Sunday, September 25, 2016


Off on my morning walk 
on the trails through the South Carolina
Botanical Gardens, accompanied by my camera.  
I keep thinking that the butterflies should have disappeared by now, 
but it seems that only the swallowtails that are diminishing in number each 
week.  The monarchs and fritillaries are still in abundance, and I'm still finding
many in the caterpillar stage.  So wonderful, this seasonal unfolding of beauty—of new life.

Shortly after making the image 
of the Monarch in the header photo,
I came across this Great Spangled Fritillary
enjoying breakfast on top of a zennia.  It was the tip of his 
wing catching the early morning  sunlight that caught my eye.

Down the trail a bit, 
I came across some of the last 
cherry tomatoes growing in a small garden.

This is a Gulf Fritillary, 
also munching on one of the 
many zinnias (which are great for
attracting butterflies).  Whenever possible, 
I try to photograph butterflies against a dark 
background in order to highlight their colors and designs.

Another Monarch.
The wing designs and
color placements are amazing.
Notice how the white dots on the 
edges of the wings are matched with white dots on the head and neck.

This image is not 
as crisp as I would like, 
but you can see that I discover
other types of weird creatures on my walks.

This is the back side
of a Gulf Fritillary feasting on a zennia.

 Another Monarch

A Few Parting Words
The Tao Te Ching
(translation by Ursula K. Le Guin)

The Way bears them;
power nurtures them;
their own being shapes them;
their own energy completes them.
And not one of the ten thousand things
fails to hold the Way sacred
or to obey its power.

Their reverence for the Way
and obedience to its power
are unforced and always natural.
For the Way gives them life;
its power nourishes them,
mothers and feeds them,
completes and matures them,
looks after them, protects them.

To have without possessing,
do without claiming,
lead without controlling:
this is mysterious power.


Wednesday, September 21, 2016


Gleaning some words from old masters
I make my own poems.


Poetry is not about language.
It's about something.

Joel Oppenheimer

Who says my poems are poems?
My poems are not poems.
Once you know my poems are not poems
Then we can talk poetry.


Each of these quotes appears on one of 
the opening pages of While We've Still Got Feet
a 2005 collection of poems by David Budbill.

In the past few days, I've been reading some of the work of poet David Budbill. Inspired by the hermit-poets of ancient China, Budbill left the cities more than four decades ago and moved to a remote hermitage on the top of Judevine Mountain in Vermont.  For the next thirty-five years, he spent most of his time there, reading poetry, writing poetry, playing his flute, and tending to his land.  Having read some of his poetry, it's clear that he was also seeking to live a simple, uncomplicated life that was in harmony with the ancient wisdom of his Asian mentors.  

In the collection of poems referenced above — While We've Still Got Feet — Budbill mentions the work of more than a dozen Asian poets or philosophers, including Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Ryokan, and Han Shan.  There is also a poem which celebrates the Tao Te Ching:

                                              The Way is Like Language

                               The Way is like language.  The more you use it, 
                               the more it responds, becomes resilient, pliable,
                               lithe, liquid, smooth, supple, available, eager.

                               Go ahead, do anything you want to it.  You can't 
                               hurt it.  It is far more powerful than you are.
                               It's there to serve and dominate you all at once.

                               Surrender to it and it will be your servant.
                               It is your tool, your toy, your master.

I find the Tao or "The Way" running through many of Budbill's poems.  He is clearly a poet who has given most of his life to learning how to live simply and mindfully, how to live beyond the win-lose conventions of American culture, and how to live more in the body and less in the chatterbox arena of the mind.  On this latter point — body versus mind — I especially like this poem:

                                 This Shining Moment in the Now

               When I work outdoors all day, every day, as I do now, in the fall
               getting ready for winter, tearing up the garden, digging potatoes,
               gathering the squash, cutting firewood, making kindling, repairing
               bridges over the brook, clearing trails in the woods, doing the last of
               the fall mowing, pruning apple trees, taking down the screens,
               putting up the storm windows, banking the house — all these things,
               as preparation for the coming cold . . .

               when I am every day all day all body and no mind, when I am

               physically , wholly and completely in this world with the birds,
               the deer, the sky, the wind, the trees . . .

               when day after day I think of nothing but what the next chore is,

               when I go from clearing woods roads, to sharpening a chain saw,
               to changing the oil in a mower, to stacking wood, when I am
               all body and no mind . . .

               when I am only here and now and nowhere else — then, and only

               then, do I see the crippling power of mind, the curse of thought,
               and I pause and wonder why I so seldom find
               this shining moment in the now.

                  From While We've Still Got Feet, Copper Canyon Press, 2023.

Here's to the shining moment of the now.  To quote a line which lends itself to the title of this Budbill collection, "let's go dancing/while we've still/got feet."

Sunday, September 18, 2016


If the landscape reveals one certainty, it is that the extravagant gesture is the very stuff of creation.  After the one extravagant gesture of creation in the first place, the universe has continued to deal exclusively in extravagances, flinging intricacies and colossi down aeons of emptiness, heaping profusions on profligacies with ever-fresh vigor.  The whole show has been on fire from the word go.  I come down to the water to cool my eyes.  But everywhere I look I see fire; that which isn't flint is tinder, and the whole world sparks and flames.

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek 

What do I make of all this texture?  What does it mean about the kind of world in which I have been set down?  The texture of the world, its filigree and scrollwork, means that there is a possibility of beauty here, a beauty inexhaustible in its complexity, which opens to my knock, which answers in me a call I do not remember calling, and which trains me to the wild and extravagant nature of the spirit I seek.
Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle curved tunnels of leaf miners on the face of a leaf.  We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what's going on here.  Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or, of it comes to that, choir the proper praise.

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

If you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then since the world is in fact planted with pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days.  It is that simple.  What you see is what you get.
Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek 

The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them.  The least we can do is try to be there.
Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Unless all ages and races of men have been deluded by the same mass hypnotist (who?), there seems to be such a thing as beauty, a grace wholly gratuitous.
Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek 

We wake, if we ever wake at all, to mystery . . .
Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


It is always tempting to think of oneself as essentially alone in this world — alone in birth, alone in life, and alone in death.  However comforting this sentiment might be when one is feeling a bit lonely, the truth is that none of us is ever truly alone.  Each and every life is always unfolding in relationship to the unfolding of all other things in existence, both animate and inanimate.  Just as there is a dance between night and day, a dance between grief and joy, a dance between shore and sea, there is an undeniable dance between each of us and the myriad things that lie beyond our control.  We're always in a conversation with everything that happens in our environment, especially those things that command our attention.

This is what poet and philosopher David Whyte has referred to as "the conversational nature of reality,"  and he has written a very fine poem that captures its essence.  Describing his inspiration for the poem in a recent interview on the excellent radio/podcast program On Being, Whyte said this:

[T]his piece is written almost like a conversation in the mirror, trying to remind myself what's first-order.  And we have so many allies in this world, including just the color blue in the sky, which we're not paying attention to, or the breeze, or the ground beneath our feet.  And so this is an invitation to come out of abstraction and back to the world again.  It's called "Everything is Waiting For You."
So here's the poem.  Enjoy. 

                                          Everything is Waiting for You
                                                   (after Derek Mahon)

                               Your great mistake is to act the drama

                               as if you were alone.  As if life
                               were a progressive and cunning crime
                               with no witness to the tiny hidden
                               transgressions.  To feel abandoned is to deny
                               the intimacy of your surroundings.  Surely,
                               even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
                               the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
                               out your solo voice.  You must note
                               the way the soap dish enables you,
                               or the window latch grants you freedom.
                               Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
                               The stairs are your mentor of things
                               to come, the doors have always been there
                               to frighten you and invite you,
                               and the tiny speaker in the phone
                               is your dream-ladder to divinity.

                               Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
                               the conversation.  The kettle is singing
                               even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
                               have left their arrogant aloofness and
                               seen the good in you at last.  All the birds
                               and creatures of the world are unutterably
                               themselves.  Everything is waiting for you.

Sunday, September 4, 2016


I love to be alone.
I never found a companion
that was so companionable as solitude.


I need to be alone . . . 
I need the sunshine and the paving stones
of the streets without companions, without conversation, 
face to face with  myself, with only the music of my heart for company.

Henry Miller

A man can be himself only so long as he is alone;
and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom;
for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.


I live in that solitude
which is painful in youth, 
but delicious in the years of maturity.


Loneliness is the poverty of self;
solitude is richness of self.

May Sarton

But your solitude will be a support and a home for you,
even in the midst of very unfamiliar circumstances,
and from it you will find all paths.


Wherever I am, the world comes after me.
It offers me its busyness.  It does not believe 
that I do not want it.  Now I understand
why the old poets of China went so far and high
into the mountains, then crept into the pale mist.

Mary Oliver
"Why I Wake Early"

Uncontradicting solitude
Supports me on its giant palm;
And like a sea-anemone
Or simple snail, there cautiously
Unfolds, emerges, what I am.

Philip Larkin

In order to be open to creativity, 
one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude.
One must overcome the fear of being alone.

Rollo May

When from our better selves we have too long
Been parted by the hurrying world, and droop,
Sick of its business, of its pleasures tired,
How gracious, how benign, is Solitude.


Thursday, September 1, 2016


During a long walk this morning, I listened to an episode of On Being in which the host, Krista Tippett, interviewed Joanna Macy, who, among other things, is a translator of the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke.  During the course of the interview, Macy recited four Rilke poems that, in her view, provide windows into various stages of Rilke's spiritual journey.  These poems resonated with me, especially when considered in close proximity to one another.  Perhaps they will resonate with others as well. 

                                             God's True Cloak

                           We must not portray you in king's robes,
                           you drifting mist that brought forth the morning.

                           Once again from the old paintboxes
                           we take the same gold for scepter and crown
                           that has disguised you through the ages.

                           Piously we produce our images of you
                           till they stand around you like a thousand walls.
                           And when our hearts would simply open,
                           our fervent hands hide you.

                                             Book of Hours, I 4

                                              Widening Circles

                           I live my life in widening circles
                           that reach out across the world.
                           I may not complete this last one
                           but I give myself to it.

                           I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
                           I've been circling for thousands of years
                           and I still don't know: am I a falcon,
                           a storm, or a great song?

                                               Book of Hours, I 2

                                  Go to the Limits of Your Longing

                            God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
                            then walks with us silently out of the night.

                            These are the words we dimly hear:

                            You, sent out beyond your recall,
                            go to the limits of your longing.
                            Embody me.

                            Flare up like a flame
                            and make big shadows I can move in.

                            Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
                            Just keep going.  No feeling is final.
                            Don't let yourself lose me.

                            Nearby is the country they call life.
                            You will know it by its seriousness.

                            Give me your hand.

                                           Book of Hours, I 59

                                  Let This Darkness be a Bell Tower

                            Quiet friend who has come so far,
                            feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
                            Let this darkness be a bell tower
                            and you the bell.  As you ring,

                            what batters you becomes your strength.
                            Move back and forth into the change.
                            What is it like, such intensity of pain?
                            If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

                            In this uncontainable night,
                            be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
                            the meaning discovered there.

                            And if the world has ceased to hear you,
                            say to the silent earth: I flow.
                            To the rushing water, speak: I am.

                                           Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29

Thursday, August 11, 2016


I don't know why I find myself attracted to old, abandoned houses, but I do. Perhaps it's my admiration for the wabi-sabi aesthetic of finding beauty in what architect Leonard Koren has described as things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. There may also be something else at work here — a sense of profound sadness that these myriad decaying structures once sheltered people with hope, unnoticed dreamers who struggled valiantly but finally succumbed to the harsh realities of life. Whatever the case, I look upon these old places much as William Carlos Williams does in his nostalgic poem Pastoral (When I Was Younger).  I continue to find beauty in whatever life remains,  whether it be the "properly weathered" colors of old wood or the changing angles of a leaking roof that will surely collapse in time, but which is holding its own today.  As Williams concludes in his poem, these things may not be "of vast import to the nation," but they always deserve our attention, for they remind us that most things — even our own lives — continue to yield beauty, even as they surrender to the ravages of time.

                                          Pastoral (When I was younger)
                                               by William Carlos Williams

                                              When I was younger
                                              it was plain to me
                                              I must make something of myself.
                                              Older now
                                              I walk back streets
                                              admiring the houses
                                              of the very poor:
                                              roof out of line with sides
                                              the yards cluttered
                                              with old chicken wire, ashes,
                                              furniture gone wrong:
                                              the fences and the outhouses
                                              built of barrel staves
                                              and parts of boxes, all,
                                              if I am fortunate, 
                                              smeared a bluish green
                                              that properly weathered
                                              pleases me best of all colors.
                                              No one
                                              will believe this
                                              of vast import to the nation.

From The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams: 1909-1939