An August Appreciative Gaze

Appreciate gaze. That’s the phrase that settled in my mind’s eye this week. Late August and the cultivated butterfly bushes, cone flowers, daisies, and their wildflower companions are browning, returning to seed. I welcome the cool breezes that have broken through the dense heat waves of August this week, but I am not ready for the season’s change. I want to cling to the lift that summer’s colors cast on my day, the ritual of stopping to admire my neighbors’ gardens on our evening walks, standing with amazement at the nature’s display.

Somewhere along my writing way I copied a prayer in my journey notes without acknowledging the author. “Bless God bless; the whole world bless; quietly through the night; gently through the day; each and every creature you meet along the way. Bless God bless.” Just saying the words expands my delight.

Ronald Rohlheiser in Sacred Fire writes that we cannot give ourselves the blessings we need, but we can bless others and our heart will experience the exuberance that makes us say “God, it feels good to be alive.” This is what I learn from the summer’s profusion of color – to bless is to take delight in; to cast an appreciative gaze.

Mid-June when the stress of a move began to dissipate, I entered into the summer’s landscape with the intention of attending to the details I often miss because I am blinded by busyness. I discover a wealth of blessings when I delight in profusion of purples or stars forming constellation in the center of a flowering stalk. Nature instructs me and though I’m not a wildflower or garden perennial, I know what it feels like to be blessed with an appreciative glance. When another sees me, acknowledges my presence, I grow into a fuller sense of my place in the world – just as I am. How can I make a return for this goodness – I too can bless those who come my way with an appreciative gaze.

August Garden 4


Tale of Two Snags

I listen to the rapid chattering of cicadas in August, riding waves across the still morning sky. My thoughts rattle about for attention. There is much in this world to worry the mind, but I choose to begin with what is right in front of me. For several months I have eyed two dead trees that stand at the far edge of my neighbor’s yard. It is impossible to miss these dry bones and their tangle twigs. They obstruct my view of the horizon, which would otherwise be framed in towering green spires. Reaching out from a vine covered trunk, the branches bear no semblance of symmetry. Believing that I can learn from the patterns and habits of all created things, I begin to wonder what stories these trees hold in their stripped limbs.

Snags. Standing dead trees are referred to as snags. Though I don’t know the true origin of the word, I imagine that the tree limbs in flooded waters can snag boats and create unwanted problems. I have run into a snag or two in my own life. The birds that sometimes hang out in the trees must feel like they have snagged a good place to land. I myself have hoped to snag some good fortune here or there.

This morning I began to ferret out the story these snags might tell. While I may fret about the distorted view of an otherwise sharp horizon, the trees belonged here well before I arrived. Brian Swimme reminds me that over billions of years Earth’s life developed without eyesight. “We contemporary humans identify so strongly with our visual elements of consciousness that we have some difficulty conceiving of a time when life proceeded without any eyes at all…(in Thomas Berry’s The Dream of the Earth).” We have the privilege to see and reflect on the wonders of this world and care about what happens to our natural world. If I consciously turned my eyes towards their twisted limbs what would I learn about the dwelling place I now call home?

I studied the tree line until it became evident that the bare branches reveal the shape of walnut trees. I first observed just how many walnut trees stood within my sight. I had not really noticed that before. The eastern black walnut is familiar among the hardwoods that cover 90% of the mountains in Western North Carolina. These particular trees were not planted or cultivated. On the downward spiral of Hamburg Mountain, they are pioneer species, a common weed tree, though Native Americans cherished the trees for the wood, the sweet edible nut, and for body oil.

I read about the “thousand canker disease”, carried by the walnut twig beetles which have recently made their way from the west into the Great Smoky Mountains. Without the arborist’s sight, I cannot tell the exact cause of these trees’ death, but I can see in the same line of vision a struggling walnut tree, thin limbs stripped bare at the top, leaves wilting, turning yellow in mid-summer- all signs of the spreading disease.

There is not a moral to this reflection on my challenge to get beyond the annoying sight of dead tree limbs. However, knowing their name, their contribution to this land, and the potential story of their demise gives a personal dimension to these snags anchored by native roots. Studying their habitat I become more familiar with the place I now call home. I stir up a kinship with the natural world that shapes my dwelling place. I know some of their story and see with different eyes their presence in the constantly changing landscape. How about that!


Butterfly Feast

Just after my noontime lunch, I sit on the porch with a glass of peach tea, hoping for a sacred pause in a day that moves quickly from beginning to end. Hanging pots of pink and purple flowers, freshly watered, attract butterflies looking for what they want most out of life – a taste of heaven.

Butterfly sips sweet
nectar, delicate wings fold,
poised to return thanks.

No bells call you to
worship. Only the delight
nature freely gives.

One fleeting moment,
my heart stills, beholding this
eucharistic feast.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac tells us that butterflies and flowers were made for each other and that, as other poets pointed out, “butterflies are flying flowers, and flowers are tethered butterflies.” Such is the communion of nature.

butterly wih folded wings