Sunday, July 31, 2011

Let Us Be Glad

The first acorns from our black oak tree lie on our deck. One year I measured a 23" leaf from that tree. Some leaves cling to the branches long into the cold time, and the fallen ones feel tough, leathery in the hand. In this summer heat, the living, breathing tree arches over our roof, shades our tall, vulnerable windows, shares its way of being with us. The tree simply exists in parallel with us in space where we also exist.

False sentimentality might claim the tree as friend, as one which loves us. In fact, that tree with its three large stems simply follows its life directive to survive. In fact, the tree branch that reaches farther over the roof every year will either be trimmed or fall on us one day.

"There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: righteous men who get what the wicked deserve, and wicked men who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless. So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 8:14-15, New International Version. Sentence accent added.)

Change and change and change, and in the midst, in this marvelous moment, as the oak shades us from heat and acorns begin to fall, let us be glad. Moment by moment, let us be glad.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Wild Blackberries

In July sunshine
amid thorns and yellow butterflies
I gather warm, wild blackberries.

I walk the path home
through the woods. I know
which tree will fall soon,
the orphaned fawn
who will not survive.

Summer sounds—
cricket, cicada, mourning dove—
promise their fade to quiet winter.

Spring will return
who can doubt
certain death,
abundant life after
somewhere, always
the river water-flow

I inhale nature's moment,
smell and taste this
ripe energy, sweet ephemera
of plump, wild blackberries.

~Carol Bindel

Oh, yes, doesn't everyone have a wild blackberry poem? my friend who is a very good and sophisticated poet said when she first read this. Perhaps. However, I didn't aim for sophistication.

The wineberries finished completely while I was laid low, and though I haven't had the strength to walk to the big patch of blackberries uphill, the small patch on the back lane is done, the berries dried, just gone.

My poem remembers.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Questions of Order

Illness grabbed me suddenly in the afternoon of July 17. For the next three days my temperature floated between 100 and 103+. My world narrowed. Hour by day, my body, my bed, my room defined me.

Better now, I look back at how established household order embraced and supported me in my extremity. After I'd managed to follow the orderly routine of a daily wash-up-- sitting rather than standing in the shower, trusting previous cleanings; blindly finding and applying shampoo and soap, rinsing, every movement intentional, effortful-- I found towels in their dependable place. Likewise clean underwear, and an easy, established collection place for dirty laundry. Others in the household knew where food would predictably be stored; those others knew and stepped into food preparation routines.

Our utility services are established, bills paid, so without further action our services continued. Established order kept the house cool around my fever. Fresh, clean, miraculous water continued to flow. The phones worked.

I've mentioned to others how I noticed that we support the creation of order around ourselves and then when things go badly that created order supports us.

In each case, the individual to whom I spoke disagreed vigorously at first:
We don't have to be very orderly to function.
Too much order tips into obsessive compulsive disorder.
Change is the only dependable reality, we need to learn to lean into change instead of depending on some temporary, fleeting, created order.

And then, each one who disagreed went on to speak in praise of the the specific kinds of order she'd established in her own life, ordinary routines that became supportive routines.

I watch on the tv pictures of refugees who now stream out of Somalia, escaping failed agriculture, failed politics. Refugees of every era have lost the order that supported them. Then each detail of living becomes a struggle. Only the strong survive.

It occurs to me that our government creates an overarching societal order. We each depend on it. Have you yet begun to ponder what you will lose if our representatives cannot maintain the long established order on which we've depended?

Are we engaged in a national seismic economic shift, and only the strong will survive?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Just for Today

Notice what your body wants.
Keep working at everything you know.
Do not step up to take blame for others' choices that became part of your life
Let go ancient reasons and excuses. Especially excuses.
Hear healthy voices.
Hear your own truths.
Move forward each day.
Say YES! to the joy of other living creatures.
Say YES! to sharing a happy moment.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Family Reunion

Family Reunion

Chicory and Queen Anne's lace
grow side by side by summer's road.
Puffy cumulus clouds decorate
bright, mid-day skies.

Chubby, untanned legs pump,
sparkling eyes invite Grandpa
to lift encircling arms
to play so big! games.

Rise and flow and swirl of day:
wading pool, walking shorts, circle
talk elicits advice, shared
pain dissolves in mirth.

Voices unite, lift in song, bless the meal.
Fragile, blue-veined hands tremble, passing
air-light angel food cake
on delicate blue willow plates.

~Carol Bindel

Written-- and a version published-- maybe 15 years ago. But the experience on which the poem is based is from '67, '68, '69, when Mother hostessed the family reunion, when babies still sat on Pop's lap, those late years of Pop's life.

How Pop and Mom loved kids. How they sought to circle us with blessings. How they both quietly experienced and held their failures as well as their successes. How Mom made angel food cake her specialty. How she treasured her blue willow, and shared it to accent special times. How delicate and fragile she had become, even then. How delicate and fragile we all are.

Sunday just past was the last family reunion to be hosted by one of my generation. A thread of continuity spins through. We are an amazing chorus when we sing together. We create truly a fine, harmonized, a capella rendering of the Doxology:

"Praise God from whom all blessing flow. Praise Him all creatures here below. Praise Him above ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen."

I wish I had a recording, but perhaps that would ruin the actual time of singing.

I have been so very ill. The steps to recovery so far feel arduous, the road a rocky one.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


Summer hangs thick on the trees, blankets this part of the earth with lush evidence of life, how thickly it overlaps these days. The earliest gold and crimson leaves fall on the road and lane. Cicadias sing out loud, and spiders weave huge, complicated, fabulous webs.

I ovserved one of those remarkable webs this morning as I walked. It brough to my mind the seventh principle of the Unitarian Universalists: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are a part.

The actual spider designed-and-built product I saw this morning could stand as a microcosm of that whole of existence. Huge, and here and there a thread may break free yet the redundancies in the web design mean the web continues to function.

A group of my friends and I recently talked about how individual relationships open and close, how sometimes the closing feels sad, and I mentioned how sometimes I work harder and longer to maintain a connection than the other involved party works. I don't like that.

One friend said she thinks of each individual friendship as a spider web strand, how sometimes a thread will break free and flutter. When that happens in her web of friends, she said, she's not so quick to rush in with an attempted fix. I heard the ring of wisdom in her words: things end, dear heart, let go, let go.

I've also observed, year after year, that as hours-days-weeks turn into months the webs disappear. I don't remember ever running into one as I walked in the mid-winter woods. A spider's web holds many metaphors.

Friday, July 15, 2011

"All your life, you think things are going to be one way, and then, suddenly, through no fault of your own, you find out they aren't anymore, and they never will be. It's sad. So sad you can hardly breathe sometimes." (Haywood Smith, Queen Bee of Mimosa Branch, St. Martin's Press, New York, 2002. 258)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Money Matters.

"I was labeled for delivery to the palace, but the stork dropped me by accident (or by habit) on this poor farm family," my sister said, and we laughed. Hard.

Our family had no money. Now that I've seen my parents' tax returns I know that for many years they had less than no money. It wasn't until Mom went back to teaching, after most of us kids were gone from home, that they began to pull out of debt, to have a tad to put in savings. Or give away. When they had a little of something, they were very generous.

"Oh, everyone was poor then," those who are some years ahead of us say. But that wasn't true for us. We were growing up after the depression when the economy was sturdy, if not robust, and I wasn't aware of other kids in my class at school who wore shoes with holes in them. Sometimes I was made to be ashamed of that, even by teachers.

Money buys a lot of creature comforts, and there are problems that just disappear if there's some money to throw at them. I recognized that fact gradually and deeply as I grew into conscious recognition of same and different. I haven't forgotten, will never forget, that money buys real and important things. I also learned and haven't forgotten that we earn our money by contributing what society values enough to pay for. I learned there is no magical substitute for hard work, for being reliable, for carrying responsibility.

In spite of financial poverty, our parents provided. They had eighty acres which supported cows and chickens, so we had milk, eggs, and meat in abstemious portions. We had an apple orchard and an oxhart cherry tree, sour cherries too, and a huge garden. (We swallowed our complaints about the accompanying work because complaining wasn't allowed, but it surely wasn't all joy.) We had strawberries, raspberries and grapes each in their season. In November we butchered and the dried meat, and all summer we canned, canned, canned. The cellar, by September, had shelf after shelf of beautiful, sealed jars of food. We had a creek running through the meadow just below the house with a swimming hole and sand bars as good as a beach. Chicken feed came in cloth bags, and Mom sewed.

Pop and Mom lived by hard work. They also lived by spirit, by intentional optimism, laughter and faith. They maintained for themselves-- and included us children (Mother never allowed the word kids, kids are baby goats, she always said) as we came along-- maintained a daily worship period that started with Bible reading, included some silent prayer time, and ended with Pop's spoken prayer. No skipping. Never. Because of circumstances beyond their control, my parents and we, their family, were judged and found wanting by our community. Nevertheless, my parents sought with deepest sincerity to find the blessings from the Sermon on the Mount, to live by the commandments, to follow the two essentials that Jesus laid out, that is, "Love the Lord your God, and your neighbor as yourself."

Mom knew how to laugh. Sometimes when she was thwarted, when something went terribly wrong, I could see in her face the struggle between despair and anger and laughter. Usually laughter won, bubbling up and spilling out of her, lifting us all.

We bought little and wasted less. We had enough. We had few closets, but those closets were not full, in spite of the fact that we didn't throw things out. We didn't have much; we had everything we needed.

We had both next to nothing and also the best of everything in the world.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


This morning I found the season's first-for-me wooly bear caterpillar on the road by Deer Creek. It had odd end rings. Dark at the end, a small light band, small dark band, length of light, and dark, light, dark. To make both ends match, you know. The old saying is that the darker the wooly bears the harder the coming winter. I wonder what this wooly bear says?

If a wooly bear had a voice, would it sing? What would it say? Perhaps it would it say, I AM a caterpillar, I wriggle with life, I mate, I spin and transform, I am whole, I am enough.

I took that little scrap of life from the tire track in the road and put in on the bank in the grass. Pointless? Maybe. In that place, in that moment, it seemed right, and entirely possible. It curled into a ball between my fingers.

A raw egg white, left over and saved, completely dried in my refrigerator, It crystalized in a matter of three days. Too short a time for it to have spoiled, but what shall I do with crystals of egg white? And how different a transformation from the caterpillar's, yet a transformation, and to me amazing.

So, dear heart, what do you want, really want? What, at this time of your life, what burns in your belly as your deepest desire? What will guide, drive your transformation?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


This morning's hour outdoors included half an hour walking from the top of the hill where Bernie dropped me off on his way to work, down the lovely back way, and half an hour walking from the road up to the house. Road to house can be done easily in five minutes if one does not stop again and again to fill one's mouth with wineberries. What a waste to let the ripest ones hang another day on the vine in this heat, for rot will surely take them. [Waste not, want not. :-) Ah, those voices in my head.] I have no idea how to count the calories, nor a clear idea of how many berries I actually ate. They were delicious, so sweet, so tart.

The horses across the road were being given their grain as I came to my lane. The farm hand rattles the bucket and calls, and the horses come from whichever part of the meadow they've been in. I watched seven horses come from the shade of their shelter, across the bridge built for them over St. Omer's Creek where it runs through that meadow, to their feed troughs. Two of them trotted, then ran. Four walked quickly, then trotted. One walked like I do when everything hurts. Each foot placed carefully, slowly, an uneasy shift of muscle and bone with each step, though no obvious limp.

On the other side of the farm lane, three horses in that pasture came to their fence. There are no feed troughs for them; they get no grain. They watched for some moments as their mates across the road ate their treat, then slowly turned away again. We know horses as temperamental creatures. Do they respond with some emotion to witnessing others given grain when they have only grass?

Yesterday we lost electricity at three in the afternoon and didn't get it back until about seven-thirty. The battery operated thermostat clicked occasionally as the hours wore one and the still air warmed and warmed. Ceiling fans spin and circulate air in most of our rooms, adding greatly to our comfort. I went outdoors a few times and quickly returned inside, in spite of the stillness.

My vacuum stopped when the power stopped. I unplugged and replugged and flipped the switch a couple times before I realized. My inner voice scolded, "You should have done this earlier," and "Gather ye roses while ye may," and "Whatever comes to your hand to do, do it with all your might." Oh my. How would I go on without the wisdom writings to guide me, the ones heard so often repeated that they forever ring inside me?

The fierce storms came later. I heard on the traffic reports through the rush hour (I turned on my little, old battery-operated radio with the headphones, sat in the sunny-window-chair and hand quilted) that Conowingo Road was blocked and closed in both directions by a downed tree. A fallen tree that big, one that blocked both lanes of a highway, could have taken out the lines that supply our electricity. Later, when thousands lost power due to the storms, we were not among them.

I missed the moving air, but I miss our running water the most. No flush toilets, no water from any faucet. I keep a supply of water to carry from the basement, in gallon jugs for the sinks, in five gallon pails for the toilets (if its yellow let it mellow, if it's brown flush it down). There's always drinking water on hand, too. But fresh and flowing is the best, such a blessed wonder. I give thanks many times each day for the blessings of functioning indoor plumbing.

The occasional loss of electricity keeps always fresh in my mind a resonant sympathy for those who live in zones of war or other disasters who must cope without for long periods without cooling, without clean water. When they come to mind I always send them energy-light-prayer. Does that matter? To recognize the common needs, struggles, pleasure and suffering of all humanity, indeed, all Life? Does that persistent, intentional recognition of the commonality of all Life matter? It's the best I have to give...

Sunday, July 10, 2011

"Be afraid to die until you have won some victory for humanity." Horace Mann

I wonder, how does one define "victory for humanity"? Are small, individual victories also victories for humanity? Does one count the victory at the end of Lao Tzu's recitation-- that is, peace in the world depends on peace in the nations, which depends on peace in the cities, which depends on peace in the neighborhood, in the family, in the individual heart-- does peace in the heart count as a victory for humanity?

Today the morning air, full of misty sunshine, smelled so fresh, and the berries hang so ripe and generous on the vines.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


It rained. Lovely, moist earth, no extra watering needed. The bird baths are full of fresh, soft rainwater.

Wineberries and blackberries hang ripe and lush on vines along the lanes and through the woods. I am drawn as with an invisible, sweet magnet to the field at the top of the hill where I know I will find more of both. The heat has brought them along earlier than most years.

I gather selfishly, just to fill my own belly. Wineberries are too fragile to gather and carry, and blackberries too scarce to find enough to share. Anyone I know with whom I might share could go collect their own should they truly desire the berries.

Cicada song has grown loud. Old wisdom claims that when the cicadas start, count six more weeks until fall weather comes. I wonder if that will hold true this year?

The Community Supported Agriculture program we're part of has started for the year. With our CSA, Greg and Janell of Wilson Farms-- our neighbors and our friends as well as smart businessmen and hard workers-- assess the produce available from their farm each week, and also the approximate value of said produce, and then they fill a couple carry bags with fruits and vegetables picked fresh. This week we had corn, tomatoes, green and yellow summer squash, onions, cucumbers, sweet green peppers, spicy green peppers, green beans, and peaches. I believe that's the list. Oh, wait, a dozen eggs this week, too. We're eating a series of fine feasts.

Bounty. The land holds generous bounty. But never just free for the taking. A bounteous harvest only comes after tending, waiting, noticing, recognizing, and tending some more. Nevertheless, bounty.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Otherwhere, meanwhile

Yesterday I walked along Deer Creek for the first time in a full week. I walked otherwhere, meanwhile.

(I am caught, charmed, by those two words, are you? Otherwhere, meanwhile. Therein lies the whole world.)

A multitude of individual chickory flowers made a wash of blue up the sunny, north-east-facing slope in the meadow near the Ady Road bridge. A meadowscape full of summer blues and greens. High summer paints with a full palette, of course, but especially with blues and greens.

Last time I walked there the chickory blue didn't flare yet, but a section of the low, flat land near the creek glowed yellow with buttercups. Yesterday I searched the area where the small, golden faces had shown. The plants still stand in their place, the blossoms matured, closed and shifted to seed.

Otherwhere, meanwhile, last week included walks along the streets and paths where my granddaughter lives. She will soon be 13 months old. I am closing in on 800 months old. A person at 100 years-- easy math. Mother lived days short of 1037 months.

One explanation for why time seems to speed up as we age says that each passing day is a smaller proportion of the total life lived, hence the felt experience of each day shortens. Just like the long, summer-sun-measured days are already shortening toward winter. Yet I think it's more than that, though I have not words to explain.

Likewise, I have not words to explain the feeling of gazing into the eyes, the face, of this baby girl and seeing the eyes, the face, of my mother. This baby has her own mother's mouth (thank goodness!) but she has my mother's eyes. Mother's gray eyes. Baby's eyes are still blue, but sort of a steel blue, close to gray.

Beyond eye shape and color and overt face shape, there are the shadow expressions: the way Baby's eye lids fold as she focuses; the lift and droop of her cheek as she processes experiences; the shape and movements of her brow. All these things bring to my gut-heart-throat some yearning shiver that I can not elucidate clearly enough to translate into words. Perhaps you've had enough of a similar experience to already understand. To see Mother's face in Baby's face leaves me feeling breathless, awe struck, humbled by all we do not know.

Otherwhere, meanwhile...

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Summer time, air conditioners running... People sweating, and humidity's high... To the tune, you know.

We have a deep well, and though the ground is very dry we're not really low on rainfall amounts, so I am watering the impatiens. Not many plants that flower all summer do well in our woods. Deer eat the hosta, even when I spray them. The tuberous begonias that my farmer-neighbor-friend-salesman promised would grow and bloom all summer in full shade, those bright red, charming, showy begonias are short of blooms-- there is one on three plants. The impatiens, though, contribute their sunny faces every day, setting new blossoms, opening and smiling, falling gracefully and returning to soil, always blooming.

Yesterday I kept my date with the cardiologist, the date set up six months ago, right after Christmas. I knew the scale would tell the truth of my past week of overeating, so I considered "reasons." It occurred to me it could be the weight of my hair. Yes, hair can be quite heavy. And mine is about two inches long all over my head. Well, shorter than that at the edges. When that thought came to mind I chuckled aloud, and quit my worrying. I shared my idea with the nurse and she laughed too, and as she stickied me up for my electrocardiogram we had a fine little chat about her life and mine.

When the doctor came, he commented that my blood pressure was lower and my pulse higher than he'd seen them ever before in his office. Both good things, for my bp is usually high at the doctors-- white coat syndrome-- and my pulse falls to alarmingly slow rates. And then he looked back in the chart in his hands and said, "And I see you've lost a couple pounds since last time. Ummm, good." Oh, giggle. It was right after Christmas.

He looked at me, really looked, and did not ask if I exercise. He simply switched to talking about the benefits of exercise and healthy diet, encouraging me to keep caring for myself, for I can do for myself what no doctor can possibly do for me. 'Tis true that I appear to be in blooming good health: normal weight, normally shaped by exercise, lightly tanned, some rosy color in my cheeks, smile wrinkles showing, groomed. I'll take it.

"So, I can come see you again in a year this time?" I said. It's been a routine six months between visits. His gaze suddenly became fierce and hawk-serious. "All right. But you must call me if you need me. You must promise to call me if you need me. If you have any of these symptoms, you will call me," and he went through a sort of scary list. "Promise," he insisted.

I agreed. Of course.

I find myself quite in tune with the impatiens. Here in my home woods, day by day I seek to contribute a sunny face, setting new blossoms in the form of specific small actions to contribute to the welfare of those whom I may touch, seeking to be open and smiling, allowing specific small things to fall away gracefully. It is my hope that I may be always blooming until the end of my season.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


"A simple act of kindness has a beauty all its own," wrote my brother in his thank you card to me. (I couldn't find it attributed to an author.) "How beautiful a day can be when kindness touches it, " says George Alliston, quoted on a card I have hanging where I notice it often. "May I be kind to myself," begins a prayer one friend taught me and what another friend has identified as a variety of a meta-meditation.

Kind. Even the word carries a wash of-- calm? relaxation for the neck ans shoulder muscles, for the breath? peace?

Where does kindness fit in this world of fierce competition? How do we find a path to kindness? How do we balance soft kindness with firm kindness?

Ah, let me go into my day intending kindness, and with a heart full of laughter and gentle joy.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Seek the Light, Be the Light

Today, in another perfect summer day, I am thinking of light. Sunlight, moonlight, starlight, firelight, candle light. Spotlight, harbor light, kitchen light, flood light, porch light. The reality of light and the metaphor of it. How sunlight covers all equally, blesses impartially. How we see (or not) in the available light. How we use light to find our way.

I share here an untitled, unpublished piece by my friend Dana Knighten:

"What is it about the glimmer of a single distant light across water that calls to all that is unanswered? It stirs such wordless yearning. Its beckoning call, the sense of hope, the promise of fixity in the flow of uncertainty, a still point in the midst of troubled waters.

"Just a single light evoking home. The warmth of a light left on to guide the way, a light that says someone's home, someone's expecting you, here's some help to guide you in to safe harbor.

"A light left on in the darkness conveys so much."