To the extent that each person can feel like a naturalist, the old excitement of the untrammeled world will be regained. I offer this as a formula of re-enchantment to invigorate poetry and myth: mysterious and little know organisms live within walking distance of where you sit.
Splendor awaits in minute proportions. -
E.O. Wilson

For Further Reflection

For Week of August 15th - Circle of Breath/Sense of Smell

Sight, Sound, Taste.  Now we turn to the sense of smell.  As we move toward closing the circle of this week and prepare to return to our circles on the land this Sunday, you might prepare yourself and/or your children by doing this week's activity posted to the right.  In addition you might enjoy reading this excerpt from a larger, downloadable PDF " The Smell Report".   It is fascinating to see how in western culture we have neglected our sense of smell!

Lord, the air smells good...
by Rumi
Lord, the air smells good today,
straight from the mysteries
within the inner courts of God.
A grace like new clothes thrown
across the garden, free medecine for everybody.
The trees in their prayer, the birds in praise,
the first blue violets kneeling.
Whatever came from Being is caught up in being, drunkenly
forgetting the way back.

by Ruth L. Schwartz

It was a flower once, it was one of a billion flowers
whose perfume broke through closed car windows,
forced a blessing on their drivers.
Then what stayed behind grew swollen, as we do;
grew juice instead of tears, and small hard sour seeds,
each one bitter, as we are, and filled with possibility.
Now a hole opens up in its skin, where it was torn from the
branch; ripeness can’t stop itself, breathes out;
we can’t stop it either. We breathe in.

From Dear Good Naked Morning , Autumn House Press, 2005. First printed in Crab Orchard Review, Vol. 8, No. 2.

For Week of August 8 - Blackberries and the Circle of Life

Blackberry Eating by Galway Kinnell
I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths or squinched,
many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry -- eating in late September.

Many Have Written Poems About Blackberries by Stephanie Bolster

But few have gotten at the multiplicity of them, how each berry
composes itself of many dark notes, spherical,
swollen, fragile as a world. A blackberry is the colour of a painful
bruise on the upper arm, some internal organ
as yet unnamed. It is shaped to fit
the tip of the tongue, to be a thimble, or a dunce cap
for a small mouse. Sometimes it is home to a secret green worm
seeking safety and the power of surprise. Sometimes it plunks
into a river and takes on water.
Fishes nibble it.

The bushes themselves ramble like a grandmother's sentences,
giving birth to their own sharpness.

Picking blackberries must be a tactful conversation
of gloved hands. Otherwise your fingers will bleed
the berries' purple tongue; otherwise the thorns
will pierce your own blank skin. Best to be on the safe side,
the outside of the bush. Inside might lurk
nests of yellowjackets; rabid bats; other,
larger hands on the same search.

The flavour is its own reward, like kissing the whole world
at once, rivers, willows, bugs and all, until your swollen
lips tingle. It's like waking up
to discover the language you used to speak
is gibberish, and you have never really
loved. But this does not matter because you have
married this fruit, mellifluous, brutal, and ripe.

Blackberries by Karl Kirchwey
Words crushed on the palate end in silence
every time, not in the palaver of song.
You cannot fill your basket with what is merely visible,
grapeshot of onyx, gleaming confected dark,
for here neglect has grown complex and fertile,
in this tangled fane, this daggered understory,
and to pluck the sinister fruit, you must angle in
on a reach with your left arm, neither too shallow
not too steep, one from which you can recover,
then bear down gently until you feel the parting
of flesh from hollow stem in a place you cannot see.
Your own reflex will always guide you wrong,
your whole hand driven backward onto the thorn,
returned to sunlight with a wounding cursive,
your blood mingling with the pulp of the drupe.
Read what is written there. Discovering
there are seeds between your teeth, speak that language.

For Week of August 1 - On Hearing
If you get intrigued with the idea of "singing" or making music with nature, you might enjoy the book (with recordings) Thousand Mile Song by philosopher and musician David Rothenberg (it is available at the Howe Library). Rothenberg has actually attempted to "play"jazz with whales!

Another book I recommend is: One Square Inch of Silence: One Man's Search for Natural Silence in a Noisy World by Gordon Hempton. Also, you should check out the One Square Inch website.

 For Week of July 25 - On Seeing
This week we focused on seeing in new ways and in more detail.  One of the easiest ways that we can reconnect ourselves to nature is to see the amazing diversity of forms, colors, and life that are "hidden" right before our eyes.

I wanted to offer you some other ways to think about seeing.  So here a few recommendations:

If you haven't seen the film Avatar, I recommend it to you.  New York Times science writer, Carol Kaesuk Yoon says in her essay, "Luminous 3-D Jungle is a Biologists Dream", that in Pandora, the world of the Avatars, film director James Cameron, "has recreated what is the heart of biology: the naked, heart-stopping wonder of really seeing the living world."  The imaginary world of Pandora with all its wonderful detail could only have been created by really "seeing" the natural world here on Earth. 

For another, very different experience of observation of detail, I commend to you Terry Tempest William's most recent book, Finding Beauty in a Broken World,  which weaves together the making of mosaics, the genocides in Rwanda, and the threatened state of the prairie dog.  The first half of this books is an homage to the art of observation.  Feeling called to truly know this small endangered species up close and personal, Williams volunteered to work for two weeks in 2004 with a research biologist and his team in Bryce Canyon National Park observing a colony of prairie dogs.  Sitting in a small plywood observation box fourteen feet off the ground for fourteen hours a day, with occasional stints of handling prairie dogs as they are marked with paint for identifying them, the book records William's hour-by-hour  observations of the outer ecology of the prairie dog colony and, simultaneously, the inner ecology of her personal reflection on the brokenness of the world.

Thirdly, yours eyes and your heart will be opened by Scott Russell Sanders' essay, "The Mind in the Forest" in which he explores what very old trees can teach us.  This essay is an ode to observation of the religious kind.  Don't miss it.

And lastly,  below  are some brief  "Lessons on Seeing"  adapted from a list by Tom Brown, Jr., a naturalist, wilderness tracker, and the author of a series of field guides.  Brown attributes his tracking  skills and his spiritual philosophy to the teachings of a Lipan Apache elder named Stalking Wolf, who instructed Brown during his childhood.

1. Break the habit of looking at the same things over and over again. Instead, force your eyes to look at new things… or look at familiar things as if you hadn't seen them before.
2. Break habits, don't follow the same old paths. We see few animals because they aren't: a) on or near our habitual paths, b) in our habitual fields of vision, or because c) they are on or near an object we deem familiar.
3. Get a new viewpoint. Pretend your are an ant!
4. Avoid constant tunnel vision. Even if you are "speed" hiking, you can look up, down, and sideways. Go places you wouldn't normally go.
5. Use wide angle vision to notice movement, vibrating vegetation. Switch often from tunnel vision to wide angle vision.
6. Get a closer look, imagine you are 2 inches tall and you'll discover a jungle of life!
7. Frame your vision like a camera. Curl up your index finger and look through the hole. This cuts out periphery and allows you to concentrate on whatever you are seeing.
8. Use a magnifying glass.
9. Use binoculars.

Hopefully, you are beginning to "see" that this summer worship series is not simply about going out into nature, but rather about making ourselves available to what the natural world can teach us about the central religious questions:  Who am I?  Where am I in space and time?  Why am I here?  I hope you will post comments on how you are connecting the dots! 

If you are on the road or couldn't join us today, the entire lesson is posted on the main blog page, just scroll down until you see "On Seeing".   Everyone had a lot of fun and found these activities "eye-opening"; so I hope you will give them a try sometime this week wherever you are.

 "The question is not what you look at, but what you see." - Henry David Thoreau

 The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion - all in one.  - John Ruskin

I am a part of all that I have seen. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level  with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.  - Henry David Thoreau

 To be shaken out of the ruts of ordinary perception, to be shown for a few timeless hours the outer and the inner world, not as they appear to an animal obsessed with words and notions, but as they are apprehended, directly and unconditionally, by Mind at Large – this is an experience of inestimable value to everyone. -   Aldous Huxley 

In oneself lies the whole world and if you know how to look and learn, then the door is there and the key is in your hand.  Nobody on earth can give you either the key or the door to open, except yourself. 
          J. Krishnamurti

You can never have the use of the inside of a cup without the outside.  The inside and the outside go together.  They're one.  - Alan Watts

For the Weeks of July 11-25 - The Importance of Place

"Over time I have come to think of these three qualities -- paying intimate attention; a storied relationship to a place rather than a solely sensory awareness of it; and living in some sort of ethical unity with a place -- as a fundamental human defense against loneliness. If you're intimate with a place, a place with whose history you're familiar, and you establish an ethical conversation with it, the implication that follows is this: the place knows you're there. It feels you. You will not be forgotten, cut off, abandoned . . . The key, I think, is to become vulnerable to a place. If you open yourself up, you can build intimacy. Out of such intimacy may come a sense of belonging, a sense of not being isolated in the universe."          Barry Lopez  (see link to entire essay by Lopez below)

"The most important thing to teach your children is that the sun does not rise and set. It is the earth that revolves around the sun. Then teach them the concepts of North, South, East, and West, and that they relate to where they happen to be on the planet's surface at that time. Everything else will follow." Buckminster Fuller

"Any landscape is composed not only of what lies before our eyes
 but what lies within our heads."  D.W. Meinig

"You can't know who you are
until you know where you are.
Wendell Berry

Dr. Thomas A. Woods, President of Making Sense of Place, Inc., provides a lovely, textured definition of Sense of Place and its importance to us:
People develop a "sense of place" through experience and knowledge of a particular area. A sense of place emerges through knowledge of the history, geography and geology of an area, its flora and fauna, the legends of a place, and a growing sense of the land and its history after living there for a time.

The feel of the sun on your face or the rain on your back, the rough and smooth textures of the land, the color of the sky at morning and sunset, the fragrance of the plants blooming in season, the songs and antics of birds and the cautious ramblings of mammals are environmental influences that help to define a place. Memories of personal and cultural experiences over time make a place special, favorite objects that shape to your hand or body with use, songs or dances that emerge from the people of a place, special skills you develop to enjoy your area--these too help to define a place and anchor you in it. Through time, shared experiences and stories (history) help to connect place and people and to transmit feelings of place from generation to generation

 A Literature of Place by Barry Lopez.  I highly recommend this essay as grounding for this series of explorations into Spirit and Nature.

A Walk in the Woods: Right or Privilege? by Richard Louv raises interesting thoughts about ethics and our children's spiritual development.

"If we want children to flourish, says educator David Sobel, we need to give them time to connect with nature and love the Earth before we ask them to save it."  If you have children in your lives, I hope you will read this article from Yes! Magazine: Beyond Ecophobia.