Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .

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The world we’ve made

Badlands National Park

. . . the world we’ve made
scares the hell out of me.
There’s still a little bit of heaven in there
and I wanna show it due respect.
This looks like a good spot up here.
You can try me on the cell,
but most places I wanna be
it doesn’t work.
Sometimes you got to listen hard
to the sounds old Mother Earth still makes
— all on her own.

Greg Brown, from “Eugene”

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Pacific Tree Frog

Today I spied this Pacific Tree Frog taking cool refuge in the green funnel of a garden plant. Silent and still, about 1.25” long. In the wet winter, these guys are delightfully raucous, their calls resounding through the redwood forest. But now they are rarely seen or heard as they patiently wait out the dry heat of summer until they can sing and breed again.

I have included a Mary Oliver poem, Toad. Although not a toad, this little tree frog was just as unflappable.

I was walking by. He was sitting there.
It was full morning, so the heat was heavy on his sand-colored
head and his webbed feet. I squatted beside him, at the edge
of the path. He didn’t move.

I began to talk. I talked about summer, and about time. The
pleasures of eating, the terrors of the night. About this cup
we call a life. About happiness. And how good it feels, the
heat of the sun between the shoulder blades.

He looked neither up nor down, which didn’t necessarily
mean he was either afraid or asleep. I felt his energy, stored
under his tongue perhaps, and behind his bulging eyes.

I talked about how the world seems to me, five feet tall, the
blue sky all around my head. I said, I wondered how it seemed
to him, down there, intimate with the dust.

He might have been Buddha— did not move, blink, or frown,
not a tear fell from those gold-rimmed eyes as the refined
anguish of language passed over him.

— Mary Oliver

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Sometime in the next few months, Chris and I will leave for our sabbatical year, or The Big Trip, as we call it. The most frequently asked question is, where will you go? Although we have a growing list of places we’d like to visit, we intentionally have not created an itinerary. We truly have a lust for wandering. The delight of seeing an unscheduled year spread out before us, like a great untouched buffet table, is immense. We will make choices day-by-day about staying or leaving and about what to do next. This allows for serendipity and for giving space to savoring discoveries. Weather, preferences, suggestions, impulses, inspirations, curiosity may direct our path. Inevitably, the world of commerce and business, of events and holidays, of responsibilities and obligations will intrude upon us. But we will attempt to minimize their impact on our wanderlust and our wonder.

Joseph Campbell famously said, “Follow your bliss.” Instead, we’ll try to “Follow our wonder.”

The daily grind – the conventional workaday world – tends to overwhelm wonder. Busy agendas, deadlines, projects, plans, and lists all clamor for attention. Pressure, exhaustion and routine dull the heart. And the simple mystery of now – of everything – fades from view like a neglected dream. With wonder comes curiosity, attention and wordless openness, all prerequisites for true mindfulness. Nature, travel and meditation evoke wonder for me and are my guides to joy and to regularly forgetting who I think I am. Wonder could be defined as “relaxed prolonged surprise” for when we are living fully and openly, the present moment is continually fresh to behold, an amazing surprise.

“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
 I was a bride married to amazement.”
Mary Oliver

[I regularly use voice recognition software to transcribe hand-written notes. The mistakes it makes can be annoying but they can also be funny or revealing and even poetic. I like to pretend they hold a hidden message from the Universe. Today, several times, it wrote Ministry when I said mystery. So I take this to mean I should create a Ministry of Mystery.]