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.  
 

Faces

NEW MOMENT, NEW FACE?

            Every so often, it becomes clear to me that each moment is a brand new one, never before seen or experienced in the whole history of the universe. Try as I may, I can’t imagine anything in any present moment that’s not completely unused and fresh. Moments may seem to contain odds and ends from the past, but those odds and ends are all experienced in the brand new moment called Now. If I say, staring at the mirror, that my face is surely not new, the statement itself is said in the pristine present moment. The statement is about “oldness”, but the statement, as well as the thought behind it and the moment itself, shines with sheer newness. I can label my face, with all its furrows and grooves, as “old”, but since it’s staring back at me in a totally new and unspoiled moment, it must somehow share in that unblemished newness. As strange as it may sound, if the moment is new, must not the face also be new? I wonder . . . Could thinking this way – thinking about the absolute inescapability of newness – actually transform the appearance of a face? Could my well-wrinkled face, seen in the mirror always with a spirit of newness, slowly seem somewhat newer, day by day? 

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POST PEOPLE

And here’s a face we passed on our walk today. It may look like just an ordinary post, but look carefully

and you’ll see its two eyes on the white band (which perhaps is sunglasses it sometimes wears), the nose running in a line down the middle, and the mouth down below. (It seems to have a growth to the right of the nose, but posts don’t mind that sort of thing.)

And here’s another postface we passed.

It seems to be wearing a headband, and its eyes are surrounded by white rings – perhaps a sort of makeup that posts sometimes use. Its mouth is pursed up in a tight circle, like maybe it’s marveling at how handsome the photographer is, and down at the bottom, its shirt collar is tightly buttoned, no doubt a proper way for posts to dress out in a field.

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ONE DAY LIKE CHILDREN

One day,
they chose to be like children,
chose to have stunned faces
and eyes as wide as windows.
They walked around
wondering why and how
about everything. 
They gaped instead of looked,
studied instead of passed by,
stopped and stared instead of
glanced and went. 
They spoke
only questions or exclamations
all day, 
because you can't
say clear statements
if you are constantly 
astonished.
 

Dignity

OLD, AND LIKING IT A LOT

I am old, and feeling lucky to be so, and liking it a lot. The word “old” is related to a Greek word meaning “to strengthen”, and I think old folks like me are sometimes stronger than in our younger days – not physically stronger, but stronger in our hearts and minds, better able to be brave in a sometimes ominous world. My biceps have broken down considerably, but my sense of dignity and self-respect is stronger than ever. My lungs don’t lift and fall as smoothly as they used to, but my ability to be both audacious and serene has improved each year. The word “old” is related to the Latin word “altus”, meaning “high”, and I guess I’m proud to have reached the heights of old age, the peaks of seniorhood, the summits of advanced years, from where I can look out and see how lucky I am to be standing strong, high up and happy, old and getting older – and more grateful – each day. 

These lovely irises are also standing strong, high up and happy,

but their blossoms are only a few days old. They have the dignity of youthfulness, the majesty of springtime, and seeing them today showed me, again, how I want to live at age 78 – with the grandeur, poise, and gravitas of newly-blossomed irises.

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IN HONOR

In Honor, Ohio, there’s dignity 
even in days of rain, since raindrops there 
are renowned for their splendor.  
Even cold, gray days have grandeur, 
and citizens sincerely praise 
the bitterest weather, since it’s simply 
another wonder made by the illustrious universe 
they love so much. In Honor, 
there’s honor in every moment, 
so much so that people shake a lot 
over the stunning majesty of almost all things. 
They see prestige in success,
but also in failure, since the light
of graciousness often arises 
from the darkness of disappointment. 
Visitors are usually amazed 
by the magnificence 
of ordinary things in Honor 
– the triumphs of small birds, 
the sublimity of streets.  

Mist and Masks

Delycia and I took a quick (2.5 mile) morning walk around the seacoast town of Noank (CT) this morning, and we had the mysteries of mist all around as we walked. It’s always wonderful to realize that seeing boats and the sea somewhat hidden in mist surprisingly makes them seem even more exquisite, more magnificent than when seen in clear light. It is, indeed, a spooky but very pleasant power that mist has.

And masks, too, can sometimes bring out a curious shine in faces, especially valiant elderly travelers out scouting the morning mist.

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MIST AND MIGHT

Mist on a May afternoon
can find the truth for you. 
If yelling at yourself 
and sending disagreement out
like shots from guns
has brought you
to a house of horror, 
try making friends with mist 
when May has found you 
with its helpfulness
and its family-like mist. 
This affectionate, friendly haze 
will call you
by your real name. 
Out of nowhere, 
the missing you 
might finally arrive 
through the pathway
of this 
sympathetic 
springtime mist.

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HIDDEN

One Tuesday in September, 
a man named Harold Smith 
said to the clerk 
at the Social Security office 
that he wished to change his name 
to Harold Hidden, 
simply because 
he suddenly saw so many marvels 
hidden inside
every single moment. 
He said he now saw sadness 
secreted far down inside 
stormy words,
and friendship was camouflaged 
deep down in almost everything. 
He told the clerk,
whose name was Carl, 
that he knew peace 
was working undercover everywhere, 
always ready to shine its light.
He said love was sometimes disguised
in the form of anger, 
and wisdom was occasionally masked 
as sorrow. 
“So Carl, can this new name happen for me?”
he asked, 
and Carl coughed,
and then smiled 
like he suddenly understood something.