Changing hues

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A return from Retreat is to encounter how both we and our environments have changed. Emails and phone calls have been shared about the efforts required to adjust to ‘normality’ after five days and nights on Iona with an inspirational group of writers and poets.

We’re changing all the time, of course, like the lakeland colours above Ullswater close to home this morning. But Retreat helps us to step back awhile, to stop and notice the view.

I enjoy my daily routines – journaling included. But just as I was about to fret a bit about having missed a few days I remembered what this most recent retreat, and every retreat reminds me of: that it’s important sometimes, often even, to simply be rather than just do!

Shades of Ullswater ii

Allegiances

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photo at pixabay

Allegiances

It is time for all the heroes to go home
if they have any, time for all of us common ones
to locate ourselves by the real things
we live by.

Far to the north, or indeed in any direction,
strange mountains and creatures have always lurked –
elves, goblins, trolls, and spiders: – we
encounter them in dread and wonder,

But once we have tasted far streams, touched the gold,
found some limit beyond the waterfall,
a season changes, and we come back, changed
but safe, quiet, grateful.

Suppose an insane wind holds all the hills
while strange beliefs whine at the traveler’s ears,
we ordinary beings can cling to the earth and love
where we are, sturdy for common things.

William Stafford
The Way It Is – New & Selected Poems

A few key dates in William Stafford’s life: born in Kansas in 1914. A conscientious objector in World War II. A man whose habit was to write something daily, who would rise at 4.30am to ‘sit and wait’ for what he knew lay within to be written. His volume West of Your City published by Talisman Press in 1960; Allegiances published by Harper in New York in 1970; the author of over fifty books, he died at his home in Oregon in 1993.

William Stafford thoroughly understood that once we have tasted far streams … / found some limit beyond the waterfall, / a season changes, and we come back, changed …

And therein lies our hope for this old world in our own time and season.

Dreadful elves, goblins, trolls and spiders have always existed. Some of them, some of us too, have sought to be ‘heroes’ – fenced around by their and our own ignorance. It is time for all the heroes to go home.

How then may I and we locate ourselves by the real things / we live by – ?

Perhaps – having tasted – it has always to start with me, with what I now clearly see: that instead of kidding myself it’s my job to change the entire world (whoever I am, whatever my place of birth, gender, skin colour, creed or lack thereof, and wherever on earth I think myself called to be the hero, the unsolicited ‘saviour of the world’) my best contribution to that same world will be to allow seasons and experience to change me.

While strange beliefs whine at the traveler’s ears,
we ordinary beings can cling to the earth and love
where we are, sturdy for common things.

Note sturdy. Not wimps without cogniscence of – or willingness sometimes to act upon – right or wrong. Not people who turn blind eyes to goblins and trolls. Not people who do not grieve, or hope, or offer healing or hospitality, or pray, or live and die. But sturdy. Believing in the possibility of being positively changed. Experienced in the quiet and slow methods and the poetry of seasons.

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Abundant sense

Ullswater afternoon | simon marsh

I asked him [a joyful painter I knew] how he came to be a painter. He said, ‘I liked the smell of the paint.’

Annie Dillard
The Abundance

Sometimes just a sentence can bring about a smile – and seasons and reasons from yesteryear. I was asked forty years ago, beside this very Ullswater, what had whet my appetite for photography. I quite clearly remember answering ‘the smell of the leatherette on my Kodak Box Brownie!’ Makes sense to me!

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Winter’s accumulation

A purification

At start of spring I open a trench
in the ground. I put into it
the winter’s accumulation of paper,
pages I do not want to read
again, useless words, fragments,
errors. And I put into it
the contents of the outhouse:
light of the sun, growth of the ground,
finished with one of their journeys.
To the sky, to the wind, then,
and to the faithful trees, I confess
my sins: that I have not been happy
enough, considering my good luck;
have listened to too much noise;
have been inattentive to wonders;
have lusted after praise.
And then upon the gathered refuse
of mind and body, I close the trench,
folding shut again the dark,
the deathless earth. Beneath that seal
the old escapes into the new.

Wendell Berry
New Collected Poems, page 233

I’ve just written a note to a friend about appreciation of the year’s seasons and in the act of doing so came to wonder if others have experienced the way a particular book within a bookcase can suddenly catch the light and call one to open its pages? Like synapses in the brain and the corridors of the mind lead us to re-collection, of stored information, and to our senses. So, for me, tonight.

And what a sane man the farming poet Wendell Berry appears always to me to be – one who understands seasons, and planting, and metaphor, and actions, each having purpose and proper place. We all gather material we “do not want to read again”. How great a grace it is that warms us “at start of Spring”, encouraging  examen, inner consideration of our place within the outer world, and the willing handing over to the earthy processes of death and resurrection that enable our continued becoming: metamorphosis – “the old escapes into the new”.

Snow Queen

A visit to our favourite theatre tonight – delighted, as ever, by the sight of a large assembly, enthralled.

The beautiful Snow Queen’s inordinate vanity seeks to secure superiority by blasting ice upon and around everyone else. She aims to destroy life’s seasons and any potential for happiness in others. But mirrored beauty – and mirrors themselves – are subject to cracks and blemish, to an ultimate sense of aloneness, fear and imperfection.

Love, the freshness of spring, summer playtime and the colours of autumn, family, flowers, flight, fright, friendship, loyalty, manure, rivers, seas, scent and sight and sound and taste and touch, youth and old age, foolishness and wisdom – all have their rightful place within properly rounded richness of living. So before we set off for home we were so glad to learn that the terrifying old Snow Queen could actually play the flute – and had decided, by the end, to join her music to that of all the others. Good decision.