Tinkers Lane

This morning, I walk through the shriveled vegetation that is the evidence of autumn’s first frost, down to the end of Tinkers Lane. It is just daylight when I close my heavy, outer door and leave the comfort of my kitchen for the semi-darkness outside. My sleep the previous night has been filled with wild, disjointed images of my early life here on the island. When I wake up, I decide to head to the place those dreams portrayed. My morning walks are a routine and, even in the cold pre-dawn, I relish them.
Tinkers Lane runs east off the main road to town. You need not come very far in before you are completely enclosed by tall spruces, forming a wall around you that obliterates all light. Even at noon in summer, the lane is shaded and cool. This morning, in early October, it is blue-black dark. Still, I know the way well enough that I don’t need the light, and I halt only briefly at a sharp cry that comes from the woods. Raccoons, likely. Not after me, just the windfall apples from the long abandoned trees lining the lane.
As I reach the rocky shore at the end of the lane, the sun stretches itself above the blurred line of the horizon. It’s overcast this morning, in advance of a hurricane moving up the coast, and sunrise is less than spectacular. Still, I watch for a while, enjoying the calm, silver-grey water, and the gulls and terns circling for their breakfast–inhaling the scent of spruce mixed with salt from the bay. Soon, I decide to head home to my coffee and the breaking of my own fast.
I have been to the end of Tinkers Lane many times. The lane is not more than a quarter mile from the house where my paternal grandparents lived when I was a child–the house where I often visited them. Tinkers was within the area we were allowed to roam in those earlier, innocent days of our childhoods–before children were snatched off the streets and adults everywhere–even on a small Maine island–became the frightened and watchful people we are now. But in all the times I have been this way, I have never noticed the dilapidated building, set on the rocks, hidden just beyond the end of the Lane. Seeing it now, I am reminded of its appearance in my dreams, last night. I have the sense that I have been called to come here this morning.
I am drawn, often, to those things others have discarded. Whether the thrift store table, the plants left in the community compost heap, the stray animal, or this abandoned building, I feel compelled by their condition to offer shelter, nurturance and/or rehabilitation, to that which others find undesirable.
Approaching this small, deteriorating, structure, I find it covered with lichen–growing yellow-gold against the greyed cedar shingles on the exterior. Windows and roof are intact, but the dirty window glass and peeling blue paint on the shutters and the door let me know that no one has been regularly caring for this place.
I wonder if its owner has died, or is simply no longer able to make the walk down the lane. I have no way of knowing, of course. But, wanting to discover what I can, I try the door. Happily, as I lift the thumb latch, and pull it gently toward me, the door yields. Standing on the large piece of granite set as a step, I peer into the dim interior.
The shafts of light from the windows are filled with dust motes, swirling in the air. Along the whitewashed walls hang coils of rope, buoys, and oars. Traps meant to catch lobsters are stacked on the floor. These are wooden traps, not the plastic-coated metal ones in use now, so I know that this equipment is from at least twenty years ago. I can see that no one has used it for a long time. I wonder about the fisherman who owned this place and why he never came back. I pray, silently, that it was not misfortune that kept him away.
I think about how often we abandon what is worn and well used in favor of what is pristine and new. The equipment stored here is in good repair–recently painted buoys, neatly mended nets–and tells me that the fisherman who owned this place took pride in the tools of his trade. I feel he would not have simply abandoned them to acquire shiny, new replacements meant to be housed in a new place.
I want to wash the dirty windows and sweep the floor clean, but although it’s unlocked, I feel that entering the building would be akin to trespassing. I decide against going inside. Offering a silent blessing to both the building, and its prior occupant, I shut the door gently and turn for home.

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Peace

This skyline isn’t defined by a row of tall buildings or a range of mountain peaks, but rather by a jagged line of tall spruce trees, standing straight against the sky. Approaching this coast in a boat, you are most aware of, and concerned with, the rocks that are your obstacles and your landing places. But when you see this coast up close, on foot or on a bicycle, you soon realize that you are surrounded by forest! It’s the best of both worlds, living in a forest by the sea.
This far north, native deciduous trees are few. There is no flowery, exuberant laurel to punctuate the springtime. There is no brilliantly colored oak or maple to light up the fall. The white birch is one of the few deciduous trees to thrive and is clearly at home here among nature’s minimalist architecture. It offers soft contrast to the simple starkness of the spruce–green-black needles, smooth bark and sculptural form.
Today, morning fog clings to the rocks from which the trees grow, making them seem suspended, very slightly, above the earth, detached, floating. Just the opposite of their usual rooted integrity.
The shapes of the spruces and the leafless white birch seem honed by a razor until all the extraneous bits have been skillfully removed. Revealed is the beauty to be found in the unadorned, the pure and simple. In the way that the structure of the haiku makes the poem appear, the structure of the forest, with its simple contrast of colors and textures, can remind us what lies beneath our own surface.
Many religious traditions encourage us to strip away the inessential in a quest to reveal the soul within. To be found there is our truest nature, our essential self, an image of God. There are many ways to hone our soul and to release it from its outer cover: prayer, meditation, spiritual friendships, crisis, calamity, falling in love, having a child. However we manage to do it, stripping away the mask of self is a lifetime’s work.
It’s a blessed, peaceful presence that the spruces offer. Lifting eyes to the skyline brings awareness of the the ground upon which we stand, and of the the timelessness of it. Grounded and enveloped, you can center here and be drawn into the forest world. There is a world not of busyness, but of the still and intimate presence of God made plain by the profound beauty of these majestic trees, clean against morning’s silver sky.

Miracles

 

Each drop of water

every falling leaf

constitutes a miracle.

Autumn days in New England bring cerulean blue skies splashed against red and orange leaves to form a patchwork of color blurred through the scented veil of woodsmoke.

Leafy stripes and plaids wrap hills and valleys in autumn’s brilliant fabric and seem to dye the landscape with impossible tints of vermillion and ochre and citron.

This one last flash of glory serves to deny the imminence of winter’s silvered grey. Exploding from a late summer start, autumn’s energetic colors sprint toward their seasonal finish line. Once there, they bring to us an awareness–kept at bay by spring’s potential and summer’s abundance—that all life will end. Red and orange will turn to brown. Cerulean blue will turn to silver. Sunshine slants thin and low in the sky.

Alone among life, human beings know that we will die. We are gifted with the capacity to understand the cyclical nature of earthly life. We see our children born and our parents die. We know that night follows day and that old age is the inevitable outcome of youth. This gift, this knowledge that life is fleeting, calls us to attend to each moment. Yet, careworn and human, we take for granted what should serve to energize and inspire. We ignore moments that call us to anoint and to rejoice.

How then, should we live our one holy and mysterious life? Is living and having to die a siren call for our attention or an invitation to stupor?

In times past, a people living in closer proximity to nature saw the world as a sacred place. Spirit lived everywhere and enlivened everything. The veil between this world and the next was thin. Leading people to a belief in signs and portents, as well as to a loving reverence for all of life, the ancient sacramental universe carried the taint of superstition by the time of the Enlightenment. Post Enlightenment, the universe was explained in ways concrete and rational. Scientific principles removed any hint of life’s holy mystery.

Still, seeing the mystery in each moment is easy once you decide to look. Who can explain kindness or love or bravery? Consider the nettle, the muskrat, the garden slug. Each contains the same holy and miraculous life. Awakening instills in our souls a deep reverence, and an even deeper gratitude, for life.

Awareness of life’s fragility, when combined with awakening to the sacred, brings us the gift of a life lived “all in”. We come to know ourselves as part of a finely woven fabric of living that urges us to hold nothing back. Releasing over-thinking and fear, we can embrace lives full of sacred experiences–lives plumbed deeply for their holy miracles.

Frozen Windowpane

Frozen windowpane
Snow, sleet, ice.
A fly suns herself.

We have just come through 36 hours of a serious nor’easter here on Vinalhaven. And although the wind is calm and the sun shines thinly through the clouds today, we still have no internet or telephone and only intermittent power. In an instant autumn became winter.
When I went to sleep Saturday night, a light rain and a gusty wind made the two large maples in front of my house swoosh and sway. The maples were still full of beautiful leaves–like full heads of hair–in shades of red, orange and yellow.
By Sunday morning it was a white world. The maples were going bald. Snow fell sideways, mixed with sleet, and wind howled and moaned through the trees and around the chimney. It was hard to hear yourself talk, even inside the house. Outside, it was deafening. When the lights went out midday, I climbed upstairs to bed, cuddling with my cat, under the down quilt, trying to stay warm. I was only moderately successful, but Penney slept soundly.
With power and communication now restored, I feel a little disoriented–melancholy, although the sun is shining brightly. Being less insulated from the natural world was, in its way, nurturing. I think I miss the howling wind and freezing sleet. I know that I miss the time I spent apart from the world’s demands. The isolation and the quiet worked to heal, and to nurture my weary spirit.