Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ice - January 31, 2010

My father spent his last winter

Making ice-grips for shoes...

...My father should not have been doing

All that close work

In the drafty workshop, but as though

he sensed travel at the edge of his mind,

He would not be stopped...

...Plainly the giving was an asking,

A petition to be welcomed and useful-

Or maybe, who knows, the seed of a desire

Not to be sent alone out over the black ice...

...Mother writes tome: I am cleaning the workshop

And I have found

so many pairs of the ice-grips....

...What shall I do?..

And I write back: Mother, please

Save everything.

My father, in his last year, went out one fall day and raked up leaves. He'd had a heart transplant with many complications, in and out of danger in the 5 years after that surgery. A few days later he got a fungal pneumonia, perhaps born out of the decaying, wet leaves. Into the hospital he went, again, and this last time, he did not get out. .

He should not have been doing that work. But he wanted to be of use, to take part in the annual family ritual of raking leaves, and avoiding raking leaves. One year while I was away in college he sent me an envelope in which brown leaves from our yard were enclosed, with a note saying "Wish you were here."

Now in every leaf I see, my heart says, "Wish you were here" to my father. I too share the desires of fathers, to not be alone and to be of use. Any giving I do is really an asking, please, save me and save everything.

How does working or giving bring you connection to others? What will you do in the last year of your life?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Family - January 30, 2010

The dark things of the wood

Are coming from their caves...

...We remember the cave.

In our dreams we go back

Or they come to visit.

They also like music,

We eat leaves together.

They are our brothers.

They are the family

We have run away from.

In the movie "Avatar" there is much running, and the overwhelming public response that echoes too in my heart is a running back towards the family of all things. Last night I saw the 1988 war movie, "The Thin Red Line," and it too has lots of running, fearful running away from "the bad guys," running from who we are and the darkness within. The last lines in that movie are "everything shining." In the dark cave of our inner being, everything shinning.

What are you running away from? Towards? How might this running fuel your sense of separation from the family that is this earth and her beings, and yes, human beings?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Winter in the Country - January 29, 2010

The Terror of the country

Is not the easy death,...

...The terror is that nothing

Laments the narrow span...

..The terror of the country

Is prey and hawk together,

Still flying, both exhausted,

In the blue sack of weather.

We, away from the country, so little know of the prey and hawk together. I dreamt last night of sleeping with tigers, of longing for that hunter to be close to my skin, in my skin, to be me. Yet it is that very longing that would kill me if I were in tiger's country. It seems too that if I were always to have a tiger on my tail, that fear itself would kill me. How can we live with predatory death echoing our every foot step forward?

We, here in the suburbs, have death all round us, but it's harder to see perhaps in these Florida winters. Along my path of gym, work, and home there is a dried out shell of a sea gull on the sidewalk's margin near a busy road. It's been there for over a month. Does anyone else notice it as they fly by? Do these battered feathers herald our own death, or a life lived on the edge of knowing that hardship is the standard of our evolved state, only now we can now it and lament our narrow years upon this planet. I wonder if Mary is saying that if we just fly, though it exhausts us, we would not have time for terror and fear except in the ultimate exquisite moment? That we should try to catch a tiger by the tail and let the wings of death liberate us.

What are you afraid of? Does this fear keep you from really living?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Roses - January 28, 2010

The look on her face in a dream

Stayed with me all day

Like a promise I had failed...

....And the grass on which she was standing,

Ante the roses thick on the fences

Were soft and bright, able to renew themselves

As a woman, finally, cannot do.

In this world of climate change, and of a political process that promises a persistent dull ache that is slowly killing spirit and earth, who is not looking north into a future where so little grows? Who among us can look into the long years ahead and not see their own death, or the slow dying of body and mind? I yearn for life and when there is death, suffering, or decay it rises in me in this dark hour as a failed promise. Who does not spend the hours of the day blaming others and oneself for the failed dreams and ailing body, accusing the gods of abandonment, and even, judging the earth and her beings for not being enough. Ah Mary, even in listening and resting, we cannot break our fast with death.

Who do you blame for what might have been? What promises have you made that remain unfulfilled?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Creeks - January 27, 2010

...My back to the hickory, I sit

Hours in the damp wood, listening.

It never ebbs...

..I forget things, as I have forgotten time.

Death, love, ambition....

...My heart is quieted, at rest. I scarcely feel it.

Little rivers, running everywhere,

Have blunted the knife. Cool, cool,

they wash above the bones.

Two days ago I asked Mary when she was going to speak of rest, and here she does. I don't look ahead to what poems are coming, so it's as if Mary is there, saying, just wait, just listen, the answers will come.

So following my question of rest, was a poem of killing. In the midst of killing, of chicken bones thrown into the creek by careless picnickers whose hands yield the knife of suffering and destroying earth, there are rivers of life flowing everywhere. By them, if we slow down and listen hard enough, we can discern the bubbling of life that can dull the pain.

Rumi says in his poem of the day, "The Many Wines" in the book, "A Year With Rumi" that every object and every being is a jar full of delight, but cautions that should we choose the purest, "not the ones adulterated with fear, or some urgency about "what's needed." If Rumi were to sit down with Mary, would they then say go only to beautiful, pristine water ways, or would they, like the Buddha, say listen, listen, clean, not clean, it's all here, now. We just need to empty ourselves so wholeness and healing can flow in.

Perhaps then we are called to listen to creeks that don't sing anymore. Here in Florida the springs are drying up or gaining pollution so that the life is choked from them. My own beloved Ichetucknee became unswimmable for me this past year. What do I hear in it's gurgling, a death throw? Or life, though dirty, emerging persistently, or at least leaving behind scars where beauty once flowed?

Cormac McCarthy in " The Road," writes, ""Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patters that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery."

The sound of life, of mystery, is ever with us, even if it is as fossilized bones on some ancient dry river bed.

What do you mourn for that is no more? Do you find peace or comfort in nature that dulls the ache of once was or what could be?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Farm Country - January 26, 2010

I have sharpened my knives, I have

Put on the heavy apron.

Maybe you think life is chicken soup, served

In blue willow-pattern bowls.

I have put on my boots and opened

The kitchen door and stepped out

Into the sunshine. I have crossed the lawn,

I have entered

The hen house.

This is one of the more remarkable of Mary's poems. I have used it in sermons on the human-nonhuman relationship, articles on avian welfare, lectures on ethics, and autobiographical memoir snippets about the numbers of birds and animals that have died at my hands. Life is full of hard decisions that contribute harm to those around us. We evolved through the doors opened by death and suffering - doors to hen houses, crazy houses, poor houses, White Houses, and earthquaked houses of rubble.

Yet when I read this poem this morning, I have a sense of lightness, near liberation. Where does this come from? In answer, I think of one the questions addressed in one of my favorite movies, The Thin Red Line. The hero looks at a parrot chick dying on the ground that had been bombed out of a tree on a tropical island during WW II, and he says, "One man looks at a dying bird and thinks there's nothing but unanswered pain. That death's got the final word, it's laughing at him. Another man sees that same bird, feels the glory, feels something smiling through it."

So, the glory today is in facing reality. The answer is full acceptance. It is only the questions that are mutable and our minds that turn from the unbearable brightness of living.

What animals or people are harmed by your choices? How do you reconcile this?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Aunt Elsie's Night Music - January 25, 2009

Aunt Elsie hears

Singing in the night,

So I am sent running

To search under the trees.

I stand in dark hearing nothing-

Or, at least, not what she hears-

Uncle William singing again

Irish lullabies.

I stay a while, then turn and go inside.

Uncle William's been dead for years...

...She's so old there's no hope...

...I am called from sleep to walk in the night

And think of death...

...Aunt Elsie is waiting.

I lean close to the pink ear.

Maybe this is what love is,

And always will be, all my life.


I give her an inch of hope

To bite on, like a bullet.

I awake this morning thinking of rest. A night's tossing and turning accompanies the mounting stress and anxiousness of the unknown that feeds the freedom of choice that is before me and mine. Wendall Berry says in his poem "The Peace of Wild Things" that rest is where beauty is and happens in the grace of the world. I have yet to hear Mary speak of rest. Oh, there is rhythm and abundance and beauty, but always there is death and pain behind her words. Her whispered words of love don't obliterate the pain, they perhaps lets us endure it.

I also read Sufi literature and scripture every morning, including Rumi poems and Tarot cards. So I brought the question of where rest lies to my meditation this morning, and drew the "death card." Rumi invites us to "die before we die" so that we may live in love's embrace. In giving up who we are we gain the world. We empty so that we maybe filled, and what we fill with is the whole of existence, which is despair and joy, pain and laughter. The result of this filling seems not to be rest, then, but as the Sufi's would describe, ecstasy fueled by the stimuli of our environments which says we are one in love. The question seems not so much how we bare the pain, but how we bare the love.

Do your days contain rest? Is your rest a hiding from the world, or a strategy that lets you awake and bare all that is?


When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— Wendell Berry

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The River Styx, Ohio - January 24, 2010

We drove through October, Grandmother pointing at cows,

Mother, bifocaled, squinting at maps for a crossroad

We came instead to the River Styx, Ohio...

...We hope for magic; mystery endures.

We look for freedom, but the measure's set.

There was a graveyard, but we saw no people.

We went back to the car.

...On the wheel

I tensed my knuckles, felt the first stab of pain.

With her family, Mary comes upon a desolated area of bankrupted farms, perhaps expecting the river to open up some understanding that life is more than a future of aimless pursuits to pass the time (Grandmother counting cows), or worrying to exhaustion to see what best decisions to make while missing the moments of the journey (Mother pouring over the maps). Instead this river is the river Styx of old story and mythology, that it is the boundary between earth and hell, and upon it you descend into the pits of eternal suffering. She escapes the river, though does not - the pain endures, the path of being ever so human like her mother and grandmother is ever with her.

Farms, seen from the road, seem like places of lazy indifference to me. The diversity and wildness of this life, of the natural habitat has been tamed and the boredom of what is left shows in every fence line, wandering cow, and discarded machine in the pasture. Through the manure laden fields and rumpled rows of corn run a river of tears of what once was. It is so hard for me to see mystery and freedom in humanity scrambling for mere existence, when there are heavenly fields of beauty that beckon us to play with joy. Pain comes from the cross roads we never clearly find, where we can make the choice for freedom and magic or for the wastelands.

Where in your life do you feel the pain of hopelessness? What choices might you make instead to grow with liberating joy?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Going to Walden - January 23, 2010

...Going to Walden is not so easy a thing

As a greet visit. It is the slow and difficult

Trick of living, and finding it where you are.

I'm all about green visits. I lead Nature Spirituality trips to our local prairie walk of La Chua trail to see Whooping Cranes and every spring I head to Central America to work with endangered parrots. In these places I fill up, for they are the Mecca of my heart, the hajj where my self blurs into the masses of species and experiences. Indeed it is a trick to see the glory in urban and devastated areas, for my mind wants to categorize this vision as not possibly "right" and not part of the whole.

In the summer of 2001 I visited Manhattan and one evening I lay on a bench looking up the lighted trunks of those twin towers. In that moment a healing took place, for I saw the world of cities, high economy, and a dearth and death of species as integral to whole. I came to a sense of fondness for the art of humanity that creates blights as well as lights upon the night.

That urban forest is me, and it became in a few months a scene of destruction. Does the tragedy negate the beauty? If the world contradicts itself, very well, it does, for it is large, as am I. I am the world, and I contain multitudes (a la Walt Whitman, acquaintance of Henry David Thoreau, resident of Walden).

As I am the world, and I am here to gain faith that I am whole, then I am the ashes of the Twin Towers, of Treblinka, of sugar cane monoculture killing tropical lands, and the ashes of quake produced fires in Haiti. I am also the phoenix who rises out of the ashes, me, the world, the universe, here temporarily now as the ashes of old stars. Would that me, the old, could see the new that is always there beyond apocalyptic nightmares.

What in you or the world or you do you reject or resist? Is there anything you are running from, and in the business, do not see the beauty and the tragedy of this moment?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Magellan - January 22, 2010

Like Magellan, let us find our islands

to die in, far from home, from anywhere

Familiar. Let us risk the wildest places,

Lest we go down in comfort, and despair.

...For what is life but reaching for an answer?

And what is death but a refusal to grow?...

..."Sail on, sail on!" he cried.

And so they did, carried the frail dream homeward.

And thus Magellan lives, although he died.

Oh Mary, you are giving answers today on how to live, which adds to the themes I see running in you that I summarized in the poem, "Answers" on January 19. To live, we take risks, seek the dream, and look for answers. To live, we die. There is nothing about comfort anywhere in the agenda. Yet here I sit in warm layers and a freshly brewed cup of coffee with dashes of chocolate, and to live I am to dash off from this domestic scene and step out into the dark that crowds my windows? I get what this poem suggests, but how exactly to do I leave home that smells of my identity, cooking through the long years? Ah, I see, in this asking I might lose myself and find those paradise islands.

Where in your life would you trade comfort in to risk living a wild, authentic life?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Encounter - January 21, 2010

I lift the small brown mouse..

..He has no more to say..

.."Poor creature" I might say,

but what's the use of that.

The clock in him is broken.

And for ceremony,

Already the leaves have swirled

Over, the wind has spoken.

So many speaking, not speaking. The mouse is quiet, the poet is quiet in the poem, the wind speaks, the poet speaks in writing the poem, I speak now, and you listen. Maybe there isn't really anything to say, for no matter what we say our bodies keep track of the passing of the seasons and our lives. The great orator and poet of this existence is not any of us singled out on the path, dead, not-dead, but the winds of change that move us in our daily encounters with one another and a harsh, exciting reality.

How does the wind of change, chaos, and death move you? For you, today, is it a fierce wind or gentle breeze, or are you becalmed?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Eskimos Have No Word for War - January 20, 1010

Trying to explain it to them

Leaves one feeling ridiculous and obscene....

They listen politely, and stride away

with spears and sleds and barking dogs

To hunt for food....

....Later, by fires and boiling bones

In steaming kettles, they welcome me,...

To share what they have in a hungry time

In a difficult land. While I talk on

Of the southern kingdoms, cannon, armies

Shifting alliances, airplanes, power,

They chew their bones, and smile at one another.

How many words for war does our language have? Looking into a thesaurus I see:
















I add these words to this heavy list from my own life and experiences:


spiritual practice

letting go and letting love





letting the beauty I love be what I do (Rumi)

Mary speaks of the rhythm of the Eskimo's life - hunting, maintaining the village, cooking, and sharing meals. In their simplicity, in their acceptance of a harsh life, they have rid themselves of our species' propensity for war. I wonder how a daily rhythm under the firm hand of reality could shape us so that there was a constant knocking upon the door of joy, which with the sun's rise, might just open.

What words do you have for what wars within you and without? How do you build peace to the rhythm of life and not to the rhythm to the drums of war?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Answers - January 19, 2010

..I sat in the kitchen sorting through volumes of answers

That could not solve the mystery of the trees.

My grandmother stood among her kettles and ladles.

Smiling, in faulty grammar,

She praised my fortune and urged my lofty career,

So to please her I studied - but I will remember always

How she poured confusion out, how she cooled and labeled

All the wild sauces of the brimming year.

My goal is to read one Mary Oliver poem before the sun rises each day of this year 2010. I was a little later today than usual as the sun just topped the horizon and came pouring through my back porch window after the light wove through the welcoming woods behind our house. That light, filtered by the trees and an ample night's rest, seemed so simple, so complete, seemed to answer questions I had not even formed yet.

Spending these 19 days with Mary, this poem and the previous others speak to what might be Mary's answer to the unsolvable mystery of life.

· Rhythm of reality (of life, death, seasons, nature, pain, light, dark)

· Harvest (intimate embrace of reality, bringing reality into your being, home, and house, be strong and try to hold reality)

· Abundance/wildness (love is all around)

· Simplicity (be here now)

How do you answer life when circumstances demand your attention to seek meaning?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Anne - January 18, 2010

The daughter is mad, and so

I wonder what she will do....

...I feel my heart go wild, Anne,

I feel my heart go wild.

I know a hundred children,

But never before a child

Hiding so deep a trouble

Or wanting so much to please.

Or tending so desperately all

The small civilities.

Having just come from the North Atlantic Veterinary Conference with over 13,000 attendees I am mindful of the social pressures exerted when ever two or more humans are gathered, let alone families, communities, and global villages. I found myself watching others and watching myself about all the subtle ways we strive to belong, and as a corollary, exclude others. We hide who we are so that others might not see the truth underneath - that we all are so very flawed and less than we could be. Yet in this fumbling and bumbling of who we are there is perfection. If we could just loosen up a bit, I wonder what glory would shine through. If we would let our hearts run wild....

Where do you force yourself to behave in a certain way to gain acceptance or to belong? Who do you exclude?