of the gladiola open all down the long aisle of the stem
like a choral procession or the woody notes
of a flute opening one stop at a time. ~Linda Pastan “Gladiola”
Most flowers tempt our senses: the vibrant colors to the eye, the softness of the petals to the touch, the delicate fragrances wafting to the nose – even some have a piquant perfumed taste for the palate.
Yet how many blooms sound like an orchestra tuning in the wind?
A long gladiola stalk rises boldly, swaying in the breeze, each key blossom unfolding one by one in flowing overture.
When each is done with its own ruffled note, the next one opens to play its part.
The notes progress up the stem until the final chord is held ~fermata-like~ until performances commence again next summer.
I’ll be sure to reserve a front row seat.
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Light splashed this morning on the shell-pink anemones swaying on their tall stems; down blue-spiked veronica light flowed in rivulets over the humps of the honeybees; this morning I saw light kiss the silk of the roses in their second flowering, my late bloomers flushed with their brandy. A curious gladness shook me. So I have shut the doors of my house, so I have trudged downstairs to my cell, so I am sitting in semi-dark hunched over my desk with nothing for a view to tempt me but a bloated compost heap, steamy old stinkpile, under my window; and I pick my notebook up and I start to read aloud and still-wet words I scribbled on the blotted page: “Light splashed…”
I can scarcely wait till tomorrow when a new life begins for me, as it does each day, as it does each day. ~Stanley Kunitz “The Round”
It is too easy to be ground to a pulp by the constant irritations of the day – my aggravations are too easily expressed, my worries never seem to wane – all of it sucks gladness out of me. When my feelings become four-dimensional and surround and drown me, I lose all perspective on what got me out of bed to begin the day.
God is in these intricate details, whether the splash of light on a petal or the smell of rotting compost; it is my job to notice this. It is tempting to look past His ubiquitous presence in all things, to seek out only the elegant grandeur of creation and bypass the plain and smelly and homely. Yet even what lacks beauty from my limited perspective is worthy of His divine attention.
He knows the value and purpose of each thing He created, including me and the things that aggravate me no end.
The time has come to be refreshed and renewed even when surrounded by decay. His care is revealed in the tiniest way. He is worthy of my attention because I am constantly worthy of His.
If I rise early enough, I can see each new day’s light splash everything awake. By the time I come in to sit down to record my words and photos, I’m thoroughly washed with a fresh dawn. I can scarcely wait to take on what this day will bring.
A new life begins for me, as it does each day, as it does each day.
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To the shepherd herding his flock through the gorge below, it must appear as if I walk on the sky. I feel that too: so little between me
and The Fall. But this is how faith works its craft. One foot set in front of the other, while the wind rattles the cage of the living and the rocks down there
cheer every wobble, your threads keep this braided business almost intact saying: Don’t worry. I’ve been here a long time. You’ll make it across. ~Matthew Olzmann “Letter to a Bridge Made of Rope”
I have never walked a rope bridge though I’ve seen one from a distance in Northern Ireland. It swayed far above a rocky gorge, hanging almost miraculously in the air as walkers trekked blithely across.
Not for me, I said.
I feel disoriented and dizzy when the surface beneath my feet sways and moves with the wind and due to my own movement. I make my own wobbling worse with my fear. The rocks below seem menacing; I don’t trust my own ability to navigate over and through them.
Oh, me of little faith. So little between me and The Fall.
Simply crossing a narrow wooden bridge built over a fallen large old-growth tree trunk takes all my courage. I try to focus on my feet taking each step, testing the solid wood beneath me rather than looking down at the rushing water and sharp rocks below.
In the course of life, I have to take steps that feel uncertain and unsupported. I freeze in place, afraid to move forward, reluctant to leave the security of where I am to do what it takes to get safely to the other side.
Yet I need to trust what holds firm for others will hold firm for me.
Christ is the bridge for those like me who fear, who don’t trust their own feet, who can’t stop looking at the taunting and daunting rocks below. He has braided Himself around me to keep me safe, no matter what and no matter where. He’s been here a long time and will always be.
I can step out in that confidence.
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I am still skeptical about the reasons some seek spirituality in the land, for the spirituality the land offers is anything but easy.
It is the spirituality of a God who would, with lightening and earthquakes, sneeze away the bland moralism preached in many pulpits, a wildly free, undomesticated divinity, the same God who demands of Moses from a burning bush, “Remove your shoes, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
When God appears to Job, the comforting sentiments we might expect to feel are absent because such sentiments are at most God’s trappings, not the infinite himself. The God who speaks to Job from the whirlwind reminds him that, comforting or terrifying, he alone is God. To be satisfied with anything less would be the spiritual catastrophe the Old Testament calls idolatry.
Some of our idols shatter in the West’s rugged vastness, others remain.
Perhaps God leaves exposed the land’s brokenness – the scars of forest fires, the fossils of extinct biospheres, rifts showing ancient continents now scattered like puzzle pieces – to remind us that he is greater than the icon, too.
The heavens and earth will wear out like a garment, the Psalmist says, like clothes that are changed.
We are now 45 days into a hotter dry spell this summer with a slight possibility of some rain next week. Everything here in the Pacific Northwest is looking as it would in late August with the snow melt in the Cascades much accelerated from its usual timeline. With the fires already happening for weeks on the eastern side of the state, as well as to the north of us in British Columbia and south in Oregon and California, we are looking at a withering August of smoke and ash.
Dan and I headed up the Mt. Baker Highway yesterday evening to see how bare Baker and Shuksan look up close. We wonder what snow will be left before our typical precipitation begins in earnest in early October. These seemingly unchanging monoliths are being stripped of their usual garments, now naked and vulnerable. They are subject to God’s transforming power just as surely as we are.
When I stand at the foot of these peaks, I never fail to be awed to a whisper, as if I were inside an immense cathedral. God reminds us to remove our shoes out of respect for His holy ground. Yet I worship not the mountains nor the awe-inspiring landscape they are placed in, but worship their Creator whose strength and love is greater than all.
I tread lightly. I speak softly. I remove my shoes. I witness the fading light.
God, the eternal, the unchangeable, takes my breath away, as only He can..
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The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched. ~Henry David Thoreau from Walden
I don’t know about you, but there are some days I wake up just longing for my life to be all puppies and rainbows.
I hope to find sparkling magic around every corner, little wiggly fur balls surrounding me, happy tails a-wagging with a promise of glee and glitter. I’m eager to feel pure joy untainted by the realities of every day.
Perhaps I’m clutching at a kind of cartoon version of life without considering the wicked witches and monsters present in the ever-present dark forbidding woods of our human existence. Life just isn’t all puppies and rainbows. I know this…
Of course, puppies grow up. Rainbows fade and become just a memory. And I am growing older with all the aches and pains and uncertainties of aging. Even so, I still tend to clutch a “puppies and rainbows” state of mind when I open my eyes in the morning and when I close my eyes for sleep – hoping for a bit of stardust to hold.
I believe in promises. I believe in the God who made those promises. He is who I can hold onto and know with certainty, He won’t ever let go of me.
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When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the green heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. ~Wendell Berry “The Peace of Wild Things” fromThe Selected Poems of Wendell Berry
When our grandchildren visit our farm, I watch them rediscover what I know are the joys and sorrows of this world. I am reminded there is light beyond the darkness I fear, there is peace amid the chaos, there is a smile behind the tears, there is stillness within the noisiness there is rest despite my restlessness, there is grace as old gives way to new.
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…And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back. I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference. ~Robert Frost from “The Road Not Taken”
Two lonely cross-roads that themselves cross each other I have walked several times this winter without meeting or overtaking so much as a single person on foot or on runners. The practically unbroken condition of both for several days after a snow or a blow proves that neither is much travelled.
Judge then how surprised I was the other evening as I came down one to see a man, who to my own unfamiliar eyes and in the dusk looked for all the world like myself, coming down the other, his approach to the point where our paths must intersect being so timed that unless one of us pulled up we must inevitably collide. I felt as if I was going to meet my own image in a slanting mirror. Or say I felt as we slowly converged on the same point with the same noiseless yet laborious stride as if we were two images about to float together with the uncrossing of someone’s eyes. I verily expected to take up or absorb this other self and feel the stronger by the addition for the three-mile journey home.
But I didn’t go forward to the touch. I stood still in wonderment and let him pass by; and that, too, with the fatal omission of not trying to find out by a comparison of lives and immediate and remote interests what could have brought us by crossing paths to the same point in a wilderness at the same moment of nightfall. Some purpose I doubt not, if we could but have made out.
I like a coincidence almost as well as an incongruity. ~Robert Frost from “Selected Letters”
Robert Frost noted in different letters and lectures how readers misinterpreted his popular, yet ironic, “The Road Not Taken” poem. His point was not “the road less traveled” had “made all the difference” but that the roads are clearly described as the same. When life takes us to a fork in the road, we are compelled to make decisions that must take us one way or the other with little to guide us. We are uncertain where our choices may lead us, or if we have made the right choice.
I’ve come to many decision points in my life where I have simply had to “go with my gut.” Some of these turned out to be good decisions and other times I have had deep regret about my choice and wish I could go back and do it differently. But “way leads to way” and there is no going back for a do-over.
I have chosen roads that lead me astray into hazards and obstacles; God continually puts up signposts that have guided me home to safety. My journey may be arduous, I may get terribly lost, I may walk alone for long stretches, I may end up crushed and bleeding in the ditch.
God follows the footprints I have left behind, and I am found, rescued and brought home, no matter what, and that — not the road I chose at the beginning — is what has made all the difference.
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You are alive. It needn’t have been so. It wasn’t so once, and will not be forever. But it is so now.
And what is it like: to be alive in this one place of all places anywhere where life is? Live a day of it and see. Take any day and LIVE IT. Nobody claims that it will be entirely painless, but no matter.
It is your birthday and there are many presents to open. The world is to be opened. It is the first day because it has never been before and the last day because it will never be again.
When I was very young, I would trace my finger over the long scar that curved along the front of my mother’s neck and ask her what happened. She would tell me her thyroid gland had been overworking so she had to have it removed before I was born. That’s all she had to say about that and I never thought to ask more. Somehow I knew, just as my knowing my father would not talk about his experience as a Marine in WWII, my mother was hiding more than her big scar under high collars or a pearl necklace.
Hers was a deeper scar I couldn’t see or touch.
However, my older sister – about five at the time – remembers my mother’s illness. Mom was a little over thirty when her hands began to tremble, her pulse raced and she was irritable with trouble sleeping. My parents were hoping for a second child, but unable to get pregnant. Once her doctor diagnosed thyrotoxicosis , Mom had the option to try a new medication that had been recently developed – propylthiouracil – meant to suppress the function of overactive thyroid glands.
It didn’t work for her and she felt worse. It caused more side effects and my mother’s symptoms grew so severe, she was unable to leave her bedroom due to severe anxiety and paranoia made worse by insomnia. My paternal grandmother came to help since my father needed to continue to work to support the family but there was little that could be done other than sedation to ease my mother’s symptoms. My sister recalls not seeing Mom for days, unnerved by the wailing she heard from the bedroom. From her description, I now wonder if Mom was experiencing the beginning of thyroid “storm” (extremely high thyroid levels) which is potentially life-threatening with severe physical and emotional side effects.
After Mom was hospitalized and her entire thyroid was removed, she was placed on thyroid hormone supplements to take daily for the rest of her life. It took months for her to recover and feel somewhat normal again. Her eventual hormonal stability resolved her infertility as well as most of her other symptoms. She remained chronically anxious and had heart palpitations and insomnia the rest of her life, like a residual stain on her sense of well-being, although she lived another 55 years. The trauma of how her illness affected my dad and sister was never fully resolved. They all suffered. I can understand why those months remained as hidden as my mom’s surgical scar.
I was born about two years later – the second baby they never expected could happen. My brother was born 20 months after me.
From my family’s suffering came the solace of new life.
So I nearly wasn’t.
I’m reminded on each birthday: I needn’t have been here yet by the grace of God I am. I need to BE ALIVE and LIVE THIS DAY because it will never be again.
This is a truth for us all to cling to.
Each day is a gift to be opened and savored. Each day a first day, a last day, a great day – a birthday of amazing grace.
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I love the look, austere, immaculate, Of landscapes drawn in pearly monotones. There’s something in my very blood that owns Bare hills, cold silver on a sky of slate, A thread of water, churned to milky spate Streaming through slanted pastures fenced with stones.
I love those skies, thin blue or snowy gray, Those fields sparse-planted, rendering meagre sheaves; That spring, briefer than apple-blossom’s breath, Summer, so much too beautiful to stay, Swift autumn, like a bonfire of leaves, And sleepy winter, like the sleep of death. ~Elinor Wylie from “Wild Peaches”
An amber light stretches from sky to ground this beautiful morning, another mid-summer dawning- today a clone of yesterday’s and the day before.
A stretch of forty identical days cannot last and will not stay. I long again for rain and chill nights.
Drying up and pock-marked with holes, I feel punched and withering in this browning landscape, wondering on this Sabbath day of communing together where holiness is to be found.
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I want to write with quiet hands. I want to write while crossing the fields that are fresh with daisies and everlasting and the ordinary grass. I want to make poems while thinking of the bread of heaven and the cup of astonishment; let them be
songs in which nothing is neglected, not a hope, not a promise. I want to make poems that look into the earth and the heavens and see the unseeable. I want them to honor both the heart of faith, and the light of the world; the gladness that says, without any words, everything. ~Mary Oliver “Everything”
Sometimes I think all the best poems have been written already, and no one has time to read them, so why try to write more?
At other times though, I remember how one flower in a meadow already full of flowers somehow adds to the general fireworks effect
as you get to the top of a hill in Colorado, say, in high summer and just look down at all that brimming color. I also try to convince myself
that the smallest note of the smallest instrument in the band, the triangle for instance, is important to the conductor
who stands there, pointing his finger in the direction of the percussions, demanding that one silvery ping. And I decide not to stop trying,
at least not for a while, though in truth I’d rather just sit here reading how someone else has been acquainted with the night already, and perfectly. ~Linda Pastan“Rereading Frost” from Queen of a Rainy Country.
that even though its lines are broken
will be drawn forward to the part where blueberries firm against fingers
say roundness sweetness unspeakable softness in the morning light. ~L.L. Barkat,“This Morning” from The Golden Dress
I’m asked frequently by people who read this blog why I use poems by other authors when I could be writing more original work myself. Why do I use my photos to illustrate another person’s words instead of inspiring my own?
My answer, like poet Linda Pastan above is:
Sometimes I think all the best poems have been written already, and no one has time to read them, so why try to write more?
Yet, like Linda, for over a decade now, I’ve decided not to stop trying, since I’ve committed myself to being here every day with something that may help me (and perhaps you) breathe in with gladness and gratitude the fragrance of words within this weary world.
There are several hundred of you who do take time to come visit this corner of the web every day, and several dozen of you have actually purchased the Almanac of Quiet Days book where my photos inspired poet Lois Edstrom to write her own words of grace and beauty. That is a source of great encouragement to me!
Like poet Mary Oliver, I cannot separate the poetry of my photos from the poetry of words I compose – I try to see the unseeable and help others to see it as well:
I want to make poems that look into the earth and the heavens and see the unseeable.
I am so awed at your faithful reading and generous sharing of what I offer here.
Even when my lines are broken, or I say again what another has already said much better, yet bears repeating — I too try to write with quiet hands, and see through quiet eyes, out of reverence and awe for what unseeable gifts God has given us.
Thank you for being here with me, looking for those illuminating words and pictures which lift the veil.
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