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April 23, 2000

Three Faces of Spring:
Saint Patrick's for the Past Time;
Easter for the Future;
Mayday for the Moment

Easter looks forward.
Whatever really happened, the Resurrection remains a promise, and promises imply a future in which to be kept.
Its association with Spring is pure poetry; rebirth a winning metaphor. But when the promise of Easter is fulfilled, Time is superseded, the seasons rendered irrelevant. That's something to look forward to.

How will we get there?
Yesterday I wrote of the Christian reconfiguration of the Mysteries. Where once people imitated the gods, now deity affects humanity.
We need another such reversal.
Time now for us to take responsibility, initiate anew the cycle, and move to model God again within ourselves. And this time, not in ceremony, but actuality.

No small task, but we have a new millennium to fill up with our efforts. Who knows how much Future it will take to reach the end of Time?
We can't afford to be embarrassed by this ambition, for it's incumbent upon us to make of the Future something more than the name of the place where we shall die.

When we reach whatever end we reach, Time must give way, and something like a moment (but less confined) obtains, never to pass away.

In hope of this, we keep the Future open, or seek to open ourselves to it, even as we cannot staunch the flow of Time. The seasons still must change, though in familiar ways. We must change, into something we cannot yet imagine.

Easter's promise of rebirth opens up our Future; the rebirth of Spring fills our Present. Embrace what is, but don't disdain a promise.

This day dawns dim and damp, not good for bonnets or for bunnies, but good for hope, and holding promise of improvement. I will seek for trees and birds, and try a little harder. And though it rain for forty days and forty nights, I trust the Future holds a sunbeam yet.

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April 22, 2000

Is Today a Holiday?

Today is Earth Day, and also Holy Saturday.

I sympathize with the idea of Earth Day, but my practice has led me towards what I see as more Traditional modes of planetary appreciation. On Saint Patrick's Day, I outlined my notion of the Spring Holidays, and I intend to continue working through that system (actually, it's a poem, not a system; so much the better.) Earth Day seems to contain a political motivation, and seeks to update the Tradition with respect to contemporary concerns. I would like to think that I am participating in that effort, but I have no wish to descend into the sort of squabbling found here.

Tradition provides linkage; a timeless thread that guides us through Time's labyrinth. It's about continuity and connection; not putting new names on what we already have. Everything required to honor this occasion is close at hand. In fact, the tools are so familiar as to be easily overlooked. If adopting novel ways helps to convince some people that they are actually doing something, then they have my blessing. For my part, the established Holidays are the tools. Celebration and observance amount to the same thing: looking deeply into the meaning of the occasion, its original impulse, and all that has accrued to it through time. Meditation as celebration. When the Holiday disarms the ego, then you are in the Tradition.

To this end, I think that Holy Saturday is of the greatest interest here. It's often the forgotten day between Good Friday and Easter, but it's most relevant to contemporary consciousness. Agnosticism (a word coined by T. H. Huxley, "Darwin's Bulldog", and grandfather of Aldous) defines the modern relationship to God: we just don't know. Atheism demands more certainty than is available to most of us, even as doctrinal religions do. Belief of any kind is suspect. Our lives are spent much as the followers of Jesus spent that Saturday; we wonder, and we wait. They knew only that the object of their cause was dead, and they had not the means to believe that he could live again. In such a pass are we. A certain kind of reason mitigates against belief, and even faith must at some point be fulfilled, as on that Easter Sunday. Those who have not glimpsed the Resurrection are waiting still. And we can ill afford to wait.

This is where Tradition can assist us. Tradition encodes knowledge, not scientific knowledge, but true Gnosis; the opposite of our uncertainty. Tradition tells us what even the gospels do not; the tale of Jesus' doings on this day: the Harrowing of Hell.

Jesus' descent to the Underworld is not described in the biblical narrative, but it is found in early apocrypha, and was embraced by the Church. Some will say that this was just a way of reconciling the new faith with its Jewish origins. Jesus redeems the worthy denizens of the Underworld, (which up until then was not a true Hell,) and allows them into Heaven, thus appropriating, without fully accepting, the history of the Hebrews. Henceforward, all access must be through Him.

There is something to this view, but the accommodation goes much deeper. In fact, the Underworld journey is a widespread type of the initiatory experience common to virtually all Traditional cultures. It is the very soul of Shamanism, that practical spirituality upon which all others have been built (even if the edifice obscures the foundation). The pagan converts who displaced Jews as the main constituency of Christianity certainly recognized the pattern. They probably demanded it. Their heritage was in the cosmopolitan mystery cults of the Mediterranean world, which were essentially a sophisticated elaboration of time-honored Shamanic practice. The mysteries typically put the initiate through a ritual reenactment of the patron deity's mythos. The most famous were the Eleusinian Mysteries, devoted to the Underworld sojourn and return of Persephone, the daughter of the Earth. These rites are now thought to have employed a psychoactive brew, a fact which emphasizes their connection to "primitive" ceremonies, which routinely employ hallucinogenic plants in this context. Jesus might be accepted as the new god, but he had to fulfill the old expectations. Christianity could not survive, except by engaging the deeper Tradition.

Rebirth remains the best metaphor we have for spiritual awakening. It is not won without a price. Death must separate the old life from the new, suspended in between, as is this Saturday. That the deity should suffer the same death marks a watershed in our spiritual evolution; a closer identification between the human and the divine. If God is more like us, then our own divinity becomes the more apparent. Jesus does not suffer for us, but as us. When we know this, we will know Him. And knowing Him will separate us from our Selves. The perspective thereby afforded will not diffuse the Mystery, but does teach us the proper stance to take in Mystery's presence. That stance will be required of us on the morrow.

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April 12, 2000

Colors of Spring

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April 5, 2000

Bird Bites Dog

A tangential celebrity angle put this story in the gossip column of the NY Post. I don't have anything against dogs per se, and I'd like to say that most dog owners are conscientious, but the fact is that leash laws are widely ignored. Dogs are allowed to run free before 9:00 AM in most of the Park, but never in the delicate areas of the North Woods, or the Ramble, where this incident occurred. The eastern shore of the Lake is a popular (illegal) spot for running dogs. It's been reduced to a barren slope of exposed roots, thanks largely to this canine traffic. As the follow-up item (half way down the page) points out, the Mute Swans' nest is well marked. These birds have been here for years. Like the hawks on Fifth Avenue, the success or failure of their yearly nesting is a little drama which brings many city dwellers closer to nature. Last year two cygnets grew from ugly ducklings to the size of the adults, but were still a grayish brown color when they left the Lake in mid-winter. Like all children, they needed their own territory.

Territory must be protected, and this swan does have a belligerent reputation. Graceful form, and the purity of white plumage, belie the strength and aggressiveness of these large birds. And, after all, this one is a New Yorker.


April 3, 2000

Two April Intros

April cruel? The unrelenting life force that surfaces in Spring may have seemed an irony amid the wasteland of the Great War's wake. Most of a century later, that impression is no longer novel, and our need is to learn to side once more with Chaucer. Perhaps we'll need binoculars to find the way.

April can certainly be unpredictable. Last weekend saw a wild swing in the weather. Saturday was 70 degrees, and as fine a day in early Spring as one could want, but evening brought escalating winds, which presaged an unusual cold front from the south. By Sunday noon, an inch or more of snow had descended on the Park. The strange tableau of green and white did not last long. An hour before dusk, the sharp edge of the front and the lowering sun passed in opposite directions. The sky was clear, and Spring returned, unperturbed, it seemed. As the light faded, few traces of the snow remained.

Less cruelty than a passing jest, I think. The season won't be stopped. The first flush of Spring has been, and all the rest must now unfold. It happens every year. That, I think is what Eliot was getting at: the necessary consistency of nature's pattern, in despite of our human circumstances. His formalism refigured the Romantic linkage between outer world and inner mental state.

Wordsworth, in English poetry at least, best represents that Romanticism. Chaucer is another story. An innovator with a young language, he nevertheless engaged a long tradition when he took April as a conventionalized entry point for his Tales. Prior to Christianity, Spring was the New Year season (thereafter, Easter assumed the position of rebirth). Accommodation with paganism allowed the Spring tradition to persist, and its phenomena were close at hand, in a world less urban, less industrialized, than ours.

Today we view Spring with mixed feelings. People often express disappointment; the season is abrupt; short or indistinct. From too cold to too hot, with no between. So goes the plaint. I've voiced it myself, at times; even now, I'm finding this year perhaps less spectacular than last. Storms have shorn the first flowers, erratic weather distorts the patterns, but everything still happens. Barring the truly abnormal, (an extended cold snap, some genuine blight), the same trees will put forth their flowers and their leaves, the usual birds return. The grass again grows green.

From year to year the Spring will show some variation, but often the impression, I suspect, reflects our inner world more than the outer. A windfall of love or luck buoys us through one greening season, while another year is dimmed by some vicissitude. Impassively, the body of the Earth rehearses yet again its moves, whether we view them through joy or in a gloom.

My goal then, is not to project my psychology upon the season, but to imprint the Spring upon my Self. Let verdant patterns program mine! Through incremental will, induced by my desire, I have found that I can make changes in my life. Not the willful changes of the ego-driven Self, but little changes, in eating and in sleeping times, in ingrained habits that deflect me from my purpose. That is to say, the purpose of the Spring. Which is, of course, to burst forth, in an orgy of existential ecstasy.

Such ecstasy drives every purpose of our World. Let me be frank; it is the product every economy aspires to produce. Still the Source remains unique. It's available virtually for free. The only price is life. All that grows and dies, in but a year, then grows and dies again. And looking on, we all the while comprise the same such rhythm on another scale.

Others may find their ecstasy elsewhere, but I say none is better. At least I'm sure that I'm a better man for taking cues from seasons, and happier, too. All ecstasy is rooted in the same thing, and that is God. Little portions are served up to motivate the World. When the culturally sanctioned modes of ecstasy fail, alienation results. We will seek in strange places. There is little choice; the World about me seems more and more a strange place all the time. Tradition is our guide in unfamiliar places. Not to be followed like a rule, but as a star that fixes our position, indicating direction, so that, even though we choose to turn, we know which way we came. There's ample opportunity for ecstasy upon this path, if you look closely enough.

Chaucer's Spring and Spring in the year 2000 are much the same, minus the six hundred years of cultural accrual. That fact may alleviate, or aggravate, the alienation which Eliot diagnosed. The difference lies in whether we prove an imposition, or can comply with the contours of Spring's landscape, finding therein the place where its Tradition is honored. Even in that sanctuary, the World must prove both cruel and sweet, but I have learned enough to choose a day like that strange Sunday, which saved the sweetest for the last.

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It should be noted that the aforementioned owl sighting represents a reward for my advocating of the Goddess a bit further down the page. The sapient avian is sacred to Pallas Athena, and Sophia Herself; the Queen of Wisdom. I don't want to belabor the point, so I'll just assume this is understood. She is humble, and doesn't require anyone to spend eternity telling Her how great She is. Not unless you want to, of course.

Some might say that there is no such entity. The whole thing is no big deal; there are plenty of owls out there, and enough goes on in the Park that one can't help but stumble onto little wonders all the time. I say, that is the Goddess, in a nutshell (or a pine tree).

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April 2, 2000

Te Whit, Te Whow

Here I am again, working on another overwritten post. I can't really deliver the Park; I have to turn it into something. I've got an idea, well, maybe a angle, as they say in journalism. Given enough time, and concentration, I'll get it down, but right now, I've little of either to spare.

The Park demands them. Spring is going on. While I'm at work, while I'm asleep, while I'm distracted. Spring is happening right now. Had to fit in a quick trip this evening. Lengthening days, and the switch to Daylight Savings Time now make it possible to run up after work. A cold wind blew, but green was everywhere, and studded with flowers.

I almost didn't go; the time and effort, (I've got writing to do), the weather not inviting, but every time I get there, the Park delivers. I was happy enough with the vista of the Lake at sundown, Willows glowing like a black-light poster, the skyline looming beyond. The Sugar Maple at Strawberry Fields, dangling its ectoplasmic blossoms. Fox Sparrows along the Gill. All going on, with or without me.

Just across Bow Bridge, heading towards an exit, I was alerted by some local birders to one of the Park's passing wonders; a Saw-whet Owl, roosting in a little pine at the foot of Cherry Hill. This owl is about the size of a grapefruit, and was well hidden, but it's relatively tame, and allowed a good view at close range. All I had to do was lie on the ground, in my coat and tie.

This is the sort of thing I'd never see on my own. I'm told it was found by Tom Fiore, one of the Park's more skillful birders. He's also a notable documentarian, consolidating sightings from many birders into terse but detailed accounts which appear in the invaluable Bird Log, at the Boat House. Apparently, the little owl was revealed by harassing sparrows, who objected to the predator's presence. I felt the opposite, but did appreciate the information.

When you've got an owl under observation, the obvious thing to do is wait for dusk, when the bird is expected to take wing, as in this 17th century British drinking song, which celebrates the nocturnal life:

Of all the birds that ever I see,
The owl is the fairest in her degree.
For all the day long she sits in a tree,
And when the night comes away flies she.

This owl did not disappoint. It roused itself just as the light was failing. It took flight in an instant, but posed for a moment on a nearby fence, then flitted back to the tree, where it paused again, turning its back and its face to me at the same time, in that particular way that owls have. Then it was gone, into the dimness, as the green disappeared into gray. Rodents, beware.

That's about all there is. I've got to get back to that post, you know; make something out of all this. I'm sure I should be able to provide some profundity, but at the moment, all I know is that I really like seeing an owl. A bird in the bush is priceless.


April 1, 2000

The Key to the Mystery of Being


March 29, 2000

A Couple of Early Bloomers

A Word About the Goddess

This is Her season; Persephone emerging from the Underworld. But who exactly is She? I've mentioned the Goddess a couple of times in passing, but I haven't tried to define the usage. I've spent more time explaining my use of the term "God", so perhaps you can see that I'm not treating these as equal concepts. Most mature spiritual speculation concludes that God represents the limit of such conceiving. Beyond sexual manifestation, even beyond living and unliving, It is the context of creation. Within that context, we can approach the boundary only through metaphor, or through the kind of ecstatic experience that enlightens, but leaves us hard put to say how.

Perhaps this sort of God is too impersonal for the popular consciousness. Always we personify; no doubt because we are people. These personifications are legion, and like us, they are sexed. One way of looking at it might be to say that God is like cosmology, while the gods and goddesses of legend are more a form of psychology. This, however, is a reductive notion, and the antithesis of Mystery.

The Tradition which I pursue insists upon the reality of the divine, and approaches its manifestations as genuine beings. To do so requires Faith; the probe of Mystery. Engaging Faith is not a matter of blind trust, but rather a declension of the self, allowing the stream of Tradition to flow through, submerging the ego. Traditional pantheons may represent a form of psychology, but they do not separate theory and practice, as does the modern discipline. Initiation into the Mysteries of a particular deity constitutes "treatment" as such: to know a god or goddess is to recognize their "psychological" principle within yourself, and to better understand thereby your place within the Tradition.

A typical course of Traditional "treatment" involves a psychic, or rather spiritual, joining of male and female qualities. Often represented as a marriage, this melding, or balancing, of sexual polarities is considered a prerequisite for spiritual attainment. That the male principle exerts undo dominance in our culture is by now a New Age, as well as a feminist, truism, with political implications which I will not treat here (except to note that politics and spirituality are ever interwoven.)

If the female has been repressed, it has never been extinguished. The renewal of Spring has always been seen as a manifestation of the reproductive capacity of a feminine Earth. Mainstream Western religion has failed to accord equal status to the distaff, but that voice has not gone unheard; poets, mystics, and anyone who walks in the woods can quote Her. Nor is it any mistake that the apex of Christianity, in the late Middle Ages, was reached under Her auspices. Though excluded from the Trinity, Mary was the people's choice; Her cult, more than any other, moved the troubadours, and raised the vaults of the cathedrals.

The Reformation, and the rationalism that followed, have held Her to a whisper. Even so, we need Her all the more, and She emerges, if not from the Earth itself, then from within us. Beyond theory, beyond doctrine, we each, alone, confront the Mystery of Being. Turning within is turning towards Her. Since we are not self-sufficient, our aloneness implies an Other. And since we live so much at odds with the male god-king we claim as deity, we should not wonder that it is Her voice that offers comfort: when Father beats you, run to Mother.

Faith is a chance worth taking. A chance to find what we need, whether in fact, or in the mind. For my part, I've learned to seek Her whisper there, or at the boundary where mind meets with Tradition. It is to Her that I address my private musings, partner in the inner dialogue. To Her I put the question; to Her I credit the reply. To thus conceive Her constitutes the worship of Her. To worship Her is to receive Her.

She asks for little, and gives us Springtime. I can muster only a lesser gesture, from the border of Spring and Winter: the flowers, once again, of the Red Maple. This time they are female. The tree in the Wildflower Meadow, with its fuzzy globes, is male, but here we see the more pendulous pistils, ovaries already fertilized. The red, winged seeds will soon be discernible. The Maples are a curious lot, not bound by human notions of sexuality. Their flowers are separate, male and female. A tree may be all of one sex, or bear both types: polygamo-dioecious. It's even said that some trees change back and forth. It's all rather confusing. I think the big one in the Meadow is consistently male, but I'll keep watching. Botanists call the type of flower which combines the male and female organs the perfect flower. If that name agrees more with esoteric spirituality than with mainstream sexuality, it just goes to show that, if you spend enough time with plants, you're bound to learn a thing or two in the process.

Plants are properly the province of the Goddess, and true to Her humility, they teach a truth bigger than She is; that sex is but a convenience of deity, necessitated by our fractured state. It is Her way to point beyond Herself. She points to what I have called "God".

I suppose that should leave me with a small "g" god and goddess, subordinate to God, whatever that is. The language is a mess here, and I'm open to revision, but it seems to me that I will continue to refer, as necessary, to God, but not so much to god, or gods, and if I do, I'll try to name them. The Goddess, though, deserves a place of honor here, and warrants capitalization. That's my kind of affirmative action. I've been remiss; distracted by the Winter: this page should long since have been dedicated to Her. I do so now, in this, Her season. As for Her myriad specific faces, if one should turn to me, I'll try to get a picture.

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March 21, 2000

Verging Vernal

This is the first day of Spring. A day that I await, and even run to meet. I was ahead of schedule, but I couldn't take today off, so it was on the last day of Winter that I celebrated Spring. The Equinox, really; I hope to celebrate Spring for weeks to come. On the days when light and dark are equal, I arrive in the Park at sunrise, and remain until sunset, observing twelve hours of light, though not of dark. Actually, there is more light than dark. I'd need another ninety minutes to account for first light before dawn, and the lingering glow of sundown. I want them too, but twelve hours is really too long for any one to be out, wandering on foot, without food, in chill weather. It seems I've found a new ascesis, plying the edge between celebration and obligation. I did feel obligated to stay. I could have left with Mike and Linda, whose appearance burnished the afternoon. I could have left at any time, but I had a commitment to honor.

This incipient ritual began last year on the Autumnal Equinox. I'd only recently taken up birding, and was pushing myself to get out early, while there were still some migrants about. As it happened, I arrived just at dawn, only realizing the implications over the course of the day, finally deciding to stay throughout. It seemed a wholly appropriate gesture to the occasion; the more so in that it was not planned. When you do just the right thing, without even trying, you're truly on the path.

This time inspiration turned to observation. My conscientiousness compounded the spiritual gravity of the event, creating an etheric stress. Not that I didn't have a good day, but it was a long one, cold in the morning, and tiring by evening. Like many an early rising flower, I might have been nipped in the bud. Happily, there was sustenance to look forward to, and good company, at a festive dinner with DMTree and friends. I was ravenous, which is not the same as eating like a bird. (No ravens in the Park, lots of crows, though.) With wine and good cheer, we ushered out the old season, and welcomed the new.

It was back to work this morning, and I've still got a sleep debt. A sweet one to repay, if I could only find the time. Longer days mean less sleep, but these things will have their own way, with or without me. If this one day is balanced between light and dark, the whole year will find balance over its course. To keep our own, we must maintain perspective at a given point in time.

Well, I just wanted a post with this date. There's more to say, but I can't muster it just now. Spring is here, and that is enough.


March 17, 2000

Saint Patrick's Day

Saint Patrickís Day is come, wielding the color green. Itís a significant holiday in the Arboretum. Falling close to the first day of Spring, it provides a focal point for local concerns. It is the Celtic Holiday.

Though thoroughly American, I pretend to Scottish heritage (Patrick was born in Scotland). I have always recognized a kinship with the other Gaels. Mostly I learned it through their music, which Iíve listened to since childhood. Even then it evinced in me a deep nostalgia. The definition of nostalgia is ďhomesicknessĒ; a longing, not so much for the past, as for our point of origin: the source from whence we issue. As such, it is the preeminent Gnostic emotion, and it is articulated by means of Tradition.

Is emotion the right word for what Nostalgia is? You might phrase it a sentiment, though thatís not quite right either. Saint Patrickís Day abounds in sentiment. Never mind the drunken rout; inebriation only makes us more sentimental. After the fight, anyway. Thereís more than one tradition.

The Tradition continues. Celticism is enjoying a vogue of late. I wonít disparage here the commercial excesses, for they reveal the vitality of our desire for reconciliation with our heritage. Iím pleased to see people approach the Western Mysteries from any direction, for Mystery teaches its own wisdom, correcting the initiateís intent. Let many achieve it, even though they enter at a vulgar gate.

Heritage is History, and central to this particular history is the English language. Diversity aside, it's English that allows us to trace our history back further than the colonial era. The British Isles are the closest America can come to a common Ancestral Home. Identity politics may fairly critique this notion, but all who speak the language are tied to its history in myriad ways, conscious and subliminal. A people cannot do without a History; the arena in which Tradition is deployed.

It is this sense of loss that that lends Nostalgia its characteristic Melancholy. Here we are approaching the sentimental tenor of Saint Patrick's Day: a drunken cheer that cannot fully mask a sweetly melancholic longing. Neither could the Saint's conversion mask his heritage: the famous Breastplate of Patrick is clearly a Christianized reworking of an ancient Celtic prayer (or charm) form.

Another major form of Celtic literature is the Triad. The corpus of their law and wisdom was embodied in these tripartite verses. Itís said that the Celts couldnít grasp the concept of the Christian Trinity, until Patrick had recourse to the shamrock, showing how a triple thing also could be single. More likely, the legend derives from the Celtís deep cultural affinity for trinity, which Patrick shared.

To honor then his Holiday, let me employ the form, and so engage Tradition. For I begin to see something worthwhile, and fit to be so rendered. Moreover, I thus structure my regard for the incoming season, and give myself something to expand upon as it develops.
Here then, my Triad:

Three faces of Spring:
Saint Patrickís for the past time;
Easter for the future;
May Day for the moment.

More on this later, but today, wear, or better yet, do, something green. Sure, and get Home safely, wherever that may be.

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March 13, 2000

In Transition

Maybe I should have taken Lent more seriously. Now Iíve got hardship enforced upon me. After a week of warming weather, Saturday served reminder of Winterís tenacity, as March honored its reputation with gusts of cold and wet. Iíve extolled this Winterís adherence to type, in the face of the global warming trend, but now I recall fondly last yearís milder season, and the drought that followed. It took me a while to realize that the lack of rain was a chronic problem, not my good fortune. Week after week of mild, dry weather allowed for a prolonged and lazy Spring, with flowers lingering long on branches that would have been shorn by the normal storms.

This year, I missed, maybe by an hour, the best of the flowering of the Red Maple in the Meadow. An early drizzle soaked the blossoms, degrading their spherical exuberance. I took a few feeble pictures, in the damp gray light, but it was clear that the tree, despite its best efforts, would not match last yearís performance. Many bud bearing twigs were lost in the glaze storm, and more were eaten by squirrels. Snow cover means less food on the ground, so the rodents look to the skies for sustenance.

I looked to the skies, and found mostly cold rain. Nevertheless, down the slope from the Maple, where the Willows give a little shelter, there is a spot where Spring is incubating. Not much to see, really, just a bit of stream, backing up in a tangle of briars and decrepit Willow, but feeding early grasses, green even now, with a green thatís spreading. It creeps back into twigs, like warmth into fingers held before the sunís fire.

Nearby, high atop a Cottonwood, big, coarse, green buds are burgeoning. As in the related Willow, the sap rises early in this big Poplar.

Around the Pool, other Red Maples were picking up the slack, with plenty of blooms. From certain distant angles they coalesced into red clouds, that merged into Willow yellow and Elm-flower green. These colored hazes have begun to blur the vacuous scaffolding of Winter. I still hope to see the sun set them alight, but Sunday was much like Saturday, if a little drier. To top it off, I lost a dayís photos in a downloading glitch. Not that there was much that could be recorded, subtle in the dim light. In despite, these things lead me into hope. Spring is poised to arrive, on a fair day, or a foul one. Either way, Iíll meet you there.

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