Saturday, June 26, 2010

Humpback Etheree

In the summer months I have the opportunity to explore my dream realms much more fully than during the school year when I'm out of bed by 5:15 to face the day. My most vivid dreams occur between 4 and 7 AM.

Dreams inform me about what's going on "behind the scenes" in my mind. Contemplating my dreams is worthwhile work for me to do.

The natural world speaks up to me in dream realms. The spirits of the natural world really are trying to wake us up to show us the damage we human beings are doing to all of the life with which we share this precious planet. I hope we wake up soon, and realize that the "economy" is not the most important thing to save on our planet. Life is.

What the trees, the plants, the birds, the fish, turtles, whales, bugs, and fungi have to say is very important for us to hear. I'm trying to listen.

Turning off media helps.

Here's an Etheree:

thoughts, scenes, tales, plays,
from dream realms show up
under the moon, surfacing
like a pod of humpback whales
singing ancient survival songs
just beyond the reach of our wisdom
Whales sound. We wake, and turn on TV news.

Consisting of ten lines, the Etheree poem starts with a one syllable line, then adds one syllable per line, until the last line of ten syllables for an overall syllable count of 55. In other words the syllabic structure is as follows: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10. It’s an uncomplicated, unpretentious form of poetry that has the quality of slowly opening, like a flower.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Self Portrait, an Etheree Poem

I'm told that when I fly somewhere it's like driving myself to wherever I'm going in a big ol' Hummer. All by myself. So the passenger cabin is like a huge caravan of Hummers way up high....and all the tailpipes spew the exhaust 7 miles up, where it does more damage....

Knowing this takes a lot of the fun out of flying for me. If I had to drive a Hummer solo to Ireland I'm sure I'd find a vacation closer to home.

But I'm not immune to the intoxication of  air travel, so for now I just close my heart and pretend it's less damaging to the atmosphere than it really is. I feel terrible about it. I sort of ignore my guilty feelings about the selfishness of flying. That's where this poem comes from.

free," I said,
"credit card miles."
I shut out the cries
from my heart and the hearts
of all life as yet unborn
who will pay immeasurable
costs for this phony freedom conjured
without shame by banks, big oil, airlines, me.

Consisting of ten lines, the Etheree poem starts with a one syllable line, then adds one syllable per line, until the last line of ten syllables for an overall syllable count of 55. In other words the syllabic structure is as follows: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10. It’s an uncomplicated, unpretentious form of poetry that has the quality of slowly opening, like a flower.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dialogue: Trees

Recently my friend, Jim Wilson, published a post on his blog about the Haiku of Hayden Carruth. One of the poems he discusses has really lingered with me.

It lingered long enough I decided that I wanted to add two 7 syllable lines to it to transform his Haiku into a Tanka via poetic collaboration through time and space.

Jim calls this sort of collaboration “Dialogues” and he discusses it on his blog.

The result, I feel, is an apt fitting of process and product:

Dialogue: Trees

Trees, naked trees
stopped in their tracks, so peaceful
talking together. (Carruth)

A word an hour, or less—
And nothing but the whole truth (DG)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


“Nirvana, the Third Dharma Seal, is the ground of being, the substance of all that is. A wave does not have to die in order to become water. Water is the substance of the wave. The wave is already water. We are also like that. We carry in us the ground of interbeing, nirvana, the world of no-birth, and no-death no permanence and no impermanence, no self and no nonself. Nirvana is the complete silencing of concepts. The notions of impermanence and nonself  were offered by the Buddha as instruments of practice, not as doctrines to worship, fight, or die for.... If you know how to use the tools of impermanence and nonself to touch reality, you touch nirvana in the here and now.”
—Thich Nhat Hahn

Seeing Nirvana as the substance of all that is resembles seeing the arrow in the Fed Ex logo. It’s always been there, but until it pops out, you realize you haven’t seen it even though you may have looked straight at it countless times.

Here’s an Etheree:

Under my nose
Like animal breath
Ultimate Nirvana.
Ground beneath loving-kindness
Here, now, near, far, above, below
Everything, everywhere, everywhen—
Empty heart-center aglow in the void.

TNH's suggestion to look for impermanence and nonself everywhere and with dogged persistence is advice well worth considering.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Tending Zucchini

“… consciousness is said to be a field, a plot of land in which every kind of seed has been planted, seeds of suffering, happiness, joy, sorrow, fear, anger, and hope.  The quality of our life depends on which of these seeds we water.  The practice of mindfulness is to recognize each seed as it sprouts, and to water the most wholesome seeds whenever possible.” Thich Nhat Hanh

summer offers time...

time to notice what's growing
in this active plot of land
 that is my mind
 time to see the
countless shoots of suffering, 
 of joy, fear, anger, love, and hope...
on this longest day of the year
there is time to contemplate
the few shoot-thoughts
that seem wholesome

time to notice 
 other shoot-thoughts
hiding in the shadows—
do they know i tend to see them
as weeds and yank them out?
they must not trust me to
see, accept, investigate,
and let them be—
so they lurk in
the dark.

with this gift of time
i try—as best i can—
(and it's not easy)
to cultivate,
to feed,
to water
wholesome thoughts

while simply watching,
accepting, wondering about, and
letting fly away the many others—

in the garden i tend
the zucchini, the strawberries, basil
aspargus, eggplants, tomatoes, chard, kale,
  a loud black bumblebee thrice circled menacingly
as i
what did
she want?

the neighbor's cat watches, and is only mildly interested
in all this fussing over plants.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Pelicans, A Haiku

 Image from

Not just pelicans
Shellfish, whales, and dolphins drown—
Hope, too, drowns in oil.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Grandmother's Hemorrhage

On Monday, June 21st, I will walk to the Peace Garden in Sebastopol, a National Peace Site about two miles from where I live.

There I will offer a healing prayer to Mother Earth as called for by Chief Arvol Looking Horse in his letter to Spiritual Leaders copied below. You can see Pollinatrix's post on the same topic on her most excellent blog, The Whole Blooming World.

I think it's important to use words and images that more accurately convey the magnitude of this disaster. We must reframe it. To call it an "oil spill" is to miss its reality, its meaning, its urgency, and its importance.

Spills are accidents, usually minor, and easy to clean up. Like spilled milk. Spills are nothing to worry about or get excited over.

What's going on under the Gulf is not a spill.

It would be more accurate to call it Grandmother Earth's life-threatening hemorrhage. We are way too greedy for Grandmother's blood, her oil, which she needs inside her skin. B.P.'s greed is a concentration of our collective greed for Her blood. We must stop burning Her blood.

To help me understand how to respond skillfully, I'm spending the morning of June 21st praying outdoors.

On that day, I will notch another car free day on my 2010 calendar.

I will think about notching a whole, whole lot more car-free days.

A Great Urgency:  To All World Religious and Spiritual Leaders 
My Relatives,

Time has come to speak to the hearts of our Nations and their Leaders.  I ask you this from the bottom of my heart, to come together from the Spirit of your Nations in prayer.

We, from the heart of Turtle Island, have a great message for the World; we are guided to speak from all the White Animals showing their sacred color, which have been signs for us to pray for the sacred life of all things.  As I am sending this message to you, many Animal Nations are being threatened, those that swim, those that crawl, those that fly, and the plant Nations, eventually all will be affected from the oil disaster in the Gulf.

The dangers we are faced with at this time are not of spirit. The catastrophe that has happened with the oil spill which looks like the bleeding of Grandmother Earth, is made by human mistakes, mistakes that we cannot afford to continue to make.

I asked, as Spiritual Leaders, that we join together, united in prayer with the whole of our Global Communities. My concern is these serious issues will continue to worsen, as a domino effect that our Ancestors have warned us of in their Prophecies. 

I know in my heart there are millions of people that feel our united prayers for the sake of our Grandmother Earth are long overdue.  I believe we as Spiritual people must gather ourselves and focus our thoughts and prayers to allow the healing of the many wounds that have been inflicted on the Earth.

As we honor the Cycle of Life, let us call for Prayer circles globally to assist in healing Grandmother Earth (our Unc¹I Maka).

We ask for prayers that the oil spill, this bleeding, will stop. That the winds stay calm to assist in the work. Pray for the people to be guided in repairing this mistake, and that we may also seek to live in harmony, as we make the choice to change the destructive path we are on.

As we pray, we will fully understand that we are all connected.  And that what we create can have lasting effects on all life.

So let us unite spiritually, All Nations, All Faiths, One Prayer.  Along with this immediate effort, I also ask to please remember June 21st, World Peace and Prayer Day/Honoring Sacred Sites day. Whether it is a natural site, a temple, a church, a synagogue or just your own sacred space, let us make a prayer for all life, for good decision making by our Nations, for our children¹s future and well-being, and the generations to come.

Onipikte (that we shall live),

Chief Arvol Looking Horse
19th generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe

Here's a less than 3 minute video with pretty music that might make you cry.

Don't watch it if you're already feeling blue.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bottled Water and The Great Mystery of Water

"When you drink the water, remember the spring."  —Chinese Proverb

"[Water is] the only drink for a wise man."  —Thoreau

If you've been drinking water from those plastic bottles, I hope you will find time to watch this little video called the story of bottled water. It will help you and you'll stop buying and drinking it, and that will help the planet.

The Story of Bottled Water

If you've got a lot more time, like an hour and twenty minutes, watch the video below. Watching it increased my appreciation (already pretty high) for perhaps the most amazing substance on earth, water.

Discussing the Great Mystery of Water


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Move the House

Today I led a community walk. An art walk. At one gallery we visited we could see the artist's backyard.

Many of us walkers took a lot of interest in her back yard and in her garden which was full of midsummer fecundity.

The artist/gardener pointed out a tree in her neighbor's yard, not that it needed any pointing out. There stood an enormous and impressive Bay Laurel tree.

She said, "See that tree? It's over 1,000 years old. That tree is the second oldest Bay Laurel tree in the all of California."

It was truly impressive. I snapped its photo, but my photo fails almost completely to convey the tree's nobility. With apologies for that, here:


Standing in its shade, I felt honored to be in the presence of a truly holy being.

A venerable elder. As I said a silent prayer to it, one of my walking companions commented, "It looks like the old tree could be leaning towards the house. It should be cut down."

I felt a rush of anger run through my body, washing the prayer right out of me. I contained my anger and watched it turn into sadness and hurt. Ten seconds later, the anger was almost gone and I was simply overcome with sadness. How could that woman so immediately wish that this tree, perhaps 20 times her senior, be killed, murdered for leaning?

"My God," I wondered to myself,  "Is our human species really this murderous?"

 I realized that my sadness is of no use to the tree. I tried to think of a more creative response.

I was able to come up only with this idea, "Maybe," I replied as mildly as I could, "Since the house is only 50 years old, they could move the house."

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Red Strawberry

A modest tribute to the first poem, encountered in a high school sophomore English class, that conveyed to me the transcendent language of poetry.

so much depends

a red straw

cradled in tea

placed with

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Poem for My Mother

My mother, who would note her eighty-sixth birthday, on the ninth of June, died fourteen years ago this October. The dead pay visits in dream lands. My Mom has been stopping by in my dreams of late. Scenes from these dreams inspired this poem.

Tea in the Garden

My daughter, my mother and I enjoy
a third infusion of a green oolong.

I offer Mom small cups of tea and
all the approval and forgiveness
I can manage, but, like a ploy—
Somehow misbegotten, wrong.

For reasons I never will
Know, Mom’s father and her older brother,
—Grandfather Robert and Uncle Bobby I never knew—
Left holes to fill.

Bobby,12, was killed when
a train slammed into the hay truck he rode.
Mom’s parents grieved deep, long,
Did they notice their little girl suffered too?

My daughter helps me stay with my mom.
We snuggle on the couch, sipping, now, a
Fourth infusion from tiny thin white porcelain
Cups without handles handmade in Korea.
I rest one hand lovingly on my mom’s warm knee.
I cradle a tiny, almost empty cup in the other.

I am her son, am I also her dad, her brother?
I can’t do this alone. My brothers help,
More than I know.

I’m the father of her only granddaughter.
We stroll out to the garden
Through the back door.
Mom’s steps are unsteady, slow.

We study without embarrassment salmon roses
Unfolding their voluptuous petals
We see three baby zucchini,
The first of the season.

I grasp an old Swiss Army knife in my pocket
take it out and unfold a blade and
pass it carefully, scuffed red plastic handle first,
To my daughter, who,
With skills honed in surgery
Slices three zucchini from their umbilicals.

Grandpa died when Mom was in college
Ten years before I could hear his voice.
I long to hear his voice, even if only in dreams.

We chew the raw zucchini,
Eyes closed in reverent reflex
Wordlessly thanking leafy mother zucchini.
“You’re welcome,” she says shyly,
Plant language we three hear plainly,
And we know the zucchini is looking forward
To languid sex
With bees in the afternoon sun
The day after tomorrow.

A bluebird lands in a nearby blue spruce
Just ahead of a breeze.
The three of them—
The breeze, the bluebird, the trees
Whisper a blessing, a prayer, a truce
To the five of us
My mother, my daughter, me,
The zucchini and the bees.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

When Work is More Fun than Fun

People who aren’t teachers imagine that summer vacation has no downside. But in reality, for me, summer vacation is a mixed blessing.

When “Work is more fun than fun,” to quote Noel Coward, then an extended vacation from work is less fun than work. For me, that’s how it can be sometimes. I know it will sound pathetic to say this, but I miss kindergarten. I feel lonely at times. Summer’s a vast intercession.

I know, I’m whining. So let me hasten to say that summer brings welcome relief from the hectic school year schedule. There’s more time for gardening, for exercise, for meditation, for cooking, for travel, for blogging (oh, please!), for friends, and for those nagging projects waiting always to be done, like cleaning and organizing the garage.

Best of all, summer affords the luxury of sleeping in and exploring a dream life.

As you might guess, more than a few dreams grow out of my life as a teacher. Sometimes these dreams are simple happy scenes at school, usually outdoors in the garden or on the playground, riding bikes. The unhappy school-related dreams most often have the theme of rescuing five year old kids from some danger, usually drowning. There’s no body of water at my school, but I was born on a lake front property and as a toddler almost drowned twice in the lake out the back door, so, probably I’m still working on those experiences.

The adjustment to summer is harder this year than it ever has been before. That’s because I was honored on the last day of school with a statue memorializing my career. I’m still awash with pleasure from that occasion.

You can read about the statue over on my “Mr. Kindergarten” blog.

Another recurrent theme in my dreamscape is my family. My mom, whose birthday is tomorrow, has been visiting my dream world lately and I’ve written a poem describing one of those dreams which will appear here tomorrow.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Haiku: Men in 2010

Just about everywhere I go, in everything I do, women outnumber men 2 to 1.
Where are the men? Here's a haiku that attempts to answer that question:

Watching TV sports
Pretending they're not depressed
Men in 2010.

With thanks to blogger David King over at Pics and Poems.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

iWalk Sebastopol

We all want to "save our planet."

Don't wait to start! 

Do something.

It's way better than worrying.

Here's something we did: 

We stayed out of our car and enjoyed a walk!

If enough of us stay out of our cars, no one would drill for oil, right?

We, my wife and I, happen to live in Sebastopol,

a haven for artists of all sorts—

painters, musicians, sculptors, actors, and dancers

to name just a few.

This weekend artists around here open up their studios to the public, a sort of Artist's Open House called "Art at the Source."

We like to walk with friends and meet new people,

We love to meet artists.

So we decided to lead two walks: one this weekend,

and one next weekend 

to visit some of the many artists who live nearby.

A group met in the town plaza at 9:00.

After a few speeches, we were off on our way out of town. 
Here we are on our way past the Post Office Building.

Half an our later we had walked out of town to our first stop,
Maggie Ballad's home and studio. That's me in yellow with the
funny hat and my two pals, Richard and Guy. Richard is our
inspiration for walking, and Guy's the Vice Mayor of Sebastopol.

Richard, Sue, and I are standing in the corner of her beautiful home as
Maggie, in foreground on the left, talks about her paintings.

A short while later the sun came out and we found ourselves at Gen's studio. Jen had so many paintings that her back yard and garden were pressed into service.

After several more stops, we found ourselves back in the heart of town where there is a custom Stoneworks and brass foundry. That's my wife, Sarah, Mayor of Sebastopol, holding the iWalk sebastopol sign.

We had fun, chatted with good friends, met some new friends, and saw a lot of beautiful art.
Next week we'll do it again, but visit a new suite of galleries an studios.