Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Song of Summer

By Patrick J. Walsh

Tentative, faint; echoing in the sweetness of the memories they invoke and aching in the evanescent traces of the comfort they promise, the sounds of summer are in the park these days.

This is the first of Spring, in its early bloom, when the weather routinely betrays the best impulses of the seasons.

Surfaced from memory, whispers of bright, gentle mornings and soft afternoons tug at my tired soul, and I pull my jacket close against the coolness of the day.

As I set out, the weak, scattered sunlight shares only a hollow warmth. Farther along, I wander beneath clouds heavy with rain, and crosswinds jostle at my arms and legs, indifferent to my progress.

In the open area near the lake, the sputtering folds of wind recall the "hup-hup-hup" of a little boy approximating a primitive flute by blowing across the neck of an open soda bottle.

On the far side of the water, in the chill darkness beneath the cover of the canopy of trees, the cicadas are fooled into an early burst of song.

Their staccato melody echoes across the windy surface of the lake like an invocation, bringing golden remembrance of the hushed tones of quiet exchanges in the twilight of warm days past.

There is not yet the flutter of leaves on branches touched by the tiny limbs of birds; nor is there the bright splash of a fish struggling down the stream toward the lake; nor the hum of insects flashing along the trail at the edge of the paved road.

But there are the sounds of ancient campfires: the pop and hiss of burning twigs, their tiny flames nurtured by the coaxing breath of some long ago mother or father, while the squeals of delighted children echo nearby.

And with my eyes gently closed, paused in my forward progress by some intimation of welcome, I hear the murmur of the woods calling out through the sultry stillness of a summer night, and the wordless yearning of a wish made in silence at the sight of a star falling from the summer sky.

In the park, on a chilly day in Spring, the cicadas hum, and in the breath of the wind, I hear the sounds of summer.

© Patrick J. Walsh

Monday, April 22, 2013

Celebrating Earth Day: A Moment in Light

By Patrick J. Walsh

On this day that we set aside to think about the Earth, it is instructive to imagine that moment, far back in the gray darkness of our infant civilization, when the first primitive human first became aware of a larger dimension to his or her own landscape.

photo courtesy of NASA
In the thin, weak light of that moment — or, perhaps, that series of moments in which the idea came and went, until it ultimately took hold — there is the start of our collective yearning to understand our place in the cosmos, and to discern the mile markers on the road of our collective journey.

Watch the video: A Moment in Light

And it is instructive, as we try to enrobe that moment with details of time and place and person, to further imagine a subsequent point in the vast history of our living here — to try to imagine the distinct moment in our collective consciousness when humanity first thought of the Earth not merely as the place where we find ourselves, but also as the place that we call our home.

In all that that transition implies, the Earth is after all the museum of our fondest memories of the past, and the canvas for the realization of our most cherished hopes for the future.

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Pat's video series "Five Minutes in Space"

As we imagine the primitive whose awareness was archetype of the perspective that has come to inform our modern understanding of the world, it is difficult to dismiss the responsibility that we now face in our sophistication.

Given the depth of our own awareness and the abundance of our blessings, it seems reasonable to assert that it is incumbent upon us to treat our Earth with the same sort of care that we each would, at our best, treat our individual dwellings, as we live out our lives in the best traditions of respect and honor for our neighbors, our community, and all the larger world around us.

Perhaps most importantly, as we mark this particular Earth Day and the grandeur of all that its celebration implies, maybe we can finally begin to learn to live as a family — aware of our differences in general, proud of our specific place in the group as a whole, and ultimately, all encompassing in our tolerance and kindness toward each other, wherever we may reside on this small planet.

© Patrick J. Walsh

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Hare and the Bear

By Patrick J. Walsh

As I walk by, unaware of their doings, a small group of animals gathers in an open patch of grass in the woods, a short distance from the edge of the paved road in the park.

They are discussing their upcoming spring play — a rollicking presentation based on The Knight's Tale, from Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

The largest of the group, obviously in charge of the production, is a small bear. He surveys the collection of dramatis personae and, in a quiet aside to his assistant — a large hare — he begins to run down the list of roles and the animals necessary to fulfill them:

"So we've got the owl to play Theseus and the ground hog for Aegeus, and the three deer for Palamon and Arcite and Emily —"

"Yes, yes," the hare replies, impatient. "But I've already told you, it's not the character roles you have to worry about. I'm worried about the background players — like for instance, who will play the magical forest creatures who scurry away when the trees are cut down for Arcite's funeral pyre?"

The bear replies with a sigh and a wave of his paw — a gesture that, while unintentional in its effect, nonetheless causes the hare to dodge quickly out of the way.

"Not this again — again with the trees?"

"Well it's important," the hare persists. "It makes a huge impact on an audience, how the background is constructed. If we're going to have magical creatures and trees being cut down, we need to think about that."

"All right, all right. So who do you want for the trees?"

"Well it depends on what kind of tree —"

Growing impatient, the bear brings his paw down heavily on a small clump of wizened sod, sending a loud ‘whump’ off echoing among the slanted rays of sunlight scattered through the woods.

“Okay then,” he responds, obviously trying to stay his annoyance, “what kind of tree? For instance?”

For his part, the hare responds with the first small sign of a smile, the corners of his tiny mouth quivering slightly as he asks:

"Well, a dogwood, for example. I mean, who can we get to play a good dogwood? What sort of an animal will be willing to play a dogwood tree?"

Utterly unaware that he is being led toward a punchline, the bear wearily re-traces the hare's rhetorical question in the sprightly wind of the lovely spring afternoon:

"I don't know… what sort of animal would make a good dogwood tree?"

Tittering slightly while taking a beat — and carefully moving himself several steps away from his much-larger friend — the hare responds:

"Well… a dog would."

And somewhere, some half a mile or so away, I stop suddenly in the midst of my walk, certain that I hear something… something, oddly enough, that sounds sort of like a large hare, laughing hysterically, and a small bear, moaning indulgently.

As the sounds fade, I wonder how I’ve come to think of Chaucer and his Tales, as I wander along the edge of the woods, eyeing the rough bark of the dogwoods on this fine sunny afternoon in the park.

* * *

Did you know?: The oldest existing reference to the dogwood tree in an English language manuscript is found in “The Knight’s Tale,” from Geoffrey Chaucer’s fourteenth century masterpiece The Canterbury Tales (although it is referenced therein in various iterations by its earlier moniker, the archaic “whippletree,” or as “cornel,” which is a variant of the scientific name for its genus, Cornus).

© Patrick J. Walsh


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

At the Side of the Road

By Patrick J. Walsh

Today, as I trekked along my daily path in the park near my home, these days of Easter week brought to mind one of my favorite stories from the Bible: the description of the risen Christ walking with the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24; 13-35).

The park often inspires me to reflect on sacred things, as its beauty transcends the effects of the heavy use it endures due to its location in a densely populated suburban area.

In the brief struggles of its smallest living creatures, as well as the vast slow turning of sky and wind and time that shapes even the largest of its sturdy trees and stone slopes, the park does, after all, know the particulars of life and death.

As I walked today, I thought of how Cleopas and the other disciple in the biblical account were joined on their journey by the stranger who they initially failed to recognize.

Making their way forward in his company, they burst forth with vivid accounts of the events that have led up to the Crucifixion, and they ponder the details of the first reports of the Resurrection. All the while, they have no idea that they are talking to the central figure of the events they are describing.

In the midst of my reflections, I stepped to the side of the paved road as a big red SUV rumbled by, revealing in its rush a mere glimpse of the bike pinioned to its rear door. A few minutes later, it rolled back down the road in the opposite direction, leading me to again step aside.

Walking the ancient road with their unknown companion, the disciples displayed an uncanny exuberance while recounting the events at the heart of their disappointment and sorrow.

I sometimes imagine the vague outline of a smile on the Holy countenance, as Jesus listened patiently to the worries of his companions before explaining to them how his life and death fit into the pattern of religious prophecy and the promise of human history.

In the park in these days of Easter twenty one centuries later, we speed past those gifts that serve as expressions of a larger wisdom, as we pass every treasure of wizened tree or turbid pond or clouded sky, lost in the frustrations and sadness of our own modern journey.

And sometimes as I walk, I wonder at all we might be missing when we fail to recognize the nature of all that accompanies us, as we make our way along the road each day.

© Patrick J. Walsh