At the soft place in the snowbank Warmed to dripping by the sun There is the smell of water. On the western wind the hint of glacier. A cottonwood tree warmed by the same sun On the same day, My back against its rough bark Same west wind mild in my face. A piece of spring Pierced me with love for this empty place Where a prairie creek runs Under its cover of clear ice And the sound it makes, Mysterious as a heartbeat, New as a lamb. ~Tom Hennen, “In the Late Season” from Darkness Sticks to Everything: Collected and New Poems.
While walking the sloping hillside of our farm, if I listen carefully, I can hear trickling under the snow. I can’t see it but I can hear and feel and smell the water; as a hidden and mysterious melt happens. Thawing under my feet- as winter drains away, spring is on the move.
I witness that which I have no control over, this subtle softening of frozen ground- unseen, yet as evident as the steady beating of my heart as I too begin to thaw and melt through the miracle of flowing grace into whatever comes next.
This was our pretty gray kitten, hence her name; who was born in our garage and stayed nearby her whole life. There were allergies; so she was, as they say, an outside cat. But she loved us. For years, she was at our window. Sometimes, a paw on the screen as if to want in, as if to be with us the best she could. She would be on the deck, at the sliding door. She would be on the small sill of the window in the bathroom. She would be at the kitchen window above the sink. We’d go to the living room; anticipating that she’d be there, too, hop up, look in. She’d be on the roof, she’d be in a nearby tree. She’d be listening through the wall to our family life. She knew where we were, and she knew where we were going and would meet us there. Little spark of consciousness, calm kitty eyes staring through the window.
After the family broke, and when the house was about to sell, I walked around it for a last look. Under the eaves, on the ground, there was a path worn in the dirt, tight against the foundation — small padded feet, year after year, window to window.
When we moved, we left her to be fed by the people next door. Months after we were gone, they found her in the bushes and buried her by the fence. So many years after, I can’t get her out of my mind. ~Philip F. Deaver, “Gray” from How Men Pray
Our pets are witness to the routine of our lives. They know when the food bowl remains empty too long, or when no one comes to pick them up and stroke their fur. They sit silently waiting.
They know when things aren’t right at home.
Sometimes a barn cat moves on, looking for a place with more consistency and better feeding grounds. Most often they stick close to what they know, even if it isn’t entirely a happy or welcoming place. After all, it’s home and that’s what they know and that’s where they stay.
When my family broke as my parents split, after the furniture was removed and the dust of over thirty five years of marriage swept up, I wondered if our cat and dog had seen it coming before we did. They had been peering through the window at our lives, measuring the amount of spilled love that was left over for them.
I can’t get them out of my mind – they, like me, became children of divorce. We knew when we left the only home we knew, we would never truly feel at home again.
All men die. Not all men really live. ~William Wallace
Life — the temptation is always to reduce it to size. A bowl of cherries. A rat race. Amino acids. Even to call it a mystery smacks of reductionism. It is THE mystery.
After lecturing learnedly on miracles, a great theologian was asked to give a specific example of one. ‘There is only one miracle,’ he answered. “It is life.”
Have you wept at anything during the past year? Has your heart beat faster at the sight of young beauty? Have you thought seriously about the fact that someday you are going to die?
More often than not, do you really listen when people are speaking to you, instead of just waiting for your turn to speak? Is there anybody you know in whose place, if one of you had to suffer great pain, you would volunteer yourself?
If your answer to all or most of these questions is no, the chances are that you’re dead. ~Frederick Buechner from Listen to Your Life
I like mysteries if they are neatly solved between two book covers or contained within 90 minutes on a TV show.
Mysteries that don’t neatly resolve? Not so much. The uncertainty and unknowns can be paralyzing.
I am gifted the opportunity to witness miracles every day and the mystery is that I don’t often recognize them. I’m too “in my own head” to see.
If I weep, which I do more often than is comfortable to admit, am I weeping for something other than myself? If I listen, which I like to think I do well in my profession, but not as well in my personal life, do I really hear the perspective from another life and world view? If I become aware of someone’s suffering, am I willing to become uncomfortable myself to ease another’s pain?
I am being tested in these days of disrupted routines and potential threats to my health and well-being. Do I hunker down defensively or reach out unselfishly to make the best of the days that are left to me?
The mystery of when I will die can’t be solved until that moment comes, and I can’t be paralyzed by that unknown. But the everyday miracles of life are large and small and grand and plentiful and hidden in plain sight. I want to live every moment as their witness.
Just before the green begins there is the hint of green a blush of color, and the red buds thicken the ends of the maple’s branches and everything is poised before the start of a new world, which is really the same world just moving forward from bud to flower to blossom to fruit to harvest to sweet sleep, and the roots await the next signal, every signal every call a miracle and the switchboard is lighting up and the operators are standing by in the pledge drive we’ve all been listening to: Go make the call. ~Stuart Kestenbaum “April Prayer”
The buds have been poised for weeks and then, as if all responding to an identical summons to action, let go of all their pent up potential~ exploding with harmonious energy enough to make us want to donate all we have, over and over again.
How much may I pledge to witness this miracle? Nothing, nothing at all. It’s free. It’s totally free.
…I am watching the mountain. And the second I verbalize this awareness in my brain, I cease to see the mountain…. I am opaque, so much black asphalt.
I look at the mountain, which is still doing its tricks, as you look at a still-beautiful face belonging to a person who was once your lover in another country years ago: with fond nostalgia, and recognition, but no real feeling save a secret astonishment that you are now strangers. Thanks. For the memories. It is ironic that the one thing that all religions recognize as separating us from our creator — our very self-consciousness — is also the one thing that divides us from our fellow creatures. It was a bitter birthday present from evolution, cutting us off at both ends. I get in the car and drive home. ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
We drive up the highway an hour or so to lose ourselves rather than become more self-conscious. We want to be witness to grander things.
Once we turn the bend into Heather Meadows, Mount Shuksan suddenly appears, overwhelming the landscape. There is simply nothing else to look at so I stand there gawking, forgetting to breathe. Then I realize that I have become more self-conscious rather than less: here am I at the foot of this incredible creation, wondering at how blessed I am to be there, and it becomes all about me. The mountain has been here for eons and will continue to be here for eons, and we’re merely passing through, bubbles floating on the unending stream of time.
Yesterday we were completely alone in what typically is a place of many gawkers, all setting up tripods and clicking cameras. It was absolutely silent – even the birds had abandoned the chilly hills for warmer climes lower down.
Most remarkable yesterday was the stillness meant there was a double delight: two mountains, reflection and the real thing herself. It is the most glass-like the lakes have been on our many visits.
We had to finally climb in the car and head back down the highway to home. I carry these images back with me to remember that moment of awestruck witness. The image isn’t the real thing, it isn’t even the real reflection. Yet it is me watching the mountain watching me back.
Sometimes you don’t get a chance To pause and rest Even to just take it all in Sometimes life just goes too fast And if you halt, even for a moment You could get rolled over By the momentum of existence So, push yourself and keep going Because once you stop You may not get started again And if you need a breather Do it after the big stuff is done – I guarantee you the view Will be a whole lot better ~Eric Nixon “The Momentum of Existence” from Equidistant
Sunrise and sunset happen so reliably every day, but I’m often too busy to be there to witness them. I miss some great shows because I don’t get up early enough or get home from work in time or simply don’t bother to look out the window.
These are brilliant light and shadow shows that are free for the taking if only I pause, take a breather, and watch.
The view keeps getting better the older I get. The momentum of daily life is pausing purposely to allow me, breathless, to take it all in.
And that is just the point… how the world, moist and beautiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?
I’d like to make a comment this morning. Here we are, alive.
Too much time is spent trudging through the hours, unaware of the privilege of each breath.
The just-born and the nearly-dying know the preciousness of each moment. The rest of us need regular reminders each day- being alive is the responsibility to not waste a single minute.
As I look in the eyes of this new little soul, I am struck dumb and all my senses wrung dry: we are like bells pealing our witness of Glory. We are meant to respond.
There is a gold light in certain old paintings That represents a diffusion of sunlight. It is like happiness, when we are happy. It comes from everywhere and from nowhere at once, this light… ~Donald Justice from Collected Poems
Living in a place where golden light is scarce amidst the universal gray, I find myself watching out for it to capture it. Like happiness, I am grateful for its unexpected appearance, no matter how brief.
Having witnessed gilded light and known happiness, I know they will come again. It takes getting up early and being opened to joy coming from everywhere and nowhere at once.
Tonight at dusk we linger by the fence around the garden, watching the wound husks of moonflowers unclench themselves slowly, almost too slow for us to see their moving— you notice only when you look away and back, until the bloom decides, or seems to decide, the tease is over, and throws its petals backward like a sail in wind, a suddenness about this as though it screams, almost the way a newborn screams at pain and want and cold, and I still hear that cry in the shout across the garden to say another flower is about to break. I go to where my daughter stands, flowers strung along the vine like Christmas lights, one not yet lit. We praise the world by making others see what we see. So now she points and feels what must be pride when the bloom unlocks itself from itself. And then she turns to look at me. ~James Davis May “Moonflowers” from32 Poems Magazine, (Number 16.2, Winter, 2018)
Ever since I was a kid, I have had the need to share something special I’ve seen: a “hey, have you seen this too?” pointing it out to another to then witness it again through their eyes – that sharing can make it even sweeter. I guess that is much of what this blog is about.
Sometimes others can see what I see; sometimes not. Sometimes others wonder what has gotten into me.
I was an odd farm kid, no question: a summer twilight’s entertainment might be watching the evening primrose blossoms open at night. It, like the moonflower of the above poem, is one of a few night blooming plants meant to attract pollinating moths. Its tall stems are adorned by lance shaped leaves, with multiple buds and blooms per stem.
Each evening, and it was possible to set one’s watch by its punctuality, only one green wrapped bud per stem opens, revealing a bright yellow blossom with four delicate veined petals, a rosette of stamens and a cross-shaped stigma in the center, rising far above the blossom. The yellow was so vivid and lively, it seemed almost like a drop of sun was being left on earth to light the night. By morning, the bloom would begin to wither and wilt under the real sunlight, somehow overcome with the brightness, and would blush a pinkish orange as it folded upon itself, ready to die and drop from the plant in only a day or two, leaving a bulging seed pod behind.
I would settle cross-legged on our damp lawn at twilight, usually right before dusk fell, to watch the choreography of the opening of evening primrose blossoms. Whatever the trigger was for the process of the unfolding, there would be a sudden loosening of the protective green husk, in a nearly audible release. Then over the course of about a minute, the overlapping yellow petals would unfurl, slowly, gently, purposefully in an unlocking action that revealed their pollen treasure trove inside.
It was like watching time lapse cinematography, only this was an accelerated, real time flourish of sudden beauty, happening right before my eyes. It was magic. I always felt privileged to witness each unveiling as few flowers would ever allow us to behold their birth.
My brother wasn’t nearly as impressed when I tried to lure him into becoming audience with me. That’s okay; I was always underwhelmed by the significance of his favorite team’s touchdowns that he insisted in sharing with me.
It’s all praiseworthy as long as one among us notices.
Sometimes the mountain is hidden from me in veils of cloud, sometimes I am hidden from the mountain in veils of inattention, apathy, fatigue, when I forget or refuse to go down to the shore or a few yards up the road, on a clear day, to reconfirm that witnessing presence. ~Denise Levertov “Witness”
Even on the days when the mountain is hidden behind a veil of clouds, I have every confidence it is there. In the off-chance that it might be visible if we took the time to drive up the highway to the foot of it, we did just that last night, risking seeing nothing but pea soup clouds at the higher elevation. Mount Baker remained behind its impenetrable veil, unseen.
A bit lower, at the foot of Mount Shuksan, initially massive clouds obscured it completely – invisible to us except the knowledge that we knew it was there as we had been in that exact spot before and witnessed it first hand. Yet due to powerful winds that blow in the Cascades, over the course of a few minutes Shuksan was exposed before our eyes in all its glory, first in shadowy profile and then crystal clear reality: it was there, movingly unmoved, a revelation of constancy.
No, it had not vanished overnight, gone to another county, blown up or melted down. My vision isn’t always penetrating enough to see it through cloud cover, but it is still there.
I know this and have faith it is true even when, within a few minutes, the clouds blew back over the mountain’s face and veiled it completely again.
Some days I simply don’t bother to look for the mountains, so preoccupied I walk right past their obvious grandeur and presence. Then they reach out to me and call me back. There are times when I turn a corner on the farm and glance up, and there Baker is, a silent and overwhelming witness to beauty and steadfastness. I literally gasp at not noticing before, at not remembering how I’m blessed by it being there even at the times I can’t be bothered.
The mountains confirm my lack of witness and still stay put to hold me fast yet another day. And so I keep coming back to gaze, sometimes just at clouds, yearning to lift the veil, and lift my own veil, just one more time.