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Graveyard

To enter this pioneer graveyard in Port Gamble, Washington, is to enter their silence. As I walk carefully among the decaying headstones, their lives, mysteriously summed up in dates of birth and death, and perhaps an epitaph, call out the old grief and their now and forever rest beneath the grass. This one died after only twenty-six years, this one after eighty. This one only a dear infant, gone. A square tower on one side says simply, “Our Mother,” and on the next side, “Our Father.” And one says, “Willie.”

Our Willie on this cold marble traced
Is all that’s left of thee to love
Yet the chain that death hath broken here
Shall be linked by angel hands above

Such places always hold for me a sense of the love and acceptance that unconditionally endures in memory.

When I was a small boy, my older brother and I went off by ourselves to explore a wooded island in the San Juans. It was late in the afternoon with slant light woven deep among the summer firs. Farther on in the forest suddenly we came upon an ancient graveyard for some pioneer family long since gone. A picket fence tipped sideways and in some places drown beneath skeins of blackberry vine and thick drifts of old leaves among the ferns. The headstones, tall and stately and probably very expensive for their day tipped forward or back at odd angles in a wholly uncared for way. It looked like no one had visited here for many, many years.

Unmistakably, this was sacred ground. That was sure. My brother and I, suddenly awed, stepped carefully forward to rake our fingers across the decrepit dates and names, hardly readable anymore. The stones felt warm and oddly comforting to the touch in the late summer light. This was no Stephen King novel ready to erupt into ghosts and terrors, but the place of an unutterable, most profound and rightful peace, a mysteriously overgrown garden of return, strangely intimate with its delicate blossoms and stems carved in stone. We were careful not to invade too much in such a vulnerable place.

What a gift it was to find it! For when we die what were our lives on earth probably will be reduced to a set of manicured stones set with artificial flowers or nameplates for just anyone to notice and wonder about. Cars likely will drive past and visitors may come and go often, taking their pointless snapshots to be placed in folders and filed away. But here, among the trees, something better was happening — and still is. The place itself is sinking back into the earth’s full wildness, hastened by human forgetfulness after a century and more, growing and decaying down and down in a forgotten corner of the island. It makes me wonder how it looks today since this adventure with my brother took place about fifty years ago. All those summers and winters, the rains and fogs sweeping across and through the firs, the berry vines, the nearby maples blossoming and losing their leaves, year upon year.

Truly they are returning. If you were lucky enough to be buried in this place, you might become like them, become not a memory of a person bounded by dates and sentiments, but just the sweet smell of drying leaves and the feel of salt air wafting through the sacred woods of childhood. Then you might truly be because you no longer are.

~Dan~

MyShoes

Here I am standing on a rock. A pretty good picture with my iPhone, I think. What you can’t experience is everything else — the late evening sun on the waves at Pacifica, California, the smell of the ocean and the ‘wine-dark’ look of it. Suddenly the season is October and the air is cooler, and I’m here again, staying at the Sea Breeze Motel. The rain swept in earlier in the day but now is gone. There are two surfers still out on the sunset waves, and the sun is suddenly lighting up the place like a movie set.

I come here because the cinema is always saying something to me. That’s the sea for you. Sometimes what it says is absolutely too much and so I have to look down at my boots for awhile. It reminds me: this is who I am right now. This is who I am today. So many experiences and these are the feet that still carry me to a spot where I can stand and look out across it all. A bit silly, I know. Maudlin. Nostalgic. (from the Greek, nostos ‘return home’ + algos ‘pain.’ And so very dreamlike, this surveying.

I like it here because waking in my room in the middle of the night I can hear the next-door sea thrumming away. I know it follows the ancient pattern, the waves in sync for awhile and then out of sync. They come first well-timed. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. The Greek chorus sings in unison. And then the silence, only slightly too long and I know they have suddenly lost their posture. I hear the white noise of the criss-crossing, demolished forces for awhile. They are all singing their words at once and getting nowhere. They work against one another, and then, abruptly, there is another silence and the sucking of stones deep into the night’s throat. And the big cadence comes again: BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.

It’s dark in my room. I can’t see a thing. But next to the bed I know they are there, lined up perfectly, waiting.

~Dan~

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This morning I dreamt that suddenly I’d been given a new home: the greenhouse behind some big mansion where many people lived. The greenhouse sat in a parklike setting, but it was filled to the brim with old stuff, crud that needed to be thrown out before I could really move in. So I felt glad to be moving the unneeded things out of my greenhouse home, but also frustrated with the work — so much needed to be discarded, hauled out as junk or thrown on the pile of recycled garden compost. My friend was there watching me, leading her cat by a tiny halter and leash. No doubt the Jungians will have fun with this.

When I told her about the dream, she said, “Well, it sounds like you have a new home that is about your own personal growth, but first you have to move a lot of old stuff out — and you are doing it!”

But the feeling of the dream also included a separation, a faced loneliness, at least for awhile until everything that is old and doesn’t belong to me, can be cleared away. The feeling was this task should have been done a long, long time ago, and that everyone, in one way or another, must attend to the same process….

A couple weeks ago, I looked out at the ocean from Pacifica, California (grabbing the picture with my phone) and I had a similar feeling…the clearing away of the old. It happens consciously or unconsciously, I suppose, all the waves of subliminal knowing rolling in and through, and leaving me now and then with a potent symbol or a memorable dream.

~Dan~

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Today I happened to open a folder I have not used since last fall. Inside, along with my papers, I found some leaves I had picked up from a parking lot one rainy day. I could not bear to let their beauty lie there on the blacktop, waiting to disintegrate under the wheels of unnoticing drivers. I tried to save them from their transience as we all try in similar ways to save ourselves from time. Now it is Spring, but these old leaves, like memories that have suddenly come to mind, say to me again and again how fleeting everything is. Not for a moment can anyone stop the flow….

~Dan~

Walkingthebeach

Sometimes no one comes to this blog for a whole day. It sits then as pure potentiality, as someone meditating might sit, waiting to be opened. I imagine that potentiality as simply a raft of electrons waiting to be activated and set adrift, to be seen — a tiny constellation of images and words among the many millions of others.

As if sometimes no one comes to a remote cabin, a private place — available to all — and not so far from an immense sea. As if sometimes there is only the moist wind blowing among the rough figures of warming driftwood.

~Dan~

Figures

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This is my son…sixteen years in the past. It seems like only a moment ago that he was running naked on a Molokai beach. Today, he’s grown, has a car, works at Starbucks, will start college in the fall. He hangs with his friends most of the time now, has a cool MySpace site, likes nice clothes and takes pleasure in catching planes to warmer places. Only yesterday I heard his squeal as he ran down the sand to the water, and ran back up the sand chased by the incoming waves.

This is just a celebration, if only through dim recollection, of that feeling of the child, delighting skin on skin in the total freedom and magic of the world.

~Dan~

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I was sitting in a bar near Kihei on Maui with two beautiful Hawaiian women — sisters. The place was loud with rock ‘n roll and blues, and we drank a few beers.

“I think you need a Hawaiian name,” said one. “‘Daniel,’ you know, could be ‘Kaniela.'”

“Hmmm, yes he looks like a Kaniela,” said the other sister after a moment’s thought, “but maybe….” She paused, her dark eyes drilling down to something more important.

She asked: “So who were you named after?”

“Well, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, from the Bible,” I replied, speaking from the shy child inside me.

“Yes, I thought so,” the second sister said. I knew this one less well than the first, but she was very intuitive (they both were) — and willing to take a few risks. “And what was Daniel from the Bible like?” she asked.

“He was a soothsayer. He was an interpreter of dreams. He was a courageous man, but he wasn’t just a courageous fool. He could see into things.” I said something like this, although I cannot remember exactly.

“Then you are not Kaniela,” the second sister continued. “That is just a phonetic transcription of Daniel. You are Kaniala.”

The first sister, said “Yes, that’s right” and smiled.

“And what’s the difference?” I asked, in my introverted, mild embarrassment.

“Kaniela is just a name,” the second sister told me. “Kaniala means ‘caller to the path.'”

And so it is. I smiled, too. It was right.

My Hawaiian dictionary has long paragraphs on both kani (a cry) and ala (a path). I look at these words, associated as they are in my mind with the feminine beauty of the Islands and with my own personal journey to fulfill my purpose, and am ever so grateful to the sisters.

What a gift

that we should hold for one another

a deeper name

even as we know

no name will ever do.

~Kaniala~

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As I scanned in more photographs from my family of origin’s past, I thought about how magical it is to have these memories present, however rearranged in my mind by time’s passage.

I cannot describe exactly the feelings I have looking at these photos of my mother, grandmother and uncle, grandfather, father and brother — and me, the youngest son. They are like things dredged out of a canal; an archaeological dig. They bring up everything that happened in the past. They bring up all the incongruences of childhood. They define a time, many times, and they raise the question of why they have come back now into my life. I look at them as if they were shards of pottery pulled from the earth, and it is my job to find them all, to reassemble them into a whole.

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A few months ago my brother and I cleared out some boxes from storage that my parents will no longer be needing. In one of them was a ziploc baggie stuffed full of hundreds of old negatives, some from as far back as the teens and nineteen twenties. I bought a new scanner today and brought a few of the negatives back to life. This is my favorite, a picture of my mother and her younger brother. It must have been taken some time in the twenties. My uncle died many years ago from complications of a heavy equipment accident, but my mother is still in good health for someone her age — 95. She is still the sweet person she ever was, just a little forgetful, and once in awhile she has trouble speaking.

For some reason looking at this photograph I feel some sadness. Maybe it’s the look in their eyes — like all kids complaining about having to stand there and wait for the shot, and maybe also feeling too old to have their arms around one another; possibly not liking each other or the guy taking the photo all that much at the moment. And maybe that’s all my own projection, just reflecting the passage of so much time and my capacity to create a story. I imagine the photograph was taken in early summer, about June perhaps. There are some stakes in the background, probably bean poles, and when the photograph is enlarged you can also see some small roses growing there. I can almost feel the warmth of the day in the soft light illuminating their faces. The slant says it’s evening. Undoubtedly, this was their yard and my grandfather took the picture. But discovering it, bringing it up onto my screen almost felt as if somehow I had taken it myself, as if it had been in my body waiting like a dream to show up now, today.

Time really doesn’t exist, does it? Only this timeless stuff: this memory, not even my own, waiting in a drawer year after year until it is ready to be played over again.

I am startled by the depth of my feelings.

~Dan~

PS: You can see a recent picture of my mother at the end of this post on my other blog.

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When I found this doorway, I stood back. It was too perfect to enter. It held the promise of too much paradise. I was not “wealthy” enough to open such a door. I could feel my own resistances, my own judgments about who I am and what I deserve. It symbolized too much. Now, looking at this and other photographs that represent “a way in,” I can see that each is only a mirror, only a glass. I cannot reach for the latch without asking, “Am I ready?” Is this really who I am ready to be?

No one of us knows for sure — not just what is on the other side of the door, but really what is yet on this side of it. We carry the unfinished, the uncompleted. We are still as dark to ourselves as we are light.

We are never ready for our own perfection. And yet…and yet…my hand goes forward, asking the Limitless what I may find just beyond.

Dare I discover myself? Dare I knock?

I cannot help it if I am this (crazily) curious.

~Dan~

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I have been to El Santuario de Chimayo north of Santa Fe many times. A very old church, it is always a quiet, sacred place, even though there are many tourists.

You can’t escape the meaning, if you know — and you do know — there must be a spiritual aspect to life. It is full of the lives lived in the high desert and hills of what is now New Mexico. Lives lived in the privacy of canyons where there is only the thinnest dirt track to follow and under a sky from which no one can hide. It matters little what “faith” is represented by the church or how homely the setting, which includes a few nearby restaurants where you can buy souvenirs — a French word, meaning “remember.” You see the sanctuary and you become quiet, quiet in spirit. Mortality is here, full of generations. All the stories of families are here: the fights and reconciliations, furtive trysts and endless partings, accidents of fate, childbirths, child-deaths, a hundred — a thousand differing pains, men and women in love, despair or both; the lost ones and the found growing old equally as they come to this same place still believing. Your ears buzz with the the celebratory noise of marriages and the silence of losses, of funerals, of innocence, of all the living fables of trust and betrayal — and finally, especially, healing — everything, united in one place where the pigeons now roost in the rafters and the dry leaves of the trees rattle in the wind like so many lessons about this strange state of simply being alive. You cannot come here without thinking about who you are, about relationships past and present, and what you yet must do in your life. You are dust here. You are the art of dust. And you cannot stand here for long without acknowledging that there is something unfathomable at the center, a deep acceptance of you so much greater than your own acceptance of life or suffering. There is only an ocean that fitfully laps in a dry, cold space at the edge of a tiny village called “the human.” And by this you know you are home.

It can’t be photographed or written down, no matter how good you are. It is the medicine.

~Dan~

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He halted suddenly and heard his heart in the silence. How far had he walked? What hour was it?

There was no human figure near him nor any sound borne to him over the air. But the tide was near the turn and already the day was on the wane. He turned landward and ran towards the shore and, running up the sloping beach, reckless of the sharp shingle, found a sandy nook amid a ring of tufted sand-knolls and lay down there that the peace and silence of evening might still the riot of his blood.

He felt above him the vast indifferent dome and the calm processes of the heavenly bodies; and the earth beneath him, the earth that had borne him, had taken him to her breast.

He closed his eyes in the languor of sleep. His eyelids trembled as if they felt the vast cyclic movement of the earth and her watchers, trembled as if they felt the strange light of some new world. His soul was swooning into some new world, fantastic, dim, uncertain as under sea, traversed by cloudy shapes and beings. A world, a glimmer, or a flower? Glimmering and trembling, trembling and unfolding, a breaking light, an opening flower, it spread in endless succession to itself, breaking in full crimson and unfolding and fading to palest rose, leaf by leaf and wave of light by wave of light, flooding all the heavens with its soft flushes, every flush deeper than other.

Evening had fallen when he woke and the sand and arid grasses of his bed glowed no longer. He rose slowly and, recalling the rapture of his sleep, sighed at its joy.

He climbed to the crest of the sandhill and gazed about him. Evening had fallen. A rim of the young moon cleft the pale waste of sky like the rim of a silver hoop embedded in grey sand; and the tide was flowing in fast to the land with a low whisper of her waves, islanding a few last figures in distant pools.

~James Joyce~

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I heard someone from a block away singing the blues, playing on the electrified one string of his guitar. The song belonged to itself, a feeling more than words or notes. When it stopped, it left behind a blind man with a “got Jesus?” hat sitting on a box where a moment before there had been some kind of total rapture.

“How ya doin’ man?” he asked. There were others on the street, but he knew by my steps that I was the one walking toward him. “I’m okay,” I replied, “now.”

He smiled and waited, as if it had been me that started the conversation. But I didn’t have anything more to say. He heard my fingers drop two dollars in the bucket; not enough to pay for the kind of blues he sang, blues that circle the whole world, sung only by the most passionate of souls.

“God bless you.” he said gently, as if that was maybe the first and last time I’d ever hear those words. There was an other-worldly, in-slow-motion feeling abut the moment, as if I had died in my sleep and needed someone to point my spirit toward home, and that’s exactly when he’d shown up, in that part of the dream.

“Thank you,” I replied as I slowly passed by. He nodded, smiled.

~Dan~

icestream.jpg

One late afternoon an acquaintance and I drove his battered truck as far as it would go up a snow-filled mountain road. When finally the drifts became too deep, and even in four-wheel drive the truck couldn’t push another inch forward, he cut the engine so that suddenly we were thrown into a silence as profound as the one that I imagine defines deep space. The daylight still hovered above us but the night sky and the stars seemed only a short distance away, still invisible but as immutable as death. And perhaps there was a kind of foreknowing in that, for my acquaintance died not too long afterward in an accident.

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We tramped fifty yards this way and that from the truck. What I remember is the deep blue of the snow in the shadows. What I remember is finding a frigid stream quietly trickling beneath ice, and how the bland light glowed and faded on the mountains. We had come as far as anyone conveniently could go, and if we didn’t leave soon, backing the truck down in its own ruts, it would be more than easy never to leave again. There wasn’t much to say. All we could do was stand knee deep, looking up the valley and into the snow-crusted forests and hills ahead, and try to fill in the blank meaning on the face of it all. It seemed as if I had found a place of immaculate treasures, a room of gold and silver and pearls, and even though I had been searching for this place my whole life, now that I’d finally found it, it was only worth staying a moment. It seemed a colder place than anything I could have ever imagined.

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At some point I realized he and I were not there together. He stood with his back to me, separate, and I stood with my back to him as well. In its way, in its eerie, strangely beautiful way, the place was like a tomb.

~Dan~

SunsetWheelerPeak

curvesofthewave

From a favorite hill I watch the rolling waters pass by. I feel the curving waves pass right through me. The rhythm takes me into itself, and all that I brought with me is transmuted into the brine of nothingness — and me, too.

~Dan~

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