The Daily Muse

A Garden Journal -- August 2005

Last Update: August 28

Lisianthus, also known as Texas Bluebell at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

August 3 - evening

Revelation is the silent, imperceptible manifestation of God in history. It is the still, small voice: it is the inevitableness, the regularity of nature.
- Herbert Loewe, "Rabbinic Anthology," 1938 - Soul of the Garden Quotes Volume Nine

I have been reading, with some dismay, about our President's support of requiring "creationism" now known by its other euphemism, "intelligent design" to be taught alongside of evolution in the nation's classrooms. What I find amazing is the sterility of the so-called creationist movement, they seem to believe that creation is finished, that it is not the unfolding miracle that embraces us and enriches us, but a historical artifact frozen in verse (not unlike a fossil!) Those espousing "intelligent design" are just using the old clock-maker metaphor: God set things in motion and, according to their theology, is now content to sit back and judge those who make it across his finish line.

Of course, the underlying reason for these attacks on  the science of evolution is fear... fear that  conclusive proof that the world is millions of years old and  that we evolved from other species are truths that contradict biblical myths. Where is the faith? It seems to me that belief that is rooted in biblical inerrancy is profoundly irreverent and shallow. Does anyone believe that the majesty of God could be summed up in even ten million verses, that we can ever claim to have that kind of knowledge or language? That is a faith that is bound to topple over with the slightest breeze - the Bible is filled with too many human prejudices and human contradictions to serve as our primary source of inspiration and hope. Parts of the Bible may be divinely inspired, but they are are all the works of man not God. If you want to see God's work, simply look around - it  surrounds us, and shapes us from within and without. When we truly study creation, as evolutionary scientists have, it astounds us with its intricacies, breadth, and wonders. In this case, it is the scientists who are acting out of reverence - they are searching for the truth without pre-conceived notions and proscribed limitations, they are simply letting creation speak its truth.

Einstein once said that the most important contribution of art and science was to awaken the "cosmic religious feeling"  - the sense of wonder within us. Where is the sense of wonder, or the faith in creation, in a theology that demands that concrete evidence be ignored while words carved in concrete be worshipped? It is time for the true creationists to heard in this debate, those who embrace it not deny it.

I'm too religious to believe in religion.

You don't have to believe in a sacred world.

It slaps you in the face.

It's everywhere.

 

- An eighty-year-old friend of Gretel Ehrlich, poet and novelist -  Soul of the Garden Quotes Volume One

 

August 10 - morning

 

It is still dark outside but I have already perused the papers, made our coffee, and have had one or two love-fests with members of our feline tribe. Issa just relinquished my lap and headed off to the kitchen, perhaps to see if anything is left in the breakfast bowls. The weather radar shows a large area of showers and storms to our north that seem to be inching our way. I can't believe how generous the rains have been since our June dry spell - I have lost track of our on-going total, but this certainly ranks among the wetter summers in memory. We haven't had true torrents of rain, but the regularity of it has been incredibly beneficial for the garden. One of our amaryllis is actually blooming in response to the cooler weather and rain - a little bit of Christmas in August!

 

I almost wish the rain would hold of for a while since I have a planting project coming up. I have located the Savannah Holly that I want for the center of our back garden and intend to purchase it this weekend. I'd like to get in the ground as soon as possible to give its roots a chance to get going. I am also in the process of  re-designing our back deck space... I intend to tear out our existing deck and replace it with a stone and gravel patio that is more fully integrated into the overall design of the garden.

 

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of interviewing Flint Sparks, at the Austin Zen Center for my Soul of the Garden video pieces. It was one of the best field interviews I have ever participated in. Flint's responses to my questions were so gentle and direct. I look forward to weaving them into the series. While we were at the Zen Center we took the time to shoot some visuals of their meditation room and garden. The video was just amazing. I look forward to sharing this with you soon.

 

August 11 - morning

 

Like I said, Christmas in August!

 

Still more rain, and yesterday, as if to prove me wrong, it did come down in torrents. We received about 1.25 inches (3.18 cm)  in just a few minutes. The mosquitos are happy, and so are the cypress trees. I expect to see our Lycoris and Oxlood lilies any day now. In the meantime, I will have to settle for Amaryllis!

 

August 14 - afternoon

 

Well, this was a week-end I will always remember for the "revenge of the elms." I spent the better part of yesterday and today trying to dig out the roots of one of the elms we cut down in January (so that we could plant our new Savannah Holly.) The bad news is that I still haven't completed the job - despite wearing down the chain on our chain saw. Ugh! And the heat has been unbearable. In the end, I simply gave up, refilled the hole I had dug, and decided to wait until October to tackle the project again, probably with some hired help. I don't think I have ever worked so hard in my life.

 

Well, at least we have rain lilies to be thankful for. Here is a bouquet from our garden...

 

Sulfur yellow.

 

 

Peachy orange.

 

 

And sunset pink.

 

August 14 -  evening

 

A few more rain lily shots (taken during a light shower)...

 

The yellow lilies closing for the night.

 

 

Fading light on the orange lily.

 

 

 

One of our Mexican Sunflowers.

 

August 17 - morning

 

Gratitude is heaven itself.  - William Blake from Quotes Volume Five

 

Yesterday, I edited the third installment of the Soul of the Garden video series for KLRU. This piece deals with  "gratitude" - a virtue that, I believe is also the destination of the spiritual journey. One of the texts that is central to my understanding of gratitude is the Book of Job from the Old Testament. As I say in the piece, Job's is the ultimate story of bad things happening to good people. In this very ancient story, which most scholars believe actually pre-dates Judaism, Job is portayed as righteous - the very picture of an upright believer, yet God allows Satan to strike him down (based on what sounds very much like a bar-room bet!) If the point of the book was to simply portray God, I would never make it past the first few verses, who could worship someone so callous? However, this is a story about finding comfort and gratitude in the worst of circumstances and coming to terms with our rather limited place in the grand scheme of the universe - something that many people who have lost loved ones, suffered from  a disease, or faced a disaster understand. Job argues with God and his friends and rages against God's actions (NO patience here.) But, in the end, after God reveals himself to Job (who actually has the longest face time with God in the Bible) Job has a spiritual transformation - he surrenders everything, his anger at his betrayal and the expected rewards of his righteousness and simply says:

 

" I had heard of you with my ears; but now, my eyes have seen you.  Therefore I will be quiet, comforted that I am dust."

 

He is comforted by his insignificance, grateful for being dust, which is, ultimately, all that we truly are. Our egos clutch at a world that we think is ordered around us, that spins in our orbits, but ultimately when we open our little clenched fists, there is nothing there but our own dust.

 

Needless to say, the translation of Job's speech above is  very different than most Christians are used to. However, it is much closer to the original text and comes from the great translator, Stephen Mitchell. (BTW - I have checked with several Jewish scholars who agree that this is a very sound translation of the original Hebrew.) What Christians are used to hearing couldn't be more radically altered - here is an example of a more standard version ( NIV ) of Job's speech:

 

"My hears had heard of you but now my  eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."

 

That sounds like it comes straight out one of those creepy self-flagellating penitent cults of the middle ages. What it completely misses is Job's spiritual transformation... the kind of transformation that comes from letting go of our expectations and simply being grateful for the gift of being a part of creation.

 

I think Borges had it exactly right when he said, "Nevertheless, it means much to have loved, to have been happy, to have laid my hand on the living garden, even for one day." That  is gratitude.

 

August 24 - evening

 

 

Sunflower field in North Dakota.

 

I just returned from a wonderful visit with my sister, Diana, who lives in North Dakota. It was great catching up with her and travelling the back-roads of that surprisingly diverse and beautiful state. Here are a few images of my prairie sojourn...

 

 

A typical back-road scene. I have always loved rolling open prairie vistas.

 

 

In North Dakota it is harvest time.

 

 

Another sunflower vista.

 

 

A farm scene behind a Benedictine Abbey in Richardton, ND.

 

 

 

Native sunflowers in the badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

 

 

 

Grasses overlooking the Painted Canyon of T.R. National Park.

 

 

 

A prairie sunset.

 

 

 

A slightly wider view.

 

 

 

My sister and I enjoyed  taking pictures as the sun was setting.

 

 

 

The prairie grasses lighting up with the sunset.

 

 

 

Weird rock formations in the badlands.

 

 

 

Prairie dog.

 

 

 

The buffalo (from the nickel.) In T.R. National Park.

 

 

 

A buffalo herd.

 

 

Resting buffalo bull.

 

 

 

In a Catholic church in Grassy Butte, ND.

 

 

In the same church.

 

 

 

The grand church of Assumption  Abbey in Richardton. We spotted this Benedictine Monastery from the highway and visited. I was pleased to see that is was a "painted church" like those I covered in my documentary, The Painted Churches of Texas.

 

 

Angel with tambourine from Assumption Abbey.

 

 

Is that a trombone? Cool... ragtime angels!

 

 

Detail from a window showing  a garden and a baptismal font.

 

 

 

Diana.

 

August 25 - evening

 

As promised... more pics...

 

From Diana's garden.

 

 

The morning view from our guest ranch west of T.R. National Park's south unit.

 

 

Thistle in the evening light.

 

 

The Little Missouri River winding through the park's north unit.

 

 

 

Wild horses in the south unit.

 

 

 

Wind and glacier carved boulders above the river.

 

 

 

Badlands flow stone.

 

 

 

More badlands formations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A green canyon in the north unit.

 

 

 

Sunflowers and grass seedheads hanging over a ledge.

 

 

 

Fort Mandan, a recreation of Lewis and Clark's winter camp.

 

 

 

A statue in front of the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center near Bismarck.

 

 

 

A recreated Mandan earth lodge.

 

 

A thirty-six star flag at Fort Lincoln.

 

 

 

A blockhouse at Fort Lincoln overlooking the Missouri River.

 

 

A still-life from Fort Lincoln in Mandan, ND.

 

August 28 - evening

 

 

A happy confluence of images, places and words... after visiting the Benedictine Abbey of the Assumption in North Dakota this past week, I decided to re-read Kathleen Norris's wonderful book, Cloister Walk. In it, she has a beautiful chapter about the sources of the poetic imagination titled, "Exile, Homeland, and the Negative Capability." The negative capability that she describes is the ability to rest or abide in the certainties of mystery.

 

She writes, "Working with children on the writing of poetry has led me to ponder the ways that most of us become exiled from the certainties of childhood: how it is that the things we most treasure when we're young are exactly those things we come to spurn as teenagers and young adults. Very small children are often concious of God, for example, in ways that adults seldom are. They sing to God, they talk to God, they recognize divine presense in the world around them... ...Yet these budding theologians often despise church by the time they're in eight grade."

 

That sounds very much like Black Elk, "...the hearts of little children are pure and, therefore, the Great Spirit may show them many things which older people miss."

 

Actually, for me, I despised church by the time I was in fifth grade. Yet, how often do I remember that as a child, I was filled with a sense of awe at the world around me - all of creation seemed inhabited by God. The woods, fields, and ponds - the snow that fell through the lamplight at night, the song of the goldfinches in the meadows, the scent of the lilacs in our sideyard, and the first tulips of the spring - often emerging through the snow, all of this seemed to me sacred. I tried to channel this into an early enthusiasm for the church, but the God I found there offered only a tortured desert, a theology of thorns and shame.

 

Yes, even as a child, I understood exile. I still feel that way when I look at the brittle certainties embraced by the fundamentalist crowd.

 

Norris, a poet as well a devout believer, understands that, "To make the poem of our faith, we must learn not to settle for a false certitude but to embrace ambiguity and mystery."

 

In The Cloister Walk, Norris talks about her practice as a Benedictine Oblate, which included meditative reading of the psalms and other scriptures. The psalms always have struck me as odd - they come across as a blend of haunting poem-prayers and vengeful exhortations to an angry warrior God. Curious to reacquaint myslf with them, I took down my Bible and openned it, by chance, to the verse above, Psalm 103. Yes, a happy coincidence, for it weaves the dust imagery that so captures me from Job's final speech together with the prairie grasses and wildflowers that I walked through just last week. I felt obliged to edit the verse just a bit, changing the line that reads "...those who fear him" to "...those who love him."

 

Yes, our days are like grass, bent by the wind. I prefer to think that the wind that bends us is the very breath of creation, of love itself. Nothing to fear...

 

 

 

A prairie steeple.

 

 

A badlands canyon.

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