The Mercy Tree

The Mercy Tree“Crazy Horse dreamed and went into the world where there is nothing but the spirits of all things. That is the real world that is behind this one, and everything we see here is something like a shadow from that one.”
― Black Elk, Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux

To aim to be rootless in the world is an odd path…to want to be of nature…Crazy Horse desired this. He wanted to be of nature, to shed his human shell and be wind, or leaves, or bolts of lightning. Even the Oglala Sioux found him unusual. They referred to him as “our strange man.”

From time to time, I think I understand this longing; a feeling of being lost and not belonging in the world you’re in.

Nature seems to heal this. There is no right and wrong in nature, merely consequences.

Crazy Horse believed in spirits–that everything in the natural world had a meaning, a definition that guided his, and our, destiny.

When people bother me about not having a deity, the closest thing I can tell them about what I believe is something like this. Like what the first nation peoples and the Shinto Japanese believed. I believe nature and the idea of god are close to the same thing, and I curse neither of them.

Published in: on August 26, 2013 at 10:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Night Garden

The Night GardenQuiet Night Thoughts

I wake and my bed is gleaming with moonlight
Frozen into the dazzling whiteness I look up
To the moon herself
And lie thinking of home

– Li Po, 701-762, translated by W.S. Merwin (1966)

When I traveled across the American West , some years ago, I was taken by just how DARK it got without all of the ambient light from the city around, how magically palpable the stars were. . .how close they seemed. especially crossing the desert, where the landscape and the other-worldly quiet conspired in a way that was spiky and haunted and magical.  How luminous the moon is in this  dark and quiet part of America.

Saguaro cactus, Indian paintbrushes and other plants in the high desert that right at dusk color the whispering miles of sand-like plumes and mottled or brindled fur. It is rough and  lovely and endlessly fierce.

I know why so many songs have been written about the land in our country, for it is worth every song and every bit of ink spilled in the service of worshiping her.

Published in: on August 18, 2013 at 12:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

The House Made From Leaves

The House Made From LeavesThis is one of those late summer drawings.

I read some stories about the Shaker culture who used to construct this canopy of a great bough of leaves, called a “Bower.” It was a place they went to worship and receive divine light–what they believed to be the light of God. Somehow the sun was not miraculous or divine enough for them, so they would go into the Bower and shake and chimp out thinking the sun was laying a different, holier kind of light on them.


This time of year, especially a day like today, late summer comes with a whisper of autumn; a chill to let us know what awaits us in a scant 30 days or so. I love days like this, the sun still high up in the sky in the late afternoon and the shadows creeping ever longer each day.

My back porch is a magic place this time of year; cool enough to draw outside and watch the birds at my feeder. Every once in a while, a squirrel tries to muscle in on the feeder and I have to throw shit at them. I mostly let my dog, Chooch, out in the yard because he doesn’t bother the birds and will chase the squirrels away. He has introduced three squirrels to Jesus and they don’t fuck around with him anymore. The word is out in the squirrel community.

In my neighborhood, there are gorgeous pines and oaks and maple trees, the odd exotic here and there, a Japanese weeping cherry tree in my neighbor’s yard and some tall elms frame the end of the block. The Ukrainians who settled this neighborhood planted as many trees as they could. My neighbors say it is kind of an effort to recreate the place they come from. Whatever the reason, I am grateful for the green thumbs of this neighborhood’s settlers. They’ve added much beauty to my life.

Published in: on August 14, 2013 at 1:11 am  Leave a Comment  
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The November Garden


It happens after you are on the other side of Fifty–a reckoning; the moment comes to you when you know without reservation that there is more behind you than ahead of you. Every autumn becomes a requisite paring down of colors and leaves and daylight.

There is a tree on my street that every year, for about a week, turns to yellow fire, and when the wind blows through it, right before dusk, you’d swear it was alive. You’d think it was connected to something ancient and if it could speak it would whisper a foreign language nobody speaks anymore.  Nature has this way with us; its own atavistic identifiers that move us for reasons we cannot always explain.

For me, there is always something sad about horse chestnuts when their spines fall off and they lay on the ground with craters like a decayed planet. It is nature, exacting its price, making mortal shells of once-robust and colorful structures.

I wouldn’t want to live anywhere but here in Chicago for autumn. The color change and the activity at my bird feeder changes incrementally every day and I’m able to sit on my back porch first thing in the morning and watch each moment become more amber, more laden with regret, and more relentlessly lovely. You don’t want to miss a minute of it.

Published in: on August 9, 2013 at 5:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Viper Tree

bordertownThere is a Chris Whitley song called Bordertown off his first stellar recording ‘Living with the Law’, that has lyrics that are almost surreal in places. When the record came out, some critics faulted this song and its lyrics because they didn’t quite get it. I liked this song immediately– nothing like a border town to make one feel like their string has been played out. Like they are at the beginning or the end of something or somewhere. They seem way stations–places like Laredo or Juarez , or El Paso–places that are not quite America and not quite Mexico. The landscape is merciless. Scrub trees, tar-paper shacks, barbed wire, and roadkill; it is a limbo of the spirit and yet has its own kind of gray world beauty.

This piece is called ‘The Viper Tree.’  It is about those places where somebody’s world ends every day.

Published in: on August 1, 2013 at 10:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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