Photo: DK @ Daybreak. 6:35 a.m. Sunday, August 25, 2021. Cove Island Park, Stamford, CT.
Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”
Thanks for dropping by Views From the Edge and Live & Learn — Gordon (Sitting by the window before dawn)
THE WETLAND POND
The wetland pond is shrinking.
Dark-chocolate cattails and
summer-green milkweed pods
burst into the white cotton
balls they always do when
autumn comes, a cotton
field of wisps and puffs that
match the color of my hair.
The sumacs are changing into
the red dress they always wear
this time of year, a royal
crimson robe, glistening in
the morning sun before
frost and snow turn their
fleeting autumn puffs from
regal red to winter white.
I see no yellow on the wetland
pond beside this dirt road that
has no name or dot on anyone’s
map. The yellow lilies on the
lily-pads have gone to sleep
to greet the Spring again if
the pond is still here.
--GCS, September morning walk
September 27, 2021.
O LORD, what are we that You should care for us?
mere mortals that You should think of us?
We are like a puff of wind;
our days are like a passing shadow.
Do not cast me off in my old age.
(Psalm 144:3,4; 71:9 BCP)
Early morning reflection from the dirt road by the wetland pond
Walking the off the map dirt road where nothing much happens, it’s quiet. The only sounds are bird songs; the only things that lie here are the lily pads lying on the shrinking wetland pond bordered by the cattails and wild flowers between the pond and the unpaved road. Nothing toils or spins. Nothing is anxious here. Not this morning.
“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet, I tell [all of] you [human beings], even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” (Jesus of Nazareth, Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:28b-29.)
There are no Solomons here. No kings. No countries. No states. Nothing seduced by the will-to-power. No illusions of sovereignty. No delusions of grandeur or control. No toiling and spinning like the mind observing it all from the dirt road. Everything is what it is: Yellow Goat’s-Beard, Yarrow, and Golden Clubs; Sweetflag, White Sweet Clover, and Butterfly-Weed; Bugle-Weed, Cuckoo-Flowers that aren’t cuckoo, and Bullhead-Lilies that don’t bully; pink Storkbills, Wild Sorels, Common Milkweeds, and blue-violet Pickerelweed.
Only the hunting-blind on the distant hill gives evidence of other spinning heads that toil for the mastery we cannot have. The hunting-blind on stilts high about the pasture waits for trigger fingers. Soon buckshots from the tower will fire babel that breaks the silence of this place. The flowers of the field — the Butterfly-Weed, the Bugle-Weed, and the Cuckoo-Flowers, the Lilies, and the lily pads — are not anxious. They are what they are. What is is what is. What will be will be. They neither toil nor spin.
— Gordon C. Stewart, from the wetland, August 3, 2021
We’ve had chipmunks and mice join us in the cabin next to the wetland, but never a woodpecker. Until last night.
The A-frame cabin is a quiet place. On an autumn day, we open all the doors and windows to let the breezes in, and to hear the sounds of trumpeter swans, ducks, geese . . . and various sorts of woodpeckers, like the Pileated Woodpecker that left a stump where an old oak tree stood three years ago.
This time of year there is a different sound: the pinging of acorns falling against the metal siding. It has no beat, rhythm, or staccato, like the rat-a-tat-tat of a woodpecker. Last night the pecking was coming from near the apex of the rough-cut pine walls inside the A-frame.
How does a woodpecker get inside a cabin? We concluded it had come through the screen door we had mistakenly left open. The woodpecker spent the night and next day with us until it came down from the rafters and flew back outside.
Early this morning, living with a woodpecker felt like a metaphor America before, and perhaps after, the November election.
Woodpeckers don’t belong inside the people’s house. If, by our neglect or a fluke of nature, a woodpecker should fly in through the screen door (the Electoral College) and is destroying the house peck by peck, the owners must usher him out before he does further damage. If they refuse to remove him, or he refuses to leave, the woodpecker will turn the rough-cut pine interior walls of a constitutional republic into sawdust. The metal siding may continue to stand, but the structure will be an empty shell occupied by a woodpecker.
Woodpeckers use their beaks to communicate as much as they do to find food. In a code all its own, a pecker’s Morse Code may signal personal distress or warn others of the same ilk against the cabin-dwellers conspiracy to take away their freedom and their Second Amendment right to defend themselves.
How the story unfolds is in our hands. If you’re a person of faith who has not decided how to cast your ballot, here’s some pointed guidance: Vote the Golden Rule rather than the Rule of Gold. You cannot serve two masters.
God help us all!
Gordon C. Stewart, by the wetland, September 22, 2020.
The three trumpeter swan goslings are a sight to behold. I look through the field glasses for a closer look. The parents are huge; they are tiny. Their parents are protectors; they need protection. The parents are trustworthy; the goslings are trusting.
Watching the trumpeter swan family slowly paddling on the wetland’s open water next to the cabin makes me stop my restless paddling. I come to a dead stop to drink in the serene beauty of the swans on the wetland waters.
Later in the day I remember Mrs. Thomas. Ninety-one years old Mrs. Thomas who introduced my kindergarten Vacation Bible School to the Psalm 100. David, Alex, Woody, Teddy, Ronnie, Bobby, Dottie, Carolyn and I were the goslings. Old Mrs. Thomas was not our parent, and she knew it. She was building our trust in what would endure long after she was gone.
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all ye lands. Serve the LORD with gladness: Come before his presence with singing.
It’s ‘the lands’ — all the lands, not just the lands’ human inhabitants, red and yellow, black and white — that are summoned to sing and give praise. The LORD — in upper case LORD is speaking, the LORD whom our Lord (lower case) Jesus revealed and served. It’s every square inch of Earth that is called to be joyful and to serve the One who cannot be seen but must be trusted.
Know ye that the LORD, he is God: It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves: We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
“Ninety-one year old Mrs. Thomas, the old lady with a big hat and a dead mink with its head still on draped around her shoulders like Grandma, talks funny! Nobody says ‘ye’ or ‘hath’ anymore. We say ‘you’, not ‘ye’. We know more than Mrs. Thomas”. But something gets lost when ‘ye’ becomes ‘you’. ‘You’ doesn’t distinguish between singular and plural, the way Hebrew does. ’Ye’ makes it clear the psalmist is talking to ‘us’, not just ‘I’, not just ‘me’.
“Know ye” — David, Alex, Woody, Teddy, Ronnie, Bobby, Dottie, Carolyn and Gordy! — what Mrs. Thomas knows: that the LORD is God, and that we didn’t make ourselves. The LORD is the Creator; we are among the creatures of the land. Like sheep safely grazing in the shepherd’s pasture, or goslings paddling under their parents’ watchful care.
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, And into his courts with praise: Be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
Mrs. Thomas calms our fears. She assures us we’re not going to jail, and that God is not mean like the school principal or his ‘safety patrol’ prowling the schoolyard at recess to find the rule-breakers.
God wasn’t sending us to Pops Warfel’s office and we weren’t going to prison. The “courts of the LORD” are not courtrooms; they’re something else. What they are remains a mystery, like heaven! Or maybe they’re not a mystery. Maybe the ‘lands’ — the nations and places of Earth — are the courts of the LORD. Who really knows? Who can know the Breath that blows the breath of life into every living creature and land and sea everywhere all the time?
For the LORD is good: his mercy is everlasting: And his truth endureth through all generations.
The goslings place their trust in their parents. It does not occur to them to distrust them. We kindergartners paddle along by Mrs. Thomas’ side, learning the difference between ‘us’ and ‘me, ‘we’ and ‘I’, and the mercy that is much older and much longer-lasting than Mrs. Thomas.
At daybreak, far from the ranting and raving that hurt my ears, I’m alone with The Book of Common Prayer. I’ve come here for silence, interrupted only by the calls of the loons and the pair of trumpeter swans that return every spring.
For generations the swans’ inner compasses have brought them back to this unspoiled place to hatch their young before flying south again for winter. The swans and I are a lot alike; we both come back when the ice is almost gone.
I settle into the hickory Amish rocker Jacob Miller crafted to fit my slim dimensions 40 years ago back in Millersburg, Ohio. Though its measurements are the same, It feels narrower. But we’re still made for each other. The rocker is where I rock awhile, like Jacob on his front porch after a hard day’s work, until he had to light the kerosine lamps inside.
I reach to the lamp table next to the rocker for The Book of Common Prayer that belonged to Sue Kahn until the day she gave it to me. Sue had relocated to Cincinnati to be nearer her daughter after macular degeneration had left her functional sightless. A lifelong Episcopalian who savored the language of The Book of Common Prayer, she joined her her daughter for worship with the Presbyterians. She asked one day whether I had a copy of the Book of Common Prayer. A week later, Sue stayed after worship. “I want you to have this,” she said, placing it in my hands. “I know you’ll treasure it as much as I.”
I open to the appointed Psalm for this Wednesday of Holy Week, Psalm 55.
Hear my prayer, O God; do not hide yourself from my petition.
It’s the day before release of the redacted report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller III, a report that may answer my prayer for full disclosure of the truth I suspect has been hidden.
Listen to me and answer me; I have no peace because of my cares.
The arrogance — “listen to me; answer me!” — disturbs me. Prayer is not an exercise in telling God what to do! The psalmist is arrogant and it’s selfish, more than a little Narcissistic, like the man in the Oval Office who might push the button on the red phone after typing the letters into th unsecured iPhone he uses to tweet.
But I have come to the wilderness because I have no peace watching Ari and Rachel and waiting for the nightmare to end.
I am shaken by the noise of the enemy; and by the pressure of the wicked…
I don’t like talk of ‘enemies’; it puts me off. “Love your ememies and do good to them who persecute you.” Framing one’s opponents as ‘wicked’ is the less develped morality that has not yet recognized the inertwining of good and evil. But the psalms express the vicseral feelings of the heart unfiltered by the cerebral cortex. Like the psalmist, I am shaken to the core by the noise of an enemy; the pressure of the wicked. The noise hurts me ears.
For they have cast an evil spirit upon me, and are set against me in fury.
l do not stand on solid ground. The cloud of evil and wickedness I routinely ascribe to ‘them’ hangs over me. I cannot claim to be righteous, right, or good as opposed to the unrighteous, wrong, and evil. I live under an ‘evil spell’ – the fall from essential goodness that comes with the presumption of the knowledge of good and evil — the knowledge that belongs to God alone. There is no escape from the pressure and the fury.
My heart quakes within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling have come over me, and horror overwhelms me.
I quake as a fish caught in a net. I thrash and tremble in darkness at noon as at midnight. The snare of terrors encompasses me.
And I said “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. I would flee to a far off place and make my lodging in the wilderness.”
The crackling from the fire and the trumpet calls of the trumpeter swans across the wetland break the silence of daybreak. In this far off place, I am at rest. II make my lodging in the wilderness beyond the snare and blare of right and wrong, good and evil.
— Gordon C. Stewart by the thawing weland, April 18, 2019
Matthew Arnold‘s poem The Future came to mind this week in light of the eulogy for local artist and gardener Lynn Niskanen. Click HEREfor the obituary. Scroll down for her brother-in-law’s poem honoring Lynn’s life.
The Future [excerpt]
But what was before us we know not, And we know not what shall succeed.
Haply, the river of Time— As it grows, as the towns on its marge Fling their wavering lights On a wider, statelier stream— May acquire, if not the calm Of its early mountainous shore, Yet a solemn peace of its own.
And the width of the waters, the hush Of the grey expanse where he floats, Freshening its current and spotted with foam As it draws to the Ocean, may strike Peace to the soul of the man on its breast— As the pale waste widens around him, As the banks fade dimmer away, As the stars come out, and the night-wind Brings up the stream Murmurs and scents of the infinite sea.
In your abandoned garden
Lynn, in your abandoned garden your presence - like sunlight - can still be felt.
At your invitation the butterflies, hummingbirds and cardinals your absence still unknown to them, keep returning.
In your abandoned garden the purple iris - by your own hand planted, sleeps tonight beneath her snowy cover,
and awaits the divine kiss of rain.
-- Will Niskanen, brother-in-law. Excerpt from Will's Eulogy for Lynn Niskanen, Feb. 18, 2019, at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church Chaska, MN
Although Lynn was “a practitioner and bringer of light,” as Will described her, she did not draw to attention to herself. The pews and church parking lot overflowed their banks.
I always know there’s a bird on the other side of the feeder by the way it swings in the air. A lot of the ladderback woodpeckers like to stay where they can’t see me … and I can’t take pictures. I also know they are there because sometimes I see a feather sticking out of somewhere or suddenly a beak — or even the bird’s head appears, then vanishes.
I sometimes stand for half an hour with the camera aimed and focused … and there’s nothing. I give up, put the camera down, turn around and there are half-a-dozen birds. Cardinals, woodpeckers, and a whole flock of goldfinches. And more.
Today, there were a lot of birds when I got to the kitchen and almost none after that. It was a warm but drippy day. It wasn’t exactly raining, but it wasn’t exactly not raining. We had to put…
“I can soon begin to tell the time by how the light is slanting off our walls at sunrise and when the darkness falls — and I suppose back to a more essential human life.“
~ Pico Iyer, The Urgency of Slowing Down. An Interview with Krista Tippett (Onbeing, November, 2018), quoted by Live & Learn.
Living within nature’s rhythms comes less naturally to us than it did for our ancestors. I say, “Let there be light,” flip a switch, and there is light. “The light was called ‘day’ and the darkness called ‘night’.” Not anymore. The darkness is as light to us. But not to dogs!
Barclay, the canine companion who joins me for my daily afternoon nap, is what they call a shadow chaser. He lives by the movements of the sun, the hourly changes of light and shadow. Barclay aims to please. He’s very respectful of the napper. He lies very still . . . until it’s time . . . and he moves from the foot of the bed up to the pillow and licks my face to say “it’s time!”
The angle of the light from the bedroom window is his alarm clock. He knows the exact moment of the shift in the light’s angle that says it’s time to get up and head quickly to master suite bathroom where the light will be like the aurora borealis. Time to rise and shine. Time for me to open and shut the shower door. Over an over, to make the light move around the floor and walls so he can jump at it, pounce on it, eat it, or catch it with a paw. It’s playtime! Until the angle of the light shining through the small hexagonal window changes and the stream of light disappears until tomorrow about 3:10 PM . . . unless the clouds hide keep the light away, and it’s time to stay quiet at the foot of the bed for another day.
The closest I get to nature’s rhythms here in Chaska is the end of nap time. At the cabin by the wetland, it’s altogether different. The light streams in everywhere, always from a different angle, luscious golden sunlight dancing on the rough-cut pine walls, or the blue light of the full moon that streams through once a month. And all without flipping a switch.
And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness God called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. (Gen. 1:3-5)
— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, Minnesota, January 31, 2019.