Quintessence ~ the essence of a thing in its purest and most concentrated form. Substance composing the celestial bodies.

The shoes that climbed Gonergrat, Switzerland


The Tech of Connection

November 12, 2015

Tags: the moderns, art and creation, intention, solitude, finding joy

"An honest answer is the sign of true friendship."
~ Anonymous

"We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us."
~ Marshall McLuhan

I was chatting with a small group of friends on Twitter recently about human nature, determinism (fate), and what it takes to meaningfully change personal unwanted patterns. The conversation explored the weight of what is predetermined in our given natures versus aspects that remain fluid and open to change; the role of choice and awareness in navigating personal habit, and identifying our "default settings." Needless to say it was a broad, and for me, meaningful conversation.

It struck me then how geography (proximity) has become less important as the Internet changes the nature of communication. Neighborhood pot lucks, the club dance, bridge games and golf foursomes, the exchange of letters and the Sunday visit - these activities dominated my grandparents' generation. Since then, letters have gone the way of email, and paperless post notifications cover everything from meetings to weddings. The post-business day get-together takes place in quick hellos at the school fair, the gym, work conferences. In my daughter's twenty-something generation, Facebook, Twitter, and sites like LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram, create social connection. Updates occur throughout the day, but as my daughter commented, once college ends and careers begin, friends scatter to distant locations. FaceTime has replaced the in-person visit: from grandparents staying in touch with distant grandchildren, to catching up with an old friend on an opposite coast.

So what does all this mean? Are we more or less connected in a meaningful way? Do serious conversations like the one on Twitter count?

Curiously, we are more connected than ever with our professional colleagues, the mere acquaintance, the long distance friend, and perhaps less so with immediate family and loved ones. Relationships are squeezed into brief status updates throughout the day, quick snaps of soccer games and weddings. A few of my friends speak more to their spouses by text message than at home over dinner. Better? Worse? How do you judge? A girlfriend of mine recently remarked that she wasn't surprised she'd broken up with her boyfriend by text massage because it started with a text.

As a society we are raising a generation that will navigate their entire lives through technology ever more absent of the importance (and nuance) of physical contact. My daughter observed that disagreements among her friends begin on social media, spread like wildfire through their networks and abruptly finish with a communication "block." Tech messaging is not couched in the empathetic personal. Digital grammar (or its lack) is frequently dense, stark, and the abbreviated shorthand can derail a message. We read the succinct message and think, What are they really saying here? How do you read between the lines of a 140 character Tweet? Is that sarcasm, gentleness, wryness, or anger embedded in that Facebook update or text? This dislocated communication can be especially difficult in times of stress or disagreement.

"Point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding," stated Marshall McLuhan, the well-known Canadian philosopher of communication theory. Social media is packaged without the physical cues and verbal subtleties that allow us to read between the lines and determine the real message in the medium. And no, emoticons do not count. (But they may help.) The convenience and ease of modern communication is a definite plus, but the loss of face-to-face contact costs us something. As anyone who has met up with a treasured friend at a street corner or a coffee shop will attest - nothing replaces shared laughter, the meaning relayed in a glance, the quick touch of a hand.

The answer is to remember we are people. We are feeling beings. By all means let's use technology to expand and keep connections open, remembering it is our voices and hugs that send voltage down the wire.


November 4, 2015

Tags: loss, intention, the moderns, solitude, grief, presence

WALLS (1897)
by C.P. Cavafy

Without pity, without shame, without consideration
they've built around me enormous, towering walls.

And I sit here now in growing desperation.
This fate consumes my mind, I think of nothing else:

because I had so many things to do out there.
O while they built the walls, why did I not look out?

But no noise, no sound from the builders did I hear.
Imperceptibly they shut me off from the world without.

I want to tell you the story of a girl, in her mid-twenties, who died this weekend. She was brought into a trauma center Emergency Department in the afternoon, by her friends, who hadn't noticed soon enough she was no longer breathing. Her heart had stopped. Perhaps for too long. Heroin, and valium. They abandoned her then; without leaving even her name. They never came back.

The hospital staff brought her back three times: holding her pulse, holding her to life. My daughter, working emergency CPR, said she was too thin. You felt her ribs cracking beneath your hands. The girl did not make it. My daughter came home from the hospital that night and cried. She's just a medical student, after all. Her own age...the feeling of the ribs...the futile effort. No one wanted to give up.

I said to my daughter, Let's call her April. I think she loved the spring.

It was just a feeling I had. Imagining the probable story of addiction, aloneness, moments of yearning for the walls to come down, to do and see and be all that might be waiting in life. This girl, I felt, believed in spring. Believed in a spring of her own some day. I listened to my girl pour her heart out, knowing she would never forget this young woman.

No one should die unknown or unnamed. Let's call her April, I said. I think she loved the spring.

April is not an unknown. Not to me, especially not to my daughter. I do not know if anyone mourns April. I don't know if her soul is headed into the earth or to a desired rebirth - a chance to try again, better. Perhaps she has simply run her race; ended the life that somehow was built around her, without ever looking over that wall. But I do know she will not be forgotten. Not by us. And I hope if you're reading this, not by you. Say a little prayer for April, will you? Put a flower in a vase perhaps. Light a candle, read a poem.

And if you encounter a wall, or someone trapped behind one - step around it, look over it, lend a hand. For April.

*In keeping with applicable medical privacy regulations, any identifying information has been removed or changed - GB

A Warrior and A Monk

October 28, 2015

Tags: art and creation, love, intention, presence, finding joy

Bust of Alexander, Museum of Athens

Some things
you know all your life. They are simple and true
they must be said without elegance, meter, and rhyme,
they must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker,
the glass of water, the absence of light gathering
in the shadows of picture frames, they must be
naked and alone, they must stand for themselves.

- from "The Simple Truth," Philip Levine

I have shared this stanza of Philip Levine's poem "The Simple Truth," before with you. If you are not familiar with Levine's work, please, when you have a moment, read through the entire poem. And then perhaps browse the complete poetry collection by the same title. Levine's poems are earthy, powerful, they sear in your brain, they are moving. Distinct and subtle. Levine is sometimes referred to as the working man's poet. A tribute to his attention to the ordinary hours, to working lives, our empathy for the fates of others.

This stanza is about many things, but I often find myself coming back as I read to a reflection on core values such as loyalty, fidelity, love. The musculature and the power of attachment.

The human heart is capable of great patience, tremendous tenacity. It stretches, it builds - ever so slowly - like bone in the new body. All is a journey, this life. Connection and partnership; the hand-bricked construction of family. Our selves evolve into new ways of being, taking unique shape within the lives we lead. It is the simple truth to say that living is about ever-becoming. And while neither easy nor pristinely beautiful, and certainly not perfect in its process, for each one of us becoming is absolutely of whole and perfect intent. Perfect in joy, grounded in earth, heaven, and the never-ending soul. The human heart is a warrior and a monk. And it speaks a simple truth. Belong.

As we enter the quiet months of winter, listen to the song your life is singing. Speak the things you know to be true. Make these truths the pillars of conscious living.

Let the beauty we love be what we do. - Rumi

The Solo and the Chorus

October 22, 2015

Tags: art and creation, nature, intention, finding joy

after Gabriel Mistral

by Maggie Smith

I began as one cricket singing
one song. Soon we were all singing,
The dusk was unintelligible.

I hadn't moved, but suddenly I was lost.
Which song is my song? Which cricket am I?

I will never be one cricket again.
I could wait for midnight's silences
and try to fill them. I could stop singing

and listen to the little me-shaped hole
torn in the roaring twilight. The sound

of me missing might be clearer
than my song. I could gift it to the night,
which misses its dear, departed silences.

Even the stars quiver on their own
high frequency. I'm sure they're lost, too.

This poem by Maggie Smith spoke to me today. I felt lost...a song in my own ear I could not hear in the world. We are, all of us I believe, acutely aware of the numbers of us struggling, competing, and practicing in our fields. The writers working, publishing, and singing their songs into the world. The number of musicians playing alone in their studios, recorded on YouTube, performing before a handful of others in cafes, alone for you on your headset. There are thousands of corporate experts, corporate leaders, start-up entrepreneurs from city to city. Uncounted actors on stages everywhere. Thinkers and teachers in universities, all the way down to the first grader puzzling out the alphabet.

Who will hear my song? Which song am I? Which me is me?

There are so many of us we feel drowned out by our numbers. Yet we are amplified by our chorus, powerful in unison. Smith's poem addresses the dichotomy between distinct individuality and the gathering of individuals in which what is distinct becomes lost. The feeling that the tiny hole left in the larger chorus if there were no "me" might be easier to pick out than our song.

It's hard to feel personal effort or individual work matters. We all tell the same stories over and again. Sure, striving for fresh and interesting, but, the same story. As are the songs, and the combinations of paint, and the marketing plans, the fashion design, the options in which engineers move wheels, raise walls, design thrust. Solos make the chorus.

Even the stars quiver on their own
high frequency. I'm sure they're lost too.

In this stanza Smith circles back around to a collective idea of brilliance. Stars, not star. Unknowable wondrous pinpoints of light. How do we keep track of our singular selves in a sky, a solar system, a galaxy, a universe formed of a plentitude of multiples? We shall always see ourselves from the smallness of one.

Listen to the little me-shaped hole/torn in the roaring twilight.

I love this tiny final thought Smith tosses into her lament, that we may gift our mute presence to the night, to "its dear, departed silences." We exist, Smith seems to say, in both song and silence.

We begin as one, singing one song.

Emptying the Tank

October 15, 2015

Tags: nature, patterns, solitude, intention, art and creation

North Sea at sunset
by May Sarton

Low tide -
The sea's slow motion,
The surge and slur
Over rocky shingle.

A few gulls ride
Rocking-horse waves.

Under blurred gray sky
The field shines white.

I am not available
At the moment
Except to myself.

Downstairs the plumber
Is emptying the big tank,
The pump pumped on and on
And might have worn out.

So many lives pour into this house,
Sometimes I get too full;
The pump wears out.

So now I am emptying the tank.
It is not an illness
That keeps me from writing.
I am simply staying alive
As one does
At times taking in,
At times shutting out.

Isn't this poem beautiful? To think of ourselves, the way Sarton observes, as full and changing as the sea. One moment surging with the flotsam of experience borne from the day; the next, emptying at low-tide, souls following the gulls out to sea.

The stanzas above come from a longer work in May Sarton's final book of poetry, "Halfway to Silence." Sarton spoke of this writing project as a period of rich imagery and lyrical poetry, prompted, she felt, by a keen awareness of the starkness of her own old age and the often violent passage of earthly seasons. How age may leave us battered by the endless cycles of nature's unpredictable chaos. We are endlessly vulnerable to the turns of nature, to these elemental forces we superficially understand and do not at all control. We are guests on this earth, and in our bodies, and among the most fragile. We learn this, it seems, every generation.

Sarton's poem settled in my thoughts this morning as I sat at my writing desk, not writing but thinking. Out my window the gentle presence of a warm, sun-filled morning, among the few left in the year, beckoned. Yet I felt pensive, weary from a long weekend of travel. What strange, almost surreal weightlessness; floating between my fatigue and the beauty beyond. The seasons were turning and I was not. Not so much water-logged as life-logged. There will be harsh, challenging months ahead as winter settles in. There will likely be difficulties and setbacks in the weeks and months to come in our personal lives as well.
Light and dark, warmth and cold.
Assertive and receptive, strong and vulnerable.

What is ordinary is this natural state of flux.

The seasons change and change back again. Nature continuously offers us grace and continuity. Sarton writes, "I lift my eyes/ To the blue/ Open-ended ocean./ Why worry?/ Some things are always there." She observes that as nature takes, she gives, and all things find equilibrium. "Sometimes I get too full.../At times taking in,/At times shutting out."

We must open to the ebb and flow of energy, open to the slow curve of understanding, be willing to release our frustration with the incomprehensible. It is our ability to lift our eyes above mayhem and suffering, to look to the constants - to the poet's ocean - that gives us faith in this world. We must trust in the serenity beneath the turmoil; rebuild upon the hope and constancy within the chaos of change. And sometimes, like Sarton, we need to become unavailable to any but ourselves. Empty the tank. "So many lives pour into this house."

I hope that wherever you are in the demands of the day, or the turn of seasons, you love your wildness. Solace and inspiration abide in our place in nature and the world.

Old Thread, Old Line

October 8, 2015

Tags: art and creation, intention, the moderns, patterns, solitude

Old thread, old line
of ink twisting out into the clearness
we call space
where are you leading me this time?
Past the stove, the table,
past the daily horizontal
of the floor, past the cellar,
past the believable,
down into the darkness
where you reverse and shine.

- Margaret Atwood, from Down

At a recent creative writing workshop, a gristled middle-aged man wearing a cabled fisherman's sweater, bagged at the elbows, and smudged half-glasses, lifted the nicotine-stained fingers of his right hand and asked me with a bit of a hesitancy in his speech, "How do you know you have an idea worth writing about?"

The pat answer, the one you hear repeated at conference panels, is the question flipped back on itself. "Does it inspire you? Do you feel passionate about your idea? If you do, then dive in and write what only you can."

I have no real problem with this response. In most ways, it is true. Our best ideas are almost always the ones we believe in with all our heart. Passion will lift an idea from flat ink on the page into a three-dimensional vision. It takes our senses, mastery of time, truthful detail, and human drama to tell a good story for our readers. Is passion enough? Can a story be successfully constructed without it?

Writers are a hardy lot, self-disciplined, committed to work even when inspiration fails. Willing to drum up enthusiasm when inspiration lags. I knew my gentlemen with the pipe was asking more than what particular subjects to consider.

He thumped his laptop, asked, "What works?"

He wanted to know what projects would be successful. In truth, I began toying with the ideas in this post back in October of 2013. The business of writing to publish occurs on a level beyond what is a good, passionate story on the page. An acquisitions editor reads for more than the well-executed novel or short story. The editor's interest in a manuscript is often a phenomenon of timeliness, of fresh and unexpected writing, innovative storytelling, the year's published books. Many editors are actively searching for something they can love - that undefinable "word magic" - that something extra that takes a work of private solitary imagination and lifts it into the world of published books and the hands of readers.

The answer to my gentleman's question, the answer to what follows "Are you passionate about your story?", is this simple, not-so-easy qualifier, "Can you write this idea so that others will feel about your story as you do?"

At the end of reading a novel submission, an editor has his or her answer in hand. On this basis, proposals are judged as well. If you are fortunate to have your "yes," what follows is amazing, important, industry interest in your fledgling project. Old-fashioned word of mouth enthusiasm is still the way your editor wins advance support within the publishing house: collecting author blurbs, sending out your book to reviewers, to bookstore owners, and others whose opinions influence what we read. Success depends on readers falling in love. It's quite the journey your unique story, the idea you were so passionate about, undertakes to arrive in Aunt Edna's hands.

You do the work, and the work then takes on a life of its own. Margaret Atwood's imagery of inked lines flying from the table, past the believable to that point at which words shine, is one I return to frequently when I think how grateful I am to the professionals I work with in publishing.

They hear our words. And pass the magic on to readers everywhere.

How We Work

September 30, 2015

Tags: art and creation, intention, patterns, solitude

Richard Long, "Summer Circle." Stone installation.
Just as appetite comes by eating, so work brings inspiration, if inspiration is not discernible at the beginning.
- Igor Stravinsky

It was Emile Zola who kept a motto in his workroom: Null dies sine linea. "No day without line.' He wrote one thousand to fifteen hundred words a day, until in thirty-one years he finished with businesslike dispatch something like twenty-five novels and twenty-three other books. When you have nothing to say, you write anyway, if only to keep in practice.
- Sophy Burnham

Are you working?

Perhaps, like me you've been bouncing back and forth between intense spurts of work and fallow dips not quite procrastination, not quite inspiration. Creating anything is tough. Being your own boss is tough. Combining the two is a little like stalking a bird that comes only unbidden. There are good and not so good work patterns, and ways to break in and out of those patterns. This post adds to my earlier posts on this topic.

There are unlimited and divergent arguments for how and when to write, and methods to write your best. There are "sit down and do it" disciplinarians who manage to scratch out something on the page even in the grip of a creative block to make their word counts. And those, Sophy Burnham points out, who find putting pen on paper (fingers on keyboard) plain good practice. Stravinsky believed that simply beginning was the best catalyst: inspiration often arrives in the midst of aimlessness on the page.

Dream the idea and write only when the spark ignites. Is this you? This approach was famously championed by Truman Capote, who confessed, "I am a completely horizontal author. I can't think unless I'm lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee in hand." Many writers, Walt Whitman and Stephen King to name just two, are staunch advocates of active dreaming: long walks or periods of exercise to spur the creative. Others prepare and wait. Agatha Christie cleared a space on a kitchen table - any flat stable surface would do. Some need a blank wall, a closed door, and zero distraction; others, like Harriet Doerr, begin with visual stimulation - "I have everything I need. A square of sky, a piece of stone, a page, a pen, and memory raining down on me in sleeves."

The key to a successful creative work life begins with the acknowledgment that creative effort is exactly that: creativity plus effort. For a writer, it may feel as though the cart fell before the horse to sit down and pound out 500 words without a clue as to what we are going to say. Yet halfway through that paragraph, our theme may announce itself. Musicians find composition riffs frequently follow routine practices, fingers and mind warmed to the task. Painters uncover a fresh color palette or a stroke that inspires. Dancers choreograph in the process of working out better moves. There is some essential element of art that occurs in execution...sparked or partnered by an equally important guiding concept. An idea without an effort remains a fancy, as effort without direction remains aimless. It's a team game.

But back to Capote on his couch and Zola scribbling out his pages... Both writers are maximizing their capabilities. Both men understand how they work their best. Look within to understand the method to get work done. Desperate for inspiration, do we encourage creative flow conceptually, or anchor work to a defined theme or idea? Is "dead time" mental gestation, or procrastination - a question of sitting down and doing the work? The creative individual has to be self-aware, utterly honest, and willing to own the solution to the problem.

What are your musts? Your preferences? How do you ease into your most creative pattern, or do you just drop in and begin?

It took time to realize I work best balanced between two types of writing: PRACTICE writing (journaling, idea sketches, bits of essays, drafts of book reviews) and PURPOSEFUL writing (putting a theme into structure and on the page.) These distinct tasks engage different skills and wells of creative thinking, and somehow cross-fertilize one another. I shrivel faced with a wall without a window or a bit of nature to gaze on. I do need utter quiet, unless I am editing, in which case easy jazz is best. And on days I just don't want to sit down and do any of it, I often don't. That's the day for a hike, for reading, for lying on Capote's couch.

The big lesson has been to TRUST THE FALLOW time. Days of zero output are days of mental work. Ideas gel. The mess in Chapter 20 untangles in the back of our brain even as we step away and dutifully prune the apple tree. The muse hangs out in the moments before sleep, appears mile 5 of our morning run.

Creativity + Effort. It truly doesn't matter which side of the equation we solve for first.


September 24, 2015

Tags: presence, art and creation, intention, finding joy, family, patterns

Ancient Greek Temple, Sicily
by Robert Lowell

Now the midwinter grind
is on me, New York
drills through my nerves,
as I walk
the chewed-up streets.

At forty-five,
what next, what next?
At every corner,
I meet my Father,
my age, still alive.

Father, forgive me
my injuries,
as I forgive
those I
have injured!

You never climbed
Mount Sion, yet left
death-steps on the crust,
where I must walk.

My birthday was a few days past. This poem came to mind because as Lowell writes, there is that thing that happens when we are grown and we arrive at the age of someone important in our lives. Particularly at times of significance in their lives and in our memories of them. I remember turning 23, thinking "This is the age my parents had me and they became a family." Here am I, just out of grad school, wrangling debt and a bicoastal relocation, and barely mature enough to buy a new car, let alone be responsible for a small human. And then at forty-five, the age my father died, thinking, "But I've only begun to live honestly, to figure it all out." What tragedy, I thought, to exit life before reaching completeness. Whole. Defined somehow. And now I've reached another milestone, the age at which someone close to me was diagnosed with cancer and in that year lost that battle.

Would I be ready to face mortality? Right now? To understand life might end, here and now, as complete or incomplete as it may be? Would I be ready to look at all that I love and those I love...and yield? It's a strange and unsettling emotion, living on; walking in the footsteps of time past the last step of someone loved. Lowell writes, "dinosaur death-steps." The hulking enormity of legacy.

I imagine it's not a bad thing to realize we can't take time for granted. Nor is it a terrible thing to assess where we stand in that rainbow reach of dreams and ambitions. Certain things fall away, other things fall in. In truth, it is more important to me now to seek deep certainty about the world. To grasp this thing - life - and the precious people I share living with. I feel responsible, more so now than ever, for the ones I have brought into this world, and the ones I have buried. Did I get it right? Learn what I needed to learn to make the most of this gift?

It is critical now to excise the redundant, the superficial, the waste, the stupidity, the shallow, the ignorance. Yes, it is possible to live life at the level of a so-called reality television show. Lights, camera, drama. But after this scene, or the next, after the entertainment value is extracted, does the beating heart have anything to add to the wisdom carried forward into the next day? The day after that? Each year I am more fully sure that life - whether we live months or decades or a century - stands as witness to the present. Everything about life is in today. This day. Everything that will fulfill us, sustain us, define us - exists in today. Alongside all that is meaningless space garbage adrift in that galaxy between our ears.

On this birthday, the footsteps I walk sing this to me:
Live, live, live, live, live.


September 16, 2015

Tags: intention, nature, presence, solitude, loss, art and creation

Meadow thistle below the Bridge of Primasole, Sicily

by Richard Siken

I looked at all the trees and didnít know what to do.

A box made out of leaves.
What else was in the woods? A heart, closing. Nevertheless.

Everyone needs a place. It shouldnít be inside of someone else.
I kept my mind on the moon. Cold Moon. Long Nights Moon.

From the landscape: a sense of scale.
From the dead: a sense of scale.

I turned my back on the story. A sense of superiority.
Everything casts a shadow.

Your body told me in a dream itís never been afraid of anything.

Fall, with its passion-drunk, scorching ignitions of color that burn across the landscape, slows, as the cold deepens, into mysteries of poetry. Perhaps a yearly melancholy. Acceptance of the inward-looking self. In the quiet hours, poems, themselves fog-like tendrils of smudged meaning and obliterations of shape and form, mirror the mists threaded among the cattails along Latah Creek. What is there, and what is unseen. A landscape recognized; another of illusion and shift.

"War of the Foxes" (Copper River Press), Siken's long-awaited follow-up to "Crush," winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize, states on its book jacket, "Filled with truths and fabrications, the poems in War of the Foxes investigate the fallacies and epiphanies inherent in any search for perfect order or truth. Violently romantic, Silkenís poetry takes the self and turns it, over and over, in an unsettling conflagration of thought, dream, and speech."

Forking over the compost of the self. The hunger for a philosophy of truth.

Detail of the Woods. This opaque, aching poem speaks of lost love to me, and to the singularity of our physical existence in the world. The body, the solitude, the death. And yet the heart. Timeless, nested, connected. How can we be of one truth while only home within the other? Siken writes,"Everyone needs a place." We exist in finite dimensional space, yet we live, we find solace, "inside of someone else." This is true and bleak beauty. A juxtaposition of limitations and boundarylessness. A hypothesis that what we are is both less and more than we know.

The imagery of this poem haunts me. A box made out of leaves. Both suggestive of a coffin in the earth and the closing in of a vast unfamiliar forest around our narrator, defining his solitude, his existential isolation. I turned my back on the story. Havenít we all, at one point or another in our relationships, done the same? Accept the fact, discard the myth. Abandon the intangible and dwell on what is real. A sense of scale.

Lastly there is our awareness of the loss imprinted within the loss. The decision to let go, to forget. To excise our attachment. Cold Moon. Long Nights Moon.

A heart, closing.

Summer's Last Song, McDuff

September 9, 2015

Tags: nature, patterns, solitude, art and creation, presence

On roadsides,
in fall fields,
in rumpy bunches,
saffron and orange and pale gold...

- from "Goldenrod," Mary Oliver, Blue Iris, 2004

I hiked the bluff trails early this morning breathing in the crisping of the air that in the mountains the coming fall brings to the lingering summer. The trails were absent of a certain joy - absent my dog, McDuff, that sturdy little wheaten Scottie. McDuff passed in December of 2012; the years since marked by the absence of his beautiful presence at my side. Perhaps it's silly to mourn a dog. Perhaps. But today I dedicate my blog post to McDuff, and revisit a post from late summer 2010, when all our trails were still before us.

September 3, 2010:
Yesterday afternoon McDuff and I headed out to the bluff, lulled outdoors by a late afternoon warmth and the pools of mellow light that fell through the trees. As we walked through the wild oat and dried thistle, the hillside around us caught an angle of light in a palette of caramel, dusty tan, and white yellow: the sweetness of summer at its fullest. Fall hovers at the edge of the valley in the crisp mornings and cool nights, but here on the bluff summer holds court.

As we walked, a wordless song played through my thoughts. Duff fell behind, his nose in a rabbit hole. I stopped and stood a moment, looking across the valley. A raven cry drifted up from somewhere near the creek and I was filled with an inexplicable happiness. As if everything truly had its moment, and this moment had now. My thoughts touched on my son and daughter, far away, their lives anchoring down in the new school term at university. I felt the width of time, the slow erasure of geography, the delicate knots and stitches that bind us, one to another.

Here, the final stanzas of Mary Oliver's poem, "Goldenrod" -

I was just minding my own business
when I found myself on their straw hillsides,
citron and butter-colored,

and was happy, and why not?
Are not the difficult labors of our lives
full of dark hours?
And what has consciousness come to anyway, so far,

that is better than these light-filled bodies?
All day
on their airy backbones
they toss in the wind,

they bend as though it was natural and godly to bend,
they rise in a stiff sweetness,
in the pure peace of giving
one's gold away.

May all of you find delight in summer's last song.