“…when the ruins are cleared away”

I don’t think politicians change the world. I think artists and perhaps philosophers who become true spiritual leaders have that power. Scientists and engineers and business men and women can effect change, but in reality what they are doing is translating art and philosophy into something concrete, something ephemeral. An important role, of course, but nonetheless secondary to that which is eternal.

Chinua Achebe says that “art is man’s constant effort to create for himself a different order of reality from that which is given to him.”  I would go further to say that art springs indelibly from the very stuff that is the source of life. It survives and supersedes, as Katherine Anne Porter has said, all manner of chaos and neglect, “outliving governments and creeds and… even the very civilization that produced (it).” It is, in Porter’s words, “what we find again when the ruins are cleared away.”

Art has the ability to freeze time long enough for us to see who we are, to fathom for a moment what life is, and then inspire us to move again. It springs from our unconscious and, in so doing, captures the essence of reality and our humanity. Even at its darkest, it allows us to contemplate the beauty and the mystery that informs our very existence. It is with these thoughts that I return to a visitor to Stony Brook a few weeks ago, one whose impact upon me has yet to fade.

53582ca7e3b149e0ef9e770b70de9c8cWhen Justyn Zolli came into the Nature Center with his father, Frank (a member of the local Lion’s Club who has generously supported Stony Brook as a volunteer over the years), I immediately found myself engaged in one of those conversations that renews the spirit. Justyn was back from San Francisco for a week or so and was clearing out some books, a telescope, and even some skeletal remains that he thought might be of use to Stony Brook. He wanted to make a donation, which I was pleased to accept. But I wanted more. I wanted to know about him and his art.

Punctuated by loving and proud anecdotes from his father, Justyn told me a story of his exploring the woods and fields and streams of Stony Brook when he was young and his growing recognition of, and fascination with, Nature’s patterns. He began drawing what he saw at an early age and carried his love of Nature into his studies at RISD and the Museum of Fine Arts School, and later into his work as an artist in New York and eventually San Francisco.

His words echoed those one finds on his website. At times he seemed almost to be reciting them:

CNY7tbcWxz6UeovR“My art practice is a conversation with the timeless, the primal, and the elemental. My works draw a connection between mysticism and modernism, passing beyond representation in search of transcendence, addressing silence, interiority, energy, and communion through a meditative iconography.

Through my artworks, I explore the unifying and transforming qualities of light and structure. I explore the relationships between pure color, timeless geometry, and the flowing, visual rhythms derived from my study of the dynamics of great Nature. My inspirations come from my studies of ancient and mystical art, my many travels to the world’s sacred architecture and wild landscapes, and my love of modern painting.”

As he talked, I was mesmerized, as these were flashbacks to my own interests and studies, ones which I rarely access now that I am older and “on with my life.” Though I was never an artist and do not have the talent to become one, I knew exactly what he meant. It had been years since I had heard anyone talk like this or think like this, seemingly not since my time in the classroom, whether as a student or as a teacher myself.

VGUIYJetF5KEgl0FI listened as he recounted his travels through India, the British Isles, Europe, the Himalayas, Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula, and the American West. He told me about his fascination with the laws of change and transformation, especially as they work through Nature and us. He cited his study of ancient Chinese landscape painters in the Taoist tradition and, in particular, their concept of “li” (which means “natural principle”), that which gives form and substance to all life.

Heady stuff, I know, and to some extent so arcane as to be difficult to translate into reality. Justyn, however, seems determined to do just that. He referred me to the words of a 14th century Zen painter named K’un-ts’an, whose philosophy he has whole-heartedly embraced:

“Speaking of painting in its finest essentials, one must read widely in the documents and histories, ascend mountains, and trace rivers to their source, and only then can one create one’s ideas” (again, from his website).

Listening to him, I was reminded of one of my favorite plays, Arcadia, by Tom Stoppard, in which he explores the possibility of translating certain natural rhythms and laws into mathematical formulae. I talked about fractals and the basic premise of order arising not out of design, but out of chaos, an idea to which Justyn seemed to give a knowing nod.

dn9qd584_C6SZzb5Our conversation continued for several more minutes, but as I recounted it to Doug (Stony Brook’s Director) a few days later, I thought that what was most striking and significant about our chance meeting was this revelation: in a time of uncertainty and upheaval, of falsehoods being cast off as truth, of money and power and socio-economic status being equated to importance or value or even dignity, it’s refreshing to know that there are still individuals among us who believe in something larger than themselves and who have goals and dreams that they are willing to pursue to the ends of the earth.

In all sincerity it was not so much the esoteric philosophy and the avant garde artwork of Justyn that impressed me. It was his humility and his honesty, his dedication to discipline and hard work, his belief in knowledge for its own sake, and his willingness to share it. Grounded in an attachment to Nature and a spiritual reality, he reaffirmed for me the basic dignity and desires of ordinary people, though in many ways he and his work are anything but ordinary.



What the Catbird Overheard – Series Final


“Grampy, are we alone?” The question caught the young boy’s grand-father off guard since they were the only ones on the trail this early in the morning.

“I don’t see anyone else around, Harrison? Why do you ask?”

“No, Grampy. I mean in the universe. Are we alone?” the boy asked hurriedly, as if the question had been on his mind for a long time.

“That’s a big question for a six-year-old. I’m not sure anyone can answer it. But what made you ask, and why does it matter to you?” The grand-father brushed away the choke berry bush that otherwise would have captured his attention.

“Is it a big question for a six-year-old, Grampy, or for anyone?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Ace. For anyone. Not just boys who are soon to become men,” the grand-father laughed.

“Well, last night I tried to imagine our earth floating in a universe of other planets and stars, and I kept backing away in my mind until I thought I’d come to an end, but I couldn’t see the earth anymore.” The boy began to take deep breaths. “And then I thought eventually I should come to a wall and that behind that wall there might be someone or something. But I couldn’t come to an end.”

“And then what happened, Harrison? What did you see?” A single Cooper’s hawk circled several hundred feet above them.

“I didn’t see anything. Just darkness. I looked in the direction of earth, where I knew there was at least one boy standing with his head up to the sky, but I couldn’t see him. And I thought if there were anyone else out there, he or she couldn’t see me. He wouldn’t know I was looking. And that’s when I started to wonder whether we’re alone.”

Suddenly the grand-father understood that this was not an idle question. In the background the wood ducks’ morning banter reached a crescendo. “Maybe you have to have faith, Harrison. Faith that another little boy is out there wondering the same thing.”

“Faith, Grampy? What is that?”

“It’s a kind of trust or belief. Deep down inside you know something is true even though you have no proof,” the grand-father answered, knowing that words wouldn’t do.

“I think I understand that, Grampy. It’s like knowing that the flowers and the birds will return in the spring… or that mommy and daddy will always love me… or that I’m going to make a difference in the world when really the world is very big and I’m only little.”

“Yes, you are only little,” the grand-father smiled. “But already you’ve made a big difference in my world, and your grand-mother’s and your parents’ and your sister’s and your friends’; I guarantee it.”

“That’s why I wonder, Grampy. If we are alone, I wonder whether anything we do makes a difference.”

Such big questions from so small a boy, the grand-father thought. “I don’t understand, Harrison.”

“Well, if there’s no one else in the universe, then what does it matter what happens here on Earth. No one else is affected. It only matters to us.”

“That might be enough, Harrison. That might be enough,” the sun’s warmth now revealing itself in water vapor steaming off the under-brush and rocky path.

“Still I’d like to know, Grampy. I’d like to have proof.”

“But how would it change anything, Harrison?”

“I guess it would make me feel as though I was part of something very big and special.” How could this boy be only six, his grand-father thought. “Like on a huge stage, with all my classmates, singing in a holiday concert for our parents. Not standing all alone, the lights dimmed, with no one clapping…”

“I don’t know, Harrison. Do you really need an audience and a big stage for something to be special? Isn’t it possible that what really matters is all around you?”

“Oh, I know that, Grampy, but just think. If there were someone else in the universe, they might be so different from us. They’d speak in a whole new language. There’d be so much to talk about, so much to learn. Enough for a lifetime! It would be a miracle if that could happen.” A yellow leaf floated down slowly from the single maple on their right side.

“I think we have enough for a lifetime here, Harrison. We are the miracle. That we exist at all, that anything exists. Look at the trace of last night’s moon floating in the morning sky! Could anything be more miraculous or beautiful!” The grand-father did all he could to restrain his joy at what was taking place between them.

“What do you mean, Grampy?”

“I guess, Harrison, I mean that life is something that either has always been, or somehow appeared out of nothing. In either case, it’s incomprehensible. Even if there were some divine power, the same would be true for him. Or her – I know you’ll correct me, Harrison. Either he’s always been, or somehow appeared out of nothing. Either way, it is beyond explanation and amazing that we are witness to it.”

“No human sense, Grampy. Maybe if there were others for us to talk to, we’d see that it makes perfect sense for something to appear out of nothing. Like a hunch or a new idea or a star. Or an imaginary friend!”

“Have you been talking to Cecilia, Harrison?” A weight began to lift from the conversation.

“You know about her imaginary friend, Grampy?”

“Oh, yes. Cecilia is a lot like her mother.”

“In what way, Grampy? Tell me.”

“We’ll talk about that another time, Harrison. You’ve left me exhausted. I think if there are other creatures in the universe, they better be ready for you!”







What the Catbird Heard – Part III


“Sterling, what are you holding in your hand?!”

“It’s a squirrel, Grampy! I have it by its tail. I found it by Dinosaur Rock.” The young boy stood proudly on the path, having found his very own treasure.

“Sterling, put that down! It’s dead. It’s covered with disease and filth!”

“No, it’s not, Grampy. It looks clean and its fur feels soft. Look, you can hold it by its tail! It must be sleeping.”

“Sterling, it’s not sleeping. It’s dead. Put it down before Grammy sees you and has a fit. I want you to go inside the Nature Center and wash your hands. Right now.”

Sterling was surprised by his grandfather’s quick words, even as a dragonfly distracted him momentarily. “What if it isn’t dead, though, Grampy? I could take it to school or keep it in a box as a pet.”

“Sterling, when animals die, they get stiff like that. It’s called rigor mortis. We have to bury him.”

Rigor mortis? Grampy. What is that? I’ve never heard those words.” Sterling laughed at the silly sound the words made.

“It means ‘stiffness of death,’ I think,” his grandfather replied. “It’s Latin. When someone dies, medical examiners try to determine when rigor mortis sets in so that they know approximately when the person died.”

“People get stiff, too, Grampy? Not just animals? Why would we have to know the time? Isn’t it enough to know that someone died?” Suddenly there were so many questions.

“People are animals, too, Sterling,” his grandfather said simply, wending his way through a flock of geese.

“Gross, Grampy! We can’t be. We don’t live outside and eat berries and worms. We have houses with beds and tvs and microwaves and showers.” The birds chattered noisily now, the summer sun now peeking through the trees.

“Well, animals have houses, too, Sterling, and they may not have the same conveniences as we do, but they bathe and sleep and eat pretty much like people.”

“Grampy, if animals are like people, why don’t they talk like us?”

“I think they do talk to us, Sterling, but their language is different and we don’t always know what they’re saying. Sometimes I think they just talk among themselves. Birds are like that. And chipmunks and squirrels. They almost seem to be laughing at us.”

“Why, Grampy? What’s so funny about us?”

“I’m not saying they really are laughing, Sterling, but if they were it might be because we don’t have our priorities straight, at least in their minds.”

“I don’t know what you mean, Grampy. What are ‘priorities’?” His grandfather used such big words.

“The things we care about the most, Sterling. Animals must think all we care about is running off to work or school, driving to malls and supermarkets, talking into funny looking cell phones or plugging strange boxes into our eyes and ears. They must wonder at the endless line of people who stop off at our homes to cut our lawns or fix our pools or install appliances or even cook for us. They might wonder whose home it is!”

“Well, I think animals are the ones who are silly, Grampy. They don’t do anything but eat or sing or jump from tree to tree. All they seem to do is play.”

“I think that’s why they laugh at us, Sterling. We don’t play, at least enough. We work, just like they do, to eat or to find shelter, but for them it’s play. For us, it’s a job. We complain about having to do it.”

“Do you think animals don’t complain, Grampy?”

“I don’t know, Sterling, but it looks as though they don’t. They seem to have a gift for enjoying the present moment. It’s the one thing that most people seek, but can’t seem to find in their lives.”

Sterling thought about that for a moment and then said, “Do you think I work too much, Grampy.  Mommy tells me I have to stop playing sometimes and to come in to do my work. Can I tell her you said I don’t have to?”

“No, Sterling, sometimes you do have to come in to do your work, but what the animals seem to know is that there’s really no difference. Both are required to live. Both bring us joy and satisfaction. That’s their secret. That’s what they sing to themselves each day.”

“But I complain sometimes, Grampy. I don’t always want to go to school or help with the chores or clean my room.”

“Especially clean your room, from what I can see, Sterling!” His grandfather laughed.

“Does that mean I don’t have the gift of the moment, Grampy? I love presents.”

“I know you do. No, you have the gift. You’re curious. You ask questions. You’ll talk to anyone who wants to listen. You’re never bored. You’ll call me at night to go outside to see the moon. I think the animals could take a lesson from you!” His grandfather’s eyes glistened slightly now. The ducks frolicked wildly, perhaps in response to their early morning spectators.

“I wish I could teach this squirrel how to come back to life, Grampy. His stiffness scares me. It makes me think there’s never enough time for play, or the work we have to do.”

“You haven’t put that animal down yet? Sterling, we need to get a shovel. There should be a proper burial. I think your squirrel friend has taught you an important lesson today. We ought to be thankful for that.”

What the Catbird Heard – Part II


Grampy, did you ever have an imaginary friend?” The geese honked loudly as if laughing at the little girl’s question.

“No, Cecilia, I didn’t. But Grammy’s mother did. She called her Lime Creche.”

“That’s a silly name. I’ve never heard anything like it.”

Nor have I, Cecilia. I don’t know where she came up with it. But it was her childhood friend who used to play with her and follow her to school.”

“Sterling says that there’s no such thing as imaginary friends, Grampy, but aren’t there some things that are real that not everyone can see?”

Her grandfather stopped short of the spillway, surprised by the truth of what his grand-daughter was saying. “Well, yes, I think so, Cecilia. People say they see ghosts and spirits and the like.”

The like, Grampy? It tickles me when you talk like that. You sound so serious!”

“You’ve got me there, Cecilia. I can’t help it. But I want to give you the best answers I can… Ideas are real, too, but we can’t see them. We can only see their results. And gases are real, but we can’t see them. Then there are atoms, protons and neutrons and subatomic particles… And other solar systems… And stars! Some even that we see but which don’t exist anymore!  Now you’ve got me started, Cecilia. I’m sorry. That’s probably more than you wanted to know.”

“No, Grampy, I want to know everything. Even if I don’t understand you, I like it when you get so excited. It makes me feel the same.” Two mallards skirted the shore, pushing aside the budding water lilies exploding now into yellow and white.

“Now that I think about it, Cecilia, there are lots of things that are real but which we can’t see. There are even colors that we can’t see but that scientists can with special filters. Or animals with their different eyes.”

“Animals don’t see what we do, Grampy?!”

“No, Cecilia, they don’t hear what we hear either. The more I think about it the more I realize that there are as many worlds as there are ways to look at them.”

“Then Sterling is wrong, Grampy! There are such things as imaginary friends! I told him so!”

“Not ‘wrong,’ Cecilia. Maybe just not as wise as you yet… Do you have an imaginary friend, Cecilia?”

“Yes, I do. She’s called Buddah Baby.”

“Buddah Baby?!” her grandfather laughed. “And you thought Grammy’s Lime Creche was a funny name!”

“That’s what she told me her name was, Grampy. I don’t think she thinks it’s a funny name at all.”

“No, I suppose not.  But tell me about her. When do you see her? What’s she like?”

“She doesn’t come to school with me, Grampy, but she is always here when I come home. She likes to play school and go outdoors. She sends me postcards from places she visits. And she loves birthday parties with cake and candles to blow out!”

“She sounds a lot like you, Cecilia. Full of life!”

“I guess we’re a lot alike, but you can’t hold her like me. And you can’t see her. And she never seems to get mad at me.”

“Why would anyone get mad at you, Cecilia?” her grandfather wondered, overcome by the innocence of her belief.

“Oh, they do, Grampy. Mommy and daddy… and even Sterling. They weren’t happy with me when I dropped my gum and Nugget licked it, then I put it back in my mouth! And they screamed when I picked up a dead bird!”

“Cecilia, they’re not mad at you. They just don’t want you to get sick.”

“Sometimes I say a word wrong or make a mistake when I’m adding my numbers, and mommy loses patience with me. I can’t get sick from that, Grampy.”

“No, Cecilia, you can’t.”

“Well, Buddah tickles me when I make a mistake, and we both laugh.  She wonders what’s behind every door and doesn’t hear when she’s told something can’t be done. That’s why I like her.”

“You know what, Cecilia, I like her, too. Maybe Buddah has an invisible friend for me.”

“Oh, Grampy, you’re silly. Grownups can’t have invisible friends. Besides, you have Grammy.”

“Yes, I do have Grammy, and I’m lucky at that. But maybe adults should be able to have invisible friends, too. I think sometimes adults accept the world as given and forget that we can change it. An invisible friend would remind us of that.”

“Buddah doesn’t want to change the world, Grampy. She just likes to laugh or smile at it.”

Her grandfather smiled and stopped short of the second spillway, swollen now with spring rains. “That’s just it, Cecilia. Adults forget how to laugh. Especially when people die or get hurt.”

“There’s nothing funny about people getting hurt, Grampy.”

“I know, Cecilia, but does Buddah Baby stop smiling? Does she ever not want to play?”

“No, she doesn’t. You’re right.”

“How can that be?”

“I don’t know, Grampy. It’s almost like the pain isn’t real to her. Like she sees the next step… or that everything changes…”

“Or that what we think is real is not?” Her grandfather took a deep breath.

“Isn’t that where we started, Grampy? You did that on purpose!”

“Maybe so, Cecilia. Or maybe I have an invisible friend, too, and didn’t know it.”

“I wasn’t going to tell you, Grampy. But Buddah told me that long ago.” The little girl grabbed her grandfather’s hand and smiled. “She’s funny that way.”











What the Catbird Heard – Part I


Photo courtesy Audubon.org

“Mackenzie, why are you lying on your back with your head up against that tree?” her grandfather wondered, surprised to find his little girl alone just off the trail in the back of the Nature Center.

“I don’t know, Grampy. I sat down, then fell back, and when I opened my eyes and looked up, I couldn’t stop. It’s too beautiful. I feel dizzy, as if I am spinning upward and out of control.”

“Let me see. I’ll lie down beside you and we can both look up!”

“Do you feel the sky pulling you, Grampy? Do you wish you were that tree?”

Her grandfather smiled, warmed by her active imagination and capacity for love. “I think I know what you mean, Kenzie. Down here I can feel the tree soaring, defying gravity. If I were younger, I’d want to climb up its branches and see how high I could go, how long they’d support me.”

“Don’t talk, Grampy. Just listen. We can climb later.”

“Do you love me, Grampy?” his granddaughter suddenly asked, the morning’s stillness broken only by the steady hum of the insects coming to life in the spring.

“Oh, Kenzie, of course I do! Why would you ask?”

“Well, Mommy and Daddy say they love me. And Grammy of course. And I always say I love them back, but it’s hard to know what we mean when we say we love someone.”

The berries along the garden fence suddenly looked a deeper red. “I think we mean that we care deeply about that person,” her grandfather answered. “It’s a way of saying that we want to be with that person, that he or she makes us feel happy or more alive.”

“But, Grampy, how can we be more alive than we are?” Mackenzie wondered. “That doesn’t make sense.”

Her grandfather laughed, realizing how inadequate words can be to explain what really matters. “Well, there’s a difference between being able to walk and talk and eat, and being able to transform someone or something.”

“Transform”? Mackenzie asked, puzzled by a word so unfamiliar to her.

“Change them. Make them better. Help them to feel inspired, able to do anything. It’s how you feel when you look up from the bottom of that tree,” her grandfather replied.

“I like that feeling, Grampy, but I’m not sure I love the tree.”

“In a way, I think you do, Kenzie. I think you are a loving person, which means you give something of yourself to the people, and even things, around you. You give some of your light or energy or trust.” Her grandfather stepped away from the tree, as if to give himself more space.

“I don’t feel as though I’m giving anything, Grampy. I feel people are always giving me something instead.”

“That’s a big part of love, Kenzie. You give, but feel as though you get more in return.”

“What about when you’re bad, Grampy? Sometimes I get really mad at Mommy. Once I even bit her I was so angry. And Mommy sent me to my room when I spit at her one time. Did she stop loving me then?”

“No, Kenzie, believe it or not she didn’t. She may have been hurt or disappointed or angry, but in some ways her love actually grew stronger.”

“Stronger? How can that be?”

“Because the anger isn’t important. It fades away. What stays is the exchange of feeling, the communication, the realization that nothing can break the connection that exists between you.”

“Is it always that way, Grampy? My friend Abby said that her daddy was leaving her mommy and wouldn’t be living with them. Abby didn’t know whether she had been bad and her daddy didn’t love her anymore.”

“Oh, that’s so sad, Mackenzie. I’m sure Abby’s dad still loves her, but sometimes love becomes complicated between adults. Sometimes people change, and the trust is broken. Love can be very painful.”

“Will that ever happen to Daddy and Mommy, Grampy? I don’t ever want to lose them.”

“No, Kenzie, I think they are like me and Grammy. We disagree, and sometimes fight to the point where we won’t talk, but you know the feeling of being pulled up that tree and into the sky? You know the excitement you feel when you look up? That’s what we always come back to. That love doesn’t end.”

“But, Grampy, is all love the same? You’re married and love Grammy. Do you feel the same about her as you do about me? I’m just a little girl. Who will ever want to marry me?”

“It’s different, Kenzie, but equally wonderful. As for who will want to marry you, I think they’ll be lined up for miles!”

“I don’t even like boys, Grampy. They’re dirty and they fight all the time and throw acorns at me.”

“More proof that they like you already! Boys have a funny way of expressing themselves.”

“Grampy, boys are gross! I don’t care how they express themselves; there’s no way I will ever love any of them. I think you should marry me, and we can have our own family. And Grammy can live with us, too!”

“I’m flattered that you would ask me, Kenzie, but wait until you’re a little older and see if you change your mind. I think you may see those boys differently. Love sometimes grows in mysterious places.”

“Grampy, I like mysterious places, but for now I think I want to climb this tree. Will you lift me up?”

“I’ve got ten fingers waiting for you, little girl. Hold on!”





Me Again – thanks to a pink moon!


Photo courtesy Old Farmers’ Almanac

I am me again! I realized it just two weeks ago when I was lying awake in bed bathed by the light of the full “pink” moon that couldn’t resist shining through my window, I think to wake me.

Suddenly I felt released from winter, from the aches and pains, the head colds and sinus infections, the feeling small and self-contained, the endless physical annoyances that cold weather can bring. I could breathe fully. I slept the whole night. I felt relaxed and full of life… full of dreams. I could speak to people and look them in the eye. Joke with them and actually listen without distraction when they shared moments from their on-going lives, or small talk such as people are wont to do.

I’m told that it’s a “pink” moon because pink is the color of the wild phlox that is among the first flowers to blossom in the spring. Its arrival represents new beginnings and signals the start of several important religious festivals around the world, thereby attaching symbolic meaning to the cycle of nature, much as native peoples have done since the beginning of time.

I can’t remember having had this particular feeling of “me-ness” before. I think old age has made me keenly aware of transitions and change and, as much as it has left me wistful for the mental and physical dexterity I imagine I had in my youth, more often I find myself overjoyed and surprised that a child can still exist in this ancient body.

Surely time is not linear! If ever we needed proof that the claims of quantum physics are real, we need only look to the universe within. We grow old and younger at the same time. Memories spring from the well unfettered. We span generations in an instant and often get confused or lost, not knowing for sure how we got to this place or this state of being.

This winter, for the first time, I felt some of that confusion. I felt I had lost my ability to negotiate the lapses of thought, the lack of strength, the long nights of restless sleep and dreams that jolted me awake, startled by the sound of my own breathing. But this pink moon brought me to my senses. I am, and have always been, blessed.

That fact was never more apparent than when, on a whim, I decided to take a hike with my grandson on the forest trail across from the Stony Brook exit. I hadn’t been there in two or three years, but now that the boardwalk is under re-construction and parts of the loop trail have been closed off, it seemed a perfect alternative.

dceditI may as well have walked into the primordial Garden! The air was still and warm, disturbed only by the early morning chattering of song birds and the occasional crackling of dry branches against leaves. We scaled the rock ledges with little effort, my grandson quickly finding the easiest footholds and reveling in the fact that I had to follow him. We stood together at the highest point, looking down at our new-found territory. I found myself recalling that same sense of adventure and self-discovery when I was young roaming through the back woods of Sunset Lake or clambering up the trails of Blue Hills on a family get-out-of-the-house day.

heditThe pond was a perfect forest mirror, unbroken only by a single duck’s wake as he drifted to the far shore. No one else, it seemed, had ever discovered this space. My grandson teased me when I faltered on the path. I laughed that he would have to carry me out some day. He raced me to the spot where we could see the beaver lodge and marveled at the size of the tree they had taken down, I think to strip its bark for food during the winter. Then we looked for the return path to the parking lot, talking quietly about our plans for the day.

On the way out we ran into Mona Tighe, one of my favorite daily visitors to Stony Brook. No one takes more pleasure in a simple walk through the sanctuary or has a better eye for a returning migrant, a change in the landscape, a new birder looking for direction, or someone needing a friend. If anyone else should be privy to our sacred Garden, it should be she, so it seemed doubly significant that on our way back to civilization my grandson would meet her and then find a lucky penny just before we got to the street.

I know that not all spring days will be like this. That the feeling of “me-ness” will only be temporary. Spring is, after all, as much about promise as it is about disappointment, as much about innocence and renewal as it is about contradiction and change. But to be reminded of how powerful and uplifting, how restorative and elegant it can be to put ourselves into the arms of Nature is a treasure that never fades away. I believe my grandson began to learn that lesson this day.

In Advance of The Mystic

P1050965copyRecently I read The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach, a book that resonated for me in ways I still do not understand. It came at a time when spring seemed to leave me with many restless nights during which I could not stop the noise in my head or the feeling that I needed to do something. Something that mattered.

The art of fielding, for Harbach, is really the art of living a full life and creating a soul that endures: soul being not “something a person is born with but something that must be built, by effort and error, study and love.” Fielding or sport, in turn, is an art “which somehow seem(s) to communicate something true or even crucial about The Human Condition. The Human Condition being, basically, that we’re alive and have access to beauty, can even erratically create it, but will someday be dead and will not.”

P1050998copyI do not presume to have learned the art of living a full life or creating a soul, but I do know something about sport. So I decided on my walk out to the Boardwalk today that I wanted to share some of what I know, what I have learned, with my grand-children, not because they won’t learn even more on their own, but because I am compelled to give them a part of me that will last. I can’t help myself. More than self-vanity, it is an act of love, or maybe contrition. I can never be enough for them. I say that thankfully.

So with all apologies for being trite or obvious or just plain foolish for thinking that I know anything of value, here goes:

P1070025copyAbove all else, I urge you not to be afraid to love, to risk being hurt or vulnerable; to give up something of yourself. There will be pain and confusion and self doubt as a result, but there will also be joy and release, a sense of connection to something larger, something timeless, that you will not feel otherwise. Let the ego die and a Self will take its place. A Self beyond opposites, beyond time or space. Live and love fully. There’s no time to waste.

Fear and desire cripple us. False desire, that is. By false desire I mean anything we seek to make us feel better about ourselves, usually at the expense of others. Trust yourself. Know who you are and what you believe. Listen to your heart and not the empty chatter or the promises of acceptance that come with a crowd. Everyone will seek you out, admire you, follow you because you do not want the attention, because you are strong enough to know what’s right and do what you love.

P1060825copyMistakes are not only an option, but a must. You will not learn, not grow without them. This is not to say that you should be reckless. Reflect, consider, ask for help by all means. But in the end be willing to do or say what you believe is right, and accept the consequences. Rarely, if ever, is there only one correct path. Rarely is a straight line as efficient as a circle. Nature works by misdirection. Order arises out of chaos. When one choice fails, another option flourishes. There are no dead ends.

Be open to change, willing to ask questions, unwavering in your search for excellence and truth. Give of yourself fully to your work and to the people in your life and you will be rewarded profoundly. Truth is not so much a dictum, a fact or a detail, an article of faith or solution to a puzzle. It is, instead, a process, a way of being that integrates us and makes us feel whole.

P1070011copyLearn to see. We are blinded by routine and expectation. By bright lights and glamour. By shiny objects and expensive baubles. Where others look high, take the time to look low. Where most take the chosen path, take the road untraveled. There is great virtue in occasionally being lost. Life is better known not through the fence, but between the pickets. It’s the spaces, the gaps, wherein lies potential. Creativity can be learned; it requires letting go.

Nothing of value is accomplished without hard work and patience, time and persistence. No obstacle too big, no challenge too difficult, if there is sufficient resolve. But that value is diminished if we cannot laugh, enjoy the moment, “dance” along the way. Let your work be your play, and do not be surprised if what you achieve is not what you expected. The greatest rewards are unanticipated. Time past and time future are really time present. The goal is the journey, not the finished product. Endlines and trophies are hollow and illusory.

SB Snake 12-05-19 772copyLiving fully takes courage and toughness, resilience and faith. There’s no ultimate judgment, no necessary purpose, no meaning beyond life itself. Nature lives by rules we cannot obey. And so we define ourselves by stories, trusting in our senses but knowing their limitations and searching for a better way. We remain open to people, to possibility, to beauty. And when an answer arrives upon our doorstep, we are grateful for having received it, for the privilege and the sheer glory of having been made awake.

There is no room for excessive pride or casting blame. We create reality. What we imagine becomes true for us. Take responsibility for your story. For those who cannot, have compassion and empathy, respect for the inevitable sorrow we all know in some way. Life is joyous and bountiful, but inevitably unforgiving. We distinguish between opposites, but Nature does not. Respect the mystery, the lightness of being. Find balance and pace.