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Going Upstream with Mary Oliver

In her recent Baptist News Global piece, Hidden pencils, urgent warnings and instructions Mary Oliver left the Church, Carol Davis Younger offered a lovely tribute to poet, Mary Oliver, and an insightful exhortation to the church to approach “Scripture – and our world – with the holy curiosity and expectancy Oliver did when she went to the woods and to the shore.” As Younger shared her experience with Upstream, I caught my breath and embraced the mutuality of our stories, our experiences, and perhaps our feelings – Mary Oliver’s, Younger’s, and mine. 

I too became better acquainted with Mary Oliver through her collected essays in Upstream. I was drawn to the book, so much so that I paid full, independent bookstore price for it. Something I rarely ever do! I had admired Mary Oliver as a poet and was curious as to her prose. Being a woods wanderer and stream jumper, the title Upstream, and its connotation of going against the flow, which I often do, piqued my interest. The cover photo looked like a place I would enjoy.  I fully understand Younger’s response to the essay, “Power and Time.” As I read the essay, I felt that I was personally being both affirmed and admonished. I am keenly aware that my creative self needs solitude, a place apart, without interruptions. Oliver buoyed my spirit with her affirmation of this then promptly admonished me for being my own primary interrupter.

But just as often, if not more often, the interruption comes not from another but from the self itself, or some other self within the self, that whistles and pounds upon the door panels and tosses itself, splashing, into the pond of meditation. And what does it have to say? –Upstream, page 23

For me it says that I need to attend this civic meeting, that I should give my wife more time and attention, that I must do my share of home maintenance. Returning to the creative work often finds that the spark of an idea has dimmed and the flow of words has dried up. In the creative work we can be, and probably are, our worst impediment. 

Oliver tells me that the “machinery of creativity” can’t be controlled or regulated. I believe it! More times than I want to recount I have awakened in the wee hours of the morning with an idea or a string of narrative going through my head. Over time, I have learned it is best that I go ahead, drag myself out of bed, and write it down for I will not be able to sleep if I don’t. 

For me, as perhaps for Anderson, Oliver’s most unsettling words are:

The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time. — Upstream, page 30

I most assuredly will join Anderson as a “candidate for future regret” as I see a bouquet of withered buds of exciting ideas and plans that failed to blossom because I did not nurture them with power and time. I suppose my task going forward is to recognize the tiny buds of creative thoughts and ideas and give them their needed power and time. I suspect it will be an erratic path even in all my efforts to “keep my eyes on eternity,” reject the responsibilities that have claimed me, and discard the “many heavy coats” that burden. 

My prayer, with a bit of assist from Mary Oliver, as I move forward is:

In my wild and precious life
May I stay forever in the stream.
May I pay attention and find my devotion.
May I be astonished at the profound simplicity of our natural
         world,
Even as I marvel at its intricate complexities.
May I be humbled by its majesty.
May I revere the fruit of the earth-the grass, the flower, the tree.
May I respect the creature — the minuscule and the mighty.
May I glorify the Creator of it all and be grateful.
May I hear the silence that calls to me.
May I feel the rippling waters.
May I stay forever in the stream.
Whether with voice or pen in hand, may I tell about it all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Neighborhood Dress

Big Bend Gallery

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The gap where the Rio Grande exits the Santa Elena Canyon.

I am finally making public some of my photos from our April 2018 Big Bend Trip. Click on the first photo in each group and you can scroll through the photos in the light box.  Unfortunately, I did not upload them all at once, so you will have to view them in groups: BOQUILLAS, THE WINDOW TRAIL, SANTA ELANA CANYON, CASA GRANDE. 

I hope there is no wall built along the Rio Grande River. That is not a political statement, but an ecological statement. The land is awesome. The ecosystems both magnificent and fragile. The views are breathtaking. I can not imagine a wall on this sacred land. Take a look and enjoy!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Bend Gallery

DSC_0208

The gap where the Rio Grande exits the Santa Elena Canyon.

I am finally making public some of my photos from our April 2018 Big Bend Trip. Click on the first photo in each group and you can scroll through the photos in the light box.  Unfortunately, I did not upload them all at once, so you will have to view them in groups: BOQUILLAS, THE WINDOW TRAIL, SANTA ELANA CANYON, CASA GRANDE. 

I hope there is no wall built along the Rio Grande River. That is not a political statement, but an ecological statement. The land is awesome. The ecosystems both magnificent and fragile. The views are breathtaking. I can not imagine a wall on this sacred land. Take a look and enjoy!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Building Bridges-Making Peace

Bridge of the Gods1

BRIDGES

Quite good at building bridges, we are! Such marvels of engineering!
Gleaming steel, expansive cables, massive concrete
Carry burdens of rushing cars, trucks, trains, and even plodding feet
Over barriers of water-tumultuous and serene, abysmal chasms, plunging gorges.
Bridges conceived in survival, sometimes social, often economic.
Bridges born of intellect and ingenuity; completed in grit and determination.
We admire them, we dedicate them, we name them–
Brooklyn, Tower, Penang, Sydney Harbor, Golden Gate.

What bridges beckon us today to a renewed era of building?
Bridges to peace! Bridges more difficult, more complex perhaps, more urgent indeed!
Bridges of warm smiles, outreached hands, eyes that truly see, listening ears.
Bridges of understanding and compassionate hearts, minds guided by reason.
Bridges of kind deeds, gentle actions, firm commitments, and diligent compromise.
Bridges over barriers of nationalism, abysmal chasms of religion,
Plunging gorges of race, the waters of diverse cultures whether raging or serene.
Bridges to peace conceived in the roots of our humanity
Born of the kindred spirits of sacredness and dignity of every life.
Do we desire them, will we build them, dedicate them, name them –
Respect, Acceptance, Affirmation, Love?

We see our Muslim brothers, our African sisters, the fleeing Latino children,
The starving Sudanese, the terrorized Assyrians, our neighbors next door.
We look in the eyes. We hear the cries from the other side.
Eyes clouded with fear, sorrow, desperation, hopelessness, hate.
Cries filled with anguish, horror, hunger, grief, and anger.
We see and hear their hearts. We know and feel our own.
Let us heed the beckoning. Let us build bridges to peace.
Let us dedicate and name them: Respect, Acceptance, Affirmation, and Love.
Quite good at building bridges! Yes, we can be! Such marvels of our humanity!

 

 

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Natural Bridge Yellowstone National Park

 

In the Moment — September 11, 2015

Rock Springs Run! I Almost Missed It!!

0924150939-00Since our arrival at Wekiwa Springs State Park in Apopka, FL my desire and intent was to kayak down the Rock Springs Run Paddle Trail, which is touted as the number one paddle trail in Central Florida. I must admit that even with my desire and intent, I felt a nagging anxiety. Yes, I felt nervous, uncertain, scared, and fearful of doing what I wanted to do. I suppose my anxiety was rooted in several things. First, I have never kayaked this particular paddle trail. I would literally be entering unknown and uncharted waters — at least for me. Second, I would be doing the paddle alone. I know, the “rules” of kayaking urge us not to go it alone, but in this instance, I have no choice. Do it alone, or don’t do it at all! Third, it is a long paddle — 8.5 miles — requiring four to five hours minimum paddle time. Fourth, Rock Springs Run is on the Wekiva River which is designated a National Wild and Scenic River. Now, I am fine with scenic. It is the “wild” that causes me pause. In this case one might translate “wild” into alligators. Also, I had been told that the current in the upper run was fairly swift, and the river was definitely not straight — lots of crooks and turns. This combination can be difficult and even treacherous. So, I was anxious. Bottom line – I was scared!

I knew that if I didn’t push through the fear and do the paddle that I would be disappointed with myself and with not getting to experience the river up close. So I shared my feelings with Lou Anne which actually made me feel better and decided that I would go to the launch point, King’s Landing, talk with the folks there about the river conditions, take a look at the water, and then make my decision. Which is exactly what I did and launched the kayak at 9:30 am. I would paddle the 8.5 miles to Wekiva Island, and Lou Anne would meet me at the take-out there at 1:00 – 1:30 pm. I set the launch location as a waypoint on my GPS, set the trip odometer, and paddled out. Still a bit anxious, but ready for the challenge!

I entered the main channel and was greeted by dense water lilies with a paddle trail snaking through their midst. There were also a couple of houses on the right — nothing wild about that. The river was wide bank-to-bank, but the water lilies made the paddling trail much narrower. This was the case intermittently throughout the trail. Toward the end of the trail these plants were blooming a colorful red and blue. When I was not traversing the lilies, the banks were lush and green with large towering oaks, palms (the short, bushy saw palmetto as well as the cabbage palm tree), and the occasional cypress. It was a jungle out there – really!!

0924151012-00 I wasn’t far into the paddle when I spotted my first alligator. It was swimming parallel to the kayak about 8-10 feet to my right. With him being in the water, it was difficult to gauge his size. Given the distance between his eyes (sometimes this is all you see of them) and his wake in the water, I guessed him to be about 4-5 feet. Sorry, no photos! For me, the right action when spotting a gator in the water is to keep moving and not do anything to draw attention to myself.   The presence of alligators in the river forced me to change my paddling patterns. I normally enjoy paddling close to the riverbanks just to get a closer look at the plants and critters. However, with the gators as often-unseen companions and with their propensity to lie quietly in the vegetation along the banks, I opted to keep my paddling path in the middle of the river. This was my first of four alligator sightings this day. All were quite similar, with the exception of one in which the gator was swimming across the river. He spotted me and went under the water. If he stayed on the same path underwater, I floated over him. My only thought was, “I hope he doesn’t come up while under me!” I moved forward with short, quick paddle strokes in hopes of not disturbing him!

About thirty minutes into the paddle, I had a definite decision to make. I came to a sign reading: King’s Landing Blue Band Turn Around. I knew that my destination was still at least eight miles down river. Yet, I launched from King’s Landing and the attendant had placed a blue band on my wrist. Does that sign apply to me? I decided it did not and continued down the river, which became much narrower with more obstructions, fallen trees or branches, in or over the water. I was paddling deeper into the jungle! As the river narrowed, the current was more noticeable, and my river trail became one crook and turn after another. The wild had now merged with the scenic! I had to pay attention and be intentional with my paddle. It became a challenge to place the paddle in the water at the right time and rudder angle to make the upcoming turn, and to make it before the current carried the kayak into the oncoming bank. I maneuvered the kayak left, then right, then right again, then left again consistently. Only once did I have to dig myself out of the bank. No, you won’t see photos of these sections of the river, as I was too busy with the paddle!

0924151030-00  I was enjoying the paddle and the challenge of the crooks, turns, and the fallen trees and branches even as I felt I was going “deeper into the jungle.” Maybe an hour to an hour and half in, I encountered an obstacle that would require much more strategy and maneuvering than any of my previous encounters. A large tree, probably 18-24 inches in trunk diameter, had fallen and was blocking the entire span of the river. I considered going to the right, but the still green branches filled the river and even lay upon the bank. The left option looked a bit more promising. The base of the tree was high enough up on the bank that with my 5’ 3” stature there was a possibility of going under the fallen trunk albeit a “duck” would be needed. This plan was complicated by the fact that the tree had fallen across another large tree trunk that obviously had been in the water much longer. The resulting trunk configuration looked like a slightly squeezed “X” lying on its side. The water level barely covered the lower cross trunk, but there was enough for me to push my kayak over it. Actually, as I started the crossing, the current pushed the kayak and me laterally over the lower trunk. Luckily, I was still in the kayak. The next step was to push and paddle the kayak along the trunks toward the bank, make a right turn at the opening, duck, and go under the upper trunk. I did it! My heart was pounding and my hands shaking, no doubt, the result of both the exertion and the fear. I must admit that there was a moment as I struggled to push and paddle the kayak up and through the opening that I thought, “Am I going to make it!”

I relaxed for a bit, basking in the excitement of having met the challenge. As the trail continued to be littered with obstacles and having encountered the large tree blockage, I suddenly recalled something I had read previous to launching to the effect that the staff of King’s Landing does a good job of keeping the Rock Springs Run free of obstacles. Hgh!   I was not experiencing a run “free of obstacles!” I then remembered, “King’s Landing Blue Band Turn Around.” Whoa! My heart was not pounding. It had been grabbed and caught tight in the vise of FEAR. Where am I? Am I lost? Should I have turned around? Do I need to turn around now? I don’t know that I can paddle two hours against this current? How will I get around that tree again?

To counter these questions, my first response was to tell myself, “Just breath, Brenda, just breath.” Is it really possible that I had turned the wrong direction? I kept visualizing a map of the river that did have a side stream; maybe I had turned down that stream. I dug in my wet sack and pulled out a simple map of the paddling trail. No, that side stream was off the lower section of the river. I was in the upper part of the river. I felt somewhat better. I then remembered that the day before when I left Wekiwa Springs for a short paddle I had set a waypoint on my GPS. I also knew that today’s paddle would take me toward Wekiwa Springs and less than a quarter of a mile from that waypoint. I pulled the GPS out. I had traveled almost three miles today already. I located the Wekiwa Springs waypoint and programed the GPS to “Go To” that waypoint. When the screen popped up, I felt a wave of relief. My current location was on the track between this morning’s King’s Landing waypoint and yesterday’s Wekiwa Springs waypoint. I was headed in the right direction! I just needed to keep paddling.

And paddle I did with even greater enjoyment and confidence. My confidence was bolstered even more when I saw the brown state park sign that read, “You are halfway.” I had reached that part of the run within the bounds of Wekiwa Springs State Park. Eventually I passed Otter, Big Buck, and Indian Mound Campsites maintained by the state park. I knew I was doing well on my time so I parked the kayak – lodged it against a tree trunk – pulled out my snacks, rested, and ate a bite of lunch consisting of an apple and mixed nuts. As I sat in the kayak, I remembered my fear and being scared about doing the run. Just think! I almost missed it! I almost missed this adventure – the alligators, the lily pads, the narrow twisting, turning river, the jungle, the heart stopping fear, the satisfaction of rising to the occasion and meeting the challenges.

I finished the run. The river widened. The jungle disappeared – so much so I had to break out the sunscreen. The lily pads returned sporting gorgeous red blooms and so thick they brushed the sides of the kayak as I maneuvered the trail. I saw another alligator or two. They kept moving and so did I. The last half hour or so I actually met some other folks making their way upstream. Not what I would want to do! I arrived at Wekiva Island around 1:30 pm pretty much on schedule feeling both very tired and very content. Lou Anne was walking down to the landing to meet me. What an adventure I had to share! Just think, I almost missed it!        September 24, 2015

THE BEACH OUTING! — September 6, 2015

We got up at 7:30 am and were off to MCC Holy Cross of Pensacola by 9:15 am. There was a good crowd at church and I enjoyed the service — praise and worship music was uplifting and the sermon was good. One we all need to hear and heed regarding taking care of our world and the earth because there is no “dealership” where we can go and purchase a replacement.

IMG_1117  After church we drove to Pensacola Beach on the Gulf Shore National Seashore. The gleaming white sands and crystal clear blue/green water still amazes me. It is so unlike our Texas Gulf – murky, brown, and stinky! We sat our chairs up on the ridge of sand just above the incoming waves and enjoyed our picnic lunch. Of course, we lathered up with sunscreen before eating. The temperature was a both/and. We were both warmed by the sun, and the truth be known it was hot, and cooled by the sea breeze. The seashore is a tease that way! It is hot, but the breeze makes it feel cooler

We went into the water and played for a while letting the waves “wash” us back to shore. I went about 100 yards out, and the water was still only hip to chest deep. In our “washing” we occasionally had to look toward the shore and find our chairs, only to realize that the waves had carried us far down the beach. The “washing” was fun, but walking against the waves to our point of origin proved to be somewhat of a workout for the old legs!

We retired to our chairs and enjoyed the vast view — 180 degrees — horizon to horizon. I listened in darkness to the consistent, rhythmic melody of the soothing rolling surf. I dug my feet into the sand and felt the warmth and cool of the gritty massage. I watched the children playing– onIMG_1125e cute little girl in particular. She looked to be about 18-20 months old and was decked out in a pink and white bathing suit topped with a matching cap. Regardless of coaxing by Mom and older brother and sister, she literally dug her heels in and absolutely refused to go into the water. If the diminishing waves caught her feet, she screamed and ran backwards.   She squealed and seemed the most content when grabbing fists full of sand and throwing it in the air. Oh, such simple delights of children!! What a joy!!

As we started back into the water, we noticed an ominous cloud behind us. A front was predicted to come through with a possibility of thunderstorms. With the winds ahead of the front the surf was up moderately and the yellow caution flags were flying. We went back into the water anyway and continued our jumping and “washing” exercise. Of course, occasionally we didn’t jump soon enough or high enough and would get blasted by the wave swell or breaking surf. This brought on episodes of spitting and sputtering and attempts to get the salt water of the mouth and eyes. That usually doesn’t wIMG_1126ork — trying to get salt sea water out of your eyes with hands wet with same is a fruitless effort. Oh, well, just endure the momentary sting and let the natural tears do their thing and all is soon well! The playing continued until we heard the roll of thunder in the distance and saw a flash of lightning.

Out of the water we came, gathered our things, and lugged them back to the car, as did many others. Dripping and gritty we prepared for the drive back to our camper trailer looking forward to a warm shower and dry clothes. Not looking forward so much to the cleanup — sand in the chairs, towels, car, etc. Why is an outing atthe beach so much fun and at the same time takes so much effort?   Ah, but that horizon to horizon vista, the rhythmic sound of the rolling surf,  the warm, cool sad between your toes, and the squeals of delighted children!! It tickles my soul and makes my spirit soar! No doubt, it is worth the effort!

Notes on a Kayak — August 3, 2015

Steeple Reflection

I have moored myself between the cypress knees on the shady east side of Big Cypress Bayou. I am about seven and one-half miles downstream from Jefferson, Texas, and maybe a half-mile from where I entered the bayou at my Dad’s property. Again, “Dad’s property.” He has been deceased almost three years, and I continue to have difficulty saying “my property.”

The dragonflies are buzzing around, hovering inches over the glass surface of the murky, brown water. Brown water that is somewhat out of the ordinary for water that is usually a clearer dark green. I assume that the water has not cleared up after the torrential spring rains and flooding. The water level is continuing to fall – thus, the dirty brown water filled with mud and silOff down the Bayou!t.

Anyway, back to the dragonflies, which I assume are responsible for the fish jumping just off my bow. I wonder if the fish will actually ever catch the darting dragonflies. Ahh! Could that be why the fisherman’s artificial lure is called a “fly?” Now, that just occurred to me as a new thought; however, as I think about it, I know I have known that or had that thought before. A brain blip, I suppose??

The stillness and the quiet are palpable. The cachophony of sound is delightful. Now is that not a paradoxical observation – or, more accurately, an auditory sensation! In addition to the aforementioned jumping and flopping back into the water and the dragonflies buzzing, I hear the cardinal singing, the woodpecker pecking, the squirrel chattering, a crow cawing, and the cicada’s chorus. Either bank is robed in towering bald cypress and decorated with hundreds of beautiful, yet grotesque looking, cypress knees bent in homage to the life giving trees. Oh, no! Can’t be! Yes, it is—an electric power line is running through the branches of the trees. Oh, well! So much for getting away from civilization.

Scupper plugs! Yes, I did buy and install some scupper plugs, yet I am still sitting in a bit of water. Albeit, not nearly as much as I was before. I’ll still have to work on that I suppose. I also know I have to go. I could stay in this place, in these waters, along these banks for hours on end. I suspect that’s Dad’s place and space still, and forever, in my heart.

Notes on a Kayak: July 23, 2015

Scupper plugs! Must get scupper plugs, as my bottom is wet! One of the perils, or lessons learned, I suppose, on a first outing in a new kayak. The lighter weight craft proves much easier on my back and shoulders as I carry, load, and unload it. However, the lighter weight results in a lighter load capacity. Thus, when I sat my bottom in the cockpit, the deck went down and water came in through the scupper holes. With my older, larger kayak I never used scupper plugs, and I never got wet. Well, at least I wasn’t heavy enough to sink the craft. I made sure of that before I headed out into the lake.

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The wind was up a bit when I first launched so I retreated to paddle along the shoreline as opposed to bucking the wind and risking more water in the craft. I enjoy the shoreline more than the open water anyway. The shoreline offers more to see and discover as I move quietly in the water and peer into the grasses, the bushes and at times the shallower water depths. I sometimes feel like I am playing “cat and mouse” with the water creatures. It is a challenge to see how close I can get to the turtles on the logs before they “plop” off into the water? Or, how long can I float alongside the ducks before they sense my presence and flap away?

I started out this morning thinking I would paddle around the entire perimeter of the lake. However, as I made my way around the lake – almost halfway – I decided, “No, I don’t want to do that.” This change of intention was not due to my limited time on the water this morning, but more from my need to just “be” and not to be “doing.” So I paddled into a small cove, found respite from the wind and sun, and here I sit, maybe somewhat

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reclining in the kayak. The silence and solitude is welcome and restful. The occasional bird song breaks the silence.   There have been two “plops” behind me, but I have seen no turtles since I stopped paddling. As I came into the cove there was a small turtle on a stump out in the water. I think it might have been a musk (stinkpot) turtle given its size and high dome. But, alas, it “plopped” into the water before I could snap a picture!0723150936-01

Dragonflies are fluttering all around me. In this cove I float on a mirror, flawed only by a wee bump. Wait! That’s a tiny little head. How close can I get? I move in silence and stealth. Ooops! There he goes into the deep – a large round body for such a wee little head. It is my friend — the turtle.  Now, to just sit back and “be” on this delightful sunny and warm day. Warm, mmmm! Except my wet bottom!  Yes, definitely scupper plugs!!

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