Blossoming

A HOLY BACKYARD

I recall that somewhere in the Bible the phrase “a holy place ” is used, and I thought of it today as I was sitting in our backyard surrounded by Delycia’s now overflowing flower gardens. These days, our backyard seems as holy a place as any church. People go to church to worship what’s beautiful and good and true, and I find the beautiful, good, and true in our backyard on a daily basis. What is more beautiful than a crowd of pink rose blossoms, and what is more full of goodness than flourishing trees sharing their shade on a sunny day? And where is the truth, and the whole truth, better found than in an everyday backyard with breezes blowing by and birds swooping and singing all around? I agree with Emily Dickinson, who said she kept the Sabbath by staying at home and listening in her garden to the sermons of God, “a noted Clergyman”. What better sermon is there than the sight of iris blossoms floating on their stems, or the sound of songbirds having dignified discussions while perched on a feeder full of seeds?

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Below are some slides of the blossoms in Delycia’s lovely – and holy – garden today:

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BEING LIKE A GOD

He wished to be like a god. 
It would be good to have a golden life, 
like a light was always glowing around him. 
It would be special 
to see himself shining like a star
as he shops at the grocery store,
or to feel like fresh flowers 
are blossoming around his thoughts all day long. 
Dangers would steal away from him 
for fear of his powers.
Goodness would grow around him like grass. 
Steep, sharp hills 
would become easy trails 
he could stroll with satisfaction. 
 
He occasionally wished this,
but almost always he soon noticed 
the starry shine in the skin of his hands,
and the golden light on his shoulders 
from the lamp in the living room. 
 

Comfort

Four very comfortable ducks resting by the side of the road as we passed on our bikes this morning …

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COMFORTABLE WORDS 

“. . . he spake and cheered his Table Round

With [. . .] comfortable words.”

— Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “The Idylls of the King”

            In my reading not long ago, I came across Tennyson’s phrase “comfortable words”, and I wondered if I should pay more attention to those kinds of words in the future. The word “comfort” derives from the Latin word for “strength”, suggesting that strong words, those that communicate with a gentle and loving kind of power, can also be the most comfortable ones. We say something is comfortable when it’s soothing and restful, and perhaps strong, straightforward words, clearly shared with love, can bring that kind of comfort to us. After all, sometimes just being in the presence of health-giving strength can cause us to rest in reassurance, knowing that not much can harm us with so much forthright spirit close by. Words that do their work in a caring but forceful way can reassure us, settle us down, and send us toward some faith that this world can be considerably more comfortable than painful.  

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A WEEK OF BARGAINS

This week there are super savings for everyone.
You can enjoy the comforting warmth of the sun
 
for no cost at all, and lighthearted joy can barge
through your days absolutely free of charge.
 
You can get kindness just by being kind
to others, and you will easily find
 
wonderful bargains in the department of peace
and patience. If you want to buy a piece
 
of the cake called contentment, just hold
out your hands, and you'll hear the word "Sold!"
Here’s a little guy finding comfort in a drink of water next to Jane Austen.

And don’t these beautiful foxglove flowers in Delycia’s garden look comfortable?

Trusting

When I was teaching, occasionally my classes would get a little away from me, as though activities were sort of happening by themselves and I was simply following along. I always carefully planned my lessons, but on many occasions I felt like the lessons were running me instead of the opposite. It wasn’t a good feeling. I felt like things were out of my control, and consequently I felt like a failure as a teacher. This usually led to this thought: “I have to get control of things tomorrow!” – but then, thankfully, another thought usually came to me, an opposite one“Maybe I need to give up a little control instead of constantly struggling to maintain it.” Perhaps the learning that occurred in my classroom on those ‘out of control’ days was deep and powerful, only I didn’t notice it because I was too absorbed in my own personal issues concerning control. While I was worrying about keeping track of all the pieces of my lesson plan (as well as all the students), perhaps the kids were quietly learning. Picture a man standing at the seaside trying to control the winds. He’s dashing here and there, wildly waving his arms, and, of course, the winds constantly escape his grasp. That was me in my classroom now and then. I realized, again and again, that I needed to stop all the obsessive nonsense about control and just loosen up and be thankful for what was happening in the classroom. I always made a meticulous lesson plan, and my students were well-behaved, so perhaps I just needed to let the plan do its work. I trust the wind to blow where it must, and this morning, on our walk by the Mystic River, I saw this rower moving smoothly down river, obviously trusting the oars and the river to reliably move her along. Back in my classroom years ago, I just needed to trust my lesson plans, too.

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BE AND LET AND TRUST

(Andy H., 70, Blessings, CT)
 
He knows
the universe works well 
without his help. 
The trees in winds can work their waves 
and bends with no input from him, 
and clouds float soft and light 
without his crackerjack advice. 
Good breath lifts up his lungs 
with ease and poise,
and he’s amazed 
to feel them rise and fall. 
He knows 
he never has to take control, 
since life does all the work. 
He only has to be, 
and let, 
and trust.
 
 

From our walk yesterday in Canonchet Preserves (RI): stones trusting each other …

Systems

This morning, Delycia and I took a breezy, inspiring two-mile walk in the Canonchet Preserve in Hopkinton, RI. We followed a freely winding forest trail past collections of massive boulders and assemblies of tall trees, and the trail was often covered with complicated networks of roots. As we walked, I kept thinking about the idea of ‘systems’, because that’s what I seemed to be seeing all around me. The forest itself, you might say, was a system, and the boulders, trees, roots, endless breezes, grasses, soils, plants, and animals – including, this morning, Delycia and me – were smaller systems within it. And of course, the forest-system we were part of as we walked is an infinitesimally small system within the boundless system of the Universe.  

I was especially fascinated by the systems of roots we passed on the trail.

We probably wouldn’t often think of the twisting patterns of roots as being beautiful, but when I think of the years and years it took these roots to slowly wind themselves beside and around each other and through soil and beside and over and under stones, I’m sort of lost in amazement. Now, in June of 2020, they lie in lovely arrangements on the forest floor, a beautifully patterned carpet for two old and lucky walkers this morning.

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As we walked, we passed many other special ‘systems’ that nature uses:

The system of a stream and its surroundings …

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And here’s a poem about a day when all systems seemed peaceful …

ONE SETTLING DAY

One day,
it seemed like all of life 
started to settle down 
into a well-rounded society. 
There was an easygoing system 
in all things,
and all was strange 
in a spectacular way.
It was as if the spirit 
of spring 
was felt even in struggles,
and even sicknesses 
started to have 
the sunshine of summer
inside them. 
On this day, 
any shallowness in life 
had a freeing spirit inside it, 
and suffering was sometimes superior
to happiness 
in the wisdom it shared. 
All the people
felt like satellites
circling through the universe,
and satisfaction was so sticky 
no one could escape from it. 

Spontaneity

 Although I am rarely aware of it, spontaneity is always all around me. At any given moment, a great multitude of things are happening instantly and concurrently, sort of like limitless lightning streaks flashing each second. At this particular moment, as I type beside a window, there are trees twisting in the wind, squirrels scooting across the grass, sparrows shaking at the feeders, hearts of wrens and humans holding steady, clouds cruising easily, countless lives being lived with steadiness across the universe – and all of this is instantaneous and synchronized, like an on-the–spot, systematized dance. What’s strange is that none of us can avoid being part of this dance. It’s what life is. Despite being usually unaware of it, I live a totally synchronized and constantly spontaneous life, flowing ceaselessly and swiftly with all things, from sparrows to spinning planets, in a sudden and well-balanced way. 

On our walk this morning at the Denison Pequotsepos Preserve, I saw many examples of spontaneity, one of which was Delycia, on the spur of the moment, placing a small stone at the top of a cairn that was on a stone wall when we passed.

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Luckily, this morning I spontaneously snapped photos of these lovely, free-and-easy flowers in Delycia’s garden.

Abundance

UNNOTICED ABUNDANCE

I wonder how much everyday abundance I fail to notice, the way I sometimes absentmindedly pass by the many dozens of multicolored irises blooming in Delycia’s garden these days. In my busy comings and goings, I usually don’t stop to appreciate her overflowing peonies, just as I’m sure I heedlessly disregard simple but beautiful lavishness in other places. Artistic stone fences, for instance, are plentiful all along the roads near our house – thousands of stones selected for their perfect shapes and shades of gray, and set in place by practiced artisans. It’s a lovely bountifulness of natural fencing, but one that I usually pass with hardly a glance. And what about the layers and layers of leaves that are overflowing in trees at this luxurious time of year? Great clouds of leaves softly waver above me, but when do I ever truly notice them, study them, be thankful for them? Above the leaves, too, are sometimes bounteous tiers of clouds that seem to puff their way across the sky, but when was the last time I really noticed their lushness?  When was the last time I really looked at clouds in all their graceful profusion? This world is a place of pure abundance, and I guess, at 78, it’s time I started seriously noticing it.

Fortunately, I did notice this spilling-over rhododendron bush in Elm Grove Cemetery this morning, where I went for a walk after Delycia and I did our morning yoga practice. Wow! This is abundance at its best!

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IN ABUNDANCE

In Abundance, South Carolina,

there is a profusion of pleasant feelings

flowing out from everywhere –

from homes, from stones in fences, from puzzles

people are putting together together.

Here, there is affluence

even in grilled cheese sandwiches,

even in raisins sitting on a plate beside a magazine. 

Citizens have noticed exuberance in sunrises,

in scissors slicing through paper,

even in legs lifting and falling while walking.

In Abundance, there’s always opulence

in the zestful zigzags of life,

and when disasters have struck, there’s speedily been

the bulldozing of problems by friendship

with its lavishness and its feeling of blue skies.

 

Better bring big bags to hold all the goodness

when you pay a visit to Abundance.    

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THE BIG PICTURE

       When I was teaching, it sometimes occurred to me, right in the middle of a class, that everything was happening exactly as it should – that it was a perfect class. Of course, this didn’t happen when I was mired in a small-minded view of things – when I was seeing the class and my lesson as a piece of complicated machinery that depended on only me for its efficient operation. When that was my line of thought, nothing was ever perfect – not the lesson, not the kids, not the distracting sounds in the hall, not even the songs of birds outside. When I was looking at my life in the classroom with a shortsighted lens, defects bordering on disarray seem to be everywhere. There were times, though, when I was able to imagine the view from far, far above the classroom, looking down on the comings and goings of the seasoned teacher and his students. With that distant, wide-angle view — one that took in not only the small classroom in the Connecticut countryside, but the fields and cities of the state, the spreading earth itself with its endless abundance, as well as the continuous stars — all seemed right in Mr. Salsich’s Room 2, just as all seems right with any sunset or wave in the sea or wind in the trees. Small-minded views pass judgments; big-picture views sit back and appreciate. 

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Some of the abundant flowers in Delycia’s garden today:

Patterns

There are thousands of patterns I’ve never seen: the way stars arrange themselves over Asia, the way currents flow in rivers in a rain forest, the way sunlight positions itself on icy cliffs at sunset . I could prepare a long list of the marvels of order and precision that I have missed.  Of course, I could instead spend that time listing the marvelous patterns I have been lucky enough to witness. Have they all been grand and glorious, like mountain sunrises? No, but they’ve all been miraculous, from the dust that is just now lined up beside me on my desk in appealing designs, to the way wind whips tree branches around in systematic ways, to the two leaves that just fluttered past the window with neatness and precision. 

And then there is this well-organized miracle, the one we saw on the Mystic River during our walk this morning – eleven Canada geese floating in a formation that’s perfect for them.

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FORMATIONS

(Bill M., 87, Blessings, CT)

Bill loves telling Doris at McQuades

about the formations he sees in life.

While she’s preparing

unsalted turkey slices for him,

he praises the peaceful configuration

of meats and cheeses in the case,

and the way the patterns

on the store’s floor

flow together so smoothly.

When she says,

“Anything else for you, Bill?”

he says the way her words

are positioned when she speaks

is beyond beautiful.

As he says goodbye to Doris,

he guesses the moments of her life

are aligned as flawlessly

as the stars

above his  shipshape town

of Blessings.  

Partnerships

NEVER BY MYSELF

 I sometimes like to think I’m doing something “by myself”, when the truth is that it’s an impossibility. I am never truly by myself, never a totally solitary, separate person. I am an intertwined piece of a thoroughly unified universe, and as such I am inseparably linked with countless other persons and things. In a sense, thousands of “friends” are with me every second. All the people I’ve ever known, for instance, are still with me, since their influence, no matter how slight, is still inside me somewhere, still assisting me in making decisions. Also, the air around me is with me, joined to me at all times, continuously flowing into my lungs in a helpful way. And even on overcast days, some sort of sunlight is constantly with me, lighting my way, lending a helping hand. The list of my “assistants” goes on and on: the cells in my body that work ceaselessly to support my endeavors; the blood that brings newness so I know what to do next; the heart that’s always right there with me, pumping with perfection like a partner. I might sometimes pretend that I’m “by myself”, but the truth is that untold “friends” are ever with me, making living a rather exciting and cordial collaboration. 

On our walk this morning in Canonchet Preserve (Hope Valley, RI), we saw proof that nothing is ever by itself, since nature knows only endless, trustworthy partnerships – leaves with leaves, sticks with stones and soil, and big boulders with kindhearted trees like trusted sidekicks (below).

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WATCHING AND FLOWING

(Bernice D., 61, Blessings, CT)

Bernice tries to show

how truly shiny life is,

and how all things,

both sorrows and joys, 

swing along 

like lit-up, lovely partners.

She tries to tell the world

why smiles spring up in her

as easily as breezes 

on spring days.

She sees life as a showpiece 

of sincere and steady blessings, 

the tears together with the triumphs,

and she loves to share the show

with friends,

watching and flowing together 

like life.

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And here are some poppy blossoms that are “flowing together like life” …

Movements

DAYS OF REVERENCE 

            The word “reverence” has to do with treating someone or something with respect and honor, and it strikes me that any day deserves this kind of treatment. As I sit in the sunroom with Delycia during breakfast , seeing sunlight slowly spreading across the yard, I  often feel a sense of amazement at the appearance, once again, of so many marvels. The sunshine, for instance, brings its blessings to us from billions of miles away, and on most mornings it makes our grass shine and the side of the house next door stand out like a sheet of silver. When I see the trees swaying in passing breezes, I wonder how many little and large movements I will see during the day – the sway of Delyica’s arms as she walks through the house, the easy passing of cars along our street, the sudden rising of birds from a bush.  All days are surely days for reverence, days to welcome and bow to and give a greeting of esteem and praise.  

This morning was certainly a time for reverence, as I sat outside and watched the subtle and stylish movements around me.

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The flowers in Delycia’s garden are magical in their many gossamer movements – small flutterings and swayings as the breezes pass. It would be a fine few minutes to simply sit and watch them do their silent shiftings.

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HER COUNTLESS FRIENDS

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

Her dad always said 
she should get her act together, 
and suddenly,
at 68, 
while shopping at McQuades, 
she saw that 
it had always been together, 
and that it wasn’t just her act, 
but that each moment 
she performs with countless friends, 
like the flowing sky,
and her talented lungs,
and the skillful movements 
of sunshine and starlight.
She saw that even her thoughts 
are daring dancers
that swirl and sway 
with the limitless thoughts 
that prance through the universe
as part of an act 
that has neither starts nor endings, 
and she and all things 
are the clever performers,
even when wondering 
which cucumbers
to choose. 
 
 

Balance

EVERYDAY BALLET 

 A few years ago, after Delycia and I had seen a stunning performance by the Boston Ballet, I got to thinking, as we rode home on the train, that beautiful ballets are continuously being danced all around us. It’s strange that I so often miss this marvelous fact – that perfectly balanced dance-like harmonies of the highest order are everywhere, always. Closest to home, there’s the graceful symmetry of our bodies – our balanced limbs and organs, as well as the flawless steadiness of the passing of blood through our veins and arteries. There’s the graceful twirl of tree limbs in winds, the spins that sparrows show off as they search for food, and the stylish skips and leaps of squirrels. Even the slow fall of old blossoms to the grass seems to be done with poise and precision, as we saw on that day in Boston, where floating white dogwood petals pirouetted in the air around us as we walked through a park after the performance.

And what about these immense stones we saw in a walk this morning in Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve in Niantic?

They seem so beautifully and effortlessly balanced, as they have been for perhaps hundreds of thousands of years, just silently doing a motionless ballet of boulders, day after patient day, eon after unwavering eon .

Yes, ballet at the theater is a blessing, but no more so than the skillful dancing of our everyday world. 

And here’s my favorite dancer, balanced and silent in her stylish way.

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BALANCING POWER

(Jimmy Lee H., 38, Blessings, CT)
 
He loves the thought 
of the balance of power,
and he sees this everlasting balance 
making peace in his life, 
little by little and day by day. 
He likes to celebrate goodness 
as a way of balancing   
the media’s bowing down to bad news,
and when big danger demands his fear, 
he puts big trust on the scale 
and all is balanced and peaceful.