In Memory of the Still Living

There are confusing encounters
leaving one gasping for breath,
the mind grasping for understanding;
such is the nature of life and death,
the latter being more recent
in my world of experience;

I eschew addictions, just as they
are sought to resolve what seems
unfathomable to others, and I know
in this life I am meant to demonstrate
more understanding than my petulant
inner child might conjure;
still, it is the most natural direction
in which to gravitate these days,
the world being as unknowable now
as it was then,
and who am I to judge?

Thus when I see this precious one,
once strong and vital, now weak
and yellow and skeletal and all
this happening in the span of a year
in a life too short to be terminal,
feelings arise, and more and yet
more questions on the meaning
of existence;

This time last year, we were wrangling
with thorny bushes that had become
trees, both cursing, he more ardently,
as this was not his first rodeo
in these mountains, and yet there was
laughter, good humor, companionship
of then-strangers taking the measure
of the other’s character;

Loved ones gather now, and I feel
not at all out of place in this tiny trailer
amidst people of a culture I don’t need
to understand; the old man’s body
the main event in the living room,
surrounded by photos of the past,
and who could know fifty years ago
how fate would hold them now
in its thrall?

Two weeks ago, he seemed empty
of life, yet his spirit still felt strong;
today that spirit had its due;
jaundice had receded, and flesh
had mysteriously begun reassembling
on his bones, and once again I marvel
at the same sorts of questions
I have asked all my life,
how does the journey begin
to make sense in the face
of what we are dealt?

Wisdom Watch

On the gentle winds that swirl around,
I hear the echoes of past, present, future,
voices of the ancestors, whispers
only the smallest attenuated bones
of a dog’s ear can hear, but:

Listen;

Just under the threshold of consciousness,
word images form, wisdom that comes
in an archaic language long forgotten,
and yet in dreams, understood;

Extraordinary hearing is not necessary,
only the desire to attend to prompts
normally screened out, leaving most
unaware of their existence, which does
not invalidate them;

Ignorance is a thing disregarded,
still, simply because one does not
Believe, does not make anyone smarter,
reveals, in fact, an unwillingness to accept
the viewpoints of others;

Listen.

Learn. Wisdom can be taught,
but not if one’s ears are shut.

 

Travelogue II – Angels Everywhere

Angels have visited me in many forms in my life. I have felt their fiery presence from the unseen realms and have met them in the bodies of human beings. (If you’re curious, this is one of those encounters.)

In a previous post about my Pacific Northwest travels, I mentioned that I like it best when I’m lost. Driving around on inspiration leads me to the most unexpectedly astounding places and events. On this day after slate skies broke open to reveal the first rays of sunlight I had seen since arriving, I headed out with a bounce in my step. I hadn’t let the drizzle and grey skies get me down; had hiked the past few days despite the weather. Still, the sun was a welcome change, if only for its warmth.

This time I meandered and found myself at small wildlife preserve on the (Puget) Sound. Nobody was in the small parking lot, and when I got out of the car, I immediately spotted eagles soaring on the bluff behind me. It was nesting time, and these raptors were active seeking food for nestlings. Still, it was amazing to watch them soar. I walked down to the driftwood-strewn beach, marvelling at a snowcapped mountain range in the distance. I also noticed a brownish haze which I had also seen before leaving the house in the morning. I wondered if, like last year, there were forest fires in British Columbia and Montana. I quickly texted the friend I was housesitting for and she could only guess at the mountain range, as I had no idea what direction I was facing nor where I was. She didn’t know about the haze, thought it might be smog from Seattle, though we both thought that improbable.

Presently a car pulled into a nearby stall in the still-empty lot, and a woman and dog emerged. We made eye contact, the woman and I, and I asked her what mountain range we were looking at. The Cascades, as it turns out. And the haze? It’s the marine layer, she said, and filled me in as to what atmospheric conditions precipitate it. I loved her dog up a bit while we continued chatting about this and that, the way women sometimes do. Before we went our separate ways, she said, “Hold on, I have something for you in the car.” I could not imagine what it could be, as I waited a bit awkwardly. Then she turned back to me beaming, with something in her hand, “Here, this is meant for you. I painted it myself.”

Just when I dip into despair about the human race, my faith is restored by a simple act of kindness. And I must remember that, despite  seemingly endless human assaults on Mother Earth and her children, I must remember our potential. And nourish those seeds with as much energy as I can possibly muster. Thank you, sweet stranger. Thank you. With all of my heart.

Ebeys Landing, WA ~ bj

photo: bj

Here and Now

The concert grand stands indifferently
in a palatial room built to house it;
Hardly anyone spends time here,
admiring frescoes and French lace,
worn Italian club chairs gather
in around no one, empty opulence
marking privilege of the lost
and missing inhabitants;

Halfway around the world,
a bustling marketplace explodes
with the din and stench
of the streets, sweat mingling
with rotting vegetable matter
and the smell of human desperation;
gnarled hands of laborers place goods
in the manicured hands of tourists,
a toothless smile exchanging empty symbols
for a better life, benediction
of the Foreigner whose life is inconceivable
as a spaceship from Mars;

Who can fathom choices, freedom the elusive
butterfly in a garden which must be tended
by honest sweat and toil which,
in the opulence of the parlor, slips quietly
into shadow like the ghostly curtain remnants
hanging limply on patterned walls.

 

Kilkenny Castle, photo ~ bj

Akin

I am but one minute speck
on the face of this earth,
the same countenance reflected
back to me in field and forest,
in the shriek of bats as well
as the sonar they emit,
the whistling and bellow of elk
as they descend from higher ground
for the winter, the piñon jays,
sapphire blue bodies so different
from their indigo Stellar relations,
gliding in for their morning seed;

When I peer into a body of water,
I see not a mirror, but a plethora
of faces of untold numbers
of creatures that dwell in the depths
as do I, in my own element;

Yet what is this element spoken of?
Is it the air I breathe? The earth
walked upon, the blazing fire
of the sun, cool slices of moonlight
or the quarter-sized drops
of rain that splash upon my forehead?

What am I, if not an assemblage
of all these components, sheathed
in the thinnest veil of skin,
so transparent that I can glimpse
blood coursing through a busy
network of veins, necessary waters
of my body, invisible synovial fluid
keeping joints in motion, bending
and lifting to the billionth degree,
work I have happily performed
since my youth, preparing
for winter, spring, summer, fall;

It’s all the same, here on the mountain
where life at altitude is as unpredictable
as nature can be anywhere, anytime,
only here it cannot be ignored,
and the garden thriving in the heat today
can be frost-encrusted by tomorrow
morning, who can predict?

This time last year, birds were falling
from the skies, a freak storm
that bent trees over double,
and some we lost while some grew back,
and isn’t that life? Is that not, at its root,
the existential distillation of our existence?

Our winter wood supply, so far. 2021

Possibilities

On the opposite side of my heart
lies an echo chamber of silence
where tiny bats dive and swoop,
clearing invisible pathways
in the open skies for those who fly
by day; this pitch black of night
finds deep comfort within me;

As light emerges from shadows,
sweeping them away as dust
from corners of a vast room,
the heart engages, pumps greater
volumes of life force, stretches out
to encompass all the eye surveys,
holding it close in order to enfold fully
as might be, before all is compromised
by those who suffer from lack of beauty
and seek to destroy what is sacred;

And obvious to any who treasure this
earth so, is the magic beheld in the space
between spaces, the cracks in the fabric
of accepted reality, eyes that see beyond
daylight into the soul’s frontiers,
a dimensional shift where beauty is
all there is, gazing deeply into everything
where others may perceive nothing,
a deep river of potentialities and a place
where all is possible in the realm
of grace and pure love.

Complementary

Awake in the pre-dawn, the fields look empty,
vast; wild creatures have long claimed the night,
daytime unsafe for them in the company
of our species, and I know somewhere out there
is a fox leaping onto a rodent, a bear padding
toward her den in the nearby hills, mountain lion
retreating to the mountain cliffs she considers home;

Stars slowly fade as light emerges, tentative at first,
the black and white world retreating,
pattern repeated for as long as memory holds,
a glimmer, then a glow, and finally shifting gears
into daylight, shadows retreating, colors emerging
as if from slumber themselves, and I wonder;

If we are here to witness these cycles, to sync
our bodies in rhythm with those of the planet,
how is it so many court discord, mayhem,
dark against light, light denying dark,
when the brilliance of midday lacks contours,
thus interest, to my own camera lens?

Split

It’s a new day, and I awaken tired,
having not slept much; perceiving the fear
of the collective, the hum of impending
doom, as a worldwide virus continues
to mutate, according to a greater plan
than we can imagine, and the vaccinated
among us may actually be more culprit
than cure, causing an explosion
of variants to proliferate;

We are a world accelerated beyond any
means possible, faster is better, internet
warp speed lives, packages replacing hands
in earth, chemical drinks in cans replacing
pure water, food sources separated
from our bodies by poisonous fertilizers,
distance and desire, fresh tropical fruits
delivered in winter, shipped green to ripen
by gasses in warehouses,
and how can this offer nourishment
to strengthen our immunities?

I watch sick native people in our community,
addicted to alcohol and worse; soda, canned
food and the hypnosis of television, vulnerable
to viruses, partisan news and soul sickness,
shamans of old far from their rightful place
as healers in the scheme of things, bowed
and beaten into submission by priests,
bent into homogeneity by the white man’s schools,
forced into dubious medicine designed to fight
perceived disease rather than working
with the rhythms of the body and Mother Earth,
and they are dropping like flies, one by one
or in groups, whole families murdered
by their own offspring, a sad fallout
to the speed and separation our species
was never meant to cope with;

I am a generally optimistic person,
yet I am also sensitive to the greater
vibrations of earth and her creatures, humans
among them, caught now in a crux
of our own making, having so thoroughly
trashed our perfect planet with the byproducts
of instant gratification, that we are faced
with Holocene extinction;

Make no mistake, these are perilous times,
and yet we must somehow be able
to help ourselves and others to what extent
we are able, to remain centered and focused,
in order to best know how to move forward
in spite of it all;

And so we retreat, again and again,
to our beautiful high mountain vista
with its varied wildlife, who seem
not to have a care in the world,
survival their primary mandate,
as it has been since their time began;

And yet last fall, a freak snowstorm
and cold snap caused songbirds to fall
from the skies dead; the raptors are
as mysteriously absent as bodies
of water, while wildfires rage over most
of the West, and it is hard to ignore
the fallout of our Creation,
not being gods in the least,
so much to learn, so much to lose.

BJ photo – Polar bear, Albuquerque Zoo, as its natural home in the arctic becomes more imperiled by the day.

Breathe

Mysterious new things move
to the cadence of nature’s drum,
the cry of destruction loudly rings;
Aloha aina, care for the land,
it matters not where we choose
to root ourselves, the mandate
is the same: we must return
to the Garden, discover innocence 
lost when simple was subsumed
by life so complex that some days
I wonder how long I can manage it,
threads frayed, threatening to unravel;

Yet when I walk out into messy,
immerse my hands in soil, work
at amending what has been stripped
by too many years of consumption
without consideration, my spirit calms,
settles into what is there in front of me,
head not spiraling out into orbit, here.
And now, now, now;

This is what we are given, this moment,
breathing in, then out, listen to the
heartbeat of nature; observe
with a raptor’s eyes all that surrounds,
notice the little things, the seemingly
unimportant, purpose-less details
in a world fixed on production,
and learn; for we might well need
that sort of knowledge in the days
to come.

Photo taken on our ranch. This Redtail Hawk watches over us,
observes everything we do. Pretty cool.

Deep

I read him Mary Oliver’s luminous words
in bed at night, perceptions written nearer
her end, and yes, there is sadness, his eyes
well uncomfortably, who wouldn’t turn away
(were it even possible) from the degradation
of nature loved with the whole of our hearts;

The loons on Goose Pond, circling around us
with crimson eyes, echoes of their haunting
cries tattooed into memory, early morning
and dusk, nine chicks that year and two adults
and one would be hard pressed today to hear
a single pair if lucky, human encroachment
into nesting areas, refusal to admit error
in bulldozing sacred spaces for profit,
filling wetlands, giant killer bees building,
harmony absent, drones taking over the hive,
and what are we, if not complicit?
None are blameless;

It seems a lifetime ago, smoke cannot pour itself
back down the chimney, and opportunity lies
in discovering wonders of a pine forest far
from lake or ocean. I must ponder more deeply
the meaning of water.

Photo taken in Kohala, Hawaii