Although words cannot describe the delight I feel watching Barclay romp freely in an open field, Mary Oliver’s poem comes close.
As Mary said, “I couldn’t have said it better.”
- Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 10, 2018.
Although words cannot describe the delight I feel watching Barclay romp freely in an open field, Mary Oliver’s poem comes close.
As Mary said, “I couldn’t have said it better.”
It’s quiet this morning. The only sounds are from the birds.
Redwing blackbirds feed on the cat-n-nine tails. Woodpeckers peck the trees. Canadian geese honk to stake their claim to what remains of the beaver lodge. Trumpeter swans blow their trumpets to shoo away the geese. The loons warble a primordial language, an echo of a time we cannot remember but dare not forget. The first sounds from a primordial Silence.
At daybreak at the edge of the wetland, I read from The Book of Common Prayer (BCP):
“One day tells its tale to another
and one night imparts knowledge to another.
Although they have no words or language,
and their voices not heard,
Their sound has gone out into all lands,
and their message to the ends of the world.”
I come to the wetland on this “pale blue dot” (Carl Sagan) in a vast universe to hear the primordial echo away from the human crowing, honking, and pecking that hurt my ears back home. Barclay, the ever faithful Cavalier King Charles Spaniel companion, lives by his own natural rhythm at home as well as here at the cabin, but his wagging tail and constant smile here tell me he prefers this place where the only sounds come from the air and the wetlands.
Barclay professes no particular creed, yet he seems to know better what my faith tradition, ducks, geese, swans, and loons know:
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament God’s handiwork” [Psalm 19:1] and “the whole Earth is the Theater of the God’s glory” [John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion]. With the help of The Book of Common Prayer, hearing aids, and binoculars, I sense it too.
Glorify the [Primordial Silence], O springs of waters, seas, and streams,
O whales, and all that move in the waters,
All birds of the air, glorify the [Primordial Silence],
Glorify God and praise God forever.
[“Song of Creation” excerpt, Morning Prayer, BCP, p.89, amended by GCS]
Grandpa, everywhere I go people say they love me. What’s love?
If I were wise, I’d take a month to read up on it before answering a big question like that, but I’m not, and instant gratification is too slow for a seven-and-a-half month-old grandson, so I’ll give it a shot.
Thanks, Grandpa, gimme your best shot, but don’t hurt me!
Not that kind of shot, Elijah. It’s just one of those expressions.
Yeah, Mom expresses before I go to daycare.
No, not that kind of expression. “I’ll give it a shot” means “I’ll try.”
Okay, try to give it a shot. What’s love?
Well, Elijah, like Frank Sinatra said, love is a many splendored thing. Love means MANY things to many different people.
Grandpa, you’re not giving me your best shot. You’re using a shot gun. Take out your rifle and give it to me straight! What’s love?
Like I said, it’s one of those words that requires lots of thought. We throw it around to express all kinds of feelings but most of them aren’t really love. Like “I love ice Ben and Jerry’s ice cream” and “I love ‘How to Get Away with Murder'” and ‘I love ‘Sesame Street’ or “I love my ‘Huggies’.
Yeah, like I love Lammie!
You do, Elijah. You do! You express great affection for Lammie. You have a thing between you. The way you feel about Lammie is the way we all feel about you. Everyone just wants to hold you. You make us feel like children again. Your smile makes us smile. Your laugh makes us laugh.
Yeah, like Barclay makes me laugh. I love Barclay. He’s even better than Lammie. He can give me his paw! I love that! “Sit, Barclay! Sit!”
Yes, I know. Lammie is a stuffed animal. Barclay’s a real one. He’s a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. He loves you. But he doesn’t love you and you don’t love him because you can order him around, Elijah.
Remember, no matter how much you love Lammie, now matter how much you love Barclay, and no matter how much I say I love you, I always love you more than that!
Thanks, Grandpa. That’s a many splendid answer. I’ll always love you, too. But I love Mom more! She expresses herself much more clearly than you do!
The moonless night beyond the picture window contrasts with the candles that wash a warm glow on the orange rough-cut pine walls inside the A-frame cabin in a place without a name.
A flock of Canadian geese flews over the wetland before dusk, honking their way south before winter comes to the Upper Midwest, while inside the cabin walls the Toronto Blue Jays had flown south to Minneapolis over the radio to play a ballgame with the Twins. Unlike the Canadian geese, the Blue Jays are going nowhere; the Minnesota Twins are preparing for a long flight to the World Series.
There is something strange about being alone in a remote wilderness cabin without a remote or internet, but some things stay close. Like the radio I bring to listen to the Twins games, and my canine companion Barclay who doesn’t care about the Twins or the radio but does care about candlelight. Barclay had headed for his kennel for the night an hour after the Twins had broken the sacred silence—until the sound of a match drew him back to the sofa to watch the candlelight flicker against the walls.
Sometimes I wish I were a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel instead of a lone silly goose who needs a radio to stay sane in an otherwise silent night in a warm-lit cabin in a place without a name.
By the seventh inning stretch, I’m tired of the Twins game, blow out all the candles, see Barclay to his kennel, and head up the ladder to the loft in the darkness. Only then do I notice the light show beyond the cabin walls: the Northern Lights dancing across the sky, a natural light show no World Series can match. Through the loft window I watch the light that knows nothing of matches, candles, or our whereabouts off the human map.
Sometimes, when awe reduces me to lightening bug, it feels good to be human.
Lonely folks cruise the internet hoping for a good match. Websites pair strangers looking for love. They meet in coffee shops, bars, parks, and restaurants.
On rare occasions the two make for a good match. NEVER are they better matched than Barclay and his big sister.
We should all be so lucky! Forget the internet. Get a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and some pink shoes, and enjoy the mutual admiration on a good walk, healing and heeling at the same time.
Okay, enough of politics!
Time for something light, like a response to The Daily Post‘s challenge to publish something on the word ‘pattern’.
So, what’s my daily pattern, I ask myself. Kay’s out of town, so the pattern is different today. It’s just Barclay and I (or is it ‘me’?).
I get up early, as usual. I make a pot of coffee, open the front door hoping the newspaper’s waiting on the porch, pour myself a cup of coffee (four packets of Splenda – it’s bad for my health but I don’t care; two teaspoons of Cremora – made of corn starch, also bad for my health and for the planet, but I ignore it) in my special cup from our trip to San Francisco. Every morning I wish I were in San Francisco. It’s part of the daily pattern.
I turn on the MacBook Air to check for emails and find a text from Kay who’s in Charleston, South Carolina with her three sisters from Denver, Lincoln, and Charleston. Texts are rare in my normal daily pattern, but there are three of them this morning. I’m not much of a texter, though there are mornings when, though Kay and I are sitting together silently in the living room so as not to awaken Barclay, she will text me!
About 9:00 a.m. it’s Barclay time and Barclay’s pattern takes over for the next half-hour. Out from the kennel he comes, stretching his legs as though he’s been instructed by a Yoga Master, wagging his tail . . . running over to the recliner where Kay should be. “Where’s Mom, Dad?” Sitting on the recliner with Kay is an essential part of Barclay’s pattern, but she’s not here today. He looks at me, lies down on the rug, rolls over on his back for a tummy rub, a brushing and the wiping of his eyes (Cavies have problems with their tear ducts requiring twice-daily depletion of Kleenex). Then he gets his ball and drops it at my feet. Time to play ball – “Get the ball!” “Bring the ball!” “Get the ball!” “Bring the ball!” – until it’s time for a drink and for turning over his food dish to play with the food, as in throwing pieces of food into the air and chasing them down until he runs to the front door to ring the bell that tells me he’s ready to go out.
Anyway, that’s enough about my daily pattern, and it’s only 9:30. The rest of the daily pattern is not very interesting. After lunch we take a long nap together. We have dinner. We go to sleep. And the day begins again with an unhealthy cup of coffee and the dream of being in San Francisco. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat the pattern.
All days with Barclay and Kay are good days!
Barclay and I loved playing with you yesterday. I think you enjoyed it too!
You and Barclay aren’t old enough to understand all the things I know. Both of you are only two-and-a-half years old. But, from the looks of yesterday’s play time, you both enjoy life more than Grandpa. Watching you and Barclay do his tricks was such fun! “Barclay, sit!” “Barclay, down.” “Leave it.” “Roll over.”
You were the alpha dog, the commander-in-chief, Chairwoman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. To this day, no woman has ever held any of those positions.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. You don’t know all that stuff. You don’t know what an alpha dog is, or a Commander-in-Chief, or Chairwoman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or President. You’ll learn all that stuff soon enough, and, if this were the world I would like for you, there wouldn’t be any Commanders-in-Chiefs, or Joint Chiefs of Staff. There would be grandchildren like you and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels like Barclay who play together with moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas without worrying about the reasons we have Commanders-in-Chief and Chairwomen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Watching the two of you yesterday made me think about how much of what I know I wish I could un-learn. My head and heart are crammed full of things that don’t belong there, like the time your Great Uncle Bob drank the Drano and had to be rushed to the hospital to have his stomach pumped.
Older people your Uncle Bob and me have drunk the poison of thinking we’re smarter and better than dogs and cats, and trees and birds and blue skies and clouds and rivers and ponds and oceans. We drank the poison. I hope you’ll grow up remembering your play time with Barclay whenever the can of Drano sits on the back of the toilet.
I go to the toilet a lot more these days. You’re still wearing diapers. If you’re lucky you’ll learn from Barclay what my generation never learned: never poop in your own kennel. The world, the planet, is your kennel, Ruby! This whole wide world. We need to take care of it. Enjoy it. Not be mean to it or hurt it.
As you get older, remember how you and Barclay looked right in each other’s eyes and smiled. Remember the love. If you do, the world will be a better place than the one I’m passing on to you. And, when I pass on, remember that our big wonderful kennel doesn’t go anywhere. It just keeps going long after we’ve been here. Be nice to it. Be nice to yourself. Keep playing, and, please, don’t swallow the Drano!
It’s almost Christmas. Joseph and Mary stayed at our house last night as part of La Posada, a Mexican tradition re-enacting Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging in Bethlehem.
We welcomed them to our home for safe lodging, food, and a warm place.
When they arrived we sat them on the floor.
Unfortunately, Barclay quickly took a liking to Joseph’s left ear, so we moved Joseph and Mary into the pantry where they’d feel safe from a domestic terrorist attack.
Last night, after Barclay had gone to bed, I invited Joseph and Mary to join me watching the presidential candidate debate. Last night’s debate topic was terrorism. Refugees fleeing persecution and immigration policy were also discussed.
Our guests stayed very still. They were very quiet. They watched the faces on the TV screen. They listened to every word. As I went to the kitchen for a drink, Mary cuddled up to Joseph needing reassurance. She whispered, “Joseph, we have to get out of here before one of them gets elected -these people don’t like us! They’re mean. They sound just like Herod!”
I took them back to the safety of the pantry, put them back on the shelf, said goodnight, and closed the door so they’d feel more secure. Today they came out of the closet when another family came to protect them from Herod on their way to Bethlehem. But before they left, Joseph told Mary, “Don’t worry, honey, as soon as you give birth and are strong enough for the journey, we’re leaving for Egypt.”
An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” – Matthew 2:13-15
by Kay Stewart
After 16 years of marriage you learn many lessons. But the ones on vacation are especially worth noting.
My husband and I have been given the opportunity of fulfilling a preaching assignment for a lovely little chapel named St. Timothy’s Memorial Chapel located in the abandoned mining town of Southern Cross, Montana. The chapel is perched on the edge of a beautiful mountainside with a gorgeous panoramic view of Georgetown Lake, the largest lake in the area. Breathtaking beauty. A vacation of our dreams. One for the bucket list. All he has to do is provide four Sundays of sermons and they provide us with a free cabin on the meadow down in the valley below, nestled between two mountain ranges. In the morning we hear melodies of little chirping birds, and every evening soft gentle breezes waft across our side porch as we watch sunset after sunset throw a veritable light-show of color as it criss-crosses the valley below. All we have to put up with is a modern-day schizophrenic auditory milieu–pristine quiet periodically interrupted by the highway noises from cars, trucks and RV’s. We have every reason to be grateful, and we are.
After two weeks of our four week almost-ideal vacation here in Montana, we decided the vacation could be expanded, enhanced–an improvement on perfection. “What we need is an adventure,” I said. This dynamic is better known as “the grass is always greener on the other side”. My husband didn’t really need an adventure, he was liking his Montana vacation just fine. But I was getting restless. I am seven years younger and think it is due to this age difference that I am being deprived of adventures to which I am entitled. It didn’t take long to convince him to break camp (cabin) in search of something else. I used the regret-reduction argument. It works every time. “When we get home, won’t we wish we had done more exploring of this part of the country?” Avoiding future regret is my argument of choice–it burns like a slow wick, providing a living breathing phantom of anxiety forecast into the future when you won’t be able to do anything about it. So within 24 hours we dismantled our “ideal” vacation in search of a relocation of our vacation spot. We chose a trip to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
We are experienced travelers and have always felt comfortable using Trip Advisor to book a motel reservation. With the correct box checked filtering “pet friendly” venues, we booked a motel for $179.00 a night plus fees and taxes. It seemed a bit high, but Jackson, Wyoming is a high ticket vacation destination. After all, that’s why we were going there. Our internet provider doesn’t have enough cell phone towers in the hills of Montana, so my husband did not get an immediate confirmation number and we got worried. Avoiding any problems, we called the motel to verify only to find out they were not pet friendly after all and we could not stay there if we had a dog. They directed us to another motel close to them that was assuredly pet friendly and we immediately called to book with them for two nights, sight unseen. They articulated right off that under no condition would we be allowed to leave our dog unattended in the motel room. “Fair enough” we thought, we can leave Barclay in the car, for short breaks, going to restaurants, leaving the windows open, we do it all the time when the weather is cool enough. Barclay loves to “go for a ride in the car”; he simply takes naps in the front seat where the Alpha Dog sits.
Five hours of driving later, we rolled into Jackson. We were thinking five hours wasn’t such a bad drive, since it was much less than the 19 hours it took us to drive to Montana from Minneapolis, but we were wrong. Five hours is a long day of driving any time you do it. Especially under a hot 95 degree sun. It’s July. The sun does that in Wyoming in July. This leads into another complication. It’s about our dear little dog. Barclay is a wonderful 14 pound, 2-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. His Cavalier breeding makes him adorable and affectionate, but Barclay has a psychological disorder—he is a “shadow chaser”. I prefer to call it by its more obvious name–Barclay is a “light chaser”. The disorder is not rare, it causes obsessive compulsive behavior in a dog, drawing him, like a magnet, to wherever and whenever there is a difference between light and its accompanying shadow. Barclay is a serious light chaser and intensely loves all light. He actually has no choice in the matter; it’s a compulsory lifestyle for him. When light happens, it immediately activates Barclay. He positions himself as close to the light as possible. Then he, well, just stares at it, or paws it, or licks it. When the light changes, as light often does, Barclay changes too — he moves on to his next favorite piece of it. He never goes looking for different light, better light. He is totally satisfied with the light that happens in his midst. Barclay plays with light like a young child plays with an imaginary friend, but one he will not outgrow. But, after five hours of driving with light careening off of everything metal or electronic, we are pretty much “lights out”.
We arrive at our destination in Jackson worn out and find that our $200 a night motel room would rent for about $80 in any other city but Jackson. The quality is just not there. The room is pitch dark when the heavy musty-smelling curtains are drawn which must occur at all times unless you want the 100’s of nearby tourists to look inside your motel room. But for a family with a light obsession, dark is better for us. As we listen to the roar from the room’s air conditioning unit, which can barely keep up with the afternoon heat, we decide there is nothing else we’d like to do than take a nap.
We read in our motel room the travel brochure provided us explaining Grand Teton National Park’s rules concerning pets. They must be on a leash at all times—we are used to that. But we read further to find that dogs are not allowed at all on any of the park’s trails or public attraction areas. That’s just great.
This being a spontaneous vacation get-away from our primary vacation, we had not realized we were choosing to spend it at Grand Teton National Park on the lead-up to the 4th of July holiday weekend. The city of Jackson gets 3-4 million tourists a year. We were spending the day driving around in our air conditioned car with our beloved dog in bumper to bumper traffic with a great portion of those 3-4 million tourists.
As the vacation wore on, we became grouchier and grouchier. The tourist attractions became mostly distractions because of the tourists. And although The Grand Tetons were magnificent, “when you’ve seen one mountain, you’ve seen ’em all”. We couldn’t hike the trails. Bumper to bumper traffic in 95 degree weather. We wanted to go home.
We chose to travel home through Yellowstone National Park. It made us sad watching the devastation to the forests from the 1988 forest fires. The forest was indeed “coming back”, but it just wasn’t there yet. We tried to stop and see “Old Faithful”, but gave up when we couldn’t find a parking spot. We couldn’t wait to get home so we kept driving.
In 72 hours, we drove 750 miles, spent $700, slept in a dungeon for two nights, and drove home through countless forested areas with dead trees and no parking spaces. Once back in our original vacation location, we discovered something uniquely wonderful. We saw the light of what had been in our midst the whole time–the natural beauty, rolling hills, fresh breezes on our side porch and chirping birds heard even as the highway sang its tune. This lesson learned is one we will keep for years to come.
Yesterday, on the anniversary of 9/11, Kay and I hiked on the Echo Trail near Ely, MN with 2 year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Barclay. Barclay knows nothing about airplanes, falling buildings, religion, economics, terror, or war. He makes friends with everyone. He rejoices in the present, leaping in the air, joyful for no particular reason.
On the hike we set him free from his leash and watch him romp along the trail, out and away from us – but not too far – and then galloping back like a race horse when called. Unfortunately, Kay’s slow motion video wouldn’t load for viewing.
Freed of his leash
he runs and leaps
his feathery coat
and flopping ears
fill the stale air
with the breeze
of joy unleashed.
Since we couldn’t upload yesterday’s slo-mo video, here’s a different view of Barclay’s playful spirit.