Tag Archives: wonder

Mary Oliver’s Quiet Revolution

Poetry that brings the outdoors inside

“Attention is the beginning of devotion.”- Mary Oliver

Year after year, decade after decade, Mary Oliver has revolved with the seasons. Quietly, she has turned out master poetry that brings us back outside, and back to ourselves.

Mary Oliver published her first book of poetry the year I was born, yet I only became aware of her writing this year. For me, discovering her poetry is like looking up and seeing trees that have silently grown all around me and finally getting to explore their grandeur. It is like falling in love with a song and discovering the artist who wrote it has scores of albums for you to dive into.

Her poetry, is a guide not only into forests, meadows and mountain streams but into the landscape of memory and being. Mary points out things that I most certainly would have missed.

Mary Oliver spent her childhood in seclusion. She talks of “living in a small town surrounded by woods and a winding creek- woods more pastoral than truly wild.” She would build herself little hut houses out of sticks and leaves with open doorways. These were her shelters where she could look out and truly take in the majesty around her. No one ever discovered, or at least disturbed, her houses. When the weather took them down, she recognized it as part of the process and moved on to build new ones. This was not a socialized communal fort building or territorial stake-claiming game. It allowed her to see the world that she was a part of not merely as resources, materials to be exploited or utilized but something wonderful.

“…The world of leaves, light, birdsong, flowers, flowing water…to the young, these materials are still celestial; for every child the garden is re-created.” – Mary Oliver

Her poetry encourages me to cast back to my childhood.  I first remembered making what I used to call my ‘bird house’ by surrounding myself with the bolster pillows from my bed.  I would drape a thinly woven blanket over the top of these pillows so that the light would stream in on me.  This isolation seemed to connect me to the “Green Mansions” I had read about in my dad’s two volume set of The Reader’s Encyclopedia. I felt tranquil and connected.  Without having the slightest understanding of meditation, in retrospect, I was tapping into the innate nature of silence that children find so enticing.

I remembered the tree in our backyard.  It was perfect for climbing.  I used to scale high up in the branches, surrounded by leaves, and look down at the ground. I looked up into the sky, into the hallowed hollowed space the branches made within the crown of the tree. I spent hours there. It became my office, my temple, the best place to think, the best place not to think. It was my perfect place to Be.  As an adult, I rarely allow myself to be. When did I start to take a book with me everywhere I went?  When did I start overfilling my day with the obsession of productivity? How often do I allow myself to just sit on the train and watch the sun spots dance on the river?

Since I discovered Mary Oliver, I spend part of my mornings with her poetry and essays.  She takes me Upstream* where I reconnect to the riches within my backyard and along the roadsides while en route with my wife, Julia, from state to state, gig to gig. Mary reminds me to notice, to look up from my phone.  She offers “the fields and the woods and the possibility of the world salvaged from the lords of profit.” It makes me want to go exploring. It is a point of view that helps me understand and more fully appreciate my friend Greg who moved to New Zealand to go on epic hikes along mountainous terrains for several days at a time. His drive to be there is the connection with the Earth that goes beyond words. Julia naturally shares this drive. She will stop the car to take in what can never be captured by a camera, although our phones are both filled with more pictures of scenery since spring has arrived. Our house is also adorned with special branches, leaves, stones and shells collected from glorious moments of noticing. It’s fair to say that my wife is quite conscious of what Mary so eloquently writes:

“The song you heard singing in the leaf when you were a child is singing still.” – Mary Oliver

Mary’s poetry is not composed of heady, ethereal dense concepts that have to be decoded or navigated with a mental machete.  She reminds me that each morning the dawn not only breaks but is there to break us open if we are awake for it. Even in traffic or on a subway, a portion of each morning’s spectacular unfolding performance can reach us where we are.

One morning in high school, a handful of my friends and I traversed out to the other side of a lake where I lived. We found a log that was long enough to accommodate all of us. We watched the sunrise in silence.  Spontaneously, we all rose to our feet in admiration, giving nature a standing ovation.

Mary Oliver’s writing prompts me to remember that I still have access. I can listen, absorb and be absorbed by nature’s radiance that offers us a temporal eternity.

Mary has not filled the streets with pamphlets and propaganda. No government has been overturned. There has been no violent uprising.
Still, person by person, Mary has brought us upstream poem by poem, where we can rejoice in silence at the turning of the tide.

*- Upstream- Selected Essays Mary Oliver Penguin Press New York 2016

Many Happy Returns

Birth, Death and Friendship

“It’s all one big day.  The sun is a maypole and we are winding away.

How many moments, reflected like diamonds, gather around you

to light up your way?” – Time to Go/ The Levins

***

The return journey around the sun is an opportunity for reflection. As the date of my entry point into the world approaches again, I have been thinking a lot about how our lives are intertwined.

I have never officially participated in a birthday maypole dance, which is traditional on May Day for some, but while I was living in California there was one morning that passed for one. My wife Julia decided to orchestrate a sweet celebration for me by secretly inviting two of my closest friends to town.  There is a dream like quality of discovering two familiar faces that inhabit your heart but not your daily space suddenly appearing behind a door. Time excused itself and the spaciousness that surrounds all things momentarily expanded, imbuing the surprise with an elongated sense of being inside and outside of myself simultaneously.

This occurred the day before my birthday. There was much rejoicing late into the evening. Music, reveling, creating new memories to laugh about.  Some friendships pick up right where you left off.  I fell into sweet dreams which were shaken up the next morning when my cousin phoned to tell me that my uncle Jeff had passed away during the night.

My mom’s brother Jeff was my holy goof. Sometimes, he would rake his two-day stubble across my face suddenly in an enthusiastic ritual of affection. His natural earthy musk would be mingled with apple cider vinegar, which he would practically bathe in to promote good health. To this day, this act reminds me that love is something that can playfully invade your private space.

Jeff was a beautiful synthesis of Baba Ram Dass and Woody Allen. He had the understanding of how we are more than our bodies while maintaining enough of the episodic-neurotic New Yorker to keep things real. I had just been down to see him in the hospital the week before. He had been singing to the nurses.

His message to us all during his battle with cancer was to be at peace. He had been an actor and a dancer.  Instead of losing a leg and being dismantled piece by piece, he decided it was best to take his curtain call. He managed to be released from the hospital and with his powers of intention, slipped away quietly in the night.

I entered the living room that morning, with my uncle now a part of me. Julia and my friends were there for me but I felt Jeff was with me, as well. Somehow, even closer than before he left. There was an unspoken reassurance that our journey together was not tragically linear.

I put on one of my favorite records, which is Jethro Tull’s Songs from the Wood. All of us began to dance around the living room. I sang along with the lyric, “Join the chorus if you can. It will make of you an honest man.” Again, there was the sense of being inside and outside of myself simultaneously.

The doorbell rang. It was my neighbors and their little girl bringing me a gift. The sun streamed in as I knelt down to receive the wreath of Spring flowers she had woven for me.  My neighbor’s daughter had long blonde hair and little red checks. There were flowers in her hair, as well, and in the golden light, she looked like a cherubic faery. We invited them to join our dance, winding around each other, taking up the invisible ribbons, celebrating the life that was ours to share.

This was many years ago. Yet, even though those friends and neighbors are far away, I am still intertwined with them. As for my uncle, I offer up this new lyric to him and for all of us holding the memory of someone dear while we celebrating our entrances and exits on this grand stage.

“I cried because I lost you.

I lived because I loved you.

I laugh because I knew you.

I’m vast because I’m with you.”

Many happy returns!

 

You are the Earth- The Earth is You

Reaching the ‘Becoming Life Point’.

“Captain Tree: ‘Leaf your worries behind.

Climb up high.

Be still and you will find.

See the world as it was meant to be.

Free, free, free.’”

-Ira Scott Levin (Uncle Eye)/ Captain Tree

***

In honor of Earth Day, I humbly suggest that the Earth is here for all of us, regardless of our belief, culture, or point of view. It does not discriminate or judge us. Silently turning, it churns out life in myriad forms.

Throughout history, poets have paused to listen to the Earth’s song whistling through the meadows and mountains.  Its verses are endless but the refrain is essentially the same:

“Make of me what you will for you are me and I am you.”

The Earth is modeling a way of being that encourages us to recognize what we have to offer.

If I were to find the cornucopia, the mythical ‘horn of plenty’ that perpetually pours out fruits, nuts and flowers, I would be overcome with wonder. If I thought I was the cornucopia, and could offer beauty and nourishment to everyone I met, it would transform my life. If I lived on the cornucopia and was not aware that I was a part of it, I might not take the time to be still enough to recognize what was at hand.

The famous mythologist, Joseph Campbell, interpreted what the poet T. S. Elliot called the  “still point of the turning world” as “The energy of the center. The inexhaustible fountain, of the source.”

He reflects on this “source” further by saying, “The source doesn’t care what happens once it gives into being. It’s the giving and coming into being that counts, and that’s the becoming life point in you…

…I think of grass- you know, every two weeks a chap comes out with a lawnmower and cuts it down. Suppose the grass were to say, ‘Well, for Pete’s sake, what’s the use if you keep getting cut down in this way ?’ Instead, it keeps on growing.”

Think of this within you.  How often does life try to beat you down? We are subjected to life’s forest fires, that flare up and claim what we love. There are bitter winters, droughts, floods; we are strip -mined, poisoned, polluted, over-populated and yet…Like the Earth, we can still access “the becoming life point.” We may be broken open but are capable of bestowing beauty and nourishment to ourselves and those that are not even here yet.

So, here’s to the Earth and here’s to you my friend. May you come into the fullness of your splendor.

Fireflies, salt, water, sound and Dandelion Wine

Last night as I was taking out the trash, the fireflies reminded me it was a sweet summer night.  The darkness was filled with flashing pinpoints of light that drew forth the holiest of words from me, the ‘Wow’ that removes years and time, bridges childhood to now and reconnects us to wonder.  I stood outside and watched them silently as the lightning flashed softly through the trees, noticing the seeming pattern the fireflies created as if it were a natural Fibonacci sequence or a morse code.

I had been thinking of sharing two videos showing how frequency affects physical matter and the relationship between vibration and manifestation, (In the salt experiment, the higher the frequency the more complex and beautiful the geometric patterns become*) and here I was standing in the garden being taken back to summer nights at the top of my tree in the backyard, back to reading to Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine where he is out in nature and realizes he is alive:

“I’m really alive! he thought. I never knew it before, or if I did I don’t remember!…” “The world, like a great iris of an even more gigantic eye, which has also just opened and stretched out to encompass everything, stared back at him.” ― Ray Bradbury,                                                    Dandelion Wine Quotes by Ray Bradbury

Stepping outside is one of the surest ways of being able to step inside.

 Here are the two videos I wanted to share with you.  They are amazing and give me faith in the tickling creativity that winks in the darkness:

*-Salt and Sound: http://youtu.be/rf3rfTMvyHQ

Amazing Water and sound experiment: http://youtu.be/uENITui5_jU

“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.”  –Nikola Tesla

May you have a full experience unexpectedly.