A Simple Majesty

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Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Chestnut Tree Blooming
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Chestnut Tree Blooming

 

 

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The chestnut casts his flambeaux, and the flowers 
Stream from the hawthorn on the wind away, 
The doors clap to, the pane is blind with showers. 
Pass me the can, lad; there’s an end of May..

…The troubles of our proud and angry dust 
Are from eternity, and shall not fail. 
Bear them we can, and if we can we must. 
Shoulder the sky, my lad, and drink your ale. 
~A. E. Houseman

 

 

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Yet in the soft–hung leaves a splendour lies,

As though not from the far–off noon it came

But in themselves a green indwelling flame

Were prisoned. Here unanswered mysteries

Content me, and of peace I want not more,

But feed on thoughts that end

In a sweet pause of mind,

As if from my own being back resigned

To the universal essence of Earth’s core,

Where over me the saps of life ascend. 

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Because you are
only
a seed,
chestnut tree, autumn, earth,
water, heights, silence
prepared the germ,
the floury density,
the maternal eyelids
that buried will again
open toward the heights
the simple majesty of foliage,
the dark damp plan
of new roots,
the ancient but new dimensions
of another chestnut tree in the earth.
~Pablo Neruda from “Ode to a Chestnut on the Ground”

 

 

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Each May the horse chestnut tree in our front yard transforms for a week into a Renoir painting.   It explodes into hundreds of bright clusters of delicate orchid-like blossoms, forming cone shaped floral candles illuminating the spreading branches.  However, its setting is more peasant than romantic, as the tree stands in common company between a pine tree and a poplar lining the rural driveway into our barnyard.  This is an exceedingly humble spot for a tree bedecked with such majestic lighting, its tender broad leafed branches brushed and broken by passing hay wagons and shavings trucks.

Although its graceful beauty seems more appropriate along the Seine River,  during the summer it fits perfectly in its spot near our haybarn.  Its verdant foliage provides deep cooling shade during hot sweaty days.    The branches that were once lit up with scores of pink and white blossoms become leafy respite for a dusty hay crew gulping lemonade in between loads.   Horses snooze in the paddocks under its shadow.   Birds nest well hidden.   The tree becomes sanctuary within and below.

By fall, the tree forms its fruit within unpretentious capsules covered with spines and prickles, visually spiked yet actually soft and pliable.  There are few natural things  so plain and homely as the buckeye horse chestnut husk.   These are shed by the hundreds  in autumn wind and rainstorms, and they shower down, cobbling the driveway, eventually to break apart underfoot.

Only by leaving the tree can the deep brown nut be revealed from its hiding place, its richness exposed.    From exquisite bloom to shady haven to prickly husk to mahogany harvest,  this chestnut tree’s changing palette needs no canvas, no frame, no museum gallery showcase.  Instead it’s a year round exhibition is for free,  right in our front yard.

 

 

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The Light that gets Lost

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The world is blue at its edges and in its depths. This blue is the light that got lost. Light at the blue end of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the sun to us. It disperses among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water. Water is colorless, shallow water appears to be the color of whatever lies underneath it, but deep water is full of this scattered light, the purer the water the deeper the blue. The sky is blue for the same reason, but the blue at the horizon, the blue of land that seems to be dissolving into the sky, is a deeper, dreamier, melancholy blue, the blue at the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance. This light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the color blue.

For many years, I have been moved by the blue at the far edge of what can be seen, that color of horizons, of remote mountain ranges, of anything far away. The color of that distance is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not. And the color of where you can never go. For the blue is not in the place those miles away at the horizon, but in the atmospheric distance between you and the mountains.

“Longing,” says the poet Robert Hass, “because desire is full of endless distances.”

Blue is the color of longing for the distances you never arrive in, for the blue world.
~Rebecca Solnit from A Field Guide for Getting Lost

 

 

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I am easily lost in a horizon of blue mountains
or a vivid sky with clouds
or the innards of a blue iris~
these are landscapes in my mind
forever beyond my reach,
where I can never go,
but dwell nevertheless
simply by opening my eyes to see,
my heart forgets me not
my soul, once lost, now found.

 

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Just That Kind of Day

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If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze
that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house
and unlatch the door to the canary’s cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,
a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies
seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking
a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,
releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage
so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting
into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.
~Billy Collins  “Today”
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This is the kind of morning that begs to be admired from dawn’s first moment:  everything emerges from the fog so sharp and vivid bathed in golden light.

It takes away my breath at the same time as it delivers it deep within me.

How can I spring others free as I now have been sprung?
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This Doctor is Open For Business

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Astonishing material and revelation appear in our lives all the time.
Let it be.
Unto us, so much is given.
We just have to be open for business.

~Anne Lamott from Help Thanks Wow: Three Essential Prayers

 

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I have the privilege to work in a profession where astonishment and revelation awaits me behind each exam room door.

In a typical clinic day, I open that door up to thirty plus times, close it behind me and settle in for the ten or fifteen minutes I’m allocated per patient.  I need to peel through the layers of each person quickly to find the core of truth about who they are and why they’ve come to clinic that day.

Sometimes what I’m looking for is right on the surface: in their tears, in their pain, in their fears.  Most of the time, it is buried deep, often beneath a scar I must search to find. I need to wade through the rashes and sore throats and coughs and headaches and discouragement to find it.

Once in awhile, I actually do something tangible to help right then and there — sew up a cut, lance a boil, splint a fracture, restore hearing by removing a plug of wax from an ear canal.

Often I find myself giving permission to a patient to be sick — to take time to renew, rest and trust their bodies to know what is best for a time.

Sometimes, I am the coach pushing them to stop living sick — to stop hiding from life’s challenges, to stretch even when it hurts, to get out of bed even when not rested, to quit giving in to symptoms that are to be overcome rather than become overwhelming.

Always I’m looking for an opening to say something a patient might think about after they leave my clinic — how they can make different choices, how they can be bolder and braver in their self care, how they can intervene within their own finite timeline to prevent illness, how every day is just one thread in the larger tapestry of their lifespan.

Each morning I rise early to get work done at home before I actually arrive at my desk at work, trying to avoid feeling unprepared and inadequate to the volume of tasks heaped upon each day.   I know I will be stretched beyond my capacity, challenged by the unfamiliar, the unexpected and will be stressed by obstacles thrown in my way.  I know I will be held responsible for things I have little to do with, simply because I’m the one who often acts as decision-maker.

It is always tempting to go back to bed and hide.

Instead of hiding,  I go to work as the exam room doors need to be opened and the layers peeled away.  I understand the worry, the fear and the pain because I have lived it too.   I know the limitations of a body that wants to consume more than it needs, to sleep rather than go for a walk, to sit rather than stand.

Even now in my seventh decade of life,  I am continually learning how to let it be, even if it is scary.  It is a gift perhaps I can share.

No matter what waits behind the exam room door,  it will be astonishing to me.

I’m grateful to be open for business.  The Doctor is In.

 

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Brooding Over the Bent World

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 I will show wonders in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved.
~Acts 2:19-21 The Holy Spirit Comes At Pentecost

 

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Come, Holy Spirit,
bending or not bending the grasses,
appearing or not above our heads in a tongue of flame,
at hay harvest or when they plough in the orchards or when snow
covers crippled firs…
~Czeslaw Milosz from “Veni Creator” in Selected and Last Poems

 

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The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “God’s Grandeur”

 

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The cows
munched or stirred or were still. I
was at home and lonely,
both in good measure. Until
the sudden angel affrighted me––light effacing
my feeble beam,
a forest of torches, feathers of flame, sparks upflying:
but the cows as before
were calm, and nothing was burning,
nothing but I, as that hand of fire
touched my lips and scorched by tongue
and pulled by voice
into the ring of the dance.
~Denise Levertov from “Caedmon” in Breathing the Water

 

 

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Today, when we feel we are without hope,
as mute and dumb as cattle chewing our cud,
when the bent world reels in blood and violence,
as we remain in hiding:

when faith feels frail,
when love seems distant:

We wait too stilled
for the moment we are lit afire ~
when the Living God is
seen, heard, named, loved, known
forever burning in our hearts deep down,
brooded over by His bright wings

We are His dearest, freshest
in this moment
and for eternity.

 

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The Grass of Heaven

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Green hills, 
embroidered
mist, rich
rising ridge
fog filled
plunging fields
cattle, 
black, weightless
rise poised
from bare bank
grazing
the grass of
heaven
~Steven Federle

 

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May is always an overwhelming time of year – my senses work overtime with the feel of cool air mornings and evenings, the fragrance of blossoms everywhere, the dawn chorus of birdsong and the nightly coyote choir and peeper swamp symphony, the softness of mist rising from warm ground and the explosion of green – everywhere.

We are happily drowning in green – so much to be done quickly:  mowed, gathered, stored, treasured.

Surely heaven too is mostly green.  It can be no other.

 

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A Flower’s Unquiet Spirit

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In the meadow-grass
The innocent white daisies blow,
The dandelion plume doth pass
Vaguely to and fro, –
The unquiet spirit of a flower

That hath too brief an hour.
~Ellen Mackay Hutchinson Cortissoz

 

 

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Tis May; and yet the March flower Dandelion
Is still in bloom among the emerald grass,
Shining like guineas with the sun’s warm eye on–
We almost think they are gold as we pass,
Or fallen stars in a green sea of grass.
They shine in fields, or waste grounds near the town.
They closed like painter’s brush when even was.
At length they turn to nothing else but down,
While the rude winds blow off each shadowy crown.
~John Clare

 

 

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There are dandelions on fire and wearing jewels
everywhere I look.
Like a seed released when buffeted,
or simply blown aloft at the moment of ripeness,
may I be the unquiet flower spirit
carrying your Word on fragile wings
to far corners and hidden places;
settling softly, taking root
wherever your breath takes me.

 

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