Last Saturday, my middle daughter and I headed out to pick blueberries. It couldn't have been a more perfect morning. The blue sky, fresh breeze and cheerful company added to the delight of choosing perfect berries from the first picking. As we wondered how they kept bears away, I was reminded of a favorite children's book, Blueberries for Sal, where bears and humans navigate a Maine hillside in search of the luscious fruit. Our buckets were plastic, so we missed the fun of hearing "plink, plank, plunk" but like "little Sal," quite a few handfuls (at least from my side of the row) ended up not quite making it into the bucket.

Later that day I pulled out a family recipe for blueberry pie. I can't recall exactly where this recipe came from, but it has long been a family favorite. My youngest daughter gave it to a friend for his birthday, and although I can't say how much of an impact it made, I do know that, as they draw near to celebrating their first anniversary, it remains one of his favorite desserts.

Robert Frost has a chatty poem about a patch of blueberries. Here are the first few lines, which catch a bit of the thrill of loaded bushes.

"You ought to have seen what I saw on my way
To the village, through Mortenson's pasture to-day:
Blueberries as big as the end of your thumb,
Real sky-blue, and heavy, and ready to drum
In the cavernous pail of the first one to come!
And all ripe together, not some of them green
And some of them ripe! You ought to have seen!"

The rest of the poem, where one learns of the Loren clan (perhaps fed in large
part by wild berries) can be found here.

While looking for things blueberry, I found first Deborah Gordon's whimsical  poem  entitled Blueberry Hill , and then the painting below which, like brie and
apricot jam, seem magically paired.
Blueberry Tree by Amy Giacomelli

The blueberries crawl
From a blueberry tree
Where the blueberries call
To a blueberry sea.

 And the blueberry sun
Sticks its head through the sky
As the blueberries hum
And the birds skitter by.

And the blueberry waves
Tap their toes on the floor
As the blueberries laze
By the blueberry shore

And the blueberries crawl
From a blueberry tree
Where the blueberries call
To a blueberry sea.

But since reading about blueberries can never be quite as fun as actually eating them, here are two recipes to try this summer, the blueberry cream cheese pie, as well as a lemon tart that's equally yummy.

Blueberry Cream Cheese Pie

single pie crust, baked and cooled

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 c sugar
1/4 c sour cream
1/2 t vanilla
2 - 3 c blueberries
1/2 c water
1/4 c sugar
3 T cornstarch
1 T lemon juice

Blend cream cheese, 1/2 c sugar, sour cream and vanilla until smooth. Spread in the bottom of a baked pie crust. Chill. In small saucepan mash 1 c of blueberries, add 1/2 c water and bring to a boil. Strain and add water to the juice to make 1 cup. Combine remaining sugar (1/4 c) and cornstarch. Stir into blueberry liquid. Return to pan and cook, stirring constantly until thickened. Remove from heat, stir in lemon juice. Cool. Place remaining berries over cream cheese layer. Spoon glaze evenly over all. Chill well (about 3 hours.)

Blueberry-Topped Lemon Tart

(This simplified version is a bit easier to put together in the summer. The original version, which I found in Good Housekeeping years ago has been posted on here.)

Graham cracker crust
Lemon pudding
1 1/2 pint blueberries
Whipped cream

Make lemon pudding as directed. Pour into graham cracker crust. Immediately pile
blueberries on top of warm lemon filling. Cool. Serve with dollop of whipped cream.

Oh yes - printing out these recipes reminded me that I had wanted to try out a blueberry lemonade. Here's a recipe that I'm enjoying right now.

And for a little music with your lemonade - Fats Domino singing his version of Blueberry Hill!

I've just recently discovered Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali poet and philosopher who lived at the turn of the 20th century. Born to an influential family from Calcutta, Tagore began writing poetry at the age of 8. He went on to win the Nobel prize in 1913, the first non-European so honored.

The following poem, with its enchanting images of light - flowing, kissing, swirling, and shattering - is as mesmerizing as a summer dusk filled with fireflies. As I read and reread its lines, I can't help but relive again those moments when I've been swept along as heaven's banks released a flood of joy.

Rabindranath Tagore
Light, my light, the world-filling light, 
the eye-kissing light, 
heart-sweetening light! 

Ah, the light dances, my darling, at the center of my life; 
the light strikes, my darling, the chords of my love; 
the sky opens, the wind runs wild, laughter passes over the earth. 

The butterflies spread their sails on the sea of light. 
Lilies and jasmines surge up on the crest of the waves of light. 

The light is shattered into gold on every cloud, my darling, 
and it scatters gems in profusion. 

Mirth spreads from leaf to leaf, my darling, 
and gladness without measure. 
The heaven's river has drowned its banks 
and the flood of joy is abroad. 

Starry Night Over the Rhone by Van Gogh
Fair weather will result in diminishing posts while creating more time for gardening and  lounging with a good novel. Longer evenings usher in  the perfect opportunity for back porch firefly sighting and mixed berry sangrias.
Children of the Artist by Borie Kustodiev
As we move toward the Summer Solstice which falls on June 20 this year, I find myself leaning into the loveliness of the long days, late evening dusks and sitting on the porch watching the fireflies emerge. When I was young, I remember feeling strongly that it was quite unfair to have to go to bed while it was still light out. Growing up at a camp, there were always children playing just under my window, it seemed. How could I be expected to sleep? I guess I wasn't the only child to feel this way...

Bed in Summer
Robert Lewis Stevenson

In winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candle-light.
In summer quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.

I have to go to bed and see
The birds still hopping on the tree,
Or hear the grown-up people's feet
Still going past me in the street.

And does it not seem hard to you,
When all the sky is clear and blue,
And I should like so much to play,
To have to go to bed by day?

An early edition of A Child's Garden of Verse can be viewed as a virtual book at a website dedicated to the life and works of Robert Lewis Stevenson (here).
Just a cool summer moment. Couldn't help but feel the same joy the rescuers did at the end of this video.




A week of family gatherings. Back on Friday...
The Birth of Venus by Botticelli
Here's a smorgasbord of art, music and poetry sparked by the transit of Venus, which occurred this past Tuesday and Wednesday. The passing of Venus in front of the sun, which happens twice in 8 years and then not again for 130 more, had interest not only to scientists but also to those who are tuned into the meaning of astrological signs.

The planet Venus, named after the Greek Goddess, is a symbol of love, harmony and peace. Gustav Holst, in his orchestral work, "The Planets" entitles one of his sections, "Venus, the bringer of peace." (You can hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra playing Holst at the bottom of the blog.) It was the desire for more peace, more harmony in the world, the longing for and yearning to partner with an outpouring of love which caused groups all over the world to stop and mark this event.

Love, harmony and peace are gifts that are eternally important. They make us human, and more than human. Mystics from many traditions find that the underlying energies of the world are love. Those who have near death experiences often describe a sense of peace and unity with a powerful love. But the discordant noise that makes up much of our days, our busyness and worry, wars against our living out of these gifts of grace. It is true that we catch glimpses of it in our interactions, but many times the most sure way to connect with this deep reality is to head into nature itself.

This is the path that Wendell Berry, the renowned writer, poet and essayist describes in his poem below. Throughout his life, Berry has been encouraging living in harmony with nature, including deep connections with the land, local sustainable farming, and intentional community. In this poem, he offers his personal remedy for those times he is caught in despair. Leaving his anxious thoughts, he wraps himself in the beauty of nature, comes into the peace of wild things, receives the light from the day-blind stars, and rests in the grace of the world.

The Peace of Wild Things
Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the  least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

While in Canada last week, I happened to catch an article taped to a friend's refrigerator which discussed the revival of a heritage wheat grown by a local farmer. Laura Robbin, reporting for the Ottawa Citizen, told how Patricia Hastings discovered the wheat, and has been growing it for several years until she finally has enough to start marketing it. The Red Fife wheat, named for the Scotsman David Fife who brought it to Canada in the 1840s is causing quite a stir among bakers. Even royalty were impressed by the taste, and Prince Charles took a few bags home after a recent visit. But what makes it more interesting to me and others is the possibility of a flour that is more friendly to our digestive system.

Over the past several years more and more people have become gluten intolerant, even if they haven't been fully diagnosed with celiac's disease. In "Wheat Belly," a book by William Davis, Davis describes how today's wheat has been modified so that it has lost almost all resemblance to the wheat our grandparents ate. As a result it has wreaked havoc on many digestive systems and engendered quite a few health problems. Since my daughter has been gluten-intolerant over the past several years, I've learned how to bake with alternate grains, but the idea that heritage grains could be restored to our diets without negative side effects is intriguing.

I haven't found any place to buy the wheat locally, but hope that as more people become aware of the dangers of modified foods, heritage grains (and vegetables) will begin to show up with the frequency of organic foods and will result in a vast improvement in our collective health.
Sound sculpture by Linden Gledhill

Be like a fox who makes more tracks
than necessary, some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.
(Wendell Berry)

With the celebration of Trinity Sunday yesterday, the church officially moves firmly into Ordinary Time, those months in the liturgical calendar where the truth of the Birth, Death and Resurrection of Christ (celebrated during Advent, Lent and Easter) are lived out in our every day lives. Like a fox who makes more tracks than necessary, living in the Spirit has a bit of trial and error built in. We know that we are meant to live in the power of love, but what that looks like requires attention to the present.

Several weeks ago I ran across this poem on Better Living Through Beowulf, a site I often mention, hosted by my friend Robin Bates. It was quoted during an end of the year address to students, and I was intrigued especially by one of the recurring lines which are necessary for the villanelle style of the poem. In this poem, entitled The Waking, the lines that are repeated are: I wake to sleep and take my waking slow and I learn by going where I have to go. It is this second line that I see shifting during the poem so that we begin by "having to go" somewhere for the learning to happen, and end by embracing that learning only happens "by going."

I'm not sure what the impetus for this poem was for Roethke, famous for his deep introspection, but it speaks to me about the process of practicing resurrection. First, the poem, and then some comments.

The Waking
By Theodore Roethke

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow. 
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go. 

We think by feeling. What is there to know? 
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow. 

Of those so close beside me, which are you? 
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go. 

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how? 
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow. 

Great Nature has another thing to do 
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go. 

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know. 
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I  learn by going where I have to go.

The waking which this poem explores is the experiencing of one's own death or mortality. Here, rather than waking from a dream into life, the poet wakes from life into death. What has happened? Befuddled, there is nevertheless the commitment to going slowly through this process, paying close attention to what is going on. The fear of death is now irrelevant; since he has been forced to go into this realm, he may as well learn.

First, what is it that he feels, since feeling is a means, perhaps the most accurate means for the poet, of knowledge? He feels his being dance from ear to ear. Death does not mean the end of life. No, his whole being is not only alive, but dancing. Death is also not the end of community. There are others in the ground with him who are in the same state. The ground is sacred, holding the souls of his companions.

In the next stanza the poet ponders the unpredictability of death. Lightning (light) comes from nowhere and takes down a giant tree. One can't know how or why a particular place is struck, yet instantly a great entity is toppled. Equally puzzling is the fact that a lowly worm can ascend to highest heights. These insights come slowly, and yet are profound.

Still, no matter if we are worm or tree, Nature will eventually bring death to each of us. We must take the light and lovely air and live our lives with a sense of openness. Since we do not know what will befall us, we must learn as we go, how to live our lives with meaning. It is this awareness of death, which though it shakes the poet, paradoxically brings true steadfastness. Death is to be expected, but not feared. This awareness frees us from a false sense of timelessness, today can only be lived in the present.

To live into the resurrection one must first be brought face to face with one's death. Jesus lives into and through his death as a way of helping us understand that death is no longer to be feared. "Grave, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?" writes the Apostle Paul. Once we have grasped this great truth, we can live our lives in the moment, no longer in fear of what may happen next. But we must also commit to live life in the moment, for there is no map, only a guide. As we live in the spirit, we "learn by going" where is it that we need to go next. Our freedom opens the door into a life of discovery, where we are invited to breath the lively and lovely air, while anticipating the final dance of being.

Note on art: The above photograph was created using paint droplets reacting to sound waves. Article here.
Sunrise, April 15, 2012 by Debbie Wagner
Sunrise, April 12, 2012 by Debbie Wagner

For years, the dawning of a new day has symbolized hope. Gabriela Mistral, a Chilean poet and the first Latin American winner of Nobel Prize for Liberature, explores this theme in her poem, Daybreak. As the night wanes, the poet waits expectantly for the sun, her heart swelling to make room for the fiery cascade of the Universe to enter the cavern of her soul. The power and glory of the new day fills her to overflowing, leaving her at once breathless and erupting into spontaneous song. It's the humble reception of grace, found in things both lost and recovered, that eventually overcomes the paralyzing darkness resident in our souls. Vanquished, the Gorgon night loses its power and flees.

Coming across this poem, I was reminded about the story of a woman named Debbie Wagner, a survivor of brain tumor surgery. In an article written by Laura Coffey, Debbie related how the aftermath of her surgeries left her without the ability to pursue some of her favorite pasttimes, including reading, writing and mathematics. Five or six months after her surgery she took up painting. "It just happened, she explained. "I had to express myself." One morning, after rising early from a fitful sleep, she found herself gazing at a vibrant Kansas sunrise. “I thought to myself, ‘I wonder if I can paint that?’ And I did!” Wagner said. "It was so exhilarating that I did it again the next day, and the next day...Now the devotion to it is effortless for me because I get such a rush from it.” 

Wagner's approach to life captures the essence of Mistral's poem. By facing the morning daybreak with an open and expectant heart, she finds herself on the receiving end of grace. As she mentions in the article,

“When I look at a sunrise, it represents a new beginning. I’m just so happy to be here another day and see my kids do different things and go to dinner with my husband. I suppose that’s the addiction of it — it puts me in a state of mind focused on gratitude.”

As Wagner sits before the sunrise with an open heart, it's not song that erupts from the overfilled cavern of her soul, but paint. And as the colors flow onto the canvas, the night disappears, dissolving into gratitude and a new beginning.

Gabriela Mistral

My heart swells that the Universe
like a fiery cascade may enter.
The new day comes. Its coming
leaves me breathless.
I sing. Like a cavern brimming
I sing my new day.
For grace lost and recovered
I stand humble. Not giving. Receiving.
Until the Gorgon night
vanquished, flees.

Note: For more information on Debbie Wagner and her art, you can click here.