taking one last hit for the team in ’17; looking forward to ’18

Keep Calm and Carry On….
words seen on a WWII British motivational poster


(why do I think this sad little persimmon is a reflection of myself? / Julie Cook / 2017)

You didn’t think I could let the year end without having one last ‘hit for the team’
and not share it did you??

Oh, and by the way, Happy New Year!!!

But first let’s take a wistful look back to last year….
Or more accurately…back to yesterday afternoon.

Remember, I still have a hole in my head, stitches in my mouth and an annoying
space where there once was a tooth…still swollen, still uncomfortable,
still having trouble chewing without dropping things randomly from my mouth.

Kind out like our cat Percy who lost most of his teeth as a kitten….
He drops his food from his mouth all the time, right in mid bite,
but unlike a dog, he just lets it sit and moves on to a new bite.
I just try to be a bit discreet…..

Anywhoo…..

So here it was New Year’s Eve day—we didn’t really have much to do…
my tooth, or lack there of, had put the kibosh on any sort of plans….

It was a day that the coldest temperatures of the year were descending,
yet thankfully the weather folks had backed off of any sort of snow event,
So…. what better way to spend the day than to head out to wander
through the woods?

I was well layered…
turtleneck, sweater, vest, waxed barn coat, jeans, trusty lined LL Bean boots,
gloves, earmuffs and a scarf—I had my trusty camera in tow and was excited
to be out, breathing in fresh air, up off the couch from nursing the hole
in my head and ready to take some lovely pictures in which to share…with you…

The woods are so open this time of year, allowing yearning eyes to take in
a quiet vastness.
And there is such a palpable stillness.
The only sound one hears is the crunch of leaves underneath wandering boots.

I had hoped to find and capture a few little surprises here and there–
for despite most things being long dead, hibernating or in a state of waiting..
the woods still have much to offer.


(drying and dying persimmons linger on the limbs / Julie Cook / 2017)


(lingering ink berries / Julie Cook / 2017)


(a hooked bush…where a buck deer has rubbed its horns / Julie Cook / 2017)


(a large gall on a tree / Julie Cook / 2017)


(hidden little deer moss / Julie Cook / 2017)

I was lagging behind my husband, as I kept stopping to take pictures.
We had made our way deep into the woods, finally stopping at the creek.
At this juncture along this meandering creek there happens to be an old fallen
tree bridging both sides of the creek.

I’ve told my husband 100 times, I can’t balance like I use to and I’d rather look for
a different place to cross where I could slide down the edge of the bank,
hop across a more shallow area of the creek, while scooting up the
other bank on the other side….

It made perfect sense.

But he kept insisting that I cross the tree as I’ve done it before…
agitated pondering what in the heck was wrong with me today???

And whereas, yes I have crossed it before, still with trepidation, but that was when
the weather was warmer and I was not layered like a chunky eskimo
with a camera slung over my arm, while being full of codeine.

I had been feeling like a fuzzy slug, so at this particular moment, while staring at a precarious tree spanning a creek in the middle of the woods in the middle of nowhere,
a little voice said “don’t do it”….

Did I mention it was 36 degrees?

“You’ve done it before, just reach out for that limb…”
my know-it-all husband instructs.
Easy for him to say, that limb is dangling over the water and he is a
bit taller than I am.

Cautiously I step out onto the tree, putting one foot boot in front of another.
Making my way to the middle where the tree narrows.
That dangling branch was no where near my grasp.

Suddenly, and for reasons I know not, I begin to list to the left—
the left is where the tooth is missing, the left is where the camera dangles,
the left is where there is a deep murky water hole.

SPLASH!

Suddenly I am chest deep in a cold creek stuck amongst a maze of gnarly limbs and vines.
Plus my left foot had sunk deep into the muddy bottom all the while as I’m flailing
my arms trying to get to the bank.

Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, there was a thankfulness that all snakes were
fast asleep.

My husband had obviously raced back across without thought and was desperately
trying to yank me up the bank but my left foot, as it’s always the left,
was mired deep in the muddy bottom.

At this exact moment of panic, an image crosses my mind and no, it was not my
life flashing before my eyes, but it might as well have been.

Have you ever watched that show Life Below Zero on NATGEO?
That show about those hearty, perhaps more like fool hearty, souls who live
alone in the middle of nowhere Alaska, totally off the grid???

One sentiment rings true with each of those survivors…
‘if you get your feet wet out here, you’re as good as dead.’

Well, not only were my feet wet, I was immersed up to my chest in dark brown tannin
stained water, a maze of limbs and vines, with my left leg stuck deep in
the silty mud.

What seemed like an eternity was probably more like 2 minutes at best….
I got to the bank while my poor husband was trying to pull up a wet,
stuck, dead weight, mad as hell wife….
suddenly I realized my camera was now totally underwater.

I hear an out of body voice shouting.
“I TOLD YOU I DIDN’T WANT TO CROSS THE TREE!!!!!!”

Finally with my foot free from the mud, I keep telling my husband to let go and quit pulling and yanking cause he was crushing my head.
“LET GO, I’M OUT! I’M UP!!!”

And there I stood along the bank—
dripping like I had just popped up out of a refreshing summer pool…
a soaking wet dog in need of a good shake.

Water was now sloshing in my boots as I took a step.

My husband, now in a panic, just knew pneumonia was instantly setting in.

“Now he worries…gees” as I’m still muttering words I shan’t share here.

It was almost a mile back to the truck.

As he stands there just staring at me, I hear my own commanding voice
“Just start walking to the truck.”

Did I mention is was 36 degrees?

The only thing dry on me, if I may be candid, was my bra and head.

Once back at the truck, my boy scout of a husband thankfully had a towel
in the truck in case of emergencies.

And here was our emergency.

Right there in the woods, I began peeling off the layers of sopping wet and very
cold clothes as I no longer had feeling in my legs.
Bear Grylls voice was now drifting in my head…and thankfully I wasn’t going to
have to eat grubs or drink urine to survive…
but a nice camp fire would have been welcomed.

Boots
socks
pants
coat
underware
vest….
all shed as I wrapped the towel around me like a moo moo.

Did I tell you it was 36 degrees?

My husband is still just helplessly staring and sputtering…certain
I’m about the die immediately from consumption.

“Just get in the truck and drive” I grouse.

It was an hour or so drive home.

“But wonder if something happens or we get stopped and you’re just, just, just
sitting wrapped in a towel….???”

One look from me was enough to spur him back to reality and action.
Into the truck we got… with the heat now blowing just a fast as it could blow.

Thankfully we were not stopped and I got home in one piece to a hot shower with all the
muddy wet clothes going directly into the washer.
The camera, well, it is mostly like DOA

The moral of this little tale you ask?

Well, if you hear a little voice telling you not to cross a log,
don’t cross the log.

If you have a hole in your head and codeine in your system and see a log,
don’t cross the log.

And maybe, just maybe, a certain husband will one day actually listen when
the wise one speaks….

Oh, and always keep a towel in your vehicle, maybe even a change of clothes..
a bottle of bourbon wouldn’t hurt for those emergency and medicinal purposes…
since there was no St Bernard coming to my rescue…

Have a safe, dry, warm and happy New Year’s Day—-
I think I’ll just sit on the couch and watch a few good bowl game….
GO DAWGS!

quiet and still—allowing God to dwell within

The first stage of this tranquility consists in silencing the lips when
the heart is excited.
The second, in silencing the mind when the soul is still excited.
The goal is a perfect peacefulness even in the middle of the raging storm.”

St. John Climacus


(the beauty of the tiny shelf fungus scattered amongst the debris deep in the woods /
Julie Cook / 2017)

Yesterday I read the following words on an Orthodox blogging site and found them to be
both comforting and soothing…
while I also desperately recognized the need to seek that same sense
of hesychia
the seeking of an inner quiet and stillness…
both of which are of the utmost importance–

This as our times are crying so utterly loudly…screaming at us in such a way that
we are actually failing in our attempts at seeking a quiet inner stillness–
We are so full from the madness of our times, so much so, that the place that God
seeks to dwell within our very being is already so terribly full…

Hesychia, stillness [quietude], is essential for man’s purification and perfection,
which means his salvation.
St. Gregory the Theologian says epigrammatically:
“One must be still in order to have clear converse with God and to bring the nous
a little away from those wandering in error”.
Through hesychia a man purifies his heart and nous from passions and thus attains
communion and union with God.
This communion with God, precisely because it is man’s union with God,
also constitutes man’s salvation.

Hesychia is nothing other than “keeping one’s heart away from giving and taking and pleasing people, and the other activities”.
When a person frees his heart [nous] from thoughts and passions,
when all the powers of his soul are transformed and turned away from earthly
[corruptible / decaying / perishable] things and towards God,
then he is experiencing Orthodox hesychia.
St. John of the Ladder writes that stillness of soul is
“the accurate knowledge of one’s thoughts and is an unassailable nous”.
Therefore hesychia is an inner state; it is “dwelling in God”.

Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos.

astrological phenomenon?

The artist, like the God of the creation,
remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork,
invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent,
paring his fingernails.

James Joyce


(shadows of the river birch trees, dappling onto the driveway, during the eclipse /
Julie Cook / 2017)

Did you get to “see” yesterday’s eclipse?
If so, did you simply dismiss the eclipse as just an astrological phenomenon?
Something kind of cool but just one of those moon, sun, star, planet
kind of events?

It was definitely more than….
indeed much more than.

It was not my intention to write a post about the eclipse as I had other
things to “discuss”….but the experience of the moment was something
I felt called to share….

First, there was truly an odd look to the whole of outside when all of this began…
It was a subtle but noticeable softening of intenstiy.
It was as if the glaring August sun was calming herself down…
for just a moment’s reprieve…and I liked it.

The day began like any other August dog day in the deep South….
The sky was a brilliant blue, speckled with only an occasional puff ball of a cloud.
The neighbor’s bulls across the street were in the midst of a rather loud and
raucous serenade of who could bellow the loudest…
And it was hot.
Near 90 degrees while an overhead sun was blazing down in all her glory.
No rain and only sun and heat.
The type of day one prefers to stay indoors verses out,
especially during the heat of the day.

Shortly after 1 PM the yard…the trees, grass, plants…all began to take on
an odd coloring or better yet, tone.
Almost as if twilight was approaching, yet the sun was still
fully overhead, as there were no clouds crossing her path.
Surreal and dreamlike all rolled into one, it was as if you were standing somewhere familiar yet foreign at the same exact moment.

The sky was still brilliantly blue with a sun still glaring above…
and had I not had the pair of solar glasses that my cousin had overnighted to me
when she discovered the ones I originally had were in fact imposters, I would have
found the strange tint to the whole outdoors disconcertingly odd.
Knowing something was happening but wouldn’t have been able to understand what–
or realizing that something was now terribly wrong with my vision or presence of mind.

By looking through the glasses I could see the moon’s shadow making it’s unyielding
journey across the path of an undaunted sun.

By 2:30, just shy of the 94% fullness that we were going to be privy to, the shadows
cast on the driveway were greatly softened and arced, creating what appeared to
be not the shadow of leaves cast upon the cement, but rather that of a gauzy sheer oriental pastel painting spread out ever so lovingly at my feet.
Plus I noticed I was no longer sweating profusely…
As there was a soothing stillness in the air while even the bulls became silent.

Had I not had the glasses I still would have marveled over the welcomed
embrace of stillness,
the temporary dip in temperature and the oddly shaped shadows cast filtering through
the leaves.

Being awake in the midst of a dream is the best description I can think of–
Strange and odd while being peculiarly soothing.
I’m sure that part of my experience is because I happened to be home alone
during this event and not standing in the midst of a crowd…so I can’t
write about what it was like with the masses but rather just me by myself.

There was, for the briefest of moments, a marvelous emptiness,
as well as an all encompassing fullness…
taking place at exactly the very same moment…
no planes were flying over head, no cars whizzing up or down the road,
the bulls were quiet and all bees and buzzing critters had momentarily disappeared.
It was the silence within what seemed to be a different dimension.

Allowing me to marvel in the mastery of our Awesome Creator…

Astrological phenomenon?
Nahhhhhh…….


(images taken with my camera as I put a pair of the solar glasses over the lens)

The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.

Psalm 19:1

Essential oneness

For what is Mysticism?
It is not the attempt to draw near to God, not by rites or ceremonies, but by inward disposition?
Is it not merely a hard word for ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is within’?
Heaven is neither a place nor a time.

Florence Nightingale

DSCN1682
(morning light at an inlet harbor near Sligo, County Donegal, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

The desired oneness of the created bound to the Creator.
A bridging of the here to the there.
A crossing of the chasm between You and me…

Beyond the noise, beyond the distractions, beyond the life of this world…
He is there…as I am here.
Yet it is in the stillness and the silence within…as well as without,
where He waits…

Pulled and torn from this and that, I struggle to work my way towards Him…
It shouldn’t have to be this difficult, this hard…
but the world won’t allow anything other than her own desires…

It has become a life’s quest…
A fractured journey which consists of splinters and pieces…
The longing of wholeness found in the joy of One…

Solitary

And if, happy in the lot of no created thing, he withdraws into the center of his own unity, his spirit, made one with God, in the solitary darkness of God, who is set above all things, shall surpass them all.
— Giovanni Pico della Mirandola

DSCN4048
(female mallard on the San Antonio River / San Antonio, Texas / Julie Cook / 2014

If I choose to go my way alone, wandering in one direction. . .all the while, as the world travels the opposite path, do you think of me as lonely?

If I prefer the silence of nothing compared to the constant wiring din of life’s deafening sounds, do you find me odd?

If I choose to leave behind the constant steady kinetic energy of the masses, seeking the single movement of One, do you think me sad?

If I am afraid of me, of being alone inside of me, who then can depend on me being fully there for them?

It is only in the recesses of the silence of my soul, far down in the depths of a seemingly empty void of nothingness, where I can begin to hear the tender sweet whisper of the Creator—this, as He whispers to soothe and woo His beloved, His created.

How can I, or you, say that God is dead, that God is silent, that God is non existent if I, or you, choose chaos over peace, noise over silence, crowds over solitude?

I, as well as you, leave Him no room, no space, no place. . .

He is not the raging storm.
He is not the restless wind.
He is not the shaking ground.
He is not the loud crashing waves

He is the Silence
He is the Stillness
He is the Calm
He is the Hush

I seek the solitariness of my being in order to find Him waiting.
He waits for me to come to Him not in the hustle bustle of my senses and nerves but rather He waits only within the emptiness of my soul.
I must pour off the excessiveness of my life
I must lose myself from not only the world but from myself as well

I must be quiet in order to find my voice
I must be empty in order to be filled
I must be solitary in order to be joined in Union

The Creator waits for His beloved in the space of the solitary