Saturday, October 31, 2015


The turning of the year, "three nights of the end of summer," the time of honoring the dead.  Some gather photographs, heirlooms, tamales and posole with chili pods the color of old garnets, for ancestor altars and feasts.  Some spend much of the day at Wagner's Parsifal, remembering the Arthurian knight who quested for the Holy Grail.  Some decimate trees, instead of contemplating and embracing the sacred in nature, that essential part of life.

I spend the last day of October sick in bed with a sore throat, eating only delicious Italian wedding soup.  I don't know what to gather for my altar—a dictionary, a starfish, a wooden bowl, a piece of huckleberry pie, and many candles like the candles on the mantlepiece my mother always lit in winter, Christmas Eve, the nights of snow departing dinner guests would go out into, stomping boots and laughing.  A chunk of turquoise (veined like loved grandparents' hands), orange pekoe tea, a plastic honey bear.  Water and salt, they say, incense.  Blue flowers, a Robert Frost poem, a Hawaiian record given to us by a family friend.  One leaf, for all of the dead trees. 

image:  Ofrenda del día de muertos, Brendahdz

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Seeing the Trees Come Down

I am entirely heartsick, seeing the trees come down next door.  The graceful eucalyptus, noble pine, the elders in their wisdom who've been looking over us for these ten years and giving sanctuary to the birds and their music, the ever busy squirrels, a kinder tone of light, the fragrances that evoke other times, and worlds, the murmured conversations with the winds, wood-winds.

A friend has given me this poem that talks about the slaughter of the trees, better than I can, words escaping me, only the grief like a blow to the solar plexus, a fall. 

Not just the fall of leaves, but of the possibility of leaves, the promises that cannot now be kept.

by Charlotte Mew (1869-1928)

—and he cried with a loud voice: 
Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees— 

They are cutting down the great plane-trees at the end of the gardens. 
For days there has been the grate of the saw, the swish of the branches as they fall, 
The crash of the trunks, the rustle of trodden leaves, 
With the ‘Whoops’ and the ‘Whoas,’ the loud common talk, the loud common laughs of the men, above it all. 

I remember one evening of a long past Spring 
Turning in at a gate, getting out of a cart, and finding a large dead rat in the mud of the drive. 
I remember thinking: alive or dead, a rat was a god-forsaken thing, 
But at least, in May, that even a rat should be alive. 

The week’s work here is as good as done. There is just one bough 
   On the roped bole, in the fine grey rain, 
             Green and high 
             And lonely against the sky. 
                   (Down now!—) 
             And but for that,   
             If an old dead rat 
Did once, for a moment, unmake the Spring, I might never have thought of him again. 

It is not for a moment the Spring is unmade to-day; 
These were great trees, it was in them from root to stem: 
When the men with the ‘Whoops’ and the ‘Whoas’ have carted the whole of the whispering loveliness away 
Half the Spring, for me, will have gone with them. 

It is going now, and my heart has been struck with the hearts of the planes; 
Half my life it has beat with these, in the sun, in the rains,    
             In the March wind, the May breeze, 
In the great gales that came over to them across the roofs from the great seas. 
             There was only a quiet rain when they were dying; 
             They must have heard the sparrows flying,   
And the small creeping creatures in the earth where they were lying— 
             But I, all day, I heard an angel crying: 
             ‘Hurt not the trees.’

image:  Tree Huggers, TreeSisters

Friday, October 16, 2015

Gathering Madonnas


. loving the brief visit of rain
. wearing flannel
. gathering madonnas—by Perugino, Botticelli, and Piero della Francesca
. coming across a recipe for muscat grape tart
. baking sheep Amaretto cookies
. learning that centaur in the constellation Sagittarius, hunter with an artist's soul, was either a friend of Gilgamesh or son of Pan, raised with Muses
. placing meditation cushions in my story and behind my back this afternoon, while meditating on the Oliveira painting of sun rays, and then a Japanese maple
. giving my character Moroccan fried eggs for his breakfast, remembering the little place around the corner from us on Columbus in New York
. rereading The Professor's House, remembering how much I love Willa Cather
. learning about cooking with lemon leaves, apparently common in Italy
. counting my blessings

image:  Piero della Francesca, Madonna del Parto

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Grace of the World

"Try to be someone upon whom
nothing is lost!"

—Henry James
 Looking for inspiration today, keeping an eye out for things literary, things historical, things heavy with time, I come across this Wendell Berry poem, and Jane Hirshfield's heartfelt recipe for lentilsboth at the same time earthy and heavenly.  I love the images together—the mossy gate, the day-blind stars, the carrots and onions and goat cheese that go into the poet's soup.

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, from "The Peace of Wild Things"

The grace of the world is everywhere; "god is in the details."  And so I scoop up all the gathered bits and put them in my own soup of the day (remembering that I must soon bring out the cookbook of monastery soups, and chop in earnest, not just in my heart and mind).
“Don't pass it by—the immediate, the real, the only, the yours.”
—Henry James

image:  Gaia's Grace