Tuesday, January 29, 2013


the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, or incomplete;
the beauty of things modest and humble; 
the beauty of things unconventional.

Walk through a boatyard, 
preferably an old one that struggles
to survive yet another harsh winter, 
and you will discover the essence of wabi-sabi:
nothing permanent, everything in beautiful transition.

The once proud bow of an old sloop
has now become a semi-abstract painting
which beckons me to look across a snowy landscape
in search of the timid winter moon.

The ancient boat lift 
can hardly serve its original purpose,
but finds new life as a sculptor, 
reminding my eyes of the loveliness
and necessity of negative space.

The corroded 
rudder of an aging ketch
is no longer just a steering utility.
It's a quiet embodiment of Zen simplicity 
 that invites the heart to stillness and meditation.

Paint from a shed
flakes, peels, takes flight
on the winter Chesapeake winds,
 leaving its message that man's best devices
can never hold together what nature is destined to alter.

What appears
to be raw corrosion
is simply a new birth,
 a creative act of destruction
born of wind and water, grit and grime, 
bringing nascent beauty to an unexpected place.

From Wabi-Sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers
by Leonard Koren

Wabi-sabi suggests that beauty is a dynamic event that occurs between you and something else.  Beauty can spontaneously occur at any moment given the proper circumstances, context, or point of view.  Beauty is thus an altered state of consciousness, an extraordinary moment of poetry and grace.

For previous postings about wabi-sabi on this blog, see:

Sunday, January 27, 2013



After spending my morning with a massive flock of snow geese in the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, I returned home with a vague memory of having recently read a poem about these winter visitors.  Suspecting that it might be a poem by Mary Oliver, I looked through my volumes and found the poem below in Oliver's New and Selected Poems: Volume Two (Beacon Press, 2005).  It is such a privilege, as Oliver reminds us, "to love what is lovely, and will not last!"

                                                   Snow Geese
                                                 by Mary Oliver

                        Oh, to love what is lovely, and will not last!
                              What a task
                                 to ask

                        of anything, or anyone,

                        yet it is ours,
                           and not by the century or the year, but by the hours.

                        One fall day I heard
                          above me, and above the sting of the wind, a sound
                        I did not know, and my look shot upward; it was

                        a flock of snow geese, winging it
                           faster than the ones we usually see,
                        and, being the color of snow, catching the sun

                        so they were, in part at least, golden.  I

                        held my breath
                        as we do
                        to stop time
                        when something wonderful 
                        has touched us

                        as with a match,
                        which is lit, and bright,
                        but does not hurt 
                        in the common way,

                        but delightfully, 
                        as if delight
                        were the most serious thing
                        you ever felt.

                        The geese
                        flew on,
                        I have never seen them again.

                        Maybe I will, someday, somewhere.
                        Maybe I won't.
                        It doesn't matter.
                        What matters 
                        is that, when I saw them,
                        I saw them
                        as through the veil, secretly, joyfully, clearly.

You can hear a reading of Mary Oliver's poem, "Snow Geese," by clicking on the following Youtube link: http://youtube.com/watch?v=zAxN9Zu6hfE

Thursday, January 24, 2013


                                             by Rainer Maria Rilke
                                          (translated by Robert Bly)

                      Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colors
                      which it passes to a row of ancient trees.
                      You look, and soon these two worlds both have you,
                      one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth,

                      leaving you, not really belonging to either,
                      not so hopelessly dark as that house that is silent,
                      not so unswervingly given to the eternal as that thing
                      that turns to a star each night and climbs—

                      leaving you (it is impossible to untangle the threads)
                      your own life, timid and standing high and growing,
                      so that, sometimes blocked in, sometimes reaching out,
                      one moment of your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star.

Note on Translation:  In The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke (edited and translated by Stephen Mitchell), this poem is listed under the title, "Evening."  While I like Mitchell's translations on the whole, I prefer Bly's translation in this particular case.  See Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke (translated by Robert Bly).

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Cooper's Hawk

It was cold and crisp this morning, and I was looking for a little magic to begin the day, when my wife spotted this Cooper's hawk on one of the high limbs of a tree behind our house.  I've seen him in our neighborhood before, but he has never allowed me to get very close.  Today, however, was different. He seemed to enjoy my company as much as I did his.  On the other hand, he was probably thinking more like a hawk in search of food than a man in search of companionship.  As the poet Ted Hughes reminds us in the poem below, one cannot really understand a hawk unless you see the world from the hawk's vantage point.  Unlike humans, the hawk has no "falsifying dream."  There is "no sophistry" in its body, and the path of its flight is always "direct."

                                         HAWK ROOSTING
                                            by Ted Hughes

                        I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed.
                        Inaction, no falsifying dream
                        Between my hooked head and hooked feet:
                        Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat.

                        The convenience of the high trees!
                        The air's bouyancy and the sun's ray
                        Are  of advantage to me;
                        And the earth's face upward for my inspection.

                        My feet are locked upon the rough bark.
                        It took the whole of creation
                        To produce my foot, my each feather:
                        Now I hold Creation in my foot

                        Or fly up, and revolve it all slowly -
                        I kill where I please because it is all mine.
                        There is no sophistry in my body:
                        My manners are tearing off heads -

                        The allotment of death.
                        For the one path of my flight is direct
                        Through the bones of the living.
                        No arguments assert my right:

                        The sun is behind me.
                        Nothing has changed since I began.
                        My eye has permitted no change.
                        I am going to keep things like this.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


                                            From David Whyte's poem 
                                                  "Sweet Darkness" 

                                                           *  *  *

                                         You must learn one thing.
                                         The world was made to be free in.

                                         Give up all the other worlds
                                         except the one to which you belong.

                                         Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
                                         confinement of your aloneness
                                         to learn

                                         anything or anyone
                                         that does not bring you alive

                                         is too small for you.

                                           Raymond Carver's poem
                                                 "Late Fragment"

                                   And did you get what 
                                   you wanted from this life, even so?
                                   I did.
                                   And what did you want?
                                   To call myself beloved, to feel myself
                                   beloved on earth.

                                            From Mary Oliver's poem
                                              "When Death Comes"

                                                         *  *  *

                          When it is over, I want to say: all my life
                          I was a bride married to amazement.
                          I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms..

                          When it's over, I don't want to wonder
                          if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
                          I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened, 
                          or full of argument.

                          I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

Sources:  David Whyte's poem, "Sweet Darkness," is from The House of Belonging (1997), by David Whyte.  Mary Oliver's poem, "When Death Comes," is from New and Selected Poems (1992), by Mary Oliver.  Raymond Carver's poem, "Last Fragment," is from A New Path to the Waterfall (1989), by Raymond Carver. The Whyte and Oliver poems are also reproduced in a small anthology titled Risking Everything: 110 Poems of Love and Revelation (2003), edited by Roger Housden.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


Paths are the habits of a landscape.  They are acts of consensual making. It's hard to create a footpath on your own.
Robert Macfarlane
The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot 

A couple of years ago, The Solitary Walker introduced me to two fine books by the excellent travel writer, Robert Macfarlane — Mountains of the Mind: Adventures in Reaching the Summit (2003) and The Wild Places (2008).  Macfarlane is one of those rare individuals who seems to have actually done what most of us only dream of doing.  He is a tireless long-distance walker, a passionate mountain climber, a rock scrambler, an explorer with an insatiable appetite for adventure.  And perhaps most important for many of us, he possesses a unique ability to extract profound wisdom from the terrain he has traversed, especially the ancient pathways that were created by the pilgrims and other wayfarers who preceded him.

Macfarlane's latest book is The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot (2012).  In the author's own words, it tells the story of Macfarlane's walks of "a thousand miles or more along old ways in search of a route to the past," only to find himself "delivered again and again to the contemporary."  Whether you are an adventurer yourself, or simply one who enjoys reading about the improbable journeys of others, I think you will find both delight and insight in some of Macfarlane's observations about old pathways and their impact on the souls of the walkers.

Paths and their markers have long worked on me like lures: drawing my sight up and on and over.  The eye is enticed by a path, and the mind's eye also.  The imagination cannot help but pursue a line in the land—onwards toward space, but also backwards in time to the histories or a route and its previous followers.
* * * * * 

Footpaths are mundane in the best sense of the word: 'worldly", open to all.  All rights of way determined and sustained by use, they constitute a labyrinth of liberty, a slender network of common land that still threads through our aggressively privatized world of barbed wire and gates, CCTV cameras and 'No Trespassing' signs.
* * * * *

Paths connect.  This is their first duty and their chief reason for being. They relate places in a literal sense, and by extension they relate people.
* * * * *

I've read them all, these old-way wanderers, and often I've encountered versions of the same beguiling idea: that walking such paths might lead you—in [ornithologist W.H.] Hudson's phrase—to 'slip back out of this modern world'. Repeatedly, these wanderers spoke of the tingle of connection, of walking as seance, of voices heard along the way.
* * * * *

These are the consequences of the old ways with which I feel easiest: walking as enabling sight and thought rather than encouraging retreat and escape; paths as offering not only means of traversing space, but also ways of feeling, being and knowing.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


All human beings have three lives: public, private, and secret.  
Gabriel Garcia Marquez

In a world that is virtually awash in scandal and sensationalism, the mere suggestion that a person has "a secret life" can often lead to inferences of behavior that is either immoral, illegal, or otherwise inappropriate.  I am inclined to agree with Marquez, however, that everyone, to one degree or another, has a part of his or her life that may properly be described as "secret."  It seems to me that a secret life is just another room in each individual's house of reality.

As poet Stephen Dunn recognizes, however, we should remember that the secret chambers of our individual lives are often in the service of our highest ideals. It is in secrecy that we restrain judgments and opinions that might otherwise hurt others; it is in secrecy that we protect the confidences that we hold in trust; and it is in secrecy that we encounter "the shadow" side of ourselves, as Jung called it, and then do the hard work necessary to become what the world needs most—fully integrated human beings.

A Secret Life

by Stephen Dunn

                                           Why you need to have one
                                           is not much more mysterious than 
                                           why you don't say what you think
                                           at the birth of an ugly baby.
                                           Or, you've just made love
                                           and feel you'd rather have been
                                           in a dark booth where your partner
                                           was nodding, whispering yes, yes,
                                           you're brilliant.  The secret life 
                                           begins early, is kept alive
                                           by all that's unpopular 
                                           in you, all that you know
                                           a Baptist, say, or some other
                                           accountant would object to.
                                           It becomes what you'd most protect
                                           if the government said you can protect
                                           one thing, all else is ours.
                                           When you write late at night
                                           it's like a small fire
                                           in a clearing, it's what
                                           radiates and what can hurt
                                           if you get too close to it.
                                           It's why your silence is a kind of truth.
                                           Even when you speak to your best friend,
                                           the one who'll never betray you,
                                           you always leave out one thing;
                                           a secret life is that important.

Poem by Stephen Dunn from Landscape at the End of the Century (W.W. Norton and Company).

Sunday, January 13, 2013


It's been a foggy Sunday here on the Eastern Shore, one of those days when everything loses its hard edges.  I needed to lose a few of those hard edges myself, so I grabbed my camera and drove to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, which is within an hour from my house.  During the colder months, one does not encounter many people here—only the occasional birdwatcher or photographer—but the waterfowl are abundant.  This is a wintering area for Canada geese, snow geese (both seen in photo above), herons, swans, and ducks of every stripe and color.  It is also a year-round refuge for those homo sapiens who believe, in Wordsworth's immortal words, that "the world is too much with us." 

It's easy to become mesmerized by the vast waterscapes of the refuge and the large flocks of waterfowl that congregate here, especially just before sunrise and again at sunset. Indeed, I have often been here before sunrise, and there is nothing quite as reassuring as seeing thousands of birds celebrate the morning sun with both dance and song.

Today, however, the sun remained hidden behind a veil of fog . . . 

. . . and the most interesting part of the trip was the time I spent with a single great blue heron, which graciously invited me to be his companion as he searched for small fish and crustaceans among the reeds and shallow waters.  

There was no resistance here, neither on his part nor mine.  There was simply a tacit understanding that we are both searching, and, as Wendell Berry reminds us, that "what we need is here."

                                              What We Need Is Here
                                                   by Wendell Berry

                                           Geese appear high over us,
                                           pass, and the sky closes.  Abandon,
                                           as in love or sleep, holds
                                           them to their way, clear
                                           in the ancient faith: what we need
                                           is here.  And we pray, not 
                                           for a new earth or heaven, but to be
                                           quiet in heart, and in eye,
                                           clear.  What we need is here.


Friday, January 11, 2013


In the Yorkshire Dales

As one who has a passion for walking in the English countryside, I find much that I relate to in this thought-provoking poem by the American poet, Joseph Stroud.  I like the way the poem moves through mundane travel arrangements until the walker finds a place that feels like "a beginning," a place from which he will begin to "walk the freshness" back into his life.  And then there is a beautiful description of another walker seen in the distance, a solitary figure who is "walking, making his way, working his life, step by step, into grace."  


By Joseph Stroud

                                      How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
                                      Seem to me all the uses of this world

                                      Take a plane to London.
                               From King's Cross take the direct train to York.
                               Rent a car and drive across the vale to Ripon,
                               then into the dales toward the valley of the Nidd,
                               a narrow road with high stone walls on each side,
                               and soon you'll be on the moors.  There's a pub,
                               The Drovers, where it's warm inside, a tiny room,
                               you can stand at the counter and drink a pint of Old Peculiar.
                               For a moment everything will be all right.  You're back
                               at a beginning.  Soon you'll walk into Yorkshire country,
                               into dells, farms, into blackberry and cloud country.
                               You'll walk for hours.  You'll walk the freshness
                               back into your life.  This is true.  You can do this.
                               Even now, sitting at your desk, worrying, troubled,
                               you can gaze across Middlesmoor to Ramsgill,
                               the copses, the abbeys of slanting light, the fells,
                               you can look down on that figure walking toward Scar House,
                               cheeks flushed, curlews rising in front of him, walking,
                               making his way, working his life, step by step, into grace.

On Moors Between Nine Standards Rigg and Whitsundale

Notes:  Both photos taken on my walk of Wainright's Coast to Coast Path in 2010; Joseph Stroud poem, "Directions," from Below Cold Mountain (Copper Canyon Press, 1998).

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


Last night, while looking through some photographs I took in Israel a few years ago, I  stumbled upon the header image, which shows some details of the interior dome of a magnificent garden structure adjacent to the Dome of the Rock.  As I studied the richness of the colors, the invitational qualities of the archways, and the paths that seem to run throughout the design of the ceiling, I felt instinctively that Rumi was speaking to me.  Once again, and especially during these opening days of a new year, he was reminding me of the light-filled doorways that lead to renewal, expansion, and spiritual growth.

                              From A Community of the Spirit —

                                        Why do you stay in prison
                                        when the door is wide open?

                                        Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.
                                        Live in silence.

                                        Flow down and down in always
                                        widening rings of being.
                             From Quietness

                                        Become the sky.
                                        Take an axe to the prison wall.
                                        Walk out like someone suddenly born into color.
                                        Do it now.

                             From Unfold Your Own Myth

                                        But don't be satisfied with stories, how things
                                        have gone with others.  Unfold
                                        your own myth, without complicated explanation,
                                        so everyone will understand the passage,
                                        We have opened you.

                                        Start walking toward Shams.  Your legs will get heavy
                                        and tired.  Then comes a moment
                                        of feeling the wings you've grown,

Note:  Quotations from The Essential Rumi (Translations by Coleman Barks).

Monday, January 7, 2013


Mysteriously, wonderfully, I bid farewell to what goes, I greet what comes; for what comes cannot be denied, and what goes cannot be detained.

The way of acceptance and spiritual freedom is found not by going somewhere but by in going, and the stage where happiness can be known is now, at this very moment, at the very place where you happen to stand.  It is in accepting fully your state of soul as it is now . . . . The point is not to accept it in order that you may pass on to a "higher" state, but to accept because acceptance in itself is that "higher" state, if such it may be called. 
                                                         Alan Watts

Life has no other discipline to impose, if we would but realize it, than to accept life unquestioningly. Everything we shut our eyes to, everything we run away from, everything we deny, denigrate or despise, serves to defeat us in the end. What seems nasty, painful, evil, can become a source of beauty, joy and strength, if faced with an open mind. Every such moment is a golden one for him who has the vision to recognize it as such.

Henry Miller 

Saturday, January 5, 2013


The bells and stones have voices but,
unless they are struck, they will not sound.


One of the purposes of this blog is to bring forth the voices of ordinary things—things that are found in plain sight, but which often go unnoticed and unheard.  To that end, the camera is an invaluable tool.  By isolating something—more specifically, by eliminating the surrounding background in which the subject is usually lost—the camera can essentially strike the bell and bring forth a an experience that might have otherwise been missed.  A few examples follow, and more will be posted from time to time.   

Bow of Workboat at Rest
Oxford, Maryland

Cabinet Door
Carlisle, U.K.

Building Facade
Baltimore, Maryland

Weathered Boat Bottom
Trappe, Maryland

Traces of Christmas Lights
Easton, Maryland

The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.

Dorothea Lange