere else, I know my place in the family of things —  of gray clouds, owl hoots, swampy wetlands, frog choruses, orange sunsets, pink sunrises, warm pony muzzles, budding snowdrops, and steaming manure piles.

I give myself up to wild abandon in a world offering itself up to my imagination instead of leaving nothing to the imagination.

Let the cities clamor and clang in their excitement.  They do just fine without me.
Instead I celebrate the relative silence that allows me to seek words to fit the music singing in my soul.

 

Some of  you who may remember a fictional story about a snow goose helping to lead the evacuation of Dunkirk in WWII – here is the link to the original story

My Heart in Hiding

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High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing.

Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

~Gerard Manley Hopkins from  “The Windhover – For Christ Our Lord”

 

 

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And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?
~Mary Oliver from “The Swan”

 

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I hold my heart in hiding, trying to protect that tender core of who I am from being pierced and shredded by the slings and arrows of every day life.

Yet to live fully as I am created to live, I must fling myself into the open, wimpling wings spread, the wind holding me up hovering.  I must change my life as the wind changes.

I take my chances, knowing the fall has come.  My wounds shall be healed, even as they bleed.

There is no wonder of it.  So stirred. So much beauty to behold.

Ah…  Ah, my dear.

 

 

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Ease Into the Conversation

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My bird, my darling,
Calling through the cold of afternoon—
Those round, bright notes,
Each one so perfect
Shaken from the other and yet
Hanging together in flashing clusters!
The small soft flowers and the ripe fruit
All are gathered.
It is the season now of nuts and berries
And round, bright, flashing drops
In the frozen grass.
~Katherine Mansfield “Winter Bird”

 

 

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Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone…

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.
~David Whyte from “Everything is Waiting for You”

 

 

 

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This time of year we sit in silence, waiting for the conversation to resume.

There are hunters firing in the woods and the wetlands around our farm, most likely aiming for the few ducks that have stayed in the marshes through the winter, or possibly a Canadian goose or a deer to bring home for the freezer.  The typical day-long serenade of birdsong is now replaced by shotguns popping, hawks and eagle’s mating chitters from the treetops, with the bluejays arguing over the last of the filbert nuts.

The song birds have ceased their usual constant conversation.  They swoop in and out to the feeders, intent on survival, less worried about mating rituals and territorial establishment.

On the clear cold evenings, when coyotes aren’t howling in the moonlight, owls hoot to each other across the fields from one patch of woods to another, their gentle resonant dialogue echoing back and forth.

But no birdsong arias;  I’m left bereft of their blending musical tapestry that wakes me at 4 AM in the spring and summer. And the rising and falling of the annual evening peeper orchestra tuning up in the swamps is still two months away.

It is much too quiet now, this time of winter bereavement, this feeling of being alone in a cold and hostile world. The chilly silence of the darkened days, interrupted by gunshot percussion, feels like a baton raised in anticipation after rapping the podium to bring us all to attention. I wait and listen for the downbeat — the return of birds and frogs tuning their throats, preparing their symphony to ease themselves back into the conversation, to express joy and wonder and exuberance at the return of spring.

I want to stick around for the whole concert, hoping always for an encore.

 

 

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Between the Known and Unknown

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Though I have never caught the word
Of God from any calling bird,
I hear all that the ancients heard.
 
Though I have seen no deity
Enter or leave a twilit tree,
I see all that the seers see.
 
A common stone can still reveal
Something not stone, not seen, yet real.
What may a common stone conceal?
 
Nothing is far that once was near.
Nothing is hid that once was clear.
Nothing was God that is not here.
 
Here is the bird, the tree, the stone.
Here in the sun I sit alone
Between the known and the unknown.
~Robert Francis “Nothing is Far”
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danpnp
Heaven and earth are only three feet apart,
but in the thin places that distance is even smaller.
A thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted
and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God.
~Celtic saying
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A few times
in a few places
I have felt like I can almost reach out
and touch heaven
~His glory is that close~
but too soon I pull back,
put my hand back in my pocket,
rock back on my heels,
balancing barely
between the known
and the unknown.
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A Muffled Whuff

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Out of the dimming sky a speck appeared,
then another, and another.
It was the starlings going to roost. 
They gathered deep in the distance,  flock sifting into flock,
and strayed towards me, transparent and whirling, like smoke.
They seemed to unravel as they flew,
lengthening in curves, like a loosened skein. 
I didn’t move;
they flew directly over my head for half an hour. 

Each individual bird bobbed and knitted up and down
in the flight at apparent random, for no known reason except
that that’s how starlings fly, yet all remained perfectly spaced.
The flocks each tapered at either end from a rounded middle, like an eye.
Overhead I heard a sound of beaten air, like a million shook rugs, a muffled whuff.
Into the woods they sifted without shifting a twig,
right through the crowns of trees, intricate and rushing, like wind.

Could tiny birds be sifting through me right now,
birds winging through the gaps between my cells,
touching nothing, but quickening in my tissues, fleet?
~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

 

 

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Watching the starlings’ murmuration is a visceral experience – my heart leaps to see it happen above me.  I feel queasy following its looping amoebic folding and unfolding path.

Thousands of individual birds move in sync with one another to form one massive organism existing solely because each tiny component anticipates and cooperates to avoid mid-air collisions.  It could explode into chaos but it doesn’t.  It could result in massive casualties but it doesn’t.  They could avoid each other altogether but they don’t – they come together with a purpose and reasoning beyond our imagining. Even the silence of their movement has a discernible sound.

We humans are made up of just such cooperating component parts, that which is deep in our tissues, programmed in our DNA.  Yet we don’t learn from our designed and carefully constructed building blocks.  We have become frighteningly disparate and independent creatures, going our own way bumping and crashing without care.

We have lost our internal moral compass.

We shoot each other in the backs, even during school lessons or listening to music or engaging in acts of worship.  We watch each other bleed and die.

And do nothing yet again.

The sound of silence is muffled weeping.

 

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Not a Leg to Stand On

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Three weeks old
when his mother allowed me
a peek in the nest
to spy his fledging wings;
he did his best to hide beneath her.

It was another week before
it was clear
this little dove could not stand or perch,
his deformed legs sprawled
and spraddled aside.

He flopped rather than hopped
out of the nest at five weeks,
fluttering to the cage floor
in search of a world
outside his mother’s wings.

Crouched next to seed and water
he fed himself, tucked in a corner
watching the other doves come and go.
Soon he jumped out the door
to join them.

Now it was up to me:
walk away or put feed and water
on the ground where he could reach.
His desire to live so strong,
his voice just forming in his throat.

Now two months later I fret
as the night grows chill
and the rain falls,
his makeshift shelter will fail
to protect him.

He can not stand
and will never fly,
yet he sings
and does only
so my heart may hear.

 

 

Quiet as a Feather

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Today I’m flying low and I’m
not saying a word.
I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.

The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.

But I’m taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I’m traveling
a terrific distance.

Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.
~Mary Oliver “Today” from A Thousand Mornings

 

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Some days warrant stillness.

This week echoed loud with ruckus and noise — much too overwhelming and nearly deafening.
Today we should seek to be quiet as a feather, silently in place, not saying a word.

We might actually begin to listen again.   We might hear each other again.

A funny thing about feathers: alone, each one is mere fluff.
Together — feathers create lift and power, the strength and will to soar beyond the tether of gravity and the pull of our flawed mortality.

Joined and united, we can rise above and fly as far as our life and breath can take us.

May peace be still.

 

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thank you to the poultry of the Northwest Washington Fair in Lynden for holding still long enough to capture their brilliant plumage.

 

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