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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I dwell in Possibility – A fairer House than Prose – More numerous of Windows – Superior – for Doors –
Of Chambers as the Cedars – Impregnable of eye – And for an everlasting Roof The Gambrels of the Sky –
Of Visitors – the fairest – For Occupation – This – The spreading wide my narrow Hands To gather Paradise – ~Emily Dickinson
The possibilities contained within a Dickinson poem are doors and windows standing wide open for interpretation and comprehension. When I visit Emily’s dwelling full of mysterious capitalizations, inscrutable dashes and sideways rhymes, I am blind, get easily lost, stumbling over this and that, and end up wondering where she is leading me and how far I’m willing to go.
Yet she tells me – This – to get my attention, hold it fast, to look up and out, beyond, and into forever.
-This- is what I must do when I read her carefully chosen words and dashes -This- is what I ask of a reader who opens my email or comes to my daily post -This- is us dwelling in possibility for a moment or an eternity, all eyes and windows and doors wide open to grasp a glimpse of Paradise.
-This- is our hands spread, ready to gather, to hold, to embrace, to pray, to fold to prepare us for Whatever Comes Next…
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Sometimes I have loved the peacefulness of an ordinary Sunday. It is like standing in a newly planted garden after a warm rain. You can feel the silent and invisible life. ~Marilynne Robinson from Gilead
It is ordinary time, in the church calendar and in my life…
As I am covered with Sabbath rest quiet and deep as if planted in soil finally warming from a too long winter~
I realize there is nothing ordinary about what is happening in the church, in the world, or in me.
We are called by the Light to push away from darkness, to reach to the sky, to grasp and bloom and fruit.
We begin as mere and ordinary seed.
Therefore, nothing is more extraordinary than an ordinary Sunday.
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Love, we are in God’s hand. How strange now, looks the life he makes us lead; So free we seem, so fettered fast we are!
Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for? ~Robert Browning from “Andrea del Sarto”
We have had names for you: The Thunderer, the Almighty Hunter, Lord of the snowflake and the sabre-toothed tiger. One name we have held back unable to reconcile it with the mosquito, the tidal wave, the black hole into which time will fall. You have answered us with the image of yourself on a hewn tree, suffering injustice, pardoning it; pointing as though in either direction; horrifying us with the possibility of dislocation. Ah, love, with your arms out wide, tell us how much more they must still be stretched to embrace a universe drawing away from us at the speed of light. ~R.S.Thomas “Tell Us”
Ah, Love You the Incarnate, stretched and fettered to a tree
arms out wide embracing us who try to grasp a heaven which eludes us
this heaven, Your heaven brought down to us within your wounded grip and simply handed over.
From the tawny light from the rainy nights from the imagination finding itself and more than itself alone and more than alone at the bottom of the well where the moon lives, can you pull me
into December? a lowland of space, perception of space towering of shadows of clouds blown upon clouds over new ground, new made under heavy December footsteps? the only way to live?
The flawed moon acts on the truth, and makes an autumn of tentative silences. You lived, but somewhere else, your presence touched others, ring upon ring, and changed. Did you think I would not change?
The black moon turns away, its work done. A tenderness, unspoken autumn. We are faithful only to the imagination. What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth. What holds you to what you see of me is that grasp alone. ~Denise Levertov “Everything that Acts is Actual”
Within these days of early winter is disappearance of our familiar world, of all that grows and thrives, of new life and freshness, of hope slipping away in a scurry for survival.
Then there comes this moment of softness amid the bleak, a gift of grace and beauty, a glance of sunlight on a snowy hillside, a covering of low misty puffs in the valley, a moon lit landscape, a startling sunrise, clouds upon clouds and then I know the actual world is seized with Your Truth because You have grasped hold of it and won’t let go.
Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colors which it passes to a row of ancient trees. You look, and soon these two worlds both leave you one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth.
leaving you, not really belonging to either, not so hopelessly dark as that house that is silent, not so unswervingly given to the eternal as that thing that turns to a star each night and climbs–
leaving you (it is impossible to untangle the threads) your own life, timid and standing high and growing, so that, sometimes blocked in, sometimes reaching out, one moment your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star. ~Rainer Maria Rilke “Sunset” (Trans. by Robert Bly) from The Soul is Here for Its Own Joy
We are born with one hand still grasping tight to the star-studded heaven from which we came, still dusty from creation. The other hand grabs hold of whatever it finds here on earth and won’t let go, whether the riches of relationship or the coldness of stone.
It can take decades, but our firm hold on heaven loosens so that we forget the dusty origins of our miraculous being. We forget Who made us and why.
We can’t decide, tangled up in the threads of life: dust of earth, stone heart? Or dust of stars, child of Heaven?
We are daily reminded by the Light which clothes us in new colors – early in the morning as it crests the eastern hills and late as it descends in the west. Heaven still reaches down once again to grasp our hand, making sure we know the way home.