Only More Mysterious

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I came here to study hard things – rock mountain and salt sea – and to temper my spirit on their edges.  “Teach me thy ways, O Lord” is, like all prayers, a rash one, and one I cannot but recommend.

These mountains — Mount Baker and the Sisters and Shuksan, the Canadian Coastal Range and the Olympics on the peninsula — are surely the edge of the known and comprehended world….

That they bear their own unimaginable masses and weathers aloft, holding them up in the sky for anyone to see plain, makes them, as Chesterton said of the Eucharist, only the more mysterious by their very visibility and absence of secrecy.
~Annie Dillard from Holy the Firm

 

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Sometimes the mountain
is hidden from me in veils
of cloud, sometimes
I am hidden from the mountain
in veils of inattention, apathy, fatigue,
when I forget or refuse to go
down to the shore or a few yards
up the road, on a clear day,
to reconfirm
that witnessing presence.
~Denise Levertov  “Witness”

 

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Even on the days like today when the mountain is hidden behind a veil of clouds, I have every confidence it is there.  It has not moved in the night, gone to another county, blown up or melted down.  My vision isn’t penetrating enough to see it through cloud cover today, but it will return to my line of sight, if not tomorrow, perhaps the next day.  I know this and have faith it is true.

On the days when I am not bothering to look for it, too preoccupied so walk right past its obvious grandeur and presence, then it is reaching out to me and calling me back.  There are times when I turn a corner on the farm and glance up, and there it is, a silent and overwhelming witness to beauty and steadfastness.  I literally gasp at not noticing before, at not remembering how I’m blessed by it being there even at the times I can’t be bothered.

It witnesses my lack of witness and, so mysterious, stays put to hold me fast yet another day.  And so I keep coming back to gaze, sometimes just at clouds, yearning to lift the veil, and lift my veil, just one more time.

 

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A Gate We Enter

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The juncture of twig and branch,
Scarred with lichen, is a gate
We might enter, singing.”
~Jane Kenyon, “Things”

 

I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for over 60 years, and on this farm for 25 years.  The grandeur of the snow-capped mountains to the north and east and the peaceful shore to the west overwhelms everything in between.  I’ve walked past these bare antique apple trees autumn after autumn, but had never stopped to really look at the landscape growing on their shoulders and arms.  There is a whole other ecosystem on each tree, a fairy land of earth bound dryland seaweed, luxuriant in the fall rains, colorful in the winter, dried and hidden behind leaves and fruit in the hot summer.

This is the world of lichen, a mixed up cross between mold and fungus, opportunistic enough to thrive on rock faces, but ecstatic on absorbent bark.

I had never really noticed how proudly diverse they are.  I had, for year, blindly walked right by their rich color and texture.

Yet it hasn’t bothered them not to be noticed as they are busy minding their own business.  As John McCullough writes:

“It is merely a question of continuous adjustment, of improvising a life. When I’m far from friends or the easing of a wind against my back, I think of lichen—
never and always true to its essence, never and always at home.”

Instead of lifting my eyes to the hills for a visual feast, I need only open the back gate to gaze on this landscape found on the ancient branches in my own back yard.

It’s a rich life indeed.

 

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The lichen raised its fragile cup,
and rain filled it, and in the drop
the sky glittered, holding back the wind.

The lichen raised its fragile cup:
Now let’s toast the richness of our lives.
~Helvi Juvonen  “Lichen Cup”

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Peering at a Landscape on a Branch

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I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for most of 59 years, and on this farm for 20 years.  The grandeur of the snow-capped mountains to the east and the peaceful shore to the west overwhelms everything in between.  I’ve walked past these bare antique apple trees autumn after autumn, but had never stopped to really look at the landscape growing on their shoulders and arms.  There is a whole other ecosystem on each tree, a fairy land of earth bound seaweed, luxuriant in the fall rains, dried and hidden behind leaves and fruit in the hot summer.

This is the world of lichen, a mixed up cross between mold and fungus, opportunistic enough to thrive on rock faces, but ecstatic on absorbent bark.

I had never really noticed how proudly diverse they are.  I had walked right by their rich color and texture.

Yet it hasn’t bothered them not to be noticed as they are busy minding their own business.  As John McCullough writes below,  they thrive happily where they find themselves “never and always true to their essence, never and always at home.”

Now I know.  And so do you.

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Closer, with the glass, a city of cups!

Why are they doing this?

In this big sky and all around me peaks &
the melting glaciers, why am I made to
kneel and peer at Tiny?
~Lew Welch from “Springtime in the Rockies, Lichen”
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The lichen raised its fragile cup,
and rain filled it, and in the drop
the sky glittered, holding back the wind.

The lichen raised its fragile cup:
Now let’s toast the richness of our lives.
~Helvi Juvonen  “Lichen Cup”

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A truly good book is something as wildly natural and primitive, mysterious and marvelous, ambrosial and fertile, as a fungus or a lichen.
~Henry David Thoreau

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We are lichens on a grand scale.
~David Haskell

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But what is life to a lichen?
Yet its impulse to exist,
to be,
is every bit as strong as ours —
arguably even stronger.
If I were told that I had to spend decades
being a furry growth on a rock in the woods,
I believe I would lose the will to go on.

~Bill Bryson

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It is merely
a question of continuous
adjustment, of improvising a life. When I’m far from friends
or the easing of a wind
against my back, I think of lichen—
never and always true to its essence,
never and always at home.
~John McCullough from “Lichen”

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The Muttering of Rain

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

…he sought the privacy of rain,
the one time no one was likely to be
out and he was left to the intimacy
of drops touching every leaf and tree in
the woods and the easy muttering of
drip and runoff…
~Robert Morgan from “Working in the Rain”

There has been plenty of muttering, both private and public, over the past few days.  And not all of it is from dripping and runoff into puddles.  Anytime a holiday weekend gets rained out, plenty of people mutter too.

Rain is what makes this part of the world special, but like Camelot,  most would prefer it never fall till after sundown.   To them we live not in a more congenial spot than Camelot.

I may be an oddity, somewhat typical of northwest-born natives.  I celebrate rain whenever it comes, before sundown or after sunrise, as I grew up working outside in the intimacy of a drenching shower, yet am always happy to have an excuse to stay indoors to be putterer more than mutterer.

He could not resist the long
ritual, the companionship and freedom
of falling weather, or even the cold
drenching, the heavy soak and chill of clothes
and sobbing of fingers and sacrifice
of shoes that earned a baking by the fire
and washed fatigue after the wandering
and loneliness in the country of rain.
~Robert Morgan, conclusion of “Working in the Rain”

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten