Saturday, April 30, 2005


Note the new feature in the sidebar. On the Doorpost Nail is a place where you can leave general comments, questions, notes, poems, koans, haiku, scriptures, quotes, observations, etc.

Noticing #4

True philosophy is born in wisdom. Therfore if you are to grow in wisdom, you must be ready for your philosophy to change.

1934 New York Times

I was gone all day yesterday on a hike that carried me through several small valleys into which I had never ventured.

In the foothills of one I found an abandoned old two-story house, probably late 19th century, now completely overgrown. Roots from trees that had grown right up to the house were destroying the foundation. A tree had fallen over the back porch. Animal droppings and scattered leaves littered the inside. And there were the remains of a New York Times from 1934 in one corner of the fireplace! Amazing how that has survived.

At some point someone else had been living there. A can of beans in the corner. An old cot.

It was never a large house by city standards, but out here it would have been a monstrosity of elegance and refinement. Why someone would have built a house like that in Ithilien is a mystery to me and that maybe that's why they abandoned it. It just wouldn't have fit. Perhaps some romantically inclined aristocrat in his failing years tried to make a go of it out here.

But who knows. Perhaps he did make a go of it with the best that was in him. Perhaps he didn't know, at first, what the house would feel like out here. But he built it. And building it, he lived in it. And living in it, he came to understand. And understanding, he made himself ready.

It's a beautiful house now.

A perfect fit.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Quote of the Day 4/28/05

Why should I believe there are poems waiting for me which I am now writing? Because I miss them, these shadows like birds dying of cold on the branches, their life diminished as I move closer to them. I frighten them with my nearness.

Mary Kinzie in "The Poems I Am Not Writing" in Poetry, May 2005

First Poetry Workshop at St. Godric's

Before he left for his trip a couple of weeks ago Father Joseph asked me if I would lead the monks in a poetry workshop once a week in place of their regular afternoon session at St. Godric's, and I agreed.

Today was our first meeting. It was overcast. We took a walk in the woods. They brought their little notebooks.

I wasn't sure what I was looking for when we went out, but near the edge of a clearing I finally found it. Sheltered beneath a newly blooming shrub (in one of those places where the snow is last to melt and even in April you can be surprised by a chunk of ice) was a patch of dead oak leaves.

I asked each of the monks to pick up a hand full of the leaves and crush them between their palms, roll them around, break them up and then cup their hands to their noses and inhale.

After a few deep breaths, they sat around the clearing on deadwood or just on the new grass and followed these directions:

1) List four adjectives that come to your mind to describe the smell of the crushed leaves.

2) List three things that the crushed leaves smelled like.

3) Describe two events or occasions that you associated with the smell you just described.

When they were finished, we returned to the monastery for our workshop.

Here are some of the adjectives we compiled. (I know there were quite a few more, but I can't think of them and I didn't write them down.)

sweet, gritty, earthy, fresh, dim, pungent, dirty, grey, brown, wet, oaky, natural, musty...

Then I asked each of them to choose two of the adjectives that they thought best captured the smell that they had experienced (i.e. "fresh and gritty," "dim and grey," "musty and sweet").

Adjective combinations are even more fascinating, if that's possible, than adjectives themselves. No two combinations are really the same and each new combination offers a distinct flavor of experience. Take, for instance, "dim and grey" versus "dim and brown" - two different qualities of experience! Or "fresh and earthy" versus "sweet and earthy" - so akin but yet so different! "Musty and autumnal" versus "autumnal and grey." "Fresh and sweet" versus "oaky and sweet."

We compared similes. The leaves smelled like a farm, like alfalfa, like new hay ...

We compared the associations. (Smell is the sense most associated with memory, by the way, especially emotional memory.) Most of these were akin to the similes, and for most of the monks the smell returned them to a fall like environment - jumping in a pile of leaves, hay cutting, warm cider, harvest ...

Finally, I gave a brief lecture on my view of poetry, which included four talking points: the engagement of poetry with the sensual world, the poet's heightened concern for the super-communicative powers of language, the interconnectedness of sound and sense, and the metaphoric making of 'meaning.'

To experience the world poetically is to walk through the world as one samples a fine wine. And the poet's job, I told them, is to capture the superabounding fullness of any experience - its concrete, emotional, psychological and spiritual texture - and communicate that experience with language that sings.

Not an easy task.

While they were working on their adjectives, similes and associations I had composed this short poem with which to close:

Late-fall leaves that somehow survived the winter,
now crushed between my hands in spring
(the sweet, loamy smell of mown alfalfa!)
bring back amidst this green explosion,
days of cider and pumpkin pie,
when we were boys and loved the fall
for different reasons.

It is, as the critics say, 'just a workshop poem,' just a noticing, nothing more.

But I must say that I do like it.

And so did they.

And that's enough.


Second Poetry Workshop

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


I've marked him for death and named him Hektor - next Thanksgiving's turkey.

It seems wrong, like marking the albatross that I will have to wear around my neck - a premeditated version of the the Ancient Mariner's great evil.

I am certain that I will not be able to look at him the same again. A great sadness has passed between us.

But I must admit the prospect of wild turkey for Thanksgiving is attractive and my mouth begins to water now when I see him.

Noticing #3

People are too often torn between the love of an idea - even a good one - and the love of a person. This ought not be.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Quote of the Day 4/26/05

‘Beyond the Wild Wood comes the Wide World,’ said the Rat. ‘And that's something that doesn't matter, either to you or me. I've never been there, and I'm never going, nor you either, if you've got any sense at all. Don't ever refer to it again, please’

in Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows

Consider the Handkerchief

When I ran out several weeks ago, I decided to forgo Kleenex. I am done with facial tissues.

To begin with, ‘tissue’ is a ridiculous name for something that a man blows his nose with. (Not surprisingly, it comes to us from the Old French.) And to what exactly does the ‘facial’ in ‘facial tissue’ refer? Kleenex is even worse – a 1920’s trademark of a fabric called ‘Cellucotton’ that was used in gas masks in WWI and was originally marketed as a cold-cream remover.

Furthermore, it is an utter waste of precious space to pack into the valley even one box of facial tissues.

Finally, the pastel floral-print box looked ridiculous on my nightstand. I am not a purist, but my aesthetic hypocrisy does have its bounds.

So, forget for the moment that it too has its etymological roots in France and consider the handkerchief.

I don’t mean one of those silk accessories to a suit that men wear to dine out before they attend the opera. I mean the good ol’ American bandana-handkerchief, the dusky red ones with paisley print hanging out of the back pocket of any self-respecting car mechanic’s denim overalls, tied beneath the straw hats of California’s migrant workers, and never far from the greasy side compartment of any older Massey-Ferguson, International, or John Deere.

The handkerchief.

The handkerchief has several advantages over facial tissue.

Durability. The handkerchief not only serves its primary function well, effectively receiving a strong nasal blow, it can be employed with far more force than the facial tissue in the subsequent clean up.

Environmental Friendliness. Out here in Ithilien, where we don’t really have trash cans, this is very important. The handkerchief is washable, reusable, and cuts down on the unsightly if biodegradable waste of facial tissues.

Multipurpose. Here is where the handkerchief really shines in comparison to facial tissues. Whereas the tissue is designed for a very limited one time application, the handkerchief, as I’ve already hinted at, can be put to many diverse uses. The handkerchief can be used as to mop the brow, whereas the facial tissue leaves irritating lint. It can serve as an emergency bandage for serious wounds. If you’re struggling with a particularly slippery fish, the handkerchief again comes in handy; and you can clean your knife with a handkerchief after you’ve cleaned the fish. A small portion of berries can also be effectively carried in a handkerchief. I once used a handkerchief to catch crawdads. (Tie string to the four corners and bait the middle to create a fairly effective net.) Similarly harnessed though differently employed, the handkerchief can be used as a toy parachute if you suddenly find that you need to amuse a younger child. Bandana … gift wrap … cheesecloth … washcloth … small rope …

Consider the handkerchief.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Photo #3

Early Morning Farm Posted by Hello

Grotten Brown from a Seeker-Errant

I was out fishing this morning (nice mist ... clear water ... three dozen or so good strikes ... of which, landed about a dozen ... kept none), and when I came back I discovered a note hanging on my doorpost nail from an English 'fellow' I met five or six years ago in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

It was a couple weeks after Mardi Gras (I prefer a lenten French Quarter, frankly). This fellow had stayed on and had been bumming around Southern Louisiana. We met in a caf
é in the morning and ended up spending the whole day together. Clearly he was a Seeker-Errant - almost a radical Seeker-Errant. In the evening, I offered to buy him a hotel room for a night (he needed a bath), but he declined and we parted.

I hadn't seen him since.

But apparently he was here this morning.

He couldn't, of course, wait four whole hours for me to return from fishing, so he left a note.

Friend -

I am sorry to have missed you, but I have to meet up with a guy from Findhorn in two weeks and I'm about three days behind schedule. I heard you had taken up residence in some valley in Ithilien though, and I thought if I could find your place I might catch you in. Oh well. Maybe next time.



PS - I slipped a book under the door. It's a little beat up from the trip it took me on to Brazil, but I think you'll like it.

PPS - Check the little bend in the stream just down from your cottage. I left you a little something there as well.


The book was a more than a little beat up copy of The Little Prince (but I will treasure it) and the surprise in the stream was a bottle of Grotten Brown, which I will save for a special occasion.

And who knows if I'll ever even see that guy again.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Quote of the Day 4/23/05

I mean, I began to realize that I just didn’t want to do these things anymore. I felt sort of calmed, like in that chapter in Moby Dick when the wind goes out of the sails. And you know, another strange thing was that I just couldn’t imagine another event that would really be – I don’t know – I just had the feeling that from now on I would always be able to foresee the outcome of these things – they wouldn’t have that terrifying, exhilarating feeling of dropping into a black hole or whatever it was. They would become predictable – more like repertory theatre or something.

André in Wallace Shawn and André Gregory’s My Dinner With André


Note the two new archived posts at the top of the side bar. One explains One the Cottage Shelf and On the Screen, the other explains 'Seekers'. The first is a brief explatory note, the latter an extended meditation on Seekers and The Quest in the context of Ithilien.

Noticing #2

Photography is a lot like fly fishing, really.

Both require study and discipline that appear in the final outcome as art and grace.

A great photograph, like a great catch can sometimes happen by accident but is far more often the fruit of long labor and preparation.

Fish must be stalked. A photograph must also be stalked.

Fishing and photograph are both intimately bound to the time of day, the season, the atmospheric conditions, moods of water and light and the precise nature of the subject.

Despite all the work that goes into a great catch or a great shot, the artist receives each of them as grace – a moment of pristine coherence in which all his tremendous effort was but the prelude to a divine gift.

Friday, April 22, 2005

A Trip Down the Valley

So, I finished The Chosen last night and decided to walk down the valley to St. Godric's after breakfast. (St. Godric's is the monastery at the bottom of the valley, the monastery the two Seekers who stopped by a couple days ago are from. It sits on the lake into which my little stream eventually meanders.)

Breakfast was beans, toast, and a fried egg - a combination I picked up while traveling in England. After I cleaned up and took care of my plants (the tomatoes will be ready to go in the ground soon!) I packed my knapsack and headed down the valley. It's about a two hour hike at a leisurely pace and I made it in two and a half. The clouds were incredible this morning, so I brought my camera. But though excellent clouds can make or break a landscape, they're not terribly interesting in and of themselves. And this morning, for some reason or another, I just couldn't find a compelling vantage for a true landscape.

When I arrived the monks had finished prayer, breakfast, and their early chores. They were in the midst of their mid-morning classes (usually the more rigorous of their two formal sessions), but I suspected they were holding off the discussion of The Chosen till the less formal afternoon seminar. I strolled the grounds till lunchtime and then joined them in the dining hall.

Lunch with them is always a vegetable dish with bread and their own home brewed beer. Their specialty is a Belgian ale (very nice!) but they also brew seasonal and experimental beers. They bottle their own wine as well, but it's not quite on par with their obvious first love.

After lunch I helped with another round of chores and then joined them for their seminar on The Chosen. Father Joseph usually leads the seminars, but he was absent on business and one of the older monks was leading (they range in age from a very precocious 13 year old to a bright-eyed if no longer as sharp witted 87 year old) .

The discussion was very good. They are honest Seekers, these monks. They wouldn't be here if they weren't. Perhaps even couldn't be here. Our two hour session centered on the following statement by Danny Saunders:

"You can listen to silence, Reuven. I've begun to realize that you can listen to silence and learn from it. It has a quality and a dimension all its own. It talks to me sometimes. I feel myself alive in it. It talks. And I can hear it."

It was a very good discussion.

Though I almost always stay for dinner (the dinners are incredible - not what you would expect in a monastery at all), the conversation had made me feel 'lonely in a crowd', so I left as soon after the discussion as I politely could.

Night is coming on.

The conversation from the afternoon lingers in my mind.

And the silence of the evening echoes more loudly than I have ever heard it.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Quote of the Day 4/21/05

Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this as a consolation in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things that people do.

William Zinsser in On Writing Well

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Photo #2

Morning Dew on Spring Leaves Posted by Hello

Seekers, Turkeys, and a Jewish Novel

A couple of the Seekers from the little monastery at the other end of the valley stopped by today just as I was cleaning up from lunch. We had an interesting chat. They were on their way up the trail, but they've been reading Chaim Potok's The Chosen. They left a copy, so I've put it on the bookshelf. If I don't fall asleep too early, perhaps I'll work my way into it this evening. It is a nice night for just sitting, though ...

Some wild turkeys have moved into the valley. There are about a dozen of them. Did you know they sleep in trees? Craziest thing you've ever seen. Big mass of bird in the top of a tree at night...

I once saw a heron land in a tree. Another of nature's embarassing moments.

Noticing #1

The best time to view the new leaves in spring is just after a long rain. They are beautiful against the blackened trunks of trees and light up to a pale green glow in the new sun.

From a distance and silhouetted against the sky, a lone spring tree after the rain looks like a series of velvet black brush strokes covered in explosive splotches and dots of green, more a painting that could never quite be done than itself as a part of unreflected Nature.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Quote of the Day 4/19/05

What can any artist set on fire but his world? What can any people bring to the altar but all it has ever owned in the thin towns or over the desolate plains? What can an artist use but materials, such as they are?

Annie Dillard in Holy the Firm

Monday, April 18, 2005

Photo #1

Ford Parkway Bridge at Sunset -- St. Paul, MN 2005 Posted by Hello

Friday, April 01, 2005

Seekers-Errant Thread

The Seekers

Grotten Brown from a Seeker-Errant

A Note from Mr. P

One of the Errant Seekers-Errant

Two Out-of-Season Seekers-Errant


First Poetry Workshop

Second Poetry Workshop

Third Poetry Workshop

Seekers and Rilke's "The Solitary"

The Fifth Poetry Workshop

Brother Damien's Poetic Progress

The Sixth Poetry Workshop

The Seventh Poetry Workshop

In the Old Cigar Box


as I traveled this maze around your woods, I had to marvel at the quality of the...ehm.. well, whatever the heck you pack in your pipe. This is a different land you live in my friend.

- a wandering man

Be it the thick smoke
or the thin air,
Vive le difference!


Your wistful desires... is your woods your means of escape? I sense a deep thoughtfullness tempered by loneliness? Perhaps a spiritual hole? While the view of your woods, your home, your stream are grand in creation, such a lush environment must be fed by much rain. Is it the rain sent by He who has no name, or is it simply tears of wandering man?

I hope to visit you again. to find you, by just wandering past, I have noticed the passion by which you created your home. I will watch for smoke from you chimney before my next visit. No smoke, I will pass by, if there is water on to which we may share a cup, I would enjoy a visit on your porch. May you rest easy and be Blessed in all

- Arbi

Arbi –

You did not come

to 'step between'

myself and 'my fighting soul'?

or to write
a second Satirycon?

If not,

then welcome,


to Ithilien.

And consider:Is there not an escape TO reality?
Might such sehnsucht as mine (thoughtful loneliness as desire) indicate not emptiness but a fullness unsatisfied?

And might the tears of wandering man not BE the tears sent by He who has no name?My 'porch', such as it is, will welcome your presence.

Dear Myddin -

Glad to have found you not at home. It gives me the opportunity to leave this note. A better introduction in this case, I hope.

Sorry to have startled you last night at the window. Must have been a shock. I saw your little cottage and was curious.

You sleep very peacefully.

But you startled me as well. So by the time you came out, I had already made the mistake of climbing that oak by your cottage. The one with the birdhouse. Don't know what I was thinking, because if you would have just looked up I would have been trapped.

I decided to keep quiet and wait till you went back inside before I climbed down and continued on my way, but then you just sat down on the porch and started talking to yourself! (Don't worry I couldn't hear what you were saying.)

When you finally went in and shut the door, I climbed out of the tree and headed downstream in the direction I had been walking. A beautiful evening by the light of the stars. Didn't you think?
Must have been well after midnight when I saw a light and found the little monastery. The monks gave me lodging even at such a late hour, but I might also have slept in the garden.

I want you to know that you intrigued me, especially your willingness to talk to yourself like that. But I couldn't come down from the tree. Couldn't tell if you were entirely safe. But the monks gave me your name and with it many kind words.

Yesterday morning, when I walked into the valley, I thought I was just passing through - but even then I couldn't remember where I was coming from and I had no idea where I was going.

Seem to have lost my way at the right moment.

With your permission, I would like to stay a while in your valley, perhaps further upstream? See you soon?


If your spirit

is fleeing still


Maiden Warrior,

welcome to my valley.


I heard some thumping out in back when I came up but I didn't want to bother you in the midst of your work but I had to communicate with you somehow. I was strolling around the wall this morning and I was thinking about the poetry workshop tommorow.

I don't know that I'm good at it or even getting any better. But I like it a lot and I thought I'd like to come up and tell you myself. I've lost the nerve though.I'm dont know how to tell what I feel. I want to tell people what it's like to be me, not just a brother in a monastery but what it's like to see with MY eyes and taste with MY tongue and smell with MY ears. But I dont know what I'm missing. Maybe we can talk tomorrow.

Thanks for your coming to be with us now and then. We really enjoy your roguishness for it's freshness to our way of life and we enjoy your skill because you teach us so well.
With gratitude,

Br. Damien

Brother -

The thanks should flow rather down the valley than up. You all have done much for me.

Were it not for your establishment, not only would I have left long ago but I may never have stopped to begin with.

Let's talk soon.

Nice place you have here. I think I'll stop by from time to time. - Wes

Whoe’er has travell’d life’s dull round,

Where’er his stages may have been,

May sigh to think he still has found

The warmest welcome at an inn.


Count me in as a new frequent visitor. - Spencer


I was on my home the other day from a land a little East of Ithilien in a small plane flying about 1,000 feet above the swaying tree tops and noticed the smoke from your cabin chimney. I would have stopped but the runway options appeared a little narrow and short. I did give the usual wingtip wave as I flew by. Maybe another time. - U Dan

I was wondering who that was! I wasn't even certain you still flew. Thank you.

What I'd like to know is if, when you are visiting the monks at St. Godric's, you ever go to confession?

It's an interesting idea, but I prefer not to dishonor their sense of sacrament simply through curiosity, or from more broadly humane interest.

Sir, i stumbled into the woods near your little house today. I have been a bit lost lately, i must admit, but it is the very fault of that bugger at the last inn who told me to go right at the fork in the road a ways back. All of my forks have 3 prongs at least, and so had this one, and neither of them looked quite right, if you know what I mean. Anyway, i stumbled into your woods and promptly damned them as i tripped over a very inconspicuous log. have you ever fallen onto twigs and prickles and hard cold ground? It sounds a bit pansy I admit, but it hurts like the devil, especially when the little plants' branches snag you face and beard. And i dropped some of my notes as well! Damn them i said and say again! Ahem,Pardon. Now after I had damned your woods, i had a bit of a look around. (After all, it is only after damning a thing that you can start to feel very cozy with it). It is not a bad place I admit. Quite a nice bit of musical, whistling breeze. Perhaps a bit solemn, but overall not a bad tune. i gather that the smaller breezes are not quite serious, but infact mock the elder winds a mite. Overall, i caught a few snatches worth recording in my notes (what was left of them, at least - Da.. ahem). i came upon this little cottage here. You must be gone somewhere. I heard once that the folks in these parts are all a bit serious minded, so perhaps you're off reading books. Books, hmm, well I feel they're a bit too verbose for me sometimes, if you know what I mean. My ear is particular sensitive, but my eyes are just a bit fuzzy at times. And besides i'm a bit of a prosaic fellow, and i gather from the winds and the woods that this place is a bit keen on the poesies. Limericks are more my line. Did you here the one about Mrs. Flanagan? Er, Ahem, well, perhaps that's for another day. Anyway, i sat on your stoop or perhaps your step (you don't happen to have a sandwich or some biscuits lying around here do you?... hmm, can't quite make out - perhaps you need to wash your windows and move that little table there - a body can't see a thing through these windows)and i was joined by a fat, nosy sparrow. i know it was a sparrow as those blighters are everywhere i go, and they will always join you for lunch whether they're asked or not. Haha, tough luck for this bugger, for he won't get food off of me, for i drank, er ate my last meal at the inn, and haven't got a scrap on me. Lord, i wish i had some pipe tobacco handy, or even just a scanty pint of beer. Hmm, or a sausage.... well, you sure like that reading plenty don't you! Hmmph, I figure I'll wander around some more and see if i can find those monks i heard about. The religious are usually pretty free with the comestibles. God keep the blighters. Ah, and what time do you usually have dinner?... just wondering...
-Mr. P

Dear Mr. P --

Thank you for dropping by. I'm sorry that I was not in.

Anyone who can teach me the word 'comestibles' is welcome to wander the woods whenever he likes.

PS -- I'm afraid the comestibles are usually a little thin around the cottage. (The lack of refrigeration in the summer is a challenge.) But you're welcome to whatever you find. The door is never locked.

Speak friend and enter.
Thanks for the stogie and the sunset last night. As we sat in the growing shadows I felt that if I could just stop breathing I would see the faere emerge from among the wisps of smoke lingering on the moss and tree roots. It's enough to get one through the chaos of the week. Maybe we could go fishing next weekend?



Though you'll have to find someone else to thank for the sunset, you're welcome for the cigar and it was a pleasure to share the evening with you. Though, as you know, I prefer a pipe of the finest myself, I am not immune to the allure of the cigar and like to keep several on hand for visitors or the occassional diversion.

As for fishing ... Hmmm ... I'm available ... just about any morning this week ... and ... every evening now that you mention it. Except Thursday. Thursday I'm due at St. Godric's for the second poetry workshop.

Sir, I must say I was quite disappointed to find you not at home this afternoon; visiting you was perhaps the main reason I came to the valley. I was told of you by a mutual acquaintance, and decided to take a break from the multitudinous barrages of the American entertainment industry to visit your little valley. I am staying over at St. Godric's, although so far I have found it to serve only as a place to sleep, for I find myself constantly drawn to the agrarian wonders and simple complexities of the valley. At any rate, I will be here until Saturday, and I will check back again tommorrow; perhaps we can enjoy a smoke together. -Cyrus

To Cyrus, greetings.
Grace and Peace to you.

Under the cherry blossoms
Are utter strangers.

- Issa - ­­­

Perhaps what stirred our souls so much as we dug yesterday was the fact that we are amateurs in the true sense. (Of course the notion of a Grotten Brown from the cellar after an evening of fishing didn't hurt a bit, either.)


Tell me you did not take my Grotten Brown. I hope you mean the St. Godric's Ale that we drank together.

Sir, An acquaintance, David Z., told me I could find you somewhere in this valley, and I am glad I managed to stop by. While I have found I have not the stamina for the life of a Seeker, it is definitely worth stopping by from time to time to learn from those Seekers that we are acquainted with. You will probably not hear from me too much here, but rest assured that I am observing and gleaning some insight from your life in Ithilien. Thanks for sharing your insights with us.


do not need stamina
but soul


Sucking on a skinned almond I tasteits slick ridges, the point addresses the tip of my tongue with yielding persistence. Between molars, split in two, I lap at its smooth interior planes. Even before I clench around it's silky flesh I can feel the sticky mach imbedded in my bicuspids. It is sour. It is untamed and therefore not bred for ingestion. It is laced throughout with arsenic, a natural component of the undomesticated almond. Never mind my house burning across the seat. Taste the bitter on the back of the tongue, almost in the throat. Swallow the urge to heave out the poison. Stretch out my hands to warm them in the glow of red and yellow. Lie back in the snow, smell the cold, hear the stars prick my eardrums. Brother Damien


I wandered and I wandered.I pondered and I pondered.Alas, to long I've waited, a dream passed by me squandered. I stumbled through your woods, tattered worn and uninvited. Admiring the wonderous beauty my heart and soul delighted.



Almost forgot. Left an AleSmith Speedway Stout around back. Enjoy!
Here's a little summer something:

I Scream!
Crunchysticky sweet,t,t
Circled fingers in that megaphone shape
The corrugated cake cone
The smooth silk soft serve
Chinlick by lipbite shaping cream to peak
-ed mountain
The inside ribs poke at the gums
Cold freezes teeth to their roots
Throat and stomach spread
The coolwarmth out to tacky fingers
Flipflop toes

Brother Damien
p.s. I beg forgiveness for my absence on Sat. I forgot about the pre-summer chores that needed doing around the monastery. The borthers all pitched in and it is now a respectable sight. Visit soon? B.D.

Thank you so much for your participation in our cermonies for Brother Oswald. He was dear brother and will be dearly missed.
I have recently been offered and have accepted new duties working outside the monastery. I have been asked to help some nearby members of the valley learn to live well in their surroundings and begin to garner some of the benefits afforded us by our surroundings. This is taking up much of my time and, though I sorely miss them and will diligently seek to continue them, I must decrease the frequency of my visits. I earnestly hoped to find you here but I see a rod or two missing from your collection and assume you have gone to lasso some river cattle. May He continue to bless you as I do,
Brother Damien
p.s. I am working on a new poem. perhaps we can discuss it this weekend? I promise to curtail my forgetful habits at least long enough to meet with you.
p.p.s. I watched Wim Wender's Wings in the middle of the week and I set a fierce, warm light burning in and around me. Thank you.

You've taken it off your reading list, but I just bought and finished "The Baron in the Trees" and really liked it. I also read "The Myth of Sisyphus" right after and definitely liked the former better. Just finished Barth's "Dogmatics in Outline" and now on to "Pensees" (it was a long business trip). Suggestions on what next?
What a lovely little abandoned shack. I'm tempted to kick in the door, as it is clear that whoever used to inhabit this place has since moved on - permanently, by the look of things. But these walls were built by his hands. And so they are sacred. Perhaps the Abbey on the hill can provide me shelter. Should you return, I hope to meet you.

Well, I've been to the monestary, and it appears abandoned too, strangely. I believe I shall make camp here for the night, as I'm unclear as to which direction leads safely from this valley. It it lovely - but the horizon seems forboding. I pray you return soon, I could use your help. If you do, look for my tent in the nearby woods.

The sense of unease has been identified. Over the past several nights, it has become especially clear to me. Wandering through the valley by day, I had become distracted by the sound of the river, the wind in the trees, and the warmth of the sun on my shoulders and face. But at night...
At night, with fewer distractions, it becomes obvious that I am singularly alone in this valley. Not only is the builder of this cabin absent - there is no indication of any life present whatever. No howling coyotes. No birds calling. Not even an insect's chirp.
What's more alarming than even this inexplicable solitude is that wandering to the edge of the forest has proven impossible. No matter how far I walk, and for what length of hours, I end up cresting the knoll to your cottage again.
I don't know if this should be troubling of peaceful for my soul. Those feelings flit like shadows and shift like the wind. I fear.
I tried kicking in your door here, but it is securely bolted. The windows are also curiously resiliant, and the slats confound any attempt at dislocation.
I don't want to intrude. It's just that this cottage is the only sign of any kind of life having ever been here. I feel I must find my way in, but thus far cannot.
I've read the other notes on the nail many times over. Strange, most.
I continue to await some sense of purpose for my current predicament. Perhaps if there were a key hidden somewhere...
Through the windows I spy various pieces of art and literature which I long to explore. The door clearly has two uniquely-shaped keyholes. One for the bolt, the other for the latch, I suppose. I've dug around as much as I can, seeking clues as to where you might have hidden the keys.
No avail
I've returned from an extended tour of this valley. I walked for two weeks straight. I believed myself hemmed in on all sides, but have since discovered a route through the mountains. Not sure where it will lead, but my rations are gone now, and without food to hunt –
I find myself strangely fearful and filled with sorrow for this place. Somehow I know that it shall forever remain deserted of life. The way into the valley is surely only known to a few. Scarce others might stumble on it by chance. Perhaps a few wanderers have heard of it and sought it as did I. But beautiful as it is - I pray they don't find it.
This shall be my last not on your doorpost nail - I will begin my treck to the mountains before first light. Your little pencil is but a nub now anyway. I doubt that any others shall make use of it.

Farewell. Should you return, I wish you well in your journeys. Perhaps our paths will cross someday. But I doubt it.

On the Doorpost Nail

I have a rusty nail sticking out of my doorpost that serves as my cottage 'mailbox'. If I'm not in people just write a little note and stick it onto the nail.

If you ever want to write a note; leave a comment, poem, or song; or ask a question that doesn't pertain to any particular post, just leave it here.

I keep old notes from the doorpost nail in a cigar box just inside the door. If you're curious go ahead and browse through them.

The Seekers

Seekers are a very important part of this life I’m living out here, this life in a cottage in the heart of Ithilien. But what is a Seeker? And who are they?

Well, I am a seeker.

And everyone in this little valley is a Seeker, if for no longer than the time they are passing through.

Perhaps even we are all Seekers, though many seem to have forgotten the Quest.

But there are still those in whom the Quest is evident as a way of life, and it is of them I speak most properly when I use the term ‘Seeker.’

While Seekers share far more in common with each other than with anyone in whom the Quest is not evident, there are, broadly speaking, three distinct orders: Eremitic Seekers, Coenobitic Seekers, and Seekers-Errant.

Eremitic Seekers

er•e•mite /'er-&-"mIt/
noun : one that retires from society and lives in solitude especially for religious reasons
Etymology: Middle English
eremite, from Old French, from Late Latin eremita, from Late Greek erEmitEs, from Greek, adjective, living in the desert, from erEmia desert, from erEmos desolate
er•e•mit•ic /"er-&-'mi-tik/ or er•e•mit•i•cal /-ti-k&l/ adjective

An Eremitic Seeker is one who carries on the Quest chiefly in solitude – though not necessarily in isolation. Some do prefer great isolation, but others do not. Some go so far as to prefer caves. Others, even in their solitude, are fairly woven into the fabric of human society. Most are more or less ascetic, though some are connoisseurs. Historically, The Desert Fathers are the most notable. Henry David Thoreau, was an eremitic in his own way. Søren Kierkegaard was, I believe, an Eremitic Seeker. Many of the great Eastern thinkers I have encountered, even those who spent their lives in the monasteries, were spiritual eremites – Lao Tzu, Kenko, Yamamoto Tsunetomo.

And I am, of course, living the life of an Eremitic Seeker out here in my little cottage. There are others in the surrounding valleys, more that I’ve heard of than met. We don’t encounter each other very often, for obvious reasons, and more than one of us in a valley of this size would be a bit awkward, I think. For some reason we are more comfortable with Seekers-Errant or Coenobitic Seekers than with others of the eremitic persuasion.

Coenobitic Seekers

ceon•o•bite /'se-n&-"bIt, esp British 'sE-/
noun : a member of a religious group living together in a monastic community
Etymology: Late Latin
coenobita, from coenobium monastery, from Late Greek koinobion, ultimately from Greek koin- coen- + bios life
ceon•o•bit•ic /"se-n&-'bi-tik, "sE-/ adjective

Coenobitic Seekers carry out the Quest in a community of like minded seekers, sharing a pattern of life, a discipline and a devotion. Monastic communities are a good example of the coenobitic life. Some other historic communities like the Devotio Moderna (Brethren of the Common Life), Bruderhof, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Finkenwalde uld also qualify. For some, the academic life is a coenobitic life in pursuit of the Quest.

In my little valley, the Coenobitic Seekers have gathered at St. Godric’s, down on the lake. I enjoy their company and they welcome mine; but we both know that I could never formally join them.


er·rant /'er-&nt/
: traveling or given to traveling (an errant knight)
Etymology: Middle English
erraunt, from Middle French errant, present participle of errer to err & errer to travel, from Late Latin iterare, from Latin itiner-, iter journey, way; akin to Hittite itar way, Latin ire to go

Seekers-Errant are in many ways truest to the questing dimension of the life of a Seeker. They are the wanderers, the rambling men, the hitchhikers and hobos of the Quest. Historically, they are anyone who has ever purchased a six-month Euro-rail pass, stayed in hostels, biked across America, gone two weeks without taking a bath; anyone who doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from but knows they’ll get one; anyone who would drop everything and leave; anyone who’s looking for a master to guide them but doesn’t think they’ll ever find one. I think of Percy Shelley in Europe, John Steinbeck traveling with Charlie, Mark Twain on a boat with Innocents Abroad.

Seekers-Errant are dangerous. They are unstable. They are unreliable, passionate and whimsical. They come without an invitation and leave without saying goodbye. But they are beautiful. In them the seed of the Quest is deeply lodged, though it may never bear fruit.

Many Seekers-Errant come and go through the valley, drawn like a moth to the flame but never quite finding a reason to stay. Some are just passing through, crisscrossing not only Ithilien but the wide world. Some are with us for a couple of days, some for a couple of months.

Interestingly, the Seekers-Errant who come to our valley rarely get along with the monks of St. Godric and the feeling is mutual. While I don’t thoroughly understand this tension, I believe it has something to do not only with my knowledge that I could never become a novitiate at St. Godric’s but also with the vague distrust I have of all the Seekers-Errant who come through here. We Eremitic Seekers, you see, are something of a compromise between the two other orders. We have one foot in each - a bit afraid, I think, of fully committing to either.

One way or the other, if you too wish to be a Seeker, pull up a chair, pitch a tent, don the habit or hit the trail. Move on through, stay a while or stay for a lifetime.

You are always welcome, friend.

Welcome to Ithilien

Posts Concerning Eremitic Seekers - Myself or Others
Seekers and Rilke's "The Solitary"

Posts on Coenobitic Seekers
A Trip Down the Valley
Quail and Rashomon at St. Godric's

Posts on Seekers-Errant
Grotten Brown from a Seeker-Errant
A Note from Mr. P
One of the Errant Seekers-Errant

On the Cottage Shelf and On the Screen

On the Cottage Shelf are books that I am reading or have recently finished and am still actively digesting. Though I don’t intend to do a thorough book review of each, I may pass on insights that I am gleaning from them from time to time.

On the Screen are the latest five or so films that I have seen that have had a significant impact.

Both are revolving lists. When I feel the impact of a recent book or film beginning to soak into the fabric of my being and disappear into the tapestry of who I am, I will take it off the list. So if you do have a comment or question concerning anything On the Cottage Shelf or On the Screen, please strike while the iron is hot.

Welcome to Ithilien

There are two perfect places in the world - Sisters, Oregon and the Land of Ithilien. For one reason or another, I decided to build my cottage in Ithilien. It's a small cottage - two rooms, a wood burning stove, clapboard siding. I'm not a very skilled builder though, so the wind comes through in the winter and I had to buy a sub-zero sleeping bag. But I made the place myself and that means something. If I have to fix it, at least it's my own work I'm fixing.

There is a small trout stream nearby. I suppose if I fished it every day religiously I might occasionally catch a monster. But it's not really that kind of trout stream and I'm content to catch my breakfast every now and then. More often than not I just sit on the porch and watch the mist rise from the water. Watch the hatches. I like to keep a pen with me in case a poem or a fragment of a poem comes to me. I don't have a dog or a cat. That would be just a little too much trouble for what I'm doing out here. I did bring my camera, though. I certainly couldn't do what I'm doing out here without one.

So, what am I doing here?

Well, I'm not Thoreau. I did not come here to live deliberately. Quite the opposite. I came to live far less deliberately. I came to escape deliberation. I came to live as it comes. I came to watch and to record. I came to smoke my pipe. I came to learn how to brew ale. I came to forget what I have learned. I came to remember what I have forgotten.

You're welcome to stay for a while, though I would ask that you bring a tent and pitch it at a comfortable distance. Do stop in for coffee in the morning. Or for dinner. Or for a glass of wine in the evening. If you brought your own fly rod and you have a good day with it, stop by mid-morning and show me what you caught. If you had a bad day, maybe I could let you know what has been hatching. Hell, dig worms and fish with a bamboo pole. I don't care. I'm not that kind of purist. (Afterall, I've got an old gas powered generator that I have to fire up from time to time to recharge my laptop battery.) Besides, bamboo poles and tin cans of worms are evocative in their own way. There's also a nice trail leading to the foothills that takes off right from behind my cottage. It's a great hike. Take it slowly. You might see a couple of my carvings along the way.

If while you're here you happen to pass a remark or ask a question (and please do), more likely than not I will answer you with a koan, a proverb, a photograph, or a moment of silence. I'm not out here to debate or philosophize. I'm out here to live.

The Seekers

My Photo Posted by Hello