Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Nature

Sursum Corda | G. A. Studdert Kennedy

What kind of day did you have so far? Mine was productive, though not the way I thought it would be. Here’s one of my favorite Studdert Kennedy poems. It seemed appropriate, given the state of things today.

*Sursum Corda

There are cowslips in the clearing,
With God’s green and gold ablaze,
And the distant hills are nearing,
Through a sun-kissed sea of haze.

There’s a lilt of silver laughter
In the brook upon its way,
With the sunbeams stumbling after
Like the children at their play.

There’s a distant cuckoo calling
To the lark up in the sky
As his song comes falling, falling
To his nest—a happy sigh.

Sursum Corda! How the song swells
From the woods that smile and nod.
Sursum Corda! Ring the bluebells
Lift ye up your hearts to God.

From The Unutterable Beauty: The Collected Poetry of G. A. Studdert Kennedy, pp. 95-96
First published by Hodder and Stoughton Limited (London, 1927)
Published in 2017 by Pendlebury Press (Manchester, U.K., August 2017)

*Sursum Corda -“Lift up your hearts.” The opening phrase of a traditional Christian liturgy dating back to the 3rd century. Normally used before celebrating the Eucharist.

Can there be beauty in a warzone? Especially with people dying all around, often in prolonged agony.

Studdert Kennedy, also known as Woodbine Willie, wrote this poem during World War I. He served as a chaplain, witnessing and participating in the laments, loneliness, pain and deaths of British soldiers. He dealt with the horror of war by writing poetry.

Many of his poems are heartbreaking. They deal with harsh realities of early 20th century warfare on the ground, and the daily struggles of human beings separated from their families. They also include some reality talk with God. This poem, like a number of others, found something to celebrate. A reason to hope, despite the daily suffering and dying that surrounded everyone.

Even though nature can’t solve all our problems, it’s there for the taking. A gift. Just look around. Lift up the eyes of your heart! In your memory, listen to the birds and admire the bluebells. They’re sending us an invitation to look and listen to the larger picture of nature, not just to our own small worlds.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 August 2020
Image of cowslips found at first-nature.com

From This River, When I Was a Child | Mary Oliver

Photo of the dock and river; taken by DAFraser in July 2010

A Mary Oliver poem for all of us. My comments follow.

From This River, When I Was a Child, I Used to Drink

But when I came back I found

that the body of the river was dying.

“Did it speak?”

Yes, it sang out the old songs, but faintly.

“What will you do?”

I will grieve of course, but that’s nothing.

“What, precisely, will you grieve for?”

For the river. For myself, my lost
joyfulness. For the children who will not
know what a river can be—a friend, a
companion, a hint of heaven.

“Isn’t this somewhat overplayed?”

I said: it can be a friend. A companion. A
hint of heaven.

© 2008 Mary Oliver
Poem found in Red Bird, p. 44
Published by Beacon Press

When I read this poem, I tear up. It takes me back to my childhood in the South. We lived on a branch of the Savannah River. Our smaller yet substantial river was named the Vernon River, part of the Intracoastal Waterway.

Vernon River spoke to me multiple times. Especially when I was feeling sad, misunderstood or inundated by the noise of four daughters living in one house with two parents. Plus small pets, parakeets, and the occasional baby flying squirrels rescued from certain death when they fell or were pushed out of their nests.

We lived in rural Chatham County, at the end of a narrow country road, 15 miles from Savannah, Georgia. I had three younger sisters. Frequently I needed a companion. A hint of heaven that was there for me, night and day.

The Vernon River did all that for me. No, I didn’t drink the salt water. But I swam in it. Better than a bath on a hot, humid day! Plus miraculous skin-healing properties of salt water free for the taking. Crabs to be caught, boiled, picked and eaten. Salt-water breezes to soothe my sad, sometimes lonely soul. The soft splash of tides coming and going like clockwork. The sound of seagulls chasing shrimp boats early in the morning and late in the afternoon.

When I read Mary’s poem, I’m out on the dock again. Alone. Sitting on top of the picnic table. Feeling the goodness of earth and heaven come together in one grand moment of peace.

Am I “somewhat” overplaying what I’ve lost? Or what the children of today may never experience?

I said: it can be a friend. A companion. A
hint of heaven.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 July 2020
Photo of dock and river taken by DAFraser, July 2010

moss-laden oaks loom | 1950s in the Deep South

moss-laden oaks, magenta azaleas

I posted this poem in 2014. It’s an attempt to capture my first impressions of the Deep South, including strict segregation between Black and White citizens. There were 5 of us in the car (Sister #4 yet to be conceived). We’d just driven from Southern California to rural Georgia, 15 miles outside of Savannah. Another world. One I’d never imagined in my 7 1/2 years of life. 

moss-laden oaks loom
magenta azaleas blaze
deep south path through woods 

* * *

Late summer, 1950

It’s past midnight
I’m asleep with Sisters #2 and #3
Are we almost there?

Mother’s tired voice wakes me up
Nothing but darkness outside
and cobwebby stuff hanging from tree limbs

A log-cabin tavern fades into view
Neon beer ads flicker on parked cars, old trucks
Daddy reluctantly stops for directions

He goes into the tavern.
Are we lost?
No. We just aren’t there yet.

Daddy drives slowly
No street lights no signs
The old road is dark, narrow, mysterious

Mossy oaks loom overhead reflecting
weak rays of yellow light from car headlights
Weary shacks line the road

Unexpectedly we pass grand fenced-in wooded lots with driveways to nowhere
Then modest houses and a few larger houses
The road ends abruptly.

Daddy stops, gets out, peers at the giant mailbox
He turns into the driveway
We’re there.

Deep South
moss-laden oaks, no blazing azaleas
Just heavy humid air, wealth next door to poverty, fiercely guarded secrets

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 March 2014, reposted with intro14 July 2020
Google image – Springtime in Savannah, Georgia

Pyramids and Camels | Photo Memories Revisited

Camel rides and Pyramids

The worlds of 2010 and 2019 are gone. I pray we’re up to the task of making wise, faithful decisions about our lives as world citizens, not isolated human beings. Enjoy the pics! This was one of many great adventures. Getting married 54+ years ago was the first!

It’s a good thing, being married to D. My life might have been dismally dull without his get-up-and-go. He’s no extrovert, mind you. He just has the Travel Bug in him, bigtime. Our trip to Egypt, piggybacked onto a week of D teaching in Cairo, was a Spectacular Adventure.

It’s January 2010, just one year before the uprising in Egypt. Our driver and guide picked us up early in the morning. We arrived at the pyramids of Giza before the site was crowded with visitors and vendors.

It’s winter, yet the sun blazes down almost every day like a hot flame. The air temperature begins chilly but often rises into the low 70s.

Hence our sun hats and my white sun shirt peeking out from my travel jacket. The jacket is a small men’s silk blazer—a thrift shop find here in Philly. It has ample side pockets (note water bottle peeking out) and vest pockets inside. Best bargain ever! It doesn’t bother me a bit when airport personnel and passengers call me “Sir,” then beg profuse pardons….

Now we’re going to back track a bit. I want you to appreciate how tiny we feel. I’m there in the center, standing at the base of a pyramid.

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Here are a few pictures of us on and next to the largest pyramid.
Note the size of the building blocks!

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David and Elouise on Giza pyramid

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Time to go get on a camel or two! Just for comparison, here’s an expert camel rider. Note his legs resting casually on the back of his camel, his super comfortable clothing and air of confidence. Even his camel looks relaxed, if not smiling. Nothing to it! The rider doesn’t even have foot stirrups.

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So here we are, getting up close and personal with our rented camels. They’re going to take us off on a little trek into the desert. No problem. Our guide will be right there if anything untoward happens. Just relax and do what the patient camel guide tells me to do.

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Whew!

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Do I look like the cat that just swallowed the mouse, or what?
Now it’s D’s turn!!!

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Showoff!
Here we go….off into the desert.

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Note: Without our trusty guide who accompanied us on foot, we wouldn’t have these photos of the two of us. And, I must add, without workouts at Curves my legs would not have been up to the task of keeping me on top of the camel!

Here’s a bit of what we saw, including a photo of Cairo in the distance.

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The camel ride ended near the Sphinx.
After spending time there, we said farewell and left.

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This was only one of our Egypt adventures. The others simply added to my sense that I owe Egyptian history, culture and inventions a debt I can never repay.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 February 2016, reposted 8 July 2020
Photo credits: DAFraser and our Egyptian tour guide

Invitation | Mary Oliver

This morning I’m tempted to rush into battle mode. So many things are going so wrong. This poem from Mary Oliver helped restart my day–though I’m still not sure what will come of it. My comments follow.

Invitation

Oh do you have time
to linger
for just a little while
out of your busy

and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles

for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air

as they strive
melodiously
not for your sake
and not for mine

and not for the sake  of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude—
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing

just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in this broken world.
I beg of you,

do not walk by
without pausing
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.

© 2008 by Mary Oliver; poem found on pp. 18-19 of Red Bird
Published by Beacon Press

The line from Rainer Maria Rilke is found at the end of his poem, Archaic Torso of Apollo. There, as here in Mary Oliver’s poem, we’re offered no clear interpretation of “You must change your life.”

Here’s how I’m thinking about it today:

This shared world, filled with beauty, seems intent on self-destruction. Would we throw it all away by refusing to act, just once, with beauty and courage? Do the unexpected? Change the conversation, or our knee-jerk reactions to things that annoy and offend us?

Perhaps the most courageous thing I can do today is as simple as a smile. Especially in tense or fearful situations. We say a smile is worth a thousand words. It’s what most of us are starving for every day. True, smiles won’t heal or resolve every problem. Nor are all smiles to be trusted.

Still, Mary Oliver challenges us to stop, listen and (I think) smile at these crazy beautiful goldfinches. They just can’t stop singing for sheer delight and gratitude! Trying, perhaps, to tell us something we desperately need to hear from each other?

Thanks for stopping by!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 July 2020
American Goldfinch songs found on YouTube

What the world needs | Howard Thurman

Howard Thurman made things straightforward, simple and down to earth. My father did not. I was raised in a Christian culture (presided over by my father) that saw life outside our ‘safe’ space under attack by twin demons: complexity and danger. Especially if life outside made me come alive.

  • Dancing? No way! Definitely the first step toward raucous, immoral behavior.
  • Lipstick? No way! A sure sign of debauchery. (Until it suited my father to make it imperative.)
  • Dating unchurched and thus unreliable (might grope or rape me) males? No way! (Not that dating was high on my list.)

So here I am today. A supposedly grown-up white woman still figuring out how, at this age and under our current circumstances, to go and do what makes me come ALIVE!

All things  considered, I don’t plan on going anywhere for a while. However, reading and writing make me come alive. Along with music and poetry. Talking with my children and grandchildren. Stopping for a street-side chat with neighbors. Hearing from friends all over the world. Playing with Smudge.

Then there are lovely morning walks. I’m just back from one with D, seeing and hearing birds sing at will. No officious patrol cars tracking them down and locking them up for looking suspicious or disturbing the peace.

The end of the matter is this: I’m most alive when I’m an uncaged songbird! I want to spend my short life singing songs of truth, especially when I’m surrounded and it looks like the sky is falling.

These are trying times. It’s the 4th of July. I wish I could say Hurray for the USA! We’ve come a long way baby! Break out the champagne! Let the fire crackers fly through the air!

But I cannot. Why not? Because right now this contentious, at-risk world needs people who have come alive. Women, men and children willing to tell the truth about their lives regardless of the cost. Willing to listen long and hard to songs they’ve never heard before. Willing to look into the eyes of strangers, smile, and say “Good morning! Would you be willing to tell me about your life?”

Hoping you have a thoughtful 4th of July filled with songs and stories you’ve not heard before.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 July 2020
Image found at quoteswave.com

Coming down from a high | Day 1 Photos revisited

P1090805 The High Dessert in Oregon, on the way to Mitchell, Oregon – October 2015

It’s time for a teeny tiny (safe!) vacation from Covid-19 precautions. Click on photos to enlarge them. And ENJOY! 🙂

Have you ever seen the high desert in central Oregon? The one many early settlers had to travel across to reach the West Coast? Without maps and only occasional guides?

No? Neither had I until last week. I’d seen wheat ranches in Oregon, sea stacks and beaches on the coast, snow on Mt. Hood, Crater Lake, lush forests and state parks drenched with green mosses, waterfalls, creeks running alongside mountain roads, puffins on the sea stacks, and spectacular sunsets. But until a year ago I hadn’t even heard of what I saw last week.

Ten days ago D and I flew out to Portland, Oregon for a visit with our daughter and her husband. It included a two-day road trip to the high desert to see the Painted Hills. Did you know there are painted hills in the USA? I didn’t. Here’s our first photo–a tiny peek as we approached the Painted Hills entrance on Day 1 of our adventure.

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Painted Hills is one of three units in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. We visited two of the three units—Painted Hills, and Sheep Rock.

The photos below are from our first day at the Painted Hills Unit. We arrived in the late afternoon on a picture-perfect day. Warm weather with a cool steady wind, dry air, and very few visitors.

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P1090828 Can you find the spot where DAFraser zoomed in for this close-up? Also, look for animal trails and tracks. No humans allowed!

Here we’re on our way to a lookout at the top of the trail.
Notice the moon hanging in the brilliant blue sky!

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When we were walking on this path we stopped to listen.
All I heard was silence and the beat of my heart.
“…All nature sings, and ’round me rings
the music of the spheres….”

P1090897 Velvet tones and texture, stripes like a soft woolen blanket; colors of the West

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Polite signs like this kept reminding us to stay on the path!
In this case, turn around and go back the way you came.
Which we did!

End of Day 1, back at our motel:

P1090905 Wild turkeys on the road up to our motel, after chasing unwelcome cat away….

Hoping you find a way to vacation safely today, even if it’s only in your lovely mind and heart!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 October 2015 and 27 June 2020
Photo credit: Elouise (top photo), DAFraser (all the rest), October 2015
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Painted Hills Unit

In the Evening, in the Pinewoods | Mary Oliver

Who knows the sorrows of the heart?
God, of course, and the private self.
But who else? Anyone or anything else?
Not the trees, in their windy independence.
Not the roving clouds, nor, even, the dearest of friends.

Yet maybe the thrush, who sings
by himself, at the edge of the green woods,
to each of us
out of his mortal body, his own feathered limits,
of every estrangement, exile, rejection—their
death-dealing weight.

And then, so sweetly, of every goodness also to be remembered.

© 2008 by Mary Oliver
Published by Beacon Press in Red Bird: Poems by Mary Oliver, p. 63

A few weeks ago, out walking in the evening, I heard a wood thrush. One of the most haunting, beautiful sounds on earth. It was singing in the woods behind a nearby church and graveyard.

So many deaths right now. So many regrets, angers, crushing sorrow and disbelief.

I’ll never forget the cries of a mother Canadian Goose nesting just outside my office at the seminary. A noisy raptor had been circling and screaming for too many minutes. Father Goose was sitting nearby, clearly agitated, watching the sky from time to time.

Yes, the inevitable happened. The raptor stole the baby from the nest, unmoved by the parents’ frantic, furious cries and attempts to save their newly-hatched chick.

When I arrived at the seminary early the next morning, Mama Goose was sitting immobile, holding silent vigil on grass in the back courtyard of the seminary. Her loyal partner sat nearby, watching her and waiting. It looked and felt like a mourning ritual. They were there for most of the day before they flew away.

So much sorrow and anguish right now. That’s why I need to hear a wood thrush from time to time, along with its many neighbors calling out to me: There’s more to life than meets the eye. Mourn, have faith, and carry on.

Written a few days after the loss of one of my forty-nine first cousins, and in view of my own mortality and the current situation in this world.

Thanks for visiting.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 June 2020
Video found on YouTube

It’s been an age

Tree

This is one of my favorite poems, at least as true today as it was when I posted it in November 2014. Today has been filled with a mixture of happiness and contentment, along with a lurking feeling that we’re all at sea, and the ship of state is stressed.

How do you see yourself and others today? I hope you’ll give yourself a great big smile before the day is done. Then give away at least one more smile. All we can count on is the present.

It’s been an age since I first met you—
You there, looking back at me
Three score years plus eleven to be exact
You haven’t changed a bit, they say
You and I know better
Sometimes I can’t believe it’s you
I hardly know you
Could we start over do you think?
Would it be as much fun?

I don’t know.
Was it fun for you?
Are you as puzzled as I am?
I seem to have more questions than answers today
Where and when did we find each other?
We seem to get along
But then we always did even when we didn’t
So who am I to say?

All I know is looking back at me
Wondering where the time has flown
And who this beautiful woman is
Smiling at me through the mirror

* * *

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 November 2014, reposted 18 June 2020
Photo Credit:  DAFraser, December 2012
Hoyt Arboretum, Portland, Oregon

The human shadow revisited

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                            Mature Dawn Redwood at Longwood Gardens

Five years ago I posted comments on George MacDonald’s sonnet for June 9. Today I rediscovered it, right on time. It helps me think about my actions during this tumultuous uprising through which we must go together, or die. My lightly edited comments from five years ago follow.

June 9

Faith is the human shadow of thy might.
Thou art the one self-perfect life, and we
Who trust thy life, therein join on to thee,
Taking our part in self-creating light.
To trust is to step forward out of the night—
To be—to share in the outgoing Will
That lives and is, because outgoing still.

George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul,
© 1994 Augsburg Fortress Press

What does MacDonald’s opening line mean? “Faith is the human shadow of thy might.”

I can’t help thinking about the grand trees I saw yesterday. It was a hot, humid day begging for shade and breezes. We found it beneath huge trees reaching toward the sky. Could their welcome shade be like faith? An earthly shadow of God’s creative reach?

I imagine myself stepping out of burning sun (MacDonald’s ‘night’), into the shade. Into faith that exists only because of ‘thee’ and ‘thy might.’ I didn’t create the shade. I can’t touch it. I feel it in every part of me. It calms the boiling molecules in my body. It gives me energy to move forward and outward.

Imagine this. Perhaps the Creator’s towering tree-like presence reaches out large limbs that support a leafy umbrella offering respite and relief. I’m not the tree. Yet by standing within the tree’s shadow, I join myself to its life. To my true home. Unlike the tree, I can’t see this with my eyes, yet I know it by faith. Faith that dwells within the shadows of the Creator’s presence.

This means stepping forward “out of the night” is like stepping into the shade of a majestic tree. It’s a way of sharing in the life of the tree, of gaining strength and energy found only within its life, its ‘will,’ its outgoing nature.

The Creator’s will, like the tree, is outgoing. Reaching away from itself to create and recreate all nature including human nature. To become part of the Creator’s life is to ‘join on’ by stepping forward ‘out of the night’ (or out of the burning heat).

Only then do I exist truly and share fully as a human participant in the life of this world with all its upheavals and joys. Not because of my own great ideas, but as a participant in this strangely beautiful and demanding partnership with our Creator.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 June 2015, lightly edited and reposted on 9 June 2020
Photo credit: DAFraser, 9 June 2015, Longwood Gardens

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