When August Burns Low

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Further in Summer than the Birds
Pathetic from the Grass
A minor Nation celebrates
Its unobtrusive Mass.

No Ordinance be seen
So gradual the Grace
A pensive Custom it becomes
Enlarging Loneliness.

Antiquest felt at Noon
When August burning low
Arise this spectral Canticle
Repose to typify

Remit as yet no Grace
No Furrow on the Glow
Yet a Druidic Difference
Enhances Nature now 
~Emily Dickinson

 

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“…one of the great poems of American literature. The statement of the poem is profound; it remarks the absolute separation between man and nature at a precise moment in time.  The poet looks as far as she can into the natural world, but what she sees at last is her isolation from that world.  She perceives, that is, the limits of her own perception. But that, we reason, is enough. This poem of just more than sixty words comprehends the human condition in relation to the universe:

So gradual the Grace
A pensive Custom it becomes
Enlarging Loneliness.

But this is a divine loneliness, the loneliness of a species evolved far beyond all others. The poem bespeaks a state of grace. In its precision, perception and eloquence it establishes the place of words within that state.  Words are indivisible with the highest realization of human being.”
~N. Scott Momaday from The Man Made of Words

 

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On the first day I took his class on Native American Mythology and Lore in 1974 at Stanford, N.Scott Momaday strolled to the front, wrote the 60 words of this Dickinson poem on the blackboard.  He told us we would spend at least a week working out the meaning of what he considered the greatest poem written — this in a class devoted to Native American writing and oral tradition.  In his resonant bass, he read the poem to us many times, rolling the words around his mouth as if to extract their sweetness. This man of the plains, a member of the Kiowa tribe, loved this poem put together by a New England recluse poet — someone as culturally distant from him and his people as possible.

But grace works to unite us, no matter our differences, and Scott knew this as he led us, mostly white students, through this poem.  What on the surface appears a paean to late summer cricket song doomed to extinction by oncoming winter, is a statement of the transcendence of man beyond our understanding of nature and the world in which we, its creatures, find ourselves.

As summer begins its descent into the dark death of winter, we, unlike the crickets, become all too aware we too are descending, particularly when the skies are filled with smoke from uncontrolled wildfires in the north, the east and the south.  There is no one as lonely as an individual facing their mortality and no one as lonely as a poet facing the empty page, in search of words to describe the sacrament of sacrifice and perishing.

Yet the Word brings Grace unlike any other, even when the cricket song, pathetic and transient as it is, is gone.  The Word brings Grace, like no other, to pathetic and transient man who will emerge transformed.

There is no furrow on the glow.  There is no need to plow and seed our salvaged souls, already lovingly planted and nurtured by our Creator God, yielding a fruited plain.

 

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The Path of Life

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Our last five minutes on earth are running out.

We can spend those minutes in meanness, exclusivity,
and self-righteous disparagement of those who are different from us,
or we can spend them consciously embracing every glowing soul
who wanders within our reach – those who, without our caring,
would find the vibrant, exhilarating path of life just another sad and forsaken road.
~Alice Walker from Anything We Love Can Be Saved

 

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During these summer weeks of orientation of new college students and their parents, I speak to several thousand people, all looking nervous in unfamiliar territory among strangers.

They are about to embark on a road that rises to meet them and leads them to parts unknown.

I try to say, as I shake each hand, and give out my card with my personal phone number:
this too will be okay.  This too will bless you.  Even when there are potholes, uneven surfaces and times when you want to turn back to more familiar territory, you will find the road to your next destination fulfilling and welcoming.

Embrace the journey…and each other.

And I embrace you.

(Thanks Ann Voskamp for sharing your message to your college-bound son here)

 

 

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Heart Strung on Tethers

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A weaver, this spider, she plays her eight thin
black legs and their needle-nail toes across
the threads faster, more precisely, than a harpist
at concert can pluck the strings in pizzicato.

Although blind at night, she nevertheless
fastens a thread to a branch of chokecherry
on one side of the path, links it to a limb
of shining sumac opposite, latches the scaffold
to ground stone and brace of rooted grasses.
And the structure takes dimension.

Skittering upside down across and around,
she hooks the hooks, knots the widening
spirals, the tightened radii, orbs and hubs,
bridges and bridgeheads. We can never hear
the music she makes as she plucks her silk
strings with all the toes and spurs and tarsal
tufts of her eight legs at once. She performs
the reading of her soul.

She expands the sky, her completed grid
a gamble, a ploy played on the night. The silk
is still, translucent and aerial, hanging in a glint
of half-moon. The work is her heart strung
on its tethers, ravenous, abiding.
~Pattiann Rogers from  “Hail, Spirit”

 

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I too often feel stretched between several points as well.

I attach to important touch points and I weave between them, sometimes not sure where I’ll land or what I’ll connect with or what I’ll leave behind.

Sometimes what I create is beautifully delicate and functional.
Sometimes it is blurry and out of focus.
The center doesn’t always hold.  The tethers loosen.  The periphery frays.

But it was once something.  That’s all that matters.

 

 

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At This Moment

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In a hundred trillion years—
an actual number
though we can’t begin
to grasp it—the last traces
of our universe will be not
even a memory
with no memory to lament it.

The last dust of the last star
will not drift in the great nothing
out of which everything we love
or imagine eventually comes.

Yet every day, every four hours
around the clock, Debbie prepares
her goat’s-milk mix
for the orphaned filly
who sucks down all three liters of it,
gratefully, it seems,
as if it matters more
than anything in the universe—
and it does—at this moment
while the sun is still
four hours from rising
on the only day that matters.
~ Dan Gerber “Only This Morning” from Particles

 

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For an orphan to survive, he or she must be adopted by surrogate parents whose love and dedication is fertilized by more than a cascade of post-partum maternal hormones.

This is a heart adoption, clean and pure and simple, a 24/7 commitment where each moment of nurture is about keeping this newest of God’s vulnerable and helpless creations alive.
Nothing else matters and nothing else should.

We too, each one of us, in a way we don’t always understand, are born orphans in need of adoption; we long to be found, rescued, fed, nurtured and loved.
We will never be set adrift in nothingness — Someone takes us to His heart.

Nothing else matters and nothing else should.

 

 

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thank you to Emily Vander Haak and Lea Gibson for taking a few of these BriarCroft foal photos.

 

Warm and Steady Sweetness

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It’s ripe, the melon 
by our sink. Yellow, 
bee-bitten, soft, it perfumes 
the house too sweetly. 
At five I wake, the air 
mournful in its quiet. 
My wife’s eyes swim calmly 
under their lids, her mouth and jaw 
relaxed, different. 
What is happening in the silence 
of this house? Curtains 
hang heavily from their rods. 
Ficus leaves tremble 
at my footsteps. Yet 
the colors outside are perfect– 
orange geranium, blue lobelia. 
I wander from room to room 
like a man in a museum: 
wife, children, books, flowers, 
melon. Such still air. Soon 
the mid-morning breeze will float in 
like tepid water, then hot. 
How do I start this day, 
I who am unsure 
of how my life has happened 
or how to proceed 
amid this warm and steady sweetness?
~Albert Garcia from Skunk Talk 
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How do I start this day?
When sleep was elusive, the air still with heat at midnight.
When even a melon-colored sky looks dry along with everything beneath it.
When wildfire smoke drifts in on waves from north and south, obscuring, rounding out the sharp edges.

I accept the sweetness that is offered this tepid summer morning that will turn too hot.

I’m here.
Let the day begin.

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Not Done Watching the Sun

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My friend, old and passing, said,
“There is more to life than staying alive.
Don’t rescue me too much.”

On his farm, twelve miles out
by rough gravel roads, he is done

with plowing, spraying, harvesting.

But he is not done watching the sun
sink below the windbreak or listening
to the nighthawks above his fields.

Don’t make him move to town.

There is more to tragedy
than dying.

~Kevin Hadduck “A Note to His Doctor”

 

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Look, the world
is always ending
somewhere.

Somewhere
the sun has come
crashing down.

Somewhere
it has gone
completely dark.

Somewhere
it has ended
with the utter quiet
that follows the news
from the phone,
the television,
the hospital room.

Somewhere
it has ended
with a tenderness
that will break
your heart.

But, listen,
this blessing means
to be anything
but morose.
It has not come
to cause despair.

It is simply here
because there is nothing
a blessing
is better suited for
than an ending,
nothing that cries out more
for a blessing
than when a world
is falling apart.

This blessing
will not fix you,
will not mend you,
will not give you
false comfort;
it will not talk to you
about one door opening
when another one closes.

It will simply
sit itself beside you
among the shards
and gently turn your face
toward the direction
from which the light
will come,
gathering itself
about you
as the world begins
again.
~Jan Richardson from Circle of Grace

 

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Today I honor the passing of a beloved pastor in our small community of local churches:
Pastor Ken Koeman, who rests today in the arms of Jesus.

He had only a few weeks between doing his vigorous daily work to absorbing the reality of a devastating diagnosis to accepting there is more to life than living, and a greater tragedy than death.

He never lost the hope he knew abounds in heaven and eternal life.
He was never done watching the Son.

Sir, we would see Jesus. (John 12:21)

Lord Jesus, we know Ken sees you now
and as he did in life, he points the rest of us to you.

 

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My Own Bursting Heart

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Suddenly it is August again, so hot,
breathless heat.
I sit on the ground
in the garden of Carmel,
picking ripe cherry tomatoes
and eating them.
They are so ripe that the skin is split,
so warm and sweet
from the attentions of the sun,
the juice bursts in my mouth,
an ecstatic taste,
and I feel that I am in the mouth of summer,
sloshing in the saliva of August.
Hummingbirds halo me there,
in the great green silence,
and my own bursting heart
splits me with life.
~Anne Higgins “Cherry Tomatoes”  from At the Year’s Elbow

 

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Is there another sensation as blissful as a cherry tomato bursting inside my mouth?
Yes, I can think of one or two.

But never like this, when restoration is needed in the middle of a sweaty hot day, in a garden that needs weeding, when all else feels lost.

Pure gift, this bursting heart.

 

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