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QUINTESSENCE

Wednesday Morning, Mid August

First Star - Priest Lake
Good morning, friends.

I'm heading up to the lake on Saturday for two weeks. I cannot begin to tell you how much I need this break from the world. A chance to regroup, rethink, recharge, reassess, recommit. I have promised myself to limit connections by internet: to take each day and absorb it as an experience, not some work data subset. Promised myself not to think about what to do with what comes my way, or how to share it, or why it should matter to anyone but me. I've come off a year of serious work and inner goal-setting and it's time to revisit those points. Do they still matter? Did I complete the work?

I find, looking back on old journals, that I knew myself better back then, back before the era of insta-share. I really understood the days, years, and moments were mine - my life, mine to learn from. Now there is this contemporary tendency to let experience - our personal contact with living - slide right through us into the greater pool of human busyness. What makes for great reading for others (these bits we share are, after all, stories), is in truth the giving of ourselves away without letting anything stick.

I plan to let things stick the next two weeks. To read the books I have stacked and set aside for a windfall of time. To read the poetry that I love that needs to sit awhile to seep into my soul. I will hike the forests and forage for huckleberries and sleep in the sun on an old wood dock rolling gently on the wake of passing boaters. I will use these days to talk to the ones I love without agenda, in an abundance of time. In the cool mornings take my coffee down to the shore and sit, silent as loons rise and wing across the water. Watch bats at twilight skim over the lake as the first star rises over the rose and lavender Selkirk Mountains. Beach fire nights with a mellow single malt, cosy in an old school sweatshirt, open to the thoughts that rise from within as sparks rise towards the sky and then leave us, or perhaps sink deeper into the fabric of who we are.

Of late the world has reminded me of the fragility of human resilience and the momentum of the tragic. Misfortune and hatred mow down the innocent as well as the brave. I wish for all of you a break from the world. However and wherever you may find it. Yes, the world will need us back, to proffer our small lights and carry on. But for now, seek peace. See you back here soon.

In closing, a post written last year at the lake -
August 26, 2013

MONDAY MORNING, LATE SUMMER
On the fence
in the sunlight,
beach towels.

No wind.

The apricots have ripened
and been picked.
The blackberries have ripened
and been picked.


- Robert Hass, from the poem "Cuttings"

The opening of the chest, the heart chakra - deep breathing and calm rhythms - profoundly affects the mind as well as the body. When we step out of the box, the stress-filled, demanding, unrelenting responsibilities of the 24/7, the break from routine can begin the restoration of the soul. An observer of fifty decades of living, I know the wide empty stretches on life's blue highways are far and few between in this unsettled 21st century. It's no news we live in a plugged-in, high demand, ever-changing, constantly stimulating world. Irregular dry spells, down time, wayside adventures, lags in scheduling - all have disappeared. We are "on" and plugged-in every moment of the day: pinged by messages, expanding lists of to-dos, global information, and social media even when we sleep.

Peace, walking in the silence of tall cedars. Peace, lulled to sleep by waves that lap slowly against the shore. Listen to the creak of wind in the trees. Bird call in the quiet dawn.

Thoreau was a relentless champion of "disconnect and rediscover" for the health of the human soul, and frankly, so am I. I found it interesting to observe my family traveling to our rustic cabin on the lake shore with all four smart phones, two laptops, three iPads, two iPods and one Shuffle. The first day making the long trek down the trail to the nearest wifi center for internet signal, until eventually, mournfully, the acceptance there would never be more than one half-bar of cell service off the lake. At last letting the devices sit in their cases, untouched.

Withdrawal from the digital world is both painful and amusing - catching ourselves automatically engaged in that pointless click to check email, Twitter, FB. The urge to connect releasing, slowly releasing its grip, replaced by long naps, the dulcet jazz of acoustic guitar on the porch, long conversations by wine and candlelight at the picnic table. Time to delve into not just a chapter, but an entire book; board games and cards accompanied by a crackling fire.

We learned the nurturing quality of quiet. The sweet richness of intimate conversation. Walking the mountains. Taking in the whole of life.

We disappear to the cabin every year, coming from wherever we are in the four corners of the world, from whatever education, work, or travel schedules occupy us, ready to find our way back to ourselves. To recharge in the power of tranquility, the open spaces of daydreams, sunny contentment, the deep night and undisturbed sleep. We reconnect not just within, but together. And when the last spider is slapped with a sandal and tossed out the door, when the last delicious huckleberry has made its way to a pancake drizzled in maple syrup, the last pot of camp coffee poured to the dregs - well, then we pack up our beach chairs and book bags and return to the world.

Halfway down the road to civilization the electronics buried in our duffles simultaneously ping, buzzing, downloading in a hive of fury and we have to laugh. The world. It doesn't wait, and it doesn't matter.

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Of Pensive Mood

I WANDERED LONELY AS A CLOUD
by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Outdid the sparkling waves in glee;
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company;
I gazed - and gazed - but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.


A summer of dis-ease. In a series of weeks in which the communities of humanity have groaned and nearly broken under war and plague, where children die in the violence of intolerance and hatred, when entire families fall stricken with death that sweeps the earth like fire, and fires themselves sweep the lands without mercy, I weep. Honestly, is this all we have to show for ourselves? Have we learned and mastered so little of what it means to thrive, to survive?

What of centuries of shaman song, of fishing and planting, weavers and poets? Of unspeakably beautiful marble temples, the stones cut over years of labor, the ancient mythological gods gathering dust under soft museum lights? The impotence of human history taunts me. The impermanence of its wisest voices, the reverends and warrior kings. Has nothing lasting and eternally good accrued from the very minds that gave us geometry, boats to sail the roughest seas, literacy, print, the science of planets, phonographs, power plants, fine wines, and rising GNP? What of Beethoven's symphonies, quantum leaps in technology, breakthrough medical science, the pioneer, the immigrant, prairie schools and anonymous, selfless charity? Genius abounds in the cultures of civilization; enlightenment not so much. Can we not imprint on our hearts ways to coexist, to care for and comfort one another?

This week I find solace in the innocent world itself. In the unexplained and miraculous existence of nature's beauty, unadorned and without commerce, unchained and given to all. William Wordsworth finds me even as he describes himself, "in vacant or in pensive mood." His poem a reminder that no matter what we may do, what ravages of disease or war may come, some part of us yet "dances with the daffodils."

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