Colors

leaves-s
I couldn’t see you before.
Summer, in her busy days of growing and providing,
hid you under green work clothes.

Now after harvest time, with your work clothes in storage,
in the radiance of shorter, cooler days,
your golden spectrum, which was there all along,
is on display for all to see.

I sit with you in silent wonder.
If we could decode the deep structure of your patterns,
what would we learn about the tree, the soil, the air, the rain?
What directions could we discern for restoring our world?

People have colors too that don’t get seen on the job site.
In the autumn we have gifts to offer.

Limitless

Sunny-1b

Late afternoon in autumn and the garden is going dormant,
as though nature is reaching her natural limits with the waning sun.
But you, showering us with lemons
like a treeful of shining suns,
seem oblivious.

As we schedule our doctor appointments, review our retirement budgets,
watch our friends get sick and die,
learn the news of the world and mourn our losses,
limits fence in our lives.

But your lemons are limitless.
So is love.
So are the sunrise and sunset, the sound of rain, the smell of flowers.
So are the goodness and kindness of the human heart.

What can we do with limitless lemons?

I will give my love a bowlful on our anniversary,
and a smile, and a long hug, and love that will never end.

The only way I can receive your lemons is to pass them on.

Eighth Stop

shemini-s
After the party
when the guests have gone
when the moon is smaller,
when the sun is scarcer, the days shorter
when my body won’t stop shivering
even after I’ve buttoned my coat,
it’s just us here.

Darkness is coming quickly and I need to go.
There’s work to be done.

But first let’s stay a moment
reflecting on the glory of all that has been
and all that is.

That way when I’m walking into darkness
I can notice the light in the eyes of strangers
recognize my brothers and sisters
and find you there.

And if someone needs a coat
and I have the courage to offer mine
please give us both a hug.

Moment

moment-s
When the moment comes
you leap lightening-swift
and disappear into the bushes.
Then you trot into the house,
tail in the air, bearing your gift for all to admire:
a wounded hummingbird.

We bury the bird out back, under the lemon tree.
You follow with your tail wagging, watching intently.
As we’re digging the hole,
you turn and leap into the herb garden to chase a dragonfly.

We get a bell and hesitantly buckle it to your neck,
hoping to save humming birds without shackling your spirit.

Next morning at dawn
as I sit meditating on the deck overlooking the ocean,
I hear a tinkling bell, feel a soft thud on my lap,
hear purring in my ears, and feel drool on my hands.
Now I know:
your spirit is not to be shackled.

The bell becomes part of you.
All of us, Wendy and I and the other cats,
look up whenever we hear the tinkles
that announce your entry.

Then you arrive, tail wagging and eyes bright,
scanning us, the other cats’ food bowls,
and everything that flies, crawls or moves.
No matter where you look or leap,
you expect, and receive, only good.

When you perch on the deck railing
watching the flying birds with such intensity,
you seem like,
were it not for the laws of physics
tied like a bell around your neck,
you would take off and fly with them.

So little and so young,
you’ve became our teacher.

Then you get sick.
You breathe fast, look panicked, hide under the bed.
Wendy takes off your bell.

“We tried to drain her lungs but it’s not working,”
the vet tells us by phone three days later.
Tomorrow’s decision:
try to keep her alive with expensive, painful, uncertain surgery,
or let her go now?

Wendy and I sit in silence on the couch,
the one where you love to sit between us.
We pray, cry, hold each other.

The next morning, at dawn, I’m back on the deck, seeking guidance.
Who knows the moment of death? Who can decide?
Now I can see you on the railing,
tail wagging as you look out at the vast expanse before you,
no longer encumbered by the bell around your neck,
eyes intently ahead, quivering with excitement,
ready to leap when the moment comes.

Home Again

hb-1s
It happened while I was away
traveling alone,
the Jewish teenagers and Palestinian teenager killed by hatred
together with the latest hopes for peace in the Holy Land,
the thousands more around the world slaughtered by enraged extremists
and by extreme weather on a wounded planet.

It happened while I was away
on retreat with community,
our teacher Reb Zalman leaving this world.
We cried with broken hearts for all we’ve lost and all the world has lost.
We laughed in gratitude for all we’ve received.
We witnessed the arrival of this moment
where it’s now our turn to carry on his work
with renewed urgency,
the work of healing a broken world.

Home again today I sit in my garden
while you send your messenger the hummingbird
who sits near me on his little branch,
singing his greeting to the dawn,
filling my heart with tears and laughter.

Yitgadal v’yitkadash shmei rabah.
Being beyond understanding.
The cycles of time will not cease,
and no matter how dark the night,
mornings will return until the end of days.

Mother Duck

md-5

Long ago there were women and men who created a park,
a place where no humans would hunt you.

Then summers started getting hotter and drier,
and hunters more determined.

Then you came; then your ducklings.
I watch them follow you along a rippling channel through the rocks.

The last duckling gets stuck between two rocks.
I watch to see what you will do.
Without turning, you slow down, pause a moment,
then continue serenely through the ripples.
You must pull yourself out, you’re saying,
and follow me.

Who showed you how to care for your ducklings?
Who will show us how to care for your park?

The duckling struggles and pulls himself out,
following you to a shady part of the creek, cool, with plenty of bugs.

10-Day Journey, Day 10: Neighbors

10-Day Journey, Day 10: Neighbors

On this trip I’ve been experiencing the interplay between big open spaces and little cramped ones. I’ve been wanting to withdraw from human society for a few days to be alone in nature. But perversely, I seem to learn the most from random encounters I didn’t seek with people I don’t understand.

This is what it looks like at the beach at Cape Lookout State Park — vast, empty spaces, great natural beauty — ah, just what I’m seeking!

This is what it looked like when I got to my campsite — small spaces crammed with parents, kids, lovers, friends, dogs and stuff — just what I’m seeking to avoid!

My mind goes into overdrive. It’s my vacation for God’s sake! Is a little peace and quiet too much to ask? Maybe I can find a motel in town with no one around and a nice view.

15 feet away two light-skinned teenage girls are making dinner, while a dark-skinned woman in her 20s goes back and forth to their van. They’re all overweight, and I notice the bags of candy and junk food piled up on their picnic table. Who are they? Could the woman be the girls’ mother? Aunt? Nanny?

I try saying hi to one of the girls. She squirms and looks away.

The smoke from their campfire is blowing thick grilled-meat clouds at my picnic table. In order to breathe while I have my salad and vege noodle soup, I have to set up my little portable camp table and chair near the parking area. Then one of them turns up their music, which blasts in my direction, and they all start laughing. This is shaping up to be a fun night.

While I’m sipping my wine and eating my canned fish and salad, I watch the girls standing by their fire cooking their dinner. One is holding hot dogs on sticks, the other has marshmallows. The woman is looking my way so I catch her eye. “It looks like you’ve got all the basic camp food groups covered!” I say laughing, nodding at the hot dogs and marshmallows. She laughs with me, and we start a conversation. I try to identify her accent. Carribean? I ask her where she’s from.

“Aloha,” she says.

“Hawaii?” I say.

“No!” she says, “Oregon!” She cracks up laughing, and I join her.

We talk about camping. “They don’t give us lots of space here,” I observe.

“Thats okay,” she says. “We’re all friends, right? And we’ve always got the beach.”

Later she walks over holding a gooey mound on a paper plate. “What’s that?” I say.

“The girls want you to have it,” she says. There’s a huge, gooey marshmallow, two graham crackers, and dripping chocolate.

“S’mores!” I say. She nods. I look at the s’mores. That’s more sugar and fat than I’d have in a week. “Thank you, that’s so nice! I’m not so sure I can eat all this …”

She interrupts me. “The girls made it for you,” she says simply, and leaves it on the table.

I look over at the girls and wave. “Thank you!” I say. They smile back shyly.

I put the s’mores on one of my plates, cut off a little piece, and eat it, thinking of campfires when I was a teenager. Then I bring back the rest, still on my plate, over to their camp site. The music is turned up, and they’re playing cards.

“Poker?” I say.

“Go Fish!” says one of the girls.

“The s’mores is delicious,” I say. “Thank you! The thing is, when you get to be my age, you can’t eat so much.” The three of them look at each other, and then at me, nodding knowingly. “So I’d like to share the rest with you, okay? You can just bring back my plate when you’re done.” They accept this.

“I’d like to give you something back, but I don’t know what. Lettuce, cucumber, blueberries, wine, canned sardines, granola?”

“Not necessary,” says the woman. “The pleasure of your company is enough.”

“Wow,” I say, “you are smooth!” The three of them laugh. Then they go back to their cards.

The next morning at sunrise I go to the beach to meditate and write and walk, feeling serene in the vast, empty space.

My friends from India have told me that when they go to retreats at ashrams back home, they become reacquainted with a world where people are crowded together. For them, a retreat is not alone time in nature. It is living with others in a crowded place in silent harmony.

To be a human in quiet isolation in nature is not a natural state today on this planet. It is a privelege, a gift, an accident of where I live. Can I learn to live in harmony with my neighbors wherever I am, to hear God’s voice everywhere, in both the big, empty spaces and the small, crowded ones?

When I get back to the camp site, my three neighbors are gone. My plate, the one that held the s’mores, is back on the table, washed clean. When I open the supplies box to put it away, I see a blue book inside. The Book of Mormon. Inscribed inside it says, “We hope that you will find the love and guidance from God that we’ve been blessed to receive. If you feel so moved, please join us at our church when you’re in Portland.” And it gives the address.

These neighbors gave me gifts that are precious to them. I look over at their empty campsite, at the other campsites around me, at the distant hills above the ocean. The s’mores I’ve already handled. Next task: decide what to do with the blue book in my supplies box.

10-Day Journey, Day 6: Meditating in the Rain

20140628-105911.jpg
If you go out to meditate only when there is no rain or wind,
your isolate yourself from the fullness of life.
Your practice is weak and will not endure.

If you go out to meditate in every storm no matter how fierce,
you are a fool.

The sage goes out like a leaf in the wind,
allowing the weather to take her where it will.
By letting go of the controls,
she aligns with the One.

10-Day Journey, Day 5: Coast Dwellers

20140627-125227.jpg
We are all coast dwellers,
living at the shoreline of
the boundless and the bounded,
motion and stillness,
spiritual and material.

Lao Tsu, looking down from his mountain in China 2500 years ago, knew this.
“These two spring from the same source but differ in name,” he said.

Back at the Castaway Motel overlooking the harbor,
Rockney, who has lived here all his life,
shares decades of stories
of fishermen who walked this land and died at sea.

How do we acquire the wisdom to live in peace at the shoreline
of two worlds that are actually one?

“This appears as darkness,” Lao Tsu says.
Darkness within darkness.
The gate to all mystery.”

10-Day Journey, Day 4: Laughter

20140626-165351.jpg
I planned to meet you among the redwoods and ocean beaches
near campsites I reserved along the coast,
quiet places of magnificent beauty
to sit with you in stillness.

Then you soaked me
with the wind and rain of your explosive laughter.
Not fair, I said, no way!
I’m not camping out in this!

It never rains here like this in June,
says the guy at the Castaway Motel.
There’s been an exodus from the campgrounds.
One more room left. Queen, no view.
You can’t park nearby because the lot’s flooded.
Want it?

More rain forcast as far as the weather apps can see.
Now that you’ve dragged me from my tent,
where will I sleep tomorrow night and the next?
Where will I find you?

This small coast port town was
once prosperous shipping lumber
until the forests gave out.
I do my morning hike along the anonymous highway
past deserted, boarded up shops
haunted with shadows of
clothing, food, books and antiques from long ago.

The waitress at the Paradise Cafe
smiles thinly as she slides me my
eggs with toast and hash browns
while rushing toward the loud family with noisey kids that just barged in.

Later I leave her a large tip, smile, wave to the kids,
and wander over to the wild, wet coast.

There’s nothing more to do but
pay attention to what’s happening
around me and inside me.

Maybe I can receive it all without judgement or desire.
Maybe I can receive it all with wonder.
Maybe I can meet you here.

Is this what you wanted the whole time?

10-Day Journey, Day 2: Prayer in the Redwoods

20140624-114307.jpg
Blessed are You our God
and God of our fathers and mothers,
God of everyone and everywhere since time’s beginning,
God of our children to time’s end.

My heart is bursting beyond its boundaries
in this company of ancient holy beings,
in their forest home
for the chimpmunk darting through the bushes,
for the bird calling out its exhuberent song overhead,
for the flower unfurling its orange petal glory by the clear flowing creek,
and this old man seeking a little quiet time with You.

These gentle giants are naked and defenseless
against the terrible machinery
of human greed, arrogance, blindness.
This land without boundaries,
flowing with milk and honey,
which You gave us for an inheritance
for ourselves and our children to the end of time,
has been decimated, desecrated, clear cut for quick bucks.

If we had ears
to hear her screams of anguish and her sobs of mourning,
who could survive?
Now a few small precious vulnerable remnants,
protected only by governing bodies
themselves under attack by the same forces that decimated the ancient forests,
remain.

As I sit here in the circle of ancient holy beings,
they embrace me and comfort me.
We have been here a long time, they say.
More has happened than you can imagine.
More is yet to come.
This moment is alive, radient.
Be here with us.

God wipe away our tears,
heal our broken hearts,
teach us to treasure each other,
make us worthy to receive the inheritance
that you’ve temporarily placed in our hands for safe-keeping.

Bless us with the wisdom
to learn from these ancient holy beings
and all the holy beings that surround us every day
to treasure and care for your gifts,
to pass them on in undiminished glory
to our children and our children’s children
to time’s end.

10-Day Journey, Day 1: Treetop

treetop-s
Who impels you to do that?
To push higher, delicate moist and green, toward the sun?
Where did you get the directions?
Are you drawn toward a time not too far off
where the tree that holds you will receive the sun’s nourishment through you?
Where creatures who climb you and perch in you will see a bigger vision?
I’m paying close attention because in me there is a treetop too.
As long as you keep reaching up toward the sun,
life will keep going, and I will keep going, for another day.