Between the Banks of Time

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Matthew Arnold‘s poem The Future came to mind this week in light of the eulogy for local artist and gardener Lynn NiskanenClick HERE for 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. 

Looking out at 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.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 21, 2019.

FEATHERY PHOTO BOMBING – Marilyn Armstrong

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Marilyn Armstrong is a favorite. This morning’s post seems . . . well . . . downright serendipitous!

Serendipity - Seeking Intelligent Life on Earth

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.

Goldfinch

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…

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Living within nature’s rhythms

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“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 Cavalier King Charles Spaniel shadow chaser.

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.

Morning sun on cabin wall.

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.

Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness

Mary Oliver’s “Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness” — a poem of love for the world in the season of autumn leaves and shorter days — arrived this morning from Canadian David Kanigan’s blog.

Live & Learn

Every year we have been
witness to it: how the
world descends

into a rich mash, in order that
it may resume.
And therefore
who would cry out

to the petals on the ground
to stay,
knowing, as we must,
how the vivacity of what was, is married

to the vitality of what will be?
I don’t say
it’s easy, but what
else will do

if the love one claims to have for the world
be true?

So let us go on, cheerfully enough,
this and every crisping day,

though the sun be swinging east,
and the ponds be cold and black,
and the sweets of the year be doomed.

~ Mary Oliver, “Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness” in A Thousand Mornings 


Notes: Poem source – Thank you Karl @ Mindfulbalance. Photo via afaerytalelife

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Full Moon by the Wetland

FlomaxFew of my closest male friends still get up in the middle of the night. Most have had surgery or are on Flomax. They sleep through the night. While they’re sleeping, I’m getting up three of four times, on a good night. Last night it was five!

You might think they’re luckier than I am. But sometimes, like last night when I got up five times, there’s a blessing to it. There are windows on three sides of the loft. On a clear night, I look out and up at Orion’s belt — it’s always there — and feel all’s right with the world. I saw Orion belt again last night, but there was a brighter blessing – a full moon throwing a wide swath of moonlight across the wetland onto the yard and through the cabin’s windows.

SupermoonThe swath of light shifted with each trip down the handcrafted maple staircase the A-frame’s builder — a Saint Paul fireman — had rescued before the old firehouse was torn down. It’s a beautiful work of art, and, when the evening sun or a full moon shines its light on the maple, those who see it can’t help but be thankful the old fireman rescued it from its fateful trip to the landfill. The angle of the light moves with the moon to create changing patterns formed by the light from above and the different shaped shadows cast by the thin, leaf bare birches and aspens, and by the bigger oaks and maples whose leaves have not yet fallen — each of the five trips up and down the staircase unlike the one before. I thought of all my friends who no longer need to make trips in the night because of surgery or Flomax, or the end of their time under the full moon among the trees and wetlands. 

Someday I’ll make my last trip down that stairwell, but the blessing of the full moon in late October 2018 will stay as long as my memory holds out — an heavenly taste of earth, an experience of the Ineffable, a non-Flomax night of bliss!

After brewing a pot of coffee this morning, I turn my attention back to the book I’d been reading before bed, Marilynne Robinson’s Gideon, the story of a dying old preacher writing a memoir for his young son. I come to a page that speaks of what I felt seeing the full moon. “I am trying to decide,” says the Reverend John Ames, “what I have never before put into words. … It was one day while listening to baseball that it occurred to me how the moon actually moves, in a spiral, because while it orbits the earth, it also follows the orbit of the earth around the sun. This is obvious, but the realization pleased me. There was a full moon outside my window, icy white in a blue sky, and the Cubs were playing Cincinnati.”

Crosley Field

Crosley Field, 1969, home of the Cincinnati Reds

Funny thing about that. Years ago, as a youth, I, like Reverend John Ames — and maybe John’s creator, Marilynne Robinson, listened to Cincinnati Reds radio broadcasts before drifting off to sleep hundred miles away.  The broadcasts came through clear as a bell in Broomall, Pennsylania. There were nights when the Cubs — or my Phillies — were playing Cincinnati.

  • Gordon C. Stewart by the wetland after a full moon, October 23, 2018.

I’D RATHER BE A JUDGE THAN A MINER: BEYOND THE FRINGE – Marilyn Armstrong

It’s been quite a week! We need some laughter. Here’s hoping Marilyn Armstrong’s post will lighten your day as it did mine. Click the link below — Serendipity: Seeking Intelligent Life on Earth — to open the post and view the video of Peter Cook’s droll humor.

Serendipity - Seeking Intelligent Life on Earth

We now, after almost 350 years of nationhood, have a president who thinks mining — coal mining — is a good idea and a fine way to make a living. Oddly enough, someone else had this idea years ago.

It was hilarious — and stupid — then. It is no less stupid and hilarious now.

BEYOND THE FRINGE – Peter Cook
Why I’d Rather Be A Judge Than A Miner


I think it might really be funnier now than it was in 1964.

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T.G.I.F.: It’s been a long week. (Beyond Comprehension…)

Live & Learn

87 Elephants Slaughtered in One of the Largest Poaching Incidents in Africa (Sept 3, 2018, LiveScience.com)


(Photo via Newthom)

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Elijah’s Fist Puddle Play

Video

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

No one owns a woodpecker!

Pileated_Woodpecker_(9597212081),_crop

Pileated Woodpecker

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. 

IMG_1546Tom, 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.

IMG_1547Property 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.

Priming the Pump

IMG_1537

The pump that wouldn’t pump

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.

IMG_1536 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.

IMG_1534

The pump that pumped. No priming needed!

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.