Monday, August 30, 2010


Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and Skipper on Mimosa

Einstein once said that there are only two ways to live your life.  "One as though nothing is a miracle.  The other as though everything is a miracle."  Let it be said that I belong to the second group.  When I look in any direction, I am left in awe and wonder at the miracles of life.  They rise from the earth, they dance upon the wind, they sparkle in the night sky, they are anywhere and everywhere.  They are freely given, they are manifestations of grace, and they ask nothing of us in return, except perhaps that we find time to pay attention to their resplendent, life-affirming beauty.

During the past couple of days, I have tried to slow down and pay more attention to the miracles occurring moment to moment in my own backyard and places nearby.  What I have discovered is nothing less that miraculous — life unfolding in more colors and more varieties than one can ever quite imagine.  Enjoy!

Common Buckeye

"The world is full of wonders and miracles but man takes his little hand and covers his eyes and sees nothing."
Israel Baal Shem 

Blue Dasher Dragonfly on Arm 
of Chair Against Background of Blue Bucket

"To me every hour of the day and night is an unspeakably perfect miracle."
Walt Whitman 

Common Buckeye

"You can become blind by seeing each day as a similar one.  Each day is a different one, each day brings a miracle of its own.  It's just a matter of paying attention to this miracle."

Paul Coelho 

Sugar Tyme Crabapples

"The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common."

Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Silver Spotted Skipper

"The visible mark of extraordinary wisdom and power appear so plainly in all the works of creation."
John Locke 

Ruby Throated Hummingbird (Female)

"People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle.  But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on the earth.  Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child—our own two eyes.  All is a miracle."

Thich Nhat Hanh 


"Miracles, in the sense of phenomena we cannot explain, surround us on every hand; life itself is the miracle of miracles."

George Bernard Shaw 

Great White Egret

"There is nothing that God hath established in a constant course of nature, and which therefore is done every day, but would seem a Miracle, and exercise our admiration, if it were done once."

John Donne 


"All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a miracle which is taking place every second."

I still haven't identified this creature, which appears to be on its way to becoming a butterfly.  Any help would be most appreciated.

"If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change."


 Zebra Swallowtail
"The age of miracles is forever here."
Thomas Carlyle

 Silver Spotted Skippers

"It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education."

Albert Einstein 

Great Blue Heron

"Everything is a miracle.  It is a miracle that one does not dissolve in one's bath like a lump of sugar."


 American Bumble Bee

"Thy life's a miracle.  Speak yet again."

King Lear

Common Buckeye

Have a wonderful day
expect miracles!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


"Play is the poetry of the human being."
Jean Paul Sartre

Play has fascinating dynamics; start the process and you never know where it will lead.  In my last posting, for example, I played with the format, design, and color of my blog to illustrate the possibilities of changing the ways in which we both see things and create  things. That posting prompted my friend, Bonnie, over at The Original Art Studio, to create several word games, using an interesting tool named Wordle.  Each word game presents  colorfully scrambled words that can be unscrambled by the reader to discover a wonderful quote of great wisdom.

These little word puzzles have already introduced us to the wisdom of Jung, Nietzsche, Twain, and Buddha.  On top of this, we have been introduced to the creative possibilities of Wordle, which, incidentally, was used to create the header to this posting.

The point that I am making is simply this:  Play can be so much more that just a venue for fun.  It can be a pathway to wisdom, which is critical to our growth as individuals; it can be a pathway to improvisation, which has always been a key to human survival and evolution; it can be a pathway to creativity, which is the wellspring from which all art and innovation emerges; and it can be a pathway to the spiritual realm, where we can discover our place in the great mystery of things.

Listen to what others have said and you will see that play is not only fun and useful in our lives -- it is necessary!

"The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity.  The creative mind plays with the objects it loves."
Carl Jung 

"Very often the effort men put into activities that seem completely useless turns out to be extremely important in ways not one could foresee.  Play has always been the mainstream of culture."
Italo Calvino

"Play is the exultation of the possible."

Martin Buber

"There often seems to be a playfulness to wise people, as if either their equanimity has as its source this playfulness or the playfulness flows from equanimity; and they can persuade other people who are in a state of agitation to calm down and smile."
Edward Hoagland 

"It's a happy talent to know how to play."

"Almost all creativity involves purposeful play."
Abraham Maslow

"What work I have done I have done because it has been play."
Mark Twain 

"You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation."

"The master of the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion.  He hardly knows which is which; he simply pursues his vision of excellence in whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both."

"Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play." 

"Play is the highest form of research."
"We are more ready to try the untried when what we do is inconsequential.  Hence the remarkable fact that many inventions had their birth as toys."
Albert Einstein

"The true object of all human life is play.  Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground."
C. K. Chesterton

"I played with an idea, and grew willful;
 tossed it into the air; transformed it;
 let it escape and recaptured it;
 made it iridescent with fancy, and winged it with paradox."

Oscar Wilde

"We don't stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing."

George Bernard Shaw

"Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time like dew on the tip of a leaf."

Rabindranath Tagore

This is a photograph that I took in Obidos, Portugal.
It reminds me of the constant need to play with the colors, shapes, and forms of life.
It reminds me of the need for variety --
diagonals to contrast with verticals and horizontals,
soft forms to contrast with the hard forms,
low intensity to contrast with high intensity,
warm colors to contrast with cool colors --
in life as in art.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Be forewarned, readers:  This is an experimental, spontaneous, and playful post, offered in the spirit of provoking thought about 
Conditioned Thinking

that distort our vision, hamper our creativity, and limit our ability to experience the world in all of its glory.

SOMETIMES we need to break out of our preconceptions about -- 







Maybe we can avoid being as timid and reticent as T.S. Eliot's fearful character,
J. Alfred Prufrock,
who needs to ask:

"Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to a crisis?"

Perhaps we can always force the moment to a crisis
when necessary to advance

the honest
the true 
the compassionate
the authentic
the loving 
the beautiful
the creative
the peaceful


"The real voyage of discovery consists in not seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes." 
 Marcel Proust



Without labeling it,
fearing it?

                                Thomas Berger

I hope that this little posting will be fun for the reader because I have had great fun creating it.  I have been "playing around," of course, but isn't that where all creativity begins?  Think about it -- every stroke by a painter, every word laid upon paper by a writer, every movement by a dancer, every piece of improvisational music -- it all begins as play; it's all part of the creative process.

So Play
Play with words
Play with paints
Play with photography
Play with music
Play with dance
Play with ideas 
Play with the things you love
Play with the ones you love
Play with things that change the way you see
Play as if your life depends upon it
Because it does

Have a nice weekend, everyone!
Here's hoping that
this little piece
will help you see something you might not have seen otherwise.


Friday, August 13, 2010


My wife believes, with some justification, that I am endangering my health with every moment that I spend lying on my side of the bed. The problem is structural in nature -- not with the bed, of course -- but with the instability of the rising stacks of books on my bedside table.  I have a troublesome habit of adding to the stacks night after night until the entire structure collapses in a riotous event that sends my dog scurrying off the bed and into the hallway for refuge.  My usual response is one of feigned surprise ("How did that happen?"), which is typically followed by a reminder from my wife that this is probably how I will die -- in a book-slide -- which she believes will be difficult to explain to the local authorities.

As I looked at the books on my bedside table this morning (header photo), I noticed that we are on the verge of yet another collapse.  I am an adventurous spirit, however, and I decided to simply tighten the stacks up a bit and to monitor the situation in the days ahead.  When I stepped back and looked at my newly organized stacks, it suddenly occurred to me that the titles provided a reliable report of where I am at this point on my little journey through life.  What about you? Are there any among you that have yet to master feng shui, and who have more than one book on your bedside table?  Do your books tell you anything about the essence of who you are at this present moment? Are there any books that stay on your table or nearby, books that you are always returning to, depending on your mood or needs on a given day?

Your comments would be most interesting, I think, and during the meantime, I will start the process by disclosing the titles of the books I found on my beside table this morning.  

Essays:  The Spiritual Emerson: Essential Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (Tarcher Cornerstone Editions, 2008); The Books of My Life, by Henry Miller; The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley; and Life is a Miracle, by Wendell Berry.

Poetry:  The Pushcart Book of Poetry: The Best Poems From Thirty Years of the Pushcart Prize; Endpoint, poems of John Updike; Ballistics, poems of Billy Collins; The Insistence of Beauty, poems by Stephen Dunn; and Narrow Road to the Interior, poems by Matsuo Basho (translated by Sam Hamil). 

The Writing Life:  Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life With Words, by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge; Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg; The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard; and Letters to a Young Poet, by Rilke.

Memoir:  Now and Then, by Frederick Buechner.

Philosophy:  This is It, by Alan Watts; Tao Te Ching (translation by Stephen Mitchell); Zen Keys, by Thich Nhat Hanh; Wabi Sabi, by Taro Gold; Wabi Sabi: The Art of Everyday Living, by Diane Durston; Zen and the Art of Everything, by Hal French; and  Peace in Every Step, by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Novels:  Zorba the Greek, by Nikos Kazantzakis, and Evidence of Things Unseen, by Marriane Wiggins.

Theology:  The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions, by Karen Armstrong, and Meister Eckhart (translated by Raymond B. Blakney).

Miscellaneous:  Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard; Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, by David Shields; The Wild Places, by Robert MacFarlane; and A Year of Mornings: A Photographic Collaboration, by Maria Alexandra Vettese and Stephanie Coughan Barnes.

My wife and I will be on a road trip for the next four or five days.  If you do not receive my response to your comments immediately, rest assured that I will respond as soon as I return (or have access to wireless for my laptop while on the road).


Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Ulysses and the Sirens
John William Waterhouse 

"It is difficult
to get the news from poems;
yet men die miserably every day
from lack
of what is found there."

William Carlos Williams

At some point in the late sixties, I rediscovered Tennyson's great epic poem, Ulysses.  I had read the poem in high school and college, of course, but treated it as little more than an academic exercise.  My perceptions changed, however, as I began to face the daunting headwinds of my own voyage.  I began to understand that Ulysses was more than just a poem; it was a reliable chart of the uncertain waters over which my own life would travel.  More importantly, it provided wise counsel on what one must do to not only survive the journey, but to find strength, joy, and fulfillment in it.

In the days that followed my rediscovery of Ulysses, I committed the poem to memory, where, for the most part, it has remained for four decades.  I share it with you now because, even if you have read it hundreds of times, there is always something fresh and inspirational to be unveiled.  If, like me, you are still writing the script for the third act of your life, you may find the poem's stentorian call to adventure to be especially moving.  It is, indeed, a time "to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."  Enjoy!

by Alfred Lord Tennyson

It little profits that an idle king, 
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoyed 
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vexed the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honored of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers;
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life.  Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this grey spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the scepter and the isle --
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centered in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone.  He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas.  My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me --
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads -- you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil;
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices.  Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are:
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Alfred Lord Tennyson
Portrait by George Frederic Watts

Thursday, August 5, 2010


1993 - 2004

While recently perusing The Pushcart Book of Poetry, an anthology of the best poems from thirty years of The Pushcart Prize, I came upon a poem, titled "What The Animals Teach Us,"  by Chard DeNiord.  As one who has learned much from my two labrador retrievers -- Baci, who is no longer with us, except in spirit, and Derry, my current Zen master -- I find the subject of this poem to be fascinating, and I would interested in learning what others have discovered from their experiences with animals.  Let's begin with Chard DeNiord's poem:


that love is dependent on memory,
that life is eternal and therefore criminal,
that thought is an invisible veil that covers our eyes,
that death is only another animal,
that beauty is formed by desperation,
that sex is solely a human problem, 
that pets are wild in heaven, 
that sounds and smells escape us,
that there are bones in the earth without any marker,
that language refers to too many things,
that music hints at what we heard before we sang, 
that the circle is loaded, 
that nothing we know by forgetting is sacred, 
that humor charges the smallest things,
that the gods are animals without their masks,
that stones tell secrets to the wildest creatures,
that nature is an idea and not a place,
that our bodies have diminished in size and strength,
that our faces are terrible,
that our eyes are double when gazed upon,
that snakes do talk, as well as asses,
that we compose our only audience,
that we are geniuses when we wish to kill,
that we are naked despite our clothes,
that our minds are bodies in another world.

This poem is deeper than its title implies, and new truths are unveiled each time I read it.  The line that seems to resonate most with me is that "music hints at what we heard before we sang."  Maybe animals evoke a similar response in humans; perhaps they remind us of a more innocent time and place -- a time when we roamed together, knowing innately that our destinies were intertwined.

Derry as a Puppy

My two labs, Baci and Derry, have taught me several of the lessons that DeNiord mentions in his poem, the principal ones being that "sounds and smells escape us" and "that thought is an invisible veil that covers our eyes."  Being great teachers, however, they have also taught me other valuable lessons, specifically --

that sunrise brings a day unlike any other in history,
that exploration is the great purpose of our lives,
that every place is a good place for a mindful walk,
that even the adventurous need rest and reflection,
that love's touch is needed more than love's words,
that peace is sitting in silence with your heart's desire,
that a kind heart can bond softly with its opposite,
that animals walk with us through dark shadows of loss,
that animals often smile and sometimes laugh,
that there is no life except the life of the moment,
that everything good and bad will eventually pass,
that aging and illness can be a walk through grace,
that authentic love knows no bounds -- not even death,
     and this, with due respect to Carson McCullers,
that, with a dog, the heart is never a lonely hunter.

Derry in Last Winters' Snow

What have you learned from your pets or other animals that you have observed closely?  Your comments will be appreciated.  If my response is not immediate, it is because I will be out of town for the next three or four days. Rest assured, however, that I will respond to all comments upon my return.  Have a nice weekend, everyone!

Monday, August 2, 2010


The moon and sun are eternal travelers.  Even the years wander on.  A lifetime adrift in a boat or in old age leading a tired horse into the years, every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.

In these wonderful lines from Narrow Road to the Interior, Matsuo Basho, the celebrated 17th century Japanese poet and haiku master, has reminded us that home is not the destination of our journey; it is the journey itself.  With a philosophy rooted in Taoism and Zen, Basho understood that life can only be lived when one is fully awake, fully aware, and fully invested in the mystery and glory of the present moment.  Home is the uncertain path beneath our feet, the mysterious dance of form and color around every bend, the unexpected wind upon our face.  Home is a fading church bell, the intense fragrance of flowers in the early evening, the haunting sound of whippoorwills calling to one another at twilight.  Home is the restless dragonfly, the solitary heron that feeds in the shallows, the bluebird that sits outside your window pondering the meaning of an early snowfall.  Home is both movement and stillness, the stillness in our movement and the movement in our stillness.

Many of the treasured moments of Basho's life were expressed in his celebrated haiku verses.  I have chosen several of these verses and paired them with some of my photos that seem appropriate.  Enjoy!

Temple bells die out.
The fragrant blossoms remain.
A perfect evening!

Silent the old town 
the scent of flowers floating
and evening bell

The dragonfly
can't quite land
on that blade of grass

Even that old horse
is something to see this
snow-covered morning

Now in sad autumn
as I take my 
darkening path
a solitary bird

A lightning flash --
and, piercing the darkness,
the night heron's cry

Twilight whippoorwills
whistle on,
sweet deepened
of dark loneliness

Summer grasses:
all that remains of great soldiers'
imperial dreams

First white snow of fall
just enough to bend 
the leaves
of faded daffodils

In summer mountains
bow to holy high-water clogs
bless this long journey

One more -- one that not only captures the essence of Basho's life, but also provides a good template for the rest of us:

A wanderer,
so let that be my name --
the first winter rain