Monday, May 31, 2010

Make It New

This was a maxim of Ezra Pound, the poet.

“He meant this as a push toward the creative, a push away from what’s known, accepted, expected. To fall into grooves already well worn may be comfortable, but it’s hard to rise over the edge of what you’ve fallen into. To poets, he was admonishing them to abandon the old forms and rhymes, to find their voices in something fresh. As a life philosophy, make it new challenges the day.”

 Frances Mayes, Every Day in Tuscany: Seasons of an Italian Life (2010), p. 289.

“Light again, and the one who brings light!
Change the way you live!


“Draw back the door bolt.
One level flows into another.
Heat seeps into everything.
The passionate pots boil.
Clothing tears into the air.
Poets fume shreds of steam,
Never so happy as out in the light!”

- Rumi -- Shreds of Steam

The last two days, I was a gardener, a reaper of grass grown wild and long, a raker of piles of sodden clumps of new clippings, and old clippings turned brown. I was the builder of a compost pile, a trimmer of laurel, a planter of baby rhododendrons. I was the master of the weed eater, firing it up for the first time this year, to discover flowers and shrubs nearly buried in the lush green jungle of this wet spring. I was the spreader of fertilizer, and the sprayer of weeds growing in gravel and around the grapes and apples, their tender leaves gracefully unfolding.

And, I was also the photographer and the painter, taking in the strengthening light of the last of May, feeling the sun’s warmth on my face and arms, seeing how the light played in the fresh new leaves of the trees and shrubs. I caught the light on the swallows as they darted and strafed our cat on the deck, watching the prisms of purple, blue, and black on their tails in the afternoon sun.

And, I was the poet, experiencing the new life springing up, in the ways growing things do in spring, every year, in Time’s endless circle. And, as I planted and mowed, and trimmed, and dreamed, the rhythm of the day became mine to savor, and mine to remember.

--Neal Lemery, May, 2010

Friday, May 28, 2010


He was standing on the corner in the busiest part of town today. The rain was thick and pretty cold and he was soaking wet, looking up the street. I thought he was trying to hitch a ride, or panhandle some money. He had a cardboard sign, an essential accessory for the panhandler.

I was expecting the “Homeless” or “Need Work” language on the sign, or maybe some sunnier destination other than my home town this rainy Friday, the start of Memorial Day weekend. Maybe “Newport” or “Portland”, or even “California”, though it had been raining there this week, too.

The light changed and I eased forward, finally close enough to read the sign.


Well, indeed. Hopefully most of us are hempless today. Its usually a state of existence I don’t think about much, much less advertise it with a hand printed cardboard sign on the main drag at noon.

Still, for this young man, it was a status that he needed to proclaim rather openly and loudly to the general motoring public, including the tourists already flowing through town on their way to the beach, or the nearby campgrounds. I had been stuck in traffic for a few blocks behind a boat and two campers, and a giant fifth wheel. None of them had stopped to offer the young man the hemp that he seemed to be desiring.

Part of me wanted to catch his eye, and make some sort of contact. Maybe even roll down my window and ask a question or two. I had plenty I wanted to know. But, he was deep in conversation with another young man with a backpack. And, maybe they were close to a solution on the hemplessness of it all.

The light was green when I passed by him. And, I couldn’t stop to snap a photo of him and his sign. After all, it was the first “hempless” sign I’d seen. I’m pretty sure of that. And, the gang at the office would find it hard to believe my story of what I saw on my lunch hour.

So, you’ll have to take my word for it, I guess. “Hempless in Tillamook” may become one of next year’s box office hits. I’ll have to get working on the screenplay. The whole idea just sounds more marketable than “Sleepless in Seattle”, don’t you think?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sorting Through the Closet

Today, I look out into the rain, and feel the rain falling inside of myself. I struggle with the rain inside of me, knowing that I need sunshine, and I need to let myself feel beautiful, and safe, and well.

It is time to lighten my heart, to lay down some of life’s burdens, and to move ahead, with a lighter step and a joyful heart.

Henri Nouwen writes of his own struggles and journey through bleakness and angst:

“Here lies the core of my spiritual struggle: the struggle against self-rejection, self-contempt, and self-loathing. It is a very fierce battle because the world and its demons conspire to make me think about myself as worthless, useless, and negligible. Many consumerist economies stay afloat by manipulating the low self-esteem of their consumers and by creating spiritual expectations through material means. As long as I am kept ‘small’, I can easily be seduced to buy things, meet people, or go places that promise a radical change in self-concept even though they are totally incapable of bringing this about. But every time I allow myself to be thus manipulated or seduced, I will have still more reasons for putting myself down and seeing myself as the unwanted child.”

---Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son (1992)p. 107.

I can choose to wallow, to tear my hair, and to drown my spirit in the rain that falls within me, or I can take inventory, find my bootstraps, yank sharply upward, and “git ‘er done”. The sun is always shining above the clouds and the rain, anyway.

I have been moving forward most of my life, and I know that I can move forward. It is, after all, the only reasonable direction to travel.

And, the first step in that journey is forgiveness. Forgiveness is a complex house, its closets stuffed with a host of thoughts and emotions, and, in some of the boxes, some really ugly stuff that, at some point in my life, truly needs to be sorted through and tossed. There might be a few gems and treasures in those boxes, though, and thus, I will need to take inventory.

I also have my supply of trash bags close at hand, so I can toss freely and often. Trash bags are cheap and plentiful, and sit there on the shelf, begging to be filled, to be of use.

After all, the trash man comes on Wednesday, and I want to get my money’s worth for that service.

“I now see that the hands that forgive, console, heal and offer a festive meal must become my own.” Henri Nouwen, ibid, p. 119.

No one else can do this work. No one else can walk into my closet and begin the sorting and the tossing that needs to be done. This is my work, and mine alone.

Neal Lemery
May, 2010

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Special Time

I knew I’d been accepted as part of the family when my father in law asked me to go elk hunting with him. Elk hunting in November was Sacred Time for Ernie, one of the high points of the year.

Of course, I said yes, knowing that there’d be snow, that I knew nothing about elk hunting, especially in Northeast Oregon, and I had to get myself into better shape. I’d heard from a lot of hunters that the purpose of deer season was to get in shape for elk season. Since I wasn’t a hunter, it was time to face reality.

So, I worked out, borrowed my mother’s 30.06 rifle, and read up on what sort of ammo one takes elk hunting. I bought a scope, insulated and waterproof hunting gear, and extra socks. I even took the rifle out one weekend and had a buddy help me sight it in, so that if I did see a bull elk during our hunt, I’d at least be somewhat accurate with the rifle.

I took two weeks off from work and headed to eastern Oregon, my pickup filled with all my hunting gear, two sets of long underwear, and several pairs of wool gloves, not to mention my freshly cleaned rifle and a couple of boxes of ammo. I’d hoped I’d packed my courage and my machismo, too. I kept checking on that, during the drive, and never once thought I’d over packed in that department.

Once I got to Ernie’s house, I put my gear in his pickup, and helped him load the last of his gear, and a couple of boxes of food. He’d already been to the hunting camp the day before, and pitched his big tent, and got ready for opening day. I could tell he was a little leery of my lack of hunting prowess, but he was happy to see me.

We headed off down the freeway, and soon turned onto a small paved road, which quickly turned to gravel. We climbed up the steep mountains and Ernie simply announced, after about ten miles, that we were “going up Bear Creek”. Another ten miles and we arrived at camp. There was a large canvas tent, with a wood camp stove inside, and two cots. His cousin, Kenny, was already there.

They quickly showed me around camp, and told me I could sleep in the camper. There wasn’t any snow on the frozen ground yet, but the wind was bitter, and the thickening clouds promised snow by the morning. We took a hike up to the top of the ridge, Ernie showing me where we could take our “stands” in the morning, and wait for the bull elk to come into range. There were clumps of mountain fir and spruce, and, where there was a creek or a spring, some aspen, which had already lost most of its bright yellow leaves. The air smelled crisp and clean, and the place started growing on me. I started getting a sense of the sacred in this place.

That night, Ernie cooked up some chili, and cracked open a fifth of whiskey. We kept pouring a few shots into our campfire coffee, and telling stories. Ernie and Kenny had hunted together for years, and they had their own rhythm going, feeling comfortable with each other. Yet, they treated me like a brother, and told many stories of their hunting adventures.

Over the next week, I’d hear many stories, and came to know that Ernie started hunting here when he was a child, and I came to know the various stands by the names of his grandfather, his dad, and his uncles, all of whom had long passed on. They each had their favorite stand, and I heard of most of the successes they’d had hunting on this ridge for the past sixty years.

These were stories I had never heard him tell, but then, when I visited him at his house, he was pretty silent, and certainly didn’t tell hunting stories. And, he certainly didn’t add any whiskey to his dinner coffee, well, except on Christmas Eve. That was the night we could slip outside to the milk house, and he’d pass around the bottle he kept stashed out there. Just like my grandfather, who kept a bottle stashed in the barn, and I was sworn to secrecy about what we did there, on a cold evening after the milking was done.

The next morning, we were up at 4 o’clock. Ernie had the coffee cooking and the bacon and eggs frying. We gobbled down our breakfast and headed out into the dark. Snow had moved in during the night, and Ernie led the way up the ridge in the dark. I had to work to keep up with him, and not get lost in the falling snow. Up, and up we went, into the thin mountain air. My sea level lungs were put to the test at 4,000 feet, and I’d wished I’d put in quite a few more miles in my training.

Drenched with sweat, I stopped behind him to pant, as he showed me the log he wanted me to sit on for the next couple of hours.

“Wait here, and be quiet. I’ll come get you a few hours after dawn,” he said, as he strode off to his own favorite stand.

I brushed the snow off part of the log and sat down, watching the sky slowly lighten a bit, the light odd and hushed through the falling snow. The forest was eerily quiet, with the snow falling and the night turning into day. I looked around, and saw a chipmunk, and then a blue jay, scurrying around. In the distance, a few snow-laden branches crashed to the ground, their snapping and popping nearly scaring me to death.

I checked my gun, telling myself it was loaded, and wondered what I would do when the elk came. My hands started to grow cold and stiff, despite the two pairs of gloves I wore. I was glad for the long underwear and the insulated pants and coat I’d purchased from the sporting goods store last week. The snow started to accumulate on my hat, and my pants, as I sat there, still and quiet, just like Ernie told me to.

I did get up once, to pee, writing my name in the new snow, and watching my handiwork quickly being covered by the snow. I worried about being lost, but remembered that all I had to do was walk down hill and I’d either find the road, our camp, or the little creek that led downhill to our camp. I had my compass, too, but I realized that all the clumps of trees were starting to look a lot alike in the snow. And, our trail up here was already lost in the white accumulation.

Then, I heard a deep noise, almost a roar, and realized it was a bull elk bugling in the forest. The sound drew closer, and I realized the elk was coming towards me. Crap, I thought, I’ve got to be the hunter here. Yes, the hunter with the frozen hands, and not really knowing which end of the rifle to use, when faced with the bull elk coming straight at me. And, I certainly didn’t want to be the complete fool in front of my father in law and Kenny, both of whom had hunted this ridge for most of their lives. Shooting an elk would be a natural thing for them, quite unlike my task, me, the citified novice.

I gathered my manliness about me, and checked my rifle, finally realizing I needed to take the eye caps off the scope, so I could actually see the target. I checked my magazine again, and yes, there were still bullets there, and one in the chamber. I was ready, I thought.

Aim and squeeze, but only as you breathed out. Yes, that was what I’d learned. Now, to put that little mantra into practice. Yes, even I could be the hunter here.

Sweat dripped down my chest and ribs, as the frozen wind picked up a bit more and the snow started falling even harder. I thought I had to pee again, but realized that unzipping three layers of clothes at this moment wasn’t very “hunter like” and I’d miss the bull. Now, that wouldn’t be a very studly story to tell at camp tonight, even after the requisite shot of whiskey.

I heard a branch snap and then I heard a snort, a very bull like snort. I was downwind from where he was coming, and I could actually get a good shot. Closer and closer he came, and my fingers stopped trembling a bit, as I realized I could do this, I could take a good shot.

He came into view, about eighty yards away, just behind a big log. He looked in my direction, but he didn’t see me. Not me, the mighty hunter in my store bought camo coat and half snow covered hat. I slowly raised the rifle, and watched him jump over the log and move closer to me.

It would have been a tough shot, straight on, and I’d probably miss him entirely. It was just too small of a target. Yet, he was magnificent, in his early winter cape of thick fur and a massive rack of antlers. My heart raced and I sweated through the first layer of my many shirts, the cold wind pushing against me.

He slowly turned to the side, looking up the ridge towards something he had heard. I knew he wouldn’t stay still for long, and I’d better take a shot. I took aim, finding him in my scope, watching the cross hairs meet just under his shoulder blade. Yes, the perfect shot. My finger slipped quietly, clicking off the safety, and I began to pray my mantra, “aim, breathe out, squeeze”.

Time stood still there on that ridge for a bit, my mind forgetting the cold wind and the snow and the stiff frozen muscles that came from sitting on that log for the last few hours. All of me was focused on that elk and the cross hairs, and me slowly squeezing the trigger.

And, boom, and reload, working the bolt, and aiming again. He didn’t move, and so I squeezed off a second shot, aiming for the same part of his chest, just below his shoulder.

He went down, forelegs first, then all of him. He was huge, yet, he fell silently. The echoes of my rifle shots still rang in my ears, and, I thought the noise still echoed off the ridge and the nearby tree trunks.

Somehow, I clicked on the safety again, and moved forward. I remembered Ernie telling me to not move too close to the elk if I had shot him, as the bull can easily feign death and will thrash his big rack of antlers. Many a hunter got gored by the elk they had shot, not being patient enough to wait until the bull had bled out.

I stood there in shock, and amazement, at what I had done and the magnificence of this beast of the woods. Adrenalin rushed through me, yet I had stopped sweating, and the wind quickly cooled the sweat dripping down my face. The forest was silent now, my shots scaring the birds into silence, and the still falling snow absorbing the rifle fire.

I heard footsteps behind me, and looked to see Ernie coming down the ridge, a big grin on his face.

“Got him, did ya?” he whooped, grinning from ear to ear.

Yes, the son in law really can hunt, I thought. And, I knew he was proud of me that snowy frozen morning up on the ridge above Bear Creek.

Neal Lemery May, 2010

Sunday Morning

Deep I go into myself
arm casting, eye checking the fly as it
lands, lightly, on the current—
I watch it, sometimes,
my soul deep into the river, its voice
constant through the ages—
my cast strong, sure
in the warmth of sun-filled
Sunday morning.

Neal Lemery May, 2010

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Fly Fishing Weekend

This weekend, I relearned a valuable lesson: The peace that comes with fishing. We rented a cabin on the Metolius River in Central Oregon, and I fly fished. I deliberately did not take my watch. Again, I learned the simplicity of watching the river, tying a fly, and casting.

Regular time had no real meaning. I fell into the rhythm of the current, the geese flying low up the river, the solitary snow goose, and the water dipper bobbing on a rock just above the water line. I watched a few fish roll. I watched the bugs, and realized I had matched my fly with the bugs that were about.

I realized I could improve my fishing with some different and longer leader, and maybe a tiny weight, but that really didn't matter, either. I was there and so was the river, and that was all that mattered.

In the later afternoon, we sat by the river and drank wine and talked and watched the thunder heads grow. Later, there would be lightning and rain, but not while we drank wine and watched the light turn from late afternoon to nearly sunset.

I realized that I also enjoyed this when I was a kid. And, sometimes, as an adult. But, not nearly enough.

There is simple joy in simply wading around a river, feeling its power in your legs and being in the midst of its life.

I came back today, to drizzle, and wind, and falling temperatures. My waders and pole and vest are still in the car, and I felt a strong urge to run away and be a kid, again.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Seven Deadly Social Sins

• Wealth without Work
• Pleasure without Conscience
• Science without Humanity
• Knowledge without Character
• Politics without Principle
• Commerce without Morality
• Worship without Sacrifice

---Mohandas Gandhi

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

In the Know

Morning light, spring grass, mountains with a bit of snow
crows lined up, all looking north---
all in a row, every other fence post,
waiting, waiting.

All in a row, black and tidy
what do they know
this morning, cold and windy,
What do they know?

Monday, May 3, 2010


You are gone now, but still remain--
we petted you one last time, as you slipped away--
no more to be troubled by tumors and pain
yet today you were with me, walking down the lane,
and hunting the birds in the early morning light.

My tears still run, my voice chokes up
yet I hear your voice in my dreams
your soul lives on
your presence is with us still.

I plant the summer flowers for the deck
remembering last Sunday, as you lay at our feet
enjoying the sun, and being together,
in peace, and with love,
your favorite times.

Still with us, I know
Spirit never dies, and memories linger
in our hearts, forever
though tears fall, again and again.

--Neal Lemery, 5/3/10

Saturday, May 1, 2010

It's This Time Thing, Again

Some say it’s a calendar date,
so is it simply a pad of paper
with each day marked off as we go?

Some say it’s a segment of a long line –
a piece of string – and this day is just a fragment.
Some days are stretched, and others just come unraveled.

Some say it’s a wheel, like a bicycle tire going round and round
fall, winter, spring, summer, and repeat it please
until you die.

Some say it’s a merry go round, carved animal figures
going up and down and round and round
until the music stops.

Some say it’s a long, s-l-o-w slide
from youth to old age,
with graying hair and wrinkles marking the years,
especially now that I HAVE gray hair and wrinkles,
making it easier to mark the passing of time.
Yet, isn’t the “slow” moving faster now?

Some say it’s a growing and a changing
and an expansion of spirit and life.
better, not older -- wiser, not longer, in time.

And, I think they are all right
and all at least partly wrong;
(age giving me the right to accept, reject, and modify
any idea that comes my way.)
Each day is a gift, to be opened and enjoyed,
in the moment, pleasantly surprised.
Yet, it is not taken for granted, and there is the potential to be savored,
realized, and enjoyed to its fullest,
like a good bottle of wine, or today’s sunset,
or dinner with a wise and dear friend, or even the purr
of the cat asleep on my lap.

--Neal Lemery 10/2006