August Burns Low

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Further in Summer than the Birds
Pathetic from the Grass
A minor Nation celebrates
Its unobtrusive Mass.

No Ordinance be seen
So gradual the Grace
A pensive Custom it becomes
Enlarging Loneliness.

Antiquest felt at Noon
When August burning low
Arise this spectral Canticle
Repose to typify

Remit as yet no Grace
No Furrow on the Glow
Yet a Druidic Difference
Enhances Nature now 
~Emily Dickinson

“…one of the great poems of American literature. The statement of the poem is profound; it remarks the absolute separation between man and nature at a precise moment in time.  The poet looks as far as she can into the natural world, but what she sees at last is her isolation from that world.  She perceives, that is, the limits of her own perception. But that, we reason, is enough. This poem of just more than sixty words comprehends the human condition in relation to the universe:

So gradual the Grace
A pensive Custom it becomes
Enlarging Loneliness.

But this is a divine loneliness, the loneliness of a species evolved far beyond all others. The poem bespeaks a state of grace. In its precision, perception and eloquence it establishes the place of words within that state.  Words are indivisible with the highest realization of human being.”
~N. Scott Momaday from The Man Made of Words

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On the first day I took his class on Native American Mythology and Lore in 1974 at Stanford, N.Scott Momaday strolled to the front, wrote the 60 words of this Dickinson poem on the blackboard.  He told us we would spend at least a week working out the meaning of what he considered the greatest poem written — this in a class devoted to Native American writing and oral tradition.  In his resonant bass, he read the poem to us many times, rolling the words around his mouth as if to extract their sweetness. This man of the plains, a member of the Kiowa tribe, loved this poem put together by a white New England recluse poet — someone as culturally distant from him and his people as possible.

But grace works to unite us, no matter our differences, and Scott knew this as he led us, mostly white students, through this poem.  What on the surface appears a paean to late summer cricket song doomed to extinction by oncoming winter, is a statement of the transcendence of man beyond our understanding of nature and the world in which we, its creatures, find ourselves.

As summer begins its descent into the dark death of winter, we, unlike the crickets, become all too aware we too are descending. Not only are the skies are filled with smoke from uncontrolled wildfires, but the streets are filled with protesters and counter-protesters who loot and shoot rather than meet to ask questions, and our future is filled with the uncertain timeline of ongoing pandemic destruction as nature has the upper hand yet again. 

There is no one as lonely as an individual facing their mortality and no one as lonely as a poet facing the empty page, in search of words to describe the sacrament of sacrifice and perishing.

Yet the Word brings Grace unlike any other, even when the cricket song, pathetic and transient as it is, is gone.  The Word brings Grace, like no other, to pathetic and transient man who shall emerge transformed.

There is no furrow on the glow.  There is no need to plow and seed our salvaged souls, already lovingly planted and nurtured by our Creator God, yielding a fruited plain.

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Dragging Summer Away

August rushes by like desert rainfall,
A flood of frenzied upheaval,
Expected,
But still catching me unprepared.
Like a match flame
Bursting on the scene,
Heat and haze of crimson sunsets.
Like a dream
Of moon and dark barely recalled,
A moment,
Shadows caught in a blink.
Like a quick kiss;
One wishes for more
But it suddenly turns to leave,
Dragging summer away.
Elizabeth Maua Taylor
“August”

August is rushing by in its anxiousness
to be done with this summer of upheaval:
too many tears and too much tragedy.

The sky in weeping empathy
leaves a quick moist kiss on our cheeks,
dripping bedazzled.

It won’t last;
we know these dangling drops will fade
in the heat of the moment.

This wilted, withered summer won’t leave easy
~dragged away still kicking~
we’ll wave it goodbye, blowing our kisses in the air.

August and Abundantly So

But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves like clown hands
gloved with green.
You can have the touch of a single eleven-year-old finger
on your cheek, waking you at one a.m. to say the hamster is back.
You can have the purr of the cat and the soulful look
of the black dog, the look that says, If I could I would bite
every sorrow until it fled, and when it is August,
you can have it August and abundantly so. You can have love,
though often it will be mysterious, like the white foam
that bubbles up at the top of the bean pot over the red kidneys
until you realize foam’s twin is blood.


You can speak a foreign language, sometimes,
and it can mean something. You can visit the marker on the grave
where your father wept openly. You can’t bring back the dead,
but you can have the words forgive and forget hold hands
as if they meant to spend a lifetime together.


You can have your grandfather sitting on the side of your bed,
at least for a while, you can have clouds and letters, the leaping
of distances, and Indian food with yellow sauce like sunrise.


You can’t count on grace to pick you out of a crowd
but here is your friend to teach you how to high jump,
how to throw yourself over the bar, backwards,
until you learn about love, about sweet surrender,
and here are periwinkles, buses that kneel, farms in the mind
as real as Africa. And when adulthood fails you,


you can still summon the memory of the black swan on the pond
of your childhood, the rye bread with peanut butter and bananas
your grandmother gave you while the rest of the family slept.
There is the voice you can still summon at will, like your mother’s,
it will always whisper, you can’t have it all,
but there is this.
~Barbara Ras from “You Can’t Have It All
from Bite Every Sorrow

My pragmatic mother who gave up her teaching career for marriage and family reminded me regularly that I couldn’t have it all: there was no way a woman can have a husband and children and a farm and a garden and animals and a profession and travel and volunteer in the community and not make a mess of it all and herself.

My father would listen to her and say softly under his breath: “you do whatever you put your mind to…you know what you are here for.”

They were both right. The alluring abundance of this life has invited me to want to touch and feel and taste it all, not unlike another woman who was placed with purpose in the Garden to be side-by-side companion and co-worker. Yet she demonstrated what happens when you want more than you are given and yes, she made a mess of it.

Yet there is this: despite wanting it all and working hard for it all and believing I could do it all, I indeed missed the point altogether.
It’s forgive and forget walking hand in hand for a lifetime.
It’s all gift, not earned.
It’s all grace, not deserved.
It’s all August abundance, all year long, to sustain us through the drought and drab of winter.

There is this: I know what I am here for.

photo by Breanna Siebring Randall

Immortal Alps Look Down

In lands I never saw — they say
Immortal Alps look down —
Whose Bonnets touch the firmament —
Whose Sandals touch the town —

Meek at whose everlasting feet
A Myriad Daisy play —
Which, Sir, are you and which am I
Upon an August day?

~Emily Dickinson #XXX Part Three: Love

What are men to rocks and mountains? 
~Jane Austen from Pride and Prejudice

This August day:

the immortal mountains loom large, a reminder of our transient blossoming at their everlasting feet.

We are but momentary blooms, gracing the ground, waiting patiently for our time in the sun.

Nostalgic For What is to Come

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Toward the end of August I begin to dream about fall, how
this place will empty of people, the air will get cold and
leaves begin to turn. Everything will quiet down, everything
will become a skeleton of its summer self. Toward

the end of August I get nostalgic for what’s to come, for
that quiet time, time alone, peace and stillness, calm, all
those things the summer doesn’t have. The woodshed is
already full, the kindling’s in, the last of the garden soon

will be harvested, and then there will be nothing left to do
but watch fall play itself out, the earth freeze, winter come.
~David Budbill “Toward the End of August”

 

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As the calendar page flips to September this morning, I feel nostalgic for what is coming.

Summer is filled with so much overwhelming activity due to ~18 hours of daylight accompanying weeks of unending sunny weather resulting in never-enough-sleep.  Waking on a summer morning feels so brim full with possibilities: there are places to go, people to see, new things to explore and of course, a garden and orchard always bearing and fruiting out of control.

As early September days usher us toward autumn, we long for the more predictable routine of school days, so ripe with new learning opportunities. This week my teacher friend Bonnie orchestrated an innovative introduction to fifth grade by asking her students, with some parental assistance, to make (from scratch) their own personalized school desks that will go home with them at the end of the year.  These students have created their own learning center with their brains and hands, with wood-burned and painted designs, pictures and quotes for daily encouragement.

For those students, their desks will always represent a solid reminder of what has been and what is to come.

So too, I welcome September’s quieting times ushering in a new cool freshness in the air as breezes pluck and toss a few drying leaves from the trees.  I will watch the days play themselves out rather than feeling I must direct each moment.  I can be a sponge.

I whisper hush … to myself.

Goodnight August, goodnight farm, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere.

 

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Mrs. Bonnie Patterson’s fifth graders’ handmade desks at Evergreen Christian School, Bellingham, Washington

 

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The Vague Sweetness of Sloth

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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”

 

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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.

 

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The First Gray Hair

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The foliage has been losing its freshness through the month of August, and here and there a yellow leaf shows itself like the first gray hair amidst the locks of a beauty who has seen one season too many.
~Oliver Wendell Holmes

 

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August has been particularly wearing on so many folks this year, aging us beyond recognition after weeks of smoke-filled horizons.  Those whose forests and homes have burned have nothing but cinders to return to.  My concerns are mere in comparison, as the ash sent forth from such destruction is only irritant and inconvenience, rather than the residue of lost life.

Yet no one thrives in a world of fire and ash as we go gray as the sky, as if we have lived one summer too many.

I dream of what was: green and lush foliage and cool rains with the occasional welcome glimpse of a yellow, rather than red, sun.

Color the gray away to thwart the inevitable?  Not this woman.  I await a different beauty, even if only in my dreams…

 

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The Flow of the Motionless

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I count it as a certainty that in paradise, everyone naps.  
~Tom Hodgkinson from How to Be Idle: A Loafer’s Manifesto

 

 

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A slight breeze stirs tree branches
so shadow patterns play on the curtains
like candlelight in a drafty room.

The harvest is over, corn
stubble and weeds in the field. The sky is
soft blue, a few clouds in the distance.

I will close my eyes, nap for
a while. Perhaps when I wake all will seem
the same. Sleep plays tricks in many ways.
~Matthew Spereng – “Late August, Lying Down to Nap at Noon”

 

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Like a graceful vase, a cat, even when motionless, seems to flow.  
~George F. Will

 

 

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I believe the world would be a better place
if we could stop in the middle of the day~
just rest our eyes for awhile –
stare at the sparkling inside of our eyelids for a few minutes,
pause, pray, purr…
perchance to dream.   Aye, there’s the rub.

We might see things differently when our eyes reopen.

 

 

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The First Week of August

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The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer,
the top of the live-long year,
like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning.

The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring,
and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn,
but the first week of August is motionless, and hot.

It is curiously silent, too,
with blank white dawns and glaring noons,
and sunsets smeared with too much color.
~Natalie Babbitt from Tuck Everlasting

 

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After a few days of milder summer respite, we’ve returned to temperatures in the nineties this week.  No one asked me if enduring such heat was a reasonable way to usher in the first week of August.

So here I sit silently rocking and sweating in the highest vantage point of this year’s ferris wheel ride, hanging breathlessly mid-air, appreciating the brief pause in the endless cycle of days.

Having just arrived at the top, I will venture to look down, knowing I am simply along for the ride, and Someone else is at the controls.  I might as well enjoy the view of all that is behind, alongside and in front of me, but especially what is below, holding me up in thin air.

All too quickly will come the descent into autumn, my stomach leaping into my chest with the lurch forward into the unknown.  As the climb to get here took so long, I am not quite ready for this inevitable drop back into the chill.

Hot or not, it’s best to celebrate this first week in August for all it’s splash and glare.  At least I’m swinging in what little breeze there is, endeavoring to capture the moment forever.

 

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The Suspense of August

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No wind, no bird. The river flames like brass.
On either side, smitten as with a spell
Of silence, brood the fields. In the deep grass,
Edging the dusty roads, lie as they fell
Handfuls of shriveled leaves from tree and bush.
But ’long the orchard fence and at the gate,
Thrusting their saffron torches through the hush,
Wild lilies blaze, and bees hum soon and late.
Rust-colored the tall straggling briar, not one
Rose left. The spider sets its loom up there
Close to the roots, and spins out in the sun
A silken web from twig to twig. The air
Is full of hot rank scents. Upon the hill
Drifts the noon’s single cloud, white, glaring, still.
~Lizette Woodworth Reese,  “August” from A Branch of May: Poems by Lizette Woodworth Reese

 

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August suspends me timeless. There is little that is new on the horizon, only a fading and withering of that which is already spent.  The carefully woven web frays and shreds, the blossom wilts, the dawn flares in, the twilight flames out.

I wake to dry stillness – no wind, no bird song –  the suspense of waiting and wondering what is coming next.

I prepare as best I can: today I gather.  Today I waste no time.

 

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Gather ye rose-buds while ye may, 
Old Time is still a-flying; 
And this same flower that smiles today 
Tomorrow will be dying. 
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun, 
The higher he’s a-getting, 
The sooner will his race be run, 
And nearer he’s to setting. 
That age is best which is the first, 
When youth and blood are warmer; 
But being spent, the worse, and worst 
Times still succeed the former. 
Then be not coy, but use your time, 
And while ye may, go marry; 
For having lost but once your prime, 
You may forever tarry.
~Robert Herrick “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time”

 

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