GNL number 59

a report of doings at meeting #59, Sunday, April 1, 2012
including liturgical notes, major themes, and other odds and ends


Hear me, four quarters of the world—
A relative I am!
Give me the strength to walk the soft earth,
a relative to all that is!
—–Black Elk

But ask now the beasts
and they shall teach thee….
—–Job 12: 7-8  (KJV)

Not all those who wander are lost.
—–J.R.R. Tolkien,
in The Fellowship of the Ring

The journey is the treasure.
—–novelist Lloyd Alexander


Gail’s major role today as host of WANDERING and WATCHING (and Other Journeys), was to show and tell us marvels of nature taking place on her and Cliff’s 160 acres.  After we’d toured the barn and met the heifers and bull and singing chickens, she trucked us to the place where beavers have recently, and stunningly, gnawed down dozens of trees and been building a dam in the creek.  The site was beautiful in itself, and it was fascinating to see the evidence of the beavers’ industry, which she said, mostly takes place at night, and is hard to actually witness. In addition, of course, there couldn’t be a prettier place to see spring happening than the Sondergaard farm on Decatur Street.

When we got back to the house to continue the conversation, Cynthia said she had several other journeys on her mind too.  First, she’d been reading about one that took place almost 50 years ago: this was in the journal kept by Anna on her motor-scooter trip from the West Coast back across the country after a couple years in western Canada. Cyn reported what an interesting record it was, and how good an observer and writer Anna had been, and then read the first entry, with Anna filling in some details.   And Cynthia spoke of our friend Nancy Kelly who’d recently moved to Ecuador, and written back happy reports.  Also very much on Cyn’s mind was news she’d just got of her son’s coming review for parole, and her plan to talk with authorities and legal advisors about the process, and how she and the family can support his effort.

Anna not only gave background details on her journal entries, but told of two strong, contrasting impressions she’d received of people in different regions; she said she found many on the West Coast, e.g., quite open and even quick to offer help, but as she went east and south, she began to find things like chilling signs on restaurants announcing the proprietor’s right not to serve certain people, and even a very loud rant by a fellow who made it clear Yankees and probably NY Jews like Pres. Rosenfeldt were the root of the country’s troubles, and seemed to be aiming this at her.

Sue spoke of a journey she feels she’s currently making, of learning to choose what to keep or keep working with, and what to recycle or give back to the earth; as one who has written daily poems for many years, she’s been thinking especially of the stacks of her writings.  She referred to the teachings of favorite rabbis, on learning to be done with some things, to allow them a return to nature, like Buddhist sand paintings. She read a poem by Robert Hass and another by Rumi, as well as two of her own, the first, from 1991, when she was working with young children, and the other, from 2010, which could have been a fitting invocation today.  See AFTERWORDS for these.

Ann brought news of another kind of mental journey: a fascinatiing article called Shock and Awe—in the current issue of The Week, an excerpt of a longer piece in The New Scientist—on experiments placing electrodes on people’s heads that showed subjects became remarkably more proficient in many kinds of tasks, (similar to the state reported years ago by Mihalyi Csikzhentmihalyi as “Flow”), and also self-reportedly felt quieted, relieved of mind noise, more balanced and at peace. This prompted other comments among us on spiritual masters through the long ages who’d found this state through other means like yoga or meditation (or, as Ann said, tried less successfully through drugs or alcohol).

Vijaya said her own current journey was finding herself again, especially during recent difficulties in her family. And this has been through regular meditative quiet, where she is able to listen to her truest voice, and has heard that she needs to not struggle to be accepted or to please others, but just be who she is. This, she said, had given her a sense of peace.   She and Cynthia were also excited to report that they’d made progress setting up a home for the works of several local women artists in Vja’s shop, where they’ll be also introduced to the public in the Arts Collective Preview, Saturday, May 5.

Nancy, responding to Sue’s point about the need to choose rather than save it all, said this thoroughly applied to her too, but that she’d had an experience recently where she was very glad for small things saved a long time.  She and her sis had been sorting through her mom’s considerable correspondence, and she’d found a most beautiful pair of old letters—a draft of her mom’s to N’s daughter, worrying about N’s financial state, and then the sweet, reassuring letter back. How moving these were, bringing Nancy a feeling of peace, and of gratitude that her mom saved them, it seemed, like a reminder of the grace of love. And seemed saved to become Nancy’s reminder too.

As always, the conversation featured many other ideas and news items, and one of them was the report by several of us who’d been making it a regular Friday practice for several weeks now, to visit our dear friend Jack and sing a song or two to him—some hymns, some old protest songs, some old standards—a fine assortment. We feel he’s enjoying it, even if he can’t always yell  Wow! like he did when Gail’s Virginia gave him a bonus trombone concert. Wow!  We’ll keep doing it as long as he lets us.

Our offering today was given to the defense fund for whistleblower Pfc. Bradley Manning, still confined at Fort Leavenworth without a trial date.


I tramp a perpetual journey.
—–Walt Whitman


Sunday, May 13, 2012 (1030), at Vijaya’s apartment, above her store on Main street, Cobleskill.  The topic is Mothering.


from Sue:

children of war

february 28, 1991: first gulf war ends the same day i visit school to tell stories to elementary students.*

a child yesterday in the classroom where
the audience was gathering—
the kindergarten, first grade, second, third filing in
so i could tell them stories—
a child maybe six, seven years old ran up to me
she said, when we jump rope we sing
helicopter helicopter in the sky
fly away or we’ll shoot you down
if you’re gray we’ll shoot you down

and she danced away from me
skipping an imaginary rope
still singing

i told myself
she doesn’t know what she’s singing
i told myself
children always tell the truth
because they don’t understand the lies
i thought this clean, healthy, shining-eyed
little girl her blonde hair bouncing
is safe here
she doesn’t know what death looks like
she doesn’t know what grief feels like
she is the daughter of victory
the daughter of ignorance

i stood my heart contracting into a hard round
falling stone
i glanced at barbara the reading teacher
who set up this program
who was waiting to introduce me
she smiled
apologetically?  with understanding?
our eyes said nothing to one other

First Gulf War Chronology

February 24, 1991:Allied ground campaign begins, with troops moving along 2 axis to force Iraqi troops out of Kuwait, back into Iraq.
February 27, 1991: US and Allied troops pursue last Iraqi troops out of Kuwait into Iraq.  Various veterans refer to the massacre that ensued as a “turkey shoot.”
February 28, 1991: Ceasefire declared

House, by Robert Hass

Quick in the April hedge
were juncos and kinglets.
I was at the window
now, the bacon
sizzled under hand,
the coffee steamed
fragrantly & fountains
of the Water Music
issued from another room.
Living in a house
we live in the body
of our lives, last night
the odd after-dinner light
of early spring & now
the sunlight warming or
shadowing the morning rooms.

I am conscious of being
myself the inhabitant
of certain premises:
coffee & bacon & Handel
& upstairs asleep my wife.
Very suddenly
old dusks break over me,
the thick shagged heads
of fig trees near the fence
& not wanting to go in
& swallows looping
on the darkened hill
& all that terror
in the house
& barely, only barely,
a softball
falling toward me
like a moon.

originally published in Field Guide,
from The Apple Trees at Olema: New & Selected Poems,
Harper Collins, 2010, p.67

Night Thieves, by Rumi

There was a king roaming his country at night.
He met up with a band of thieves.
                                                                                “Who are you?”
they asked.
                                “I am one of you.”
                                                                                So they walked together,
and each of them spoke of the special skill
t hat suited him for this night-work.
                                                                                One said,
“My genius is in my ears.  I can understand
what a dog is saying when it barks.”
                                                                                The others laughed,
“Not much value in that!”
                                                                Another thief said,
“My specialty is in my eyes.
                                                                Whatever I see by night,
I can recognize also in daylight.”
                                                                      Another thief said,
“My specialty is in my eyes.
                                                            Whatever I see by night,
I can recognize also in daylight.”
                                                           Another, “My strength
is in my arm.  I can tunnel through any wall!”
“My nose.  I can sniff the ground and know
where treasure’s hidden.”
                                                                And the last thief revealed,
“It’s my hand.  I can throw a lasso
around anything.”

Then they asked the king-in-disguise
what his contribution was.
                                                                “It’s this beard.
Whenever I turn it toward criminals,
they are freed!”
                                  “Oho!  You are a good one
to have with us!”
                                     And they continued on, as it happened,
toward the palace.
                                                A watchdog barked,
and the listener-thief interpreted,
                                                                                “He’s saying,
‘The king is with us!’”
                                                 The sniffer-thief smelt
the ground.  “This is prime land.”
                                                                       The lassoer
quickly threw a rope over the wall.
                                                                        The tunneler
tunneled into the treasury, and they all
loaded dup with gold embroidery and huge pearls.

The king watched,
and then slipped quietly away.

The next day the robbery was discovered,
and the king sent his guards
to make the arrests.

As the thieves were brought in,
the one who could recognize night things by day
                “This is the friend
who went with us last night,
the beard man!”

This night & day man was a mystic.
He understood what had happened.
            “This king
embodies the text that says,
                                                                and He is with you.
He knows our secrets.
He played our game with us.

This king is the Witness,
and in his clear truthfulness
is the grace we most deeply need.”

(VI, 2816-2825, 2833-2859, 2867-2870)
                Rumi: One-Handed Basket Weaving—Poems on the Theme of Work,
                  Versions by Coleman Barks, Maypop, 1991, p.25

All breathing life adores Your Name

Across the field neighbor red fox
stops and stares
as I call on the holy Name.
When I fall silent, she ambles
on her way.

Red headed woodpecker transects
the sky—thrusts his clotted darkness
against the bass wood trunk
at forest’s edge, chuckles once,
then pounds.

The oaks tree’s leaves turned
gold and bronze, burnished
to burnt copper
shine across the meadow

Crows daven from treetops
all around.


from Nancy

Let my words
be bright with animals,
images the flash of a gull’s wing.
If we pretend
that we are at the center,
that moles and kingfishers,
eels and coyotes
are at the edges of grace,
then we circle, dead moons
about a cold sun……
—–Joseph Bruchac

A good traveler is one who does not know where he is going to,
and a perfect traveler does not know where he came from.
—–Lin Yutang

Wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now…..
—–the spiritual, Paul and Silas (Keep Your Hand on the Plow, and later Keep Your Eyes on the Prize)



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