The Daily Muse

Thoughts from an Austin Garden  -- March 2007


Last update: March 27

Masked bandit (aka Cedar Waxwing) caught in the act.


March 5 - morning


A beautiful gardening weekend here in Austin... there is a heavy frost on the grass and roofs this morning, but I think it may be the last of the season. Everything is budding and beginning to bloom. It should be a spectacular week though we still need rain very badly. I hope that you have your own springtime moment in the days ahead wherever you may be.


Is it so small a thing
To have enjoy'd the sun,
To have lived light in the spring,
To have loved, to have thought, to have done...


- Matthew Arnold


Looking out over our new patio to the garden.



The view from our raised circle.


A new planting bed with a small Texas persimmon. We'll be  adding agaves soon.


March 6 - morning


A Mugo Pine and a rain bowl on our new patio.


Just a brief announcement... next Tuesday, March 20, I will be leading a class at The Crossings titled Soul of the Garden. This will be a based on the full retreats that I have offered in the past and will include personal story telling, a focus on "every day" spirituality, and tips on how to create places of meaning and memory in your garden. The Crossings has a gorgeous campus and the wildflowers should be putting on their show. I hope to see you there.


The edge of our new patio space showing part of a planting area mulched with river stone.





March 8 - afternoon


Red Baron flowering peach.


Redbuds and magnolias, peaches, pears, and plums - our neighborhood has come alive with the flowering trees of springtime. The weather is warm, but not too warm,  and while we desperately need a good soaking to propel the season forward, everything seems sustained for the time being by the generous rains we received in January. I love to work from home on these afternoons; the wind chimes are gently sounding in the background, the birds are singing, and the cats are in their window perches lazily eyeing the squirrels and robins.


This is the time of becoming  - the surge of green and of all the new life should remind us of our place in the great wheel of becoming and unfolding. Somewhere recently, I read about the concept of God as the becoming of the universe and it reminded me for some reason of the old Bob Dylan lyric "He not busy being born is busy dying." I guess we  are busy doing both simultaneously, the difference is how determined we are to be born time after time in this life. Here, I turn to Mary Oliver for a little advice -


When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measles-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.


- Mary Oliver
From New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver (Beacon Press)


This is the season of brotherhood and sisterhood, of bridegroom and bride - of amazement and daisies. Stop for a moment outside your doorway, look for the peach blossom, or the narcissus popping up through the snow - feel the becoming, the more. Stop being a visitor - become who you are.


March 12 - evening


Magnolia 'Jane.'


It is interesting how things work out...  just a few days after writing the entry above, I was reading a passage from Marcus Borg's book, The Heart of Christianity, where he talks about the necessity of being "born again." Of course, that phrase raises red flags for many of us who have lost friends and family to  fundamentalist churches and sects, but Borg connects the born again experience to the "midwifery" of spirituality, the purpose of which is to "help birth the new self and nourish the new life."


What is this new life? Borg continues, "Spirituality combines awareness, intention, and practice. I define it as becoming conscious of and intentional about a deepening relationship with God. The words are very carefully chosen. Becoming conscious of our relationship with God: I am convinced that we are all already in relationship to God and have been from birth. God is in relationship with us; spirituality is about becoming aware of a relationship that already exists.


Becoming intentional about our relationship with God: Spirituality is about paying attention to the relationship. Though God is 'Mystery,' there is nothing mysterious about paying attention to our relationship to God. We do so in the ways we pay attention in a human relationship: by spending time with it, attending to it, being thoughtful about it...


...Paying attention to this relationship transforms us. This is what are lives are to be about: a transforming relationship to 'what is,' 'the More.'"


This is the best description of spirituality that I have ever read, and it links the born again experience of Christianity to the great wisdom traditions of the East in a very direct way. In my Buddhist Yoga practice, my teacher, Keith Kachtick, says that the heart of yoga is "letting go." We are to let go of our anxieties, our egos, our self-consciousness, and awaken to our true selves, our "Buddha nature.". This is what yoga actually means - to make union. This union or awakening is different language for being born again in the spirit.


Borg suggests that this language presents a possible bridge to those with more doctrinaire views. I hope that people would be willing to cross those bridges if they are built. To continue using language that might feel uncomfortable to many on both sides of those bridges... I hope that we realize that we are all in need of redemption, of reclaiming that primary connection to God or "the More" that we were born with. That connection was our original blessing. However,  we are all broken because that bond has been corrupted by the inescapable (original?) "sin" of human self-absorption. And yet despite this, there is wholeness and new life in becoming, in the Way. Just realize where you came from - be born again.


Approach it and there is no beginning;

follow it and there is no end.

You can't know it, but you can be it,

at ease in your own life.

Just realize where you came from:

this is the essence of wisdom.


from the Tao te Ching

(translated by Stephen Mitchell - Harper Collins)




Meanwhile, in the garden, after the rain - more becoming!


We received about an inch of rain last night and things are exploding!



New green (and purple.)



The support columns on our new patio.



A quiet nook.


One final thing... I'd like to wish the most talented  and (enthusiastic!) photographer in North Dakota a Happy Birthday! Happy Birthday Diana! (My "little" sister.)


March 14 - morning


Red Baron peach blossoms.


More rain! Just what we needed. And now, the forecast is calling for blue skies and warm temperatures. I believe the expression is "Start your engines!" I just took my morning stroll through the garden and everything seems to have grown over night. I was accompanied on my walk by a possum who kept waddling out in front of me - always choosing the path I was intending to follow. I don't think he appreciated the company, but I did.


Yesterday, I conducted another interview for my new project at KLRU. My guest was Richard Rohr who was in town for a speech and workshop. What a wonderful,  warm gentleman he is. The real gift of my work is getting to hang out with folks like him.


One final thing... speaking of things becoming and being born...


Here I am (looking a little disheveled) with the new born daughter of our friends Jim and Sherry - say hello to Siena Grace.


March 15 - morning


More from Marcus Borg... another concept that Borg addresses in his book, The Heart of Christianity, is that of the "thin places" where the boundaries between our usual self-centered consciousness and "the More" are permeable or transparent and we are exposed to the divine. This idea stems from the ancient Celtic spirituality of Ireland, where especially beautiful or meaningful places were considered "thin places." Often, these places became pilgrimage sites and have been  greatly revered for generations. Borg pursues this idea and talks about how religious practice and ceremony should be designed to create thin places -  whether it be through the building af evocative churches or the singing of hymns which move our hearts in  ways that words can never express.


As I was reading this material, I was reminded of my garden and of how the practice of gardening creates thin spaces every single day. When we garden we dip our hands into the eternal rhythms of creation, we are struck by the way the More shines through the everyday and ordinary - from mockingbirds and grasshoppers to magnolia blossoms and fresh new leaves.


We do lead our lives in dark cocoons of our own spinning; our worries, attachments and fantasies preoccupy most of our waking moments shrouding us in ever thicker veils. However, every once in a while light breaks in and distracts us from our anxieties - perhaps shining through one of those thin places in our cocoons that have somehow eluded our anxious minds, our spinning.


Mary Oliver's poem about the Buddha's last words starts with the following verse:


"Make of yourself a light"
said the Buddha,
before he died.


Jesus advised, "No man, when he has lit a lamp, puts it in a cellar, nor under a basket, but on a stand, that those who enter in may see the light."


Perhaps our job is to rub off a few layers of shroud from the inside - to let more light in and out. Who knows what dark corner we might illumine, whose life we might touch?





Pear blossoms scattered

on the pavement - white petals

set adrift on an oily  stream.


a haiku from yesterday


March 18 - evening


Where eagles sit...



...and soar.



OK, that's just showing off!


Hope that you enjoy these new pics from my sister. She was pretty excited about taking them!


March 20 - evening


I had an interesting experience today driving to and from a class that I was teaching at The Crossings. Heading out, I listened to a recording of Mary Oliver reading a selection of her incredible poems. As I listened, I felt as if I was visiting places I've always known and yet have never truly seen. Her words inspired me and helped to center me in preparation for my class. Coming back home, I popped another CD into my player, this by a highly regarded new band called The Arcade Fire. As I was heading back into town, a wreck closed the highway I was traveling on and I got stuck in a massive traffic jam.  The album I was listening to, Neon Bible, kept knocking me off center - its grand music lifted me up while its lyrics jolted me. The lyrics of one song reminded me of an updated version of Bob Dylan's "Maggie's Farm" but they were being sung by a twenty-something ex-pat American who now chooses to live in Canada. The whole album was filled with compelling images and dark portent, but I had to play one song over again several times as I was sitting in the traffic. Its message felt particularly powerful since I had just recounted a story to my class about a profound spiritual memory that took place in my childhood windowsill...


Windowsill - by the Arcade Fire


I don't wanna hear the noises on TV
I don't want the salesmen coming after me
I don't wanna live in my father's house no more

I don't want it faster, I don't want it free
I don't wanna show you what they done to me
I don't wanna live in my father's house no more

I don't wanna choose black or blue
I don't wanna see what they done to you
I don't wanna live in my father's house no more

Because the tide is high
And it's rising still
And I don't wanna see it at my windowsill

I don't wanna give em my name and address
I don't wanna see what happens next
I don't wanna live in my father's house no more

I don't wanna live with my father's debt
You can't forgive what you can't forget
I don't wanna live in my father's house no more

I don't wanna fight in the holy war
I don't want the salesmen knocking at my door
I don't wanna live in America no more

Because the tide is high
And it's rising still
And I don't wanna see it at my windowsill

I don't wanna see it at my windowsill
I don't wanna see it at my windowsill
I don't wanna see it at my windowsill

MTV what have you done to me?
Save my soul, set me free
Set me free, what have you done to me?
I can't breathe, I can't see
World war three, when are you coming for me?
Been kicking up sparks to set the flames free
The windows are locked now, so what'll it be?
A house on fire or the rising sea?

Why is the night so still?
Why did I take the pill?
Because I don't wanna see it at my windowsill

I don't wanna see it at my windowsill
I don't wanna see it at my windowsill
I don't wanna see it at my windowsill


This isn't one of the beautiful and poignant distillations of Mary Oliver, but I think that there is great value in listening to truths we know but are afraid to hear uttered out loud. Despite the ominous imagery of this song, there is always hope in hearing a prophetic voice before the flood.


March 21 - morning


Bath's Pink dianthus blooming in pots that we have tucked into the gravel of our new patio.


Happy Spring! I hope that you take a moment today to celbrate its official arrival.



The patio in evening light.



A new planting bed "mulched" with river rocks.



A potted magnolia.



The pond area of our garden.



Another bandit!

March 27 - morning


It rained heavily yesterday and last night, and the garden, which was already looking very lush is set for another round of explosive growth. Some of our young trees and shrubs have already grown a foot since the beginning of the month. The redbuds, peaches, and deciduous magnolias are all about to finish their blooming cycles, but the anacacho orchid tree is budding out and the perennials are beginning to put on their varied shows. It is still dark outside, but in a short while I'll take my "cup of coffee walk" and take it all in. It is hard for me not to get a bit overwhelmed by gratitude at times like these - a wet spring always feels like such a generous gift. These are the days that we need to hold onto when August's baking heat tempts us to resentment. It's all part of the great cycle. Where ever you are on this spring morning, remember Meister Eckhart's words, "If the only prayer you ever say in your whole life is 'thank you,' it will suffice."


Continue to April 2007

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