Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .


Snow Fall by May Sarton

Serendipitously, the following poem was sent to me by a friend as I was putting the finishing touches on my blog piece describing the wonders of snow at Vallecitos Mountain Ranch. Below is May Sarton’s ode to snow. It captures much of what I was trying to express. I am also dedicating this post to all the people in the northeast who were not so adversely effected by the recent Nemo blizzard that they are able to enjoy the white beauty of winter.

Snow Fall
by May Sarton

With no wind blowing
It sifts gently down,
Enclosing my world in
A cool white down,
A tenderness of snowing.

It falls and falls like sleep
Till wakeful eyes can close
On all the waste and loss
As peace comes in and flows,
Snow-dreaming what I keep.

Silence assumes the air
And the five senses all
Are wafted on the fall
To somewhere magical
Beyond hope and despair.

There is nothing to do
But drift now, more or less
On some great lovingness,
On something that does bless,
The silent, tender snow.

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Ambassadors from Another Time

My backyard

“The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.”

John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

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Travel is Like Love

We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again—to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more. The beauty of this whole process was best described, perhaps, before people even took to frequent flying, by George Santayana in his lapidary essay, “The Philosophy of Travel.” We “need sometimes,” the Harvard philosopher wrote, “to escape into open solitudes, into aimlessness, into the moral holiday of running some pure hazard, in order to sharpen the edge of life, to taste hardship, and to be compelled to work desperately for a moment at no matter what.”

So travel, at heart, is just a quick way to keeping our minds mobile and awake. As Santayana, the heir to Emerson and Thoreau with whom I began, wrote, “There is wisdom in turning as often as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar; it keeps the mind nimble; it kills prejudice, and it fosters humor.” Romantic poets inaugurated an era of travel because they were the great apostles of open eyes. Buddhist monks are often vagabonds, in part because they believe in wakefulness. And if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.

From Pico Iyer’s essay, “Why We Travel”

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Sometimes in the open you look up
where birds go by, or just nothing,
and wait. A dim feeling comes
you were like this once, there was air,
and quiet; it was by a lake, or
maybe a river you were alert
as an otter and were suddenly born
like the evening star into wide
still worlds like this one you have found
again, for a moment, in the open.

Something is being told in the woods: aisles of
shadow lead away; a branch waves;
a pencil of sunlight slowly travels its
path. A withheld presence almost
speaks, but then retreats, rustles
a patch of brush. You can feel
the centuries ripple generations
of wandering, discovering, being lost
and found, eating, dying, being born.
A walk through the forest strokes your fur,
the fur you no longer have. And your gaze
down a forest aisle is a strange, long
plunge, dark eyes looking for home.
For delicious minutes you can feel your whiskers
wider than your mind, away out over everything.

William Stafford

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The Way of Nature Refuge Vows

Cedar Waxwing

The Way of Nature Refuge Vows

• I take refuge in the outer, inner and absolute teacher.
• I take refuge in ultimate spiritual truth and the teachings that reveal it.
• I take refuge in our spiritual community and the path it affords to deepen spiritual realization.
• I take refuge in the sacred sphere of awakened awareness for the happiness and liberation from suffering for all beings.
• I generate compassion for all beings and vow to serve their joy and enlightenment.
• I promise to serve bringing harmony, balance, and ecological integrity to my fellow humans and their relationship with all living beings.
• I honor and serve the equality of life in all its forms.
• I vow to accomplish liberation and enlightenment, in this lifetime, for the sake of all beings.

– John P. Milton, Founder of Sacred Passage and The Way of Nature Fellowship

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As Spacious as Nature

Yellowstone National Park

As Spacious as Nature

Since people might feel a bit lonely coming out into nature by themselves, they tend to go out in groups. But often they just transplant their own little world out into the big world, and they still feel separation . . . It is also good to feel intimate with creatures around you—the birds, butterflies, and so on. Just as smoke from a chimney disperses into the air, we should disperse our sense of “group” or “family” and truly participate in the life around us.

If we go out into the natural world and just talk about the same things we talk about all the time, we may as well have stayed at home. When we visit nature we should put down everyday small talk, subjective mental activity, judging and discrimination, and just open up and observe nature. Starting from the time of the Buddha, it was almost always the custom for those who had left home life to spend some time practicing in the mountains. Generally the hut they lived in was made so that it could be put up and dismantled very quickly, so that the person could move on to another place. The purpose was to live a life that would not foster a group mentality, but rather cultivate a holistic attitude where one would feel at one with all lives and the universe. Originally Shakyamuni Buddha did not set out to form a defined group or stay in any one place, because that would promote exclusive thinking, distinguishing between inside and outside, big and small, yours and mine.

On our outings we should experience the greatness of nature. If we can truly open up to nature and nature accepts us, then we will be as spacious as nature itself.

– Master Sheng Yen
Adapted from “Opening Up to Nature,” in the Chan Newsletter, no. 16, September 1981.

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Intimate with Nature

Banana Slug

As a condition of our dharma practice, we should try to adapt
ourselves to housing that is closer to nature. Living in such a way
makes it easier to understand and to practice in harmony with nature.
We can learn to be contented and even enjoy such plain and simple
living together with nature. This will benefit and support our study
and practice.

The Lord Buddha is an excellent example in these matters. The Buddha
was born outdoors, was enlightened outdoors, taught sitting outside on
the ground, lived outdoors, rested out in the open, and died outdoors.
Clearly his life was intimate with nature. We take his example as a
standard and are thus content with a simple, natural mode of living.
We believe that the founders of all the great religions practiced
plain living as well . . .

By developing a lifestyle that is intimate with nature, we’re making
it convenient for nature to speak to us. If we are intelligent
listeners, we will hear nature’s voice more clearly than if we are far
away. Intimacy with nature can become the essence of our mode of

Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, from Mindfulness with Breathing

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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