Profligate Kindness

February 12, 2017

Valentine's Day card

Valentine’s Day card

Be Kind
by Michael Blumenthal, from No Hurry

Not merely because Henry James said
there were but four rules of life—
be kind be kind be kind be kind— but
because it’s good for the soul, and,
what’s more, for others; it may be
that kindness is our best audition
for a worthier world, and, despite
the vagueness and uncertainty of
its recompense, a bird may yet wander
into a bush before our very houses,
gratitude may not manifest itself in deeds
entirely equal to our own, still there’s
weather arriving from every direction,
the feasts of famine and feasts of plenty
may yet prove to be one, so why not
allow the little sacrificial squinches and
squigulas to prevail? Why not inundate
the particular world with minute particulars?
Dust’s certainly all our fate, so why not
make it the happiest possible dust,
a detritus of blessedness? Surely
the hedgehog, furling and unfurling
into its spiked little ball, knows something
that, with gentle touch and unthreatening
tone, can inure to our benefit, surely the wicked
witches of our childhood have died and,
from where they are buried, a great kindness
has eclipsed their misdeeds. Yes, of course,
in the end so much comes down to privilege
and its various penumbras, but too much
of our unruly animus has already been
wasted on reprisals, too much of the
unblessed air is filled with smoke from
undignified fires. Oh friends, take
whatever kindness you can find
and be profligate in its expenditure:
It will not drain your limited resources,
I assure you, it will not leave you vulnerable
and unfurled, with only your sweet little claws
to defend yourselves, and your wet little noses,
and your eyes to the ground, and your little feet.

 

The Primrose Path

February 11, 2017

Primroses are making a late-winter appearance in grocery stores around here.  They are a welcome splash of saturated color and hold the promise of Spring and gardening.

Watercolor sketch of yellow primroses

Watercolor sketch of yellow primroses

Ink sketch of primroses (primula)

Ink sketch of primroses (primula)

Watercolor vignettes from Tasha Tudor's Garden

Watercolor vignettes from Tasha Tudor’s Garden

 

The Power of One

February 10, 2017

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“Here’s how we count the people who are ready to do right:  ‘One.’  ‘One.’  ‘One.'”
— William Stafford

Feet to stand upright

Feet to stand upright, with compassion

“As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate.  Hope is the one thing left to us in a bad time.”
— E. B. White, Letter to M. Nadeau, March 30, 1973

Skagit swans at sunrise

Skagit swans at sunrise

“Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air —
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A Shrill dark music — like the rain pelting the trees — like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds —
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black  leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, I your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed you life?”
— Mary Oliver, Swan: Poems and Prose Poems

I went to the Skagit Valley to see snow geese, but they were not in their usual places.  Instead, I saw swans — trumpeter swans, I think, although both trumpeters and tundra swans overwinter here.  Mary Oliver’s images — white crosses in the sky, black feet like dark leaves — capture the swans’ presence so perfectly.

Swans like white crosses

Swans like white crosses

Those relatively large black feet look like rudders!

Those relatively large black feet look like rudders!

Sketchbook, line drawings of Skagit swans

Sketchbook, line drawings of Skagit swans

 

 

 

The white streak is a flock of snow geese -- so distant. I could not get closer.

The white streak is a flock of snow geese — so distant. I could not get closer.

“The sound of geese in the distance,
is wonderful:
in our minds
we rise up
and move on.”
— Robert Sund, “Spring Poem in the Skagit Valley”

Snow geese, Skagit Valley

Snow geese, Skagit Valley

The snow geese rise up, then settle again.

The snow geese rise up, then settle again.

“Wild Geese Alighting on a Lake”
by Anne Porter, from Living Things

I watched them
As they neared the lake

They wheeled
In a wide arc
With beating wings
And then

They put their wings to sleep
And glided downward in a drift
Of pure abandonment

Until they touched
The surface of the lake

Composed their wings
And settled
On the rippling water
As though it were a nest.

Snow geese in a field near Anacortes

Snow geese in a field near Anacortes

“Wild geese fly overhead.
They wrench my heart.
They were our friends in the old days.”
— Li Ch’ing Chao, translated by Kenneth Rexroth

I didn’t have much luck photographing snow geese on my most recent visits to the Skagit Valley.  I saw only a couple of flocks, and they were in distant fields.  I could not drive closer.  I love to witness big flocks taking to the skies, whirling around, and settling again.  How do they swarm and yet not run into each other?  I am always reminded of M.C Escher’s prints of birds:

M.C. Escher, Sky and Water, 1938

M.C. Escher, Sky and Water, 1938

In past years, I’ve gotten closer and came away with some photos that captured the breathtaking whirlwind of wings.  One of my snow geese photos was chosen for the cover of Bearings Magazine‘s Autumn 2016 issue (it’s a publication of the Collegeville Institute in Minnesota).

Snow geese in flight, Skagit Valley, 2012

Snow geese in flight, Skagit Valley, 2012

 

 

Thick Was the Snow

February 7, 2017

Snow-frosted branches

Snow-frosted branches

“Thick was the snow on field and hedge
And vanished was the river-sedge,
Where winter skilfully had wound
A shining scarf without a sound.”
— Charles Causley, “At Nine of the Night I Opened My Door”

“Snow
falls on snow —
silence.
— Santaka

The snow was beautiful while it lasted.  A brief taste of “real” winter here in the rainy Pacific Northwest.

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Laboring Like the Snow

February 6, 2017

Snow day.  Bring out the sleds!

Snow day. Bring out the sleds!

Like Snow

by Wendell Berry

Suppose we did our work
like the snow, quietly, quietly,
leaving nothing out.

I appreciate Wendell Berry’s sentiment, but snow makes me want to play!  I am not the only one.  Snow is rare in Seattle, and even a light covering of white on the sloping lawn around Green Lake was enough for sledding fun.

Snow day at Green lake

Snow day at Green lake

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