Eavesdropping on Private Voices

When I opened the door
I found the vine leaves
speaking among themselves in abundant
whispers.
                   My presence made them
hush their green breath,
embarrassed, the way
humans stand up, buttoning their jackets,
acting as if they were leaving anyway, as if
the conversation had ended
just before you arrived.
                                               I liked
the glimpse I had, though,
of their obscure
gestures. I liked the sound
of such private voices. Next time
I’ll move like cautious sunlight, open
the door by fractions, eavesdrop
peacefully.
~Denise Levertov, “Aware” from This Great Unknowing.

I need to be cautious or I also would be swallowed up inch by inch by a variety of vines surrounding our home and farm buildings. Between the ivy, Virginia creeper and our opportunistic ubiquitous blackberry vines, I’m mere audience to their varied plans of expansive world domination.

As part of generations of human creep, I can’t indict the vines as aggressive interlopers for going where no vine has gone before. Much human migration has been out of necessity due to inadequate food sources or inhospitable circumstances. Some is due to a spirit of adventure and desire for new places to explore. Nevertheless, we human vines end up dominating places where we may not be really welcome.

So we human vines whisper together conspiratorially about where to send out our tendrils next, never asking permission, only sometimes asking for forgiveness later.

I can’t help but listen to those private voices – one of which is my own – who feel discontented with the “here and now” — we suspect somewhere else may be better. Rather than choose to stay and flourish in place, we keep creeping and overwhelming our surroundings.

Dear human vines: creep gently with sensitivity for the ground you occupy. Don’t block the sun from others or quench yourself while others thirst. Be kind and make the spot you cover more beautiful than it was before.https://barnstorming.blog/new-book-available-almanac-of-quiet-days/

A book of beauty in words and photography

To Be Quiet in Heart

Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer’s end. In time’s maze
over fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed’s marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.

~Wendell Berry “Wild Geese” from Collected Poems 1957-1982

I hear them coming before I see them:
the wild geese flying overhead,
noisily honking their way across an autumn sky,
drawn to the harvested cornfields
to glean after the machinery has left.

Soon they will leave altogether,
pulled to be content somewhere else.

I remain as witness
rather than move on,
reminding myself,
my heart quiet, my eye clear,
what I need is here
until it is my turn to leave.

A book of beautiful words and photography, available to order here:

Something Finished

Gold of a ripe oat straw, gold of a southwest moon,
What is there for you in the birds, the birds, the birds, crying
down on the north wind in September, acres of birds spotting
the air going south?

Is there something finished? And some new beginning on the
way?

I cried over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing lasts.
~Carl Sandburg from “Fall Time” and “Autumn Movement”

My summer of “no doctoring” finishes today. I return to part-time clinical work tomorrow; a new beginning is on the way.

I am readying myself.

I consider how it will feel to put the stethoscope back on and return to spending most of my daylight hours in window-less rooms. Several months of freedom to wander and wonder will be tough to give up.

However, when I meet my first patient of the day, I’m “all in.” Someone is needing my help more than I need time off. The wind has shifted, it is time to migrate back to the work I was called to do over forty years ago.

Still I will look for beautiful things where I can find them, knowing that even though they don’t last, they will always be well worth the weeping.

The Path of Pathlessness

Wind finds the northwest gap, fall comes.
Today, under gray cloud-scud and over gray
Wind-flicker of forest, in perfect formation, wild geese
Head for a land of warm water, the boom, the lead pellet.

Some crumple in air, fall. Some stagger, recover control,
Then take the last glide for a far glint of water. None
Knows what has happened. Now, today, watching
How tirelessly V upon V arrows the season’s logic.

Do I know my own story? At least, they know
When the hour comes for the great wind-beat. Sky-strider,
Star-strider–they rise, and the imperial utterance,
Which cries out for distance, quivers in the wheeling sky.

That much they know, and in their nature know
The path of pathlessness, with all the joy
Of destiny fulfilling its own name.
I have known time and distance, but not why I am here.

Path of logic, path of folly, all
The same–and I stand, my face lifted now skyward,
Hearing the high beat, my arms outstretched in the tingling
Process of transformation, and soon tough legs,

With folded feet, trail in the sounding vacuum of passage,
And my heart is impacted with a fierce impulse
To unwordable utterance–
Toward sunset, at a great height.
~Robert Penn Warren from “The Collected Poems”

I wish I could be as sure
as the geese and swans
flying overhead in unwordable utterance~
they trust where they are led
is where they belong.

They may not make it there
but nevertheless they go when called.

I wish I might fly into the setting sun
on such a path of pathlessness
knowing only
I am sent
because the call is stronger
than I am.


Nowhere to Hide You

heathermeadowsfoliage1
heathermeadowsfoliage2
When you are already here 
you appear to be only 
a name that tells of you 
whether you are present or not 
and for now it seems as though 
you are still summer 
still the high familiar 
endless summer 
yet with a glint 
of bronze in the chill mornings 
and the late yellow petals 
of the mullein fluttering 
on the stalks that lean 
over their broken 
shadows across the cracked ground 
but they all know 
that you have come 
the seed heads of the sage 
the whispering birds 
with nowhere to hide you 
to keep you for later 
you 
who fly with them 
you who are neither 
before nor after 
you who arrive 
with blue plums 
that have fallen through the night 
perfect in the dew
heathermeadowfoliage3
septembernorth
Each month has its special light
though luminous September sweeps them all;
I must grasp tightly before tomorrow slips away to October.
Like a squirrel, there must be a place
I can hide such riches, tuck the light away in a hole,
pile shells on top,
to bring it out on the darkest winter day
and feast upon it.
I do know better;
this glow follows the birds as they fly away.
They keep it in safekeeping
towing it back on their wings come spring.
In the meantime I must remember
the endless summer that is September.
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Just Passing Through

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All through August and September
            thousands, maybe
tens of thousands, of feathered
            creatures pass through
this place and I almost never see
            a single one. The fall
wood warbler migration goes by here
            every year, all of them,
myriad species, all looking sort of like
            each other, yellow, brown, gray,
all muted versions of their summer selves,
            almost indistinguishable
from each other, at least to me, although
            definitely not to each other, 
all flying by, mostly at night, calling to each
            other as they go to keep
the flock together, saying: chip, zeet,
            buzz, smack, zip, squeak—
            those
sounds reassuring that we are
            all here together and
heading south, all of us just passing
            through, just passing
through, just passing through, just
            passing through.
~David Budbill “Invisible Visitors”

 

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Some feathered travelers slip past us unseen and unheard.  They may stop for a drink in the pond or a bite to eat in the field and woods, but we never know they are there – simply passing through.

Others are compelled to announce their journey with great fanfare, usually heard before seen.  The drama of migration becomes bantering conversation from bird to bird, bird to earth, bird to sun, moon and stars, with unseen magnetic forces pointing the way.

When not using voices, their wings sing the air with rhythmic beat and whoosh.

We’re all together here — altogether — even when our voices are raised sharply, our silences brooding, our hurts magnified, our sorrows deep, so our route of travel becomes a matter of debate.

Our destination is not in dispute however.  We’re all heading to the same place no matter how we get there.

We’re all just passing through, just passing through, just passing through.

 

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In the Family of Things

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snowgeese in Whatcom County = photo by Chris Lovegren

 

…Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
~Mary Oliver from “Wild Geese”

 

 

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snow geese in Whatcom County – photo by Chris Lovegren

 

Snow geese are populating the Skagit valley and farm land, as numerous as the scores of colorful tulips which soon will fill nearby fields.  The din of the flocks as they land and feed, then rise again in the air is astounding: a symphony of honks and hollers carried from one goose family to another in a ruckus of joyful abandon.

The Skagit flats become the New York City of snow geese for a few weeks, never sleeping.

Over the past few years, more snow geese wander up north closer to home here in Whatcom County to pepper our surrounding dormant cornfields like salt,  sprinkled half a dozen here and there across the Nooksack river valley.  When there are only a few together, their calling seems so melancholy, almost a disconsolate cry of abandonment carrying over the lonely countryside.

So too am I ensconced away from the clamorous masses,  preferring always to be part of an out-of-the-way rural landscape.  There may be moments of melancholy, to be sure.  Yet here,  as nowhere else, I know my place in the family of things —  of gray clouds, owl hoots, swampy wetlands, frog choruses, orange sunsets, pink sunrises, warm pony muzzles, budding snowdrops, and steaming manure piles.

I give myself up to wild abandon in a world offering itself up to my imagination instead of leaving nothing to the imagination.

Let the cities clamor and clang in their excitement.  They do just fine without me.
Instead I celebrate the relative silence that allows me to seek words to fit the music singing in my soul.

 

Some of  you who may remember a fictional story about a snow goose helping to lead the evacuation of Dunkirk in WWII – here is the link to the original story

A Path of Pathlessness

morningswans

geese913

Wind finds the northwest gap, fall comes.
Today, under gray cloud-scud and over gray
Wind-flicker of forest, in perfect formation, wild geese
Head for a land of warm water, the boom, the lead pellet.

Some crumple in air, fall. Some stagger, recover control,
Then take the last glide for a far glint of water. None
Knows what has happened. Now, today, watching
How tirelessly V upon V arrows the season’s logic.

Do I know my own story? At least, they know
When the hour comes for the great wind-beat. Sky-strider,
Star-strider–they rise, and the imperial utterance,
Which cries out for distance, quivers in the wheeling sky.

That much they know, and in their nature know
The path of pathlessness, with all the joy
Of destiny fulfilling its own name.
I have known time and distance, but not why I am here.

Path of logic, path of folly, all
The same–and I stand, my face lifted now skyward,
Hearing the high beat, my arms outstretched in the tingling
Process of transformation, and soon tough legs,

With folded feet, trail in the sounding vacuum of passage,
And my heart is impacted with a fierce impulse
To unwordable utterance–
Toward sunset, at a great height.
~Robert Penn Warren from “The Collected Poems”

 

snowgeese4

geesesouth

I wish I could be as sure
as the geese and swans flying noisy overhead~
they trust where they are led
is where they belong.

They may not make it there
but nevertheless they go.

I wish I might fly into the setting sun
on a path of pathlessness
knowing only that I am sent
because the call is stronger
than I am.

paths

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A Calling Out

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A psalm of geese
labours overland

cajoling each other
near half…

The din grew immense.
No need to look up.

All you had to do
was sit in the sound

and put it down
as best you could…

It’s not a lonesome sound
but a panic,

a calling out to the others
to see if they’re there;
~Dermot Healy from A Fool’s Errand

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geese113165

We are here to witness the creation and abet it. We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other. We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us. We witness our generation and our times. We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house.
~Annie Dillard from The Meaning of Life
edited by David Friend

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By the time Saturday rolls around, I am overwhelmed by the amount of “noticing” I needed to do in the course of my work that week.  Each patient, and there are so many,  deserves my full attention for the few minutes we are together.  I start my clinical evaluation the minute I walk in the exam room and begin taking in all the complex verbal and non-verbal clues sometimes offered by another human being.

How are they calling out to me?

What someone tells me about what they are feeling may not always match what I notice:  the trembling hands, the pale skin color, the deep sigh, the scars of self injury.  I am their audience and a witness to their struggle; even more, I must understand it in order to best assist them.  My brain must rise to the occasion of taking in another person, offering them the gift of being noticed and being there for them, just them.

This work I do is distinctly a form of praise: the patient is the universe for a few moments and I’m grateful to be watching and listening. When my patient calls out to me, may they never feel they are playing to an empty house.

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Successive Autumns

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Delicious autumn!
My very soul is wedded to it,
and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth
seeking the successive autumns.
~ George Eliot

These mornings are a din of calls
and breathy rush
of beating wings overhead,
a migration to something
that isn’t here
but beyond.
Such restlessness isn’t just in the air
but in this heart’s longing
for something more,
for somewhere else,
for somehow settled,
for somewhat remembered,
for Someone who leads the way,
calling us back home.

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