A Listening Walk

I took the dog and went to walk
in the auditorium of the woods,
but not to get away from things.
It was our habit, that was all,
a thing we did on summer days,
and much there was to listen to.
A slight wind came and went
in three birches by the pond.
A crow uphill was going on
about the black life it led,
and a brown creeper went creeping up
a brown trunk methodically
with no record of ever having
been understood by anyone.
A woodpecker was working out
a deep hole from the sound of it
in a stand of dead trees up there.
And then a jay, much put upon,
complained about some treachery
it may or may not have endured,
though most are liars anyway.
The farther in, the quieter,
till only the snapping of a stick
broke the silence we were in.
The dog stood still and looked at me,
the woods by then already dark.
Much later, on the porch at night,
I heard the owl, an eldritch thing.
The dog, still with me, heard it too,
a call that came from where we’d been,
and where we would not be again.
~John Foy, “Woods,” from Night Vision

photo of brown creeper from American Bird Conservancy
photo of stellar jay from allaboutbirds.org
photo by Ken Schults for National Audubon Society

We live near fields and woods so the evening walks we take with the dogs are listening walks. There is always plenty to hear.

It is an immense relief to hear something other than the talking heads on TV or podcasts. The voices we hear in the woods are unconcerned about upcoming elections, pandemics or the state of the economy.

I listen for the sound of breezes rustling the tree branches, the crunch of sticks and dry leaves under my boots, and more often than not, the woodpeckers tapping away at tree trunks, eagles chittering from the treetops, and unseen owls visiting back and forth from their hidey-holes.
The red-tailed hawks scream out warnings as they float from tree top to tree top, particularly upset that we’ve brought along the corgis into their territory.

So, like the outside world, this woods has its own talking heads and drama, but I know who I will listen to and where I prefer to hang out if given a choice. I understand I’m only a visitor to their world and will be invited back only as long as we tread softly.

Until next time then, until next time.

Who Are These People?

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photo by Kate Steensma

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The snow piles in dark places are gone.
Pools by the railroad tracks shine clear.
The gravel of all shallow places shines.
A white pigeon reels and somersaults.

Frogs plutter and squdge—and frogs beat the air with a recurring thin steel sliver of melody.
Crows go in fives and tens; they march their black feathers past a blue pool; they celebrate an old festival.
A spider is trying his webs, a pink bug sits on my hand washing his forelegs.
I might ask: Who are these people?
~Carl Sandburg “Just Before April Came”

crow

There are no creatures you cannot love.
A frog calling at God
From the moon-filled ditch
As you stand on the country road in the June night.
The sound is enough to make the stars weep
With happiness.
In the morning the landscape green
Is lifted off the ground by the scent of grass.
The day is carried across its hours
Without any effort by the shining insects
That are living their secret lives.
The space between the prairie horizons
Makes us ache with its beauty.
Cottonwood leaves click in an ancient tongue
To the farthest cold dark in the universe.
The cottonwood also talks to you
Of breeze and speckled sunlight.
You are at home in these
great empty places
along with red-wing blackbirds and sloughs.
You are comfortable in this spot
so full of grace and being
that it sparkles like jewels
spilled on water.
~Tom Hennen “A Country Overlooked”

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It is simply too easy to think of others as “those people” — they are not like me, they don’t dress like me, they don’t look like me, they don’t talk like me, they don’t love like me, they don’t act like me, they just aren’t me in any recognizable way.

Yet I’m the blinded one who cannot see how similar we are.

Whether I have eight legs or two, whether I have wings or arms, whether I “plutter and squdge” or sing arias,  whether I am green or brown or speckled, there is no creature I cannot love as brother or sister.

Instead of wondering “who are these people?” I will be comfortable in this spot in the spectrum of life I’m been given, in an act so full of grace and being.

 

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Stillness in the Field

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Wheels of baled hay bask in October sun:
Gold circles strewn across the sloping field,
They seem arranged as if each one
Has found its place; together they appeal
To some glimpsed order in my mind
Preceding my chance pausing here —
A randomness that also seems designed.
Gold circles strewn across the sloping field
Evoke a silence deep as my deep fear
Of emptiness; I feel the scene requires
A listener who can respond with words, yet who
Prolongs the silence that I still desire,
Relieved as clacking crows come flashing through,
Whose blackness shows chance radiance of fire.
Yet stillness in the field remains for everyone:
Wheels of baled hay bask in October sun.
~Robert Pack “Baled Hay”

 

Each day I am called to see and listen,
to open fully to all that is around me.
From the simple stillness of the fields
surrounding our farm,
to the weeping of those who sit with me
day after day
in their deep fear of emptiness,
their struggle with whether to try to live
or give up and die.

Their profound emptiness renders me silent;
I struggle to respond with words
that offer up healing,
assuring them even in the darkest time
hope lies waiting, radiant as fire,
to bear us silently to a new morning,
to a stillness borne of grace.

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The Wait’s Begun Again

crow

…I only know that a rook
Ordering its black feathers can so shine
As to seize my senses, haul
My eyelids up, and grant

A brief respite from fear
Of total neutrality. With luck,
Trekking stubborn through this season
Of fatigue, I shall
Patch together a content

Of sorts. Miracles occur,
If you care to call those spasmodic
Tricks of radiance miracles. The wait’s begun again,
The long wait for the angel.
For that rare, random descent.
~Sylvia Plath from “Black Rook in Rainy Weather”

 

But it is no trick of radiance nor random.
It was planned and real, this descent,
and yes,
He seizes us and does not let go.
No reason to fear neutrality
as He makes it impossible to be neutral.
We wait, a long wait
and tire of waiting,
but there is content in the wait.
A wide awake, eyelids-now-opened
content.

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Plutter and Squidge

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

Frogs plutter and squidge—and frogs beat the air with a recurring thin steel sliver of melody.
Crows go in fives and tens; they march their black feathers past a blue pool; they celebrate an old festival.
A spider is trying his webs, a pink bug sits on my hand washing his forelegs.
I might ask: Who are these people?
~Carl Sandburg from “Just Before April Came”

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten
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photo by Josh Scholten

Late February Days

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

Late February days; and now, at last,
Might you have thought that
Winter’s woe was past;
So fair the sky was and so soft the air.
The happy birds were hurrying here and there,
as something soon would happen…

–  William Morris from Earthly Paradise

We’ve had a pair of bald eagles who return every winter to our hilltop farm.  They like the high perches offered by our tall Douglas fir trees providing them a 360 degree view of the surrounding countryside and fields.  I suspect their nest is nearby, if not in our woods.  They were back today, full of conversation and gossip, chittering back and forth like a couple of sparrows, only much louder and much much bigger/grander.  The regular inhabitants of our fir trees — crows and red-tailed hawks — are quite put out at the encroachment of eagles on their territory.  They fly about the trees angrily, with scolding and harassing calls.

But the eagles reign wherever they set down talons.  There is simply nothing to argue about.  My only worry about having them in the yard is how vulnerable our cats might be when the wild bunny pickings get thin.   Otherwise I appreciate the eagles for the good neighbors they are.  They keep the rodent population under control, they are polite and don’t throw raucous parties at night, and they have a stable long term marriage, something I deeply respect.

So when their chirpy dialogue quiets down for the night and the hoot owls start in, I think about how much I always miss all this conversation during the silent nights of deep winter.  Happy birds are back, a truly hopeful sign that we are passing into spring, and something soon will happen…