Homage to a decaying stump

Decaying stump in the bright sun

For twenty years I’ve walked around Blakely Pond at the end of Blakely Harbor.  Yet, I never noticed this rotting stump until the right combination of ebbing tide, bright sun, just enough evaporation from the stump, and “waking up!” to what is around me.

On this day, the stump jumped out at me.  What caught my eye was the gold of the wood.  Then I noticed the octopus shape of the stumps roots.  How had I missed this gorgeous sculpture?  As I walked off the trail to get a closeup, the grass under my boots started crinkling.  I realized I had gone below the tidal line and was stepping on some form of sea grass.

How had I missed the stump in the tidal grass in my twenty years of staying on the trail?

On my next outing, I was drawn to the stump.

Decaying stump at lower tide

It was later in the day and the tide was lower.  Now the top of the stump had time to dry out and the sun’s golden rays didn’t reflect as much.  Little wonder that I had missed this stump during my walks.  It was just another dried out gray stump among many.

A decaying stump among many

By now my eyes were hooked.  How many ways could I capture the decaying stump?  At how many times of day could I walk by to check on it?  I thought maybe it might be a piece of driftwood.  I walked down to see if I could move it.  This octopus was deeply rooted in the tidal earth.  How many levels of tide could I capture?  How many types of weather can I capture?  I guess I will have to actually come here in the rain, not just on the sunny days or the more probable sun break days.

As I keep my focus on the stump, I widen my point of view.  How does the stump relate to the rest of its natural and unnatural world?

New bridge along the pond

One of the reasons that I am paying attention to the stump more often is that a new walking bridge was placed across the Blakely Harbor jetties in early December 2019.  The bridge completed a circle of trails around the harbor.  Now this bridge and the octopus stump are a must stop on my weekly exercise jaunts.

From across the pond view of the octopus stump

The gold reflection of a long dead tree jumped out and grabbed me.  Today, I thank the many variables of tide, light, and decay that caused me to “Wake Up!”

Homage to a decaying stump

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From my chair: the rhythms of fauna

I delight in the quick darting movements of the squirrels, birds, raccoons and deer that traverse my view of the world.  Our neighbor flings peanuts to the birds each morning.  Quickly the squirrels race to pick up what is left.  They come into our yard and bury the peanuts for some time in the future.

Busy Little Squirrel

Busy little squirrel

Most times the squirrels flit through my view.  But sometimes they stay and frolic.

Occasionally, we have a few inches of snow.  The snow really confuses this crow.  Where are my peanuts?

Where are the peanuts?

Where are my peanuts?

After the snow melted, a new animal joined my back yard menagerie.  A raccoon showed up.  And then another ambled through the yard.  Soon a family of five sauntered past.  They came back looking for peanuts the squirrels sequestered.

Raccoons on the march

Raccoon family on the march

I am forever grateful for the smart phone and the readiness to hand of my camera.  Without the smart phone, I could never grab these random, fleeting simple moments.

Ansel Adams:  “A photograph is usually looked at – and seldom looked into.”

Rick Sammon: “There is a big difference between looking and seeing.”

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From my chair: Drinking in the sunshine

Today is another unexpected gift of radiant sunshine.

Drinking in Sunshine

Why is it that we have an alcoholic drink called “moonshine“? But we have no drink called sunshine.  For those of us in the Northwest who are often sunshine starved, we need our Vitamin D anyway we can get it.

I love the way my surroundings of glass from my chair let me absorb sunshine from all angles and see the reflections of the images of our tall cedars.

Cedars reflected

This first day of November has emptied most of the leaves from the trees in my view.  The colors of fall are dropping away, but the blue grays of the Puget Sound are always present.

As I drink in the sunshine I bounce between two books – The War of Art and What is Biodynamics?  The view in front of me battles back and forth and up and down between the richness of the squirrels hopping to and fro and the ferries journeying between Bainbridge and Seattle.  I am battling focusing on the falling leaves versus the mists slightly shrouding the Seattle Waterfront.  The morning’s clouds move speedily south as the sun rises to lift the maritime layer.  This battle is the constant movement of the “biodynamics” of life in front of me.

Steven Pressfield sees the battle as a war between creativity and resistance:

“I, on the other hand, believe that the source of creativity is found on the same plane of reality as Resistance. It, too, is genetic. It’s called talent: the innate power to discover the hidden connection between two things — images, ideas, words — that no one else has ever seen before, link them, and create for the world a third, utterly unique work.”

Pressfield, Steven. The War of Art . Black Irish Entertainment LLC. Kindle Edition.

Hugh Courtney in his introduction to Steiner’s What is Biodynamics? shares:

“Real understanding takes place not just by exercising one’s mental capacities, but only when one is “doing,” or taking action.”

Steiner, Rudolf. What Is Biodynamics? . SteinerBooks. Kindle Edition.

I’ve drunk enough sunshine this morning.  It is time to meander downstairs and paint a little and write a little.  Drinking in the sun has overcome the resistance of the ongoing biodynamic battles “from my chair.”

Painting Experiment #132


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From my chair: My Storyteller Knows Me

As I read the “The Sycamore” by Wendell Berry, I am reminded of a trip my wife and I made to Coorg, India.  Each night we were entertained by the family’s cook.  His stories graciously synthesized the family wisdom of each day.

I remember my first meeting Russ Ackoff forty years ago at his office at the Wharton School.  On his door were taped three academic articles.  I asked what they were.  He shared “the best personal information system in the world is a set of graduate students who know me and know what I am currently interested in.  These articles are the selected results of their research yesterday.”

Rick Jackson handed me a copy of “The Sycamore” near the end of another engaging conversation.  I was stunned at how deeply it captured my journey of the last 19 months.

“In the place that is my own place, whose earth
I am shaped in and must bear, there is an old tree growing,
a great sycamore that is a wondrous healer of itself.
Fences have been tied to it, nails driven into it,
hacks and whittles cut in it, the lightning has burned it.
There is no year it has flourished in
that has not harmed it. There is a hollow in it
that is its death, though its living brims whitely
at the lip of the darkness and flows outward.
Over all its scars has come the seamless white
of the bark. It bears the gnarls of its history
healed over. It has risen to a strange perfection
in the warp and bending of its long growth.
It has gathered all accidents into its purpose.
It has become the intention and radiance of its dark fate.
It is a fact, sublime, mystical and unassailable.
In all the country there is no other like it.
I recognize in it a principle, an indwelling
the same as itself, and greater, that I would be ruled by.
I see that it stands in its place and feeds upon it,
and is fed upon, and is native, and maker.”

Each line brings forth memories of my building resilience journey.

I had to pause and reflect with this line “It has gathered all accidents into its purpose.”  How have the accidents in my life developed or changed my purpose?  I immediately thought of David Sinclair‘s Lifespan and how epigenetics order our development AND record all the “accidents” in our lives:

“Epigenetic information is what orchestrates the assembly of a human newborn made up of 26 billion cells from a single fertilized egg and what allows the genetically identical cells in our bodies to assume thousands of different modalities….”

“Broken DNA causes genome instability, I wrote, which distracts the Sir2 protein, which changes the epigenome, causing the cells to lose their identity and become sterile while they fixed the damage. Those were the analog scratches on the digital DVDs. Epigenetic changes cause aging.”

Sinclair, David . Lifespan: Why We Age—and Why We Don’t Have To . Atria Books. Kindle Edition.

My Tall Cedar

While I don’t have a sycamore in the view from my chair, I do have a tall cedar.  It has withstood earthquakes and mud slides and escaped the destruction from the building of our neighborhood.  For 20 years it is the first thing I see as look for Mt Rainier.  Now I wonder what accidents it has adapted to its purpose.

Thank you Rick.  As one of my storytellers, you have come to know me.

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From my chair: Morning sun breaks

The joy of a rainy fall morning light transition is to watch the blacks turn to grays turn to sun light shows.

Illuminating sun breaks

I finished John O’Donohue’s Beauty: The Invisible Embrace yesterday.  I didn’t realize that he was good friends with David Whyte, who is one of my favorite poets.  So today I started reading Consolations and one of the first words he explores is “beauty”.

“Beauty is the harvest of presence, the evanescent moment of seeing or hearing on the outside what already lives far inside us; the eyes, the ears or the imagination suddenly become a bridge between the here and the there, between then and now, between the inside and the outside; beauty is the conversation between what we think is happening outside in the world and what is just about to occur far inside us.”

Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words by David Whyte

I love the notion of the “harvest of presence.”  I am wondering where O’Donohue stops and Whyte begins.  I took to underlining how many times O’Donohue uses the word “presence” in his book to describe many aspects of beauty.

Being present to the beauty of this morning’s transition to sun breaks speaks to my ongoing transition from a lifetime of doing the business of business to whatever is next.

This morning I choose to just be and occasionally capture the transitions of dark to light.  Would that I could “see” those transitions within me.  For now I will have to be satisfied with inhaling the beauty of the sun’s rays becoming a “bridge between the here and the there” of random parts of the Puget Sound.

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From my chair: Discovering time is presence

John O’Donohue reminds us that beauty is always around us.  This surrounding is the lesson I take away from his book Beauty: The Invisible Embrace.   The book finishes with:

A Beauty Blessing

“As stillness in stone to silence is wed
May your heart be somewhere a God might dwell.

As a river flows in an ideal sequence
May your soul discover time is presence.

As the moon absolves the dark of distance
May thought-light console your mind with brightness.

As the breath of light awakens colour
May the dawn anoint your eyes with wonder.

As spring rain softens the earth with surprise
May your winter places be kissed by light.

As the ocean dreams to the joy of dance
May the grace of change bring you elegance.

As clay anchors a tree in light and wind
May your outer life grow from peace within.

As twilight fills night with bright horizons
May beauty await you at home beyond.” – p 249

Each couplet makes me stop and think.  Each couplet conjures a different image.

I look to my right and “time is presence” comes alive.

Creative Grand-parenting

Grandma is encouraging our granddaughter with her reading homework.  The medium for today’s homework is our window to the world.  What a great suggestion from her teacher to do the homework in some other medium than an 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper.  Of course her mom admonishes that the window is OK, but the walls are not OK for homework.

What a gift to have the time AND take the time to “discover time is presence.”

As I re-read the “Beauty Blessing”, an image jumps to mind as I absorb “as clay anchors a tree in light and wind”.

A tree anchored

Each time I hike in Fort Ward, this tree symbolizes the preciousness of clinging to life.  I have to stop and becalm myself.

Thank you, Father O’Donohue.  “May Beauty await you at home beyond.”

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From my chair: Rainy rhythms

The fall/winter rain rhythm returned last night.  The to/fro rhythm of the Port of Seattle ships continues in front of me.

Today, the last of the cruise ships of the summer season returns.

Rainy Fall Rhythms

Reading John O’Donohue’s Beauty: The Invisible Embrace synchronicity strikes again:

“The old people used to say: everything that is on the land is in the sea; if you ever saw a mermaid on the shore, you had to be very careful because she would try to get you to come between her and the ocean, then she would drown you.  There were also stories about lost treasures and secret villages under the sea.  All this mystery was echoed in a memorable poem we learned in school.  It had the unforgettable first line: “a ship arrived from Valparaiso.”  The very sound of the word ‘Valparaiso’ conjured up images of all that was foreign and exotic, a dream-world which had mysteries and wonders beyond our wildest imaginings.  Somewhere on the other side of our ocean its waves were breaking on the magical kingdom of Valparaiso.

“The human heart is always drawn beyond the here and now.  Human presence never finally gathers anywhere; we are never simply or clearly here.” – p. 218

On any other day I would observe the ships, boats and ferries moving to and fro.  Thanks to O’Donohue I now wonder where each vessel is coming from or going to.  What is their Valparaiso?  What treasures did they bring today?

While contemplating the treasures I notice the droplets of the night’s rain on the sea oats in our deck planter.  I try to see through the prism of a rain drop to the cruise ship.  The macro and micro vibrate in my vision.  The present, past and future vibrate in my thoughts.

The weather rhythms of Seattle are different than what we were used to in New Hampshire.  In fall/winter NH the weather alternated through three day cycles.  Three days of storms and then three days of sunshine.  On Bainbridge we get all the rhythms in a single day.  The skies clear about 10 pm.  Around 3 am the clouds come in and we get our rain from 4 am to 7 am.  Then the marine layer over the Puget Sound slowly lifts and around 3 pm we have sun breaks (not an East Coast partly cloudy, but a Pacific Northwest sun break).  Slowly the skies clear as darkness arrives and then the cycle repeats.  For months on end.

I realize I need the rhythms of the hours of the ships moving to and fro to dream of Valparaiso while also peering through the hanging rain drop on the sea oat.

But it is the last line that stops me this morning “human presence never fully gathers anywhere”.  The simple oscillation of my view through the rain drop (the here and now) to the thoughts of the journey of the cruise ship (past and present) makes the assertion real.  Where am I? What a simple question that so long as my thoughts are swirling has no easy answer.

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