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Birthday Flowers

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My mother, Emily, in her prime

 

Today is my mother’s birthday.  She would have been 99.  No one in our family has lived to such an age; it’s apparently not in our genetic code.

If church were meeting, I would be bringing flowers this week.  The last job my mother had was as church secretary for her Unitarian church.  Among her duties was bringing flowers if no one had signed up to do so.  And so I honor her with flowers.

 

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This year, not needing a large bouquet, I picked a few from my garden.  Snapdragons don’t last long as cut flowers, but they offer a cheerful mix of colors, appropriate to the Easter season.

An Easter Story

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Lee Van Ham’s new book, “The Liberating Birth of Jesus” came out in late fall.  The timing and the title might lead one to expect that it’s a story of Christmas.  It’s not, though there’s mention of how our culture crowds out the full meaning of Jesus’ birth.

It’s an Easter story.  Specifically, it’s about two Easter people, whom we know as Matthew and Luke, who wrote for Easter people, to help preserve for future generations the mind-blowing experience of encountering Jesus.

Why do we have these two birth narratives in the gospels of Matthew and Luke?  Because each writer is using different but complementary ways of making the case that the Jesus whom the early Christians encountered brought them to a new consciousness, a new creation.

Van Ham works through all the pieces of the story, the magi from afar, the shepherds close by, genealogy and dreams and angels, showing how they point to the arrival of a new creation.  For us today, this new way of seeing can lead us to living radical creation-centered lives.

Christmas as we know it came in with government-sanctioned Christianity in the fourth century of our era.  Over and over, the Easter message has been co-opted by human institutions.  Over and over, prophets arise to bring us back to the main point: the energy of Easter that is a new beginning.

“The Liberating Birth of Jesus” is a short but solid book that would make a good group study.  I highly recommend it.

Spring Photos

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Many plants are blooming now.  There are still poppies.poppies10230I expect this area to have more poppies next year.  The seeds have no place to go now that the plants have reached the wall.

pink10229This plant, whose name I cannot remember although I bought it, has dutifully bloomed all winter, but not so energetically as it is doing now.

Apache Plume0236The apache plume has begun to come out.  It’s named for its feathery seed heads, but the white flowers are much more visible.

Most of my gardening is in the back yard, where no one but me has much chance to see it, but this indian hawthorn that came with the house puts on a show for a brief time in spring.Front bush10233

And for an extra touch in the front yard I took the palm branch (it’s plastic) which was delivered from church with other materials to use for worship in holy week, and tied it to my front gate.palm0234

It blows nicely in the wind, but it may not be fit to return for reuse next year.

GUMO?

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In the National Park Service shop I was puzzled by black tee shirts with GUMO in large letters on the front.  Goo-moh?  How was I supposed to know it should be pronounced Gwa-moh?  It took me a moment or two to make the translation.  The Park Service’s standard use of two letters of two words coding for the parks does not work when U is functioning as a consonant.  I was at the Guadalupe Mountains National Park.Peak0219

 

The park was crowded.  The clerk said it was spring break, but I saw many older couples too.  The date was March 9, just before the reality of the coronavirus epidemic hit us all.  That morning in the busy little shop will remain my “before” image; so much we did not know.

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Fortunately, our national monuments, landscapes and parks will be here to come back to.  This park has one unusual historical landmark, the remains of buildings from a stop on the Butterfield Stage Route.

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The Butterfield mail route ran through these mountains from 1851 to 1859, when a safer route was chosen.  Then in 1861 the Civil War interrupted it.  For a business that only lasted ten years, the Butterfield Stage has a big place in southwestern lore.  Since they needed to change horses every twenty miles there are many ruins across the southwest, but few are as easy to get to as this one.

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North of Pecos, Texas

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Coming home from a conference in San Antonio I decided to take an alternate route and headed north from Fort Stockton on U.S. 285.  It’s a road under reconstruction.  I found out why as I travelled north from Pecos.  There was activity on both sides of the road, apparently many companies making a play for some part of the oil fields below.  It is hard to describe, and couldn’t be photographed from the road, it would require an aerial view.

Flat landscape flattened,
scraped, large rectangles
of sand, a small
building or a few trucks
on each.  Construction
that is destruction
of a delicate ecosystem.

It must be an unpleasant place to work when wind stirs up the sand. And it must be a discouraging place to work now that the demand for fuel has gone down.  That’s another story.

If I had continued north toward Carlsbad I would have seen the same thing in New Mexico; the road runs above the Delaware section of the Permian basin.  Fortunately for me I turned off US 285 toward the Guadalupe Mountains, where I soon had desert bushes on both sides of the road, though there were several signs warning of pipe line construction.  It had been forty long miles of landscape damaged to feed our human world’s need for fossil fuels.

Spring Is Here

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The first poppy has appeared in my back yard.

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February Snow Times 2

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Snow is a rare thing here, although we often see it up on the mountain.  Even more unusual, this year we’ve had two snows in two weeks.

P1010199The first made a lovely covering, for the short time it lasted.  Here is the view through my study window.P1010203

The second week’s snow was a heavy wet one, giving a different effect.  It even covered the bonsai that sits at the edge of my patio.P1010205

 

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I wrote this poem for a friend who used snow falling as a symbol of depression.  That seems unlikely in the desert southwest.

February Morning
for John

He tells me snow
is a product of the air’s
despair.  Perhaps

he’s right: seedheads
of the tall grass are weighed
down, shawled in white.

But each twig on the tree
is highlighted, while the earth
sleeps cozy under its blanket

and every thirsty plant
will drink the melt; the birds
can feed again.

 

I think we’ve had our winter.  Spring winds should be here soon.

 

Twyla Tharp Is My New Guru

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scan0001Last fall the News Hour had an interview with Twyla Tharp celebrating her new book, Keep It Moving.  Its subject is the importance of keeping yourself moving as you age. When I went to order it I discovered that she also has done a book called The .Creative Habit: Learn it and Use It for Life. I go for creative coaching books, so I ordered that one too.

They both looked so good that I read them simultaneously, a chapter in this one, then a chapter in the other.  Each book has twelve chapters.  Each book has exercises accompanied by episodes from Tharp’s career.  Keep It Moving is nicely organized, with one exercise per chapter.  The Creative Habit has thirty-two exercises, more about focus and mental preparation than the physical.

The television interview showed repeated images of Tharp exercising, with an energy and agility far beyond what most of us near her age can even think about.  Fortunately, the exercises in the book are not that drastic.  She includes jumps and endurance pieces, but it’s clear that what matters is to, as the title says, “Keep it moving.”

The first exercise is a particularly intriguing one.  She calls it “Take Up Space.”  Don’t start shrinking may be what she means, but she avoids the negative.  Stride when you walk.  Spread out your papers on the table if you’re at a meeting.  Is this real exercise?  Maybe not, but it’s a great opener.

Another is “Mark your day.”  She describes dancers waiting for the subway.  They keep moving though in small space, doing the movements of their dance with restraint but in real time.  Her challenge for the reader is to not separate “work” and “exercise” as you move throughout the day.  She writes: “Thinking of computer or desk work as one job and then exercise as another seems to me like holding two halves of a card deck in separate hands.”  Those cards need to be shuffled.

My favorite of the exercises I have so far put into my routine is “Squirm.” Like a worm, she says.  Starting with the torso she gives a sequence for moving, stretching, curling and arching, covering the whole body, and all of it to be done before getting out of bed in the morning and having to deal with gravity.

That’s only three of the recommendations in this elegant, short book.  But it’s time for me to leave the computer and get moving again.

On the Fifth Day of Christmas

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I brought some new color into my house in the form of two poinsettia plants left over at church.

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However, these two cream-colored plants are not the interesting story here.  It’s the plant in the middle that is most surprising to me.  At this time last year it was a typical red poinsettia.  The surprise is that it has continued in good health for a full year; I’ve had to trim it back a little once in a while.  In the past, I’ve been pleased if my Christmas poinsettia lasted until Easter.

I don’t know why this one lasted, but I hope it is partly that I paid more attention.  I have only this year made it a habit to check my houseplants every morning.  It has become part of my routine, while my morning tea is steeping, so I don’t forget and let them go dry.

Will I remember to report back on how the new plants do?

Happy second half of Christmas and I wish all a good new year.

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A Tanka for the Solstice

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The shortest day here has ten hours of sun, making eleven hours of daylight.

At my house the sun comes up over the mountain at 7:20 a.m., nearly fifteen minutes after the official sunrise for the city.  There is still light at 5:00 p.m.  This is a nice place to spend the winter, though it has been a bit cold lately; any day the morning temperature goes below freezing feels cold to us.

On good days I am at my desk before the sun shows up.  I watch the increasing light on my back yard tree and bushes.  Here’s what I see:

Signals on stone, light
through gaps between branches as
sun clears the mountain,
friendly wave of a morning
walker not breaking his stride.

What else do I do to honor the solstice?  I close out my summer/fall writing folder and start one for winter/spring.

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