To Shut Out the Immensity

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He loved mountains,
or he had loved the thought of them marching
on the edge of stories brought from far away;
but now he was borne down by the insupportable weight of Middle-earth.
He longed to shut out the immensity in a quiet room by a fire.
~J.R.R Tolkien from Lord of the Rings 

 

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I am so high in the windy sun,
On the rock-boned back of the highest thing,
That the mountains under me, every one,
Are but wrinkled gestures …. westering.
~Thomas Hornsby Ferril from “One Mountain Hour”

 

 

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Surrounded as we are in the northwest by so much raw and rugged beauty, I’m easily overwhelmed.  My breath catches when I turn my face to these monoliths of stone and ice.

There is no sound up there except my heartbeat.  No birds.  Even breezes are silent with no trees or leaves to rustle.  Twenty foot walls of snow.

I am content to gaze at these peaks from afar, now and again to visit awed at their feet, to listen for their stories of near-eternity.

I always retreat back home chastened.

So infinitesimal among such immensity.

 

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Buttonholed

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The river is famous to the fish.
The loud voice is famous to silence,   
which knew it would inherit the earth   
before anybody said so.   
The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds   
watching him from the birdhouse.   
The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.   
The idea you carry close to your bosom   
is famous to your bosom.   
The boot is famous to the earth,   
more famous than the dress shoe,   
which is famous only to floors.
The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it   
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.   
I want to be famous to shuffling men   
who smile while crossing streets,   
sticky children in grocery lines,   
famous as the one who smiled back.
I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,   
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,   
but because it never forgot what it could do.
~Naomi Shihab Nye “Famous” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems

 

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Detail from “Descent from the Cross” by Rogier van der Weyden

 

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 buttonhole
Here’s the truth of it:
I am the buttonhole lying in wait, hidden in the background – mere open space for locking in and securing the eye-catching button.
I’m neither decorative nor particularly noticeable yet chock-full of potential purpose even though empty.
A button without me is pure window-dressing, a flash in the pan, a bauble ready to loosen and fall off, easy to go missing.
Yet a button hole like me without a button to latch to is just plain and gaping and lonely and allows in drafts.
I never have forgotten what I’m meant to be and what I can do.  I only need the right button to fit me perfectly.
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Both Landlord and Tenant

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The frugal snail, with forecast of repose,    
Carries his house with him where’er he goes;    
Peeps out,—and if there comes a shower of rain,    
Retreats to his small domicile again.    
Touch but a tip of him, a horn, – ’tis well, –           
He curls up in his sanctuary shell.    
He’s his own landlord, his own tenant; stay    
Long as he will, he dreads no Quarter Day.    
Himself he boards and lodges; both invites    
And feasts himself; sleeps with himself o’ nights.        
He spares the upholsterer trouble to procure    
Chattels; himself is his own furniture,    
And his sole riches. Wheresoe’er he roam, –   
Knock when you will, – he ’s sure to be at home.
~Charles Lamb  — “The Housekeeper”

 

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I like to think of myself as carefully self-contained and safe from whatever threatens  – not dependent on others, able to bear my own burdens, completely sufficient unto today.

The reality is far different.  As sturdy and solid as I may seem on the outside, I’m nothing but soft and a bit mushy on the inside. And I have a tendency to retreat and hide inside my shell when the going gets rough.

Yet even shells can and will be broken.  I know it’s my home only for a little while.
So knock when you will:  I’ll be here.

 

For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.  Hebrews 13:14

 

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So Different

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So different, this man
And this woman:
A stream flowing 
In a field.
~William Carlos Williams, “Marriage”

 

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Like the water 
of a deep stream, love is always too much. We 
did not make it. Though we drink till we burst 
we cannot have it all, or want it all. 
In its abundance it survives our thirst.
~Wendell Berry from “The Country of Marriage

 

 

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No matter how ruffled I may feel,
how rippled my smooth surface,
you are calming:
becoming stillness when I need it most.

So different
we fit perfectly.

 

 

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We are more together
than we know, how else could we keep on discovering
we are more together than we thought?
You are the known way leading always to the unknown,
and you are the known place to which the unknown is always
leading me back. More blessed in you than I know…
~Wendell Berry from “The Country of Marriage”

 

 

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Wet Trembling June

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Green was the silence, wet was the light
the month of June trembled like a butterfly
~Pablo Neruda from “Sonnet XL”

 

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We are now four days into summer but aside from the date on the calendar, it would be difficult to prove otherwise.  After a dry stretch of warm late spring weather, it is now unseasonably cool, the skies stony gray, the rivers running full and fast, the ground peppered with puddles. Rain fell hard last night, hiding behind the cover of darkness as if ashamed of itself.   As it should be.

What all this moisture will yield is acres and acres of towering grass growth, more grass than imaginable, more grass than we can keep mowed,  burying the horses up to their backs as they dive head long into the pasture.  The Haflingers don’t need to lower their necks to graze,  choosing instead to simply strip off the ripe tops of the grasses as they forge paths through five foot forage.   It is like children at a birthday party swiping the frosting off cupcake after cupcake, licking their fingers as they go.  Instead of icing, the horses’ muzzles are smeared with dandelion fluff,  grass seed and buttercup petals.

In the northwest, June can tend to shroud its promise of longer days under clouds.  Outdoor weddings brace for rain and wind with a supply of umbrellas, graduation potlucks are served in the garage and Fourth of July picnics stay safely under cover.  There is a wary anticipation of solstice as it signals the slow inexorable return of darkness from which we have not yet fully recovered.

So I tremble as I too splash through the squishiness of late June,  quivering like a wet butterfly emerging from its cocoon ready to unfurl its wings to dry, but unsure how to fly and uncertain of the new world that awaits.  In fact the dark empty cocoon can look mighty inviting on a rainy June night or during a loud mid-day thunderstorm.   If I could manage to squeeze myself back in, it might be worth a try.

After all, there is no place like home.

 

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The Heavens Boiling

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Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil…
~Isaiah 64:1-2

 

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And this, then,
is the vision of that Heaven of which 
we have heard, where those who love
each other have forgiven each other,

where, for that, the leaves are green,
the light a music in the air,
and all is unentangled,
and all is undismayed.
-Wendell Berry “To My Mother”

 

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Something woke me at 4:45 AM:  perhaps the orange glow bathing my face. Never one to miss a light show, I heeded the call and obeyed.

Once outside, I watched clouds boiling –  shifting and swirling in unrest as if something or someone may emerge momentarily.

No trumpets.
Just early morning bird song oblivious to the turmoil.

Within a minute, the heavens settled and so did I, no longer entangled and dismayed.

Yet for a moment this morning, I did wonder what might become of us all.

 

 

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This Trembling Globe

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How I loved those spiky suns, 
rooted stubborn as childhood 
in the grass, tough as the farmer’s 
big-headed children—the mats 
of yellow hair, the bowl-cut fringe. 
How sturdy they were and how 
slowly they turned themselves 
into galaxies, domes of ghost stars 
barely visible by day, pale 
cerebrums clinging to life 
on tough green stems.   Like you. 
Like you, in the end.   If you were here, 
I’d pluck this trembling globe to show 
how beautiful a thing can be 
a breath will tear away. 
~Jean Nordhaus “A Dandelion for My Mother” from Innocence
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This is how I remember my mom at the end:
fragile, trembling,
a wispy white crown of hair,
clinging stubbornly to what was left of life
with roots that went so deep
there was no pulling them out.
Yet it only took that one last breath,
one quiet will-there-be-another
breath
to blow her away.
And she left us behind,
clinging stubbornly to those roots.
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