Leave Rage Alone

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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.

1947 Pontiac hearse

Steve Shoemaker’s 1947 Hearse

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.

Fireworks and a Fifth on the Fourth

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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.

White Privilege

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Trumpeter Swans
know nothing of
white privilege

White is what they are
down under and above
the down

Except for beaks
as black as ebony
on ivory

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
blackbirds

Ebony and ivory
nesting on the marsh
they share

Beyond the gates
where honkies honk
of privilege

  • Gordon C. Stewart on the wetland with the Trumpeter Swans, loons, and redwing blackbirds, June 21, 2018

You’re reading from MY book!

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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.

IMG_9456The 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).

jesus-weptImagine 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.

 

The Fireflies

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No unnatural light disturbs the night here by the wetland. It’s dark in this sacred wilderness. But last night the lights were everywhere. Click HERE for photos of fireflies, aka, lightning bugs.

THE DANCE OF FIREFLIES

Children frolic to catch you
in midair as you light up
backyards before bedtime
to watch you blink and glitter
in our peanut butter jars
until your little lights go out.

Grown-up children wake at night
in need of different jars and
by fate or chance catch
through the window a glimpse
of your midnight dance and glitter
on the wetland beyond all jars.

And children on canes and walkers
watch and wonder why we
with such little jars once sought
to capture you and make ours
the dance of fireflies that glitter
before and after our lights go out.

  • Gordon C. Stewart at The Pea Pod with the sandhill cranes, trumpeter swans, herons, loons, redwing blackbirds — and fireflies. June 11, 2018.

 

Wilbur and the New Neighbors

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We have new neighbors.

They poked their heads up from under the deck outside the screen door of the a-frame. Woodchuck (groundhog) pups making themselves at home.

woodchucks

Woodchucks at the cabin

It was Groundhog day all over again at the cabin. Years before we inhabited the place, a woodchuck had decided to come inside the cabin. The humans were away when Wilbur  — we’ll call him Wilbur — abandoned the family under the deck to settle more comfortably inside the cabin. Maybe Wilber needed to get away awhile.

Kay and I come to the cabin to get away. Now we want to get away from the woodchucks — or have Wilbur and his family taken far away from us in traps baited with luscious carrots, fresh lettuce, celery, and other yummies that doesn’t grow naturally here along the marsh’s edge.

The pups are kind of cute, in a non-dog kind of way, if you love all Nature. “Something there is that loves a [woodchuck],” wrote Robert Frost one night, revising his “Mending Wall” poem when three woodchuck pups after he’d had too much wine. Or maybe Frost had just read Psalm 50, as I did this morning, the day after the pups introduced themselves to Kay: “All the beasts of the forest are mine…. I know every bird in the sky, and the creatures under your deck are in my sight” (Psalm 50:10-11).

Many years ago a woodchuck was eating all the lettuce in the Broomall Nursing Home garden up the street from my boyhood home on Church Lane. When Wade, the nursing home caretaker, complained about the disappearing lettuce, two excited eight year-olds decided to become the good stewards of Wade’s garden. With Wade’s help, Ted Bonsall and I built a box trap of wood and hardware wire, and caught the woodchuck. But, hey, what do you do with the woodchuck you just removed from the nursing home garden? Ted and I were advanced planners, we had built a large cage of wood and chicken wire in the backyard. Having succeeded as trappers, we turned the woodchuck loose from the box-trap into the large cage loaded with carrots, broccoli, and lettuce. The next morning, the cage was empty!

There’s a reason they call a woodchuck a woodchuck. It had gnawed through the wood and the chicken wire on its way to freedom, relieving us of having to answer the bigger question of what to do with a woodchuck when the snow starts falling. The woodchuck got away from us before we wanted to get away from it.

Sixty-seven years later, I wonder whether the Wilbur in Minnesota ever made a prison break in Pennsylvania.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, northern Minnesota, June 8, 2018.

She makes me content

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IMG_9456

The marsh in northern Minnesota

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays offer the perfect complement to the sights and sounds of the marsh at dawn. Like his contemporary Henry David Thoreau, Emerson expressed a profound reverence for Nature. His eyes and ears were tuned differently. Emerson’s essay “Nature” helps interpret my experience by the marsh here in northern Minnesota. It provides spiritual context to the breaking of the day.

He who knows the most, he who knows what sweets and virtues are in the ground, the waters, the plants, the heavens, and how to come at these enchantments, is the rich and royal man. Only as far as the masters of the world have called in nature to their aid, can they reach the height of magnificence. This is the meaning of their hanging-gardens, villas, garden-houses, islands, parks, and preserves, to back their faulty personality with these strong accessories.

Like Thoreau writing at Walden Pond, Emerson invites the common man and woman to rouse from our confusion of wealth with royalty. Emerson wrote, “When the rich tax the poor with servility and obsequiousness, they should consider the effect of men reputed to be the possessors of nature, on imaginative minds. Ah! If the rich were rich as the poor fancy riches!”

The public mind does a very strange thing. While despising the one percent who disdain the poor and steal the worker’s wages, something in us aspires to be among them. We envy their Mara-Largo’s and penthouses. We want to be the ones who hire and fire. Emerson stripped away the illusion that the rich are truly rich.

Yet, despite his praise of Nature, Emerson continued to believe that we humans stand atop Nature’s pyramid as the exceptional species. In this time of climate departure, I part ways with him and turn more toward Thoreau.

Thoreau gets closer to how I feel at the Walden Pond-like site next to the wetland. I’m glad to get away awhile to be among the trumpeter swans, wood ducks, loons, hooded mergansers, great blue herons, and redwing blackbirds.

I love Nature partly because she is not man, but a retreat from him. None of his institutions control or pervade her. There a different kind of right prevails. In her midst I can be glad with an entire gladness. If this world were all man, I could not stretch myself, I should lose all hope. He is constraint, she is freedom to me. He makes me wish for another world. She makes me content with this.

Narcissus has no place here. No “faulty personality” but my own. The trumpets are the swans’. I think I just saw a daffodil bloom where Narcissus once knelt! “[Nature] makes me content.”

narcissus-flower

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 30, 2018

 

 

My Dog and I

Although words cannot describe the delight I feel watching Barclay romp freely in an open field, Mary Oliver’s poem comes close.

Click “The Storm (Dog)” to hear Mary’s poem read aloud on David Juda’s lovely poetry siteVoetica.com

As Mary said, “I couldn’t have said it better.”

Barclay and Gordon

The Calm after The Stormy Romp — Barclay and Dad

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 10, 2018.

This Unfathomed Secret

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 “At the gates of the forest, the surprised man of the world is forced to leave his city estimates of great and small, wise and foolish.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature” (1836)

What do I know?

Is what I know back in the city — outside the gates of the forest — more “knowledgeable” than the knowledge of the forest and the farm? Is knowing different from imagining? What is the relation between knowledge and imagination? Are they opposites, kin, companions, enemies? Is one kind of knowledge superior to another? Is one more civilized than the other? Are they of equal value, each in its own right? Or is it all relative, a fool’s question in this world of relativity where one person’s perspective and opinion is as good as another’s, one person’s truth and wisdom another person’s fanciful imagination and foolishness?

Publishing “The Bovine Chorus” yesterday brought the questions to mind. After a day seeking knowledge about the loud mooing that overwhelmed the bird calls on the wetland, I realize my imagination got the better of me. The last conversation was with a retired dairy farmer. “Probably needed to be milked,” he said. “They’ll let you know! Or the farmer was taking a calf away. They can be really loud!” Memory flashed back to my dairy farmer friend Bruce, who showed up on Sunday with a broken hand from having punched a cow. What does a city slicker know about cows and the life of a dairy farmer!

I wasn’t always a city slicker and I’m not much of one now. If I were, I wouldn’t prefer this remote cabin on the wetland. It’s less civilized here. Some would say it’s less knowledgable. Others might say, more given to faulty imagination. Like imagining a bovine herd singing Friedrich Handel’s Magnificat to celebrate a cow birth in Bethlehem only to learn from my old musicologist friend Carolyn that Handel never composed a Magnificat, so far as she could recall, and from my new retired dairy farmer friend that the mooing was probably a protest by cows whose udders ached or who lamented a calf being kidnapped from the holy family.  

“Woe am I!” say I, like Isaiah overwhelmed by the smoke that filled the Temple. “I am a man of unclean [stupid] lips!” [Isaiah 6:5a]. I know nothing worth knowing. My imagination has deceived me. Remember Carolyn back in the city, and the retired dairy farmer. And then there are the books I’ve brought here from the city. Birds of Minnesota and Wisconsin and Colin’s Birds of North America and Greenland with pictures that help identify the Brown Thrasher feeding on the ground and train the eye to distinguish the Trumpeter Swans here from the Tundra Swans, and Mute Swans. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays on history, nature, experience, politics, et al., and The Book of Common Prayer bring the wisdom of the ages that ground me in both nature and tradition, knowledge and a better imagination, a pair of spectacles alongside the binoculars next to the wetland in the time of climate change. I read Emerson again.

“We nestle in nature, and draw our living as parasites from her fruits and grains, and we receive glances from the heavenly bodies, which call us to solitude, and foretell the remotest future. … Literature, poetry, science, are the homage of man to this unfathomed secret, concerning which no sane man can affect an indifference or incuriosity. Nature is loved by what is best in us. It is loved as the city of God, although, or rather because there is no citizen.” 

The Bovine Chorus

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It’s quiet this morning just after dawn. I ponder the line “Happy are they who know the festal shout!” [Psalm 19:15]. A sound I’ve never heard here interrupts the bird calls and my daily reading.

The single loud moo from miles to the west drowns out the sounds of the wetland. A few minutes later the solo becomes a bovine chorus!  A festal shout — celebration perhaps? A bovine Handel’s “Magnificat“? Perhaps a mother has given birth to her calf? The herd is cheering!

Minutes later the shouting is over. The mooing stops. But I heard it — both the solo and the herd — the strange interruption of the wetland’s native sounds. An osprey flies overhead. The sounds are as they were before: the woodpeckers’ pecks and red-wing blackbirds’s song. All is quiet again. The cattle are lowing; the poor baby sleeps!

Maybe the wind has shifted. Or perhaps the Madonna and the rest of the cows are sleeping after the exhaustion of the birth and the festal shout. Or maybe my ears had tricked me. I think of Otis Moss III’s reflection on singing the blues and “the gospel shout” [Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul World]. Only those who sing the blues can shout the gospel (i.e. good news) shout.

Then I drive into town. Had I been hearing the festal shout followed by the cattle lowing? Or had the bovine chorus ended in tragedy? “Probably a wolf or bear!” says a stranger at the hardware store. “Cows can raise quite a ruckus; they can become very aggressive when a bear threatens the herd.”

Whether the sound rose from the blues or from joy, my imagination prefers the festal shout, the bovine Magnificat. I could be wrong. The guy in town could be right. Whatever it was my ears heard this morning, I want to take it one step deeper: before and after the shout, there was and is the Great Silence from which comes every sound.

  • Gordon C. Stewart on the wetland, May 8, 2018