Tuesday, April 29, 2008



The Soul selects her own Society --
Then -- shuts the Door --
To her divine Majority --
Present no more --

Unmoved -- she notes the Chariots -- pausing --
At her low Gate --
Unmoved -- an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat --

I've known her -- from an ample nation --
Choose One --
Then -- close the Valves of her attention --
Like Stone --

Emily Dickinson, 1862

How do we choose those we let in to the society of our soul? Of the thousands of people we interact with, what causes us to pick just a handful or so? With some, I suppose, it is a shared history, a familiarity with our past and our personalities, a long build up of storms weathered and sunny days enjoyed together. With others, perhaps, it is simply proximity. We see them day in and day out and force of habit creates a sort of convenient intimacy. But then there are others who we meet and we suddenly know. We deliberately open ourselves, show our vulnerable spots, tread lightly around theirs. Often there is a heady rush of infatuation or passion, and we do not know whether that in time will mellow out into friendship or love or simply fade away into indifference. One cannot know at the beginning what end will come, or when.

It is a risk, then, to choose one above all others and then to shut the Door. What if the one you choose does not choose you? Or what if the one you choose today is not the one you would have chosen tomorrow? And one can be tempted to minimize that risk--by choosing no one, or by never shutting the Door. The first way is cold and lonely, the second way perhaps leads to the same thing in the end. For if we are constantly looking for the next chariot to stop at the gate, how can we welcome in the one that is already there?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Mental Slideshow

I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed---and gazed---but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

William Wordsworth, 1807

What Wordsworth calls the bliss of solitude, a friend of mine calls her eyelid slideshow. I keep a stock of slides, too, to pull out whenever I need a shot of beauty. An eagle flying overhead, a mist of blue forget-me-nots in a green wood, a road arched over with scarlet maples and yellow birch--they have all brought me comfort and joy in a grey moment. And I have not only an inward eye, but also an inward ear, and I remember snips of poetry or beautiful words or music. The inner world of my mind is ever-present, ever-ready to provide me beauty and joy. If I can remember to call upon it.

Anyway, spring is upon us, and I have been adding to my mental slideshow today with a walk in the maplewood. I took a few pictures to share with you, but one I can't share: a clear, liquid birdsong I did not recognize. I couldn't find him in the tangle of branches, but if I hear the song again I will remember it. It is playing over and over in my inward ear.



Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Domestic Beauty

Home Thoughts From Abroad

Oh, to be in England
Now that April's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England--now!

And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops--at the bent spray's edge--
That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children's dower
--Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

Robert Browning, 1845

Because I am an anglophile, I do long to be in England in the spring, to see each small beauty gently spring forth. England, like Wisconsin, is a land of domestic beauty. Not grand, sweeping landscapes, but gentle vistas. It has a home-like quality that draws me strongly.

I do not discount the dramatic beauty of mountain ranges or the immensity of the ocean, and I love to drink those glories in. But the things which resonate most in my soul are not the grand, the overwhelming, but the tiny shots of beauty: the lone wildflower blooming in the dead leaf-mould of the woodland floor, the musical song of the common house finch on the lilac bush, the liquid babble of a melt water stream. Things that can be missed if one is not paying attention, things that must be discovered, or noticed--those are the beauties that uplift me the most.

I understand the pull of the remote places, too. The thrilling thought that perhaps I am the only one to have ever stood just here, to have ever seen just this, is intoxicating indeed. But the opposite feeling, the knowledge that many others have stood where I am standing and seen what I am seeing is even better. A tree stands on a particularly favorite walk of mine: its trunk was bent by a long-dead Native American in two ninety-degree turns as a sign-post. I stop at that tree every time, and look in the direction it points, off into the maple woods, toward the small pond where the frogs sing in early spring. It so happens that the tree also points in the direction of my home, twenty or so miles beyond. I like to think perhaps it also pointed to the home of the original sign-maker.

Saturday, April 5, 2008



There was a young man who said, "Damn!"
It appears to me now that I am
Just a being that moves
In predestinate grooves
Not a taxi or bus, but a tram.


When I was a child, I could see life's track laid out straight and clear in front of me: high school, college, career, marriage. I knew what would happen and I knew when. I would have three children and live on a chunk of land and have horses and dogs and generally live happily ever after. All went according to plan. Early on in high school, I decided I would study biology in college, so study biology I did. I was, and am, fascinated by how things work, but that did not translate to a career. I did not want to become a doctor or a researcher. I worked my way through college, never wavering from the pre-determined course. It was the path I had laid out for myself, so it was the path I took. And then, when I attained the degree, and began interviewing for jobs in biological research, I slowly became aware that, while I was fascinated with the mechanisms of life, I could not work the kind of job such knowledge gained one. I was, for the first time in my life, without a clear path in front of me, so I stopped. I could not see a way forward, so I did not move forward. Paralyzed by the indeterminate outcome of any decision I might make, I chose instead to make no decisions.

And the uncertainty of my life in career terms leached over into all aspects of my life. Stagnation, indecision, inertia. At first I struggled against the quagmire that had me in its grasp, tried desperately to break free, but each failed attempt chipped away more and more at my strength of will, and I gradually gave up all attempt.

Until a series of events--a death of a friend, making new friends, a remembrance of the person I was before I slowed to a stop--freed my feet from the immobilizing muck. Slowly, dimly, fitfully, the tracks ahead of me become illuminated. No longer one track moving straight forward on its pre-determined line, but a myriad of tracks, shadowy, uncertain, but thrilling nonetheless. Where before I followed the line to its end, now I see before me a spider web of inter-connected, criss-crossing paths, each one leading off in a labyrinthine track of uncertain end. And as I reach each intersection, I merely have to decide which path seems right at that point, and I need not worry about the end. If the path I choose leads me somewhere I do not wish to go, I only have to pick another at the next crossing.