Do you remember your first puddle? Do you remember splashing around in a puddle? Elijah will. His mother taped the moment so he’ll remember his playful self when he grows old, forgetful, and not so naturally playful, like Grandpa (“Bumpa”).
Puddle stomping is child’s play. Avoiding puddles is adult play; joy and the smiles are fewer. I hope Elijah playing in his first puddle brings out your inner child and a smile.
- Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Sept. 5, 2018
It was only a matter of time. Its girth was huge — much too big to get our arms around. Its top had fallen off. What remained was filled with gaping holes, but still standing at the southwest edge of the land with the cabin by the wetland.
The tree had stood here decades before we imagined ourselves to be its owners last August. We paid good money to buy the property, including the naked tree that had not yet fallen. It was only a matter of time before it fell. It concerned us that it would topple on someone playing on the back of the yard — Barclay, the canine member of the family, one of the grandchildren, or the grounds-keeper who comes by every three weeks — but not enough to take it down. It continued to stand there with a still attached heavy limb causing it to lean slightly toward he east. It would fall of its own weight or by a lightning strike in due time.
Tom, the Mennonite grounds-keeper, found the upper parts of the dead tree on the lawn last week while we were away. Its five-feet girth logs now serve as a barrier between the woods and the open space where the cabin sits. There’s no one left to remember how old the tree was, and what remains of it is too rotten to identify the rings. But the fallen tree that once fed the pileated woodpeckers continues to serve the community as a grocery for ground-feeding birds and other animals that feast on the termites and carpenter ants that once drew the woodpeckers.
Property is only a matter of time. No one owns a woodpecker. No one owns an insect!
- Gordon C. Stewart on the wetland, August 16, 2018.
The outdoor pump at the cabin didn’t work this spring. It worked late last summer when we bought the cabin, but the spigot was bone dry this spring and into the summer. When I shared my tale of woe with the 10:00 AM gathering of Sylvan Shores residents, one of the men asked, “Have you primed the pump?”
City folks know nothing about priming the pump, except for the adage about getting something started. Sometimes, as during days and weeks when a writer has nothing to say, you need to prime the pump by reading or just shushing the distractions to get the water flowing again.
“How do you prime a pump?” I ask. What’s that?” Good natured smiles and laughter break out around the table.
“Well, do you have one well or two wells?”
“Got me,” I said. “All I know is when I pull up the handle, nothing happens. It worked last summer. How do I prime the pump?”
“You gotta pour water down it before the water will come up from the well. Just pour some water down the pump until it’s primed.”
Seemed simple enough. But there was no place on the red pump crank to pour water. Maybe I needed to take the handle mechanism off the top of the pipe in order to pour water into the pump, but it was rusted onto the pipe. The question about two wells led me to wonder.
I went back to the cabin and took the cap off the well that supplies water to the cabin’s indoor plumbing fixtures. What I found was an electrical system. Wires interconnected and programmed to pump the water from the well into wherever it was programmed to go. Since the well controlled electronically hadn’t been re-programmed, and the outside pump with the red handle wasn’t working, I concluded the pump in the yard had a separate well and that it needed to be primed. Or, perhaps, the hand-pumped well had gone dry over the winter.
Once again, I pumped the red handle up and down repeatedly with the same results. No water to water the shrubs and flowers. We were doomed. This pump wouldn’t prime!
Then Bud and JoAnne dropped by for an altogether unexpected visit. Bud wasn’t supposed to be out and about. He’d been homebound following quadruple by-pass surgery and serious complications that followed it. They hadn’t been at the coffee hour and, so far as I knew, didn’t know the story about my ignorance.
We pulled out a chair in the yard for Bud to sit. I told him about trying to prime the pump. “I don’t think there’s a separate well for that pump,” he said. “I think there’s just one well. Let me try it.”
Bud stood up, took hold of the red handle, and pulled it all the way up, and, like the rock that Moses struck in the wilderness of Meribah, the water gushed from the pump.
It was a miracle! There’d been no need to prime the pump. I just needed to force the handle all the way up, which I had feared doing lest I break it.
Now the Ninebark and the few flowers we planted are watered between rainfalls, and the miracle of the well that never needed to be pumped gives hope to a writer that one extra tug on the handle can get the water flowing again.
- Gordon C. Stewart at the cabin, August 14, 2018.
“This light-house, a single firefly illuminating the dark.”
Like the “single firefly” (a family on a front porch) in today’s I Can’t Sleep post, Andrew, Alice, and grandson Calvin are being more natural at the cabin this weekend. I’Il think of them in light of David Kanigan’s commentary (scroll down to read) and The Fireflies that lit up the pitch dark sky above the wilderness cabin almost a month ago.
- Gordon C. Stewart, August 4, 2018.
It was a week ago. An otherwise unforgettable day, but for a moment, a single firefly with its other worldly bioluminescence, which keeps circling back.
“Do you want a ride home?”
It’s a short walk home from the train station, ~2000 steps. One hour in the quiet car on Metro North didn’t quench it, the thirst for more solitude, more Alone, more decompression. I walk.
The torso leans forward, the feet step one-two-one-two. Lean forward? A tip from a Youtube fitness coach who explained that it propels you forward. So I lean forward. If he told you to hop on your right foot and rub your stomach round and round with your left hand, you’d do it.
It’s humid. God, it’s Humid. Torso leans forward, thick air pushes back, slowing forward motion. Thunderheads build in the distance.
The neck tie is in my brief case. The slim fit button down…
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“[T]here is such a sense of stillness and peace that the wrong sort of movement, even one’s very presence, might be felt as an intrusion….” The photo and words by Oliver Sacks on David Kerrigan’s post rang a familiar bell this morning. We’re back in ‘civilization’ — far from the stillness and peace of the wetland, the birches, oaks, and pines — but knowing the senses of awe and intrusion of which the writer speaks. Thank you, David, for sharing. Thank you, Oliver. RIP.
- Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Sunday morning, July 29, 2018.
I find myself walking softly on the rich undergrowth beneath the trees, not wanting to crack a twig, to crush or disturb anything in the least — for there is such a sense of stillness and peace that the wrong sort of movement, even one’s very presence, might be felt as an intrusion… The beauty of the forest is extraordinary — but “beauty” is too simple a word, for being here is not just an esthetic experience, but one steeped with mystery, and awe… Standing here…I feel part of a larger, calmer identity; I feel a profound sense of being at home, a sort of companionship with the earth.
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Stillness defines life at the cabin. It’s quiet. The only sounds are bird calls. It is this stillness that draws us here by the wetland. But my heart is not still. It’s preoccupied with evil. This morning’s assigned psalm from The Book of Common Worship (BCW) speaks to my condition.
Do not fret yourself because of evildoers…
For they shall soon wither like the grass…
Be still before the LORD…
Do not fret yourself over the one who prospers,
the one who succeeds in evil schemes.
Refrain from anger, leave rage alone;
do not fret yourself; it leads only to evil. (Ps. 37, BCW)
“Leave rage alone.”
Last night, after a quiet swim, I put my hearing aids back in, returned to the cabin for dinner, and listened to last Monday’s episode of The Beat, a podcast downloaded from a to Kay’s iPhone by means of WiFi earlier in the day. Back home in Chaska, we watch The Beat with Ari Melber because it suits our outrage over what is happening to America. But listening to the podcast welcomed back the toxic rage I forsake for the quiet beauty of the disconnected cabin on the wetland. It felt like a fatal assault.
Midway through the podcast, I removed my hearing aids to distance myself from the sceptic fret of rage. I was swimming in poison. It was the tone of voice that felt like death or a foreign invasion.
The pond and the wetland are changing every day. So is the world. The Trumpeter Swans that brought such joy a month ago are gone. So are the red-wing blackbirds that earlier had feasted on the cat-n-nine tails. And the grass? Like the cat-n-nine tails, the grass is green and growing again. But the psalm reminds me that the green grass will fade to brown this autumn about the time the Trumpeter Swans return from Canada.
Meanwhile the calendar reminds me to call the company that empties the sceptic tank before it gets full and no longer works.
- Gordon C. Stewart by the wetland, July 19, 2018.
This Fourth of July we retreated from the parades and fireworks to the wilderness cabin by the wetland. Although the trumpeter swans left several weeks ago, heading north to Canada for friendlier, cooler climes, the loons and hooded mergansers are still our nearest neighbors — along with the newest arrivals: Yellowjackets!
Last night was quiet. The only sounds were the bull frogs, the loon calls and the faint rustling of the aspen leaves heard through the screen doors and windows. The only light came from the soft rays of the setting sun. It was peaceful. Quiet. Natural. Until the sun went down and the sound and flashes of firecrackers from distant neighbors preferring a noisy celebration of bombs bursting in air lit up, and echoed across, the wetland from afar.
As we were wondering how the loons and mergansers were managing the Fourth of July, we turned on the lights inside the cabin, and were joined by a Yellowjacket that had made its way through the screens that protect us from unwanted neighbors. While the fireworks exploded and flashed outside, the Yellowjacket was drawn to the reading light next to my chair. Reaching for the flyswatter, I took a swipe but missed, and then another before losing sight of the invader. Until, wham! I felt the sting through my shirt!
Suddenly I wished I had a Fifth on the Fourth!
Gordon C. Stewart, on the wetland, the Fifth of July, 2018.
know nothing of
White is what they are
down under and above
Except for beaks
as black as ebony
Their trumpet calls
are not the honks
of honky privilege
Proud cobs and pens
teach their cygnets
that down is up
With no guile or sneer
at loons and redwing
Ebony and ivory
nesting on the marsh
Beyond the gates
where honkies honk
- Gordon C. Stewart on the wetland with the Trumpeter Swans, loons, and redwing blackbirds, June 21, 2018
Six trumpeter swan cygnets (babies) have joined their parents on the pond next to the cabin by the wetland. Their family is intact. It’s as beautiful to behold as separating children is ugly. The swans are lucky. So am I.
The cabin by the wetland is a place of privilege. There are no other humans here. But the news has a way of following me to this natural sanctuary that invites a deeper silence. The world doesn’t need another political honker, I tell myself. But my head hurts keeping inside me the need to cry out against cruelty, dishonesty, and bad religion in the nation’s capitol.
I respond to Attorney General Sessions’ twisting of the Bible (Romans 13) the way Jewish comedian Lewis Black responded to Christian televangelists who pretend to know the Jewish Bible: “You’re reading from MY book! If you want to know about MY book, ask a Jew, and he will tell you! You Christians don’t see one of my guys reading YOUR book (i.e. the New Testament) and telling you what it means. Do you?”
Like Lewis Black, I’m not big on televangelists who misuse the Hebrew Bible. I’m even less fond of institutional powers and authorities that use MY book, the New Testament, to justify a policy that is beyond justification.
Romans 13 commends to its first century C.E. readers a proper respect for the civil order represented by the office of the emperor. But it is respect for the office, not its occupant, and not an endorsement of illegitimate uses of the office, nor of unjust laws promulgated by the civil authorities. To presume otherwise, as Mr. Sessions does, ignores the location from which the Letter to the Romans was written and why its author was there. Paul was in jail. Paul was a prisoner of conscience.
The current U.S. Administration’s abuse of Holy Scripture hurts my ears, even on the wetland. If you’re going to use Romans 13, continue to read beyond what you claim supports your argument. “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves the neighbor has fulfilled the law. … The commandments … are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13: 8-10). A thoughtful reader of the letter penned from a Roman jail cell might conclude that it was Saul of Tarsus (Paul), who gave Cornel West his definition of justice: “Justice is love made public”.
Love made public does not separate children from their parents. Love doesn’t do it anywhere in any century. Cruelty does. Fascism does. Hypocrisy does. White privilege does. National idolatry does. Willful religious ignorance does.
Before you site MY book as your authorization for cruelty, zoom in on the scene of Jesus’ rebuke of his mistaken disciples:
“When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took them in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them” (Gospel of Mark 10:14-16).
Imagine Jesus taking the children on his knee again — the loving, crucified Jesus —in an ICE detention center on the Mexican border. Or buy yourself a ticket to the Minnesota wetland to spend a day with the trumpeter swans who do better than we at caring for children.
— Gordon C. Stewart with the trumpeter swans on the wetland beyond our boundaries, June 20, 2018.