Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Connecting, Again

For a year and a month, the creek ran wild, the culvert and road gone, flushed downstream, nearly taking our neighbor’s lives that stormy night, as they came around the corner, the night blackened roadway ahead gone in a blink and a roar. They plunged into the raging flooding creek, and were carried a half mile down, finally caught by a blown over tree, with air, finally, to breathe. Fawcett Creek tried to live up to its name, and then some. Perhaps it should have been called Torrent Creek, or Inundation Gulch. The next day, the road gone, we found the old route closed, the abyss ready to take us, too, if we gave it a chance.

We have turned left now, to go to town, taking the back way, through five corners, three farms, the school and the store. Potholes grew wider, the road narrower, as we competed with the milk trucks and all of our neighbors for the old road.

Engineers came and went, and then, slowly, the ruins of the culvert and the old fill across the creek disappeared. Piling and cement forms stacked up, and then a new roadway, and then, week by week, a new bridge. Its slow curves began to rise, tempting us with a promise of connection. They had to wait for the salmon runs to end, before building in the creek bed, so late summer days meant pile driving thuds echoing off the hills. It was noise we could love, knowing the bridge was taking shape, rising and spreading its full length.

Finally, yesterday, the orange warning signs and the flashing “road closed” light disappeared, the bridge open at last. The new sign boldly proclaims the name of the creek. Yet, no trumpets blared, no ribbons were cut. Word quickly spreads, and we all slowly cross the bridge, a quiet celebration. Yet, with connection made again, news enough to enjoy.

Today, we turn right to go to town, starting again with old habits. On the way home, we revert, and come the old way, wondering how we could forget the bridge is open. We will miss the traffic by the school in the morning, and driving by the store, the local contractors parked there for coffee and news. But the potholes and the meeting of the milk trucks on the narrow corners of the old road will not be missed.

Our neighbors on the other side of the creek have said they’ve enjoyed the quiet, yet I’ve missed waving to them on my way home. For the last year and a month, I only see them in town, once in a while. Now, I can look again, by the highway, for the occasional eagle by the river, and the glint of sunlight on the rapids by the rest area. Now, I go back to the old patterns, the old ruts of daily life, yet enjoying the pleasures of the new bridge, solid, purposeful, and safe.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Day Begins

The stars are faded now, black of night gone,
turning to pewter and then a soft blue--
sunrise in a few minutes, in morning quiet;
pink, now orange, and soon, the brilliance of our sun lighting the hills,
moving down to the fields and the rooftops—
frost on trees and grass and fenceposts soon to melt
the day beginning
oh, so slowly, so quietly
in peace.

The house quiet, Christmas tomorrow
anticipation today
music again of Christmases past
memories of joys and family,
traditions and simple pleasures
in the coming together and sharing simple gifts
of love and play and song
of lighting a candle and watching the warmth
moving outward
one heart to another.

12/09 Neal Lemery

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Pencil across yellow paper
lined, helping me keep straight
all that I had hopefully learned
this semester.

Answers coming slowly, then faster…
clock staying the same
coffee slowly drained, shooting more lead
into the pencil, as it moves on, and on.

Soon, moving through the questions
the pile of yellow deeper, my confidence
builds, and I tackle the hardest

Time nearly up, I look around
and am nearly alone—
My colleagues this past thirteen weeks
left early, hopefully wrote smart
and more succinct.

The staple pushes through all of my thoughts
of the semester, all that stayed in my brain
in this room, every Monday morning,
and all that came from my books
now growing unread again
in the back of my car.

The cold rain falls hard
and I am done with thinking today…
headed for a beer and a hearty long lunch
and vacation --- next Monday
unplanned, unstudied, not


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Winter Night

"We invite you to listen to your desires, to see the world not as it is, but as it could be. Go ahead and wish. It is what makes the holidays the holidays."
---Starbucks coffee cup

The days grow shorter, the nights are colder, and my body wants more starch, more sleep, moving towards hibernation.

Yet, part of me seeks out the wonder in the early morning sky, the winter constellations bright and close, the faint hint of sunrise an hour or two away. I yearn for this time of creation, and find myself drawn to music making, writing, painting, and the reading of deep, spiritual books. I find myself drawn to my friends, for serious conversation, for truly being with each other, in community. I yearn to go deep, to go inside myself.

This is the time of year to ponder the mysteries of the Universe, to contemplate God and the universal energies and spirits, and to simply be in awe of where I am, who I am, and where I may be going.

We gather with friends, and discuss serious issues: prejudice, genocides, war, child abuse, the circle of life within our families, and of friends far away, but close in our hearts. While doing so, we listen to cheerful holiday music, imploring us to find the joy in giving, in the delights of children in wonder of the world, in the simple pleasures of joining together as family and friends, and celebrate our lives with each other. Bright lights twinkle in town, and in our neighbors’ yards, telling us we are all alive, we are all children of the Light.

Being serious and being in the spirit of joy with others is not incongruous, but rather simply two sides of the same coin of our humanity, our curiosity, our spiritual quest for seeking out who we really are. We are complex, yet, in simplicity and quiet, we can go deep into ourselves, and, in doing so, find true satisfaction, true peace, true understanding.

In sleep, I ponder life itself, and my spirit roams, battling the mythical beasts and spirits of the netherworld. I reorganize the file cabinets of my day’s experiences, and put them in order, tidying up and preparing for the next day’s work. I pull the blankets tighter around me, as the nights lengthen and the breath of winter comes into the valley. My spirit draws closer to me, and I go deeper into my own mysteries, my own cave. The moon rises and sets, stars whirl around Polaris, Orion remaining at the alert, his hand on his sword, as Morpheus carries me along.

Today, I mix my paints, and pick up different brushes to create bright colors, shapes of summer, of times when the sun rose high in blue skies, when cold east winds were but a distant memory. The Muse brings life to the palette, the canvas, and the smell of the oil brings warmth to my heart and to my soul. The hand and the soul dance together. I am just the meeting place.

Tonight, I dance, in the quiet of the cold, stirring the coals of my soul. Night draws close, and I ponder the words on the coffee cup, wondering about hope, what could be. And, knowing it begins with just a tiny spark, on a cold winter’s night.

And, so I light a candle. It begins.

Neal Lemery 12/09

Sunday, November 29, 2009

River Walk

“Let your eyes see God everywhere. Give up fears and expectations. The Friend, the Beloved, your Soul is a River with the trees and buds of the world reflected in it. And, it’s no illusion!

"The reflections are real, real images through which God is made real for you. This River Water is an orchard that fills your basket. Be splashed!

"But not all flowings are the same. Different donkeys take different loads and different persuasion sticks. One principle does not apply to all rivers.”


I walk along the river, watching its current, deep, and cold. In the deepness, the movement of the current is hidden, almost, and only a few swirls on the surface hinted at its depth, its power.

And, then, I walk further, and come upon a great falls. The power of the river comes to life, the mirror of the surface breaking into thousands of rapids and waves, and then, cascades over a great basaltic cliff, falling, crashing, roaring. The river moves down and becomes nearly air and mist and white light, until, deep in the canyon, it turns back into its old self, deep, cold, again hiding its power, its light.

I move on, splashed.

Neal Lemery 11/09

Saturday, November 14, 2009

November Tree Planting

Kathleen Norris writes that the care for a tree is a form of prayer. The planting and caring of trees is an expression of St. Paul’s “hope in things unseen”. When she visits them, she doesn’t take responsibility for them, but considers them her friends. Where trees are scarce, each tree is a message bearer, a metaphor for perseverance.

But she writes about Dakota trees, and I dig here today, in a meadow surrounded by hills covered with trees. We are all Oregonians. This is the land of trees. No scarcity here, except when we try to burn down the forest, or cut it down, leaving large, ugly squares. I look up into the hills, seeing a patchwork quilt, and not the forest of my ancestors. Here, too, trees persevere, if we leave them be. And, so I plant.

Today, the cold wind blew down from the hills, down from the first snow of the season, the first day of elk season. Thanksgiving is two weeks away, and nearly all the leaves are now off the maples, and only piles of composting cornstalks and dead sunflowers remain in the garden.

Most people plant trees in the spring, when there is hope for the coming summer, and we are anxious for blooms and the leafing out of trees, and the shade offered by them on a hot day. Yet, a few stubborn red and yellow leaves cling to this tree in a big pot, with most of the limbs already taking on the gray pallor of winter. It is heavy enough that I am amazed it all goes into the wheelbarrow, my arms and back moaning as I lift.

My favorite book is The Man Who Planted Trees, a delightful allegory of a French Johnny Appleseed, singlehandedly reforesting a valley near the Alps, one acorn at a time. A war has ravaged the area and it is dry and barren. Yet, over many years, the forest is reborn, the rivers flow again, and people come to make their living in the lush new Eden.

The book’s author, Jean Giono , and I are a lot alike, I think. We both think of trees and tree planting. It is part of our souls. I keep loaning the book out to people I meet. They keep it a long time, but always bring it back, always with a note saying how they enjoyed it. And, maybe they plant trees now, too. I hope so. Maybe my copy of the book is really an acorn.

Every year of my life, I remember planting trees. It is something I must do every year. It is a form of my worship, my spirituality, my giving back to the Earth and the Sky for what I receive every day.

The sod in the field slice easily with my shovel blade, and the ground is not yet completely sodden. Next week’s storms should take care of that. The sun peaks out for an hour, yet the sky turns a pewtery gray, and rain is coming again tonight. So, I dig on, gradually widening the hole, and digging deeper into the earth. Deeper and deeper, finding rocks and the end of the roots of the grass, and even a few earthworms, who haven’t taken off to higher ground next to the garage.

I take a break from digging halfway to China, and fill up the wheelbarrow with September’s offerings on the compost pile. What was the remnants of the late summer vegetables we sliced and canned is now a rich pile of brown and black, well rotted, ready to return to the soil, to this place I live, where this tree will live. With the bare rooted tree now in place in its hole, I dump the rich compost around the roots, mixing in a bit of the soil I just dug out. I move the tree a bit, helping it to settle in, solemnizing the marriage of tree and soil and compost in what was once just an empty spot in the field.

Another wheelbarrow of mulch and I am done, the tree standing tall now, seemingly bonded to earth and reaching to sky. The last of its colored leaves looking fine across the field. It stands straight, the top poking high into the sky, aiming at the stars.

The tree is home now, and already my mind’s eye can see its new green leaves opening up next April, on a warm spring day, near the birch tree and the wild roses that have lived there for five years.

The barn swallows will swoop around the new leaves and the goldfinches may even perch there a bit, while they check out their new nesting sites. They may call it Sweet Gum, the name on the label tied to a limb. The nursery woman was especially pleased with my choice, saying it will grow strong and tall and it will have the most beautiful fall colors next year. Do goldfinches or barn swallows name their perching trees , or simply accept what is there for them, each time they visit us, no naming needed?

But, today, the wind swirls around, slicing through my jacket and down my neck, reminding me that winter is coming, and this idea of planting things outside needs to stop now. Time to put away the shovel for the season, time to bring in the wheelbarrow, and stash my knee pads and garden shoes in the shop, where they will live until that first day in February, when there will be a breath of less icy wind, and remind me that spring is coming.

Neal Lemery 11/09

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Strings and Raindrops and Napping Cats

Day of rain, day of thunder
A day of writing part of my paper on spirituality and counseling
and how those two concepts come together and make
sense. Or not. They just come together
more often than not. Isn’t everything at least
one of those?

Day of restringing my guitar, tuning each string
finding my ear is hearing flat today
and I want to restring going the wrong way around each post
but maybe that is because we are between Halloween and the Winter Solstice,
and things aren’t just working right, until December.

The new strings sound bright and crisp, bringing old songs on happier,
and “Imagine” comes to life with me, and I do, indeed
I do. An hour later,
I take it up again, on another song, and the storm front and new strings
make me tune each note up again, and again, perfect pitch
being elusive today.

I lift my weights and walk my brisk treadmill mile, driving into the Y
others sweating and grunting a bit,
some even watching TV football in silence, as they run
inside from the rain.

The coffee line at Starbucks is long, for a Sunday afternoon,
and we all want room for cream and serious caffeine
On our ways back home, in between raindrops and hail.

Pork and sauerkraut slow cooking in the oven, and the last of the coffee
downed as the last of the Sunday crossword gets nearly solved.
Today, we do this in pencil, not trusting ourselves to read
the twisted mind of Wil Shortz perfectly, with ink.

Cat on lap, cat needing head rubbed, belly rubbed, as he slips into
yet another nap under the warmth of the lamp, while I read my book
and take one last stab at the last word in the crossword
before I slice the bread and toss the salad, and summon the pork
from its bright red iron and enamel pot.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

November Knives

Laid out on the counter, steel glinting in the light--
edges dull and worn, lined up for the honing stone.

Summer frenzy, berries and fruit,
Then veggies from the garden, peeled, sliced, chopped.

The garage shelves now filled, glass rows after rows--
the pressure canner retired again, back in its place.

Freezer and food dryer tired, too. Shelves groaning
with what the knives had to do, again and again.

Each knife to the wheel, blades rebeveled,
honed, stropped, even, and back in the drawer.

Sharp now, ready for the next task--
Thanksgiving right around the corner.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sacred Work

building, rising, higher
tighter, closer, hotter,

Moving toward, sensing
the tide, ebbing, flowing,
a bit of
time –
nothing else but us.

The room, quiet, fades away
and in this place
sacred work
to be done –
we talk, listen, dance
toward the topic of the day.

On we go, leaning, listening,
gesturing, faces lit
heads nodding; yes --- no.

questions, thought
pondering, wondering
silence, comfortable
and the energy moves on
like a wave, high – low
sometimes receding, sometimes
breaking into foam with a roar
then falling back, quiet, finished.

Before I can take a step
on the outside,
I have to take a step
on the inside.

Later, still present,
echoes remain,
as we move


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Animals Around My Spirit


He was beside the road as I drove home,
his coyoteness in the moonlight by the river
his eyes bright coals in the brush
reminding me to be awake
to the night, to my journey
and my life.


He raced me up the hill that day, car versus dog,
the first day I’d been able to drive to school---
celebrating my accomplishment with his wagging tail
and his wet nose. No one else
celebrated that passage of life with me. No one else
cried when I dug his grave
and took off his collar.


She slipped away in peace, trusting me
as the needle plunged into her sick, poisoned body ---
trusting me with all her heart
to take care of her
the way she took care of me
the way she took care of our new son
the first day, at fifteen, he lived with us.

She taught him to be family,
to sit in the living room, she at his feet,
and be together, to be
loved, just for who he was—
it was the first time he knew love.

She knew that. She knew it all
and taught all of us well.


She touched her paw to my head, as she slept
and I read, in my favorite chair.
The house silent, except for the fireplace
and her occasional soft snore
and the turn of the page in my book.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Least Among Us

Neal Lemery
October 11, 2009
Nehalem, Oregon, United Methodist Church

Thank you, Scott, for that very kind and generous introduction. It is an honor to be here today.

I first want to thank Scott and this generous congregation for Scott’s work as a mediator for Justice Court. The program helps people enmeshed in emotionally and factually complex lawsuits to work on finding consensus and exploring remedies and outcomes that the law and a trial cannot provide. And, Scott’s wide range of talents bears much fruit in his work as a mediator. You do a great job, Scott.

Today, I want to explore with you the relationships between spirituality and the law.

As a lawyer, and as a judge, and also as a man who has a continuing and deeply evolving relationship with God, I am continually in the trenches wrestling with the role of the rule of law and the everpresent complexity of the Spirit.

One may imagine that the role of a judge is primarily a task of learning the law and applying the law to the facts of a particular case. My work on the bench is sometimes that, and some of the questions I face and must decide can be quickly resolved with a reading of the statute books, or finding a particular case law precedent from an appellate court.

Yet, there is the letter of the law and there is the spirit of the law, and there is the everpresent demand to seek justice and to apply justice.

And, there are the lives and realities of the people standing before you in the courtroom. These are often different rows to hoe in the gardens and weed patches of our legal system.

Theologically, one may think of the role of a judge in the context of Solomon, deciding who will have custody of a baby, and who chose between two women both claiming to be the child’s mother. Solomon suggested cutting the child in two with his sword, until the true mother cried out that the other woman should have the child, rather than have her own baby put to death.

Yet, the point of that story is not to define justice in terms of killing a child, but the deep love of a mother for her child. She loved her child so much that she would give up her child to another, so that her child could live.
Perhaps it is a good example of judicial wisdom, but this story is more a story of altruism, and self-sacrifice.

In Luke 9:46-48, Christ tells us this story:

An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. Then, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he is the least among you all – he is the greatest.”

And, the child standing besides Christ is the metaphor for the sadness, the misery, the poverty, the addictions, the violence, the greed, and the chaos of our society. When these agonies are too much for us to bear as individuals, or, often, as a community, these agonies find their ways to the jail and to the courts.

In my work, and in my own spiritual journey, I keep coming back to this passage. For me, Christ is speaking very directly, very plainly. The greatest one among us is not the greatest one, Instead, the greatest one is the least among us all.

I’m a student of the Constitution, and of history. And, when I study what the Founding Fathers were trying to do, I know that they did their work mindful of these simple words of Christ. They lived in an imperfect, often unjust society. They were all white men, owners of land taken from Native Americans, and, often, slave owners. And, yet, the words they crafted, the principles they expressed, carry the spirit of those words of Christ.

In looking to find justice, and in looking to find the right thing to do, the right way to make the right thing happen, He tells us to look at the greatness within the least fortunate, the least loved, the least popular, the least able. And, in that person, there is the greatest goodness.

He calls upon us to put our perspective of things upside down, to look at our world from the opposite point of view.

When I take those principles, those teachings, those words, and hold them in my heart, only then do I find the embers of the fires of justice begin to rise. Then I begin to sense, I begin to know, what is the right result.

I see a lot of lost people. People who are adrift, wandering in the wilderness of our society. Not having a purpose, and not knowing where they are going. And, even worse, feeling that no one cares about them. And when people are in spiritual crisis, when they are starving for a spiritual meaning, they self-medicate their pain, their emptiness with violence, with alcohol, and with drugs.

And, when that first dose of self-medication doesn’t work very well, they self-medicate again, and the cycle deepens and spirals downward. The hunger, the longing doesn’t go away.

One young man, I’ll call him John, came into my courtroom last winter. It was one of those especially nasty days, sleet and snow falling, the day raw and bleak. We dealt with his drug case and his long list of unpaid traffic tickets, and his suspended driver’s license.

We got to talking and I learned he had spent the night on a couch in a drug house, his car had been repossessed. John hadn’t had a real meal in four days.

I took him out to breakfast and, as he gulped down his meal, he told me the story of his life. His father left when he was six. His mother had been in and out of jail, and he’s spent a few weeks there recently himself. He dropped out of high school, and could only find an odd job here or there.

Yet, John was a talented mechanic, and dreamed of becoming a diesel mechanic. He was good at that work.

I put him in touch with the Job Corps, and a local trucking company I had heard was looking for a good apprentice, and dropped him off at the Salvation Army, so he could find a real place to stay and get some food.

To look at John, you would think he had been living on the streets for weeks, which was true. Yet, inside of him was a young man with a big heart, and a driving ambition to make something out of his life. What he lacked was having people around him who believed in him.

Two days later, he stopped by. He’d gotten that job at the trucking company, and had called the Job Corps. He was going to enlist in that program. He knew he wanted to be a success and he was excited.

We kept in touch, and I’d send him a note of encouragement once in a while. He’d send me his grades from each semester, and a great note from one of his teachers. He was in the top of his class.

And, a year later, John stopped by to show me his diploma. The Job Corps was good to him. Even his mom was proud of him now. But, he was finally proud of himself.

Another young man I’ve met, Bill, was usually on the jail list for court. He was an alcoholic and a drug addict. I’ve been dealing with his family for several decades, and he was certainly no stranger to domestic violence and family members in and out of jail, and in and out of treatment programs.

To look at Bill’s record, and how he lived, you might think he had no future. In not too many years, you wouldn’t be surprised to know that he’d been to prison, or died of alcoholism, or from an overdose.

Yet, Bill has a spark of decency and ambition in him. I could see it when you got to talking to him about his kids. He really loved his kids, and he wanted them to have a life much different than his own. Yet, you could see the pattern of his childhood start to repeat in their young lives.

One day, Bill and I finally had a heart to heart talk. He couldn’t figure out why I was so concerned about him and how he lived.

I told him about the spark in him that I saw, every time he talked about his kids.

“You’re one of my kids, Bill,” I told him. “I care about you as much as you care about your own kids. And, I know you can live a better life, Bill. But, you need to decide you are worthy of your own love, and the love of God.”

I’ve grown up knowing that I was loved --- loved by family, by friends, by the community, and by God. Love was always in my life, and, I often just assumed that so much love is just a given in life. Everyone is loved, right?

But, for Bill, this was a new idea. He’d somehow never knew that other people might love him, and that he was worthy of love.

And, that is Christ’s message to us in this Scripture.

“For he is the least among you – he is the greatest.”

It turns our popular, 21st Century, view of our society upside down. After all, we Americans are supposed to aim to be the richest, the most powerful, the most influential. All of that is supposed to be great. It is the American Way.

And, as we deal with this economic recession, the inherent fallacy of that thinking becomes so very obvious. That is not what we are about. And, we are now beginning again to explore, in our hearts, where we need to be going as a country. The issues confronting us are literally standing at the side of Christ. He is standing in the midst of these issues, and calls upon us to deal with them, with compassion, with love, and with the love of God.

That work, my friends, is real spiritual work. And Christ is calling us to come to grips with what he is saying. “ For he is the least among you – he is the greatest.”

It is a great privilege to be here among you this morning. I thank you for your time. May God bless each and every one of you.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Leaf swirling, dancing across the bright blue
above the first pools of the early rain
in the fish-less river below,

The wind, again, cool now, smelling of wet dirt and drying leaves
next week’s storm
not yet even a thought here
along the moss on the old log
next to the trail.

Evening comes sooner, and dawn later—
Orion coming again in morning sky—
first coffee of the day now in darkness; inside by the fire—
cat on warm lap, after the frosty hunt
in the grass next to the now-empty tomato vines
near the gold and orange of the maple.

Filled jars line the shelves in the garage,
squash and potatoes drying on the floor,
tomatoes overflowing on the dining room floor, slowly

Folding socks, I also put away hiking shorts, to the back of the drawer
and pull out the stocking cap and long johns, just in case,
and go looking in the hall closet for that coat,
the one with Gortex, the hood, and gloves
in the pockets.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Being in Solitude

What is my relationship with solitude?

It is profound and deep. It is an integral part of my daily routine and my spiritual practice.

Our culture is filled with data, noise, mayhem and continual interaction. Yet, it is in silence that I engage my creativity, my strength, and my empathy to deal with others.

More importantly, I engage my essence, my true self. It is lonely, but with a positive connotation. I encounter my self, my energies, and a place where I access the energies of the Universe.

This communion does not depend upon a location, but rather is a state of mind, a state of being.

We are human beings, not human doings. So, I strive to “be”, not “do”, to be congruent with my own nature, my own essence.

Loneliness is not “bad”, not is it anti-social. Being in loneliness empowers me, allows me to be fully engaged, to be fully present with myself.

And, when I am so renewed and reconnected, it is then that I am more fully prepared to be in the presence of other beings, and to continue my work as a “being”.

I need time to contemplate, to fully absorb, to fully experience my feelings. And when I am not, I am disconnected with my self. It is when I am so disconnected that I become lonely. My loneliness is being apart from self.

In solitude, I am connected, I am nourished, and I am whole.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Afternoon Among the Stacks

The silence of the library
Slides loose among the bookshelves and slithers through
row after row of theology and psychology
waiting patiently for us to open their brown
ageing papers, and soak up their wisdom.

Last week, I opened one and its Greek letters
gave me no insight into the words of Jesus
that had come alive in the sermon I was writing.
He was alive, and yet the Greek symbols and the seventeenth
century analysis of a translation left me

I went back to my textbook, family systems and disagreements with
Freud, Jungian analysis and human validation process
seemed a bit more real,
coming alive when I thought about the family this morning
in a courtroom filled with the last hour of Vern
and how his caretaker had stolen his lawnmower
and his wife’s blue china.

My Starbucks drained, my e-mail checked, my Facebook updated,
and my watch telling me its time to go to class
and be challenged to put all of this into words
everyone else will understand.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Concerto, concerto

Fingers fly across fret boards and
stretched skins, fingers blurred,
strings stroked and plucked
again and again, as rhythms rise and move
and carry me along into every corner of my brain
and every part of the universe, until
my nerves and brain cells are in
and I am their willing,
so willing

Behind them, seventy or more
stroke and pluck and vibrate reeds and pound on drums
adding to this dance, adding to the song in my brain.

They move me along, taking me on the ride
and I don’t want to get off, I don’t want to stop
and I want to keep going down the rabbit hole
to hear their world, at least for a bit of time,
until every synapse can barely fire one more time
until my brain’s feet can dance no more.

And when I dream, the dreams are in four
four time, and the dance


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Thirsty Midweek Wet

Misty curtain, first in the hills, then lower,
across the sky, hiding the early morning sun
after a dry dawn, and painting the valley orange,
next to the blacks and the grays of the incoming
front, a sharp
line sliding in fast, down from

Softly, at first, then harder, turning sidewalk and street
to black, shiny, slowly becoming
wet, until rivelets formed next to the curb
flowing into the dry iron grids of the
drains. Drains draining

More rain, wetter, puddling in the dirt, not yet
soaking in, the dust still dust, not yet

Withered leaves of dried up dandelion, reviving
perking up, becoming plump again, green
wet leaves with drops falling into the earth,
soon to make blooms again, more seed for
next year’s weeds.

Windshield wiper smear, again and
again, until, finally, clear with each
swipe, back and forth, glass now clean, wet –
the old familiar dance rhythm back again
just for an hour, just enough to get things


Monday, September 14, 2009

That Place on Fifteenth and Duane

It was more than the coffee
or the New York Times stacked in a pile
or the tall magazine holders crammed with magazines
I wanted to read cover to cover, or at least be named as a contributing editor.

It was more than the piles of baked bread, nearly exhausted at the end of the day
when the last of the latte cups and the little plates piled high, with
crumbs of lemon tarts, orange muffins, and other temptations
cluttered up the counter, next to the blown glass tip jar,
layers of bills pushing upward, threatening to spill onto the
repainted cement floor of this auto repair shop
reborn into the resting place for muffin crumbs and drops of
newly steamed espresso and latte foam, and a few
stray unbleached paper napkins.

It was there in the conversations between friends
who had ridden their bikes, or strolled down from the hills
overlooking the river and the ships at anchor, waiting for the tide
or the arrival of the grain from Eastern Oregon at the Portland dock,
barged through the Columbia Gorge and four dams
or waiting in long lines of grain cars at the railroad depot in St. John’s,
a hundred river miles east of here.

Or maybe the fishing fleet and the whistles at the canneries;
but, wait, that was years ago, and only their ghosts remain in the long
rows of half-rotted pilings pushing out into the river,
below the trendy restaurants and fancy boutique hotels, or the
last marine hardware store on the waterfront
next to where the ferry dock stands, only a sign telling of its
link to the other side of the river.

But, I digress, for some of the grain comes here, and not to Japan
or Chile or wherever grain goes after it is harvested in the hot,
yellow fields of the Palouse or the Umatilla River valley.
It finds its way here, ground into flour, mixed with water and yeast
and other grains and seeds and a bit of salt
until it eventually is born again out of the oven
and sliced into thick slabs of toast with melted butter
in the morning when the espresso machine is working
overtime, my idea of holy communion
on a misty cool morning along the river.

I want to come back. Not just for the warm toast and melted
butter covering tomorrow’s oven work, or the espresso
and the foam of the milk in the latte cup, steamed just right,
or even the New York Times, or the waitress who brings the
eggs and the fresh salsa and another plate of that warm
toast not long out of the oven.

No, there’s something more here. Perhaps, five or ten more visits
and I’ll figure that out. Give me time.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Journeying in Faith

"Faith as a process..."

Imagination and faith are the same, giving substance to our hopes and reality to the unseen.
--Kathleen Norris, the Cloister Walk.

I heard a story of a life today, a life based on faith, on a journey with God. I saw a man finding peace with himself, and with God, being content to simply be on the journey, and listening to his own heart. I saw a man recognizing that he is beautiful, that he is a beautiful child of God.

And, in all of that, I felt my own faith, my own belief heartened, strengthened. My journey is renewed.....

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Looking For Jane

I was more excited that usual that day. I hurried through my bowl of oatmeal and was ready before my older brother to head out the door for school. I’d been in first grade for couple of weeks already, and was having fun with my new classmates, and my new teacher, Mrs. Green.

Hurry up, brother, I thought. Today’s a big day.

My brother and I headed down the street for the five blocks to school. I looked up to him --- a lot. He was one of those big middle-schoolers, and our schools were across the playground from each other. I’d see him during lunch sometimes, but he was too cool to wave. Still, I knew he looked after me, and the bigger kids in class knew that I had a big brother close by.

But, today, I had other things on my mind. Today, I was going to learn how to read! We’d been getting ready to read ever since the first day of school, and I was proud to show Mrs. Green that I knew the alphabet, and also my colors. Mom had been working with me on the alphabet and the colors for a few years, and last year, I made sure I knew all I needed to know in my kindergarten class so I could move up to first grade.

Now, I was a big boy, or so I thought, and I was ready to read! Mom and Dad, and even my brother took turns every night, reading a story to me at bed time, and, sometimes, even before dinner. I would help turn the pages, and I knew all the animals’ names in all the pictures, too. Mom had helped me pick out a word or two in the books, but said I should wait for Mrs. Green to really teach me how to read.

We had groups for our reading class at school. Some kids were bluebirds, and some were cardinals. But, I was a robin. I thought that was pretty exciting. One day, we even made paper hats for our groups, and I was pretty excited to bring home my robin hat last week and show everyone.

My brother rolled his eyes, and was going to make one of his smart alecky comments, but I guess Mom’s look at him when he started to open his mouth kept him quiet. I didn’t care what he thought, anyway. It was a neat looking hat and I was happy to be a robin. Nothing was going to get in the way for me to learn how to read!

We walked down the sidewalk, and I was skipping and hopping along. I’d brought my robin hat this morning, and clutched it next to me, not wanting to lose it. I had my lunch pail in my other hand, and I was swinging it along in time with the song I was humming.

My brother wasn’t nearly as giddy as I was. He was always a sleepyhead in the morning, and never responded much to my excitement about going to school. Especially this morning.

“What’s so big about learning to read?” he asked, just as I was about to launch into another hummed verse of one of my songs.

“It’s everything,” I exclaimed. “I’ve been waiting my whole life to read. Now, I’ll read the comics in the paper when I get home from school. I’ll be able to read all my books, all by myself, and I won’t have to wait for you or Mom or Dad to read to me.”

“Big deal, “ he said. “Learning to read will be easy for you. You’ve always got your nose in a book, anyway. Besides, you can read already.”

“I cannot,” I said, a little bit indignant. “Mom said I can’t learn to read until I got to first grade.”

“You read the road signs when we go for a drive,” my brother said. “And, you read some of the words on the milk carton and the cereal box. You read the labels on the records you play over and over again on your stupid little yellow record player.”

“Well, I can’t read a story. I can’t read books,” I said, getting a little angry at him. I wasn’t sure if he was teasing me, or what. “But, I will today. Mrs. Green said I would.”

“Big deal,” he grumped.

We were at my school already, and I skipped over to the door.

“You’ll see. I’m going to learn to read today!”

I could hardly wait for reading class. We had to work on our numbers first, and that took so long. Counting was easy for me, and I already knew my adding up to twenty. We were still working on adding up to ten, though, and I was getting more restless as we got close to the time for reading.

“Recess,” Mrs. Green announced.

I liked recess, and had fun playing baseball and foursquare. But, today, I was going to learn to read, and I wasn’t much interested in playing ball. I wanted to read a book! Still, we all marched out to the playground, and I got pretty excited to work my way up to the fourth square before I got “out”.

When we got back into our classroom, Mrs. Green was standing at her table with a big pile of new books. They had bright colors, and I could see there was a boy and a girl and a cat and a dog on the cover. The boy looked just like me, and he even had a baseball cap on, just like mine.

“Now, class, I am going to hand out your new reading books today. These are your very own books, so I expect you to take extra special care with them,” she said.

I was so excited. I was glad I’d gone to the bathroom on the way back from recess. I about jumped out of my seat when she handed me my very own book, my first reading book. She even winked at me when she handed it to me.

My very own reading book! I felt so grown up and big. I really was a first grader!

The book smelled so new. I’d always loved new books, and the best part of Christmas for me was opening a new book.

My aunt in Chicago always sent me a new book every Christmas, and I could hardly wait to open her big brown box of presents on Christmas Eve. I’d knew she’d always pack a new book in there, just for me. Last Christmas, she’d sent me Stuart Little. My Mom got tired of reading it to me, night after night, and finally, only Dad would read it to me anymore. This summer, my aunt had come to visit us, just like she did every summer, and she would read Stuart Little to me twice a day!

“Alright, class. Open your book to the first page,” Mrs. Green said, her voice quieting the room down. She was being serious, and so was I.

“Now, we are going to read the first word in your book. I’ll sound it out,” she said.

“L L L O O O O O K K K”


“This is an easy word to remember. When you look at something, you use your eyes. Your eyes are big circles, just like the letters ‘O’. ‘Look’ has two ‘O’s; two eyes. You use your eyes when you look.”

She put her hands over her face, making big circles over her eyes, with her fingers and her thumbs. Two big round ‘O’s.

“Now, let’ read this book together,” she said.

“Look,” we said. “Look, look.”

“Now, the third word there starts with “J”. The little girl’s name is Jane. Let’s all say ‘Jane’,” Mrs. Green said.

“Jane,” we chorused.

“Look. Look, Jane,” she said.

“Look. Look, Jane,” we responded.

I can read!! Yes, I really can read. Right here in my very own book. I can read a whole sentence!! I just about fell off my chair. Wow! This is easy. I can read!

I couldn’t wait to tell my brother, or my Mom or my Dad, too. I bet they’d be real proud of me when I told them what I did in school today. I wanted to run right home, yelling “Look, look” all the way.

I better see if I could call my aunt in Chicago, too. I bet she’s be proud of me, too. And, next time she comes to visit, I’ll read Stuart Little to her!


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Thoughts on September 1

Today, September 1. It is warm, sunny, and we are enjoying the fruits of our garden. We feast on the first corn of the season, cucumbers, blackberries, and, after a long absence during the summer, raspberries again.

It is a day much like September 1 was in 1939, 70 years ago. And, on that day, Germany invaded the Netherlands and Belgium, and World War II began. Tanks and bombers and the first of the millions of casualties of that war.

I ponder the peace, the early autumn light, the slight chill in the morning air, the apples ripening on the tree, and I sense the peace of the day.

Today, I am mindful of peace. And, I am mindful of the horrors and violence of war. And, I remember how that war changed the lives of my family and changed the world.

And, I pray for peace.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Metaphor and Art

"Metaphor allows us to explain things to people in indirect ways, sometimes avoiding confrontation, sometimes helping another to see that which she has difficulty understanding.

"Art allows us to focus another's attention on aspects of a feeling or a perception that he might not otherwise see, literally framing the point of interest in a way that it becomes separated from a background of competing ideas of perceptions."

--Daniel Levitin, The World In Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature (2009, p 21).

He also wrote This Is Your Brain On Music

I strive to be more clear in my communication, to more fully and thoroughly express my observations, my emotions. I strive to use my artistic talent, my creativity, to focus clearly on framing my chosen point of interest, so that my thoughts and my message can be more precisely and openly expressed and voiced.

And,I will do this in my writing, in my music, in my painting, and in all my creations. And, in that work, I will improve and I will be more clear, more expressive, and, ultimately, more creative. After all, I am an artist.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

On The Edge

Down to the earth and up to the sky---

here, on the boundary, I waiver

wanting to dig deeper

wanting to fly higher---

Yet, from where I am at

I have both worlds.

Sometimes the sun

and sometimes the moon

and sometimes just the stars, or the clouds

sometimes fading to dark

and sometimes slowly adding light,

and I am of both worlds.

Sometimes I plant and

sometimes I weed

and sometimes I stand and just watch.

Sometimes it’s hot and sometimes it’s cold

and sometimes it’s dry and

sometimes it’s wet, and

I am just part of all that.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Five Years

Digging deep, spreading roots,
new soil, compost on top, around the sides,
a bucket of water, two sturdy stakes, twine;
my hands dirty, my shovel muddy---
And I wait.

More water when its hot, pulling a weed or two,
Retying the twine, after the storm--
And I wait.

Spraying copper and sulfur, a clear winter day
until the bark almost shines, a dusty, metallic blue green
I smile, knowing the buds will be ready
when spring comes--
And I wait.

Taller, more branches, bigger leaves
More spray, this time diluted
summer strength,
more water, and it grows
and I wait.

This summer, more leaves,
now taller than I am, finally
three apples,
dark red, not yet big enough
but almost


Monday, August 10, 2009

Books I've Read, Am Reading, or Have Piled Up Next To My Chair to Read, 2009

Writing to Change the World, Mary Pipher

Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell (he also wrote Blink, The Turning Point)

any book by Michael Pollan (nature, our food supply)

Hot, Flat and Crowded, Thomas Friedman (he's a columnist for the New York Times and writes on current affairs, foreign relations, and the environment)

The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why, Phyllis Tickle

Law of Connection: The science of using NLP to create ideal personal and professional relationships, Michael Losier (he also wrote the Law of Attraction)

The Cloister Walk, Kathleen Norris

Amazing Grace, Kathleen Norris ( I also loved her memoir, Dakota)

The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten metaphors to awake the spiritual masculine, Matthew Fox

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the writer within, Natalie Goldberg

any poems by Ted Kooser, Mary Oliver

The Wonder of Boys: What parents, mentors and education can do to shape boys into exceptional men, Michael Gurian

What Could He Be Thinking?: How a man's mind really works, Michael Gurian

The Purpose of Boys: Helping our sons find meaning, significance, and direction in their lives, Michael Gurian

Finding Sanctuary in Nature: Simple ceremonies in the Native American tradition for healing yourself and others, Jim Pathfinder Ewin

Rare Encounters With Ordinary Birds, Lyanda Lynn Haupt

The Elder Within: The source of mature masculinity, Terry Jones

The Third Chapter: Passion, risk, and adventure in the 25 years after 50, Sara Lawrence Lightfoot

Here Comes Everybody: The power of organizing without organizations, Clay Shirky

The World in Six Songs: How the musical brain created human nature, Daniel Levitin (he also wrote This Is Your Brain On Music)

Writing the Life Poetic: An invitation to read and write poetry, Sage Cohen

Sunday, August 9, 2009


this is my time
to do what I want,
for me.

Now, what I do must be for me.
Not selfish, but self full, self benefit, self fulfilling.
Meeting my needs;
achieving my goals.

Still giving to others, helping, alongside, hand in hand.
“Being the change you want to see in the world,”
As Gandhi said.
And sometimes change in yourself
comes from putting yourself first, doing work on yourself

Now is the time--
my time.
Moving ahead, one step at a


Monday, August 3, 2009

As Far West As I Can Go

At the western most edge of Oregon, the wind holds forth, blasting and shaping trees into distorted shapes, pushed away from the steady forces of the summer northwesterlies, and usually dwarfed into toughened, misshapen trees nearly forced against the earth by the 100 mph gales of the sou’westers of the rest of the year. Most of the plants here are brave grasses and herbs, or simply the bare rock.

It is a calm day here, by Cape Blanco standards, and the fog flies along, parallel to the ground, before disappearing again as it heads back over the sea. I look at the logs of the lighthouse keeper, written with a firm hand and a steel nib back in 1885, and nearly every day’s entry has the word “gale” and “fresh”, with an occasional storm and reports of damage to a shed, or the breaking of a window.

I climb up the spiral stairs of the lighthouse, surrounded by a tower of brick, fired from native clay less than a mile away, and marvel at its strength, holding up against everything the Pacific Ocean can throw at it, for 139 years. Several generations of lighthouse keepers have come and gone now, the lard fueled lamps replaced by kerosene, and then electric bulbs. The 1000 watt bulb today burns on, still warning mariners of the perils of the reefs and shoals dotting the waters for several miles out to sea. Volunteers now tell us about the life of the lighthouse keepers and their families, and the supply ship that came just once a year, bringing the lard, the salt pork, and the precious box of books to keep one’s mind occupied for another year, while the wind howled and the fire was tended, keeping the lard liquefied, keeping the lamp lit, every night. Every night.

You can’t go farther west than this, and still be in the continental United States, and the narrow paved road out to the cape has narrowed down to barely the width of my car. This is the end of the road.

We visit the 1893 farm house of the nearby Irish dairymen, marveling at its indoor hot water system, its large cooking stove, brought in by sea from San Francisco. One son became the assistant lighthouse keeper, and built a house across the river, where he could see the lighthouse beam every night, on his days off. But, perhaps he turned away, instead looking at the river, or the herd of cows, or peered deep into the thick forest of Port Orford cedar, spruce, and hemlock. He lived a long life here, never really leaving, and I only stay for a few hours, pondering the solitude, the beauty of this place, feeling the cool wind against my face.

Soon, we head back to Bandon, looking at the large brown gulls crowding several offshore rocks. We pore over several bird books, trying to find their name, finally settling on Heerman’s gulls, who only come here in the summer, flying north from their usual haunts south of San Francisco. Like the lighthouse supply ship, they may not stay long. They keep to two rocks, leaving the others for the cormorants or the other gulls. Bird real estate is segregated here, limited. Everyone knows their place.

We walk the beach, enjoying the light, the rhythm of the waves, the amazing shapes of all the various rocks, the hauling out of the sea lions, and the black crookneck silhouettes of the cormorants, and, as the fog moves in, the moaning of the fog horn on the jetty.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A perfect July day, a small wooden motorboat, a few beers, binoculars, camera, and no schedule. Most of all, no schedule.

We go up the River, intruding on the Great Blue Heron, at his post, watching, waiting. He is patience incarnate. He is the Hunter, the Watcher.

We are intruders, neophytes to the way of the river, to the life of the Heron -- He Who Watches; He Who Waits.

He has seen us a mile away, but he never moves, waiting for us to glide past, ruffling the early afternoon waters as the tide flows, almost to slack high tide.

Our conversation pauses, and we gaze at him in awe, as we sail through his kingdom.

Thoughts At Fall Creek, A Wedding In July

This was his place of peace, his sanctuary. Trees and ferns surround me, as I look down on the creek, Fall Creek, the place where the eagle flies, and the evening quiet will grow, until there is no more light in the sky.

His dog and I sit there, finding our quiet place in the shade, near the river, and we smell the dry dirt of the summer, and the smell of the forest, and the water below us. The breeze blows through the leaves, and riffles the water flowing west, sunlight dappling on the rocks, under the mossy columns of tree trunks, nearly black against the light green of the maple leaves.

I scratch the dog’s ears, and he wags his tail. He is calm now, after jumping on me and getting excited when I filled his water bowl and untangled his rope, and dragged a chair over to him, so that we could visit.

And, today, this place still keeps its sense of peace. Yet, love and celebration are in the air. It is Kris and Jennifer’s wedding day, and I look over to where the foxgloves bloom, where they said their vows and declared their love for each other, family and close friends leaning forward to catch their words in the soft breeze of this warm July day. The call of the crows stilled a bit, as we performed the ceremony, and now the house and the deck and the yard are noisy, filled with laughter and quiet conversations, as everyone feasts on the pulled barbeque pork and the potato salad and sips their cold beer and pop. The crows have resumed their sorties, scouting out the river and wondering if there is food to be had from the barbeque.

Everyone is relaxed, enjoying the day and enjoying the celebration of love. This place feels good. Good in so many ways. As we arrived, we felt the love, and the peace of this place. This is a home of lovers, who sit out overlooking the creek in the evening, and talk and deepen their love and their commitment to each other, and dream of their future.

This morning, I read that the Greek gods held various trees sacred, and that it is believed that the Greeks named their gods as a way of giving expression to the spirits of the various trees they held sacred. And, so it must be, that we all, in a way, need a way of expressing the spirits of the trees that are in our lives and the spirits of the peace that is nature, that which surrounds us, and gives us comfort and understanding.

The trees here are growing old, the Douglas fir, the spruce, the Western Red and the Incense cedars, the big leaf and the vine maples. They have thick, old trunks, and rise high into the sky, giving shade to this part of the river bank, holding the soil and pushing into the blue above us, their roots deep, pushing down between the rocks, down to the water.

I do not know the names of the gods that hold these trees sacred, yet I feel their spirit, and fill my hunger with their presence, knowing that they watch down upon my nephew and his bride, knowing that they give them peace and comfort, and a refuge from the chaos of the world. And in this refuge, they will build their partnership and grow their love, and their roots will push down to the water and high into the sky, just like the trees.

There is laughter again, the laughter of people here today who are family, who are friends. It is the noise of relaxation and camaraderie, people comfortable in who they are and where they are going. My nephew kicks back, in the midst of all of us, at ease with himself, and at ease with being married today.

He has found his place of peace in this world, and he has found his life partner, his soul mate. He tells me this, but I knew it when I looked into his eyes, and I felt it in our first hug. At last, there is peace in his heart, and in his soul. And the trees smile down. This is good. At last.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Happy Birthday, Aunt Esther

It's Bastille Day and Aunt Esther's Birthday.

So, get out in the garden, enjoy a flower, paint a picture, read a challenging book, plan a trip, make some tea and talk about life, celebrate the day, have a spiritual moment, visit with a friend and have a meaningful conversation.

Celebrate a woman who earned a Master's Degree in business in the 1920s, essentially ran the Great Northern Railroad for a number of years in the 30s (executive secretary to the president of the railroad), ran a dairy farm, and built her own house from scratch with a pile of lumber and a table saw.

Honor a woman who taught herself anything she wanted to learn (playing the organ, oil painting, Chinese antiques, landscaping, Buddhism, etc etc.).

Celebrate the life of the first Buddhist in Beaver and enjoy life!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Summer Paintings


A Day in July

Thunder rumbles far away
rain falls from blue sky
thirsty soil snatches the drops
and there is still dust in the air and on the warm

Bird song and sprinkler clicks
at the end of every arc of spray;
drops falling from dusty leaves,
flowers almost wilting ---
this dry time about to end
for a day,
clouds and fog moving in.

This week’s full moon now wanes
It was low in the morning sky when I awoke---
The sun rises more north than east,
Soon to be high above us
After the fat moon sets low near the south---
Summertime directions running amok.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Blanket Called A Grateful Nation

You brought your blanket of honor
celebrating your service to your country,
your ordeal in battle, and the healing of your wounds
these last forty years.

The colors of too many wars blaze
against a background of blood red
and the agonies of too many lives lost
and people changed forever.

Across my shoulders you draped your blanket
telling the room of your journey, your healing,
and the coming home of many a soldier
after too many years and too many tears.

And, in that draping, I felt honored and comforted
by the closeness and comfort of your friendship
and your open heart, as you shared your pain
and your journey, and your

Saturday, June 27, 2009

June, on a Saturday

Long, shaggy grass, going to
green, and so many tints
changing with the sun moving up so high ---
the mower
roars as it cuts new paths.

Dew, drying, in early summer
air becoming hotter, drier
until sweat begins to
_____________ roll.

Weeds, some sprayed and soon curling
others, long roots, pulled into the air
out of the soil, beginning to

Dust, and sweat
and bits of grass cut
smeared across face and arm,
warm and earthy in my nose ---
jeans now dusty, grass, well worn
shirt sweat, picking up this morning's
____________ story.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Celebrating Father's Day

Dear Son:

Today is Father's Day, though I celebrate fatherhood every day.

I have not given you my genes, my DNA. Yet, in deeper ways than the ways of biology, we are father and son. We have shared in your experiences of being raised up to be a man, to find your way in this complicated world. And, I celebrate who you are, and who you have become. I celebrate and honor your journey into manhood. You have done yourself proud. And, I applaud you, every single day. Well done.

Having you in my life has raised me up so I can fully be a father, and fully be aware of my gifts, and my struggles to completely experience my father-ness.

And, in doing that, I am more complete, I am more whole.

I am more of a man, and more of a human be-ing.

Without you in my life, I could not have lived and be living a life so rich and complete. Without you, I would have missed some of the best parts of my journey in life so far.

So, I celebrate fatherhood not just this day, but every day, in every waking moment. And, in doing so, I celebrate and treasure having you in my life.

Without you, I would not be who I am today.

With all my love,


Monday, June 15, 2009

An Evening in Elgin

I take in, deeply, the silence of the place. Staying the night in a bed and breakfast, in the top floor of once was a hospital in the 1800s, I hear nothing but the quiet. It is Sunday night.

The old house, originally the town’s hospital, creaks quietly. The fourth step on the stairs moans the loudest as my fingers lightly touch the old oak railing as I ascend to my room. I am the only guest tonight, and I have the claw foot tub and the upstairs bedrooms all to myself.

Last week, the entire group of dulcimer players claimed the place, resting up after their performance at the town’s Victorian opera house. Tomorrow, the regional engineer from the highway department moves in, staying for two weeks so he can survey a big road project. But, tonight is my night. Tonight is for me, my book, my wine, and my soon to be bare feet.

The rocker moves quietly on the carpet, and the cool night air ruffles a page or two in my book. The last of the June sunset and the light bouncing off of the Victorian lampshade are the only lights in the house.

It is so quiet that the noise in the room comes from my breathing, and the turning of a page now and then.

The 140 year old oak rocker calls my name, and I soon toss my shoes into the corner and my bare feet touches the carpet. I open my bottle of wine, and pour my first glass, and crack my book. I’d opened the window a bit, in order to sniff the air, still cool and damp from the afternoon thundershower, and my ear catches the distant sound of a dog barking and children riding their bikes along the street, calling to each other. The main road from town to the nearby pass runs along this side of the house, but no one is rushing off to Walla Walla tonight. No need to go; everything you’d want is right here.

The owners, my hosts, are gone. I’ll learn tomorrow at breakfast they went to a “shop party”, to celebrate a grandchild’s birthday. It is the beginning of summer, and people are gathered outside, enjoying a bonfire, music, and birthday cake. I guess a “shop party” is a house party that just starts out too big and needs to be outside. After a long winter here in the midst of these great mountains, time to be outside is to be savored, yes, cherished with friends and family.

Long after I close my eyes, a couple of drunks staggering home from the local tavern will awaken me and the neighborhood dogs, as one cowboy loudly rattles fences and tries to imitate the dogs. I wonder how he’ll make it through a full day of work tomorrow after having a bellyful of beer. But, that experience lies ahead, when I am in my dream world, sleeping soundly on lace trimmed pillowcases and under the quilt, as the night chill moves into the room a bit deeper. I’ll chuckle at the drunks’ foolishness and soon slip back into my deep sleep.

For now, I lose myself in my book, and the second glass of wine. I slip back a century, when an evening of reading in the quiet was the norm. My ear yearns for the clip clop of a buggy or a noisier carriage, but proper Elginites would be home at this hour of the evening, resting after the morning church service and the family Sunday dinner. Tomorrow, I’d take the steam train back to LaGrande and maybe even on to Portland. Or maybe continue my journey and ride the club car to the end of the tracks in Enterprise, my suitcase, steamer trunk, and my traveling easel and paint box eager for a week or maybe the whole summer at the lake. It would be a good place to study the summer light and the evening alpenglow on the craggy mountains above the lake.

It would be a worthwhile summer long project, with plenty of time to read and enjoy the quiet. And, at the end of the season, I’d pack my paintings and ship them back to Portland, ready for the fall season at my gallery. I’d brag to my friends about the light at the end of the lake, and the oils would be fresh and rich, glowing in the new electric light of the main show room.

An hour or so later, a truck runs noisily along the road, spewing diesel and the amplified thump of a country western bass line, and it’s not 1909 anymore. Still, the oaky creak of the rocking chair and the delicate flowers of the wallpaper and the claw foot tub at the end of the hall hold me back in time.