Broad August burns in milky skies, The world is blanched with hazy heat; The vast green pasture, even, lies Too hot and bright for eyes and feet.
Amid the grassy levels rears The sycamore against the sun The dark boughs of a hundred years, The emerald foliage of one.
Lulled in a dream of shade and sheen, Within the clement twilight thrown By that great cloud of floating green, A horse is standing, still as stone.
He stirs nor head nor hoof, although The grass is fresh beneath the branch; His tail alone swings to and fro In graceful curves from haunch to haunch.
He stands quite lost, indifferent To rack or pasture, trace or rein; He feels the vaguely sweet content Of perfect sloth in limb and brain. ~William Canton “Standing Still”
I admit I flunked sloth long ago. Perhaps I was born driven. My older sister, not a morning person, was annoyed that even as a toddler I awoke chirpy and cheerful, singing to myself and ready to conquer the day.
I can’t say that is still the case but it’s close and still annoying to those who have to put up with me.
Even so, I’m not immune to the attractions of a hot hazy day of doing absolutely nothing but standing still switching flies. I envy our retired ponies in the pasture who spend the day grazing, moseying, and lazing because … I work hard to make that life possible for them.
August was invented for lulling about. Maybe if I try hard enough, I’ll get a passing grade.
There are landscapes one can own, bright rooms which look out to the sea, tall houses where beyond the window day after day the same dark river turns slowly through the hills, and there are homesteads perched on mountaintops whose cool white caps outlast the spring.
And there are other places which, although we did not stay for long, stick in the mind and call us back— a valley visited one spring where walking through an apple orchard we breathed its blossoms with the air. Return seems like a sacrament.
Then there are landscapes one has lost— the brown hills circling a wide bay I watched each afternoon one summer talking to friends who now are dead. I like to think I could go back again and stand out on the balcony, dizzy with a sense of déjà vu.
But coming up these steps to you at just that moment when the moon, magnificently full and bright behind the lattice-work of clouds, seems almost set upon the rooftops it illuminates, how shall I ever summon it again? ~Dana Giola “Places to Return”
A week away, experiencing new landscapes, seeing orcas and humpbacks and bears (oh my!) – this is the stuff of stories and memories.
Yet nothing about vacation compares to the sacrament of the moment of return, pulling into our own driveway, and settling back into the routine of home where the men are strong, the women are (ahem) good looking and the children are above average.
There’s no better place to summon up the sacrament of remembrance.
I wished to wade in the trillium and be warmed near the white flames. I imagined the arch of my foot massaged by the mosses. This field immersed in gravity defying growth. Green and glorious. It let me know that out of the soil came I, and green I shall be. Whether an unnamed weed or a wild strawberry I will join in the hymn. ~Luci Shaw from “Spring Song, Very Early Morning”
After a few days away from the farm, enriched by the contact with like-minded people of faith and words, I am longing to return to the land of moss and trillium, of green grass that overwhelms.
I am of the soil, dust to dust am I. Created, celebrated, centered on the joy of returning where I belong.
On pretty weekends in the summer, the riverbank is the very verge of the modern world…
On those weekends, the river is disquieted from morning to night by people resting from their work. This resting involves traveling at great speed, first on the road and then on the river.
The people are in an emergency to relax.
They long for the peace and quiet of the great outdoors.
Their eyes are hungry for the scenes of nature.
They go very fast in their boats.
They stir the river like a spoon in a cup of coffee.
They play their radios loud enough to hear above the noise of their motors.
They look neither left nor right.
They don’t slow down for – or maybe even see – an old man in a rowboat raising his lines… ~Wendell Berry in Jayber Crow
It’s Labor Day, the last of our summer holiday weekends and people are desperate to relax from their labors. They drive long distances in heavy traffic to get away, wait in long lines for ferry or border passage, park their RVs/tents within 6 feet of another RV/tent, all to end up coping with other people’s noise and hubbub.
I too feel urgency to rest, the need to get away from every day troubles sticking to me like velcro. But any agenda-filled escape would be too loud, too fast, too contrived instead of a time of winding down, slowing, quieting, observing and wondering.
Life is not an emergency so I must stop reacting as if someone just pulled an alarm. I seek the peace and quiet of simply being, settling myself into rhythms of daylight and nightfall, awake and asleep, hungry and filled, thirsty and sated.
I breathe deeply, and remember in my bones:
we all need Sabbath, even if today happens to be a Monday.
I’m waiting, like any fern in a garden, to be rained on, or sun-drenched.
Oh, I am little, little.
What is blessing but a largeness so immense it crowds out everything but itself? ~Luci Shaw from “On Retreat”
We are in Ireland now, amid drizzle and bluster. It is so familiar; it is home with a brogue. Soon we’ll head to stay 5 days in an old stone barn that belonged to Dan’s great great great grandparents. I can’t imagine our own barn would be still standing in 150 years, much less habitable.
We, so little, so very little, drenched with the history, waiting for the blessings of finding family soil.
“Flung is too harsh a word for the rush of the world. Blown is more like it, but blown by a generous, unending breath.” Annie Dillard
It isn’t possible. The five year old me who had a sudden terrifying revelation that I would some day cease to be has become the almost fifty eight year old me who is more terrified at the head long rush of life than of its end. The world hurtles through space and time at a pace that leaves me breathless. Throughout my fifty-plus years, I have felt flung all too frequently, bruised and weary from the hurry and hubbub.
Good thing there is someone else breathing each breath for me or I would have never made it another minute. I’d be down and gone in a heartbeat.
Now comes a few days of breathing space, taking a respite from routine. I’m lifted lighter, drifting where I’m blown, less weighted with the next thing to do and the next place to be.
Instead I just be and always will be. Be blown away unending. Blown by breath that loves, fills and nurtures, its generous promise hopeful and fulfilled.
The old me simply ceases to be. Blown away.
If only the five year old me could have known.
“Wherever I am, the world comes after me. It offers me its busyness. It does not believe that I do not want it. Now I understand why the old poets of China went so far and high into the mountains, then crept into the pale mist.”
— Mary Oliver