Sunflowers and Poetry | Why I Wake Early

Sunflower Goat

Good Morning! I’m dropping in a little earlier than usual because I thought you might like to share your morning tea or coffee with this sunflower-bearing (umm…eating) goat. If it is not morning where you are, you should exit this post and return to it in the morning. Kidding, of course! You can read it now and return to it tomorrow morning, if you choose, because today’s poem by Mary Oliver is about celebrating the early morning and starting our days with happiness and kindness. 

Why I Wake Early
by Mary Oliver
 
Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and crotchety–
 
best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light–
good morning, good morning, good morning.
 
Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

About the Image: My pen friend, Kathi G, sent the delightful postcard above. The goat’s name is Rory. Isn’t he absolutely adorable as he munches on a sunflower with a field more of them behind him? This is the work of Dorian Charles of Tabby Hall Designs. Happy eating, Rory!

					

Daddy’s Gifts

Daddy by Darius T

“Daddy Second Lining.” Photo by Darius T/Tapman Media

Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.  —John 16:22

My dad passed away February 12, 2022 at 86.5 years of age, and I have been struggling to put my thoughts and feelings into words. When my own words fail, I go to poetry. Having endured so much grief, the poem that speaks to my heart in this moment is Mary Oliver’s “Heavy.”

I adapted the poem for my purposes, but you can read the original poem here.

That time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying

I went closer,
and I did not die.
Surely God
has his hand in this,

Still, I am bent,
and my laughter,
as the poet said,

is nowhere to be found.
Then I remembered my father:
“It’s not the weight you carry

but how you carry it –
books, bricks, grief –
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot, and would not,
put it down.”
So I’ll go about practicing.

One day you’ll notice.

the laughter
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth.

How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe

also troubled –
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
a love
to which there is no reply.

This poem speaks to me not only because of my own grief, but because as I read it, I thought about the fact that my father had a lot of hurt in his life. To look at him–to even know him–you wouldn’t see it. Every now and then, it would eke out in small ways. He’d tell us about a painful memory from his childhood, a hurt that stung all his life. He wrote in the autobiography he started about being told the word “no” so much that he did not want his wife or children to hear that word. Despite the pain and disappointment he endured, my father found his way to joy. And his very soul was steeped in an infectious joy.

He never forgot those painful moments from his childhood. I believe he carried them with him his whole life, but “it’s not the weight [he] carried, but how [he] carried it, how [he] embraced it, balanced it, carried it when [he] could not, would not put it down.”

He parlayed all of that weight into beautiful gifts for his wife, his children, his grandchildren, and for generations to come.

They’re found in the music he gave us, the Sunday morning listening to everything from jazz to blues to ballads and everything in between that makes much of the stuff churned out nowadays intolerable.

The gifts are in the lessons about grit and hard work and striving for excellence, about making no excuses and owning our mistakes and allowing them to prod us toward growth.

The gifts are in the sometimes uninvited–a little too straightforward–but sound counsel that pushed us to do right and be better.

They’re found in the celebration of the good that life offers in all its forms, in the beauty of a deep, abiding appreciation for life and grace and a recognition that everything we have is gift and grace.

The gifts are in the joy in spite of circumstances.

The gifts are in his many unanswered questions about God and eternity, questions for which he left us to find the answers.

The gifts are found in the love with an answer, the way he loved and did life with our mother, a love not superficially crafted for social media, but one with deep roots and the abiding presence of the Divine. That autobiography I mentioned earlier, doesn’t start with “I was born.” It starts with “I began to live when I married my wife.” While I am incredibly grateful for my father’s joy, I know the love for our mom is the greatest gift he could have given his children. That love–that love with an answer–has made all the difference.

Sleep well, Daddy. We look forward to the “loud command, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God” that will reunite us for eternity.

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. –I Thessalonians 4:13-18


Written 2.22.22 for my father’s memorial service. Shared here for those who have asked for copies.

#ThursdayTreeLove | In Winter…

SnowTrees3
In winter
    all the singing is in
         the tops of the trees — Mary Oliver, “White Eyes”

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An urgent deadline made me miss #ThursdayTreeLove last week, but all the tree photos hiding out in my phone will not allow me to forgo participating in the first TTL of the year. So, here I am, a week late, with snow laden trees from my very first tree walk of the year. Oh, how I wish we could capture pure delight with our cameras!

SnowTrees13

These photos were snapped January 4, two days after our first snow. We don’t get snow very often in the South, so when we do, we’re [Southerners] usually over-the-moon with excitement. I did not take the time to go out and play in the snow the evening/morning it fell. I planned to the next day when everything was all white and pretty, but the freezing temperatures kept me indoors.

SnowTrees7

When I returned to campus two days later, I was pleasantly surprised to find the trees on campus still beautifully adorned with snow. I raced to my office, dropped my bags, grabbed my camera and spent the first moments of the workday with the snow trees.

SnowTrees5

I shot with my phone and my camera. I am sharing the phone photos because choosing from among the far-too-many camera photos is a task for another time. [Click images 2-5 to view full-size versions of these photos in a Flickr album. Eventually, I’ll add the DSLR photos. Eventually…]

SnowTrees10

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The Lion King is running in Nashville, and Cats will be here in Huntsville soon. I will miss both. People are not always cautious, so I am still wary of large group events. Sometimes, it seems the coronavirus is robbing me of life and fun, but spending time with the trees on a gorgeous day more than makes up for it.
.

SnowTrees16


I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

#ThursdayTreeLove | A Sunflower in an Orchard Full of Apples

Apples-6 Sunflowers

We interrupt “Sunflower Month” with apples!

I had one goal in mind when the guys and I headed to Scott’s Orchard earlier this month–to visit the sunflowers a little earlier this year. We went mid-October last year, so many of the sunflowers were seeing their last days. However, when we arrived [just about] two weeks ago, there were no sunflowers! Gasp! Was I disappointed? Of course not! Okay, maybe a little, but I adjusted because apples—though not as cool as sunflowers—are not only pretty but are also pretty tasty. Besides, they grow on trees, and I love trees as much as I love sunflowers!

Here are some of the shots* appropriately accompanied by Mary Oliver’s “The Orchard.” Oh–and I did find one sunflower (above) just before we left. A double win!

Apples-10

I have dreamed
of accomplishment.
I have fed

Apples-7ambition.
I have traded
nights of sleep

Apples-5for a length of work.
Lo, and I have discovered
how soft bloom

Apples-8turns to green fruit,
which turns to sweet fruit.
Lo, and I have discovered
Apples-4all winds blow cold
at last,
and the leaves,

Apples-11so pretty, so many,
vanish
in the great, black

Apples-2packet of time,
in the great, black
packet of ambition,
Apples-1and the ripeness
of the apple
is its downfall.

Apples-3

It’s ironic that we went to the orchard last year to pick apples, but basked in sunflowers. This year, we went for the sunflowers but found only apples. Either way, the orchard offered, like last year, a bit of Autumn heaven.


I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

Note on Picture Quality: Please forgive the low quality of my photos. I am running out of WordPress space and I am not sure I want to give WP even more money to increase my space allowance. :-/ You can see higher quality versions of these pics by checking out my Flickr album, Scott’s Orchard: A Sunflower in an Orchard.

#ThursdayTreeLove | Song for Autumn

BW Tree

Don’t you imagine the leaves dream now
how comfortable it will be to touch
the earth instead of the
nothingness of the air and the endless
freshets of wind? And don’t you think
the trees, especially those with
mossy hollows, are beginning to look for

the birds that will come–six, a dozen–to sleep
inside their bodies?

Mary Oliver, “Song for Autumn”

After this week’s rainy start, autumn graced us with sunny skies and cooler temperatures. Those of us who dwell in the Deep South appreciate the respite and the acknowledgment of the season, but we know in a matter of days—or even hours—we will be back to mid-summer heat and another season of storms.

I take three or four 5-15 minute walks throughout the workday. I walk to ruminate, to reset, and [especially] to move my body—which suffered much during the year and a half of Zoom. Lately, during my walks, I’ve been noting the subtle but sure transformation of the trees—the changing colors creeping into the dogwoods and maples, the thinning canopy of the black walnut and the oaks.

Today’s tree comes from one of my just-before-autumn walks. It’s not the most striking tree on campus, but there is something arresting in its stance against the cloud-filled sky.

We are some weeks away from the fullness of the season. We will blink one morning and find everything bursting in autumn glory and blink again and find only the bare structure of trees. This tree represents the in-between, a tree dreaming.  For once, I am appreciating the slow change, and not rushing toward the glory.


I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

#ThursdayTreeLove | The Prayer I Needed

Impressionist Cherry Blossoms

A brief encounter with the cherry blossoms was the prayer my soul needed.

Praying
Mary Oliver

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.


I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post. If you need more cherry blossoms, click the link.

#ThursdayTreeLove | “When I Am Among the Trees”

As I’m nearing the end of this week of not feeling quite like myself, I am thankful for the time I spent with the trees–during one long walk on a path I hadn’t taken in years and in brief moments while running errands.

The photo above was from one of my shorter walks. As I walked, I looked up to behold the beautiful black walnut tree with its gorgeous branch extended over the path–an invitation to loveliness and light.

Being “among the trees” is therapy at its best. “They save me…daily.”

“When I Am Among the Trees”
Mary Oliver

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”


I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

Mums the Word!

Maybe our world will grow kinder eventually.
Maybe the desire to make something beautiful
is the piece of God that is inside each of us.

–Mary Oliver, “Franz Marc’s Blue Horses,” Blue Horses, 2014

Today’s blog post is brought to you by the autumn flower–mums!

When we celebrated my aunt’s birthday this past weekend–social distancing measures in place–I knew I had to capture the mums welcoming us to her home. I had plans to play around with them later.

I’d been adding “create something” to my daily to-do list for days, but had not managed to check off that “task,” so I sat down with my computer and iPad to “play” during last night’s non-presidential debate[?].  I was able to revisit the mums and transform them in more ways than I can share in one blog post.

Here are three of the 12 pieces I crafted. [I will share some of the others in separate posts].

Maybe, they’re beautiful. Maybe, they’re not. No matter. The pleasure was in the process of creating, not the outcome.

What If? | “How Would You Live Then?”

Are you surprised that it took me five days to get to Mary Oliver and sunflowers? I held off as long as I could. 😀  The sun is shining beautifully here in the Tennessee Valley and these sunflowers reflect how bright and sunny I’m feeling as a result of basking in it all morning and early afternoon. 

I have been sort of stuck on this Oliver poem since the beginning of the year–for the message and the splendor of the images–so it was a given I’d share it here during National Poetry Month. The poem is from her 2004 collection, Blue Iris: Poems and Essays.

How Would You Live Then?
Mary Oliver

What if a hundred rose-breasted grosbeaks
flew in circles around your head? What if
the mockingbird came into the house with you and
became your advisor? What if
the bees filled your walls with honey and all
you needed to do was ask them and they would fill
the bowl? What if the brook slid downhill just
past your bedroom window so you could listen
to its slow prayers as you fell asleep? What if
the stars began to shout their names, or to run
this way and that way above the clouds? What if
you painted a picture of a tree, and the leaves
began to rustle, and a bird cheerfully sang
from its painted branches? What if you suddenly saw
that the silver of water was brighter than the silver
of money? What if you finally saw
that the sunflowers, turning toward the sun all day
and every day – who knows how, but they do it – were
more precious, more meaningful than gold?


About the image:  The “Tender Thoughts” card above came from my Love Notes friend, Eileen V; it was sent for International Women’s Day 2020. Eileen enclosed a special treat inside the card that I’m looking forward to sharing later this week.