At the Edge of Devil’s Lake

This lake is called “Devil’s” but
at this moment it is a gateway to heaven.
Its sentinels are a stalwart frog,
a water snake who has perfected s’s,
guppies nibbling at my toes, and
a butterfly in buttery yellow so
stunning that it melts my heart.

I spent a good bit of time tonight
taking in this lake by light of fireflies.

My hope is that it has settled in
my soul so that when the time
comes to step through the
pearly gates, I’ll find them within.

Turtles in Pink

The water is glacier green in this lake called Pink.
Three turtles graced our field of vision as we
traced its circumference. This lake
tells the tale of a day when sea
covered what is now
trees and rocks and the history
that followed that flood.

I look around and see mystery:
people smiling at vistas,
fish at water’s edge,
sun blessing faces – and
joy arrives. It just does.

We work so hard to keep
death and sorrow at bay
that some days I wonder
whether we miss joy in
our striving… but joy
comes to us unawares: in
an unexpected call,
a smile that knows more,
an offer to help and
a willingness to be helped.

Joy comes in green and blue and turquoise.
Joy comes in the leisurely roll of a turtle,
turning my world round.

A Day in the Life of May

This May has been so very lovely, and I was delighted to spend yesterday in the garden with Gwenanne, my wife. The last two Fridays we have ended the week by making our way to a local greenhouse to agonize over plant choices before coming home to toast our purchases as the start to the weekend. With cooler nights now (hopefully) behind us, Gwenanne decided it was safe to put a few plants in the garden in the backyard.

Our yard has been something of a balm in this COVID Gilead. I have a bit of a ritual most days, making my way from our fifteen year old Autumn Blaze Maple now 30 feet plus tall, to our Blue Beech tree as wide as it is high, and then over to my little Bur Oak now about one foot tall, saying some encouraging words to each before pilgriming to the massive Norway Maple in our front yard. I usually touch each tree along the way and give thanks for their witness to the glory of creation. The other day there was a robin in our Blue Beech, and he sang to me. I was close enough that I could see his throat throb as he hymned me into a kind of trance.

But yesterday my hands moved from the tree to terra firma. We had added some soil to our expanded gardens about three weeks ago, and I had spaded together new and old earth before my wife raked it smooth. I put my hand to Mother Earth. She was warm to the touch and as my fingers slipped beneath this surface I could feel spring cool in the humus. As I made some space to settle our tomato plants, I was met with the delightful sight of worms. So many worms adding soil to soil. I thought for a moment of the robin and now the worm. Both such gifts to me, and the worm to the robin, but not so much the other way round! Life is complicated among us homo sapiens, and no less so with the predator and the prey, whom I both adore.

My last act for the day was to plant the first two sisters of my three sisters garden: corn, beans and squash seeds from the fruits of seeds first received at a workshop at Six Nations some years ago. As I did so, I thought about the rabbits that razed my beans last year, necessitating a replanting, and the racoon who enjoyed my corn that they made theirs. Creation is remarkable but competitive. I bought some netting last year to give me an edge. We’ll see.

The trees, of course, look on and smile. They take the long view. My neighbour across the way figures that the monstrous and majestic oak in his yard predates the arrival of settlers to this part of Turtle Island known to some as North America. I am not sure of this, but I know these trees give me more than oxygen to breathe, and the vegetables from our garden make for me more soup. They make me see that I am speck in God’s world, but they also remind me that a speck too can breathe Soli Deo Gloria.

Mother Maple

These little maple leaves,
now breaking forth from bud
stretching their arms with
first cry will
soon toddle on tree, will
soon be schooled in photosynthesis, will
soon branch out and then
then settle down; life
made in their shade until at end
they blaze in glory and fall to fate:
fodder for humus; toil for humans.

What is tree to leaf?
Is she mother? Is the end of
each branch to womb? Does tree
portend leaf’s coming, being, going?
Or is tree like God? Or do the two merge?

I put my hand to trunk
and feel earth, intuit strength, know
life flowing to me like energy incognito;
life from womb in whom is
caring, Kraft, creation.

Silently, Resurrection

I like to think that the resurrection
was silent, and unseen too, like
the rising of a stalk from a seed
deep in ground; like
the birth of thought while attending
a tree.

I like the idea of
resurrection as a
surreptitious inversion upending
trumpets, and triumph, and spectacle –
life sneaking out of death, a tiptoe
no-one knows is there… until
they do and then it disappears like
a shiver down your back, like
a déjà vu arresting you, like
dawn’s glow, spring grass’s green, comet crossing sky:
my eye sees, and then it doesn’t, and then it sees differently.

I like to think that the resurrection is everywhere
because it was first there, silently.

Holy Rain

The rain is soft outside my
window this late night, this early morning,
this liminal time. And sleep? It
sits at the edge of the room. It
hovers over my head. It
is phantasmal, appearing dimly, still
beyond reach, mirroring my failed grasp of
You – You, slipping through my fingers as if my
digits were made of space, as they are.
You will not be held, even while
You hold me, mold me, move me in
Your gaze: piercing, precise, and so
painfully close but never close
enough. I melt into desire and become
one with the rain outside my window:
falling on You,
through You,
with You.

The Word Became Fire

The Word became fire, and now
burns within us – warming
hearts kindling the
thought that love becomes us – our
skin glistening hope.

The Word became dirt, and now
dwells below us – holding
us up, soul on soil, gracing
our grasses, grains, gardens;
all our eating now holy.

The Word became wet, and now
rains upon us, now
baptismal bath, now
living spring, now
we are sated with sacred
surging, pulsing, raging.

The Word became air, and now
fills our sails, our souls, our lungs
enlarging; this Word waits
upon us serving us breath, death
abated until the day our flesh fades into
a memory, a word, a poem.

The Word becomes us, making
us fit; it suits us, dressing us
with holy splendor, bending us
back again to our origin:
in the beginning, Word.

Your Hold on My Heart

Yesterday the sky wept, and
the branches of the trees
bled a bit of red. The earth
knows something that
I do not.

I want to read the earth.
I ache to converse with trees,
to listen to the stars, and
to feel the heartbeat of the soil,
but I am a soul too easily
sated with white noise,
with white… but at night
when my pen befriends me
and my guard goes down I
begin to hear, to see, to be differently,
Your hand on my shoulder, Your hold on my heart.

Lawn Tall Bean

There is a bean to be seen
growing in the middle of our lawn,
there by grace of a chipmunk who squirreled
away a pod found in the ground of my garden;
my three sisters garden.

This bean would not be save for
the drought that stopped my lawn mowing,
without which it would have been a has bean.

I’m contemplating what kind of a bean pole
might serve as a lean-to for this lawn tall bean.
Maybe a stick that it can stick to while it rises
in our yard, or maybe a rod, stuck in the sod,
iron graced with the green of bean.

I’m watching this plant with bated breath
as Creator works wonders despite,
or rather because of,
Chip’s plunders.

All Across Turtle Island

A year ago I was in Shillong, India, teaching some marvelous students, seeing some remarkable sight, and learning so very much. This year I’m not in Shillong, but warmed by memories of my time there. My not being there, however, doesn’t mean I haven’t been doing the aforementioned activities. It seems that life is rich and sure to bless as we open our eyes. Of course, I know that people go through unbearably difficult days, days that deserve lament. This, too, is a part of life but hopefully not the whole of it.

Some days are gift. Yesterday was such a day. I made my way to the Conestoga Pow Wow held at the Conestoga College complex. I go most years, although I missed last year because I was away. When I entered I was told I could go left or right, which was a bit disorienting because in the past there was only one direction to go. But this year, the Pow Wow had grown so large that they had a separate arena for vendors aside from the arena dedicated to the drums and dancing. I quickly scouted out the vendors before going into the drumming and dancing arena.

As I entered the sound of the big drums just electrified me. The drumbeat has sometimes been described as the heartbeat of mother earth. It certainly felt as though I was close to the heart of the earth: strong, warm, enlivening, inspiring, justice-demanding: the list of words to describe this sound cannot be exhausted. Drums are considered to be animate for many folk who are Indigenous to North America, sometimes called Turtle Island. I can understand why. The sound was life. The dancers were, I think, carried by the energy, by the soul of the drums.

I had occasion to catch up with some friends at the Pow Wow, wise people who I deeply admire. I am always warmed by their willingness to spend some time with me, sharing their insights and helping me to understand just a little bit more of the way of Turtle Island. And I had opportunity to visit with some young folk who I know from my life at the university, strong Indigenous voices who paint the world right, who converse with the earth and lead us into right relations with our mother, who study and teach, dance and sing, fight and write for the good of all creation. My afternoon just filled me with so much hope. Canada is a long way from where we need to be in our nation to nations conversations. But the conversation partners are ready to talk, passionate about a future lived out in a good way.

I came away from my afternoon at the Pow Wow so very thankful to the Creator for making this possible for me. I do not take these interactions for granted. Life itself bids us come and learn how to be, how to listen, how to smile. I saw so many smiles yesterday. I can only hope that one day we will see more smiles on the faces of people all across Turtle Island, faces glowing in their knowing that everything is related, and all life matters because it comes from the Source of life. We are but a speck in the universe, and knowing that sets us free to be humble and hopeful.