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”
I usually write at dawn during the shift change as the light switch is flipped on leaving me blinking and squinting to see what the morning will bring.
I need the quiet clarity of daybreak to prepare myself for what is to come.
Yet the fading light of dusk and advancing shadow of twilight soothes my soul and calms my heart as sky relinquishes sun to moon and stars.
The stage is bare, the audience hushed, waiting expectantly for the moment the curtain will be pulled back to reveal earth’s secrets once again.
This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen. ~Book of Common Prayer
Most days I am overwhelmed with words, whether they come from the radio, TV, podcasts, books, magazines, social media or simply dwelling in my own thoughts. I’m barraged with what to think, how to think, who to believe, who not to believe, and why to think at all.
I’m left desperate for a need for silence, just to quiet myself. All I need is to know what I am to do with this new day, how to best live this moment.
Then I come to the Word. It explains. It responds. It restores. It refreshes. It consoles. It understands. It embodies the Spirit I need far more than I need silence.
The words I seek to hear are far more than Words. They are God Himself.
Whenever I feel overwhelmed with the news of the day, so much of which is depressingly dismal, I remind myself that there is still an infiniteness to life beyond this challenging year. Time passes like an ever-flowing stream: months dissolve into months, years exhale into years.
I flow right along with it, carried by the current though sometimes futilely fighting against it, trying to keep my nose above water.
No matter what may happen, no matter my frustration or sadness at the state of the world, things are beautiful in the moment now.
Forever is made up of nows — lots and lots and lots of nows. May the Year of our Lord be now and evermore into the infinite.
May your love be firm, and may your dream of life together be a river between two shores— by day bathed in sunlight, and by night illuminated from within. May the heron carry news of you to the heavens, and the salmon bring the sea’s blue grace. May your twin thoughts spiral upward like leafy vines, like fiddle strings in the wind, and be as noble as the Douglas fir. May you never find yourselves back to back without love pulling you around into each other’s arms. ~James Bertolino “Wedding Toast” from Ravenous Bliss
It was a late June day predicted to be bathed in sunlight with a few clouds, and it ended up a day bathed solely in God’s own light, with cloudy skies, scant sun and a few showers, some from the sky and some from the eyes who witnessed your promised covenant to one another.
May you journey together on a road that reaches to infinity, with no bridges out, or deep ditches to fall into, or trees fallen, barring the path. There may be rough patches, and a fair amount of mud along the way, but always keep the horizon in focus.
May you find each other’s arms when you need them and give yourselves in service to the world when you are able.
And may you always remember your beginnings, next to the noble Douglas fir on a hill, where God in heaven smiled His Light down upon you through teary clouds.
Thou God, whose high, eternal Love Is the only blue sky of our life, Clear all the Heaven that bends above The life-road of this man and wife. May these two lives be but one note In the world’s strange-sounding harmony, Whose sacred music e’er shall float Through every discord up to Thee. As when from separate stars two beams Unite to form one tender ray: As when two sweet but shadowy dreams Explain each other in the day: So may these two dear hearts one light Emit, and each interpret each. Let an angel come and dwell tonight In this dear double-heart, and teach. ~Sidney Lanier “Wedding Hymn”
Today we will have a wedding (much much smaller than planned and socially distanced) on the hill on our farm. Lea and Brian had hoped for a different celebration of their marriage but 2020 has proven to challenge all expectations.
So instead, after a rainy rehearsal last night, we hope for a bit of sun today and warm hearts witnessing the union of these two precious people.
Our children and their weddings remind us of our own, of the covenant we made with one another and how God has blessed us over the years with the gift of Nate and now Tomomi, Ben and now Hilary and Lea and now Brian.
To every man His treehouse, A green splice in the humping years, Spartan with narrow cot And prickly door.
To every man His twilight flash Of luminous recall of tiptoe years in leaf-stung flight;
To every man His house below And his house above— With perilous stairs Between. ~James Emmanuel from “The Treehouse”
A shudder of joy runs up The trunk; the needles tingle; One bird uncontrollably cries. The wind changes round, and I stir Within another’s life. Whose life? Who is dead? Whose presence is living? When may I fall strangely to earth,
Who am nailed to this branch by a spirit? Can two bodies make up a third? To sing, must I feel the world’s light? My green, graceful bones fill the air With sleeping birds. Alone, alone And with them I move gently. I move at the heart of the world. ~James Dickey from “In the Treehouse at Night”
My father’s treehouse is twenty five years old this summer, lonesome and empty in our front yard, a constant reminder of his own abandoned Swiss Family Robinson dreams. Over the years, it has been the setting for a local children’s TV show, laser tag wars, sleep overs and tea parties, even my writer’s retreat with a deck side view of the Cascades to the east, the Canadian Coastal Range to the north and Puget Sound to the west. Now it is a sad shell no longer considered safe, as the support branches in our 100+ year old walnut tree are weakening with age and time. It is on our list of farm restoration projects, but other falling down buildings must be prioritized first.
My father’s dream began in February 1995 when our sons were 8 and 6 years old and our daughter just 2. We had plenty of recycled lumber on our old farm and an idea about what to build. Dad, retired from his desk job and having recently survived a lymphoma diagnosis and treatment, had many previous daunting building projects to his credit, and a few in his mind that he was yet to get to. He was eager to see what he could construct for his grandkids by spring time. He doodled out some sketches of what might work in the tree, and contemplated the physics of a 73 year old man scaling a tree vs. building on the ground and hoisting it up mostly completed. I got more nervous the more I thought about it and hoped we could consider a project less risky, and hoping the weather wouldn’t clear enough for construction to start any time soon.
The weather cleared as simultaneously my father’s health faded. His cancer relapsed and he was sidelined with a series of doctor’s appointments, hospitalizations and treatment courses. He hung on to that hope of getting the treehouse going by summer, still thinking it through in his mind, still evaluating what he would need to buy to supplement the materials already gathered and piled beneath the tree. In the mean time he lost physical strength day by day.
His dream needed to proceed as he fought his battle, so I borrowed library books on treehouses, and hired two college age brothers who lived down the road to get things started. I figured if my dad got well enough to build again, at least the risky stuff could be already done by the young guys. These brothers took their job very seriously. They pored over the books, took my dad’s plans, worked through the details and started in. They shinnied up the tree, put up pulleys on the high branches and placed the beams, hoisting them by pulling on the ropes with their car bumper. It was working great until the car bumper came off.
I kept my dad updated long distance with photos and stories. It was a diversion for him, but the far off look in his eye told me he wasn’t going to be building anything in this world ever again. He was gone by July. The treehouse was done a month later. It was everything my dad had dreamed of, and more. It had a deck, a protective railing, a trap door, a staircase. We had an open tree celebration and had 15 neighbors up there at once. I’m sure dad was sipping lemonade with us as well, enjoying the view.
Now all these years later, the treehouse is tilting on its foundation as the main weight bearing branch is weakening. We’ve declared it condemned, not wanting to risk an accident. As I look out my front window, it remains a daily reminder of past dreams fulfilled and unfulfilled. Much like my father’s body, the old walnut tree is weakening, hanging on by the roots, but its muscle strength is failing. It will, sometime, come down in one of our frequent fierce windstorms, just as its nearby partner did a few years ago.
The treehouse dream branched out in another way. One of the construction team brothers decided to try building his own as a place to live in his woods, using a Douglas Fir tree as the center support and creating an octagon, two stories, 30 feet off the ground. He worked on it for two years and moved in, later marrying someone who decided a treehouse was just fine with her, and for 20+ years, they’ve been raising five children there. The treehouse kids are old enough to come work for me on our farm, a full circle feeling for me. This next generation is carrying on a Swiss Family Robinson dream that began in my father’s mind and our front yard.
I still have a whole list full of dreams myself, some realized and some deferred by time, resources and the limits of my imagination. I feel the clock ticking too, knowing that the years and the seasons slip by me faster and faster as I near the age my father was when he first learned he had cancer. It would be a blessing to me to see others live out the dreams I have held so close.
Like my father, I will some day teeter in the wind like our old tree, barely hanging on. When ready to fall to the ground, I’ll reach out with my branches and hand off my dreams too. The time will have come to let them go. Thank you, Dad, for handing me yours.
Have you ever seen anything in your life more wonderful
than the way the sun, every evening, relaxed and easy, floats toward the horizon
and into the clouds or the hills, or the rumpled sea, and is gone– and how it slides again
out of the blackness, every morning, on the other side of the world, like a red flower
streaming upward on its heavenly oils, say, on a morning in early summer, at its perfect imperial distance– and have you ever felt for anything such wild love– do you think there is anywhere, in any language, a word billowing enough for the pleasure
that fills you, as the sun reaches out, as it warms you
as you stand there, empty-handed– or have you too turned from this world–
or have you too gone crazy for power, for things? ~Mary Oliver “The Sun”
Today we stand, wavering, on the cusp of light and shadow~ this knowledge of what’s to come rests deep in our bones.
We’ve been here before, empty-handed, bidding the sun to return.
We can not forget: as darkness begins to claim our days again, lest we be swallowed up by our hunger for power and things.
We must remember: He promised to never let darkness overwhelm us again and it won’t.
The crow’s voice filtered through the walls of the farmhouse makes sounds of a rusty car engine turning over. Clouds on a north wind that whistles softly and cold. Spruce trees planted in a line on the south side of the house weave and scrape at the air. I’ve walked to a far field to a fence line of rocks where I am surprised to see soft mud this raw day. No new tracks in the mud, only desiccated grass among the rocks, a bare grove of trees in the distance, a blue sky thin as an eggshell with a crack of dark geese running through it, their voices faint and almost troubled as they disappear in a wedge that has opened at last the cold heart of winter. ~Tom Hennen, “Early Spring in the Field” from Darkness Sticks to Everything: Collected and New Poems.
I shouldn’t be turning on the heat in the house on a late May morning but there is still an undeniable chill, even at this point in spring. The flowers outside are lush, but we’re still two or three weeks behind our usual bloom schedule.
We’re all impatient to be done with the coldness of a winter that has driven a wedge between people and politics, families and friends, well and ill.
We seek warmth and renewal and hugs and handshakes.
Instead we are asked for patience, to continue to practice the art of waiting for a safe reentry to spring and summer. No one wants to be tossed brutally back to the winter we just crawled away from.
May we emerge together, muddied but whole, ready to face whatever comes next.