Sunday, April 27, 2008

What the Shutter Can't Possibly Capture

It should be illegal to photograph a stream. Remnant in the photo is simply the image of water. It could be a rain-filled pothole in the street for all we know. It could be a backed up storm sewer or a mosquito puddle collected in a low place in the yard. Streams, after all, have movement, and sound. Streams are ever changing -- a leaf carried here; a bug landing there; a pebble pushed along the sandy bottom. Who would know from the photograph that any of these wonders is true? Who would be able to follow the course of it all over the rocks and down the valley to some presumed river further along? Who would be able to hum along with the gurgles and the rhythmic splashes as the currents traveled and then spilled and ultimately regrouped below for the next tumbling round? Streams are constantly moving, constantly changing, and a photo imposes an artificial frame and then freezes it, as though it finally represented anything.

But then everything is moving. A bowl of fruit captured as still life is similarly transient, albeit invisible to the naked eye. It doesn't dribble and splash and mist and run, but it mushes and wrinkles and rots and ultimately falls in upon itself. The autumn pumpkins that decorated our front steps that still robustly color the photos we took are now flattened and browned by the snowy winter and caved in and over onto the flowerbed below. Still life, indeed. And that portrait of our wedding a scant 10 years ago -- who are those two? If they are the same ones who today occupy the house where their mail is delivered one could hardly claim they have stayed "the same." Everything is moving.

Which is perhaps to say if we intend to go on taking pictures -- and in truth I could hardly give it up -- we would do well to discern behind the photographic image...
...the running trickle
...the gurgling chatter
...the inexhorably moving force which is the very pulse of life --
implicitly and woefully inadequately represented there.

Which is to say that photos must be viewed more with the soul than with the eyes. In fact, it wouldn't hurt to view most things that way -- whether we get around to taking their picture or not.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Freeway Marring the View

The dogwood tree shades the entrance to the prayer trail that meanders down the hillside toward the stream. This time of year the high dogwood blossoms splay like a solar panel collage, separate but connected, gathering in the warmth and the light. Beneath them, the woodchip path switches back and forth, negotiating the bluff's grade among the varied trees.

And then the water, and then the highway which has amputated the remaining acres of the Conference Center's acreage so completely that the remnant on the far side is utterly, inaccessibly lost. Visible, but remote. Near, but out of reach.

And isn't that the way it is? What and how many freeways have interposed their frenetic passage across my life, surgically divorcing the body of me from the blossomed woods on the far side of my soul? What arteries of commerce or consumption cut across my contemplation, cramping and crowding my inspiration, and aurally littering the way with honks and racing engines? Isn't that the way it is -- the world invoking its imminent domain against the spirit?

But though the view is foreshortened and pristine character abraded, could it possibly be for the better? The world, after all, is never that far away. I carry it with me in my memory; it inhabits my imagination; I wear it and sing it and eat it and wash with it. I could not escape it if I tried. Let the sound of the highway newly nearby simply remind me that if I cannot ultimately remove myself from the world, neither should my prayers. It's messier that way -- not nearly as scenic -- but perhaps in the long run, holier.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Enjoying the Day-Old Flowers

"Do you think the church could use the flowers," first the father asked, and later the groom. They were, indeed, beautiful -- and as the father obliquely observed, "the florist hadn't given them away." I could only speculate. The tall, stately bouquets had first lined the center aisle of the ceremony, and had since been relocated to the banquet hall where they now graced the dozen -- or two -- tables. It would, quite rightly, be a shame for them to go to waste.

"We would be happy to enjoy them tomorrow," I assured them, but there were some logistical problems. I was on my way out, and the reception had hours yet before the last dance would be announced. The parents are frail, the bride and groom were leaving on their honeymoon too early to find anybody willing to unlock the church. We left it open-ended.

But though the flowers never appeared on Sunday morning, the idea was a great one. The bride and groom had no doubt invested considerably in the flowers -- too much, many would argue, for a single night's gala -- and though they had been well-enjoyed throughout the evening, they had spectacular beauty remaining. It was good thinking to imagine a secondary value.

It's April, and Earth Stewardship Month, and I'm thinking this fragile earth could benefit from a few more of us asking the groom's insightful question: "how else could this be used?" Who else could secondarily value this beauty...this utility...this tool? We acquire and use all sorts of things, but we rarely use them up. What would it mean to get in the habit of considering secondary applications? What would it look like if we developed a pattern of passing along rather than storing away -- more than the once every few years when our bloated basements or attics necessitate a trip to Goodwill?

As I say, the flowers the next morning never appeared. But the instinct was a good one. And surely someone took home a bouquet and enjoyed it over the subsequent course of days that were its useful life. I, at least, took home with me a view of a different kind of footprint -- and a larger instinct for the grace of living in community.

Stewardship and Sharing: what radical concepts.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

And Suddenly the Green

I swept out today what surely must be the last remains of winter. The garage had become a veritable warehouse of sand, ferried inside in the tread of the tires from the roadways every time it snowed. A lot of sand gets spread through the course of winter -- especially on a sloped incline like the one approaching our driveway from the road down the hill. I'm routinely dissatisfied with how quickly it gets spread, having been forced one more than one occasion to leave my car at the bottom when it couldn't find the grip to make up the drive. So I can hardly be resentful of the beach that accrues in my garage. Desperate for it to arrive, I can't be picky about where it ends up.

But it's warming now, and even the orange snow fence across the road is getting rolled up until next year. So, I grabbed the broom and helped the tide to roll out. In the process, I noticed the lawn. Less than a week ago it was covered with a late snow. Today it has suddenly, inexplicably become green. Was it lurking beneath the white just waiting to spring into full-blown spring? And the beds, still cluttered with the detritus of the rotted autumn pumpkins that got frozen into place, are similarly making room for the perennial rush.

Perhaps the drab spirits so grayed and weighted by winter's girth and too many other disappointments to mention will find bulbs stirring deep within, and wake one day to discover for themselves...


Saturday, April 12, 2008

Summer Longing in the Making

Wearing comfortable sweats and curled up on the sofa before a warming fire, I watch the falling snow. It's been coming down since before 6:15 a.m. when I dropped Lori off at the market to meet her ride. Already the deck was thoroughly blanketed in white, and the lawn, at least what I could see of it from the porchlight glow, was white as well.

And it is April 12. The belly-swollen robins must be scratching their heads. As if to remind us that we are not in charge -- that our wishes are not commands -- winter has returned. The forecasters are assuring us that this will be a brief visit-- 70-degrees is the mid-week prediction -- but for now it is chilly, wet, windy and white. I think back with a smile to that first glimpse of flake -- early December, or was it November? -- and how exciting it felt. I love snow; indeed, winter has been one of the attractions of this home for this southern boy who seldom experienced it. But what I'm now confirming is that it was less the winter, itself, than the contrasting seasons it helped set apart.

And I'm ready now for the contrast. I have known for years now that there is no more beautiful spring than the one which follows a bitter winter. Bitter this winter has been. I'm ready now for that beautiful spring. I can wait, of course. I have little choice. But my imagination is alive with the colors forthcoming, and the singing I hear from intrepid birds even now only makes the longing deeper.

Just to galvanize my patience, I think ahead to those late summer days when the temperature, like a sweater caught on a splinter, will almost certainly and humidly hang at triple digits, leaving me desperate for a cooling breeze. I'll look back wistfully on this mid-April snow...

...and laugh.