All afternoon his tractor pulls a flat wagon with bales to the barn, then back to the waiting chopped field. It trails a feather of smoke. Down the block we bend with the season: shoes to polish for a big game, storm windows to batten or patch. And how like a field is the whole sky now that the maples have shed their leaves, too. It makes us believers—stationed in groups, leaning on rakes, looking into space. We rub blisters over billows of leaf smoke. Or stand alone, bagging gold for the cold days to come. ~David Baker “Neighbors in October”
There is a desperation to these October days: the leaves torn from branches by unrelenting gusts with no thought to where they may land~ upon which patch of grass or gravel will be their final resting place to wilt and wither in the rain, under frost, buried by eventual peaceful snowbanks until they return to dust.
Or in my need to hold on to what I can of what was, I preserve a few like precious treasure, tucked between book pages to remain forever neighbors with the words they embrace.
A book with beautiful words and photography (but no leaves tucked inside) is available to order here:
He loved to ask his mother questions. It was the pleasantest thing for him to ask a question and then to hear what answer his mother would give. Bambi was never surprised that question after question should come into his mind continually and without effort.
Sometimes he felt very sure that his mother was not giving him a complete answer, was intentionally not telling him all she knew. For then there would remain in him such a lively curiosity, such suspicion, mysteriously and joyously flashing through him, such anticipation, that he would become anxious and happy at the same time, and grow silent. ~Felix Salten from Bambi
A Wounded Deer—leaps highest— I’ve heard the Hunter tell— ‘Tis but the Ecstasy of death— And then the Brake is still! ~Emily Dickinson from “165″
My first time ever seated next to my mother in a movie theater, just a skinny four year old girl practically folded up in half by a large padded chair whose seat won’t stay down, bursting with anticipation to see Disney’s Bambi.
Enthralled with so much color, motion, music, songs and fun characters, I am wholly lost in a new world of animated reality when suddenly Bambi’s mother looks up, alarmed, from eating a new clump of spring grass growing in the snow.
My heart leaps with worry. She tells him to run for the thicket, the safest place where she has always kept him warm next to her.
She follows behind, tells him to run faster, not to look back, don’t ever look back.
Then the gun shot hits my belly too.
My stomach twists as he cries out for his mother, pleading for her. I know in my heart she is lost forever, sacrificed for his sake.
I sob as my mother reaches out to me, telling me not to look. I bury my face inside her hug, knowing Bambi is cold and alone with no mother at all.
My mama took me home before the end. I could not bear to watch the rest of the movie for years.
Those cries still echo in my ears every time someone hunts and shoots to kill the innocent.
Now, my own children are grown, they have babies of their own, my mom is gone from this earth, I can even keep the seat from folding me up in a movie theater.
I am in my seventh decade, and there are still places in this world where mothers and fathers sons and daughters grandmothers and grandfathers sisters and brothers and babies are hunted down despite the supposed safety of the thicket~ of the sanctuary, the school, the grocery store, the home, where we believe we are shielded from violence.
There is innocence no longer, if there ever was.
A book of beauty in words and photography, available to order here:
I went out to cut a last batch of zinnias this morning from the back fencerow and got my shanks chilled for sure: furrowy dark gray clouds with separating fringes of blue sky-grass: and the dew
beaded up heavier than the left-overs of the rain: in the zinnias, in each of two, a bumblebee stirring in slow motion. Trying to unwind the webbed drug of cold, buzzing occasionally but
with a dry rattle: bees die with the burnt honey at their mouths, at least: the fact’s established: it is not summer now and the simmering buzz is out of heat: the zucchini blossoms falling show squash
overgreen with stunted growth: the snapdragons have suckered down into a blossom or so: we passed into dark last week the even mark of day and night and what we hoped would stay we yield to change. ~A.R. Ammons “Equinox”
We yield now to the heaviness of the change; a slowing of our walk and the darkening of our days.
It is time: day and night compete, and neither wins.
They were smooth ovals, and some the shade of potatoes— some had been moth-eaten or spotted, the maples were starched, and crackled like campfire.
We put them under tracing paper and rubbed our crayons over them, X-raying the spread of their bones and black, veined catacombs.
We colored them green and brown and orange, and cut them out along the edges, labeling them deciduous or evergreen.
All day, in the stuffy air of the classroom, with its cockeyed globe, and nautical maps of ocean floors, I watched those leaves
lost in their own worlds flap on the pins of the bulletin boards: without branches or roots, or even a sky to hold on to. ~Judith Harris “Gathering Leaves in Grade School”
They are more like us than we care to admit: veined and ribbed, some wide, some thin, lots with sharp edges, others rounded, a variety of colors and shapes, twisting this way and that with the breeze, over-eager to let go, explore wide open spaces yet finding themselves blown and broken thrown far from home and roots with nothing left to hold on to, destined to dust, longing to return to branch and connection.
Even so- even so, when we are let go, we are thinking: oh, what a life!
A book of beauty in words and photography available to order here:
Under the harvest moon, When the soft silver Drips shimmering over the garden nights, Death, the gray mocker, Comes and whispers to you As a beautiful friend Who remembers.
Under the summer roses When the flagrant crimson Lurks in the dusk Of the wild red leaves, Love, with little hands, Comes and touches you With a thousand memories, And asks you Beautiful, unanswerable questions. ~Carl Sandburg, “Under the Harvest Moon”
As we enter the season of all that is lush and lovely which starts to wither and decay before our eyes, we know the flowers and trees aren’t alone. Death, whispering within its gray night’s cloak, has been stealing the young and old since time began, but never as boldly as during a pandemic. Millions of family members are left with nothing but bittersweet memories of their loved ones now buried deep.
The harvest moon – not nearly bright enough, as a poor reflection of the sun – mocks us who covet light during a rampage of contagious illness and death.
As we endure the searing beauty of yet another dying season, let us treasure those we protect through our care and concern. Let us cherish the memories of those we’ve lost. There can be only one answer to the unanswerable questions: Love itself died to become Salvation, an ever-sufficient Light that leads us home.
A book of beauty in words and photos is available to order here:
Echo of the clocktower, footstep in the alleyway, sweep of the wind sifting the leaves.
Jeweller of the spiderweb, connoisseur of autumn’s opulence, blade of lightning harvesting the sky.
Keeper of the small gate, choreographer of entrances and exits, midnight whisper travelling the wires.
Seducer, healer, deity, or thief, I will see you soon enough– in the shadow of the rainfall, in the brief violet darkening a sunset — but until then I pray watch over him as a mountain guards its covert ore
and the harsh falcon its flightless young. ~Dana Gioia “The Prayer” (written in memory of his infant son who died of SIDS)
When we think of those who wait for us on the other side, including our baby lost before birth 38 years ago…
We pray those from whom we are parted are loved as we have loved.
I know God will watch over all these reunions; He knows the moment when our fractured hearts heal whole once again.
I will see you soon enough, sweet one. Soon enough.
A peaceful book of beauty in words and pictures, available to order here:
The soul’s sap quivers. There is no earth smell Or smell of living thing. This is the spring time But not in time’s covenant. Now the hedgerow Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom Of snow, a bloom more sudden Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading, Not in the scheme of generation. Where is the summer, the unimaginable Zero summer?
We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time. Through the unknown, unremembered gate When the last of earth left to discover Is that which was the beginning;
And all shall be well and All manner of thing shall be well When the tongues of flames are in-folded Into the crowned knot of fire And the fire and the rose are one. ~T.S. Eliot – lines taken from “Little Gidding”
As a grade school child in November 1963, I learned the import of the U.S. flag being lowered to half mast in response to the shocking and violent death of our President. The lowering of the flag was so rare when I was growing up, it had dramatic effect on all who passed by — our soul’s sap quivers — something very sad had happened to our country, something or someone had tragically ended, warranting our silence and our stillness.
For twenty years since 9/11/01, our flag has spent significant time at half mast, so much so that I’m befuddled instead of contemplative, puzzling over what the latest loss might be as there are so many, sometimes all happening in the same time frame. We no longer are silenced by this gesture of honor and respect and we certainly are not stilled, personally and corporately instigating and suffering the same mistakes against humanity over and over again.
We are so bent. Will we ever be mended again?
Eliot wrote the prescient words of the Four Quartets in the midst of the WWII German bombing raids that destroyed people and neighborhoods. Perhaps he sensed the destruction he witnessed would not be the last time in history that evil visits the innocent, leaving them in ashes. There would be so many more losses to come, not least being the horror of 9/11/01.
There remains so much more sadness to be borne, such abundance of grief that our world has become overwhelmed and stricken. Yet Eliot was right: we have yet to live in a Zero summer of endless hope and fruitfulness, of spiritual awakening and understanding. Where is it indeed? When will rise again the summer Rose of beauty and fragrance?
We must return, as people of faith to Eliot’s still point to which we are called on a day such as today. We must be stilled; we must be silenced. We must grieve the losses of this turning world and pray for release from the suffering we cause and we endure. Only in the asking, only in the kneeling down and pleading, are we surrounded by God’s unbounded grace and His Rose may bloom recognizable again.
there are no words there is no song is there a balm that can heal these wounds that will last a lifetime long and when the stars have burned to dust hand in hand we still will stand because we must
in one single hour in one single day we were changed forever something taken away and there is no fire that can melt this heavy stone that can bring back the voices and the spirits of our own
all the brothers, sisters and lovers all the friends that are gone all the chairs that will be empty in the lives that will go on can we ever forgive though we never will forget can we believe in the milk of human goodness yet
we were forged in freedom we were born in liberty we came here to stop the twisted arrows cast by tyranny and we won’t bow down we are strong of heart we are a chain together that won’t be pulled apart
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The tree is more than first a seed, then a stem, then a living trunk, and then dead timber. The tree is a slow, enduring force straining to win the sky. ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Wisdom of the Sands
It is always a difficult decision to take down decades-old trees that have become a risk of falling in a windstorm or losing branches that can cause damage. The time had come for the row of Lombardy poplars lining our western property line, originally planted in the 70s to create a buffer for a newly constructed farm building at our neighbors’ place. In their old age, the poplars were breaking and failing.
Yesterday they were felled by a tree expert who knew exactly how to bring them down in a tight area, leaving an open expanse we are adjusting to seeing. We are considering what might eventually take their place.
We have a few other dying trees on the farm we must part with soon, victims of recent drought years. It feels like parting with old friends. Each one reached to win the sky, but like us, must end up as dust.
And so we too are so much more than mere life cycle: like trees, we are infinite variety and fascinating diversity, clothed in finery yet at times naked and vulnerable; we lift burdens in our arms and harbor the frail, dig our roots deep and hold fast, shade those overcome by the sun, and sing in the breeze.
Most of all, we aim high to touch and win a sky which remains beyond our grasp.
(Our lone fir on top of the hill is doing just fine and she remains our sentinel tree and farm focal point, trying to touch the jet planes that ascend from the nearby Vancouver, B.C. airport in the top pictures)
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He is a hard one to write a poem about. Like Napoleon. Hannibal. Genghis Khan. Already so large in history. To do it right, I have to sit down with him. At a place of his own choosing. Probably a steakhouse. We take a table in a corner. But people still recognize him, come up and slap him on the back, say how much they enjoyed studying about him in school and ask for his autograph. After he eats, he leans back and lights up a cigar and asks me what I want to know. Notebook in hand, I suggest that we start with the Little Big Horn and work our way back. But I realize I have offended him. That he would rather take it the other way around. So he rants on about the Civil War, the way west, the loyalty of good soldiers and now and then twists his long yellow hair with his fingers. But when he gets to the part about Sitting Bull, about Crazy Horse, he develops a twitch above his right eye, raises his finger for the waiter, excuses himself and goes to the restroom while I sit there along the bluffs with the entire Sioux nation, awaiting his return. ~David Shumate “Custer” from High Water Mark
When my family took two cross-country trips by car, once in 1963 and another in 1965, my father, a former officer and battalion leader in the Marines during WWII, was the primary driver and keeper of maps and deadlines. He could be convinced to stop at any number of state and national parks, points of interest and historical markers, but all four times we passed the sign indicating the Battle of the Little Bighorn, he would not stop despite our pleading.
“You’ve seen as much as there is up there,” he would say as we sped past, pointing at the marble monolith at the top of the hill where the battle took place. I would look around at the desolate countryside of brown grass with no trees, in the middle of nowhere, and wonder how this place could ever have warranted a battle to the death.
Then I would get mad at my dad’s refusal to stop to learn more.
I had certainly learned about General George Custer’s Last Stand in my elementary school history lessons. But my interest was primarily driven by a 1958 Disney movie “Tonka Wakan” that I had seen in the theater and then later on Sunday nights on “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.” I thought I understood the tragedy of that day from the standpoint of the U.S. Calvary and the only surviving horse Comanche, who in the Disney-imagined version of the battle, was raised and trained by a young Indian boy who turned the horse over to the calvary and then later was part of the Little Bighorn Battle in defense of Indian territory.
So I had a very skewed and Disney-fied version of history and my father was not helping me understand more deeply. It wasn’t until much later that I realized the likely reason he was so reluctant to stop and examine the history of the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
My father was ashamed of it. He was a humble man who knew there could be no pride or sense of honor in that place.
He had very likely been trained in his Marine Officer’s Training in 1942 to understand that the poor decision-making of a cocky, overly self-assured General Custer led to the slaughter of five companies of the 7th Calvary Regiment as well as their Indian scouts in addition to dozens of Lakota and Dakota Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapahoe warriors.
My father had lived through three South Pacific island battles where poor decision-making was a death sentence. He didn’t feel the need to rehash the history in this desolate part of Montana.
As an adult, I’ve visited the Battlefield with my husband and children several times, have learned more about what led to the battle, what took place that day and how the indigenous people of the region have memorialized the spot from their own perspective. When we approach this spot on our cross-country drives, I’m filled with regret and remorse at the loss of life and the eventual loss of a Native American culture that could never again be as it was, despite the defeat they handed to the cavalry that day. I learned more when our son lived and taught high school math on the Pine Ridge Reservation of the Lakota Sioux people and we visited the site of Wounded Knee, another tear-drenched place in U.S. Cavalry and Native American history.
We, all descendants of immigrant Americans, comprise the U.S. government and military which doesn’t always make the best or wisest decisions. This is haunting us again this week in the miserably managed ending of the twenty-year war in Afghanistan that has cost so many American and Afghan lives – certainly beyond the scale of the horrific one day defeat at the Little Bighorn River. This long drawn-out complicated response to the attacks we suffered on 9/11/01, ended with yet more tragic bloodshed as we left so many vulnerable behind.
War, suffering, loss and death cannot and should not be Disney-fied. History is more complex than a paragraph in a textbook.
We have so much to learn about our shame and our need for greater humility. We need to understand who we have offended, not just how offended we feel. We can’t hide in the bathroom or drive on past the sites of these bloody conflicts, hoping it will all be forgotten.
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