Sunday, December 25, 2011


Every day
I see or hear
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for -
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world -
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant -
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these -
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean's shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

-Mary Oliver

I rise early this morning of mornings, in the dark, and hurry to the cemetery; following, not the star in the east, but the rising sun. Which, now that I think about it, is a star in the east. I want to be there, under the big sky, before it begins its ascent. As I walk, then wait and watch, I find myself wondering about those for whom the Christian story of Christmas is not part of their story and whose family--if they have one--is scattered on this morning. No loved ones to share the morning. No wide-eyed children to watch. No dinner to collaborate over, or people with whom to eat, drink, and be merry. I wonder what this day is about for them. Mostly memories reaching back to their own children's childhood; or perhaps farther, to their own.

That describes my day this year. But I am not sad. The Christmas story is a part of my present every year. Granted, the story is a fantastical one, and many scoff at it, or just don't think about it. But I am glad that I love it. The baby comes every year, an annual big reminder of the presence in my life of the One Who is More. I am sad for, and a little mystified by those who don't believe in a power larger than themselves, whatever they might call it. Call it The Big Fat Far-Fetched Mystery, whatever. It doesn't matter. But believe in something. “It’s not hard to find your way to God. God is pretty easy to get to from just about any hike up a mountain or walk along some creek. There is nothing more to say, only that to do” (Pie Town, Lynne Hinton).

I  found this poem by Mary Oliver recently and have been watching for the things that nearly kill me with delight and leave me in the light, not just at Christmas, but every single day. I leave work early one day and enjoy a Peppermint Mocha Latte and watch children playing on the too-warm-for-December afternoon. The little girl in the Christmas tights nearly kills me with delight. A chance meeting with a fox in the cemetery thrills me. And the flower deliveries tug my heartstrings early one morning before work. Friends gather in my hearth room to celebrate the darkness of the winter solstice and I feel the warmth. I walk to Food Lion on Christmas Eve for evaporated milk for pumpkin pudding for Christmas feasting and encounter a cacophony of crows on the shortcut through the pine grove. Their own family gathering, perhaps. I return from the less familiar east of my house to the cheeriness of my Global Purple front door and notice it again for the first time. I am delighted with it. The Lenten rose is opening. In December. After candlelight at church last night, I drive by the bedecked Governor's Mansion, admiring the beauty of opulent light. I walk through Historic Oakwood and two young girls, perhaps home from college, call from the porch swing across the street to come in "It's a party! And," they say, "you are dressed so cute!" I am filled with the light! I pull into the drive of my very own mansion with its simple light; I am Home. I go inside and build a fire. Peace. Goodwill to all. I rise early to follow the star. I am overcome with the magnificence of the return of the light.

May Sarton said, “Solitude is the richness of self; loneliness is the poverty of self.” I am feeling rich this morning. To my dear friends who are alone, I hope you are feeling rich, too.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Advent Roses

I never thought I would be looking for signs of spring during Advent, but there I was wandering around the garden this week bent over in uttanasana position peering at the ground. The winter jasmine buds are bursting out all over the bush--a tad early, but not much; they bring me such good cheer. The camellia blooms on, harboring rain drops from a late night rain that I listen to rat-a-tat-tatting on the roof through my open window. What I am surprised to discover, though, is that all
three of the Lenten rose plants have multiple deep purple, not yet opened, blooms. Now that is just ridiculous. I think the early spring must be a sign of... something. I will know what later, perhaps. A lot of waiting happens this time of year. It is Advent, afterall. I also find a still-curled, tiny black-eyed Susan and a bright yellow dandelion. It is in the low 70s most of the week. The mornings are frosty, and the weekend cooler, but forecasts call for mid-60s again on the winter solstice. There will be no white for Christmas. But I will build a fire anyway.

Winter solstice. It is a date that has come to mean more to me than Christmas, or any other holiday. The longest night of the year is a silent date on the calendar. The vast majority of people pay little attention to that which is quiet; I feel like that sometimes in low moments--not paid attention to. And I love that the solstice is tied to the natural world, unlike any other holiday. There are no gifts, no special foods, no traditions associated with it, at least in the Christian world. Well, that last is not quite true. I look forward each year to a small gathering of favorite people who sit by my fire in candlelight with me and absorb, more than observe, the reason for the seasons: the tilt of the earth and its relative position to the sun. In the northern hemisphere the earth is farthest from the sun on this long night.

...There's nothing as dark as night
But nothing so strong as light
Here is the choice: to let it burn out or bright
In a world where fear and force
Have buried the silent source
Can you deny the need for a light like yours...

No dark place no debt and no abuse
Can erase all of the good you do

-Christine Kane The Good You Do

It's so easy for quiet people to not know the good we do. We even tend to overlook or dismiss it in ourselves. Those who are not quiet souls forget to tell us; or maybe they just don't notice, or see no need. I am so grateful this year to all of the dear people who silently do good in their world. And I am so lucky, in part because of this blog, to have received your supportive words. There is no greater gift to me than to know that my thoughts have touched you; and therefore to be able to trust that they spark something in people from whom I do not hear.

I stay home from work on Friday, in need of a good rest. I am on my sofa, under my afghan with tea, when I get a Facebook chat message from dear Katherine in Illinois. (Have I mentioned that I love FB chat?) She asks about my unwellness: "Tired? Fuzzy? Stuffy? Achy heart?" Except she mistypes achy and her computer changes it to "afghan heart." Or maybe she wrote it on purpose, she can't remember. In any case, I love the image. It is exactly what ails me. My soul is in great need of a day under an afghan. I am coining the word. Watch for it on Wikipedia.

Emma and Wynne are visiting my mom this weekend. They cut down, drag in, and help her decorate her Christmas tree. And they send me this picture of the scene that greets them when they get up Saturday morning. The silence of the fog filling the valley, the sun rising behind Mt. St. Helens, is one of the essences of childhood that I feel inside of me whenever I think of it; even way over here on the other side of the world. It is my spirit-definition of silence. As a child, it also defined privilege for me. I dwelt, in those early morning moments, in the sunlight above the fog, while those in town were imprisoned in the darkness. Now, I know, too, the beauty of being one with and in the fog.

I enjoy the birds yesterday, as I sit on the sofa under my afghan (again), knitting baby hats. A new art form for me; I have wearied of scarves. I don't generally keep on doing something I have grown tired of. The titmouse and the chickadee and other feathered friends tap tap tap at the suet feeder on the window, and more birds of more varieties than I have ever seen all at once dine at the feeder. They look annoyed by the paucity of seed available. They should talk to the squirrels and mourning doves about that.

I have mentioned before that one of the great rewards of writing this blog is that I made a new friend. Amelia ran across it when she Googled a reference to an author I had quoted. Amelia lives in Bellingham, Washington (how is that for coincidental karma?). Bellingham is in the far north of Washington, and Amelia is a Head Start teacher extraordinaire. I got to meet her in person last summer. Mostly, though, I know her from her two blogs. One is about her teaching--and learning--as a teacher of at-risk preschoolers (; and the other, a newer one, about what she sees all about her ( She posted this original poem on Wake Up and Write this week. I think it so beautiful that I want to share it with you.

"Tawny feathered tops of poplars edge the rim of the china blue bowl that is the winter sky.

Frosty air shimmers,

the sun hovers just above the horizon,

gold slipping across fields stripped of harvest,

striped with vines tangled and torn.

A honk sounds,

and rippling lines of white wings like frothy waves,

flow east.

It’s December,

swans herald the coming of winter solstice."

-Amelia Bacon

Observe the solstice this year, on Wednesday night. Light candles, turn out the lights, listen to the silence of the dark.

“...with an eye made quiet by the power of harmony, and the deep power of joy, we see into the lives of things.” -William Wordsworth

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Keep Your Gaze Within Your Mat

I arrive at Julie’s Gentle Yoga on Monday very much in need of the hour after a bad weekend and, to put it mildly, a difficult Monday morning (made slightly, easier, I suppose, by the fact that I saw it coming, having been here before). This particular yoga class was just what I needed, and I am not talking about the poses, though we do begin with a favorite pose--Supta Baddha Konasana. I get there early enough to get my favorite place by the mirror, and the space next to me remains empty right up to the beginning of the class. Then...a latecomer. I groan as I realize it is the heavy breather who is usually in the corner across the room (but who can be heard throughout). I move quickly through the irritation that comes from concentrating on his breathing rather than my own, to chuckling at the little voice in my head chanting, "Blog Fodder, Blog Fodder." In Julie’s opening “set your intention,” she suggests that this time of year our intention might be simply to spend the hour focused on the yoga and not the other stresses in our lives. "Yes," I think, "that is exactly what I need to do."

A line I read in a book a few months ago about the author's living through the mirror of her yoga practice, floats into my consciousness: "Keep your gaze within your mat." I lie on my mat with my feet drawn up close to me, soles of my feet together. Eyes closed, I block out Heavy Breather. I am the only one in the room, just me and my small lime green mat with the peace button focal point attached at the top. This is Advent peace week, and though I am most definitely not feeling at peace, for this hour I can let it all go and, perhaps, let peace find me. I concentrate on my breath, slowly in through my nose...hold...slowly out through my nose. If blowing all the tension out through his mouth is what Heavy Breather needs when he arrives at yoga from I know not what, that is his practice on his small mat. Later I am vaguely aware that his breathing has settled down.

"When you start on a long journey, trees are trees, water is water, and mountains are mountains. After you have gone some distance, trees are no longer trees, water no longer water, mountains no longer mountains. But after you have traveled a great distance, trees are once again trees, water is once again water, mountains are once again mountains" (Zen teaching).

I just read this. I don't know what it means. But it speaks to my hard week. Do we begin with rules and expectations that we understand, and gradually expand and adapt and grow, only to have to return to the previous rules and expectations? Or did I misinterpret somewhere along the line. I believe the technical term is "got too big for my britches." At any rate, it is time to adapt, to see the trees as trees again. To keep my gaze within my own mat.

Maybe its the hard week that keeps tears caught just behind my eyes, but they let loose deliciously when I receive my annual December box from my mother in Washington. I get home from work and bring it in from the front porch to the kitchen counter. I feed Smudge, change my clothes, and wash my face--carefully following my daily routine, while anticipating the annual one. Then I sit with my box. Carefully slitting open the tape and folding back the box flaps, I lift out the plastic bag. I hold it a moment then untwist the twist tie. Still holding the bag closed, I close my eyes and bring my treasure to my nose. Letting lose just a bit of the opening, I bring my nose close and let the aroma slide in; then plunge my whole face into the bag and breathe deeply of home. Douglas fir and noble fir, lovingly collected by my dear mother who knows me and sees me, packaged in wet paper towels and mailed across the country. Year after year for the past 35 of them, it sparks that deep, deep longing we all have for home, wherever that may be and whatever that may mean to each one of us.

Mid-week a cold front comes through, breaking the ridiculous December heat wave, during which Smudge and I are outside acting like it is garden season (I reluctantly, she not-so-much). The cold front is introduced by a vigorous downpour. I need to make a confession here. Along with judging Heavy Breather, I have often tended to turn up my nose at southern colloquialisms. Provincial, my children's father used to call me, in my teasing intolerance. I am not proud of it. My learning, perhaps, has been to "have" to live in the south for a good bit more than half my life 
now. You will learn to let people be who they are, damn it. And I am getting quite fond of the odd phrases. One I particularly have come to love I first heard from my dear daughter-in-law: "Pouring the rain." (Makes so much more sense than "raining cats and dogs," which I grew up with, don't you think?) And that is what it does on Wednesday evening. "Pours the rain." And behind it comes cold, blessed crisp air.

For a while now, I have been writing a single morning sentence several times a week, and sharing it with my friends, and perhaps some of their friends, on Facebook. It has become a spiritual practice for me. Encapsulate one experience from my morning walk into a single sentence--a photograph captured in words, rather than on the virtual film of my digital camera. Friday morning, though, I take my camera. (Well, truth be known, I almost always take my camera. I can't help it. I usually don't use it, however.) I decide I am not going to get to work early so that I have the much-needed few minutes alone in the building to center myself; instead I am going to hang around in the cemetery waiting for the sun to come up. "Lollygagged in the frosty cemetery, fingers frozen and breath visible, to see the drowsy sun crack open the sky and set it on fire." I notice that this time of year it comes up 15 degrees to the south, through the empty windows of the beautiful broken down historically-protected building just beyond the cemetery, rather than back to the left behind Bartholomew Figures Moore. It is reluctant to rise; it being the kind of morning meant to stay under the duvet. But it does eventually slide up from behind the covers and light up the sky. I lean against a tombstone and savor the spectacle. I am late to work. Whatever.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Liking Christmas

I walk out of The Fresh Market on a lunch break this week, with my wee cup of coffee and my two weekend blueberry scones that they now save for me on Thursdays because they don't put enough for me and anyone else in the Very Small Scone Basket. Sleigh Bells is playing on the  shopping center outside musak, and I am actually wearing a light jacket and a scarf. And it hits me: "I'm going to like Christmas this year!" It's not that I generally choose not to like the holidays, just that for a long time--more years than not, in the last couple decades--I haven't. For one reason or another, which I don't need to go into detail about, it's been a dreaded time of year--the rejoicing coming when it's over. 

You become what you think about. (Earl Nightingale)

I was set to continue that saggy default tradition this year. I will not see a single family member this December for what might be the first time in my life. That seems like a sad thing. In truth, I suppose, it is seeing them and it not matching my Very Big Fantasy About How Things Should Be that has been hard. So this year I will be grateful for my chosen family and look for opportunities to spend time with them. But if that doesn’t happen (they do, after all, have families of the other flavor), it will be okay. I will enjoy a few days off and find peaceful things to do. 

You become what you think about.

I know what I'm gifting half of my family--and they are purchased or created. As for the other half, I am in convenient denial that it needs to get done and shipped across the country and I have no ideas. Elizabeth posted on FaceBook this week, after Cyber Monday and Black Friday (apparently those days are supposed to catapult one into the Christmas Spirit), that she is getting extremely annoyed by television ads and talk show guests suggesting "last minute" gift ideas. "Has the 'first minute' even happened?" she rants. It is convenient, I suppose, to have the first and last minute wrapped up in one weekend. Maybe if I did that I could concentrate on other meaningful Christmas activities: making my home festive, baking, giving attention to my life and those who inhabit it with me, attending to Advent and the coming of the Bearer of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

After another difficult week, the weekend finds me looking for color in the garden. The leaves are gone from the trees and the predominant shades of the earth are brown and dull green. There are a few red leaves clinging to a low branch of the dogwood and one lonely bunch of red berries on the pyracantha that I recently reshaped. The Mexican heather and the roses that keep blooming. The cheerful winter jasmine at the end of the driveway is covered with buds of hope and the first bright yellow blossoms are open. There is a single yellow leaf on the gardenia bush, along with the red splash of a single old bloom. A new Christmas display is birthing down the street with a choir of angels, wise people that apparently arrived at the stable in a train, and shepherds with their sheep keeping watch. The titmouses and chickadees have nibbled the suet in the holder stuck on the window into a perfect heart shape.  


Gift giving is great fun, if you are a child or have a child that you get to watch beam with delight on Christmas morning. But I find it hard to gift adults. I can't bestow upon them anything they really need, like a Large Infusion of Cash. Yet, if we don’t give and receive something at Christmas we feel cheated at both ends. I don't need any stuff. It's Clementines that make me happy. Like Honey Crisp apples in the fall, I am glad that Clementines are seasonal. I mourn them when they stop being available at the market, but when the Honey Crisp apple season ends, there are the Clementines. When I unwrap the the first little treasure and the bite-sized section explodes its sweet tang in my mouth, I remember that I have missed it. Same thing with the Honey Crisp that I watch and wait for during the long months after the price of Clementines goes up and the quality goes down. Like an out-of-area lover, their return is all the more poignant for their unavailability most of the time. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and all that.


The return of both the Honey Crisps and the Clementines in their own season, like the predictability of the garden, gives me something to look forward to. And the unexpectedness of finding out-of-season buds already on the hydrangeas, and jonquils that are a foot tall already, are both promise and surprise. Both bring me optimism for what is around the corner: that which is known, and that which is not.


I am leaning heavily today on the sentence I ran across yesterday, "You become what you think about." Think negative thoughts, like not liking Christmas, and you become Scrooge. I do not find it easy, though, to give heartache and disappointment and anger and fear the boot when they really, really want to control my head. But I am going to try to make room in there for hope, peace, joy, and love. And just maybe they will win the battle.