Category Archives: Nature

Postcard

“Postcard”
by Olena Kalytiak Davis

Lately, I am capable only of small things.

Is it enough
to feel the heart swimming?

Jim is fine. Our first
garden is thick with spinach
& white radish. Strangely,
it is summer

but also winter & fall.

In response to your asking:
I fill the hours
then lick them shut.

Today, not a single word, but the birds
quietly nodding
as if someone had suggested
moving on.

What is that perfect thing
some one who once believed in god said?

Please don’t misunderstand:
We still suffer, but we are
happy.

A Reckoning

“You Will Never Get Death / Out of Your System”
by Dana Levin

How old is the earth? I asked my machine, and it said: Five great extinctions, one in process, four and a half billion years.

It has always been very busy on Earth: so much coming and going! The terror and the hope ribboning through that.

Death, like a stray dog you kick out of the yard who keeps coming back—its scent of freedom and ruin—

         Some people love death so much they want to give it to everyone.

         Some are more selective.

         Some people don’t know they’re alive.

                 —

Metabolic system, financial system, political system, eco-system—systems management, running around trying to put out fires—

Sodium nitrate. Sodium benzoate. Butylated Hydroxyanisole (to keep the food from rotting). Plastic (surgery). Botox, Viagra, cryo-chamber—

Voting backwards, into what
has already died—

Voting Zombie in the name of “change”—

And everywhere in fortune cookies, the oracular feint of a joke future—

where death is the trick candle on the victory cake.

                 —

Some truths are hard to accept. Especially when they won’t budge beyond a couplet.

Especially when they won’t tell you if they mean you well, if they herald freedom or ruin—

You! You and Death! Lovers who just can’t quit. That’s how we make the future.

The terror and the hope of that, as change goes viral.

Visiting Mountains

chief mountain
Chief Mountain, Montana

Visiting Mountains

The plains ignore us,
but these mountains listen,
an audience of thousands
holding its breath
in each rock. Climbing,
we pick our way
over the skulls of small talk.
On the prairies below us,
the grass leans this way and that
in discussion;
words fly away like corn shucks
over the fields.
Here, lost in a mountain’s
attention, there’s nothing to say.

–Ted Kooser

The Cry of Time

“And it seems to me that life, this brief life, is nothing other than this: the incessant cry of these emotions that drive us, that we sometimes attempt to channel in the name of a god, a political faith, in a ritual that reassures us that, fundamentally, everything is in order, in a great and boundless love — and the cry is beautiful. Sometimes it is a cry of pain. Sometimes it is a song.

And song, as Augustine observed, is the awareness of time. It is time. It is the hymn of the Vedas that is itself the flowering of time. In the Benedictus of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, the song of the violin is pure beauty, pure desperation, pure joy. We are suspended, holding our breath, feeling mysteriously that this must be the source of meaning. That this is the source of time.

Then the song fades and ceases. “The silver thread is broken, the gold lantern is shattered, the amphora at the fountain breaks, the bucket falls into the well, the earth returns to dust.” And it is fine like this. We can close our eyes, rest. This all seems fair and beautiful to me. This is time.”

— Carlo Rovelli, The Order of Time

Edgy

Port Townsend July 2019

Doomscrolling. Pandemic. Police brutality. The disaster that is the president. Election malfeasance. The dissolution of the postal service. A mediocre Democratic presidential candidate (for whom I root!). Sexism, patriarchy, misogyny. CLIMATE CHANGE. (Remember that?!) Drought. Wildfire. Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Floods. The rise of Neo-Nazis and other white supremacy groups. Systemic white supremacy. Hate crimes. People being selfish, going maskless because they hyperfocus on personal civil liberty, and to hell with anybody else. New school year beginning, with some schools opening in person, and others distance learning. The added stress to families related to this. Hungry families. Millions of unemployed people. Millions facing eviction. Millions facing medical crises beyond Covid-19. Death.

Where’s my fucking handbasket??

So here is a metaphorical selfie. I’m all spiky these days. And purple, as usual. Sometimes, there are moments in my day when I sit still, and quietly count my breaths. Time passes, and somehow equanimity lands on me like a honeybee, for just that moment. And the moment after that. And the moment, and the moment…

And I remember what I’ve said to my daughter when she is anxious:

Do you know in your heart, and feel, that you are loved?
Yes.
Are you being eaten by a tiger right now?
No.
Then you are okay.

I’m tempted to whine, “What have we come to, that the bar for well-being is so low?” What follows is the realization that I have lived an immensely privileged life for a couple of decades. There was a time when I did not have material and financial ease, or even enough. I lived in rigid anxiety and stress. There are millions of people who live this daily. The truth is, life as most of us live it — future oriented — has always been uncertain, uncontrollable, unknowable. It’s just that before the pandemic, most of us suppressed this truth; we’d whistle past the graveyard and pretend we’re in control.

Then I remember a quote my mother loved, by St. Julian of Norwich.

“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

How can this be true? It feels like a koan. It can sit right next to another koan: “Not knowing is most intimate.” Come and sit with me. Leave a comment if interested.

Going to the Sun Road

view from going the sun road

This is a photo I took as I traveled the Going to the Sun Road at Glacier National Park. The saturated colors made me ache with wonder.

Unveiled
by Jessie Belle Rittenhouse

To-day the hills put off their haze
And stand so green and clear
That every peak remote and strange
Is intimate and near.

I can make out the very trees
That mass upon their sides,
And look deep into the white cloud
That swift above them rides.

But, oh, I would not have them stand
Unveiled by blowing air;
Give me the blue, blue mists again
That make them far and fair!

On Fear

DSC09894

Fear

It is said that before entering the sea
a river trembles with fear.

She looks back at the path she has traveled,
from the peaks of the mountains,
the long winding road crossing forests and villages.

And in front of her,
she sees an ocean so vast,
that to enter
there seems nothing more than to disappear forever.

But there is no other way.
The river can not go back.

Nobody can go back.
To go back is impossible in existence.

The river needs to take the risk
of entering the ocean
because only then will fear disappear,
because that’s where the river will know
it’s not about disappearing into the ocean,
but of becoming the ocean.

-Khalil Gibran

Do You Remember?

This is a video of a marvelous poem by Marie Howe, illustrated by paper collage artist Elena Skoreyko Wagner and featuring original music by cellist Zoë Keating. As with most things, I found this video because is was shared by a friend on Facebook. And after I watched it, I wasn’t surprised to see that Maria Popova, the writer of BrainPickings, had helped the video come into being. Here is a link to her post about this poem and video.

Risk

“Sometimes you have to live in precarious and temporary places. Unsuitable places. Wrong places. Sometimes the safe place won’t help you. …I have noticed that doing the sensible thing is only a good idea when the decision is quite small. For the life-changing things, you must risk it.”

DSC07560

Pandemic Prayer

In memory of Mary Catherine Nicklas Petro
10/6/1933 – 3/16/2020

mom garden 1966

Pandemic Prayer

We are not all left standing when the war has ended.
It feels like the end times.
For many, it is.
Inhalation is our first act of embodiment.
Exhalation, our last.
One lifetime, millions of breaths
a conversation with all existence.
Where does the spirit go when we die?
Hail Mary, my gentle Momma,
You left; you gave up your breath
before the virus could steal it.
You waged a long campaign to stave off
cancer, old age, and death.
Emancipating your breath
you added the gift of your spirit to all.
Holy Mary, you released your body,
returned to Earth, our suffocating Mother,
in respiratory distress for decades.
Humanity is a virus choking
and drowning our source of life.
When the host dies,
the virus dies too.
Momma, you returned to our Mother
so you could garden with Her,
to try to heal us all.

–Kathryn Harper

Release

My Mom was buried today. I couldn’t be there. This song came to me. She loved this type of music. I think it’s what she would probably say…

Release

Don’t Think You Can’t See Me
Don’t Argue Amongst Yourselves
Because Of The Loss Of Me
I’m Sitting Amongst Yourselves
Don’t Think You Can’t See Me
Don’t Argue Amongst Yourselves
Because Of The Loss Of Me
I Haven’t Gone Anywhere
But Out Of My Body
Reach Out And You’ll Touch Me
Make Effort To Speak To Me
Call Out And You’ll Hear Me
Be Happy For Me
Ag Trasna An Linn/Going Across The Pool
Ag Feachaint Síos Tríd/Looking Down Through
Níl Aon Iarann I Mo Chroí Inniu/There’s No Iron In My Heart Today
Ag Oscail An Síol/Opening The Seed
Ag Feitheamh An Scéal/Waiting For The Story
Níl Aon Airgead I Mo Phóca Innui/There Is No Money In My Pocket Today
I Mo Phóca Innui/In My Pocket Today
I Mo Phóca Innui/In My Pocket Today
Innui/Today
Don’t Argue Amongst Yourselves
Because Of The Loss Of Me
I Haven’t Gone Anywhere
But Out Of My Body
Reach Out And You’ll Touch Me
Make Effort To Speak To Me
Call Out And You’ll Hear Me
Be Happy For Me
I Mo Phóca Innui/In My Pocket Today
I Mo Phóca Innui/In My Pocket Today
Innui/Today

The Family

Dear Mom,

You shared with me the two poems you would like read at your services. I have always hoped that I would also be able to read this poem for you. With you, there was always forgiveness. Nourishment of the body and soul. Acknowledgement of despair and pain, balanced with appreciation for small treasures and moments of beauty. All of this was connected, part of the family of things. This poem is for you.

Love,
Wesa

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

–Mary Oliver

PSX_20191011_184233

Mourning My Mother

bleeding heart

Bleeding hearts from my parents’ garden

During this school-at-home time, Claire and I decided that our science will be to re-watch Cosmos, presented by Neil DeGrasse Tyson. She last saw it about six years ago. We watched the first episode, about the origin of the universe, and how we are star stuff.

Mom loved knowledge. She loved learning things. She was curious. She loved the natural world and science. We often talked about the mystery of what we were before we were born, and what happens after we die. What were we? How do we become conscious? As I listened to Neil describe the marvelous scale of time, I cried. Just steady tears, not big crying.

My teacher advised me to make a ritual, to follow the mourning practice of Zen Buddhist tradition (which is my practice). She recommended that I chant a sutra (doesn’t matter which one) every day for 7 days, and dedicate it each time to my mother, announcing her full name. Then to do this practice on the 14th, 21st, and 49th day of her death. I chose two: the Daihishin Darani, which is a Japanese chant to Kannon, the bodhisattva of compassion, and the Heart Sutra (below).

I don’t typically light candles in the house, nor do I burn incense; the scent overwhelms other family members. But then I realized I have the perfect ritual. My daily cup of coffee. Mom loved black coffee, as do I. So I make my pour-over coffee, paying attention to each detail. I talk to Mom as it brews. Once it’s ready, I sit down with coffee and my chant book. I take a sip. Then I say, “I dedicate this sutra to Mary Catherine Nicklas Petro” and begin. I choke on the words as my throat thickens. But I do it, and I don’t think overly much about it. It’s not necessary to think. It’s perhaps even detrimental. The process brings a wisp of peace.

I love you, Momma. I miss you.

MAHA PRAJNA PARAMITA HEART SUTRA

Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, doing deep prajna paramita,
Clearly saw emptiness of all the five conditions,
Thus completely relieving misfortune and pain,
O Shariputra, form is no other than emptiness,
emptiness is no other than form;
Form is exactly emptiness, emptiness exactly form;
Sensation, conception, discrimination,
awareness are likewise like this.
O Shariputra, all dharmas are forms of emptiness,
not born, not destroyed;
Not stained, not pure, without loss, without gain;
So in emptiness there is no form, no sensation,
conception, discrimination, awareness;
No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind;
No color, sound, smell, taste, touch, phenomena;
No realm of sight . . . no realm of consciousness;
No ignorance and no end to ignorance . . .
No old age and death, and no end to old age and death;
No suffering, no cause of suffering, no extinguishing, no path;
No wisdom and no gain. No gain and thus
The bodhisattva lives prajna paramita
With no hindrance in the mind, no hindrance, therefore no fear,
Far beyond deluded thoughts, this is nirvana.
All past, present, and future Buddhas live prajna paramita,
And therefore attain anuttara-samyak-sambodhi.
Therefore know, prajna paramita is
The great mantra, the vivid mantra,
The best mantra, the unsurpassable mantra;
It completely clears all pain — this is the truth, not a lie.
So set forth the Prajna Paramita Mantra,
Set forth this mantra and say:

Gate! Gate! Paragate! Parasamgate!
Bodhi svaha. Prajna Heart Sutra.

Hope For Spring

I grew up going camping all over the U.S. My parents loved camping and instilled it in me. My mother loved growing things. She was a master gardener. She had hoped to make it to see one more spring. This poem is another one she would like read at her service.

Spring

I said in my heart, “I am sick of four walls and a
ceiling.
I have need of the sky.
I have business with the grass.
I will up and get me away where the hawk
is wheeling,
Lone and high,
And the slow clouds go by.
I will get me away to the waters that glass
The clouds as they pass,
To the waters that lie
Like the heart of a maiden aware of a
doom drawing
nigh
And dumb for sorcery of impending joy.
I will get me away to the woods.
Spring, like a huntsman’s boy,
Halloos along the hillsides and unhoods
The falcon in my will.
The dogwood calls me, and the sudden thrill
That breaks in apple blooms down country
roads
Plucks me by the sleeve and nudges me away.
The sap is in the boles to-day,
And in my veins a pulse that yearns and goads.”
When I got to the woods, I found out
What the Spring was about.

–Richard Hovey

two medicine

Two Medicine, Glacier National Park

A Message From My Mother

In recent conversations, Mom shared with me several poems she would love to be read at her service. Since we don’t know when that will be, due to travel restrictions and pandemic, I thought I’d share here. This is the first one.

Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

–Mary Elizabeth Frye

MacKerricher State Park 2019

mackerricher state park