~Paul Piper “Dog and Snow”
I’m much more like sheep, seeking out the comfort of the flock when the chill gets to be too much.
No one ever regarded the First of January with indifference.
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
~T.S. Eliot “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
This New Year, like so many that have come before, arrives with the ordinary revelry, yet a lingering odor remains. All is not as it appears and is faintly disturbing. Like a dog joyfully rolling in something stinky simply because it was there and he just happened upon it, 2017 may look squeaky clean but reeks of what has come before. It can’t be ignored and, even brand new, is already badly in need of a bath.
I too tend to prefer things familiar, safe and routine, even if that means I roll about where I shouldn’t, still smelling like yesterday, if not last month. It’s time I stop being indifferent to the passage of time and the change that it brings. There is no turning back or staying stubbornly with how things used to be. Time leads irrevocably forward, with me in tow, and I must follow, acutely aware much more of my life has been lived out than lies ahead of me.
Do I dare disturb my own comfortable universe? Or continue to disturb others with that lingering odor?
Perhaps this new year I will try walking a slower walk, even in the rain or snow, stay clear of the stinky stuff, take time to look at all things with new eyes, breathe each cleansing breath appreciatively, keenly aware it was not my last.
Then others near me might breathe more freely.
photo by Emily Gibson
At the old Polish gardener’s
There’s a young cat
Under the potting shed
Where she was born
Her face is decorated
With daubs and smudges
And streaks of black
As if she were made up to be a clown
In some mysterious carnival
I gaze at her in wonder
She gazes back
With her clear golden eyes.
~Anne Porter “A Village Cat”
Our stub-tailed calico Bobbie came to live here eleven years ago when her physician owner needed to move out of the area and couldn’t take her along. She arrived with a van full of cat furniture from her luxurious indoor house cat existence — a cat house, a cat tree, a cat bed, her own large chair and lots of toys. I gently explained Bobbie would be living the life of an outdoor farm cat from here on, but her stuff was unloaded and after a tearful goodbye, her mom left.
Bobbie took one look around the farm and claimed it as hers, much to the chagrin of several long term resident farm cats and corgi dogs. She has been the Queen here ever since, greeting any new visitors with royal demeanor and occasionally allowing a stroke of her colorful fur only if it is offered with proper respect and deference.
Her favorite person is our Japanese daughter-in-law, Tomomi, and Bobbie greets her affectionately during her summer visits — no one else is allowed such access to her Royal Highness.
Bobbie, in her uncanny wisdom, knows a quality person when she sees one.
Bobbie will frequently accompany us on walk-abouts on the farm – oh, excuse me, your Highness, I’ll correct myself — we and the corgis are allowed to accompany her on walk-abouts on the farm.
Just to make sure the corgis understand her ownership of all things, she will enter the dog pen while they are out doing chores with me and then remain until their return, striking terror in their little inferior canine brains as they try to decide whether to re-claim their territory and food bowls — or not. Until she decides it is time to elegantly stroll in a leisurely manner out of their pen, they are stymied with fear and refuse to reenter.
Bobbie has climbed every tree, explored every building including the roofs, and won’t sleep in the same place more than one night in a row. No surrogate cat house, tree, chair or toys for this cat.
She is the Queen, after all, and when we are fixed under her golden eyed gaze, we aren’t about to forget: we are her subjects and forever will be.
“May the hair on your toes never fall out!”
— J.R.R. Tolkien in The Hobbit (Thorin Oakenshield addressing Bilbo Baggins)
Tolkien’s Hairy Toes Blessing has been one of my more popular blog posts when I have posted it before, most likely because our corgis are just like hobbits with irresistible hairy toes. Yet the message itself goes beyond cute: it is indeed a good thing to give and receive blessings.
It’s a safe bet my toes and your toes have never been subjected to such a blessing. But I like the idea of blessings starting from the bottom up, encompassing our most humble and homely parts first.
The world would be a better place if we rediscovered the art of bestowing blessings–those specific prayers of favor and protection that reinforce community and connection to each other and to something larger than ourselves. They have become passé in a modern society where God’s relationship with and blessing of His people is not much more than an after-thought. Benedictions must extend beyond the end of worship services to all tender partings; wedding receptions can go beyond roasting and toasting to encompass sincere prayers for a future life together.
Today especially necessitates a special blessing not invoking hairy toes: our daughter moves several hours away to start her first permanent teaching job, so I send the following blessing with her as she drives away to start her new life (shared by my dear friend Alice in New York):
…Have joy and peace in the temple of your senses.
Receive encouragement when new frontiers beckon.
Respond to the call of your gift and the courage to follow its path….
May warmth of heart keep your presence aflame.
May anxiety never linger about you.
May your outer dignity mirror an inner dignity of soul.
Take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek no attention.
Be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul.
May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.
~John O’Donohue from “Blessing for Presence” from To Bless the Space Between Us
A few feathery flakes are scattered widely through the air,
and hover downward with uncertain flight,
now almost alighting on the earth,
now whirled again aloft into remote regions of the atmosphere.
It was a fairy-tale world, child-like and funny.
Boughs of trees adorned with thick pillows,
so fluffy someone must have plumped them up;
the ground a series of humps and mounds,
beneath which slinking underbrush or outcrops of rock lay hidden;
a landscape of crouching, cowering gnomes in droll disguises—
it was comic to behold, straight out of a book of fairy tales.
But if there was something roguish and fantastic
about the immediate vicinity through which you laboriously made your way,
the towering statues of snow-clad Alps,
gazing down from the distance,
awakened in you feelings of the sublime and holy.
~Thomas Mann from The Magic Mountain
“You wake up on a winter morning and pull up the shade, and what lay there the evening before is no longer there–
the sodden gray yard, the dog droppings, the tire tracks in the frozen mud, the broken lawn chair you forgot to take in last fall.
All this has disappeared overnight, and what you look out on is not the snow of Narnia but the snow of home,
which is no less shimmering and white as it falls.
The earth is covered with it, and it is falling still in silence so deep that you can hear its silence.
It is snow to be shoveled, to make driving even worse than usual, snow to be joked about and cursed at,
but unless the child in you is entirely dead,
it is snow, too, that can make the heart beat faster when it catches you by surprise that way,
before your defenses are up.
It is snow that can awaken memories of things more wonderful than anything you ever knew or dreamed.”
You should see my corgis at sunset in the snow.
It’s their finest hour. About five o’clock they glow like copper.
Then they come in and lie in front of the fire like a string of sausages.
“one day you stepped in snow,
the next in mud,
water soaked in your boots and froze them at night,
it was the next worst thing to pure blizzardry,
it was weather that wouldn’t let you settle.”
Snow not falling but flying sidewise, and sudden,
not signaled by the slow curdling of clouds all day
and a flake or two drifting downward,
but rushing forward all at once as though sent for.
And filling up the world’s concavities,
pillowing up in the gloaming,
making night light with its whiteness,
and then falling still in every one’s dreams…
“The smallest snowstorm on record took place an hour ago in my back yard.
It was approximately two flakes.
I waited for more to fall, but that was it.
The entire storm was two flakes.”
Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.
The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.
And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question ‘Whither?’
Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?
~Robert Frost “Reluctance”