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What To Do On A Rainy Monday In The Time of COVID-19

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A rainy Monday in the time of COVID-19. The perfect day for some quiet reflection. I’m finding a lot of comfort in nature and try to get outside a bit every day. Being under the open sky and listening to bird song reminds me that life goes on, that God’s other creatures are carrying on, and that this current crisis will pass. Please, if you’re hunkering down and think you can’t step outside the house, think again. It just might save your mental health. Simply stay six feet from other people.

I’ve been sharing nature-based contemplative practices with some of my church friends, and today’s is an inside activity because it’s raining where we are. I’ve adapted it so it’s more accessible to people who don’t connect with God.

Today I’m considering fire, one of the most attention-grabbing creations. Even if you’re not spiritually inclined, it’s not hard to see the powerful and divine nature of fire: If you’ve ever lost track of time staring into a fire, you know how compelling it can be — and if you’ve ever been around an out-of-control fire, you know how frightening it can be. A famous Bible story says that when God seriously needed Moses to listen up, he set a bush on fire!

At some point today, set aside time to reflect on fire. Grab your journal or some writing paper, and light a candle. You may want to take off your shoes, signifying that you are coming as you are and that you’re willing to be honest with yourself.

Sit quietly, take a few deep breaths, slowly breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. As you breathe, watch the flame of your candle, and consider:

Fire is essential to the natural world. It kills diseases and insects that damage trees, clears away undergrowth, and provides nutrients to enrich soil. Fire purifies the landscape and makes way for new growth and diversity. Reflect and journal about what needs to be cleared out of your mind and heart, what needs purifying. What needs to be stripped away to allow for new growth and diversity? Write about this as long as you like.

Now consider the pine cone. There are certain pine cones (like the lodgepole pine) that literally cannot reproduce without fire. You’ve probably seen them — the kind that are closed up tight, almost glued together. Such cones can hang in a tree for fifty years, just waiting for a passing fire to melt the resin that glues them shut and release their seeds. Journal some more, considering what parts of you are “glued shut.” What beliefs or fears keep you closed up tight to the world, never releasing your energy to new ways of being?

After you’ve finished journaling, if you are the hearty type, why not grab a raincoat and umbrella and go out for short walk in the rain? Don’t forget to blow out your candle! Maybe you can find a pine cone to bring home to remind you to keep your heart and mind open to the flame of purification and new growth.

Be safe, be well, be open.

Giving Thanks for Things Growing in New Zealand

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This evening I’m camped next to a Horse Chestnut tree, a being I’m not sure I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting before. Very solid vibes.

The Horse Chestnut is the little round fellow to the right of my camper

New Zealand knows how to do trees, no doubt about that! It’s easy to see why people might see trees as objects of worship. I’ve fallen for any number of the lovelies and made more than a few u-turns to capture photos.

Tree with friends

 

The vegetation here is remarkably diverse, from cactus to moss to eucalyptus, from temperate rainforests to tiny alpine daisies to towering tree ferns, one of which — the Silver Fern — is the national symbol that graces their rugby uniforms and their airplanes. The Silver Fern gives off a majestic but humble vibe, if you can imagine. Strong and formidable, yet with growing centers that are vulnerable and gentle. Much the way I imagine the person of Jesus to have been. 

 

Silver Fern Fiddleheads

I think my favorite plant is the Red Tussock grass, and its proper name is almost as cute as it is: Chionochloa rubra. I can’t decide if these little guys belong more to the Star Trek genre or to Dr. Seuss, but I love how they just march up hillsides and take over entire landscapes. They wave enthusiastically in the wind, and the sun brings out the red in them. They are native to New Zealand and the country has created a preserve for them on the South Island — one of the few places I did not see sheep or cows!

 

One of the more ubiquitous plants is flax, which you see along the roadsides and also growing as an ornamental in many gardens. It’s not at all like what we call flax in the northern hemisphere, the plant that produces seeds for our backyard finches. The Maori traditionally used fibers from the sword-like leaves of the flax plant to make everything from coats and sandals to river rafts and eel traps. Our Maori tour guide at New Zealand’s national Te Papa museum spoke about working with flax the way African American elders in the southern U.S. speak about braiding sweetgrass. It’s as if the flax fibers are woven into their very beings.

Since I’m in New Zealand, there will be no Thanksgiving for me this year. However, I am in a constant state of thankfulness as I “live and move and have my being” among the green beings of this glorious landscape. Have yourself a blessed Thanksgiving stateside!

Advice From a Tree

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Today I am (supposed to be) rushing around, closing up the house for winter, hauling in the picnic table, cleaning out the frig, scrubbing toilets, vacuuming rugs, packing bedding and silverware in plastic to deter the field mice who generally move in for the winter when my cats and I depart.

I picked up my winter supply of New Hampshire honey and goats milk moisturizing lotion on the way back from Willa’s grave yesterday, but I forgot to visit the Post Office so I have to go back into town.

Today is also the deadline for sending in my sermon on gentleness (done, at last!) and I so, so want to be finished with all of this in time to watch the debate with my neighbor tonight!

All to say that I don’t have time to write, but I found this wonderful message from the Sierra Club that I thought you might enjoy.

advice-from-a-tree

Dig your roots way down underground into the richest soil of life, hold on, and enjoy the view today!

Flying Crab Apples: A Daily Prompt

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What’s the farthest you’ve ever traveled? I’ve been to Uganda, and the experiences were so overwhelming that I found it hard to write about the trip. I did write this, which was published in Outside In Literary and Travel Magazine:

I saw her through the dusty window as our bus bounced along a rutted Ugandan road, headed back to Kampala. She was crouched over a muddy waterhole, rinsing clothes in the brown water. Her hair was covered with an orange head wrap, and she wore a long print skirt which was hoisted up to her knees, revealing bare feet.

I had witnessed so much, after three weeks in Africa, that I barely registered the image at the time. I’d like to say that our eyes met, but I don’t think they actually did. She just slipped inside my head and made me cry when I got back to the States and started a load of laundry.

A Blackjack Poem

Today the WordPress gods have given the prompt: Come fly with me — what’s the farthest you’ve ever traveled? So there’s my answer. Uganda. But what I’d really like us to do today is fly with the crab apples. For fun.

I told you I had joined a group called Blackjack Poets – seven syllables, three times, for a total of twenty-one. That’s the rule.

In response to today’s Daily Prompt, I offer this — how far might a crab apple go?
♦ ♦
Crab apples litter the ground,
A red carpet just waiting
To welcome the winter snow.
♦ ♦
Where will they go in springtime,
Plucked up by birds and taken
To germinate far away?
♦ ♦
In the bird’s gut, seeds may dream
of Paris or Amsterdam,
More likely, they’ll splat on cars.
♦ ♦
The Red Carpet

The Red Carpet

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/11/13/daily-prompt-travels-2/

The Woman Buried under the Apple Tree

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“Read between the lines. Then meet me in the silence if you can…”

May Sarton

I want to tell you about the woman buried under the apple tree. When she was a child, Averil used to climb the old tree, her nail-bitten hands clutching the sturdy branches, her honeyed braids brushing the rough bark.

She marveled at the tiny worlds colonizing the bark – forests of emerald moss, handfuls of fungus waving like black fingers, villages of powder-grey lichen teeming with ants and spiders and all manner of strange travelers.

Forests of Fingers

Forests of Fingers

All Manner of Travelers

All Manner of Travelers

My cousin Averil “traveled” at fifty.

Her sons dug a hole for her ashes under the beloved apple tree while I read from the Book of Isaiah:

“…to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair…”

My cousin was an unhappy and unwell person, prone to making despairing, unintelligible phone calls at three in the morning. But that is all I’ll say.

There are questions and mysteries surrounding her life and death, which I won’t share because families suffer secrets and allow for mysteries. If her descendants aren’t going to shake those branches, neither will I.

The Tree

The apple tree keeps watch over our family’s country home, guarding secrets, saving memories, honoring unlived dreams. I don’t know if my grandmother planted it in the forties when she bought Quiet Hills, or if it was already here.

The Apple Tree

The Apple Tree

“…a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor…”

The cellular structure of the tree holds the soft voice of my grandmother as she croons to one of her many long-haired cats, and the shared laughter of my mother and my Aunt Val as they garden together, never suspecting that Bunny will one day rest where they work.

We all called her Bunny.

The only one who called her Averil was her husband.

“…he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…”

Morning

This morning an inch worm descends from the apple tree, hanging by a shimmering thread, bobbing its head and swaying in the breeze, a breeze I can’t feel but which causes his nubbly little feet to wriggle frantically for purchase.

A delicate creature on a delicate thread, ceaselessly buffeted by invisible currents.

Chickadees and titmice chip-chip and tee-tee at each other, hopping from branch to branch and knocking down tiny green apples, then swooping away to jostle for position at the birdbath.

The deck beneath the tree is littered with these baby apples. The strongest fruit still clings to the branches, though, dreaming of becoming autumn’s pies.

Autumn Dreams

Autumn Dreams

Bunny used to bake the apples into pies. She would imitate an old woman’s quavery voice – “Abigail,” she called herself — as the kitchen filled with the smell of warming cinnamon, and she shooed our fingers away from the sweet filling.

The apple tree holds Old Abigail’s voice. It holds Bunny’s childish giggle.

It guards her secrets. And its canopy softens the raindrops that fall upon her grave.

Related information:

Bible verses are from the Book of Isaiah, New International Version.

For more on the old apple tree, click here.

For more on the house, click here.

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