Home

In today’s “you are now free to roam about the country” transportation availability, “home” isn’t what it used to be. It’s so easy to move, to go, to leave and come back. And I love to travel, I appreciate how easy it is to see the world. But in response to all the songs and sayings “home is wherever I’m with you”, or “home isn’t a place, it’s a person”, etc., etc., I would say that while I agree in part with that sentiment (because home isn’t home without the ones you love), home is most certainly a place, and at the very least it’s an attitude that you bring into the place that you live to make it JOYFULLY liveable. It’s so easy to see all these beautiful places in other states or countries and look back at where you came from and begin to despise it in comparison (GUILTY ✋🏼). But the places we live are a part of ourselves, something of them becomes something in us. The ease with which we move from one place to another these days is amazing, but I think it can be sad, too. It seems to me important to know a place, to know its earth and how it grows and the changes it goes through season by season. I think losing that knowledge is not good for us. These places need our protection just as much as the true wilds do.

There are so many individuals in my life and even here on this little app that encourage me as they go back to an appreciation of making a home in the place that they live, and in loving that place, not just their private house, but the land itself, the community. How huge, how important, how necessary in a world that forgot for a little while that this good earth we live in is a gift, and that we are a part of it, called to care for it. I am burdened with wanting to be better, and be so full of gratitude that it shines out from everything I touch, say, and do.

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Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey

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“How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee, O sylvan Wye! Thou wanderer thro’ the woods, how often has my spirit turned to thee!”

One of my favourite memories from my travels is the time nearly four years ago that we sat on a dry ledge in the ruins of Tintern Abbey, and while the rain fell softly around us as it had all morning, we read aloud William Wordsworth’s ‘Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey.’ I had hand-copied it into my notebook before we left the States, not knowing at the time that we’d end up getting to see the place itself. Now I am convinced that there is no better way to see that quiet place than during a gentle, steady summer rain. Because of the rain there weren’t many others wandering the sandstone-strewn grounds, and the stillness was comfortable. The tree-covered hillsides and green fields were shrouded in a mist, and the swollen river Wye was almost silent in its rush. Black-and-white cows were grazing in the field by the Abbey, unconcerned and pastoral. I look back on that morning and think days like that are why we travel. For the quiet in places where the ghosts of peace and folly watch, just out of sight, their soft voices pricking along the back of your neck. For the hours spent in empty village pubs while the rain falls on outside, and we sit warm inside wooden walls over wooden floors in wooden chairs at wooden tables. For those big, hot pub meals washed down with pints of local cider (there is no better fuel for backpackers, in my opinion).
We travel even for those times when you leave the trail, get lost in the rain, twist your ankle on a muddy forest slope, run your arm through stinging nettle, maybe cry just a little bit, break some stuff by accident, get a long description of a nearby field where flowers grow from a passing driver who we really just want directions from, and for that moment of despair when we eventually have to stop at a lovely cottage in the hills to try for better luck than we had with the driver. But most especially we travel for the moments when instead of directions we are given a ride back to our own cottage, soaking wet and mud-splattered as we are, climbing into the back seat of a lovely woman’s clean car as she laughs and tells us stories about when she hitchhiked as a teenager.
We travel for that pleasant walk the last mile down a little wooded lane along the river, arriving at a clean, white Prospect Cottage as the evening deepens to find worried hosts who then set our boots to dry by the fire and serve us a basket of handmade toast…
Like Wordsworth, we composed our own lines a few miles above Tintern Abbey that day. Ours weren’t written on paper, rather they were written on our feet and in our souls, bleeding into every part of us like ink on paper. And like Wordsworth who, coming back to places he once knew, could say that despite long absence those “beauteous forms” had not been to him “as is a landscape to a blind man’s eye”, but instead he owed to them, amidst the “din of towns and cities”, “sensations sweet”, a “tranquil restoration” – like him, we walk those lines we wrote again and again in our “hours of weariness” and they have become for us “life and food for future years”.
“I am a part of all that I have met”, said another poet some years after Wordsworth. I feel that Tennyson was right – that all lands and all places and people we encounter, however briefly, stay with us and become a part of what makes us who we are. The memories in my ears and on my skin of sitting in our room in that white cottage have shaped a part of me, and while I agree that experience is an arch, I would argue that not only does the untravelled world gleam there through – So does the travelled world. And that can make us as strong in will “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield” as any visions of the unknown world “whose margin fades” forever whenever we move.
In fact, I would disagree with Ulysses and argue that we are made stronger in defending the little good we’ve known than in striving for the great adventures we haven’t yet known.
I would argue, too, that there is more of value and more to be learned from the “little lines of sportive wood run wild”, and in the “wreaths of smoke sent up, in silence, from among the trees” than can be learned in the “cities of men and manners, climates, councils, governments”. What does it profit a man to “sail beyond the sunset” except to say that he has done so? There is greater worth in Wordsworth’s “little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love”.

“For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say “Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear and do it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?” But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your hearts, that you may do it.” – Deut. 30:11-14

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~deep roots are not reached by the frost~

To Readers and Writers

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To read, to watch movies, to play games, to enjoy fantasy at all is often viewed as a means of escape from reality. But I have found that though these things can become that, they are most powerful when we take from them what matters and make them a part of our reality instead. Every story that moves me is a lesson – another pebble in the metaphorical bowl, stacking up one after the other until habits are formed. The good stories teach me NOT how to run away and hide, NOT how to pretend this world doesn’t exist, NOT how to escape the reality that confronts me daily. Rather they teach me how to survive. How to thrive in THIS reality. How to live a life infused with Beauty, borne up by Hope; strengthened, armed, encouraged. There are books and movies and games out there that would urge us into darkness, into forgetfulness, into thinking “Well, this is the way it is and that’s it.” But that’s not it. That’s never it. There is always something we can do to make it better, to clear away the smog and reveal the Beauty behind all the nasty things we make that obscure It.

If you’re a reader, read the authors that have tried to do just that. Read the ones with a heart for making things beautiful, not the ones who can’t see past the smog. Read the authors who know that there is “light and high beauty” forever beyond the reach of darkness.

And if you’re a writer, make us see it. Remind us of more. There is power in a pen, and for those blessed by the gift of words, you owe it to your world to do more than wallow in anger, self-pity, hatred, darkness, or bitterness. We know about all of that. We’re all from here. Show us better things.

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~deep roots are not reached by the frost~

Every Tree That is Pleasant to the Sight

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Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire, UK

There is something so incredible about the shapes of trees, about trees themselves. Their music is haunting; their voices call like memories and visions, shifting like the dappled sunlight through the breeze-stirred canopy.
The Tree in the Garden, would it not be more alluring in every way than even all the trees on earth now put together? Desire said ‘take and eat!’ Did not the Creator give us desire? But we were made to know Word apart from instinct. The Word of HaShem is greater than our thoughts. Desire unchecked by the Word is a felled tree: still beautiful in shape and form, but empty of life, dangerous, purposeless, doomed to decay.
C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra explores this concept of the Fall – it is not the fruit, but the act of choosing our own inner promptings above the direct Word of the Great One – By this were we, are we, undone.

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Keystone Canyon, Valdez, Alaska
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Johnston Canyon, Banff, Canada
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Moraine Lake, Banff, Canada
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Above Lake Louise, Banff, Canada
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Glencoe, Scotland

~deep roots are not reached by the frost~

Good and Terrible

Re-reading old writings and glad to be unchanged where it matters:

“People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time.” – C.S. Lewis
I firmly and wholeheartedly cling to the belief that there is much in this world that is both good and terrible, and that those things are the best things. I believe the One who made all is both eternally Good and terrible to behold. Those things that can reflect that – though dimly, faintly, imperfectly – are the things that can teach us the greatest lessons about our Creator. Trials and tribulations, mountainsides and the sea…
I think one needs a sense of history to see this; you must be able to live in the present while being fully aware of all that has come before (and with a certain sense of awaiting, hoping, for something greater). You need a sense of wonder, an awe of the world that no shadow can touch. In fact, one needs the sort of imagination and vision that can see beauty despite fear, a sight that takes in the raging storm and sees beyond it. We have to have a heart that understands that there are things we cannot grasp, and moments in time that cannot be explained, only taken as they come. And then we breathe.
And we must have the courage to “stand, if only on one leg, or at least be left still upon our knees.” We must be always prepared to see light, and to “follow the Light unflinchingly”, letting no fear or weariness turn us from THAT.
We need to have visited Narnia, to have wept at the breaking of the Stone Table when the Old Magic came into play. We need to have stood upon the high walls of Minas Tirith under siege, and have felt the ground shake at the Black Gates as the towers of Barad-dûr crumbled and Orodruin erupted. We need to have witnessed the death on the Tree, the earth quake, and the sky grow dark, and we need to have known the emptiness of the abandoned tomb.
We need to remember that in the midst of despair there is hope, and that things can be good and terrible at the same time.

(Written in the Portland, OR airport, waiting alone to board my flight home after a long weekend in November 2014)

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The stars above the Ouchita mountains in Arkansas on a cold February night

~deep roots are not reached by the frost~

Transitions

 

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There is a whole secret world that we know so little about. A world inhabited by the makers of faint trails underneath old fences, the world of the wayfarers on the crossroads between one field and not-the-field. A world carried out under the eyes of moon and stars, when the nightbirds sing their knowing songs and we lie awake and listen to them echo old things. A world where the wind rustling in the grasses is not alone.

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Surroundings

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Old Kinfolk issues before bed

What we choose to surround ourselves with can make or break us.

It’s safe to say that so much of our reactions, our decisions, our facial expressions even, come from the places in our minds where we dwell most often; the places we dwell inside when we’re sitting quietly with no pressing thought at hand. Those “dwelling places” are influenced by our surroundings – just as the sun or grey skies have different effects upon each of us, the things we live amongst, the walls that protect us, and what we adorn those walls with all have a powerful part to play in influencing our direction.

 
William Morris’ opinion was that anything useful should also be beautiful, and that our homes should house nothing inside them that is not useful or beautiful to the dwellers therein. I have found that there is something wonderful in carefully choosing what you keep in your living spaces. Choosing so that with each useful or beautiful thing there is a connection beyond utility fosters, not materialism, but rather gratitude, and a sense of perpetual wonder – the ability to be endlessly delighted. Like C.S. Lewis’ “secret thread”, every item in your home should have a place in the lineup of your own secret thread – that deeply buried, ever-present string that connects everything that moves and motivates you to each other. Instead of obsessing over appearance, name, cost, or striving for more and more and more, there is quiet peace. Enough, even if little. There is nothing to obsess over when everything has its spot on that thread – why bother with anything else?

We must keep alive that sense of discovery, the wonder that comes with stumbling across a new piece, another bead sliding onto the string as it falls into your lap. Instead of dissatisfaction with what we have (or have not), there is a feeling of wholeness. When everything around you is lovely and meaningful, then when you stand in the midst of your spider’s web of connecting things, you know: We are blessed by the far-off breezes of another world, a place where the secret thread becomes visible.

 
And our minds should turn there, after all. Not to things in and of themselves but to the place they take us when we tug on the string. Because it’s not the things. The world outside our walls, our cities, our busy streets – the mountains and the forests and the seas and the stars – these will take us There much quicker, and more near to the Source than anything we can buy.

 
Until the grey rain-curtain is turned to silver-glass and rolls away we will be moved by some things we can’t see and don’t understand. Will we turn away from the tug of that thread and chase things that forget? Or follow the beads on the string back to that far green country, and to the Light waiting there.

~Deep roots are not reached by the frost~