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QUINTESSENCE

Threshold Between Worlds

BOTH WORLDS

Forever busy, it seems,
with words,
finally
I put the pen down

and crumple
most of the sheets
and leave one or two,
sometimes a few,

for the next morning.
Day after day -
year after year -
it has gone on this way,

I rise from the chair,
I put on my jacket
and leave the house
for that other world -

the first one,
the holy one -
where the trees say
nothing the toad says

nothing the dirt
says nothing and yet
what has always happened
keeps happening:

the trees flourish,
the toad leaps,
and out of the silent dirt
the blood-red roses rise.


- Mary Oliver

This is a beautiful time of year. Even if you stand, as many do, on the threshold of crisis, unsure of your next step, may you find comfort as I have in the truth of Mary Oliver's simple observation, "out of the silent dirt the blood-red roses rise."

Take a moment. Leave your work, set aside worry, step gratefully into the world. We exist at the threshold of possibility.
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Rewaking

Ladyslipper
THE REWAKING
Sooner or later
we must come to the end
of striving

to re-establish
the image the image of
the rose

but not yet
you say extending the
time indefinitely

by
your love until a whole
spring

rekindle
the violet to the very
lady's-slipper

and so by
your love the very sun
itself is revived.


- William Carlos Williams

The theme of renewal this month - of spirit, heart, and mind - has a beautiful resonance. The limning of new green on the tree branches outside my study speaks to the budding within of hope and expectation. There is something about spring that nudges us to get on with it. To pluck our rusty dreams up and tinker them back into play. To rethink the impossible or the challenging and build a bridge to somewhere. To throw the window open and breathe deep of sunshine and the dazzling colors of spring.

This poem by William Carlos Williams is a favorite. "The Rewaking" reminds me that some essential essence of life and joy may be re-found through the mysteries of love. That perceived reality and the invisible real dance in many robes of perception, and the presence of happiness reshapes all things. The poet speaks of love as a force of nature, capable of reviving even the sun. And so we pause, and notice the new violet in the garden. We rekindle joy, restore what weariness may have caused us to believe forever lost, and come again to "the image the image of the rose."
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Solitaire


BEARING THE LIGHT
by Denise Levertov

Rain-diamonds, this winter morning,
embellish the tangle of unpruned
pear-tree twigs; each solitaire,
placed, it appears, with considered
judgement, bears the light
beneath the rifted clouds -- the indivisible
shared out in endless abundance.


I love this poem for the imagery -- rain-diamonds -- and the concept of light, intense and undeniable, a force or perhaps presence, cast freely into the world. Light, magnified and scattered with considered judgement through uncounted natural solitaires. One thinks of not just literal raindrops sparkling on naked pear-tree branches in the winter light, but of each living thing. The prism of light cast into the world. Our human presence, each solitaire embellishing the universe with our brilliant, bright individual lives. In the coming weeks, in the slow limning of the bare branch in tender green and velvet bud as the sun returns from the south, let us hold close this pure and simple imagery. Rain-diamonds on tangled twigs.

In every day of every month, in each corner of sky and earth, seek the light and praise the solitaire. Let us gather the joy, share it widely, be light-filled and welcome light into our lives, the indivisible shared out in endless abundance.

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A Floating Transparency

Runner in the clouds. The Jungfrau, The Bernese Alps, Switzerland
At work on the novel in progress at my desk, editing and rewriting from revision notes, I chanced to revisit a post written near the beginning of an earlier project. At that time I faced the challenges of the blank page. Much of that novel was worked out on the trails that cut across the bluff near my house. Three years and a novel later, after laying down several drafts and as many complete revisions on this new writing project, I have the added benefit of two draft reviews from outside readers, each read from different but complementary perspectives.

There are manuscript questions for the writer anchored to grammar, plot, and character distinctions, and there are matters of intent, the art of language, and theme. I deeply appreciate both perspectives. I gleaned the most however from an insightful read by a national book critic. This kind of wholistic review, from a professional who reads widely and with an eye to what makes a book work, proved invaluable in understanding the big picture narrative. And yet, and yet. The final answers are found on the bluff.

Some thoughts from January 2014~

Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would not otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man would have dreamed would come his way. I have learned a deep a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets: 'Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin now."

- W. H. Murray, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition

This essay by Scottish mountaineer W. H. Murray, collected by Steven Pressfield in a little gem of a creative kick-starter titled, "The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles," explores the mystery of the power of commitment. When we choose, we accomplish. When we commit, we begin. We undertake the necessary steps to move forward from intention to deed.

Many poets and writers -- Wordsworth, Whitman, Yeats, and of course Thoreau, Emerson, and Oliver -- understood physical movement as preparation for deep thinking. A preamble to engagement. Walking through hoar-frosted grasses beneath an oyster-colored sky of low cloud this morning, I caught myself problem solving, working a tenacious creative dilemma, unaware my conscious mind had defaulted to autopilot. A floating transparency linked my body and winter and movement through space. Far down the trail I had my problem solved simultaneous with an awareness of a nearby crow, the knowledge hawks actively hunt crows, and appreciation for a grand pine frosted in white, its clustered needles encased in frozen fog.

In running, a calm inner balance rises from the primary focus on breathing and stride. Like meditation, this single and simple focus, running, restructures the overburdened, fragmented mind. As concentration relaxes into a rhythmic groove, we release actively piloting the run. Mental chatter falls to the wayside, big ideas step forward, stress seeps away. On a vigorous extended walk, the rhythmic physical groove finds us sooner, with less effort. The mind leans back, trusting in the body's instinctual balance, and begins to surf the mental intranet. In this state the mind observes, pages through phrases and ideas, and effortlessly connects the random and mysterious. For me, running is a form of mental strength training while a walk is a free-climb.

How does this insight impact productivity habits? I begin with this straightforward question: What is needed? A break or a reboot, inspiration or new thinking? Beginning a work project has multiple entry points, with differing yields. Am I facing distraction? Do I need to open my thinking and push through a creative block? Pace my focus through a long haul effort?

I believe there are patterns within all of us that enhance thought and breath, movement and idea. What works for you?
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As It Should Be

My two beloveds, Kate and David, 2008

SOLSTICE MOON
- by G. Scotford Miller

Outside the window
the full moon
shines though the clouds
and yet
always waxing or waning,
is never truly full
but for a fleeting moment.

And yet
the perfect companion
is always present.
Above
or
below the horizon,
always as it should be, present
or waiting.

Concealed or revealed,
perfection
the constant companion,
more common than many
appreciate.

I know.


Winter Solstice. And indeed, as we mark the beginning of winter the days end early in deep velvet dark. What I love about northern winter is the still, enfolding quiet. The hush on the landscape that snow brings. I appreciate the clarity. The crisp, sharp edges of cold. The glittering white, steel gray, slate blue beauty. Nature's delicate craftsmanship, revealed in the embroidered crystals within a single snowflake, the hoar frost on the cattail. The marine hues of winter sunsets that remind one of the secret interiors of abalone shells.

The holiday song "I'll Be Home for Christmas" has become one of my very favorites over time. As my children have grown, left home and begun their own lives, their gathering at the holidays holds a special meaning. Where once sentimental and traditional Christmas festivities were for the children, now I feel they are for parents -- those of us who have gently let our children go. The holidays bring the joys of family back home, at least for the holidays.

In Solstice Moon, the poet reminds us that the promise is always present...concealed or revealed. I like to think the bonds of love between couples, families, friends, people and their pets -- any love you can imagine -- are the poet's constant moon, always present, even in the comings and goings of busy lives, distance or separation. We are linked at the heart, my friends. A timeless and limitless bond. Geography and years matter not.

So rest in joy. As the poet writes, life is always as it should be. It is our task to keep our eyes on the horizon and our lives warmed by hope.

Love to you all this holiday season.
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When It's Very Cold

STOPPING BY THE WOODS ON A SNOWY EVENING
by Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.


This famous and beloved Frost poem is one my great uncle kept earmarked in a book of poems in his sprawling white farmhouse -- the family homestead on the Palouse. I remember the book of poems well. And my uncle, reading in the winter by the lamp on the reading table next to the picture window. Indeed, the woods, lovely, dark, and deep, are as familiar to those of us who live in the Pacific Northwest and the rolling hills of the Palouse as New Hampshire and the northern woods were to Frost, and you, wherever you may look out on the trees of winter.

I love the imagery in this poem. The cold quiet. The slight flurry of snow swirling through the trees, the impatient horse jingling his harness. One can see the frosted breath of man and horse in the air. The long fields of white, the village in the distance. Together we pause, and reflect. And eventually, begin again to make our way.

These times are grave and dark, my friend. There is no denying the dire state of the world and all that is not good. But today, I ask you to linger, to stop by the woods on your hectic way and deeply feel the quiet. Enjoy the beauty of what you see. Let us be thankful for the constancy of nature, the seasons, and the warm embrace of those we love. Can you hear the bells of the days to come? The promise of tomorrows? And miles to go before I sleep... Yes. But there is this moment. Today.

THINGS THAT ARE GOOD IN COLD WEATHER --
PJs
Hot Drinks
Fireplace
Hoar Frost
Creaking wood
Crisp air
Mittens
Furry pets
Animal tracks in snow
Soup
Books

A friend chimed in with
Knitting projects
Perry Mason reruns on the television

Another added --
Old radio
Working in the shed
Strumming my guitar
Roasting something in the oven

And more --
Ice Skating
Reeds on the banks of frozen ponds
Quilts
Cozy sweaters
Thick socks
Icicles
The call of geese
Sledding
The silhouettes of trees

Perhaps today you can build your own list, or feel free to add to mine. Enjoy the pause. There's such beauty in winter time. Joy, right where you are. I see you there, standing by your window with your coffee, gazing out at the snowy cold. Hello.



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Stiller than Silence

Flowers of Gutenberg

FLOWERS BEFORE DARK
Stillness of flowers. Colors
a slow intense fire, faces
cool to the touch, burning.
Massed flowers in dusk, crimson,
magenta, orange,
unflickering furnace, gaze
unswerving, innocent scarlet,
ardent white, afloat
on late light, serene passion
stiller than silence.

- Denise Levertov

Levertov's inexplicable phrase, "serene passion/ stiller than silence," holds my attention. Passion contained, passion within the boundaries of serenity? And how do we reach this point of perfect disequilibrium, or is it equilibrium, a point tipped between motion and emotion, tranquility and fierceness?

I believe I've felt something that speaks of it. You may have as well. A glancing, tingling, rooted awareness. That says, This. Here. Now.

Invisible ribbons, threads and slips of awareness stiller than silence. The Real twists about us continuously - shimmering, shadowed, translucent, opaque. Mist grazing skin on a solitary run. Wind across crevassed black rock. Dozing, deep in the crook of a beloved's arm. Splintered sunlight across snow.

I admire Levertov's work for many reasons, but particularly for her balletic wordplay. Powerful en pointe verbal arabesques, light and free, pour through poems like "Flowers Before Dark." An exaltation of light. The unfettered sensuality of color. The exuberance of nature, unnamed. The length of view in the meaning of before dusk.

The passion of what it is to be alive.
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One Certain Day of Autumn


VARIATION ON A THEME BY RILKE
[The Book of Hours, Book I, Poem I, Stanza I]
by Denise Levertov

A certain day became a presence to me;
there it was, confronting me - a sky, air, light:
a being. And before it started to descend
from the height of noon, it leaned over
and struck my shoulder as if with
the flat of a sword, granting me
honor and a task. The day's blow
rang out, metallic - or was it I, a bell awakened,
and what I heard was my whole self
saying and singing what it knew: I can.


Autumn in the northern latitudes is my favorite season with its brilliantly hued afternoons of slanted light, the warmth of the earth slow to rise and long to linger. The sun is bright but scraped of its blistering heat, the days crisp at the edges. September skies can be so hard a blue the light deflects and skitters away while white nimbus clouds pile into low slow banks on the horizon on their stately march.

This is a time of preparation, renewal, and focus. Monarch butterflies begin their global migration to Mexico. The field mouse scurries to gather seeds, the squirrels stuff nuts into holes excavated about the yard. Overhead the Canadian geese are on wing, their southern flight marked by a chorus of honking. The singing birds dart to the feeder, building fat reserves, their summer songs set aside. Nature offers its harvest bounty and we gather it in.

Feel the gathering of energies, the tingle of change in your bones.

Levertov's poem speaks of acute wholeness, aliveness, presence. I feel this exquisitely in autumn. Now is the season of epic journeys. The new school year somersaults childhood forward a year, the days of rest and play set aside. The change in seasons signals an accounting and an assessment, a refresh of goals, and plans for tomorrows yet to come. We gather and tend and set aside. What is there yet to do? What is there that must be done? What do we dream of?

Autumn strikes a bell that all may hear. If we listen, we hear the tone within ourselves. What does the sound of your whole self ringing sing to you?
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One Wing of the Silence

Ortigia, Sicily

XLIV
by Pablo Neruda

You must know that I do not love you, and that I love you,
because everything alive has its two sides;
a word is one wing of the silence,
fire has its cold half.

I love you in order to begin to love you,
to start infinity again
and never stop loving you:
that's why I do not love you yet.

I love you, and I do not love you, as if I held
keys in my hand: to a future of joy -
a wretched, muddled fate -

My love has two lives, in order to love you:
that's why I love you when I do not love you,
and also why I love you when I do.


The last heat of summer glances off the hard enamel sky and the late summer grasses are bleached the color of dust. All the tender green on the trees has been leached away by the hungry sun. I walk the bluff, thinking about the human heart and our desire to protect it, and keep its secrets, and yet somehow remain open and willing to trust.

We yearn to be in a state of love yet fight against the vulnerability of surrender as does the drowning man combat the surf. The heart seems to always be searching. Turning over each leaf, each stone. I once thought this search was uninformed, reflexive, blind. I suspect it is anything but. In time we learn to trust the instinct at our core and to translate what the heart has found.

The human heart takes the hand and leads the way when rightness is present. Rightness meaning alignment. When the centeredness of our being resonates as a whole. No division of soul versus ego, or mind versus emotion. Think of how the willow switch vibrates over the course of hidden water, so too does the heart divine love. The human brain seeks reassurance in equations, spreadsheets, cross-lists, the satisfaction of endless rationales: the heart vibrates within us like the tuning fork at perfect pitch.

Heart and mind are frequently at odds. We make mistakes, omissions, blunders of innocence, and sometimes ignorance. We extricate ourselves from things our brains advised but our hearts never blessed, things our egos crave when our hearts fold closed. Perhaps, and worst of all, we leave behind the very thing the heart most desires because the mind is not convinced. There is no harmony of self.

Under the soles of my shoes, red dirt rises in little dust devils that settle on the dry leaves of the trees along the trail. The mistakes of my heart are also as dust rising from my steps. They both mark passage and are the mark of time. Footprints through life. What comes of our hunger for love, is in the end, a matter of interior mystery and personal history. The answer for each of us lies in the place our steps begin and end.

A word is one wing of the silence.
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Synchronicity With Mystery

Mt. Shasta, dawn

WAKING THIS MORNING DREAMLESS AFTER LONG SLEEP
by Jane Hirschfield

But with this sentence:
"Use your failures for paper."
Meaning, I understood,
the backs of failed poems, but also my life.

Whose far side I begin now to enter -

A book imprinted without seeming reason,
each blank day bearing on its reverse, in random order,
the mad-set type of other.
December 12, 1960. April 4, 1981. 13th of August, 1974 -

Certain words bleed through to the unwritten pages.
To call this memory offers no solace.

"Even in sleep, the heavy millstones turning."

I do not know where the words come from,
what the millstones,
where the turning may lead.

I, a woman forty-five, beginning to gray at the temples,
putting pages of ruined paper
into a basket, pulling them out again.


On our last morning at the lake this year, the unmistakable honk and beating wings of silver-bellied Canadian geese rose from the far cove. The geese were not straggled loosely, aligned casual arrows heaving across the sky as is customary, but carved in their flight close to shore. Low to the water, their V formation tipped on its side, they skimmed beyond the shore pines above the water's edge as the bats at twilight do.

And again this morning in the city I awoke to the call of geese breaking across the dawn. How is it these migrating birds infallibly mark the new crisp in the air? Do they taste the coming wet cold I have inhaled deeply on my early morning hikes? Season after season the geese know when it is time to veer southward. They keep synchronicity with mystery.

It is here: the changing of the season.

I was born in the autumn and it has always been my favorite time of year. I am partial to the slant and slow mellow gold of light, the deepening colors of the earth. But as I age, and turn over longer pages of days, and life, writing and rewriting on the backs of other days and discarded moments, I notice I've begun to tune to the subtle change of seasons. Particularly the glide from summer into autumn. Before winter.

I too, have turned from late summer into fall, and stand at the edge of winter. Each passing season, which once I believed I possessed in abundance, now feels quite precious.

I take my fill of the hours of each day. I linger. I do not rush them onward and into the next. I hold back a little. Try to draw the days and weeks and months closer. I have just begun to understand how to use this life I have been given. And I am grateful.

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