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Category Archives: Nature

Varieties of Religious Experience

A drive. Arlene next to me, my hand on her knee. On the radio, I have playing the overture from Jesus Christ Superstar. It has stopped raining.

We are driving south on US1, between Rockledge and Eau Gallie. One would think, from the names, these places would be much more interesting, more exotic than they are. Rock Ledge to Rocky Waters. US1 here is all a limestone ridge along the Indian River, a one hundred and twenty-one mile brackish sound, much of it shallow enough to walk across, separate from the ocean by a spit of land in some places as narrow as a quarter mile. It is a beautiful river though, with very little in the way of buildings to break the view, and often this is a beautiful drive.

Today it is gray. The wipers take the mist off the windshield. We talk about seeing plays, about Hair and Godspell, ideas for the future, and all the while, the river to the left.

A faint rainbow was in the sky when we left her house. Now, it is a bright bridge in the sky, and arc of refraction that spans the river. We look. Arlene loves rainbows. And clouds. And simple things and never tires of natural beauty, never taking the world for granted, and she looks at the rainbow from clear end to clear end and smiles. She smiles. She smiles and nearly I forget the rainbow.

How rare to see the rainbow’s end, and how rare to see both, and so solid, so bright, so manifest I am sure we could start at one side and walk over it to the other, look down upon the river from atop the rainbow bridge, through the light, see the world and the water in the full prismatic array of the visible light spectrum, sit, sit, and watch the clouds drift through as we lie upon the light.

The perfect arc. Then, as we watch, a vine of lightning appears, spreads, grows, center to sides, seemingly slowly, filling the color encased space with bright branches.

Who else saw this? Arlene. I. Anyone else? Probably. Maybe not. But it was not, then was, then was not again. There is no proof. Just memory. And beauty. An engram deep and quiet and I, I fortunate to have it. I need no photograph. I was there. It was perfect. It was glorious. It was beyond what can be beauty and it was shared.

Once, on a morning walk, I saw a meteorite. The memory lies next to the rainbow.

A brief, bright exclamation burned above the earth.

Celestial arc-lamp.

Below, predawn sirens,
Traffic noise,
My own padding feet.

Ineffable
Transient
Passive
Noetic

William James wrote, in his 1902 collection of his lectures at the University of Edinburgh, Varieties of Religious Experience, that there are four hallmarks of religious experiences. They are ineffable, in that they are too great for words and cannot be described even though we may try. We may do our best in prose, poetry, paint, but we know we have not come close. They are noetic, in that they bring us to insight and contain truth, though we may be unable to speak what that truth is, we can feel it present. They are transient, in that they come and are gone. They do not last and cannot be captured. They are passive. We cannot control them. We cannot bring them on or replicate them. They seem a gift and we are powerless in the presence of them.

And, as such, this rainbow, and the sharing of it. This rainbow and lightning and the experience of it, is, in essence, an experience religious. I cannot do it justice in words, I feel the truth therein—it exists in my memory and in the memory of a shared moment and, in its time and space, I was powerless. I could experience it only and neither bring it, hold it, describe it nor own it in any way other than as a feeling, a memory and a truth.

But the religious experience need not be brought by only the extra-ordinary. There is spirit and beauty in the ordinary if we only pay attention. There is the mystical in the mundane.

Out of the freezer
Saved for iced coffee
Poured from a glass mug
Into a blender,
Add milk, sugar, cocoa
Put on the top and
Press the button.

Done
Top off and vessel lifted
Above the mug
Poised to pour,
Halt.
Stop, cease, stunned,
Beauty.

Crystals,
Icicles, horizontal,
Circumference to center
Fill the mug.

Glorious
Ephemeral
Evanescent

Pick up the mug
In awe of the
Quick miracle
Gaze transfixed,
Frozen pitcher raised.

Place the mug
On the counter
Instantly,
Crystals rain
Into the coffee film below,

I must write this.

How many miracles
Unnoticed,
Unappreciated,
Unknown.

How much beauty
Surrounding
Never seen,
Waiting,
Existing,
Gone.

It takes little convincing most people that coffee can be a religious experience.

Especially if it makes Arlene smile.

 

 

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Posted by on July 30, 2014 in Nature, philosophy, Religion

 

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Shells

She walks along the weaving foam,
waves bright under the full moon,
picking up shells,
perfect shells,
white shells,
bright shells,
leaving footprints to
fill with glistening sea.

She wants them all.
Each shell, every shell.

Then, when her hand, her arm, are full,
returns them,
one by one,
in splendid moonlit arcs,
again to the sea,
walking away with one,
only one,
the first one.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2013 in Nature, Poetry

 

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Preparing a Meal

(All life, every encounter, each moment, pleasant, unpleasant, “pure” or “impure,” may be transformed into a spiritual event. All life is tantra.)

Early evening.
Empty house.

I hear nothing
but the smooth separation
of snow pea from stem,
knife rolling against board
in rhythm,
and the low hum of the refrigerator.

Among the small piles of vegetables,
onions, mushrooms, garlic,
and a small hill of fish,
I discern origin from end.

All to become a meal
designed for how it will feel on the fork,
attract the eye,
appeal to the soul,
sustain the body.

Another day, another meal,
and
I am grateful
for the destruction and death
which precedes creation.

 
 

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When Did You Enter Me?

Look at you up in the sky
Shining, pulling oceans
Back and forth,
The flow of blood
Through my heart,
Thoughts in my head.

When was it you
Entered my genes,
Became part of me,
Wrapped around my soul,
Filled my veins with liquid
Moonlight?

When did my
Comings and goings,
Ebb and flow
Fall under your gravity?
When did I discover
I saw better by
Moonlight?

Look at you up in the sky
Shining, so bright
Mars hides
In your light,
Blushes at your beauty,
Paralyzed.

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2011 in Nature, Poetry

 

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Pits

I was there when the first pits were dug,
after the trees were cleared; torn, dragged and burned.
My family and I searched for concretions in limey sand
that had not seen the sun
in a span of time that can be measured, but not understood.
Set as coral in the ocean,
became limestone,
became oolite,
Miami Beach,
became my home.

I use to roam and dig under what is now
Aventura Mall
in what was an elegant, high-rise my girl comes three days a week part of Miami,
then Aventura,
now The City of Aventura
which lies engorged between the end of
a double-decked Atlantic Ocean causeway,
named after a State Representative
who owned a Chevrolet dealership,
and a bypass so long, so high
I can no longer see the vast expanse of shrinking ocean.
Only solid walls of perpendicular road
and the mall.

After the palms were greased
and the foundation razed,
one of the first stores to open
was a New Age Giant,
moved from across town,
far from its humble beginnings
as a place to launder cocaine
money through the sale
of health enhancements only slightly less dubious
like vitamin k, brain hemispheric synchronizers,
Angle Cards, singing bowls composed
of cave grown,
high-pressure hose harvested
crystal,
designed to draw the harmony of nature and increase inner-peace and compassionate abide, and
classes teaching the myriad ways to simply life.

It opened after the protests
and the building and the pickets
and the building and the threats
and suits and the building
to sell books about the preciousness of the environment
and bumper stickers exhorting patrons to “Thank Goddess”
customers took home in pastel pink paper bags
printed on each side with delicate seashells.

And they were swamped
along with the Sears and Burdines
and Macy’s where the Cellar had to be on the top floor
because two feet underground,
just below where I use to dig,
was water.

The mall became a focus
for the area
as it drained and dried the commerce and custom from the west
as events were held to
draw crowds like the
“Parade of Whores”
The Cardiologists’ Wives Look-a-like Contest,
The Peach Polo Shirt and Beige Shorts Fashion Show and,
just down the road,
a bit past the beach you don’t dare tread barefoot,
the weekly
“Race to the Floating Bale.”

And so the mall grew,
so much so, soon
it was suggested the East Coast,
should be extended
to allow for its expansion
and, last time I was there,
I swear I saw it breathing.

 
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Posted by on May 12, 2011 in Culture, History, Nature, Poetry, Social

 

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Summer Solstice Eve

I have been standing in the Indian River for an hour now. Maybe longer. Maybe less. But, as I have stood here, the sun has disappeared behind me and darkness risen before me. This impossibly hot, long day has slipped into hot night.

A wood stork, never more than six feet from me, has been my companion since first I entered the water. We have both been listening. Just listening. Waves come gently in and out. Manatees nudge me in the knee-deep water. Fish jump, splash me. The bird and my self, silent and still.

There is no moon in the sky, only stars, numerous and bright. No light reflects in the lapping waves. They are felt, heard but invisible. The river, unseen. The water, silky, thick, warm. The air, dense, warmer, still.

After some time, I am moved to move, to travel to the sea and so I leave the river and make my way the half mile over it to the ocean, to the Atlantic.

Coconut Point. Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge. My car is the only one there. I leave my shirt in the car. Sandals in the car. Wallet and keys and phone in the car. The boardwalk through the mangrove, over the dunes, is long, winding, impossible to see in the new moon and I feel my way along. The waves resonate thunder through the boards, reflect off the waxy leaves. The thunder is everywhere. The waves are everything. Everything drums and crashes, washes in and out.

The boardwalk turns and declines and becomes sand. The waves quiet on the wide beach. I walk. I feel no other human footprints on the dark sand but, from time to time tracks, shaped like those which might be left by a small earthmover, a backhoe. Follow them to the waves and they disappear. Follow them to the dunes, a sea turtle may be found digging her nest, laying her eggs. Some tracks lead from the water, to the dunes and back – a turtle having entered the air and exited again, leaving her eggs behind.

Still, there are no signs of people. No light, no print, no sound. I remove my shorts and walk. Walk. The world is naked to me and I to it, with no thing between me and nature that is not of nature’s making. Feeling the air about me, over me, covered in night and salt and dark and warmth, I am engulfed by the moist air and the sound of waves, each inch of me.

More sea turtle tracks. More and more. Some come halfway to the dunes, circle and return to the sea. Once a turtle is laying her eggs, she will not cease. Nothing will end it until she is done. Before she has begun, she may be followed behind, but cross in front and she will turn around to try another night, undisturbed.

Here and there I see a darker spot on the dark sand. They are patches of plant or stone, driftwood or the shadow of a depression in the beach. One walks carefully in the new moon. Slowly, they move. Turtles, the size of wheelbarrows, walk to the ocean, and I, from a distance, watch. Turtles, the size of kitchen tables, moving beachward against the oscillating surf. Do I see it? Do I see it? Yes, moving, moving, leaving the water for the land. I keep my distance, wait, watch, cross far behind.

I walk. Walk. There are small luminous, glowing spots in the sand. Shells, insects, glow worms, radium. I don’t know. I don’t want to know, I don’t want a description, I don’t want a name, I don’t want them named. I want only for them to shine blue and green and be the only lights on the beach. They are a mystery and I want them to stay that way. I leave them, undisturbed, like the turtles. Like the dunes, like the beach. When I have left, it will be as though I were never here. Already it is so.

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2009 in Nature

 

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Night Garden

It was around eleven pm and I started feeling hungry. I’m not sure if this is my stomach or my brain. I had a cup of black rice with about a cup of cooked vegetables for dinner around seven. Yet, since ten, I wanted more.

I opted for a bowl of organic Cheerios-esque cereal with almond milk. Not long after – not even after, halfway through the bowl, actually – I regretted every spoonful. So I continued, more and more loathing building with each mouthful until I finished the bowl, now empty of cereal but brimming with contempt.

Having eaten, it being about a quarter after eleven, I have to take a walk. While I know this does not undo what has been done, there is a part of my brain that tells me that is precisely what it does. A part of my brain exists that says this one action, talking a walk, will undo the cereal. A crazy part, no doubt. This is not something of which I am unaware. But had this part spoken up before the cereal, I’d be in bed now.

So I put on my socks and sneakers, collar and leash the suddenly ecstatic dog and out we go.

Today it stormed. This evening it stormed. I could hear the frogs and various un-named creatures through the windows. So, while I would normally take my MP3 player with me, this time I leave it at home. While normally I’d listen to lectures on physics, or religion, or recorded books, tonight I will listen to the sounds of the natural world, all wet and happy, awake and loud.

We leave through the back door, quietly, as my wife is sleeping, grabbing the bamboo short staff. There have been, as of late, stray, large, unfriendly dogs following us on our walks. Dogs in pairs and triplets, one at the heels, one on each side, each pushing me into the other. Growling and showing teeth. I tell them to leave and they do, then return a minute or so following closely, more closely, at my heels and side once again. I tell them there will be one fewer if I find a stick. When I do, they leave me before I can pick it up. Since I have carried this thirty inch long, one inch thick bamboo, they have not approached.

Through the yard and out the gate to the sidewalk. I attach the free end of the leash to my belt loop and my dingo trots along my left side, leash loose, looped, swaying as we walk.

I don’t see her, of course, walking next to me. One side is the blind side and the other side is the one with very little peripheral vision, so I need to trust her. And I do. I know what she is up to. I can tell where she is by the pull on the leash. When she gets a sandbur, and we have some versions of cenchrus here that appear to have been developed as devises of torture by the SuperDevil, I can tell immediately by the change in her gate, the different rhythm in the paws on pavement, the change in the sway of the leash.

A short walk. Two and a tenth miles. I walk this in the morning in thirty-five minutes which is a shade under four miles per hour and quite good for a fellow with my leg-length. Far too fast for an extended conversation which makes the dog a perfect partner. Tonight, though, we’d take our time and walk for the air and the sound.

The rains have left the night cool. Wet. It feels like home. Not a specific home, not a specific place, but home, a home faintly, distantly recognized, comfortable, familiar, inviting and kind. The wind is easy and the frogs are singing. Insects are buzzing. As we walk, Dusty’s nails clack on the sidewalk, insects tick in the taller grasses. There are croaks and calls and buzzes.

I place the staff, lengthwise, on my right shoulder, a foot and a half or so behind me, a foot and a half or so before me. It balances easily, seesawing from time to time, swaying in and out now and then, like a compass needle. This will keep my posture in mind as we walk.

I wonder what sings in the grass. Not names, not labels, just what is. So many creatures and so few found. So few named. Many people think we know all of life on the Earth, but here, right next to me, could be life unknown. There very likely is.

Very few have any interest in this. You could gather all the taxonomists in the world into one small hotel. Experts on fungus? The world’s mycologists could meet at a Day’s Inn conference room.

In The Diversity of Life, Edward O. Wilson describes the work of one botanist who spent a few days in Borneo and discovered over one thousand new flowering plant species. More discovered in half a week than the total of what is known in North America since we have been keeping records. A pair of Norwegian scientists, as a lark, picked up two samples, only one gram each, of soil from a beech forest near their lab. Carefully analyzed, they found between four and five thousand separate bacterial species in each sample. More than is recorded in the best known record of things microbial, Bergy’s Manual of Bacteriology. Over nine thousand species in two pinches of soil taken from no place special. In Kenya, four new species of millipedes and a new tree, a big tree, is found.

Such is the myth of naming. Such is the idea that we explore, thirst to discover, to mark, to label, divide, organize. We don’t care, most of us.

I don’t care for names. But I listen as we walk, wonder what might be singing I have never heard singing before. Maybe something is thrumming with life, just beneath my feet, no one has ever seen. Maybe.

Bamboo leaves rustle. Jasmine glows under the three-quarter moon. Angel trumpets hang, moonflowers open as we pass. A rabbit is sitting by an in-ground pool behind a house no one has lived in for over a year. Owls call. Bats dart. Dusty, from time to time, walks out slightly ahead, looks this way and that. When I follow her gaze, I see cats.
Lives in the trees as we approach silence as we walk under them and resume as we pass.

I bend forward and the staff slips off my shoulder and down into my right hand. I twirl it forward, back, round and round, behind me, under my arm. I flip it over my hand and into my left to do the same. My dog never notices. I place it on the left shoulder, grab the front with my left hand and the back of the staff with my right, pulling down, bringing my shoulder lower, digging into the muscle, ironing it with the broad bamboo. Over the back and onto the right shoulder for the same. A large toad crosses the sidewalk in front of me.

I leave the staff to balance once again. Blue lights of TVs brighten and fade, one person argues with another, cicadas call, moaning gains intensity, breathing quickens rhythmically, gains volume, slackens, softens, intensifies again, a dog barks, a baby cries, there is buzzing in the grass, someone says they are not coming back. A car starts.

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2009 in Food, Nature, philosophy

 

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