Sunday, March 27, 2016

For Easter

by Mary Oliver

is the instructor.
We need no other.

Guess what I am 
he says in his 
incomparably lovely

young-man voice.
Because I love the world
I think of grass, 

I think of leaves
and the bold sun, 
I think of the rushes

in the black marshes
just coming back
from under the pure white

and now finally melting 
stubs of snow.
Whatever we know or don’t know

leads us to say; 
Teacher, what do you mean?
But faith is still there, and silent.

Then he who owns 
the incomparable voice
suddenly flows upward

and out of the room
and I follow, 
obedient and happy.

Of course I am thinking
the Lord was once young
and will never in fact be old.

And who else could this be, who goes off
down the green path, 
carrying his sandals, and singing?

Happy Easter to All!

painting above by Jean Francois Millet
Mary Oliver's latest book of wonderful poems, HERE

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Naughtiest Dog

The Naughtiest Dog

The lovely magazine, Country Life, recently published a list of the naughtiest dogs in Britain.  That is Rabbit pictured above, posing with his adorable mistress, Violet.  She would agree with me, I know, that “naughty” is merely a matter of opinion, despite the fact that Rabbit has some pretty impressive credentials in that department including, but not limited to, stowing away in an Amazon delivery truck and chewing up all the parcels before being discovered by the distraught driver.  Our adorable Apple, not being British, was of course not eligible for this contest, therefore I can only picture the spot on on shelf where her trophy would go.  But here are some of her claims to that prize, and I’ll let the reading public decide.

In the realm of child psychology, it is widely believed that the most carefree child is the youngest child.  I can empirically state that this fact carries over into the canine world as well.  Apple, being a year younger than Edward, exhibits all the characteristics of a child without a care in the world.  If she happens upon someone or something that gives her pause, she simply barks for Edward to come take care of things and on the occasion when she gets herself into such a pickle that even the infinite capabilities of Edward are stretched too far, she knows full well that The Songwriter or I will be on hand to bail her out.  For example, there was the morning she dug underneath the fence and became wedged like a sausage between our fence and the one next to our property.  She summoned Edward immediately, of course, and he, seeing he was seriously out of his depth on this one, came trotting inside the house to stare meaningfully in our faces.  We know that stare. The Songwriter quickly followed him outside to find Apple, stuck fast.  She put her front paws up like a toddler for him to pull her out. 

Though she is undeniably a large dog, Apple feels entirely comfortable climbing over into my lap whenever I am occupying the passenger seat of the car.  She began doing this whilst still a tiny puppy and does not consider her current size to be any sort of impediment in continuing the delightful habit. From this vantage point, if I am accommodating enough to roll down the window for her, she can hang her head out and fly, ears in the wind.  Her obvious glee in this activity is what causes me to indulge her, though, if I’m completely honest, it’s never the most relaxing situation for me.  Of course, Edward would never dream of doing such a thing and can always be found sitting in his back seat like an Edwardian gentleman being driven to the park in a coach and six.  But Apple?  Apple is another story altogether.   

There have been countless evenings we’ve returned home to find yarn strewn all over the house, the result of a foray into my knitting bag.   And in case you're thinking that perhaps I’m judging her too quickly,…. after all… it could be Edward, right?……. there was the night she ran with the yarn round and round and round a large rocking chair until she managed to tie herself to it as tightly as a damsel on the railroad tracks.  We came home to find Edward lying beside her, looking both protective and irritated. I swear I think he rolled his eyes.  She’s been known to run through the house with my undergarments on her head and just last week as I was writing I heard a strange rustling sound coming from my office and rushed in to find her finishing off a dozen or more foil-wrapped Easter eggs that had been carefully hidden in a sealed bag beneath my desk.  This latest escapade saw the two of us rushing to the vet for an emergency “purging”, an event that gave neither one of us any pleasure. 

 Squirrels drive her crazy, but chipmunks are the bane of her existence.  A couple of years ago, she chased one with such vigor she tore the meniscus in her knee, necessitating a three thousand dollar surgery and twelve weeks of crate rest.  If we let her outside at night when it’s raining, she disappears completely and ignores our calls and whistles.  The Songwriter finally pulls on his raincoat and troops out only to find her far back in the garden, standing stock still with her head tilted back, mesmerized by the sound of the rain in the trees.  You simply cannot get mad at a dog so enamored of the world’s wonders, now can you?

She’s always thinking, always busy - but then there are times when she sidles up to me and makes it clear she’d like a hug.  I sit down on the floor and she snuggles up to me, sometimes with her head on my shoulder, sometimes climbing atop that shoulder to look around.  She’ll stay like that till she’s ready to tear off someplace new.    If I’m ever ill, she exudes the sweetest sympathy, sticking beside me for hours.  And she thinks The Songwriter hung the moon.  A naughty dog?  Perhaps, but a thoroughly beloved one.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Farewell to The Prince of Tides

Beaufort, South Carolina - October 2015

Farewell to The Prince of Tides

It has been said that Pat Conroy put the low country of South Carolina on the map for most people.  Indeed, his moss-draped language paints such luminous pictures of that part of the world one can almost see the changing colours of the marsh grasses as they follow the eye of a salty summer sun.  It is a unique environment, rich with beauty, and in his books Mr. Conroy made it breathe, his pen full of memory and love.  I came to the books of Pat Conroy in search of stories, and oh, he did not disappoint.  He had that rare gift for language and, like most Southerners, he could spin words into tales that ensnared the imagination like a shrimp net. 

The majority of Pat Conroy’s books were fiction, but thinly veiled.  It was clear he was writing about his own life.  The Water is Wide told the entertaining and compassionate story of his year teaching in a small island school. The Lords of Discipline - a coming of age story that grew from of his years at the Carolina Military Institute known as The Citadel.  The Great Santini pulled the curtain back on a childhood endured beneath the tyrannical reign of an abusive, clueless father, and that same father would appear prominently in his glorious masterpiece, The Prince of Tides.  Reading these books, I could not begin to imagine such a childhood; they made the quarrels and complaints against my own parents seem as trivial as dust.  But as Mr. Conroy himself said, “One of the greatest gifts you can get as a writer is to be born into an unhappy family”, and he had no shortage of stories to tell.  However, I found more than stories in Mr. Conroy’s books.  I also found forgiveness, hard won and more valuable than gold.

This past October I attended a 70th birthday celebration for Pat Conroy in the low country hometown he so eloquently immortalized in his words.  I listened as he and his brothers and sisters talked about the childhood so many of us were privy to through the pages of his books.  There was laughter, lots of laughter, as they told stories that, frankly,  made me shudder and I realized I was witnessing an extraordinary example of the bounty that springs from forgiveness.  The publications of Pat Conroy’s books dislodged his siblings from their individual shelters of denial.  His words laid their pasts bare to bake in the South Carolina sun and forced them to deal with painful personal issues whether they wished to or not.  I can only guess how hard a process that was.  But it was clear to me that each of them, in their own way, had risen up to face those issues and had wrestled them to the ground.  It was a wonderful thing to witness and it so beautifully illustrated the astounding power words can have when they clasp hands with honesty, love and truth.

I was fortunate, so fortunate, to talk with Mr. Conroy that evening and to tell him how much grace he’d been given, and that from the forgiveness he’d managed to carve from the block of hurt he’d received, he had made a pathway for others in similar situations to find their way out of their own pasts, their own bitterness.  He was a delightful, sweet man. 

They buried Pat Conroy today, in the sandy soil of his beloved Beaufort. The flags there are flying at half-mast.  I have thought a lot about legacy since I learned of his death.  Pat earned his legacy through his remarkable books, it’s true.  But perhaps even more importantly, his books were a way for him to do the inner work of his own soul, the work we all must do to ensure personal peace and unassailable joy.  He did not give up in his quest for truth and understanding.  
May that be said of us all on our last day.

“When the words pour out of you just right, you understand that these sentences are all part of a river flowing out of your own distant, hidden ranges, and all words become the dissolving snow that feeds your mountain streams forever.  The language locks itself in the icy slopes of our own high passes, and it is up to us, the writers, to melt the glaciers within us.  When these glaciers break off, we get to call them novels, the changelings of our burning spirits, our life’s work.”
Pat Conroy

Find all of Pat Conroy's marvelous books, HERE
And an amazing joint interview with the Pat and his siblings, HERE