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.

The Heartbeat of Our Country

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Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.
~Martin Luther

 

 

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…the heart of this country does not beat in Washington, DC, nor does its soul lie in a seat of power, nor does its destiny lie in which party occupies which section of government.

No, those things all lie with… people like you and me, people who get up and go to work and love their tiny plot of Earth and whose hands are rough and hardened by loving and giving.
~Billy Coffey from “The Heart of this Land”

 

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You and I voted today, because we have the freedom and privilege to do so.

Yet our destiny does not lie with the counting of the ballots nor the results.

We have responsibility to our God, each other and our good earth.  One human election cannot surpass our need to keep planting apple trees to ensure the future is well fed.

 

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Afraid in the World

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Here is the world.
Beautiful and terrible things will happen.
Don’t be afraid.
~Frederich Buechner

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Most days I depend on beauty
happening in the most unexpected places
and go looking for it.

But when the unexpected terrible happens–
crushes, bleeds and fractures us apart,
and beauty appears to hide its face,
what I fear most
is that I’ll not ever see beauty again.

We are told:
the Words said
again and again and again
every single day,
if only we can hear,
if only we can assure others:

here I am with you in this broken world-
do not be afraid
do not be afraid
do not be afraid

 

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Going to Pieces

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fallenapple
Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.
~Martin Luther
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 …as the land around turns rocky and hollow…
I’d never suspected: every day,
Although the nation is done for,
I find new flowers.
~Donald Revell from “Election Year”
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…the heart of this country does not beat in Washington, DC, nor does its soul lie in a seat of power, nor does its destiny lie in which party occupies which section of government.

No, those things all lie with… people like you and me, people who get up and go to work and love their tiny plot of Earth and whose hands are rough and hardened by loving and giving.
~Billy Coffey from “The Heart of this Land”

 

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A Nation-Healing Tree of Life

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morningbird

Sometimes, hard-trying, it seems I cannot pray–
For doubt, and pain, and anger, and all strife.
Yet some poor half-fledged prayer-bird from the nest
May fall, flit, fly, perch–crouch in the bowery breast
Of the large, nation-healing tree of life;–
Moveless there sit through all the burning day,
And on my heart at night a fresh leaf cooling lay.
~George MacDonald from Diary of an Old Soul

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There can be no response today but to bow in earnest prayer, waiting for the hatch of a healing peace among the diverse peoples and opinions of our nation.

Our lives are half-fledged, not yet fully delivered nor understood, doubt burning into our flesh like thorns on fire.  We are an angry and hurting nation — today becoming those who won and those who lost.  The gloating bloats who we are, beyond recognition.

May our prayers rise like a dove from hearts in turmoil,  once again to soar on the wings of eagles.

Peace, come quickly.
Be no longer moveless.
Move us to higher ground.
Plow deep our hearts.

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Rotten to the Core

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First I shake the whole Apple tree, that the ripest might fall. Then I climb the tree and shake each limb, and then each branch and then each twig, and then I look under each leaf.
~Martin Luther

Any election cycle in a free country is indeed a free-for-all, with the loudest and brashest citizens shouting their personal opinions far and wide. This election season has been particularly noxious, with the presidential candidates and their followers talking over and above each other until no one bothers to listen.

Since this time around I have no candidate, my voice is meager in comparison. Some would say I have no say since I refuse to partake of rotten apples.

Yet on election day, each citizen, even the smallest and meekest, has the opportunity to express themselves, quietly and alone in a pas-de-deux between them and their personal ballot.  Their vote, whether checking a box next to a candidate name, or writing in an alternative, is just as significant.

With each news cycle, each debate, each Tweet, we just want to see this election over and done with.  We have shaken the electoral apple tree so hard that all the ripe and bitter and rotten fruit has fallen to the ground.  We then must cope with whatever harvest we reap with our votes.

Rarely do we find near-perfect fruit; this year it is already rotted on the branch, tainted from the start.

Some citizens vote along party lines only; the quality of the candidate is immaterial as long as they have the right party affiliation.  Other citizens turn over every leaf in detailed scrutiny of each candidate’s history and qualifications and vote character over platform.  This year there are citizens like myself who see nothing in the current candidates for president but worm holes leading to a fermented core of character rot.

Rotten to the core doesn’t even make edible applesauce.  It is good for nothing but the compost pile in the hope that the fertilizer of today it will somehow yield better fruit tomorrow.

In my opinion, this time around there is no candidate worthy to lead a country founded on the principles of equality for all individuals as well as preventing the tyranny of government in the personal lives of citizens. The candidates have fostered a confused and too-angry citizenry, divided and divisive, shaking our shared tree for all its worth to see what’s in it for us, thus threatening the life of the tree itself.

The moral foundation of our country is mocked by these deeply flawed individuals who believe they deserve to be in the Oval Office despite their dark personal histories, statements and actions.  This election has become all about them and what they want, not about the integrity our country desperately needs in its leaders.

So I pray for a day when we can set differences aside and raise up leaders who can as well. We must work together to care for the tree that bears the fruit needed for our children’s future. Let’s bury this year’s rot around the roots, water it generously and prune the old dead useless stuff away.  The branches will be stronger, the blossoms hearty and ready for pollination (if there are any bees left), and the resulting fruit more palatable.

Perhaps next time around the worms won’t win.

That’ll be the day.

When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President; I’m beginning to believe it.  ~Clarence Darrow

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Politics is Applesauce

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Politics is applesauce.
~Will Rogers
Our transparent apple trees are heavily burdened with fruit this year, to the point of breaking branches crashing to the ground with the weight. There have been plenty of windfalls, just perfect for making applesauce.

The transparent apple variety has a short window between fruit too green and sour before  becoming too soft and mealy.  With the hot weather, these thin-skinned apples will start to crack and turn to mush right on the tree without even letting go first.  So the time for applesauce is now, this week, ready or not.

Applesauce-making is one of my more satisfying domestic activities.  Peeling and coring apples is tedious, there are always a few bad spots to cut out, and there is the occasional wiggling worm to dispose of before cooking.  They make a tart sauce and need no sugar;  with all the careful preparation before the cooking, the result is smooth to the tongue and a lovely creamy light color, with all blemishes removed, extra unwanted wormy protein deposited in the compost bucket along with mountains of peel, cores and seeds.

Would that I could similarly pare out, peel off, dispose in the compost all the political opinions flooding my real and virtual mailboxes, the robo-calls coming into our unlisted phone number, the radio, TV and internet ads that burden us all until we crack and break under the weight.  Actually most of this year’s election fruit is already rotting on the tree, turning us all to mush in the process.  I’m weary just thinking about the millions, no billions, of dollars spent in advertising that could be used for far greater good and benefit for the citizenry.

The interminable process of selecting a president and members of Congress, as well as a governor and controversial initiatives can be so vile and mean-spirited that the whole kettle of sauce is spoiled.   I could cook it all day long and there still will be worms waving in the air, rotten cores festering, scabby peels floating on top, the bottom scalding with the heat of the cook stove.  How does a reasonable person decide what is best for the country when nothing is transparent at all in what politicians say versus what they do versus what the media says they do?

And how palatable will the political flavors be when all is said and done?   I guess we’ll need to wait until November to know how the messy mush of politics will taste.

Thankfully I will have stored up plenty of the real stuff in the freezer so we can drown our misery in the creaminess of summer apples prepared and cooked to perfection: no blemishes, no scabs, no rot, and no worms waving back.

What a world.

applesauce

Time at Arm’s Length

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morning113159

Light wakes us – there’s the sun
climbing the mountains’ rim, spilling across the valley,
finding our faces.
It is July,
            between the hay and harvest,
a time at arm’s length from all other time…

It is the time
to set aside all vigil, good or ill,
to loosen the fixed gaze of our attention
as dandelions let seedlings to the wind.
Wake with the light.
Get up and go about the day and watch
its surfaces that brighten with the sun.
~Kerry Hardie from “Sleep in Summer”

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sumasmountain

During intense election seasons like this one, I find myself seeking safety hiding under a rock where moderates tend to congregate.   There is no political convention for us with rousing impassioned speeches, photo-op embraces for the cameras, or balloons falling on our heads.

Extremist views serve to keep us at arm’s length, to make the opposition appear more clearly the “other.”  There is no discussion of compromise, negotiation or collaboration as that would be perceived as a sign of weakness.  Instead it is “my way or the wrong way” rather than “our way.”

No way.
There is no choosing a “lesser of evils” this time.
When evil is too great, it is never a choice.

And so it goes.  Each election cycle brings out the worst in our “leadership” as facts are distorted, the truth is stretched or completely abandoned, unseemly pandering abounds and curried favors are served for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Enough already.

I’m ready to come out from under the rock,
loosen my attention from campaign and election news
and find the Light on my face.

Thank God there is still a Light to shine in the darkness.

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The Thoughts We Cannot Say

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A hundred thousand birds salute the day:–
        One solitary bird salutes the night:
Its mellow grieving wiles our grief away,
        And tunes our weary watches to delight;
It seems to sing the thoughts we cannot say,
        To know and sing them, and to set them right;
Until we feel once more that May is May,
        And hope some buds may bloom without a blight.
This solitary bird outweighs, outvies,
        The hundred thousand merry-making birds
Whose innocent warblings yet might make us wise
Would we but follow when they bid us rise,
        Would we but set their notes of praise to words
And launch our hearts up with them to the skies.
~Christina Rossetti

birdsfilbertrain

It is hard work to feel morose in May –
yet with so much blooming blight
and wild reckless tweets and twittering
drowning us all –
Should such din and clatter
weigh heavily,
I seek a lightening of spirit
to rise far above,
launching my heart to the skies.

 

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Between Midnight and Dawn: As Warm As Tears

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As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.
Luke 19:41

 

Love’s as warm as tears,
Love is tears:
Pressure within the brain,
Tension at the throat,
Deluge, weeks of rain,
Haystacks afloat,
Featureless seas between
Hedges, where once was green.

Love’s as fierce as fire,
Love is fire:
All sorts–infernal heat
Clinkered with greed and pride,
Lyric desire, sharp-sweet,
Laughing, even when denied,
And that empyreal flame
Whence all loves came.

Love’s as fresh as spring,
Love is spring:
Bird-song hung in the air,
Cool smells in a wood,
Whispering ‘Dare! Dare!’
To sap, to blood,
Telling ‘Ease, safety, rest,
Are good; not best.’

Love’s as hard as nails,
Love is nails:
Blunt, thick, hammered through
The medial nerves of One
Who, having made us, knew
The thing He had done,
seeing (with all that is)
Our cross, and His.
~C.S. Lewis

hearttears

Jesus is reported to have wept twice in the gospels.  When informed His friend Lazarus was dead, He weeps in response to the grief and lack of faith demonstrated by friends and family even though they knew Jesus’ power to heal and restore.  The second time was on Palm Sunday, as triumphantly He approached Jerusalem and stopping, looked down upon the city, knowing what lay ahead.   This time the stakes were not the loss of one life, but the loss of an entire city due to the unbelief and lack of faith of its people.

Indeed, Jerusalem, still torn between factions, faiths and fanatics, has not really known peace ever since.

And our own country, more fractured and torn than ever before in living memory, is raising up its own version of factions and fanatics.  How can this end well?

I am struck by the compassion shown in the Lord’s tears.  These are not tears of self-pity, nor anticipation of His own imminent personal suffering, but tears shed over the continued blindness of mankind.  They expected the militant entrance of a victorious king, unaware their salvation rode into their midst on a donkey’s colt.

Can we not,  the impatient and ignorant electorate, learn from this?  — humility and sacrifice is far more powerful in the kingdom of God than weapons, verbal barbs and hatred.

Those sacred tears shed so long ago, and still shed, were never for Himself, but for us.

Human tears rolling down the face of God;
Divine tears washing the face of man.

Peace no longer is hidden from us; we know from where our help comes.
Now that we know, there are no excuses for our blindness.

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During this Lenten season, I will be drawing inspiration from the new devotional collection edited by Sarah Arthur —Between Midnight and Dawn