Delycia and I are loving our sunrise walks, especially along the majestic Mystic River. With the sun just faintly unfolding its light, we walk in a loose and lively way, usually in silence to best absorb the beauties of the scene, but sometimes using quiet conversations to share our early-morning thoughts. Above are some of the splendor of Thursday morning’s sunrise, and two appreciative sunlit witnesses.
This morning, we were out early once again, and sometimes walked side-by-side with two long, looming shadows made by the rising sun.
This thin sheet of ice showed surprising designs, which the early light lit up in a special way.
Here’s a map of our walk through the Denison Pequotsepos Preserve:
At sunrise, he opened a word
and light leaped out across his hands,
He opened another at breakfast
and somewhere a chorus started singing.
He placed some words in a pot
and saw sophisticated sunshine.
Then words ran through him
like crazy kids
loving all kinds of things.
I am legally 79 years old, but according to an astrophysicist friend of mine, I’ve been around for billions of years. In fact, I’m not just a senior citizen, but a truly ancient guy, as old as the stars. Scientific studies say that my body is composed of approximately 7,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms, most of which, my friend tells me, came into being when giant stars exploded several billion years ago. Apparently these atoms browsed around the universe for eons before they somehow assembled and settled together in 1941 to produce an arrangement that was given the name ‘Hamilton Salsich’. Who knows — some of my atoms might have been part of prehistoric mountains or the kidney of a king or a wee shrew’s eyes, before they – lucky for me – linked up to bring a baby to life in St. Louis 79 years ago. What’s equally amazing is that numerous studies suggest that the 37 trillion cells in my body are replaced with brand new ones about every ten years, which means, unless I’m missing something, that my body is now only about 10 years old! If I understand this correctly, I’ve been around for billions of years, but am still just a 10-year-old kid! I’m truly ancient, but still – truly – in the springtime of life! 🌞
Two Lucky Hikers
This morning we took a 2-hour walk in the Canonchet Preserve in Hopkinton, RI, and saw these lovely scenes …
“They all realized they were in a place of holy mystery…” –Luke 7: 16-17
A few days ago, reading this sentence in the gospel of Luke, I immediately thought of my classroom back in the many years when I was teaching young adults. It might seem odd to think of a small classroom in a quiet, unassuming school in southeastern Connecticut as being “a place of holy mystery”. After all, it was a rather commonplace classroom – no different, really, than the thousands of other classrooms in the country. Kids came and went, talking and yawning and trying their best to stay focused, and not thinking much, I’m sure, about miracles and holy mysteries. For me, though, my little room at 89 Barnes Road was truly a remarkable place, for I knew that miraculous things happened there. In this room, forty-two students and one teacher had their lives transformed each and every day, not because of especially good teaching, but just because that’s the nature of this amazing process called “learning”. When people come together to share ideas, lives are changed. It’s the law. It always happens. I once calculated that approximately 500,000 thoughts occurred to my students and me in my classroom on a typical school day. Think of it – all those thoughts swirling together in my room, mingling and sharing and transforming! It was like a magic potion of ideas, and not one of us could avoid being changed by it. Even if we were not especially tuned into what was happening on a given day, we couldn’t help being transformed, at least somewhat, by the blending and stirring of ideas in my classroom. How did it happen? Why did it happen? I really have no idea. I planned my lessons and worked as hard as I could to be a good teacher, but I must honestly say I still have no clue as to how this miracle called learning happens. I guess that’s what made my classroom – and any classroom – “a place of holy mystery”.
He can't stop the dawn, he knows -
can't stop a sky from coming open once again
with light and with a looser kind of life.
He looks, and there's the dark and lots of fears
and loneliness, and then before too long
sunlight begins to let itself come in
through doorways in the dark
and dawn is there again, and giving him the gift he loves,
another day of light, and pleasant ways to live.
And nothing stops the dawn, and that's
the mystery and beauty of it,
that disease or fear or terrorists can't stop
the dawn from doing what it does.
He knows there's a sort of dawn inside him, too,
a light that always comes again when fear,
like darkness, fades away, and hopefulness
is shining optimistically again,
like morning after all the darkest nights.
It can't be stopped, these faithful dawns.
I think I need to get a larger view of my life, since I sometimes don’t seem to have room enough to receive all the gifts I get each day. Perhaps I need to see my life as a vast castle that can easily hold the endless gifts I’m given – gifts like the sunlight that’s always somehow with me in the daylight hours, and the eyesight that allows me to look at the light shining on slowly vanishing snow, and the wind that whips up fresh weather second by second, and the full-of-life thoughts that arise inside me by the thousands each day. Perhaps my life should be called “Ham’s Castle”, a palace with no walls and no doors, a mansion that widens whenever necessary to welcome the crowds of gifts that are constantly surrounding it and asking for entrance.
(a poem about Braelynn J., 52, Blessings, CT)
Her life looks vast to her,
like it truly has no boundaries,
like it’s a sky,
or a sea without shores.
She’s sure her thoughts
are as immense
as the mountains she loves,
and she loves flowing
with feelings as infinite
as the spread-out skies
she sees above her house -
a humble house which somehow
holds the universe’s limitless kindness
with expansive ease and elegance.
At the good age of 79, I am still working diligently to develop a sense of authority in myself. Here I’m not thinking of the most common definition of authority – the power to enforce laws, exact obedience, and pass judgment – but of a less familiar meaning – the power of simple and unconquerable confidence derived from experience and practice. This is authority that’s natural, not contrived – authority that’s established gradually from inside a person, not abruptly and artificially from outside. It’s the kind of unpretentious, authentic authority that arises unhurriedly with the passage of time, like a tree that slowly grows stronger from within. I have been hesitantly and clumsily growing as a person for 79 years, and I’m feeling more of this kind of honest authority each year. It doesn’t come from outside – from a successful task completed, or from a compliment from someone – but from inside, from a slowly blossoming sense of understanding and self-assurance. It’s the kind of authority a senior person sometimes acquires simply because they have survived, with audacity and dignity, many decades of study and testing in the school of life. It’s the kind of authority a person feels within themselves when they know, without a shred of doubt, that they will sail through both stormy and sunlit days with high-spirited success. Not always, but occasionally I do sense authority like that inside me, as if I’ve grown steadfast and persistent like a sturdy oak, as if there’s a sort of boundless strength inside me that simply can’t be contested. On those fortunate days, I stay trustworthy and unassuming and strong.
BACK TO THE BASICS
Once upon a time, a 79-year-old man
fell in love with plainness and simplicity.
He saw trees that seemed unsophisticated
in their loveliness, and the old lamps
in his house seemed lighthearted
in their straightforwardness,
and he said to himself that life at 79
should be like that,
like a little cloud
lightly passing through an understanding sky
in an unfussy, no frills way.
he had become too busy
with the billion small things in life,
and had lost sight of
how simple happiness could be.
He decided to be always satisfied.
Let what comes, come,
and he would care for it
in a homespun, meat-and-potatoes way.
He chose to live an undecorated life,
like the stones that sit well-pleased in the park
while busy, anxious people pass speedily by,
or like a cloud that is just its basic, pleasant self
while wars and havoc hold sway
in the ambitious, worldly-wise world below.
It often occurs to me that living a good life has much to do with ‘pondering’. The word derives from an old Latin word that meant ‘weighing’, and there’s no doubt that I should spend a good deal of time engaged in that activity. The fact is, I’m almost always thinking, and I should do this important activity as if I am carefully studying each thought in order to estimate how much it ‘weighs’. When I think of life this way, I sometimes picture a laboratory balance scale. If I’m truly a serious student of life, I should more often practice pondering – placing a thought in one of the pans of the scale, then placing another thought in the opposite pan, and then checking the relative heaviness. It’s a precise, exact business, this process called thinking, or pondering, and, like weighing things in a laboratory, it requires the utmost attentiveness. Careless thinking, like careless weighing, always leads to flawed results. One thought might be just a milligram heavier than another, but that could be the difference between a transformative idea and a dud. I guess my life should, in a sense, be run like a meticulous laboratory. If I’m going to be weighing thoughts each day, there needs to be an atmosphere of concentration and precision in my days. I need to keep in mind that I’m engaged in scientific work of a high order – considering and evaluating thoughts. Perhaps, when I enter a new day – a new laboratory – I should imagine myself putting on a lab coat and magnifying glasses, ready to begin another session of the meticulous pondering of thoughts.
I spent some time this morning pondering wonderful thoughts as I did an attentive and spirited 3-mile walk at Elm Grove Cemetery. Here’s the route I took among the stately gravestones and solemn trees …
While walking and pondering, I saw these impressive scenes …
And very early this morning, at 4:55 a.m., as we were sitting in the sunroom doing our silent morning meditations, we saw the large, silent moon just above the trees …
This thought came to me during this morning’s windy walk with Delycia: What if I decided to give names to separate winds? I imagined myself seeing wind pass through trees and saying, “Let’s see . . . I’ll name the wind in the upper part of the oak tree Jimmy, and I’ll name the wind in the lower part Joanne, and now the wind in the lower part has changed slightly, so I’ll have to rename it and ….” It would have obviously been an impossible task. The puffs of wind we felt on our walk this morning were not separate entities, but were part of something vast, part of the wide wind that was blowing through Mystic, which was part of the immeasurable flow of winds across the earth. No one would seriously think of isolating and naming single puffs of wind. I began to wonder, then, whether our habit of isolating and naming any so-called separate, individual parts of our cohesive and harmonious universe isn’t, in one sense, equally foolish. It’s strange, for instance, that the name ‘Hamilton Salsich’ is used to actually identify me, as though I am a distinct and separate ‘piece’ of the universe. In a way, that’s as silly as saying, “Oh, there goes Julia” as a current of wind passes across my jacket. The truth is that the person referred to as ‘Hamilton Salsich’ is not separate, not isolated, not solitary, but is always an inseparable part of the single, endless, ever-changing universe. What is called ‘I’ thinks and feels and does things because the universe thinks and feels and does things. The great system of winds blows across the earth, sending puffs of wind through the trees beside our house, and the vast assembly of miracles called the Universe (which is my name for ‘God’) dances in its smooth and ceaseless way, moving the life called ‘Hamilton Salsich’. Don’t get me wrong — I like my name, and we definitely need to name things to make daily life convenient for us, but I realize, all the while, that all names are just handy but basically meaningless labels for so-called ‘things’ that actually can never be separated from the endless dance of which they are a small but vital and utterly inseparable part.
(about Philip M., 89, Blessings, CT)
He received a new name today.
It says he is someone new,
someone with sunshine inside.
This new name never blames, only praises.
It wears its letters like a prince,
and lives inside him.
It’s a special name,
as special as the name of summer, or celebration.
Tomorrow he'll receive another new name,
and the next day, and the next.
This happens to you, too.
This morning, Delycia and I took a long walk along a trail in the Pequotsepos Preserve, and I couldn’t help but notice the wild tangle of trees, both standing and fallen, throughout the forest. For some reason, it flashed me back to my teaching days, and to the utterly tangled stories and poems I often pushed my students through, hoping they would be able to stick to the trail. As their English teacher, I tried to encourage my students to take good care of their minds. I’m sure countless people advised them to take care of their bodies, but what about protection and provision for their minds? As I personally know quite well, a mind can fall into shabbiness and disorder as easily as a body, and a kind of cancer can grow among thoughts just as surely as among tissues and organs. My students, I felt, should be devoted to the health and wellbeing of their minds, and I tried to help them in that endeavor. I forced them to rigorously exercise their mind, just as their athletic coaches put them through their physical paces on the field and court. I pushed them along the trails of seemingly inscrutable poems and mazelike stories, sometimes making them think themselves into exhaustion. I hoped they were gasping for their mental breath when a class period ended. I also tried to feed their minds only the healthiest ‘foods’ during English class. We read the finest literature I could find – books that would bring stimulation and nourishment to their minds. No fast-food poems, no take-out stories, no drive-through novels – only the kind of illuminated literature that would let a shaft of healthful light into their young minds. Of course, I also had to help them learn to bar their mental doors to thoughts that could be distracting during English class. Like all of us, stray ideas steadily passed through my students’ minds, and during an exhausting class inspection of a Faulkner short story, some of my students were surely tempted to welcome a roving daydream or two, whatever it might bring, as long as it’s something besides Faulkner. My job was to encourage them to be sentries at the doors of their minds, to stand guard at the entrances, permitting only thoughts fitting for the topic. I wanted them to be free thinkers but also stern coaches and trainers of their brains. I wanted them to leave each English class feeling like their minds were dog-tired, but more hale and hearty than ever.
After our 3-mile walk through the inter-twisted forest this morning, wearing my heavy boots with micro-spikes attached (for the ice), I did feel more hale and hearty than ever — bone-weary, but glad I made the challenging journey, as I hoped my young students felt after a formidable march through some Shakespeare sonnets.
In Breaking, Alabama, USA
every year seems to shatter
in its first few days,
spewing out countless gifts for everyone,
and each of its mornings splits apart
so miracles can be made.
Residents say they hear quiet cracks
now and then
as life unfastens itself
and offers them treasures.
Sometimes love between friends
splits apart so others can share it,
and bad news in Breaking
usually, in due course, bursts
into new and necessary wisdom.
Surprisingly, success and awards
in the town of Breaking
most often fracture
and fall apart into
simple, soft truth,
which is too resilient to break.
Here’s a poem about one of the make-believe towns I’ve invented for my poetry:
(Homes, NH, USA)
peace dwells in snowflakes that speak among the trees.
Brother trees reside with sister winds.
Wisdom lives in faces that shine.
Strength lives in scenes of loveliness.
The silence people need
lives in this moment and that.
Safety dwells in Homes
where friendship walks.
You can live there
in the wheatfields of kindness.
You can live in the soft forest of generosity.
You can live with all the doors open.