Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Mystery of the Unknown Fruit

There is a tree that grows in the midst of the garden. A very strange tree. Strange fruit. Wait, isn't that the name of a '60's group?  Nope. Guess not. I just looked it up and it has many references, including music, art, film and literature. It will also provide some haunting images of American history. This is not That. That is an important topic, but not for this story. I'm going to try to make this a happy story.

It's a mystery without any clues. Well, very few. I doubt it's the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. I have not eaten of its fruit. Not this one. Mainly because I have no idea what kind of tree it is. I'm hoping you might be able to help me out.

Actually, there are six of these trees, but only two bore any fruit and only one grew a cluster worth mention and photographs.  I have looked online numerous times, at numerous possibilities, none of which completely fit the description and photos, given the flesh, the pits, the outer appearance. The outside is a small version of the soursop, which is grown in Africa (and elsewhere, apparently) but the insides don't match at all. And, what a tree indigenous to Africa might be doing in my garden in me pause for thought.

Still pausing.

Last night, I was on the phone with JB, my friend in Moab (actually, he's my third ex-husband, but we've managed to stay friends) and I told him about my mystery tree. He suggested that it could well be an alien tree growing alien life-form pods which will then enter my body only to emerge through my chest or back at some uncertain time and place. Then I suggested he's read and/or watched too much sci-fi. We bantered about the possibilities, each offering scenarios. We laughed.

Then I tried to go to sleep. With visions of The X Files dancing in my head.

There are other clues. Or not. There is the bicycle on top of my garage, festooned with Christmas lights.

And, there's the "root cellar," leading into some sort of strange chamber.

Okay. Maybe that really is a root cellar. But, that does not explain the bicycle.  "E.T.  Phone home,"  ring a bell?

First thing this morning, I walked out in a light rain to my perennial garden, where the green leaves have turned to gold, picked a couple of the fruit and brought them inside, with mild trepidation. I stared them down and then cut into them. Voila!  One had three pits, or stones, and the other had only one, slightly larger. Nothing cataclysmic. Nothing other-worldly. So far, so good.

But, here I am, occasionally looking over my shoulder at the fruit lying on the kitchen counter, still wondering. And watching.

Please tell me you know.

P.S. JB was the one born in 1947. You know, the year of the Roswell Incident?  Yeaaah.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sweet Surrender

Autumn is definitely settling in and all too quickly heading into the cool of coming winter. I'm still hoping for Indian summer, those magical days of soft sunlight and warm breezes, that last hurrah after first freeze, but before the snow arrives.

The neighbors came over this past Saturday morning bearing good news. They had found an inexpensive source of straw bales. They had several in his truck. We split them up and unloaded, a few close to my septic line, which I am planning to cover just to be on the safe side, the others went into the shed next to the garden until I decide whether to mulch yet this fall or wait until spring. They give me a feeling of security, like an essential part of this chosen life has fallen into place. It's a small thing, but that's where contentment usually lies. I placed my gourds on top of three for looks and for necessity. They need a bit more sunshine, a ripening into something I can yet use for carving after they have dried. Nights are remaining just warm enough to make it possible.

The trees lining my driveway are showing their colors. It makes me feel good every time I pass by them. There are several red and gold-leafed trees outside my window; a blanket of leaves is forming below. I am trying to stay ahead of the melancholy that seems to be nipping at my heels, as I re-learn the same lesson that every autumn brings with it: to see this as a natural part of life and to simply go with the flow. Resistance brings unnecessary struggle. A surrendering to life's natural movement brings peace.

There is a part of me that is actually looking forward to the winter, hunkering down, using it as an opportunity to write and Be. I know I will have to guard against my tendency to become cloistered. I am practicing being of the world, but unmoved by its political and cultural machinations. There are certainly plenty of opportunities for practice.

Today, I'm heading out to find an area rug for under my table and a tablecloth to cover the glass top. I have a need to soften my surroundings and this would be a nice way to do it. I'm thinking a deep plum rug to accompany my sage green sectional. We'll see what shows up.

For my friends on the other side of the world, Happy Spring!  I find it comforting. Somewhere life is just opening up.

Here is Louis Armstrong singing one of my favorite songs, "What a Wonderful World," accompanied by some beautiful photographs. Every time I see a photograph of Delicate Arch I remember sitting under it with my son, Coleman, one late winter afternoon. It is a wonderful world:

The photographs are mine.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Crab Apples and Chicken Coops

As my friend, Diane, and I were finishing lunch today, just when we hit on what we thought was sort of a light bulb moment, the sun came out as if to agree that we had, indeed, shed some light on a certain subject. What started out as a gloomy day suddenly changed. The Universe's pre-chosen topic for the day, previously unknown to us, had been discovered and some little nugget of  "truth," as we perceive it, had arrived. We always have a nice mix of laughs and serious talk and I always walk away feeling better than when I arrived.

We sometimes visit a store called  Mind, Body, Spirit. It's fun to see what's new and pick out refrigerator magnets that reflect where our heads are at. I recently picked out one that said,  "Embrace your power. Don't apologize for it."  Last visit, Diane chose, "When opportunity knocks, don't be the one who says, 'Can somebody get that?'" When she showed it to me, I couldn't stop giggling. It always makes for a good time and today was no exception.

By the time I'd gotten back home the sunlight had taken on a really nice quality. I was running around the house taking care of a few chores when I noticed the metal on the old coop gleaming in the late afternoon light and I knew I couldn't stay inside one more minute.

As I was heading out back to take the coops picture I got sidetracked by an ornamental crab. Its leaves are starting to turn; its apples slightly dimpled by the cool nights. I was absolutely transfixed by these little guys. Standing underneath them felt as though I was standing inside a painting.

Later in the evening, as I sat on the edge of the bed looking out the window at the sun peeking between the yellowing trees as it was getting ready to set, I said to myself,  'Wow,' very quietly. I just sat there for a while looking out the window letting it all soak in.

The photographs are mine.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Bedouin Inside of Me

It seems I spent much of my life trying to understand my nomadic soul, that Bedouin inside of me that always wandered through, never quite at rest, never finding that one true home. I had my tent, my boots, my camera, and my notebook. One thing was missing: a good map, well-marked and topographic; one noting all the possible wrong turns and unnecessary side trips, the things to look out for, the things to avoid.

It seems, in its absence, I did some cartography of my own. I sort of created the map as I went, making mental notations of where I might be going wrong, where I Know I went wrong, and how I could become a better listener and navigator in order to avoid getting side-tracked, yet again. The key, of course, is to act, or not act, as the case may be, on what I've heard and what I've felt, the information I've received from my Inner Compass.

Recently, while looking at photographs my brother and sister in-law were sharing with me of their trip last year to Egypt, I was drawn to the images of camels resting on the hot desert sand, and I thought about my own traveling tendencies, both mental and geographical (although I've never been to Egypt), and found this question floating through my head again, a question posed by the poet, Mary Oliver:  "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"  To me, this is not about whether or not we have only one life, that is really irrelevant. The question posed remains valuable in that we must ask ourselves, 'How am I going to honor This life, this one, Now?' 

Awhile back, I found myself saying, through tears,  'I just want to go home.'  Where did That come from?  Don't know, and yet it felt so true. What was I yearning for? I certainly had no thoughts of death, nor was I responding from the dark recesses of my mind. Have I come here from some other place? Am I an inter-dimensional being?   Was I left here by my fellow travelers, when I strayed too far from the plan, our inter-galactic mission? There are those who have argued that case. Three ex-husbands, various and sundry other individuals who would and have offered it as a possible explanation.

No, it's something else.  I think.

I love my life. I love where I am living. I loved having the summer to bury my hands and feel my heart deep in the earth, in this land I call home. It is, by any standards set forth, Love itself.  It meets my needs, it feeds my soul,  it responds to my prayers, often through Nature herself, and beautifully. I try to reciprocate however and whenever I can.  So, what did I mean when I said, 'I want to go home?'

I recently exchanged emails with a friend in which he expressed a similar yearning, his desire to "return home." He went on to describe it as a desire to become one with, to merge with, the Creator. I received his permission to share his thoughts with you, as it seems to dovetail with my own questions, aptly illustrating this human condition. Michael is an abstract painter who lives in Santa Fe. He wrote:

As you have indicated re: yourself, I, too, have lived many lives, in many places, and seem to be an egregious example of the idea that, "nothing lasts forever."  It is usually my reaction [in these circumstances] that my soul begins to be absorbed with the strong force feeling that it is not actually part of this world that is and always has been so beautiful to it... that despite its earthly yearnings, in the final analysis, it is a stranger in a foreign land. Thus, in keeping with a migrating herd, I, soul, am always and again, on the move toward some unknown locus, some different place, where the created can completely merge with the Creator, and thus, integrated and "at home," finally cease searching and roam no more....     ~ Michael von Helms

We talked about life, and we hashed over our individual circumstances, and we arrived at The Place of No Answers. Except maybe this: we do the best we can, each and every day. That is all. And, it is All. There is nothing else to do.

And so I take walks, recording my love of nature, of the world, of Life itself, and I write these thoughts down for no other reason than it's what I do. And somewhere along the way I find peace, and I see Love seeping through the cracks, finding its inevitable way into the interior. This yearning to return home is really a yearning for my Higher Self, the self that is more trustworthy to myself and others, the self that God, the Beloved, knows. The self that I am learning to Know, here on this oasis.

And that is what I'm doing with my, "one wild and precious life."

To see Michael von Helm's work go to:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Mushrooms and Prayer Feathers

Last evening, I decided to take a walk across the road to my place along the river and sit for awhile in prayer and meditation. I wasn't needing to pray, at least not about anything in particular. It was a beautiful day and I simply wanted to be present to it. And listen.

As I crossed the road, I saw a turkey feather lying on the ground, right in my path, perhaps from the small flock that made its way through my yard a couple of days ago. As I bent over to pick it up, I recalled the American Indian belief regarding feathers. In every native American tribe it is believed they carry with them the power of prayer, that they represent a prayer. In some indigenous cultures, they call forth the creative force and allow for communication with Spirit. And so I picked it up and held it as I continued on my walk to the river.

After sitting there by the river for a few minutes, I felt the nudge to walk, to discover more of the small bit of woods on my land, the woods the turkeys had taken cover in two days previously. I walked along the fence line until I could cross over at a place where a fence post was almost down. On the corner of my woods, in a small meadow next to the neighboring farm field, there was a long forgotten garden, fenced and consisting of several tractor tires set in rows. It would take a good deal of working this garden to bring it back to a usable state, but there it is. A possible project for some other spring, should more gardens be in my future.

I could hear, but not see, the crows in the neighbor's field. The colors, the sounds, the sense of autumn, the entire scene, all contributed to a rather van Gogh-ish feeling in the air.

Throughout my walk, I found several mushrooms had popped out, all wanting to have their picture taken. I was drawn to a moss-covered stump that several mushrooms call home. It turned into a real lesson in seeing, really seeing.

Some were very colorful and I have long known they are usually the ones that are non-culinary. But, not always. There are two types of mushrooms that I feel confident picking. I know them as the honey cap and the sulphur shelf, which is quite colorful. Sauteed, there's no finer food. These, however, are not them.

At some point in my walk, I put the turkey feather in a button hole near my lapel. It felt right. Thinking about it now, I realize I had placed it over my heart. 

I have, framed and sitting in my bookshelf, a quote by the philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, regarding his thoughts on prayer. It states:

As my prayer became more and more attentive and inward, I had less and less to say. I finally became completely silent... This is how it is. To pray does not mean to listen to oneself speaking. Prayer involves becoming silent, and being silent, and waiting until God is heard.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Creating My Day

As I was lying in bed this morning, considering the possibilities for the day, I recalled something from the film, "What the Bleep Do We Know!?" It's where Dr. Joe Dispenza talks about creating your day, actually imagining and forming your day, how you want to see and experience it. I was thinking about how much I have appreciated seeing all the wildlife that's passed through my yard this summer. Besides bunnies and birds, there were bears. Although I never actually laid eyes on the bear, or bears, which I've written about, there was evidence of their presence for a few weeks.

The deer which fed off the tender shoots of my fruit trees earlier in the summer have been through. I've often seen their hoof prints crossing my driveway. Many evenings there's been a small group, anywhere from four to seven adults, along with three fawns, in a nearby field. These little ones had spots until about three weeks ago, when I saw two of them nursing from their mother, quite near the road, as I drove by in the evening. She just kept an eye on me as they fed. They must have been late spring babies.

There was a red fox I startled when walking in my yard late one evening. It ran from near the old chicken coop, jumped over the corner of my perennial garden in back and bounded off into the trees beyond. I suppose he'd been keeping an eye on it and thought, "New landlord, maybe chickens."  Not yet, maybe next year. It did give me something to mull over. I had chickens in Ansel and something eventually did find it's way inside the coop, killing the hens. I was heartsick. I know the possible dangers and want to be very sure that, if I do get chickens, I'm more than adequately prepared for predators. Learning to live with nature isn't always easy and takes preparation, in some cases.

Yesterday, as I was leaving the vegetable garden, I heard a familiar noise, but couldn't quite place it. "Gobble, gobble," should have been a clue. As I turned towards the house, a small flock of wild turkeys was making its way across my lawn. I was torn between pausing to watch and getting closer for a better look. Neither option suited them. They were off and running. As I got closer, a straggler came around the house. Back came a rather imposing member of the flock, the kingpin of the group I suppose, and tried to hurry the straggler along. He sort of ran/flew, as much as a turkey can fly with so little runway, and set himself down next to it, bobbing his head as if to say, "Will you get your ass in gear. She's back and we don't know what to expect."

I got my camera and walked to the road to see if they were crossing it, but nothing. They must have hunkered down in the little spot of woods between my yard and the road. I decided not to stir them up, but let them take cover and feel safe.

Back to creating my day. As I was lying in bed, I thought how nice it would be to see deer actually in the yard again. It was a misty morning, barely dawn, when I decided to get up and get the coffee going. While it brewed, I sat down at the kitchen table, next to a window, and quietly watched the morning emerge. Within a few minutes, one by one, seven deer walked by the perennial garden, past the clothesline and down into the hollow. I got my camera and tried to quietly, from inside the house, see if I could take a photo worth sharing with you. It's not great, but it's what I could do in the circumstances:

Before I go about creating the rest of my day, I want to share a quote with you that has recently spoken to me. It's by Ayn Rand, from her novel, Atlas Shrugged.

Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists, it is real, it is possible, it is yours.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Things We All Carry

In the last couple of days, a book by a Minnesota-born writer, Tim O'Brien, has come to mind a few times. It's titled, The Things They Carried. That particular title comes to mind now and then anyway, but only because it pertains to life on so many levels and for so many people, myself included. All that baggage we carry, all that stuff that follows us around from room to room.

Tim O' Brien is a Viet Nam War veteran, whose stories of his experiences there still haunt us, and I expect him, as well. I first read his novel, Going After Cacciato, which won the National Book Award in 1979, a whole lot of years ago. I then went on to read everything else he wrote as it came along. In the Lake of the Woods, remains a favorite. It's not just the locale, but the story itself. It so perfectly depicts a particular time in our lives.

Yes, we all carry around some baggage, but I believe war veterans, all war veterans, carry around more than their fair share. One particular story in this collection has stood out over the years as an example of the absurdity, the absolute absurdity, of war, the horrible loss of life and our attempt to make some sense of it, to find a way to maintain one's sanity amidst such utter and complete insanity.

The story is about a soldier named Curt Lemon, who steps on a landmine, something that doesn't just end his life, but scatters his body into pieces, some of which are left hanging from the branches of a nearby tree. His comrades climb up into the tree to retrieve his body parts, and as they do so, one of the men starts singing Harry Belafonte's song, "Lemon Tree." I will not write the words down here. You know them.

This came to mind, I believe, after hearing of the U. S. soldiers who are being accused of, and charged with, war crimes. It appears they killed several people in Afghanistan and then kept some of their body parts, fingers is what they're reporting, a sort of trophy collecting of the most difficult-to-understand nature. I am working on not passing judgment on anyone, even these soldiers who got caught up in war and, perhaps, their own struggle with keeping their sanity amidst the nightmare in which they found themselves. Yes, we can say, "That's horrifying! What kind of people are they? Who would do such a thing!?!"  And the crimes, as reported, are truly difficult to understand. But, when darkness emerges in such circumstances, and it does, can anyone truly say, "I would never...?"

I want to say, 'Never,' and I'm as certain as I can be, that's true. I'm certain you feel the same.  But, I have to ask myself, is that what these young men thought too, before they went to Afghanistan, before they acted so brutally, so callously, against human life? Would their mothers, their fathers, have ever thought their sons were capable of such atrocities?  A military court, no doubt, will handle their cases, but they sealed their own fate when they made the choices they did. And, there are always choices. It starts with one.

I would ascertain we've all made choices, whatever their nature, seemingly large or small, that took us into that strange twilight, if not the darkness, we never thought we'd find ourselves in, only to wake up and see ourselves emerging from the woods, standing at the edge of the field, looking for forgiveness.

Please forgive my less-than-happy foray into this topic. I can't explain why I'm writing this today, but I've always tried to listen and be guided into what I write about, so here it is. I wrote about Wilfred Owen, the World War I poet, in an earlier post. This topic is not new for me. I cannot write about gardens without writing about all the aspects of life, and, as I have mentioned before, the mystery of death is contained in the mystery of life. My impulse is to recoil from this topic, but in doing so I invite fear and I want to dispel fear, in all its guises, including anger.

I received an anthology of war poetry as a gift several years ago, Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness, edited by Carolyn Forche. I don't go there often. It's too painful. I do go there often enough to not forget. Her books dedication:

For those who died
and those who survived

Bertolt Brecht (1898 - 1956), poet and playwright, wrote powerful indictments against war and those who take us there. Marked for execution, he fled Germany in 1933, and spent sixteen years in exile, including time in the United States, where he was called before the House Committee for Un-American Activities. He returned to Germany in 1949. In his three part poem titled, "To Those Born Later," Brecht wrote, in part:

All roads led into the mire in my time.
My tongue betrayed me to the butchers.
There was little I could do. But those in power
Sat safer without me: that was my hope.
So passed my time
Which had been given to me on earth.

Our forces were slight. Our goal
Lay far in the distance
It was clearly visible, though I myself
Was unlikely to reach it.
So passed my time
Which had been given to me on earth.

You who will emerge from the flood
In which we have gone under
When you speak of our failings
The dark time too
Which you have escaped.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Grapes of Friendship

The grapes are all picked and the jelly's in the jars. I ended up with about ten heaping ice cream buckets full of gorgeous dark ripe grapes. No, I didn't do wine. As I have mentioned, instructions and I don't get along. I had enough to think about with the jelly recipe. Had the wine recipe concluded with "abra cadabra," maybe I would have reconsidered. So, jelly it is. They are sitting on the counter, setting as we speak. They will be freezer/refrigerator jelly, no canning this year. Here are three of them, doing their thing:

The cosmos are hanging on for dear life. The zinnias seem to be hearkening to Dylan Thomas' plea to, "rage against the dying of the light." Their colors are still almost florescent they are so bright and many more buds waiting to bloom. I hope the frost holds off for awhile.

The winter squash, however, are getting ready for just such an event and then they will be ready to harvest. I also discovered several interesting looking gourds are hanging out under the vines. I look forward to using them for fall decorations and then maybe, just maybe, I will try my hand at creating some semblance of gourd art. That's a big maybe. I fear my eyes are bigger than my ability. But, it's fun to imagine the possibilities.

Penelope, the neighbor's calico cat, and I, scared the devil out of each other this morning. She was hiding under the squash vines, doing whatever cats do, when I showed up. She ran, I settled in to weed and take some pictures. It was a beautiful morning to be in the garden. I found one lone carrot while pulling up weeds, so I brought it back to the house with me and, for what was probably the last time this summer, washed my feet under the outdoor spigot before going inside. There was such a stark difference as I shut the door, leaving the outdoors behind, that I felt odd, as though the outdoors was where I felt most at home, and now I would have to get into a new, arriving-all-too-soon, hibernation mode. I munched on my carrot in noisy acceptance.

A couple of Sundays ago, while standing under the grape arbor, with a light rain falling on the canopy of leaves above me, the cell phone in my back pocket rang. It was Joey. A large clump of grapes in one hand and a life-long friend on the phone in my other hand. Life felt pretty good in that moment.

We met the summer we were 13. I was going to be moving and changing schools, she was a student at the new school. We were both hanging out in town, meeting up with some mutual friends, when she bounded up to me, introduced herself, and our life-long friendship began. It was as though we'd known each other forever and were meeting each other again, for the first time. Some friendships are like that. They're the ones that make you think about the Bigger Picture, just how long Have we known each other?

She has a sense of humor that makes me feel good about Life. Whenever we get together you can count on the laughs flying, merriment prevailing.  We tackle some tough subjects, too, but we always come back to seeing life through the lens of laughter. She and I attended the same high school, graduated from the same college, and both started out as teachers. She now works for the state park service here in Minnesota, and I'm sitting here, writing this.

Many years ago, maybe twenty now, I sent her a birthday card, which seemed to sum up my feelings about our friendship. She framed it and hung it on her wall. We still agree it fits:

What made us friends in the long ago
When we first met?
Well, I think I know;
The best in me and the best in you
Hailed each other because they knew
That always and always since life began
Our being friends was part of God's plan.

~George Webster Douglas 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"The Map's in Your Soul"

I seem to have misplaced my funny bone. Can't find it anywhere. I'm certain it will show up soon. In the meantime, Dan Fogelberg crossed my mind and I remembered how much I love his collection of songs called, "The Wild Places." I went to the CD shelf and found it. It begins with an instrumental called "Aurora Nova," then segues into the title piece. In the following video, these two have been combined, as on the album. Dan's voice, so rich and full, with a love of life in all its forms, comes in around 2:00. Dan passed on in December of 2007, but his wonderful music and lyrics are a powerful testament to his life.

Some food for thought:

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Community: A River Flows Through It

As summer makes its slow turn into fall, I always feel a bit of wistfulness. This past Saturday, wishing I'd spent more time by the river, I decided on an immediate remedy. I walked across the road, down to my place by the river, and sat in the cool greenness along its banks.

As I looked out at the river passing by, I started to feel melancholy. I had trouble staying in the moment. My thoughts were agitated by a bit of regret, a bit of sadness. Knowing from past experience that being in that state of mind doesn't lead to anything good, I decided to walk.


I walked down the small side road, to the bridge which spans the river, leading to the neighbor's farm. I had admired this farm from across the bridge earlier in the summer. It is one of the most picturesque settings I have ever seen. The buildings and the grounds are so beautiful and, I would suspect, lovingly maintained. They appear to have extensive gardens around their property (I did not photograph it out of respect for their privacy).

I stood on the wooden bridge, in the warm, late summer sun, and looked at the river in both directions, as it comes around the corner from my place, passes under the bridge, and then flows down and around the bend. While I was doing this, and taking a few photos, the owner of the farm, and his dog, Daisy, came down to greet me. I introduced myself and we realized we had known each other many years ago. He had been one year ahead of my older son, Trevor, in the local school. He had bought his parents farm and was attempting to carry on the family tradition.

He spoke in a handful of sentences of having to make changes. He had recently reduced his herd of cattle down to two. He expressed no fear, just acceptance of change. He spoke of how he and his wife would be focusing more on their large bed of raspberries and other produce they would be offering for sale next summer. We talked about the need for shopping locally and creating change from the ground up. It was a brief, but meaningful, visit. We had found common ground, standing there in the middle of this bridge, a bridge that spanned generations, that spanned the change we're feeling in the world and the hope for a meaningful way of life. He invited me to come back whenever I wished.

I thanked him and then walked back to my spot on the river. As I sat under the trees, by the rocks along its banks, I found myself able to stay in the moment, to sit in peaceful silence. My burgeoning sense of community, here along the river, had swept away any trace of melancholy.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Until I Get It Right

Warning: I might be all over the map today, but stick with me and I may have a point before this is over.

There's an interesting conversation going on over at quoteflections (you can check it out on my blogroll), about vanity and its place in our lives. It is my opinion, and my opinion only, that it's essential that we love ourselves, a love that comes from respecting ourselves, showing compassion for and not judging ourselves, seeing ourselves in a wholly loving light.  In order to truly love others, we have to love ourselves first. Trying to do so any other way is starting backwards and I don't think that works very well, if at all. However, loving ourselves is not vanity. Vanity is Narcissus looking at his own reflection in the pool (we'll take another look at him later). Loving ourselves is seeing another, and in doing so seeing ourselves, and still loving what we see. Still with me?

Vanity comes from the ego, and I'm still working this one out, as you might suspect. Separating the good from the bad in ego is pretty tricky. I think it may well be impossible. The ego will always be whispering in our ear, having us believe in separation, that we are not That person, the one who is unloving, the one who is judgmental, the one who is spewing venomous words of hate and fear. The tricky part is, while I'm looking at another in this light, I am responding from the same set of feelings that I am so derisive of. As I said, I'm still working on this one. The world seems to provide so many opportunities for practice.

It seems we could all benefit from a big dose of joy. I recently saw an image of children in Portugal. It was a photograph in the September issue of National Geographic, taken by freelance photographer, Miguel Costa. Six boys, sons of fishermen, were sitting atop a heap of sand at a remote beach. All six of them were grinning and laughing and expressing unmitigated joy. No ego there.

Mark Twain once said, "Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand."  Laughter is wonderful. Surely we have all known the joy that comes from unrestrained laughter with a friend, completely unhampered by judgment, of any kind. The ego is dropped, joy steps in. This doesn't mean we live in a constant state of yukking it up. It can also be a quiet, tranquil joy, the joy that comes from staying in the moment and finding peace there.

Back to our boy, Narcissus. While staring at his own reflection in the lake, he falls into the water and is transformed into a beautiful flower! The goddess of the forest notices that the lake is no longer fresh water, but salty. She visits with the lake and the lake admits to weeping for Narcissus. The goddess inquires as to why. Was it because of his beauty? The lake responds, "I weep for Narcissus, but I never noticed that Narcissus was beautiful. I weep because, each time he knelt beside my banks, I could see, in the depth of his eyes, my own beauty reflected."

I'm not sure these two, joy and ego, relate to anyone else as much as they do to me, but the joy of blogging is that I can use my page to express my feelings, and these feelings are just my opinions. No answers, just opinions. My opinion is: Joy is the answer. That and love. But, "That's just my opinion, I could be wrong,"  as Dennis Miller used to say on his show, that used to be on, that I used to watch, before his ego started annoying me so much.  See?  I need a lot more practice.

A lot.

I started looking at images of paintings by Winslow Homer and couldn't stop.  So, it's Winslow Homer Day on my blog.