Sunday, May 29, 2016

LISTENING TO TREES



Whoever has learned how to listen to trees
no longer wants to be a tree.  He longs to be nothing
except what he is.  That is home.  That is happiness.
Hermann Hesse

We spend our lives among trees — admiring them, climbing them, taking comfort in their shade, eating their fruits, using them for endless commercial purposes.  What we seldom do, however, is pay attention to the ancient wisdom that trees are constantly imparting to us.  Listen to the trees, said the great German writer Hermann Hesse, for they have much to teach us.  

For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers.  I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves.  And even more I revere them when they stand alone.  They are like lonely persons.  Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche.  In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves.  Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree.  When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured.  And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.
Trees are sanctuaries.  Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth.  They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life. 
A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life.  The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and smallest scar on my bark.  I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.
A tree says:  My strength is trust.  I know nothing about my fathers.  I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me.  I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else.  I trust that God is in me.  I trust that my labor is holy.  Out of this trust I live.
When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult.  Those are childish thoughts.  Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent.  You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home.  But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother.  Home is neither here nor there.  Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.
A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening.  If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning.  It is not so much a matter of escaping from one's suffering, though it may seem to be so.  It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life.  It leads home.  Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.
So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer live than ours.  They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them.  But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and  the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy.  Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree.  He wants to be nothing except what he is.  That is home.  That is happiness. 
 From Bäume: Betrachtungen und Gedichte
(Trees: Reflections and Poems)
by
Hermann Hesse 

Friday, April 29, 2016

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS WITH BARRED OWLS

Barred Owl

We are all visionaries,
and what we see is our soul in things.

Henri Amiel

In her poem "White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field," Mary Oliver described an owl she once observed as "an angel, or a Buddha with wings."  This imagery has frequently resurfaced in my mind during the past week as I have studied the daily habits of the male barred owl pictured above, his mate, and the two young owlets that were born to the couple just a few weeks ago, and who are now in their fledgling phase.

On the day after first sighting the large male, I discovered him again, sitting on the limb of a tree within 25 feet of our front porch.  As soon as I peered through the viewfinder of my camera, a young owlet peeped out of a rotten cavity in an adjacent tree, informing me for the first time that this was a springtime family affair.  A couple of days later, two owlets emerged from the top of the rotten tree and eventually developed the courage to jump to a branch.  Since then, they have been struggling to understand their bodies, especially the large wings, while simultaneously trying to survive aggressive crow attacks and the piercing eyes of the red-shouldered hawks which are also abundant in these woods.  Through it all, the large male has been truly amazing, providing the young owlets with broad latitude to fail as they experiment with life, yet always ready to swoop down when necessary to protect them from predators.

Set forth below are some of the images I have taken of the barred owls, especially the young owlets.  Enjoy.

With this post, I hope to begin posting on a more regular basis.  It's been thirteen months since my last post, a sabbatical that happened without design as I simply tried to spend more time in the moment — and in movement.





















Sunday, March 22, 2015

HOPE FOR THE PAST

Robert Frost
(1874 - 1963)
Photo by Walter Albertin

The concept of hope is usually reserved for the future.  As Robert Frost and David Ray's poem remind us, however, it may be that a more pressing question is whether there is hope for one's past — all of the actions, decisions, and indecisions that undergird what one has become.

                                                 Thanks, Robert Frost
                                                         by David Ray

                                Do you have hope for the future?
                                someone asked Robert Frost, toward the end.
                                Yes, and even for the past, he replied,
                                that it will turn out to have been all right
                                for what it was, something we can accept,
                                mistakes made by the selves we had to be,
                                not able to be, perhaps, what we wished,
                                or what looking back half the time it seems
                                we could so easily have been, or ought . . .
                                The future, yes, and even for the past,
                                that it will become something we can bear.
                                And I too, and my children, so I hope,
                                will recall as not too heavy the tug
                                of those albatrosses I sadly placed
                                upon their tender necks.  Hope for the past,
                                yes, old Frost, your words provide that courage,
                                and it brings strange peace that itself passes
                                into past, easier to bear because
                                you said it, rather casually, as snow
                                went on falling in Vermont years ago.

Credit:  David Ray's poem, "Thanks, Robert Frost," is published in Music of Time: Selected and New Poems (The Blackwater Press, 2006).  Thanks also to Parker J. Palmer's column, Meaning Changes As Life Unfolds, published March 18, 2015, on Krista Tippett's excellent site, "On Being".


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

WELCOMING ALL GUESTS



                                               THE GUEST HOUSE
                                                          By Rumi
                                             (Translation by Coleman Barks)

                                     This being human is a guest house.

                                     Every morning a new arrival.

                                     A joy, a depression, a meanness,

                                     some momentary awareness comes
                                     as an unexpected visitor.

                                     Welcome and entertain them all!

                                     Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
                                     who violently sweep your house
                                     empty of its furniture,
                                     still, treat each guest honorably.
                                     He may be clearing you out
                                     for some new delight.

                                     The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

                                     meet them at the door laughing, 
                                     and invite them in.

                                     Be grateful for whoever comes,

                                     because each has been sent
                                     as a guide from beyond.




Saturday, January 31, 2015

THE RED-SHOULDERED MESSENGER

Red-shouldered Hawk

Sometimes we grow forgetful of what is vitally important to our sanity.  Sometimes we are simply distracted by the clutter and clatter of life.  And then, if we are lucky, a small miracle comes our way — something unexpected that breaks through the mind chatter and invites us to be still, to rest in the unfolding beauty of the world.

This was my experience late yesterday afternoon.  After a chaotic week of dealing with various issues too nettlesome to mention, I discovered a magnificent red-shouldered hawk perched in one of the sycamore trees in my yard.  I have encountered this hawk many times before, and I've spent considerable time trying to get close enough to make a decent photo.  On every prior occasion, however, my slightest movement sent the hawk screeching into the nearest heavily wooded area.

Yesterday was different.  I felt instinctively that the hawk was approaching me, no less than I was approaching it.  It was all about connecting with each other and with things that matter in this world.  Once the connection was made, the petty problems of the week dissipated and I was overcome with the kind of peace that Mary Oliver describes in her fine poem, "Messenger," which appears in her 2006 collection, Thirst.  Like Oliver, I simply want to "keep my mind on what matters . . . which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished."


                                                       Messenger
                                                    by Mary Oliver

                             My work is loving the world.
                             Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird —
                               equal seekers of sweetness.
                             Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
                             Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

                             Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
                             Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect?  Let me
                                keep my mind on what matters,
                             which is my work,

                             which is mostly standing still and learning to be 
                               astonished.
                             The phoebe, the delphinium.
                             The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
                             Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

                             which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
                               and these body-clothes,
                             a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
                               to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
                             telling them all, over and over, how it is
                                 that we live forever.




Saturday, January 17, 2015

SAYING "YES" TO THE SAVAGE AND BEAUTIFUL JOURNEY

Derry, The Zen Master

Here's an inspirational thought for the beginning of 2015, or for that matter, the beginning of tomorrow and every day thereafter:

The great affair, the love affair with life, is to live as variously as possible, to groom one's curiosity like a high-spirited thoroughbred, climb aboard, and gallop over the thick, sun-struck hills every day.  Where there is no risk, the emotional terrain is flat and unyielding, and, despite all its dimensions, valleys, pinnacles, and detours, life will seem to have none of its magnificent geography, only a length.  It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery, but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between.
Diane Ackerman
from
A Natural History of the Senses 

Monday, January 12, 2015

LISTENING IN THE SILENCE OF WINTER



Here I am in the middle of January, sitting by the fire with a cup of tea and a book of poetry, thinking of how comfortable it is to slow down in winter, to concentrate on the infinite pleasures of just being in the world — not doing, not resolving, not producing, not winning, not succeeding — just being.

The book in my hands is The House of Belonging, a collection of poems by David Whyte, and it contains a lovely poem that captures much of what is coursing through my thoughts on this particular day.  It's a poem about listening — listening for the sounds of a world being constantly renewed, listening for the quiet whisper of one's inner voice, listening for the unique music of every thing and every person, listening for the myriad joys that are about to be born into the world every moment, even as some of the old familiar joys are passing away.  Here it is:

                                            The Winter of Listening
                                                    by David Whyte

                                            No one but me by the fire,

                                            my hands burning
                                            red in the palms while
                                            the night wind carries
                                            everything away outside.

                                            All this petty worry
                                            while the great cloak
                                            of the sky grows dark
                                            and intense
                                            round every living thing.

                                            What is precious
                                            inside us does not
                                            care to be known
                                            by the mind
                                            in ways that diminish
                                            its presence.

                                            What we strive for
                                            in perfection
                                            is not what turns us
                                            into the lit angel
                                            we desire,

                                            what disturbs
                                            and then nourishes
                                            has everything
                                            we need.

                                            What we hate
                                            in ourselves
                                            is what we cannot know
                                            in ourselves but
                                            what is true to the pattern
                                            does not need
                                            to be explained.

                                            Inside everyone
                                            is a great shout of joy
                                            waiting to be born.

                                            Even with the summer
                                            so far off
                                            I feel it grown in me
                                            now and ready
                                            to arrive in the world.

                                            All those years
                                            listening to those
                                            who had
                                            nothing to say.

                                            All those years
                                            forgetting
                                            how everything
                                            has its own voice
                                            to make
                                            itself heard.

                                            All those years
                                            forgetting
                                            how easily
                                            you can belong
                                            to everything
                                            simply by listening.

                                            And the slow
                                            difficulty
                                            of remembering
                                            how everything
                                            is born from
                                            an opposite
                                            and miraculous
                                            otherness.

                                            Silence and winter
                                            has led me to that
                                            otherness.

                                            So let this winter
                                            of listening
                                            be enough
                                            for the new life
                                            I must call my own.


From The House of Belonging: Poems by David Whyte (Many Rivers Press, Langley, Washington (1997).