Serenity

We took a beyond-belief kayak trip on the Wood River this morning – a trip that settled a sheet of serenity over us almost as soon we set the boats in the water. There’s something about an elderly river and lordly trees and the holiness of mist that can make any summer morning sacred. We almost didn’t need to paddle, as if the river itself was flowing us along in its princely way. Peacefulness was all around us – in the soft songs of birds, in the easy roll of water under the paddles, in the distances we could see as the river stretched far ahead of us. Even the water striders seemed easygoing as they skated across the water beside us, and a great blue heron rose up across the water as pleasantly as if he was not flying, but strolling, through the air. I think we felt lucky all the way, like wide-eyed kids seeing miracles all around them.

Here’s a slide show of our journey:

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It might seem strange, but our peaceful experience on the river this morning reminded me of the many peaceful days I had in the classroom when I was teaching. It didn’t always happen, but there were definitely occasional days when patience seemed to be the strongest force in my teaching. On those days, nothing seemed to be rushing or running or dashing or pushing. Whatever happened seemed to happen in a slow and resolute manner. Whether it was me turning the pages of my lesson plan book, my students coming down the hall toward my classroom, or the trees beyond the soccer fields swaying in the currents of air – everything seemed to be done with neither haste nor carelessness. That’s strange, because it might have seemed, to an observer, that there was much urgency around school on those days of patience. No doubt some of the students walked speedily to get to their next classes, and some of the teachers probably moved quickly through part of a lesson. But, still, in my classroom on those patient days, there seemed to be a sense of serenity at the heart of everything. Inside any rushing was an essential, all-pervasive peacefulness. Things sometimes happened quickly, but always carefully, calmly, and perfectly. A fitting symbol of this is something I saw at the end of one of those rare days, when kids were boarding buses and others were warming up on the athletic fields. I saw a car parked in front of the main entrance to school, and inside it, reclining in unreserved stillness behind the steering wheel, a woman was peacefully sleeping. Games were starting on the fields, and I’m sure cars were, as usual, rushing along the nearby interstate, but inside this car there was an enduring stillness. In a frenzied world, patience reigned there, as it had all day in my classroom – and as it did this morning on the unruffled Wood River.

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And here’s a gallery of some of Delycia’s relaxed and undisturbed flowers today …

Smiles

            Goodness is a steady and faithful follower. It seems to pursue me everywhere – in stores, where I can always see a gracious smile from at least one person; on walks, where strangers usually send a greeting with a wave; and especially in the midst of disappointment and sadness, when I can always count on goodness somehow giving me its gifts. Even in disaster and desolation, goodness is persistent and enduring, a devoted follower. It’s always just behind me, waiting and ready – as I discovered once again this morning when, returning home from a bike ride, Delycia pointed out this random smile waiting for me in the lawn spreader.

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A GRACIOUS WORLD

(a poem about Sharon Z., 82, Blessings, CT)

 

She sees smiles everywhere.

In her house,

wastebaskets seem pleased

when she empties them,

and chairs show expressions of tenderness

as she considers which one to choose.

To her, trees seem amused

as they sway in passing winds,

and even sorrow

is gracious when it pays her a visit,

pleased to be bringing new understanding.

Each day seems delighted to see her,

and most moments seem thankful to be her friend.

It appears that life enjoys

making her feel good.

Even grief can come with a grin,

saying, “Don’t worry. I’ll be gone soon,

and wisdom, as usual, is right behind me.”

 

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We took an easygoing though sometimes strenuous bike ride this morning, the Wheeler Road – Al Harvey Road loop again, one of our favorites. I feel sure we smiled most of the way, because we both especially love the openness

that seems to be all around us along these quiet country roads. Yes, there are stone fences everywhere, but they don’t fence in our vision of the widespread pastures, forests, and skies – and this massive stone fence didn’t stop Delycia from soaring away from me on her lightweight bike.

And certainly, no ‘No Trespassing’ sign can keep two lovers of spaciousness from stopping to see a handsome green and golden pasture.

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I always smile to see Delycia’s spectacular flowers …

Trails

As I was watching some leaves and limbs swaying in the breeze this morning, I thought about the back-and-forth swaying my life often does. Time and again, I seem to swing around from plan to plan, promise to promise, goal to goal – happily giving myself permission to change my mind, double back, rethink things, take a new trail. One fine idea gives way to a finer one. One second I decide to take the trash out, but then, in a flash, I decide to do the dishes instead. At 9:00 I know exactly what I want to do this afternoon, but at 9:01 a different and more wonderful plan appears. Back and forth, here and there, this and that, one thing and then another. Leaves and limbs yield themselves to winds, and sometimes I also love yielding. Life shifts and sways and takes a new trail, and usually – often with a smile – I freely follow along.  

I started thinking about this yesterday while we were walking on the picturesque and diversified trails in the Canonchet Preserve, in Hopkinton, RI.

The trails meander in a way that always makes me appreciate the meandering of my life, the strolling and zigzagging as the trails of life lead me on. Walking the beautiful and always surprising trails at Canonchet Preserve makes me love walking the trails of life in the same way, trusting and following the ‘signs’ that life constantly sets out to show me the way.

Here’s a slide show of scenes from our walk yesterday, including the walkers! …

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BEYOND RANGE
(concerning Andy H., 70, Blessings, CT)
 
One day, everything felt like it 
was far back, like he would have 
to follow far-flung trails to find 
even a single thought of his. All 
the ways of his life seemed mystifying 
and secret, especially his feelings, 
which flowed from inaccessible regions, 
and his heartbeats, which seemed 
to be sent from indescribable distances. 
On this day, he even lost what he 
thought was himself, and could find 
only a borderless land full 
of rejoicing and limitless choices, 
and it was somehow named Andy.

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And here are some very special flowers in Delycia’s garden today …

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And finally …

Can You Spread Out the Sky?

            When I do even a small task with success, every so often I secretly salute myself for being so smart, so capable and clever, and it’s then that I wish someone would show me the sky, like this one, which was above us this morning around sunrise.

“Can you spread out the sky like this?” they might ask, or “Can you carry ships on your back like the sea?” There’s nothing wrong with being happy to have the ability to get a few things done, but when I start slapping myself on the back and beaming with puffed-up self-importance, I need a friend to find me the right path again. I need someone to say, once again, that I am simply a breeze in the boundless wind of the universe, just a small shaft of light in the limitless light of eternity. That doesn’t mean I’m not skillful – just no more skillful than the smallest house wren or the sea that supports massive ships. When I start thinking I’m something extra-special, a friend could find me a stone that’s been around for billions of years and say, “You’ve been here how long, Ham – 70-some years? And you think you’re extra-special? This stone has survived dinosaurs, the Middle Ages, and millions of mighty storms, and what have you done? Yes, you’re special, but so are all stones and blades of grass and drifting winds and lights in sunsets.”  That would put me in my place – an extraordinary place, for sure, in a universe where all things have been extraordinary right from the start.    

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LOOKING FOR SUNRISES

(what Sandra, age 51, Blessings, CT, said)
"The only original sin 
is thinking we're sinful. 
The sun doesn't sin 
by being behind clouds,
rivers shouldn't be ashamed 
for flooding places, 
and I'm not ashamed 
to be Sandra,
an unfussy, sincere person 
who makes many mistakes 
but makes them in honest 
and sometimes wonderful ways. 
Birds don't sin by being 
their on-the-loose selves, 
and I don't sin by being 
sometimes ridiculous, 
like when I walk three miles 
to McQuades simply to buy 
a bag of Archway ginger cookies. 
I love living. 
I look for sunrises 
inside sorrow. 
I give thanks for failure, 
for thunder and lightning, 
for the light of both love
and loneliness, 
and for the gifts I get 
every moment in this sinless, 
shameless life 
I'm lucky to be living."

Family

A HAIKU FOR TODAY

Stopping beside cows,

we were all peacefully still,

and our bikes rested.

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Several years ago, Delycia and I went to St. Louis for a family reunion, but it seems to me that the prefix is not the proper one. Instead of a re-union, perhaps we should have seen it as something like an ultra-union. The prefix ‘re’ implies that we were joining in a union again, as though an earlier union was broken and now we were redoing it, but the truth is that our family union has never been broken, and in fact cannot be broken. Actually, all of us on earth – people, plants, animals, the widespread sky and mountains and oceans – are part of an enduring union, a family of wonders working together without realizing it. We are all as closely connected as the air we share and the sunlight that lands on each of us. There’s our human family, yes, but then there’s the family of the universe, which consists of all the miracles ever made – every person, speck of dust, maple tree, and mouse. It’s a family – a union – that cannot come to an end, cannot be de-unioned, and therefore never needs to be re-unioned. Our gathering in St. Louis was not so much a reunion as an ultra-union  – a celebration to heighten and intensify our appreciation of the everlasting union of which all of us across the universe have always been members.

Today, on a delightful bike ride along Wheeler and Al Harvey Roads, we came upon this family of cows – mom and a few kids.

As we enjoyed our pause for a snack, they drifted over to the fence to look at us newcomers. Delycia thinks they came over hoping for some treats, but I prefer to believe they somehow knew that we and they were all part of the real family – the one that includes stars in the sky and crickets in the grass and thunderstorms and old bike riders and quiet, curious cows.

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 OFF-SPRINGING

(concerning Sharon Z., 82, Blessings, CT)

 

On some days,

she knows she’s the offspring

of winds and lights,

the child of swirling stars.

On those days of wisdom,

she wonders how the limitless universe

is able to be the mastermind

of all mountains and weathers

and mosquitoes and women like her.

She feels her family all around her –

the flowing air,

the always unfolding light,

the moments singing as they arrive and leave.

She knows she’s a youngster

surrounded by brother and sister trees

and streets and restful clouds

and people poised on the brink

of being born again

every single moment.

 

 

Colors

A HAIKU POEM FOR TODAY

colors in the sky –

lovely colors in our thoughts –

life always aglow

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The sky was a vast sheet of shifting colors this morning.

Shortly after 5:00 a.m., we sat together at the glass table on the patio, and, in almost steady silence, we observed the sky as it restyled itself, moment by moment. It was a ceremony of soft colors, shifting so smoothly that it was easy to miss the changes. We could even see the sky and its reshaping of colors on the glass tabletop where we sat in the silent presence of St. Francis and his petunias.

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BEING CAREFUL

(Braelynn J., 52, Blessings, CT)
 
One day, 
she felt forlorn and lost, 
so she decided to be careful
about everything.
She moved around the house, 
in a meticulous manner,
loving the look of her shoes 
as she stepped along the carpets. 
She was very particular 
about praising the style of the sky’s color
and the curl of leaves 
of the little tree by the back fence. 
On this friendless day, 
she decided to be considerate 
to all things - 
to step aside so a squirrel could pass, 
and to share her gracious thoughts 
with a few birds
who seemed surprisingly lost.  
On this day of feeling hopeless,
she stayed on the lookout 
for signs of light everywhere – 
the shine in her shirt sleeve 
when she noticed it in the sunlight,
the dazzle of two small stones in the garden.
In her life that seemed so lonesome today,
 she stayed watchful for wonders - 
even the slight squeak 
of her desk chair 
as she turned to notice
light green leaves 
silent in the morning light.  

Rest

A HAIKU POEM FOR TODAY

Biking this morning,

we rested while working hard –

just like sunlight does.

I was resting my elbows on the arms of my desk chair just moments ago, and it made me think about how many other things are available to help me loosen up and relax a little. The chairs set around our house, for instance, are simply places for pausing for rest. When I’m sitting in a comfortable chair, it’s like the chair is saying, Stay with me and rest awhile. Even our carpeted floors are places for easing up and slowing down – soft foot-beds, you might say, where worn-out feet can find some useful rest. I guess, honestly, resting places are presented to me almost everywhere – my shoes, those cozy homes for my creaky old feet; the sidewalks that are more restful for my feet than the often rutted roads; the cushioned seat in our car that cares for me while I drive; and even, I suppose, the whole earth that’s been holding me pleasantly and faithfully up for 78 years. I never have to search to find a place to pause and rest, for the reliable, homey earth is always there for me.

And here’s my Delycia, the master gardener of Mystic., after several good hours of gardening, resting in well deserved sleep on her beloved hammock.

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AFTER MOWING THE LAWN
After mowing the lawn, he made the journey
into restfulness and fairytale lightheartedness.
He held his old life in his arms
and let some songs flow easily over it.
In his comfy chair, be blessed the breeze
coming through the window and the daring curtains
that undulated in complicated, well-designed ways.
Wandering was what he wanted to do,
and he did it like a happy river
rolling along and belonging everywhere.

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And here’s a slideshow of some of Delycia’s flowers today …

Find

A HAIKU POEM FOR TODAY

walking among trees

I was found by the forest 

and also by me

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Over the long years of my life, I have written maybe close to a thousand poems, but I always hesitate to say that I ‘wrote’ them, because what I really did was ‘find’ them. When Delycia and I are doing one of our walks together, we always find interesting things along the road or trail, and, when I’m walking along the minutes of a morning or afternoon at my desk, I often find words that seem perfect for a poem. It’s as if they are lying beside the trails of my mental wanderings, and – luckily – I just happen to notice them, then pause, then pick them up and set them somewhere inside a poem.

This morning we did a memorable walk at the Oswegatchie Nature Preserve in Niantic (CT), and somewhere along the trail, I ‘found’ an idea inside me that said I could ‘find’ a poem just by talking as I’m walking. Seemed like a fine idea, so, as we walked, I occasionally pulled out my phone and said a few words into the microphone – words I just happened to ‘find’ waiting on the tip of my tongue. Truly, it doesn’t feel like I ‘made’ the words I spoke, but that I simply discovered them and put them to use. It was a light-hearted and relaxed adventure – discovering beautiful words while walking a beautiful trail. If you have 4+ minutes, take a listen:

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THE POWER OF GRATITUDE (written during Covid-19)

He sat beside a vase of flowers
and felt filled up with gentleness.
The seeming chaos and distress
of all the world was gone. The powers
 
he felt were soft and reassuring.
The sunshine through the windows flowed
into him like streams, and slowed
him down, and helped him start to sing.
 
The flowers were his audience.
He sang a song he'd never heard,
and felt just like a grateful bird
who sat upon a simple fence 
 
and couldn't find a reason to complain.
The flowers seemed to like his song
and shined with golden light. Along
the western hills a single lane
 
of birds was slowing down to hear
a guy sing out with mellowness and praise.
A squirrel on the lawn in rays
of sunlight stopped and raised its ear.
 
 
 
 

Doors

A HAIKU POEM FOR TODAY

on lantern hill road

two gray-haired best friends on bikes

riding through joy’s doors

 

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This morning, sitting with Delycia on the patio for our early breakfast (around 6:00 a.m.), the thought came to me, as it occasionally does, that death opens the door into life. I’m not talking about life in some far-off, make-believe heaven, but just life itself – or Life, uppercase, because it’s truly never-ending. Only because of death is the circle of life able to carry on forever.

I guess I started thinking about this again this morning because I was looking at some of Delycia’s early daylilies.

I must have known this before, but for some reason I found it somewhat astonishing when Delycia told me a few years ago that daylilies actually bloom for only a single day.  All that work, I thought — all those frozen February weeks, then all those spring and summer days of patiently pushing up through soil and air – all that for just a few short hours of splendor! As she was speaking, I recall, I was looking at a particularly remarkable yellow lily near us (like the blossoms above) and found it startling to realize it would be colorless and shriveled tomorrow. I remember that we strolled among her lilies that day, admiring the intense colors of some, as if they were softly shouting at us about how handsome they were on this single day of their lives. It seemed strange, as we sat at breakfast this morning, that these beautiful blossoms I was looking at would wither and waste away by tomorrow morning, but I couldn’t help thinking, too, that that’s also sort of the glory of life – that things are continually leaving us so that others can come and take their places. New lily blossoms are born each day, but only because yesterday’s blossoms bowed down and departed. We see death each day in Delycia’s garden – the death of dozens of beautiful blossoms – but precisely because of the deaths, we also see, each morning, the delivery of brand new blossoms, fresh and mint-condition miracles of color. I guess it’s part of the strange magnificence of life on this planet, that death, the most feared of all foes, is what opens the door into life.  

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HEY, HAM

(a voice I heard in a dream)
 
Hey Ham, are you too busy 
to believe in summer?
Are you running too fast
to follow the footsteps of your heart?
Are you panting 
instead of praising?
Have you signed up 
for the race to confusion and sorrow?
 
How about taking a break 
from killing yourself?
Kindness is standing on your doorstep,
and wisdom's in the shade of every tree. 
Try a morning among birds,
or a day of doing what rivers do. 
Don't talk or plan. 
Praise this moment and that. 
Think the kind of thoughts 
that take your hand. 
Hold still for holiness.  

Doors into Peace:

a slideshow of some of Delycia’s latest miracles …

Need

I sometimes slip into my old practice of listing things I need – another shirt, some better boots, more stamina when working out – but the truth is that something bigger than me makes a much better list. Call it God, or the Universe, or Life, or just Inspiration – there’s a power, I sense, that sees what I need and somehow supplies it. When I occasionally get my busybody self out of the way, and just listen to what this wiser power is saying to me, the things I really need (as opposed to want) seem to unmistakably shine in my thoughts. This morning, for instance, when I was doing some of this silent listening, it became obvious that I didn’t actually need another shirt, but instead, perhaps I needed just those moments of silence during which I was carefully watching Delycia’s flower blossoms bend in the morning winds. Whenever I can set aside my persistent and restless ego, and simply listen to this soft but measureless voice from somewhere, I sometimes understand that all I really need is the revitalized blood my good heart is constantly giving me and the thoroughly new thoughts my mind is always making. I sometimes see that this particular moment – any moment – is all I really ever need. 

On our bike ride this morning, about six miles on lovely Wheeler Road in Stonington, we paused at this scene,

and all I really needed to do at that moment was simply look at what was there – the grass, the old hallowed wall, the luminous meadow, and the barn sitting in venerable silence. Something said to me that looking was what I needed right then – and so I looked.

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ALL WE NEED TO KNOW

Overheard as some bicyclists passed:
“We know all we need to know.”
 
We do, but we don’t know it.
We don’t know that we do know
the sheer dominance of this moment
right now, the endless inner sunshine
and storms and starlight and awards
of this very moment, the way a brand
new universe is waking up inside 
this moment and making music no one 
has ever heard before, the music
of freshness and inventiveness,
the effervescent and indestructible 
harmonies of here and now. We know 
this moment because it is all there 
truly is, and, as she said as she 
rode past us, all we need to know.
 
 
 

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Two poems my grandson Louie and I wrote yesterday, during our two-person poetry class:

THE MOON ROSE 

The moon rose, 

filling the air with mystery, 

the stars surrounding it like its children,

the light leaning down over the earth,

wanting to escape

the bond of partial invisibility. 

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LOUIE THE DUDE

Louie, a boy with 

bright eyes,

a smile of endless curiosity, 

thoughts that throw themselves into the sky, 

and nerves that sometimes drive him crazy, 

is cool.