Category Archives: nature

One Good Day

For me, the ingredients are simple and straight forward.  First of all a chance to read, to spend time with my mind drifting to the furthest shore, to go back in time or forward, and then back again, to visit faraway lands, to feel the sting of loss or the triumph of truth or the swell of a heart, all through the pages of a book.  Perhaps also to study a new subject, or to relearn an old one.  To reflect on the issues of the day.  I still read the ‘old fashioned’ way – real books, with covers and pages, even actual newspapers, dirty-finger producing, paper crinkling, awkwardly sized as they might be.

The second thing?  Just some family time.  Unhurried, unscheduled, no clear agenda, no places to be, no times to keep.  There is a simple and calm joy in those moments, rare as they are, almost a quiet wonderment, a lightness of being and a poignant feeling of gratitude.  Just to be together.  To celebrate, without word or ritual, or even thought, the powerful connection that binds us to those we love.

And also to spend some time outside.  Preferably during the liminal moments of the day, dawn or dusk, the sun rising or falling, the colors changing, the unmistakable sense that the world is moving beneath your very feet.  To mark the wind and see  – yes, see – the air.  To hear the sharp bark of a dog, the rustle of a breeze, the subtle song of a bird.  To notice how an acorn falls from a tree, or how the nose of a rabbit wrinkles again and again, wondering if the scent of danger has arrived.  To walk in quiet thought, pondering, musing, considering, and also wondering – how is it that this great world in all its beauty is somehow connected to me?

Last but not least, to play my guitar.  Not particularly well, of course.  But just to strum the strings and form the chords, to juxtapose the majors and minors, to pick a simple melody which has been picked so many times before, for so many years.  Perhaps to play a song I’ve loved, and to hum along, occasionally forming the words in my mind.  There is something calming about it to me, almost meditative.  The world outside recedes, the troubles and tribulations and sorrows and sadnesses begin to fade.  For the song is eternal. It was always in the world, just waiting for some unknowing person to pick up an instrument at just the right time, so the song can, ever briefly, find a home.  It may stay for a time, a generation or even two, and then it will go back to the place from whence it came.  But while it dwells with me, in my hands, in my mind, in the sweet spruce and dark mahogany woods of my guitar, it brings a sense of soul-calm.

But soon the guitar must be laid aside, the song let go.  Darkness has fallen, somehow the day is coming to an end.  And the dog must be walked!  A last dish or two attended to.  And if I hurry some time, at the very end of this day, to go back to my book.

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A New Year’s Eve Psalm

The dog never noticed, so intensely interested in the ground as he was, the damp grass and the smells and secrets it held.  As he sniffed from spot to spot, decoding a brief history of our backyard, what animals (and possibly people) had passed through it this New Year’s Eve, he would occasionally pause and look out into the distant darkness.  Perhaps he sensed a late night reveler, some wandering fox or deer wending its way home in the first hours of the new year.

For my part I was impatient, my mind already rushing, wanting bed and a few hours of sleep before the day dawned and tomorrow arrived.  Responsibility lay in that tomorrow, crouching, waiting for me, as sure as the daylight that would inevitably seep over the bare trees and soggy fields.  Time was already pressing, calling and whispering and rustling, even in that quiet darkness.

The dog had no such qualms.  No doubt he would have stayed out for hours, wandering, welcoming the new year in his own way, checking the various spots that he regularly inventories, keeping track in his mind of the comings and goings of other dogs in our neighborhood, the location of old scraps of food and interesting sticks that might be chewed.  He did not know that some arbitrary number had been reached, some intercalated measure of human time.  His way of sensing time’s passage is subtler and deeper.  He knows what lies ahead.  The cold days and colder nights, the chilly winds, perhaps falling snow and the quiet it brings.

Just then it was that I looked up.  The entire sky was draped in cloud, but magically a gap appeared and I could see the blackness of space.  There was the Big Dipper, just above us. Implacable, unknowable, untouchable, the infinite distance, the cold whiteness of its seven stars.  Too high for the dog, nothing to smell there, nothing even remotely as interesting as dirt and leaves and the roots of trees.  But I did pause for a moment, considering in my tired mind the majesty and mystery of this vast universe we call our home.  As deep as the earth, as high as the heavens.

Here a paraphrase of the 148th Psalm –

In praise of God, the sun and moon, the shining stars, the highest heavens;  the great ocean depths, teeming with life, the fire and hail and snow and storms;  the hills and mountains, trees, singing leaves, growing fruit;  beasts, wild and tame;  winged birds and creatures of the ground, men and women, young and old.

And this, from the 19th –

Day after day the word goes forth, night after night the story is told.  Soundless the speech, voiceless the talk, yet the story is echoed throughout the world.

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The End

Some of you may remember the song by the Doors.  Released in January 1967 on their eponymously titled debut album, it was a 12 minute long guided tour through the brilliant yet burning mind of Jim Morrison, the group’s singer and lyricist.  When asked about the song he explained it was written originally about breaking up with his girlfriend.  Maybe so.  But with its explicit references to death, its images of twisting snakes and preternatural lakes, it has always been viewed as an exploration of the end of life, of saying goodbye not for a day, not for a time, but forever.

When I was in college I spent a semester hosting a late Sunday night/early Monday morning (midnight to 5 AM) radio show on the campus station.  Mostly I played Grateful Dead bootlegs and album side long jams from the Dead’s Europe ’72 record or the Allman Brothers At Fillmore East (check out the 23 minute Whipping Post on side 4 if you haven’t heard it in a while).  But every show, precisely at 2:15 in the morning, the station’s phone would ring and a young man would request The End.  Seeing as that he was probably my only listener how could I not comply?  It was a bit eerie, hearing Morrison’s oily voice coming out of the station speakers, no one else around, the campus dark and quiet during those predawn hours.

Of course when you are young death is a distant concept, an idea you are aware of but that for the most part is entirely disconnected from your reality.  Not something that actually happens to you or those you love.  Maybe even a bit romantic, Romeo and Juliet-esque.  But rabbis know differently.  Death is a day to day reality, it is a destination, a shared fate, a deep chasm we all cross.  Death don’t have no mercy in this land, sang the Reverend Gary Davis.  Amen to that, brother.

Of course most of the time we all live in that ‘suspended state of disbelief.’  That we’ll wake up and have a normal day.  That we will walk God’s green earth, feel the breeze, watch spring blossom in its fullness, talk with our neighbors, enjoy time with our family and friends, work, eat, drink, read the paper.  Just a normal day.  What did Garcia sing in Black Peter?  “See here how everything lead up to this day, and its just like any other day that’s ever been.”  And the truth is we have to live like that. You can’t go about your life as if you are Max van Sydow wandering through some Ingmar Bergman film, Death trailing and tracking you every step of the way.  So seize the day you have, live fully, be grateful, enjoy the little moments and the great ones as well.  Walk out from under the shadow and soak up the light.  In today’s vernacular, that is how we (rock and) roll.  All of us, one way or another.

One last thought.  After referencing the Doors, the Allmans, the Dead, it is only appropriate to go all the way back to the words of the Psalmist:  “This is the day that God has made.  Let us exult and rejoice in it.” (Psalm 118:24)  Amen to that as well.

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Filed under Bible, clergy, Grateful Dead, liminal moments, loss, mindfulness, nature, rock and roll, the rabbinate, Uncategorized

Blessings of Early Rising

The quiet calm of early rising.  First stirrings.  A creak on the steps, always that same spot.  The dog rustles in his bed, sniffing the air to know what the day will bring, stretching his legs, wondering about food and weather, sensing his master’s mood.  A moment to stop and think, to consciously embrace a new day, its challenges and the gentle grace it brings.  Breath and life, an old song rattles in the back of my mind.  When did I first hear that, those artful notes, that plaintive melody?

He is older now, our pooch.  Almost venerable in his doggish ways.  He patiently sits by the window and waits, looking out, scanning the yards, his domain.  He knows every inch of it, every corner and crack, every twig fallen from a tree.  We slip out of the door from the warmth of home to another world.  A red light slowly, softly, gently, yet inexorably rises in the east.  Street lights begin to sputter and go out, like giant candles whose wicks have run down into melted wax, agents of their own destruction.

Up ahead a raccoon crosses our path, pausing for a moment to stale balefully at us with his bandit eyes.  Everything is heightened.  Each bird’s song can be heard.  The wind, only in the upper branches of the trees, murmurs of summers past and springs to come.  Stars and planets shine brightly.  There is Venus, there Jupiter, there red-tinted Mars.  A sickle moon presides over the heavens, almost austere in its dignity, its endless rounds of waxing and waning.  There is a quiet in these moments that is restful and  pregnant at the same time, soon to be released, but also precious.

Lights flicker in homes along the way, others rising to a new day.  Soon the phones will be ringing, the highway in the distance humming, the emails dinging, all of the noise of modern life in its constant cacophony.  But not quite yet.  Dawn still stubbornly clings, refusing for yet another moment (or two) to relinquish this early morning sacred time to the sun.  With gratitude we’ll wait patiently, and walk on.

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Acorns Dropping

I sat for a time on the curb, a fine fall morning, blue skies, cool breeze hinting of winter, warm sunshine suggesting a summer not far behind. The dog knows my moods, and he quickly settled by my side. “After all, why not,” he seemed to say with his expressive eyes. “I’ve no where to go! No appointments to keep, no place to rush off to, no worries to furrow my brow.” There was a comfortable patch of grass to stretch his long frame. He carefully placed his muzzle on his paws, contemplating the smells of the neighborhood, the hidden code of daily activity only he knows. The sun shone on his thick fur.

Just across the street from where we sat there was an old oak tree. Poised on a hill, its branches reached out over the sidewalk, even the the street. Acorns dropped, one after another, and I counted along. Ten! Maybe more, in a brief span. Was it a minute? Two? Some settled softly in the grass, but others banged the sidewalk or street with a sharp clap. The lucky ones began to roll, beginning a journey that would take them to who knows where. Squirrels were busy, stuffing their cheeks, paws passing over and over the round seeds like some magician polishing a crystal ball. In its stillness the oak seemed bemused, watching the scene unfold around it. Soon its bare arms would be subject to the chill winter winds, unprotected on that rise.

A car sprinted by, breaking my reverie. My dog stirred, opened an eye, raised a single eyebrow. I softly shook my head. The driver took no notice of us, or the stately oak with its dropping acorns and turning leaves. People to see! Places to go! Business to be done! No time for the fall sun or the sound of acorns. I knew I would follow him soon. But the dog? He would stay behind.

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