When You’re Smiling

July 7, 2018


When you’re smiling, when you’re smiling
The whole world smiles with you
When you’re laughing, when you’re laughing
The sun comes shining through

Larry Shay, Mark Fisher & Joe Goodwin, 1928


Yesterday a Carolina chickadee had to get on me about the outrage of a days-empty bird feeder. Quoth she, knowing I was just inside the house: ‘See-be-see-bay. See-Be-See-Bay. SEE-BE-SEE-BAY. CHICKADEEDEEDEE!‘ Heaving a sigh, I went out to do the right thing by Madame Chickadee and those she represents. As I filled the feeder, she declared harmony restored, with a cheerful stream of chickadee talk, very near my ear. I couldn’t help but respond, ‘Oh, you darling. You sweet, adorable, little darling!’ Upon which a male voice from just the other side of the board fence replied, ‘Yo!’ Evidently he had been resting in the shade, little dreaming of such an affirmation.  Then he started his mower back up, and I fled flame-faced into my house.

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But wait, there’s more.  Picked up the paper, and there’s a headline: ‘Thomas Jefferson had passion for bird-watching.’  I already knew he was an avid naturalist, that he kept a mockingbird in the White House, name of Dick.  That Dick whistled merrily, had free wing of the place.


What I did not know is this–Jefferson’s own testimony as to his bird-watching:  ‘My method is to make two observations a day, the one as early as possible in the morning, the other from 3. to 4. aclock … I state them in an ivory pocket book … & copy them out once a week.’


Thank you, Gary Clark, for bringing this to my delighted attention.


One more smile, this from my sister, who makes her observations of winged creatures via camera, and ‘states them’ via email.  Here, some particularly beautiful brown eyes:




“Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.”

-Margaret Mead, American anthropologist (1901-1978)







Hurray for the Jay!

July 6, 2018


Those keen-eyed friends of mine, dapper and dashing, how it lifts my heart to see them at their bath!  Such purposeful vigor, such explosion of water!  One day I saw a jay training its, what, child, younger sibling?  They were identical, but clearly one was seasoned and one was not.  The challenge was, why this tentative dipping of toes? Get in the water and give it some gusto!  Here, let me show you…


Sometimes they declare a day-long concert. Such outpouring of trillings, burblings, improvs, even a quiet meditation or two. And scolding, as needed. Which it often is. As you would expect, one particular object of scolding is hawks. A group of red-shouldered hawks used to hang out around here. One clear and frosty Christmas morning, angels on my mind, the wind blowing sharp, my camera captured bright ‘wings.’ A jay would surely say:  Silly woman, you and your children safe in your house. That there is no angel.

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While the red-shoulders remained, our jaybirds grew well-practiced in their cry — a kind of loud scream: Keeyuur…  Truly when the jay-version rang out, it would take someone with keener ear than mine to tell the difference. Many a chilling scream called me to my window, only to catch a jay in its mimicking. And I would wonder:  Why??


Then the red-shoulders moved on. A new hawk family moved in, Mr. and Mrs. Broad-wing, whose cry is quite different. It’s a high, thin, piercing whistle. The jays were hushed at first.  Then they began to practice.  But it seems a whistle is harder than a scream.


Then one day, as I sat on the patio deep in a book by Jaroslav Pelikan, a piercing whistle startled me. Definitely not a pelican. No, a broad-wing hawk! Oh the joy of a raptor so close! Only when I looked up I saw in the Chinese elm not a broad-wing, but a blue jay, who pertly pronounced:   Fooled you, eh?  What a smart  bird am I!


To what end his hard work in capturing this cry, in practicing till he got it just right, I have no idea. But I’m proud of him.  Proud of his discipline. Awed at what  drove him to excellence. Let us call him Tenacious Jay. I wrote a poem:


If a jay can rise with every dawn

and take up his duty on my back lawn,

if he can fit a bandit’s mask

to full embrace of heaven’s task

and love his Creator with all his might,

with all his shadow, and all his light,

if a jay be nimble, and brave and strong,

and ready to say when he is wrong,

if he can stand in the gap and shriek,

if he can help the mild and weak,

if he can narrow those bold black eyes

and get in some licks before he dies,

well, give me a jolt of electric blue

and let me be a jaybird too!


Kitchen angels:

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Nearer, My God, to Thee

July 4, 2018
I am worried about Deep Fake videos. I think we humans have really done it now, and things may have gotten out of hand.  Now comes my brother with an article about people worried about gender language in the Book of Common Prayer.
I wonder if we’re all so worried, each about our particular vision of the common sinking ship, that all we can think to do is rearrange the deck chairs. And argue over it. Or worse.
“Be ye not anxious.”
“Trust God and do the next right thing.”
“Whatever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.”
Dateline:  A sunporch on Evangeline.  Where I’m supposed to ride my elliptical, but have been slacking off.
A vision came:  A  vertical consolidation, with shelves.  That’s the ticket!
I drove to Hobby Lobby, store coupon happily in hand.  The clerk said, this coupon applies only to regular price items, and our furniture is always on sale.  I said, so always on sale means that’s the regular price, right?  Good try!
Next hurdle: folding the rack flat and wrestling it out the old-fashioned Hobby Lobby doors to my car.  Next hurdle: will it fit?  Yes, on the diagonal in the cabin, one end resting on my yoga bag, the other end occupying the front passenger seat.
Next hurdle: wrestling it into the house and positioning it, then reading the dire warning to bolt it to the wall, lest it pitch forward and flatten someone.  Next hurdle: securing the top of it to the corner of the sunporch, which I did with an eye bolt and a purse strap.  This took some engineering I didn’t know I had in me.
Then I had to decorate the thing.  This entailed wandering around the house for knickknacks.  Along the way, I discovered dust, and other things that needed attention…
As to the loading of the shelves, I finally settled on the essentials, which after all was the original vision.
All this took three hours.  After recovering a bit, I tried out my new exercise area.
Imago Dei:  After six days of creating and one day of rest, She said,  “Behold, it is very good.”  And like house work and other projects, ever with us. Close inspection of the picture below shows a slat askew…

Tears of a Tamarisk Tree

July 3, 2018

Dateline: Beaumont, Texas, Trinity United Methodist Church, Room 105, Explorers Sunday school

Last Sunday’s lesson was the heart-cry of David upon hearing that Saul and Jonathan were dead.  (We did note that the lament he made all his men learn may also have been a shrewd and necessary political move.) One class member asked, “What happened to Saul’s body? Didn’t the Philistines make an outrageous display of it, and then some kind people from a nearby town rescued it?”  Well, far be it from me the teacher not to investigate.  And so are planted the seeds of a poem:

Tears of a Tamarisk Tree

(a reflection on First Samuel)


Common in the Middle East

A pretty flowering thing

Dark-green shade for weary ones

Cool balm for desert’s sting

She grows in saline soil

Her taproot reaches water

Draws up salt, she drops the dew

An air-conditioned daughter!

The Bible hardly mentions her—

Pay attention all the more

To one of the saddest tales

Set down in Hebrew lore


Once in ancient Gibeah

Under a tamarisk tree

Saul the king of Israel

In a killing mood was he

“I hate David. Never mind

That he’s my son in law

I know he’s out to get me

And this is the last straw

He’s made a covenant with my son

He’s hiding, town to town

I’ll find out who’s been feeding him

And I will strike them down”

And so Saul killed the priests of Nob

For extending charity

Eighty-five holy men

Under the tamarisk tree

Saul moved on in hot pursuit

David ran again

The tears of the tamarisk flowed

for the unquenchable rage of men


Later, on Mount Gilboa

The Philistines fought so fierce

Three princes died, then Saul went down

His poor sick heart was pierced

Lo the mighty fallen

Could even worse befall?

Yes. Jubilating Philistines

Hung Saul upon the wall

The merciful town of Jabesh

Hearing of the crime

Sent valiant men to take Saul down

A kindness, just in time

While the Philistines were sleeping

They took King Saul and his three

And gave them a decent burial

Under a tamarisk tree

Common in the Middle East

A pretty flowering thing

Dark-green shade for weary ones

Cool balm for desert’s sting

The Bible hardly mentions her—

Pay attention all the more

To one of the saddest tales

Set down in Hebrew lore

Tormented soul, at last you rest

Thou furious, yet so brave

She wept salt tears and tucked you in

Deep stillness of your grave



A Patriotic Interlude

July 1, 2018

Sunday lunch at Floyd’s

Happy family, we

Save for someone teething

A tentative smile had she

Flickering image above us

Caught her wary eye

A soccer match in Moscow

At least she didn’t cry

But then she did. I took her out

Under the porte-cochre’

A lovely bench to sit on

A summer breeze at play

She flexed her hands, examined her toes

Fuzzy head under my chin

She watched the people she watched the cars

Fly by on Interstate Ten

And then, my gracious! what wonder is this

Furling and snapping on high?

It’s a flag, my dear, so now I will sing

On this the first of July

I started the medley with Cohan

Then moved to Sousa, J.P.

Baby was the majorette

And the band? Grandmotherly me

Then back to Grand Old Flag

to the line I couldn’t recall

I didn’t ask the passersby

Since Baby cared not at all

So la la la at the gap in the song

It suited us perfectly fine

Then mama came out, I gave her the Child

Then went in search of the line

God bless our fractious nation

We might as well be teething

Perhaps if we join in a simple old song

We can stop yelling, and work toward believing:

You’re a grand old flag
You’re a high-flying flag
And forever in peace may you wave
You’re the emblem of
The land I love
The home of the free and the brave
Ev’ry heart beats true
Under red, white and blue
Where there’s never a boast or brag
But should old acquaintance be forgot

Keep your eye on the grand old flag


Give Me Work!

June 29, 2018

Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.

Ecclesiastes 9:10

At six months, my granddaughter is teething.  I had forgotten how challenging this is for everyone. Yesterday when I kept her she was out of sorts, and none of my tricks nor any of her teething devices did any good. She tried to be happy, she tried to smile. But tears welled up, she gnawed on her fist, and there was a piteous look in her eyes. My visiting friend remarked, “We all have days like that.” Which gave me an idea: Give me work!  I have mine, a baby has hers.  So I put her in her ‘office’ (her walker with toys attached to the tray) where she spent an earnest half hour, focused with all her heart mind soul and strength on manipulating the toys. With her right hand. Curiously, her left hand remained up. Invoking Heaven?  Enjoining silence? Or perhaps it was a right-turn signal?


O thou small person, so dear: Blessings on the days ahead, especially on thy current work of growing teeth.




Proposal for a Bumper Sticker: How Is Your Log Removal Going?

And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, “Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,” when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.

Matthew 7:3-5

Hearing this first-century wisdom preached in twentieth-century Arkansas marked a big step forward in my personal engagement with the church.  I was six years old, or thereabouts.  It was if a light turned on for me. It was as if I thought, ‘ This Jesus fellow makes sense. And he just gave me a delightful shock. Something to keep me awake and growing the rest of my life.  As for church, I think I’ll stick with it.’

I would enjoy many more trips to Prescott with my family, and much more training and nurture at First Methodist.   For me, it was holy ground.  Then my grandparents were gone, and not much reason to return. Years passed. My last trip to Prescott happened in 2013, when Uncle Paul died, and we needed to clear out his house.  Now the venerable matriarch of the group, I insisted we go to church.  I took some pictures.  Couple of years later, looking at the pictures, I remembered some unfinished business.  Listen:

At sixty-something and sound of mind

And long in the Methodist church

I remember how it started

Finding a place to perch


Perch at the church with my grandma

When I was six or seven

We prayed, and oh! we sang the songs!

I was sure that this was heaven


Creaking pews and ladies in hats

And me so young and small

Dark polished wood and walls of white

Fans whirring on the wall

Velvet on stately upright chairs

For preachers and bishops I guess

Should a bishop appear of a Sunday

We’d want to do no less


And there above the choir

Knocking at the door

Stained-glass Jesus with his staff

Stirred me to my core

Robed in red, gowned in blue

Poised to hear if I heard

Him on the doorstep of my heart

Waiting with a word


And then the preacher, Brother DeBlack,

He talked to us a while

And I remember the story he told

And how it made me smile

He offered a pearl of teaching

Before me bright it lay

It opened the heart of a little girl

And stayed there to this day

A log and a speck, how funny is that

How delightfully down to earth

I heard it in Prescott, Arkansas

Ground of my father’s birth

To me it made such perfect sense

That one can hardly see

To take a speck from someone’s eye

When in your own—a tree!

A log and a speck, a speck and a log

A sprightly thought for me

A verse I heard in the Methodist church

How lucky can one child be?

But hearing it is one thing

And practicing another

For often still I find a log

And hypocrisy? Oh brother!

Quick to note transgressions

And take your inventory

Not so eager to list my own

Examine my part in the story

I have so many blind spots

And miss important things

Stlll God loves me, this I know

God’s wisdom round me rings


Wisdom, and friendly reminders

God woke me, that’s a fact!

To take the time to send my thanks

To Brother Alfred DeBlack

Not him of course for he is gone

But I found an address for his son

My email flew to Arkansas

And I hoped he was the one


Why, yes he was, and he was glad

To have a word from me

He’d been that day to the grave of his dad

Under a lone oak tree

Looking back was Thomas DeBlack

When I reached out to him

Just two ‘kids’ looking back to their dads

Remembering Alfred, and Jim

Our fathers, and other dear ones

And precious days of old

When we were, as we are, beloved

Lambs in the Methodist fold

A lovely if sentimental thought!

For Tom may be a lamb

I’m sure he is—I have no doubt

But that’s hardly who I am

I’m a lamb not always lamblike

For I can hurl lightning and frogs

But I can be better if I can beware

Of lurking ocular logs


The teaching of Jesus hits us where we live. We cannot stand as humbugs before him for one second. He educates us down to the scruple…There is no getting away from the penetration of Jesus. If I see a mote in your eye, it means I have a beam in my own. Every wrong thing I see in you, God locates in me. Every time I judge, I condemn myself…I have never met the man I could despair of after discerning what lies in me apart from the grace of God… You have to walk in the light of the vision that has been given to you and not compare yourself with others or judge them; that is between them and God.

Oswald Chambers

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. And do not judge and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned.

Luke 6:36-37

And underneath are the everlasting Arms.


Music of the Spheres

June 27, 2018

‘For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.’                                                                                                                          —Psalm 139:13-14

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In the July/August 2018 edition of Atlantic magazine, Nathaniel Comfort reviews Carl Zimmer’s new book She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity.

My first thought, prompted by the book’s title: What if your mother disappears?  Daughter keening for mother is a force with potential to break our hearts, wake us to outrage, move us closer to wellbeing for all.  Wellbeing for all. It’s a vision, anyway. Without a vision, the people die.  Without justice tempered by mercy, without critical thinking tempered by tenderness, the people die. If we won’t wake up and stay awake, we die. All at once, or a little at a time. So the prophet said.  Poor prophets, never popular!  But still they call it like they see it, those daughters and sons of the living God.

I remember when my own mother died, sixteen years ago.  Her sprightly mind had been gone for a weariness of years.  It was time and past time to rest.  But when she left, I was bereft. Even at 48, full grown and philosophical, the soft animal of my body cried out for mother.03 baby Phoebe, 1954.jpg

reaching for mother, 1954

Back to the book review. Here’s a paragraph that charmed me:

All of the heredities—chromosonal, mitochondrial, epigenetic—still don’t add up to your entire you. Not even close. Every one of us carries a unique flora of hundreds if not thousands of microbes, each with its own genome, without which we cannot feel healthy—cannot be “us.” These too can be passed from parent to child—but may also move from child to adult, child to child, stranger to stranger. Always a willing volunteer, Zimmer allowed a researcher to sample the microbes living in his belly-button lint. Zimmer’s “navelome” included 53 species of bacteria. One microbe had been known, until then, only from the Mariana Trench. “You, my friend,” the scientist said, “are a wonderland.” Indeed, we all are.

Mariana Trench. That’s deep. Ha! I wonder if God is smiling at how long it took us beautiful rowdy children of mothers to investigate a belly-button and find a universe.  Life-long learning in service to God’s highest–that’s our heritage, and our calling.


All the heredities, all the flora, adding up to ‘you.’  You, my friend, are a wonderland! Did you know that if we could take the DNA in your body and stretch it out in a line, it would reach all the way to Saturn and back—seven times! Or so they say.

Speaking of Saturn:  a few years ago my alert and ever-helpful brother informed me that the Cassini spacecraft had taken and sent back to Earth a close-up photo of a profound oddity, namely one of Saturn’s moons: Phoebe. He offered headlines: “Scarred, Cratered Old Surface Points to Checkered Past.” “Saturn’s Moon Phoebe: Old, Beaten, and Still Mysterious.”


Enchanted, I hastened to research and write an essay about this eccentric skull-shaped moon of Saturn, keeper of cosmic secrets, veiled until now.  She of the  tilted, retrograde orbit, circling Saturn ‘backwards’. She who by some reports came from the outermost edge of our solar system, to join Saturn’s other moons. Part of the circle, but keeping her distance–keeping to the vulnerable outer edge, flinging icy debris with each hit she took.  The mother of Saturn’s rings!

So I’m thinking, what might my “navelome” reveal? I do have some thoughts on that.

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‘This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears all nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.’  And underneath, the everlasting Arms!

The Subject is Shells

June 26, 2018

New day on Evangeline. As I walk into my kitchen in search of coffee I notice an arrangement on the wall. Who put that there?? How lovely!

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Some long ago “I” made that shadow box. Here we have a clue to one woman’s mind. Evidently she likes to curate creation.

It cannot be said enough: ‘The art of life is to blur the line between work and play.’

Well then! One day on Evangeline I find myself supervising some repair project or other.  Housebound.  Time passes.  More time passes…

Flash of inspiration!  Out come the shells.  Out comes the shadowbox, bought for the shells, for that elusive day when things ‘ease up a bit.’  That day is here!  Go find the ruler, and the glue!

Oh precious work of creation. Sun in the middle, angel wings, ‘macaroni’ for interest. And how do you like the plaid? Some Creator, yes? Seems God likes pizzazz.

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Later, the shells attract more beauty:  card from Brenda, angel from Kate. And here it all is, prepared by me, to bless some future ‘me’ and precious others on Evangeline.

I hearken back to another day, on Deauville Beach, in Delaware. This was, oh, nine years ago. There I was with Janice and Brenda, three ladies of a certain age, reposing on beach chairs.  Sea breeze, sun on our heads. Our hearts were full, for sure.  Someone should capture this moment, put it in a shadow box!  One joy I did capture was a mother and child, at water’s edge:


Is that holy, or what?? But wait, there’s more.

I may have mentioned ‘ladies of a certain age.’   I don’t know why people, especially women, are so coy. In 2009 I was 55. There!

55 is a respectable age, a reasonable speed limit. Settled and sedate, less fleet of foot than we used to be, yes?  All the more remarkable what happened next.

Others were on the beach, younger, keener of eye. But it was I who saw the Miracle come tumbling out of the waves. Small form, growing larger.  I was transfixed, beyond speech. Why does no one see?  Is this moment really mine?

The Miracle leapt it sparkled it gleamed it rolled ever closer, seeming to say: “I am yours. Come and get me, my darling. If you want me.” Having spoken, it drew back, skittered back from whence it came. “I’m leaving now.  Come and get me. If you can!”

I was up like a shot, running like the girl I used to be, running to claim my prize.

‘Oh, be swift my soul to answer him; be jubilant my feet! Our God is marching on.’


drying,  on a Delaware porch


at home, in Southeast Texas


Her Life Lifts My Heart

June 25, 2018

Yesterday as we were circling up for Sunday school, the subject of trees arose, and took hold. This was not in my lesson plan! But one thing I’ve noticed and learned to love about leading a class: “The Spirit bloweth wild, high surging where it will.” As I pondered how I could work with the Spirit while easing us toward our lection—maybe I could say that Goliath towered like a massive oak over sapling David??—we spun tales of trees we love for their beauty and suffer for their messiness: limbs and sticks, drifts of dead leaves, gumballs on the ground, brown curlicues of pollen, yellow dustings of different pollen, brilliant red magnolia seeds smashed into driveways, magnolia cones thumping onto roofs—oh you magnolia! Good thing your flower is heavenly and your leaves so green, at least for some of the year. We spoke of the wisdom required to properly place a tree, that is, in a few years you will rue the day you planted a live oak close to your house. Naturally we couldn’t let the subject go without mentioning the sin of “crape murder.” Well, perhaps we accomplished as much in this preface to the lesson as we did the rest of the hour! For me, every moment was exhilarating.

Exhilarating. Life-breathing. Wisdom is a tree of life to those who take hold of her. So spoke the proverbist of old. Which brings me to my darling Chinese elm. Technically, she may be a lacebark elm. I don’t know for sure. I just know I love her! Listen to an essay I wrote a few years back. Listen, and see if it moves you to your own love song.  How dearly we need love songs about our particular corners of creation.  “A song, a chime, a chant sublime,” from our hearts, rising to heaven, for the healing of the world:

Chinese Elm

She has that certain something. Regarding her unusual beauty, people attuned to such things ask me what she is, where they can get one like her. Centerpiece of our small back yard, she’s a Chinese elm, thirty-five years old, arms outflung in wide embrace, to the fullness of her height.


Springtime drops over those arms a shimmering frock of palest green, by which she captures hearts as surely as any Southern belle.


In summer her greenery darkens. Her trunk and branches swell with vitality, flinging off gray curls of bark to reveal mahogany smoothness beneath.


In the fall she sets seeds; they fly from her hands on brown-paper wings.


In winter she composes herself to rest.   Her poise is a dancer’s, balanced, strong, her inclined stillness enlivened by a supple turn where she widens to meet the earth.   A bonsai master could not have posed her more charmingly.

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But it was Hurricane Bonnie, not bonsai, who shaped her when she was young, the storm twisting, then laying her flat. With hope, and help from neighbors, we hoisted her heaviness upright as best we could, staked her—and somehow she lived. Subsequent years brought more challenges—ice storm, Hurricane Rita, Hurricane Ike, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, severe prunings on her south side to render room for power lines. But in spite of all, this lady-tree grows more beautiful every year. Her life lifts my heart.


She’s noted for her hospitality. Little boys enjoyed her shade; so did their dog, of blessed memory. In her branches, birds of every hue and feather—tiny wrens, fierce hawks—have sheltered, sung choruses, mated, or merely paused to catch their breath. You hear a northern cardinal? Look up. There he is, at her crown! Squirrels travel the highway of her arms.


Yesterday I saw a curious sight: In the hot afternoon a squirrel was napping on one branch, smack in the middle of the highway, as if in his scampering he simply gave out—this far and no further. Maybe that droning cicada-music got to him. Who knows? Anyway, there he lay, spraddled on his stomach, chin on Mother Elm’s smooth skin, all four legs hanging down, tail stretched out behind. “Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; like a weaned child rests against his mother…” After a time he sprang up and resumed his travels.

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In Hebrew imagery, that which lifts the heart, reinvigorates, restores high spirits, is called a Tree of Life. According to Proverbs, Wisdom is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, and happy are those who hold her fast. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. What do you think? Can one’s back yard contain Wisdom—an invitation to prayer, to the perfect stillness of divine embrace? I believe so.