September 30, 2014

Small and Prayerful Wonder

European Mantis - Female
(Mantis religiosa)
It began as as a flash of vivid grassy green across our favorite hill on the Two Hundred Acre Wood in Lanark.  For just a moment, I thought our visitor was a late dragonfly, then I realized that no dragonflies of that size or perfect shade of chartreuse reside here at this time of the year.  The visitor had to be something else.

When the green flash came to rest in an area of tall grass, I combed the area for several minutes before discovering this comely mantis clinging motionless to a stalk of scouring rush and waiting patiently for lunch to come her way.  The mantis had morphed her colors to match the foliage she was visiting, and she was perfectly camouflaged - it was only her rosy antennae that gave her location away.

I am something of a newcomer when it comes to identifying mantids, and we don't see many here, but I think it was female from the size and the diameter of the antennae.  She was gorgeous, just gorgeous.

September 28, 2014

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

To begin to understand the gorgeous fever that is consciousness, we must try to understand the senses and what they can tell us about the ravishing world we have the privilege to inhabit.
Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses
A Natural History of the Senses,

September 27, 2014

September 26, 2014

Friday Ramble - Stillness

Ah, sweet stillness... it's an old word dating from before 900CE, and it comes to us through the Middle English stilnesse and the Old English stilnes, both describing a state in which one is quiet, peaceful, balanced and motionless.  There is also the Old Saxon and Old High German stilli, the Dutch stollen meaning "to curdle", and Sanskrit sthānús meaning "immobile".

It's difficult not to think about stillness at a time of year when wild cousins are migrating south to warmer places or finding nice warm caves and making plans to sleep until springtime rolls around again. Birds like geese, loons and the great herons fly south for the winter; bears, frogs, hedgerows and old trees all hibernate and dream their way through the long white season.

Implicit in this week's word are notions of tranquility, rest, freedom from turmoil and commotion, community and connection, and a gentle inclusive flowing that takes in our own befuddled human selves and the whole vast glorious turning cosmos around us.

The late John Daido Loori once wrote that every creature on the face of the earth seems to know how to be quiet and still, but humans seem to have lost the ability to "be quiet, to simply be present in the stillness that is the basis of our existence."  The mundane world is one (by and large) of noise, haste, restless acquisition and thoughtlessness.  We need quiet and rest in season; we need whatever real stillness we can cultivate if we are to complete this earthly journey, mindfully and fruitfully.

If this place is about anything at all, it is about stillness.  Early morning wanderings with Spencer and my camera, the sheaves and stooks of bad photos and my unstructured verbal meanderings at sunrise - all are fumbling efforts to be still and present in the moment, to be located in every breath I take and truly rooted in the world I am standing in.  I am already there, but being somewhat forgetful, I need all the reminders I can get.  There are many times when I wonder if I will ever get things right. Geri Larkin calls the process "stumbling toward enlightenment" and that is just what it is–—a slow (and occasionally ecstatic) lurching along winding trails toward a luminous state of being that evades description and feels like home.

Sometimes that luminous something shows itself to us among trees or as a dancing presence between one raindrop and the next. It is astonishing how many of those moments (for me anyway) are about rainy days and falling leaves. Call it kensho or momentary enlightenment–—it's elemental magic at work. It's being in tune and part of this beautiful breathing world, its clouds and quiet waters and hillsides strewn with rainbow colored leaves.  It's Vivaldi on the CD player as the day begins and cups of Darjeeling at sunset. It's a blue pottery bowl of Macintosh apples on the sideboard, rosy and fragrant and redolent of autumn splendor. I can almost hear them singing.

September 25, 2014

Thursday Poem - Words

The world does not need words. It articulates itself
in sunlight, leaves, and shadows. The stones on the path
are no less real for lying uncatalogued and uncounted.
The fluent leaves speak only the dialect of pure being.
The kiss is still fully itself though no words were spoken.

And one word transforms it into something less or other—
illicit, chaste, perfunctory, conjugal, covert.
Even calling it a kiss betrays the fluster of hands
glancing the skin or gripping a shoulder, the slow
arching of neck or knee, the silent touching of tongues.

Yet the stones remain less real to those who cannot
name them, or read the mute syllables graven in silica.
To see a red stone is less than seeing it as jasper—
metamorphic quartz, cousin to the flint the Kiowa
carved as arrowheads. To name is to know and remember.

The sunlight needs no praise piercing the rainclouds,
painting the rocks and leaves with light, then dissolving
each lucent droplet back into the clouds that engendered it.
The daylight needs no praise, and so we praise it always—
greater than ourselves and all the airy words we summon.

Dana Gioia from Interrogations at Noon

September 23, 2014

Wondrously cloaked and singing...

On nebulous autumn mornings, the village is cloaked and mysterious. The earth is warmer than the air above, and the meeting of the two elements turns otherwise mundane landscape features into entities fey and luminous.

I almost typed "early autumn" in the preceding paragraph, but as of the equinox a few days ago, autumn is properly upon us, and she is comfortable in her tenure of mist, rain, wind and madcap tumbling leaves.

Fog swirls around everything, draping the whiskery trees like a veil, smoothing hard edges and rounding the contours of house and street. The north wind has been scouring leaves from the trees near home, and they lie deep and rustling underfoot as Spencer and I go along on our  early walks.  Out of the pearly gray and the sepia comes a sound now and again: rain beating a staccato rhythm on the roof of the little blue house in the village, birds conversing in the hedgerow, geese unseen in the mist and singing overhead.  Village doors open and close as sleepy residents collect their morning papers.  There is the soft growl of automobiles and rumble of buses, the muffled cadence of joggers gliding through the park, children chattering on their way to school. We hear the whistle of a faraway train, usually only a faint echoing in the air.

On late September mornings, the world seems boundless and brimming with luminous floating Zen possibility, soil and trees and sky and mist giving tongue in a language that is wild and compelling.  Part of me is curled up and engaged in a slow breathing meditation, counting my breaths, in and out, in and out. Other parts are out there drifting along with the fog and oh, so happy to be doing it.