As I learn more
Just how little
As I learn more
Just how little
Which came first: the writer, or the writer’s heart?
The act of composing our personal journals causes us to examine the contents of our lives, their impact and influence and relative values. To recall and relive the truly meaningful parts, both high and low, winnow them to their bare essentials, and draft them into ordered and concise prose.
The act of living our lives as “writers” causes us to reflect constantly, day in and day out, on the river of life as we ride along its smooth, wandering courses, run its rapids, or plunge helplessly over its waterfalls.
How will we perceive ourselves, our writers’ hearts, when we boil this down to our barest truths? How have we learned and grown from such self-knowing and reflection? How will it bear us up through our days ahead?
Over time, the writer and “the writer’s heart” continue to blend, until this becomes second nature to us.
To view our world as filled with colors and wonders bright and dark,
and living moments that shall, for better or worse,
be indelibly inscribed upon our souls.
They say that a gallon of milk costs $15 US in Alaska.
People decry the cost of living so far north.
Inuits lived here for 25,000 years without ever seeing a dairy cow.
Use your head for something more than a hat rack.
Could I really be this happy?
Or am I crazy?
Does it matter?
Moon and Star, my guideposts, my lifelong journey-mates.
Each evening I look into the vast Cosmos, and there stands my Star.
Constant. Vigilant. Unmoving, unwavering. True and final as fate.
This giant fireball, just a speck from here, is my lighthouse. No matter what life brings to me on this tiny blue ball, Star remains steadfast. It is comfort and security. All else not in my control, all things that may seek and befall me, fall away before the great, silent, faithful friend.
One day, Star will carry me home.
My Moon is capricious. One day she’s up, and another she is not. Her gamesmanship at hide and seek is second to none. Trickster and magician and muse. Today she is a big, round ball, bringing “the luster of mid-day to objects below”. Tomorrow she will be a sliver, rising in the morning, setting in the afternoon. As upside down as she can be. Each day is a challenge, as the seeker, to find Moon, “Tag!”.
Star is my anchor, reassuring me always that this little life, this tiny speck, is but a part of The Great Wonder. Never to die, but to return to the Cosmos from which I came.
And Moon? Moon is much younger, spritely, lively. Moon is on the move, and she always reminds me that I am, too.
Star and Moon and Earth ever constant in motion, I follow their leads wherever they may take me.
“Getting back to the roots” of Armchair Zen, so to speak. This post was originally published in May, 2011.The mighty oak from the tiny acorn grows.
This old adage seems to reflect a wonder and reverence for this amazing feat.
I love trees, I really do. I could easily personify them, impune them with human attributes, worship them as spirits. Something about a tree, standing firm and tall in the same place, day in, day out, year ’round…it brings a sense of stability, longevity, solidity, groundedness.
I like to subscribe to what I call Tree Philosophy, or Tree Attitude. So many things in our lives appear to be a conspiracy of circumstances, the times we live in, where we live, the way we live, with whom we live. Choices we made back in…when? Things we shoulda woulda or coulda done.
My grandfather always told me “Take shoulda, woulda and coulda in one hand, and a nickel in the other, and see which one will buy you a donut.”
Trees waste no time on such worries. A little tree seed plants its first tendrils into the soil—and is committed! From day one, that tree is going to live or die, stand or fall, right on that very same spot.
I like to imagine trees thinking about that. “I’m going to be the best tree I can right here, where I am, working with what I have.”
This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, from President Theodore Roosevelt: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” That is, after all, a description of our entire lives, really, isn’t it? We are where we are, there’s no denying that. We must work with what we have, be it employment, a dwelling, our people, money, transportation, brain power, energy or spirit. And doing the best we can within these parameters is all we can do.
For philosophers such as President Roosevelt and myself, this means we don’t throw in the towel just because the odds are stacked against us, the task is overwhelming, or we’re short on assets, even if tasked with great challenges or the seemingly impossible. It also means recognizing that there are limits to what we can do, and we shouldn’t punish ourselves for being unable to do more.
I imagine a tree’s life is similar, but to the greatest extent. Tree doesn’t agonize over location. Perhaps prospects for success might be better elsewhere. Perhaps the climate is something humans would want to escape. Perhaps the very home of Tree is in a precarious place, on the side of a cliff, at the edge of an eroding riverbank, or at the last edge of the tree line, far up a tall mountain. Tree can’t move, but can only hang on and throw all of its efforts into the present.
Neither can Tree do anything about the changes in its life. Perhaps it’s struck by lightning, maybe loses a limb or suffers damage to its trunk. Perhaps humans come along and saw pieces off. Maybe its roots are immersed “knee-deep” in water during a flood season, or a drought season makes survival difficult.
If Tree is an evergreen, it will keep it’s needles as it goes into a dormant season. Granted, I have wished more than once that I could have a dormant season for myself, to rest and recuperate from the rigors of my own seasons, storms, lightning, chain saws, floods and blizzards. If Tree is deciduous, it will awaken, depending where Tree lives, sometime between February and May. As it stretches its limbs to the sky, it gets down to the business at hand: budding, developing and flowering. Sounds a bit like our lives again, doesn’t it? For its season, however long it may be (and without groaning that it is either too short or too long) Tree will produce thousands of leaves, each one a near-perfect copy of the others. For pines, tens of thousands, maybe millions of needles. Year one, year 50, year 200, Tree goes right on doing what it is born to do, producing those leaves or needles, growing when the conditions are right, and resting when it is necessary.
Tree will keep up the good fight, no matter what, and will try until defeat and death. As it is with all living things (and, in fact all things in the universe on its grand scale), eventually there is an end. I like to imagine Tree retiring. “I’m going to lay down, right here, next to the rest of you.” At that time, Tree is okay with this end, whether it is after 5 years or 500. Call it destiny, call it nature, call it the randomness of the universe, the circle of all things.
Saplings can be heard all around “Good job, Tree, and thank you for your silent service. You have been a fine example of patience and perseverance. A great neighbor in our community, shading the tender shoots and plants at your base, welcoming, with open limbs, the wildlife; squirrels, chipmunks, woodpeckers, sapsuckers, wasps, and anything else that came to you seeking refuge, a home, safety, security, something meaningful and solid that we can know and understand and rely on.”
Even after death, Tree remains an influence. Flora and fauna of certain types will flourish thanks to Tree’s legacy. The many generations growing around Tree will look on, seeking and seeing the testimony to its determination, learning and benefitting from the example, and the knowledge that Tree stood by them, and gave selflessly whenever called upon to do so.
I don’t need riches, recognition or immortality. If my life, and its own end, can be to any degree worthy of Tree’s example, I too will be able to lay down in peace, and return to the earth from which I came.
Be at peace.
You do have the power.
You can prevent this
From finding you.
I will no longer be fooled by
Lulled into mistaking
Linearity for longevity,
I move in circles.
They say “a picture is worth a thousand words”, and most days I have a camera practically attached to my hand. This fall I’ve worked on a project, daily photos of a hillside covered with sugar maples. It’s on my ride to and from work, and it’s at its greatest glory in the fall. Stretching a quarter mile or so, I call it “The Wall of Flame” when the foliage turns deep orange. Each day through September and into October, I shot a few frames of the trees, looking to track their changes day-by-day. An idea for a post.
This day, I decided to put the camera down and actually see the beauty before me. Just to ride home like a regular Joe, enjoying the fall scenery. The day turned out to be one of those amazing golden days as I drove home into the sunset. Before I knew it, the words and phrases describing the view were spilling onto paper, writing on the tiny memo pad while driving. Some of the scribbling is tough to read, but herein I try to capture the essence of this glorious season, this beautiful world, without pictures.
The Ride Home-
SEEING it. The Wall of Flame and no camera. I feel as if I’ve missed it. Missed the slow turn from green to pale to yellow-ish to orange. Too much time with a camera stuck in front of my face. Thinking the peak has past, thinking it was a slightly duller year for leaf colors. I realize it’s as beautiful as any year, any season, as it is every day. In the clouds I see a bird-shaped formation. A body and two broad wings spread and soaring. A wingspan of a hundred miles, flying five miles high.
A brilliant pink-orange sunset, backlighting the big ridges, all the way to my own Victory Mountain. Truly purple and majestic. Worthy of an anthem. Gray undulatus stretching hundreds of miles across our blue blanket, to the opposite horizon, a deep indigo.
Leaves fall like snowflakes across our path, construction-paper colors and looking like decorations made by the kindergarten. Copper and red, umber and orange are reflected in the farm ponds. Vast cornfields have been shaved, leaving only the stubble standing, like grandfather’s beard, geese notwithstanding.
The globe progresses rapidly as the Big Red Ball drops past nautical twilight, cotton-candy cumulus are bathed in salmon and blue. Clouds in the shadow of the Earth now deepen, lavender wisps and smoky vermilion. The hilltops are now slow burning embers, and tangerine spires of light shoot beyond my field of view. Giant fingers of the gods giving the tiny fragile sphere the gentlest caress.
Trees are now flattened, backlit, and drawn out in india ink as the last Starlings dance and twirl in the umbrageous sky. Now lights must illuminate the road, and watch must be kept for deer.
Before I know, I am standing at my door, watching the last of the deepest colors fade from the sky. As if on cue, a flock of Canada Geese transits the glens of Engleville on a southwest course, silhouetted against the last light of the day. They call to us as they fade into the distance.
I turn, to see the evening star rising.
This is where you would have found a post, if I wasn’t busy outdoors, drinking in every precious moment of the season.
Typically, there would be an article here about the beautiful trail, the crisp air, the smell of dried leaves, the colors of the foliage, all accompanied by brightly-lit photographs.
I would have written (and shared photos) of my drive to Syracuse. The geese in the corn stubble. The rolling hills painted in lovely-sounding colors like crimson and persimmon and peach and burnt umber.
If I had the time, I’d write about the shortening days, the cooling of the northern hemisphere. The natural clocks I follow: birds migrating, the tilt of the Big Dipper in the night sky, the sunrises growing later with each passing day.
I would have regaled you with tales of the Wonder Woods, walks with my Sassy June, preparations for the seasons that lie ahead: hunting season, a Leaf Pile Party, closing of storm windows and the putting-away of lawn chairs and garden hoses.
There lies in the journal notes for many posts: watching the “Wall of Flame” grow bright, then dim to embers, for the twentieth year, this hillside covered with Sugar Maples. The attempts to photograph it each day, to observe the subtle and not-so-subtle changes over the course of an autumn. The tale of the deer caught in the urban environment, trapped and surrounded by highways.
If not otherwise occupied, you might have read the musings of an old armchair philosopher. About putting the camera down and opening the window. About really seeing that which is before me. About the tiny circles we inhabit and the great circles our globe makes around the sun, wobbling through summers and winters. About the grandest circles, cycles of the cosmos, reminding us that “the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”
You may have read about how much I love this life and this world and everything it holds, animate and inanimate. About the way I worry about tiny helpless animal friends and other living things facing a challenging future. About the way I fervently believe someone will come along after me that loves these things, this blue ball, and will care for them as I have.
There would have been a few paragraphs about how beautiful our world is, not just in this superlative season, but every day, in every season and the seasons-between-seasons.
And I would have once again related how joyful I feel when I am immersed in our world. How I feel I am never alone. How being a tiny insignificant speck on a rock on an arm of a galaxy in a universe filthy with galaxies makes me feel as though I am part of it all. As if this entire Great Cosmos is all mine to enjoy and revere.
Oh, yeah. It is.