Is there anything more lovely?

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Have you every seen
anything
in your life
more wonderful
than the way the sun,
every evening,
relaxed and easy,
floats toward the horizon
~ Mary Oliver “The Sun”

 

I teach at a tiny little community school in a tiny little town in north-central Washington. Each Friday my students and I explore the farthest reaches of our home in the Methow River watershed and probe the depths of our souls through poetry, photography and more. This morning, as is common, we began by sitting in a circle and settling ourselves down. After five minutes of this (sometimes we do ten minutes), I read a Mary Oliver poem as a prompt, after which they wrote for ten minutes. Free writing is what we call it and they really seem to enjoy this way of beginning our day together.

For a few moments our creative juices were flowing or as one student put it, “the faucet had been turned on.” Each came up with a moving expression of their inner world, a geography that was at once both personal and interpersonal. Each personal geography melded into a collective geography while remaining true to itself, like soil layers becoming bedrock over eons of time. I wish I had their words to share with you because, as is always the case, what they wrote was beautiful. One of the students, a twelve-year old with long brown hair, said that she thought is usually wrote about the present moment. “Hmm…” I said, “you are probably right.” Here is mine for what it’s worth. I am no Mary Oliver.

Is there anything more lovely
     than the sunrise this morning
A flaming light reflecting off
     billowy clouds and snow-capped peaks,
As though a wound had opened up
     in the very cosmos itself,
Bleeding forth light
      and beauty and love?
Is there any love more wild
     unhindered, unobstructed and free,
Like running wildly through
      a field of wildflowers or laughing
Uncontrollably at nothing in particular
      until your belly aches with delight?
Is there any moment more pure
      than right here, right now
Pens scratching out words,
      wild thoughts on a spring day?

 


by David LaFever

 

The Creek Flows Thick

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Photo by Jimmy Zammar

It has been both cold and warm lately. I awoke this morning at 6:15 am and it was 15 degrees F outside, yet southern exposures are becoming snow-less. I hear red-winged blackbirds and Canada geese and see other signs of spring. Each day the angle of the sun increases and the bus is hit more directly by its warmth. At the same time, we’ve gotten new snow recently and I continue to enjoy the heck out of winter and especially skiing.

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Photo by Jimmy Zammar

Some days ago I hit the trail behind our house and headed towards town before turning up a steep trail called Powers Plunge. It challenged my cardiovascular system and I felt like a turtle crawling up a steep bank. There were two climbs and I was tired and sweating after navigating the second and gentler of the two. From there I headed on towards town yet again, on a different trail this time, looping on around to head back home. All in all, I skied over 18 km (11 miles) in an hour and half or so. As I neared home, I crossed over Wolf Creek, pausing to gaze at its ice-bound beauty and I composed this short poem:

The creek flows thick
and solid with cold.
Over, under, around and through
Ice flowing in ways I cannot
imagine, in places I cannot
maneuver. Ice into ice,
water through water.
A ceaseless dance of change –
changing form, the formless,
the molecules remain the same.

 

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Photo by Jimmy Zammar

by David LaFever

Swallowing Myself

Death has been much on my mind and the mind of others around me lately. The actual death of a friend, the continued wars and destruction that we are engaged in throughout the world (Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and on and on), and the planetary decline/collapse of our biosphere that we are both cause and at the mercy of.

I will share something from my journal that I wrote about death and life recently, from January 22, 2018

I see the birds first, some bald eagles perched in tall cottonwoods, and a quorum of ravens, black splotches of feathers against the pure white snow. I then notice the carcass, ribs poking up out of the pink snow. Two adult bald eagles and a dozen ravens or more are present also. One eagle has been there at the dinner plate for sometime now, as evidenced by the rose color of its head and neck feathers. The newcomer’s feather gleam white in the luminous morning light. Death begets life in a beginningless and endless way.

We are usually disgusted by death and abhor it, although fascinated by its seeming finality and lost in our inability to comprehend it. But what if we looked at it differently, seeing it as a Great Mystery and the great gift that it is? The ravens and eagles understand the giving aspect of it, even if they don’t have the words, although I suspect the ravens know when a meal is nigh.

As I look around I see cottonwoods and pines that we once alive, but that are now among the standing dead, and the telltale signs of woodpeckers, pecking for a meal. Without the thing that we call death, there would be no woodpeckers, no eagles, no ravens and none of the beauty that these creatures offer to the world. Without the deer carcass, that some larger predator likely killed, what would these ravens and eagles eat, especially with so few salmon in our rivers?

We call it death, but when I look at it, I see life or the offering of a life at the least. The great gift that we can give at the end of our life, is our life. In this beginningless and endless place, do we simply fold back into the great cycle of life and death? Is there some other journey that we begin at that time? If we are honest with ourselves, we do not know, so we call it something to ease our worry a bit – the Great Mystery, if nothing else. Our lives too, are mysterious and in reality unknowable. We tell stories and those stories become this “I” and this “we” and both stand in for and create what we think of as “truth” and “reality.” But what is this really?

If death is death and life isn’t life, what is this? Just this….

A Jim Harrison poem comes to mind in which he decides to “swallow himself in ceaseless flow.” I like that description because it could be either life or death and what really is the difference? Here is the poem, titled “Cabin Poem”:

I’ve decided to make

up my mind

about nothing, to

assume the water

mask,

to finish my life

disguised as a creek,

an eddy, joining at

night the full,

sweet flow, to absorb

the sky,

to swallow the heat

and cold, the moon

and the stars, to

swallow myself

in ceaseless flow.

 

One last glance at the scavengers and the carcass, and I head down the road in this glistening winter palace. I wonder at the world where lines are crossed and then recrossed and where distinctions are blurry at best. And I wonder at this species, which desperately and naturally makes distinctions, tells stories and tries to make sense of this senseless and sensuous world. Even things as seemingly solid and assured as life and death, upon closer inspection, ebb and flow, ceaselessly life the rivers and tides that I love so much. I become amazed at the possibility that lies before me, made possible only when I loosen my grip on categories, on my likes and dislikes.

As I continue on, I near the elementary school and downshift as I approach a stop sign. I pause a moment, taking in and letting go the wild winter scene, before turning right to head down river on East 20.


by David LaFever

 

Snow Falling on Pines

Here is a poem I wrote yesterday while it snowed steadily outside:

A long snowflake falls
from a gray-white sky.
I watch it float, lazily
to the snow-covered ground.
Snow clouds drape the ridgeline
across the valley.
Blue Buck, Pearrygin, and Tripod
Veiled by the gauze sky.
An hour later, the snow is coming down
All peaks and ridges are obscured, have disappeared.
Hidden behind a world of snow, cloud to ground
Illusory and temporary in nature.
I wonder about that one snowflake I saw
Falling hours ago, where is it now?
Somewhere, nowhere, lost in it all
Snow falling on pines.

By David LaFever

 

The Glittering Light of Aspen Leaves

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Stone Meadow, mid-summer.

Nearly two months to the day after we arrived in the Methow Valley, we left Stone Meadow and moved a mere mile farther into Wolf Creek. Stone Meadow is both the house and land which welcomed us so warmly and completely upon our arrival. We didn’t know just how important it would be to have a first place to stay and one that we already knew so well (we stayed here every other visit to the Valley). Stone Meadow was where we first fell in love with this place and it made sense for us to return there before launching forth to an unknown nook of these amazing mountains. I remember our very first night, nearly six years ago, as we awaited the arrival of our friend. Kristin and I stood upstairs, sharing a beer and gazing wondrously at the land all around us. That very first night, we felt we had come home to a place we had never been before, and I knew that this was the place where I would live out my days and return to the earth at the end of them. My Great Changing would occur here. With each subsequent visit we were reminded of the deep, intuitive calling to live here and we have heeded that call. This all began at Stone Meadow. And now it is time for some place else to weave its thread into our tapestry. In gratitude I wrote these words on our final day:

This place, these stones, this sky

Intimate, still, and vast

Has seeped into my bones, and in my marrow

The ceaseless sound of flowing water.

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The top of the Cozy Turtle (our bus/tiny home) and Stone Meadow sunset.

And so with a bittersweet taste in our souls, we loaded up the bus again like a covered wagon and moved on down the road. We are now on the land of a friend of a friend of a friend, still in the area known as Wolf Creek but farther northwest into the woods. There are towering ponderosa pines and Douglas-fir trees above the bus, which are home to nuthatch and the constantly chittering red squirrel (two of whom visited us in the bus on each of our first two nights there). This new land has a completely different vibe, view and feeling. There are views to the east and we awake each morning with the force of the sun, heating up the bus and shining on our faces. We cannot hear the ceaseless sound of Wolf Creek but the Methow River is a short walk away. There is the sound of wind through trees and the glittering light of aspen leaves fluttering in the sunlight. We don’t know how long we will be here but for now this place contains the whole of existence.

Three for the Methow

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Photo by Jimmy Zammar
Methow River flowing green
Reflecting trees above, sky below
Flowing on, out of snow-mountains
Past forest and field, farmhouse and cabin
On past Goat Wall and an old Western town
Onward it winds, narrowing
Into canyons, whit water rushing
Hurrying to a dammed world below.

The river flows and flows
	without end.
Birds flit and flutter along the banks
	chittering to no end.
Mountains stand, still
	from beginning to end.
Cars whiz by on the highway
	hurrying to no end.
With no beginning and no end,
	why hurry at all?

Two young girls play along
	the bank of a river flowing.
Sticks for kids, trees a home
	an oriole flits and flutters high above.
The warm sun comforts my back
	while a cool breeze floats down river.
Tall cottonwoods stand with their toes in the water
	Balls of soft seeds float on the wind.
"Look its snowing," she says excitedly
	chasing dreams of imagination.

Written by David LaFever

Sparkling Waters

A poem from an inspiring winter day along the South Fork Elk River.


by David LaFever

Witless Wanderings of Nibbling Sheep

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Sparkling waters speaking, a language their own

Bursting bubbles everywhere

Hearing sounds, not understanding words

Intertwining in meaning

Deepening redwoods, mossying alders

Graying jay, downying woodpecker

Spawning salmon, flowing water

Lengthening shadows

Elk River, a winter day.

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