Posted in Poems

Handful of Haiku

My World Literature professor gave us an assignment to write a haiku based on a photograph. I’ll be honest, I’ve always sort of hated haiku, because it always felt like an elementary school poetry to me. But age has brought me full circle to appreciate the brevity of words, and I loved this assignment so much, and I have so many photos I adore, that I couldn’t just do one. So here are a few drawn from my extensive photo library (all photos taken by me).

Beautiful dog glowing
In the late-afternoon sunshine
Is how I will remember you

My dog Rascal is 19 1/2 years old, and can’t walk anymore. We only have a short time left with him, but this is how I will always remember him, enjoying the sunshine and surveying his yard.

Tiny jeweled bird
Hovers to look me in the eye
Gift of her attention

I am fascinated with hummingbirds. They are so bold, zooming loudly across the yard, and hovering in front of me, as if demanding to know what my intentions are, then flickering away to sit in a branch and wait to see if I’m going to refill the feeder.

Rumble of hoofbeats
Noble creatures come at my call
Bringing their hearts to mine.

There is nothing in the world that sends chills down my spine like the sound of hoof beats echoing across the valley as my horses charge toward me for their dinner. Sometimes, I think they run just for my enjoyment.

Still waters ruffled
Rhythmic dip of my paddle
Peaces flows into me.

This is from City Lake in Coookeville, where I love to paddle because the waters are so calm and it’s filled with wildlife. It does not matter how stressed I am, when I get on the water all the knots fall out of my muscles and I reconnect with nature and myself.

All the world unfolds
Contemplation, vastness,
Utter smallness.

This is a photo I took at Stone Door overlook in Grundy County, of my son. In particular I love waterfalls and overlooks, and I am so thankful that Tennessee is full of both of them. Our state and national parks are places I can go to find myself again when I have chased my tail enough times to get lost.

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Posted in Creatures

Land, Water, and Sky

When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound of fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go lie Dow where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come to the peace of the wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— Wendell Berry

On Saturday I went alone for a paddle on the Falling Water River, whose stillness seems complete and belies its name. I was in no hurry. I had no one to keep up with, no particular destination or goal, other than presence. The water was so slow-moving as to almost seem stagnant, its surface covered in the fluffy pollen of some tree, which pollen was also dancing in the air, lending the scene a dreamy quality.

Being on a kayak and unhurried, you are somehow at once connected to earth, water, and sky, the denizens of all three within your notice. As I paddled, deliberately seeking out the pretty little painted turtles stunning themselves on the exposed branches of half-submurged trees, a leviathan paddled past me beneath the surface, its ridged shell recalling ancient things, its slow movements making me hold my paddle to watch him for a long moment. Further on, a monstrous carp that seemed half the length of my boat curved among the sun-shadowed river weeds below me.

If I’m honest, I spent far too much time trying to photograph the stately blue herons whose fishing I was disrupting, and not enough time just admiring them. Again and again, they would watch me as I pulled up my paddle and drifted slowly by,

trying not to bother them, but also trying to photograph their pterodactyl-like takeoff as they winged upriver ahead of me. The kingfishers skittered their in-flight songs as the drifted from tree to tree, and families of geese watched me warily, concerned parents herding their fuzzy children away from the neon orange intruder.

The Falling Water is a suburban sort of river, not at all wide where I put in, lined with manicured, sloping lawns on either side. It was a Saturday, so there was no illusion that I was really alone with nature, with almost-unnoticed background music of traffic and lawn mowers. And yet, I actually saw no human as I paddled practically through their back yards. This is one of the things I love best about rivers and streams. The edges of the water were not as impeccably manicured as the lawns were, trees allowed to grow as they will, dipping roots in the nourishing muddy silt, arching branches delicately reflected in the placid water. Were I to wander on foot through these close-clipped greenways to get a better look at a bird, someone would surely call the police, but the river belongs to everyone, and no one, and only itself.

It belongs to that whitetail doe who paused and lifted her dripping muzzle to regard me, before turning a flashing tail and bounding up an embankment. It belongs to the flurry of swallowtails flitting across the narrow waterway, gracing mud puddles with gossamer yellow wings like flowers born one moment, to vanish the next. It belongs to the half-ounce titmouse who, when I was once again on land, darted past me on swift wings to go about her business of bug-hunting for a brood that was well hidden in the knot of a tree right next to the pier, peering around the rough bark to see if I was still interested in her activities. It belongs to the leviathan turtle and the indignant heron. Their scatter at my approach reminds me: even if I owned one of these houses and paddled here every day (wouldn’t that be a meditation practice!), I would still be a guest and must always be respectful and polite.

If only we all walked, and paddled, so lightly.

Posted in mindfulness

Now Is a Gift; That’s Why It’s Called the Present

Different geese, prettier day.

My eyes snapped open at 6:18 this morning. I’d considered, last night, maybe I’ll get up early and try for some sunrise photography. Then I thought, nah, it’s after 11 and I probably won’t get up. But I got up. I glanced at the slate blue light coming in my predawn window, then checked my phone, when is sunrise? 6:52.

If I thought that was photographic destiny, I was wrong. Bandit and I packed up in the van and I headed up Spencer mountain, hoping for a vantage point to overlook the pretty farmland below, lit by a sky-blue-pink sunrise. Instead, it rained a little, and the sky was an undulating grey, and three minutes to sunrise there was no hint that I was even going to see the sun. My confused dog was looking at me with deep concern.

We ducked down a road or two marked “Dead End”, hoping for a view off the mountain anyway, for future reference and more attractive mornings, but mostly what we saw was a lot of trailers and some country that would’ve done Deliverance proud, and teaser glimpses of distant registers of mountains (there wasn’t even a decent mist this morning!) through trees silent, gray, and shorn of leaves. Bandit put his paw on my arm. “Fine,” I said, “we’ll go home. I want to look at one more thing.”

I’d seen a blip on my kayaking app that said you could put in at Spencer City Lake, a place I hadn’t known existed before that. I thought I’d check that out for more future reference and as a potential place to put the kayak in, before we headed home. The road was in fairly poor repair, ending in gravel-mud that looked like the denizens of Spencer had used it for mudding (driving a four-wheel-drive vehicle through wet mud). The put-in for the lake was gravel, not a bad spot to put a kayak in, but it didn’t look like there was much to see on a paddle. I may try it for a quiet drift some time anyway.

There was a gaggle of Canada geese not far from my van as I grabbed my camera and hopped out. Maybe, I thought, I can at least get a few wildlife shots. My wildlife lens, a 75-300 mm for you photography geeks, is okay but really woefully inadequate for wildlife photography. At least, it’s not the $9000 camera-dwarfing zoom that I’d really love to try out some day. I don’t expect to ever actually buy one unless I somehow strike it rich on a picture I take with this one. The geese were uncooperative, paddling to the other side of the lake with honky geese-chuckles. They’re awfully shy, I thought, remembering the noisy, gregarious flocks that shat all over my elementary school playground with little to no regard for the small, equally noisy humans who coinnhabited it twice a day, sliding on goose guano while trying to play hopscotch.

Bandit bee lined out of the van for a pile of leaves and promptly did his business. Ohhh, I thought. That explained his look of concern. Poor dude, I rushed him out of the house in the dark and into the van before he’d even had a chance to let his bowels wake up.

Once that was taken care of, since there was no one around, I unhooked his leash and let him explore. I must say, it is a glorious thing to have a dog who will come when he is called, that I can trust him to enjoy himself in the woods. He zigzagged from smell to smell, and I wondered if he was searching for other dogs or small, interesting, furry thing smells. There was a trail up the bank and around the lake, and I thought, what the heck, let’s stretch our legs. Maybe I’ll even get a critter to take a picture of.

Sometimes, when you are looking for The Photo (or, really, anything else), you forget to just be present. I found nothing photo-worthy at 6:53 a.m. today, but there will be snapshots in my mind. Bandit, still not really awake but joyfully exploring the smells in the woods. I heard a noise and stopped in my tracks, looking up. The tall cedars above me nodded their heads at one another, discussing the gray dawn, perhaps, making delightful creaking noises that called to mind other forests, other evergreens. I stood dwarfed by them, admiring them, for several minutes. No photo could hold them, or their voices. I walked on to a different edge of the lake and stood, listening to the lap of waves against a reed-forested shore. A kingfisher called in the distance, teasing: I’ve never been able to get a satisfactory shot of a kingfisher. I never saw him, but by now, I had come back to the present and it didn’t matter. Bandit gazed over the water with me, and eventually, we made our way back along the little trail to the canoe ramp. The geese called excitedly to one another and I knew they were going to take off, but my camera settings weren’t ready for flight speed and I missed that, too. I have’t looked at the pictures yet but I think the only photo I’ll probably bother with is an abstract one of the reed patterns in the water, distorted reflections dancing on the surface. I don’t mind. There are other mornings and this one reminded me how exquisite quiet mornings can be, in full living color or in grayscale.

Posted in mindfulness

Rituals of Gratitude

Every night before I go to sleep
I say out loud
Three things that I’m grateful for,
All the significant, insignificant
Extraordinary, ordinary stuff of my life.
It’s a small practice and humble,
And yet, I find I sleep better
Holding what lightens and softens my life
Ever so briefly at the end of the day.
Sunlight, and blueberries,
Good dogs and wool socks,
A fine rain,
A good friend,
Fresh basil and wild phlox,
My father’s good health,
My daughter’s new job,
The song that always makes me cry,
Always at the same part,
No matter how many times I hear it.
Decent coffee at the airport,
And your quiet breathing,
The stories you told me,
The frost patterns on the windows,
English horns and banjos,
Wood Thrush and June bugs,
The smooth glassy calm of the morning pond,
An old coat,
A new poem,
My library card,
And that my car keeps running
Despite all the miles.
And after three things,
More often than not,
I get on a roll and I just keep on going,
I keep naming and listing,

Until I lie grinning,
Blankets pulled up to my chin,
Awash with wonder
At the sweetness of it all.

— Three Gratitudes, Carrie Newcomer

Happy Thanksgiving.

For most people, this holiday is about gathering, family, and way too much food, but my wish for you is that it is also about actual giving of thanks, whether you thank the people who loved you this year or give thanks to the divine. It doesn’t matter. Gratitude changes us in wonderful ways, and I firmly believe that it should be among our regular practices not just one day a year, but every day.

My mother recently told me that she and my father, who has a great deal of problem with anxiety, have begun a daily Gratitude Practice together, each sharing three things at the dinner table for which they are grateful. She said dad called her up one day to tell her he “had a thing!” to share with her that evening. For me, I keep a journal, and each day I write three things (at least) for which I am grateful.

When you make this a yearly practice, you hit the big ones: family, health, home, well-being, friends, community, employment, gathering. When you make it a daily practice, everything changes. You start looking for little things to be grateful for, that you can write or share at your daily ritual. You start to focus on what is right with your life when it is so very easy to focus on what is wrong. And I believe, when you focus on the positive, you invite more of it into your life. People are attracted to positive people. You start to like the grateful person you see in the mirror every morning. You gain confidence that good things WILL happen.

It truly is life-changing. I beg you to try it, for a month at least. Share it on Facebook or Twitter. Write it in a journal. Make it a ritual in your family.

I’m not sure what the magic of three is. You don’t have to do three. You can do one. But for some reason three makes me push past the one big thing in my day that makes me smile, and encourages me to find more. There is always more. There is poetry in it. Yes, the sun is shining today, and it’s nice to notice that, but I can be grateful for the cheering glow behind my eyelids while I’m basking in it. I can be grateful for the long golden shadows at the end of the day. I can be grateful for the relief I feel after many gray days when the sun greets me and makes me realize that I didn’t know how much I needed to see it. Push your gratitude farther this year, dig into details and your feelings, let it really make you present. Why is the sunshine good? Why is your marriage good? Why is your job good? What is good about gathering with family, today? Yes, there is stress about the gathering, but you keep doing it year after year. Surely it’s not solely out of a sense of obligation. You’re not obligated, not truly. Find the joy in every small thing, the reason you keep doing it, and if you can’t… why are you still doing it? There is truth in gratitude, as well. Honesty. Maybe a wake-up call.

I am thankful that you are here, reading my words. I have known since I was small that words were my blessing and my craft. I have written a lot of words in a lot of journals since then, but now I am honored to bring them to the Internet, and more honored that you took the time to stop and listen to my thoughts. May this holiday season bring you joy that you have been forgetting to look for. ❤

Posted in Uncategorized

The Sky In My Spoon

Spoon Moon Clouds Sun Cup Photo Montage Sky Star

This morning at breakfast, I noticed the sky in my spoon.

I guess this requires some back story. Like many people, I have an off-again on-again relationship with eating well. I do well for a while, fall off the wagon, then get back to it again. I track it for a while, lapse, decide I hate tracking. I’ve never been a fad dieter — that’s my mom — but it’s so much easier to just eat whatever comes along, slap something on the table when it’s you that’s responsible for what’s on the dinner table…  if you eat at the table at all.  Right?  When I decide to eat “right,” I simply choose to eat clean and eat things in moderation.

I’ve been in an off-again, off-the-wagon phase since vacation and starting college (did I mention starting college? I guess that’s a topic for another post).  And then last week I had an IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) flareup at the same time as a cold, and that was no fun.  Okay, back to the wagon.

But this time, I decided I’m not going to worry so much about what I eat, as how I eat. I’ll wager you’re like me and most of the time when you’re eating, you’re also doing something else.  Surfing the web, watching TV, reading. Talking to another human kind of counts and kind of doesn’t.  It definitely does count if there is another human present and you are both doing separate things at the same time while also eating. Don’t do that.  Look at your loved ones once in a while.  Across a table is a good time.

Anyway,  this time I decided not to “diet” or even “eat better/clean/whatever.”  I’ve been exploring the benefits of mindfulness and meditation in so many ways, and I thought that this time around I would change only one thing:  I will eat mindfully.  I will really think about whether I need that ice cream and whether I know what’s in it. If I’m unwilling to sit still and savor that thing I think I’m craving, did I really want it? Or did I just want something to mindlessly shove into my face to fill a different need? Am I actually hungry? If not, why am I eating?

A long time ago I came across something in a Thich Nhat Hanh book about mono-tasking. About taking the time to do what you’re doing and paying attention.  I played around with that for a while but I discovered that it was really hard for me to just eat when I was eating.

Last time I was at McKay used book store I picked up a book called Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food by Jan Chozen Bays, MD.  I’ve barely started reading it, just the last day or so.  The irony is that I was sorely tempted to read it while I had breakfast. Heh.

But I know how to be mindful.  So this morning while I was making my breakfast, which was a bowl of bulgur hot cereal with dried cranberries a sprinkle of granola, slivered almonds, raw milk and honey, I paid attention to everything. It’s 25 steps from my bedroom to my kitchen. My refrigerator could use cleaning. I filled the bowl about one third with the cereal. Honey is beautiful, I love transparent things that catch the morning sunshine coming in my kitchen window. Cold, clear water readily available from a tap in my house, that also is a miraculous thing, have you ever thought about that? Not to mention ice. Imagine an ancestor even three generations back plopped into the middle of your kitchen. We have running pure water we don’t have to go anywhere for, and lights with the flick of a switch, and ice.

I sat down to eat. I actually set my meditation timer with background music, because I wanted to remind myself not to just let my mind wander, but focus on where I was and every sensation.  Eating is the only time, really, that you can mindfully indulge every sense:  smell and taste come into play in a way that is much more powerful than at any other time, and you can notice the sensations of the food, the sound of your crunching and any other sounds that are in your environment.  Sight really starts to take a back seat, which is why your brain tries to get bored and find other things to do, because sight is so prominent for most of us all the time. Entertain me.

Maybe that’s why I noticed, as I sat at my desk in my dimly lit bedroom, that as I lifted my spoon to my lips, the sky outside my window was reflected in it.

I’m pretty sure that if I was reading that book, or anything at all, I wouldn’t have noticed that.  Here’s an excerpt from John Kabat Zinn’s foreward to the book:

“But just like Blake’s grain of sand and his wild flower, you can see the entire world in one raisin, hold the universe and all of life in the palm of your hand, and then, of course, in your mouth too, as it soon becomes a source of nurturance on so many different levels, energy and matter and life itself enlivening and replenishing the body, the heart, and the mind.”

So it was pretty poignant that the sky was in the handle of my spoon and all the world and all five senses were in the sweet goodness at the end of it as I put it in my mouth.

I’m convinced that mindfulness is the answer to everything.  Even if my IBS isn’t cured, or if I don’t lose weight, I stepped a little nearer to the center of being this morning while I was eating breakfast.  And if those two things do happen, that’s a win all the way around.

Try it.