Poem for Hard Times

Look for the peacemakers,

a wise man once said.

Look, he said

in the midst of horror

for the kindness

the gentle eyes

Look

how they always

appear to hold your hand

like

Buddhas

or Great Spirits

Look to the soft eyes of a dog

Head on your lap

creating, sharing your stillness.

Turn away from

the dead-eyed

killed by

their fear

leave them pitied

pitied eave them.

Listen to

the songs and singers

never silenced

by the water hoses

or bombs

only sung louder, sweeter

Watch for

the dancers

who bend but never break

who fly free as birds

free at last

Listen to

the storytellers

who sit around the fire

among the ruins

telling tales

of treasures, most sought

and freely shared

at no cost, no cost

to anyone

See the beloved with open arms

opening their doors

stretched beyond their own kin

to embrace us all

like family

They are here, there, everywhere

They are never far

They are

They are.

They have always been.

They will always be

the peacemakers

hope-givers

truth tellers.

Look up

just look up

there and there and there

they are carrying

you and me.

Breakfast with Meeko

IMG_0931

This morning I made a big mistake. Much smaller than anything that matters, fortunately, but it ended up with Meeko winning.

I made two slices of toast covered with peanut butter and jelly. I was hungry and out of my cereal. I was looking forward to that toast. I set it down at the kitchen table and went to look for my cell phone. There is a chair at the table—you may are already know where this is heading. I’ve seen Meeko jump up on that chair several times.

I came back with my phone and found him grabbing a piece of toast from the plate. No way could I get him to drop it, although in my fruitless chasing, jelly splattered on the floor. He ran from me in a most jaunty manner, then jumped on the futon in the TV room and ate the toast happily. while I wiped the floor clean.

The futon is his choice to go with a treat, I think, because sometimes I eat there while watching TV. I guess it is our recreation space and he was recreating. The living room is for a different purpose. He perches on the top cushions alongside the big window. You never know when enemies like UPS trucks might dare arrive.

By the way, he got the best piece too. Did he know which one was the best?   I was stuck with the heel of the bread..Mind you, he had already had his own breakfast. Oh, foolish human, as if that makes any difference!

I slipped up on my knowledge of dogs and tables and food on the tables. When I lived with my own dogs I knew to follow the commandment Thou Shalt Not Leave Food Where the Dog Can Reach It. However,  I have to admit that it’s always very cute when they get away with their thievery–at long as the food is not bad for them. Perhaps I am anthropomorphizing too much, but they sure do seem proud at winning the forbidden prize.  At those times I know I am not so agile and clever. I forget that, like with a child, you are being watched. A lot. Nearly all the time unless a squirrel or mail carrier comes by. Otherwise its all eyes on the giver-of  meals, thrower-of -squeaky-toys and petter-on-call.

 

 

Reading Thoreau in Meeko’s Yard

 

IMG_0930

Henry David Thoreau and Meeko are good companions. I curl up with each of them at different times. Last night when I had turned off the lights in the bedroom, called Meeko to bed and turned on my side to sleep, I felt Meeko put his rubber squeak toy at the nape of my neck and then lie down. I felt honored.

Today,  in the yard, under the Live Oak on a lovely Spring day,  I read a compilation of HDT’s essays.  His style is more verbose than we modern folks are used to.  I do not  understand some of his archaic terms, and I admit to skipping over some page long paragraphs, yet he startles me with thoughts that are so contemporary that he could be writing in 2017. Reading his essays is like mining for gold—which he thought was a dishonorable activity, by the way— but you are sure the nuggets are there and they are and there are many.  Like this.

(I’ll be right back. Meek is nosing his bowl telling me he wants his dinner). Okay, I’m back. Here are some his thoughts that startle me in how familiar they seem. This passage describes so closely what Buddhism teaches me.

“If we have I believe that the mind can be permanently profaned by the habit of attending  to trivial things, so that all our thoughts shall be tinged with triviality. Our very intellect shall be macadamized, as it were,–its foundations broken into fragments…If we have thus desecrated ourselves—as who has no?t–the remedy will be by wariness and devotion to reconsecrate ourselves…We should treat our minds, that is , ourselves, as innocent and ingenuous children, whose guardians were are, and be careful what objects and what subjects be thrust on their attention.”

HDT would like that I was sitting under a tree while reading this.  He would applaud my urge to always be outdoors. I think he and I share a lot in common—like his hermit tendencies that are mine also.  Today I feel close to old Henry. I think he would understand me. Both of us pretty much loners who have a difficult time in polite company. It comforts me that he writes about the emptiness of much of what we consider “success” and he called “industry”—how the industrious man was praised all for making money, and yet a philosopher, a writer like HDT, is seen as lazy, a failure even. I think even Ralph Waldo Emerson, his friend, criticized him for lack of ambition.

Like Thoreau, I could never make myself work for money. My work needed to be meaningful and helpful to others. As a result, I am not rich. Neither was Thoreau, and I , like him, can sometimes feel like an outcast in my society  when it comes to owning a house and a new car. And I have to watch my mind, as he suggested, to keep it from thinking of myself as a failure because I don’t have “fame” and fortune.

It wasn’t easy being Thoreau. And maybe he was no fun to be in a bar with, but I sense him in the room with me as he says, “I shall be a benefactor…if I can show men that there is some beauty awake while they are asleep.” He was speaking of taking walks in the moonlight, but I understand it to mean what Buddha meant. You are my benefactor HDT, even if you had a lousy personality. Smiley face.

 

 

Dogs Are Almost Perfect, But…

kunzang_profile

Dogs, like people, can be difficult to love sometimes. Every dog family has its dysfunction. It’s not nearly as bad as it can be in families that are all human, but, it can still be a trial.

I love all the dogs I dog-sit, but they are not without their quirks. One has a bark that, inside, is painful to the ears and I worry a little about damage to my hearing. There are too many FedEx trucks in the world! And why don’t mail delivery people just toss the mail from their vehicles as they pass the house. Why in the world do they need to storm the house like invading armies, the dog wonders.

All of them tend to scratch my arms because it seems I do not notice that it is time for someone to get an ear scratch. My skin is thin and  the blood blisters on my arms are not so attractive!  Usually a long sleeve sweater helps, but not always.

Another dog has terrible separation anxiety, maybe because his parents travel a lot and leave him or maybe he was born with that trait. Either way it can be heartbreaking to leave him even to go to the store for a little while. The panic in his eyes is painful to see. It’s worse when he freaks out and jumps like a whirling dervish—he is a big, strong boy and his nails on my back hurt.

Sometimes I can’t tell what my pups want. This must be what it is like with an infant who cries no matter how the parent tries to soothe them.

I take out the leash and say “Out?” He lies down and looks at me. Okay, not out. ”

“Chew thing?” Another blank look; it’s not that he doesn’t like chew things, he seems to be saying, but not this chew thing. He looks at me like I should know this by now. And actually I do, so why do I keep trying with that chew thing. Some of us never learn.

“Cookie?” That always get a positive reaction and all is right with the world. For about an hour. Then it’s time for ball tossing. This guy is very smart and has me trained. He looks up at the drawer in the bureau where the balls are kept and gives a slight bark. I get the ball. He is a talented ball player. I especially admire how when I throw the ball and he hits it back to me with his nose.

So I am trained by my dogs to be patient, to pay attention, to go out, to sit, and that’s just the truth!

Meeko’s Tree

IMG_0897

Live Oaks are ubiquitous in Florida. Most people think of palm trees when they think of Florida, but the oaks are just as plentiful. I certainly didn’t expect to see such trees in here when I arrived from New England. Now that I’m a Floridian, I’ve fallen in love with them because of their grandeur and the yards of shade they provide. Only foolish developers reject the gift of cooling the trees offer. There are two in Meeko’s yard. It’s clear they have been here for many decades judging from their girth. Naturally, I try to hug them as any old hippie would, but  I cannot reach my arms around either one.

What I find interesting about Meeko’s trees  is how much they have stretched and bended to fit their environment. These two are remarkable in the way, over the years, they took on such  yoga-like postures. They have extended themselves six feet or more from their dense core, their branches–like small trees themselves–reaching over the roof. Yet they have not toppled and remain firmly rooted. How  is it they can stretch so deeply without crashing to the ground from the burden of their weight?

They reach for the sun of course, so here is more proof that the longing for life is powerful; a tree that is meant to stand upright decides, in this situation, it cannot. Here is intelligence embedded in bark. Here is proof that even these beings who seem so massive and rigid are not static. Here is the genius of adaptation. We are the only creatures that believe to be strong we must remain rigid when instead, we ought to bow in surrender to our conditions and grow in new directions.

Meeko

IMG_0888-2

If you came to this earth as thousands of cells that want the experience of  being an American Eskimo dog, you are snow-white and have a fan-like tail. In this form, you are alert to the smallest gnat that might fly by. Your ears stick straight up and open so no sound can get past you. You zoom around your big yard on dainty, thin legs and feet, but you are not a dainty soul. You are harsh with passers-by, especially other dogs, and bark in short bursts of passion.

Your favorite activity is watching. Your ears twitch, small black eyes search and scan the air, the ground. So, you love the outdoors where everything is happening, almost too much to take in. You love the outdoors so much that you leap into the air at the closed kitchen door until I open it.

I am dog sitting Meeko at the west end of St. Pete, near the beaches. I’ve been here once before, but not for long and this time I am here for another nine days. Meeko and I share the love of being outside and watching. Just watching. There is so much to see from the single spots we occupy, I on a beach chair in the yard, he in his favorite corner close to the street. Each moment has its own quality. Meeko and I know this. I feel the breeze move, cool and weightless at this time of year, refreshing. In a couple more months, the air will be heavier and damp. Then the breeze builds into a hefty wind that shakes the trees which make a swooshing sound while while the palm fronds sound like dry brooms along the floor. Three old-growth, twenty feet tall pines stand on one side of the yard, and an equally tall cypress, filled out with soft green needles, stands at another. In Meeko’s corner is an eight foot sawgrass palm that offers shade on his spot. The sunlight moves with the minutes to create new shadowy shapes  of tree branches and palm fronds on the surface of a round cement patio .

It’s a quiet street, barely a car passes. The minimal sounds of a plane passing overhead or an occasional car door closing do not disturb the meditative peace. . However, when school is out, the passing school boy will get an ear-full. Meeko chases him along the fence shouting frantically at him for taking this route. During my stay I will find out if this is a daily occurrence or if the boy took the hint.

It’s no surprise to me, but I do notice that I am not much of a house sitter because I do not want to be inside. When I return to the houses I dog sit  in after an errand or outing , I immediately head out the door. If I was unable to open it and someone was nearby, I would jump up and down like Meeko to be let out. That I’m sure of.

Snickers

IMG_0868

 

Snicker’s owner is one of the friends I dog sit for, other people I sit for are mostly acquaintances. My friend lives in a comfortable ranch-type house and there are many pictures on walls and tables of her grown children, her recently passed husband, their extended group of friends from up north where she lived a few years ago. She has been widowed for a year now and admirable for her acceptance of the loss and her grief. I feel the grief as well when I look at a picture of her husband. He was a warm, kind person and I miss him. His being is both palpably absent and at the same time present in some way. He was a couple of years younger than I am and now that I’m nearly 70, mortality has taken on a new, sharper reality.

Snickers and I meditate on the patio when I dog sit her. I sit in the chair opposite her and set the timer for half an hour. She is more enlightened than I so she gets up after two minutes and investigates the geckos, the grass, bugs that fly overhead.

My own meditation includes noticing that she brought me the red rubber kong to toss. First we must tug at it for a while. She is very strong and I let go soon, then let it fly.We do this a number of times. This is mindfulness of rubber tongs and tossing them. In between, I notice the scent of honeysuckle from the vine that climbs a trellis along the back of the patio. I listen to the mockingbird who is here every morning singing an aria of all bird calls. Next the sunlight on the treetops at the front of the house, and the Stop sign.

The Stop sign is a good message for me. I should make one to carry with me and pull it out every time I start worrying about old age and my poor finances. Stop. Breathe.

Breathe. I have to train myself to breathe. Buddhists stress it for good reason—most of us don’t notice how shallow our breath is, how often we hold our breath.  Stop and breath is a good mantra. Simplicity is always best. Simplicity is the doorway to the profound and I miss what is profound in the rush of my crowded, complex thoughts. Thoughts that tumble over each other, over and over until there is a huge tumbleweed of fear or doubt or illusion of some kind.

Snickers noses my knee to get my attention. She wants to climb into my lap, but she weights somewhere around 70 lbs, so I veto that. Later we will sit on the couch while I watch something on TV and she will lie half of her body on my lap. I will stroke her short, bristly fur and she will breath and then let out a long breath. And in this way we will stop for a sweet while.