Saturday, May 28, 2016

Some morsels from Wendell Berry

I am currently reading Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry. This is actually the book I inflicted on my whole book club, who probably think it's the slowest book in the universe. But as I read, it is getting more and more beautiful. Here're some bits:
If you could do it, I suppose, it would be a good idea to live your life in a straight line - starting, say, in the Dark Wood of Error, and proceeding by logical steps through Hell and Purgatory and into Heaven. Or you could take the King's Highway past the appropriately named dangers, toils, and snares, and finally cross the River of Death and enter the Celestial City. But that is not the way I have done it, so far. I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked. Often what has looked like a straight line to me has been a circling or a doubling back. I have been in the Dark Wood of Error any number of times. I have known something of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but not always in that order. The names of many snares and dangers have been made known to me, but I have seen them only in looking back. Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there. I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often I have received better than I deserved. Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led – make of that what you will.
And this:
I became a sort of garden fanatic, and I am not over it yet. You can take a few seed peas, dry and dead, and sow them in a little furrow, and they will sprout into a row of pea vines and bear more peas – it may not be a miracle, but that is a matter of opinion.
And this:
I thought that some of the hymns bespoke the true religion of the place. The people didn't really want to be saints of self-deprivation and hatred of the world. They knew that the world would sooner or later deprive them of all it had given them, but still they liked it. What they came together for was to acknowledge, just by coming, their losses and failures and sorrows, their need for comfort, their faith always needing to be greater, their wish (in spite of all words and acts to the contrary) to love one another and to forgive and be forgiven, their need for one another's help and company and divine gifts, their hope (and experience) of love surpassing death, their gratitude.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Why I don't keep pets - maybe

This is a long post about domestic pets. I started it last week, realised it was too long and ran out of time, so it sat. I had meant to come back and finish and edit it to write it more nicely. That became a reminder that it takes a long time to compose posts nicely. I don’t actually know now how I used to find that time. So here it is just as it was purged out on to the page.

When my sister and her family moved down to Canberra at the end of last year, they told my niece that if she left her guinea pigs in Queensland then she could have a rabbit in Canberra (you are not allowed to keep rabbits in Queensland, because they are a feral pest, which is a good principle but it should also be applied to cats). So, they move down south and she gets a rabbit. They call it Charlotte. Charlotte is a nice enough but not at all friendly rabbit, so then they get a another rabbit, who my niece calls Sophia. Sophia is an adorable snuggly little rabbit. Unfortunately two rabbits of the same sex turns out to be a really bad idea. Charlotte was so aggressive to poor little Sophia that they ended up having to give Charlotte away. So it’s down to just Sophia the sweetie. Charlotte had actually turned into a free range rabbit, because she was a bit wild and couldn’t be in the cage with Sophia, and there was never a problem with this arrangement. Sophia was always locked up at night, though allowed to roam the yard at times during the day. Except for one night the other week when she was in her little burrowing spot under the bushes so they left her there overnight. My sister went out first thing in the morning to get her and discovered a large cat actually in Sophia’s cage. Unfortunately the cat had also just attacked and killed poor little Sophia over near the bushes.

We are all very cut up about this. There was something very endearing about Sophia. Even the two-year-old nephew took to this rabbit when he was up visiting. Here is the evidence.

After Sophia's demise I was trying to find a card during lunch time that Friday for my niece and found this card of a little rabbit that looked just like Sophia, but it also looked like the rabbit was crying, so I cried in MYER like some kind of fool and couldn’t buy it (but how sad is that card!). I was sick with a cold and overtired on Friday in any case and would have cried at just about anything but back at work one of my colleagues bought me chocolate and it was a little bit ridiculous.

But such things are hard to take. When I was a kid we had some Chinese silky bantams as pets. They used to roam our yard and were generally locked up at night. Mine was called Chloe and my sister’s was Henrietta. One night we were careless and it seems that both a gate was left open and the chicken cage wasn’t locked, such that the chickens were out early in the morning and a dog happened to come by and get Henrietta. I was so distressed about this that I tied one side gate, which was a little less certain when it was locked, up with so many knots of rope that no-one could ever be bothered to use it again. And every night before I went to bed I would terrorise myself by going out and running around the side to check that the gate (which was all tied up with rope) was still locked and the cage was locked. One night my Aunt was babysitting and while I was out on my chicken run in the dark she locked the back door, so I came flying back around and had a panic on the back verandah because I couldn’t get back in (we lived in an outer suburb of a country town, on a large block with a small house on it). The trauma I put myself through every night so that nothing got our chickens!

Then years later when I was at uni I had a pet budgie, called Wembly. Wembly was my little friend who used to follow me around the tiny shearer’s hut that I lived in and do quirky things. Eventually I got another budgie called Charlotte because I felt sorry for Wembly being on his lonesome during the day. I took Wembly and Charlotte home for the holidays and I had told my sister not to take the cage outside, but for some reason, one day while I was out somewhere, she took the cage outside. Then she thought she’d change their bath water, but while she took the bath away she left the door open, outside. Wembly got out. So I came home and my budgie was out of his cage and flying about the neighbourhood. I was trying desperately to call him back and coax him back to Charlotte. He flew across the road and landed low in a bush, and I though that was my chance and was hurrying across the road when a cat suddenly jumped up and swiped him out of the bush. And that was the end of Wembly. I cried and cried.

I also, while at uni, got my WIRES licence, after a weekend of training, and used to take phone calls and go to the rescue of injured wildlife. I enjoyed this, but I buried a lot of wildlife. For years I used to pull over every time I came across an animal that had been hit by a car and check it’s pouch (because most drivers don’t, so pouch young are left to die a slow and painful death). The problem was that unless it was a very recent roadkill in a lot of cases the pouch young had been drinking putrefying milk, so they’d get sick and die about four days later in any case, after all your efforts to get up during the night and feed them etc. Then I took up a research position in far north Queensland, which involved trapping wild bettongs, possums and rock-wallabies. It was beyond manageable but I used to set 120 traps a night, on two different grids, and spend hours and hours clearing them and weighing, measuring and tagging what was in them. I did not like feeling so responsible for so many animals in traps. One night around midnight a tropical storm came through. The black soil up there can turn into a treacherous bog rapidly and I didn’t want to drive out and leave animals in traps in case I couldn’t get back in again the next day (and it’s not nice being an animal in a trap in a storm) so I left my volunteers in the car (because they were slow and I could get around the traps faster without them), and went racing around the bush in the thunder and lightening of a tropical storm at midnight letting animals out of traps. There was also the odd pouch young tragedy.

Start to care about and feel responsible for individual wild animals and that gets overwhelming. I haven’t had a pet since the budgies and I don’t stop very often anymore to check roadkill pouches. There’s something about that that now seems too hard. I'm conscious that if I were to get a pet I would get very attached to it and it would become a kind of emotional burden. So I don’t let myself have one. I know I am not living as a fan of CS Lewis in this, when he writes in The Four Loves:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.
I am also a hypocrite. In the card I did buy and give to my devastated niece I wrote something along the lines of ‘loving things can hurt a lot when something happens to them, but it is always worth loving things because it makes life more beautiful and rich, so I hope you keep loving bunnies’. Ahem.

The good news is there is now a new rabbit. And I wants it. I was looking at rabbits online with my sister and getting rather besotted. They are seriously cute. The new rabbit, who is going to live indoors, will follow you around the house, and snuggle in your lap. These are very bad photos of me, and it’s not the carefully curated public image I was aiming for (it was a very bad hair moment, the pic in the middle is taken while I was talking, and in the others I am slouching on the floor and frowning while watching the Lion King and unbeknownst to me my brother-in-law was apparently killing himself laughing at my facial expressions – I get a little over-involved in movies), but this is Marshmallow (my sister did the photo arrangement, and I don't know how to undo it). I’m now pondering whether it’s at all practical to have a rabbit in my house.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Human life's mystery

Yesterday I went to Berrima for the day with a friend, to catch up with other friends from Sydney, and found this lovely volume in Berkelouw's book barn. There are poems within it I've never before read, which is always a delight from a poet one appreciates. I like this one below. I have added it to the "Sehnsucht poems" collection.

A photo posted by Alison Payne (@thisfoggyday) on

By Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)


We sow the glebe, we reap the corn,
   We build the house where we may rest,
And then, at moments, suddenly,
We look up to the great wide sky,
Inquiring wherefore we were born…
   For earnest, or for jest?


The senses folding thick and dark
   About the stifled soul within,
We guess diviner things beyond,
And yearn to them with yearning fond;
We strike out blindly to a mark
   Believed in, but not seen.


We vibrate to the pant and thrill
   Wherewith Eternity has curled
In serpent-twine about God’s seat;
While, freshening upward to His feet,
In gradual growth His full-leaved will
   Expands from world to world.


And, in the tumult and excess
   Of act and passion under sun,
We sometimes hear—oh, soft and far,
As silver star did touch with star,
The kiss of Peace and Righteousness
    Through all things that are done.


God keeps His holy mysteries
   Just on the outside of man’s dream.
In diapason slow, we think
To hear their pinions rise and sink,
While they float pure beneath His eyes,
   Like swans adown a stream.


Abstractions, are they, from the forms
   Of His great beauty?—exaltations
From His great glory?—strong previsions
Of what we shall be?—intuitions
Of what we are—in calms and storms,
   Beyond our peace and passions?


Things nameless! which, in passing so,
   Do stroke us with a subtle grace.
We say, ‘Who passes?’—they are dumb.
We cannot see them go or come:
Their touches fall soft—cold—as snow
    Upon a blind man’s face.


Yet, touching so, they draw above
   Our common thoughts to Heaven’s unknown,
Our daily joy and pain advance
To a divine significance,—
Our human love—O mortal love,
   That light is not its own!


And sometimes, horror chills our blood
   To be so near such mystic Things,
And we wrap round us, for defence,
Our purple manners, moods of sense—
As angels, from the face of God,
   Stand hidden in their wings.


And, sometimes, through life’s heavy swound
   We grope for them!—with strangled breath
We stretch our hands abroad and try
To reach them in our agony,—
And widen, so, the broad life-wound
   Which soon is large enough for death.

Monday, May 09, 2016

This world is not conclusion

One of my Japanese Maples doing Autumn, in the rain.

I am not yet done with Emily Dickinson. Here is another poem of hers I like.

~By Emily Dickinson

This World is not Conclusion.
A Species stands beyond -
Invisible, as Music -
But positive, as Sound -
It beckons, and it baffles -
Philosophy - don't know -
And through a Riddle, at the last -
Sagacity, must go -
To guess it, puzzles scholars -
To gain it, Men have borne
Contempt of Generations
And Crucifixion, shown -
Faith slips - and laughs, and rallies -
Blushes, if any see -
Plucks at a twig of Evidence -
And asks a Vane, the way -
Much Gesture, from the Pulpit -
Strong Hallelujahs roll -
Narcotics cannot still the Tooth
That nibbles at the soul -

Saturday, May 07, 2016

On waiting and learning trust

A photo posted by Alison Payne (@thisfoggyday) on

Hello again. I hope all readers (in the southern hemisphere at least) are enjoying Autumn. It has been quite spectacular thus far in my high, inland neck of the woods. I love that the seasons are more distinct here. That is my little courtyard out the back in the photo. (I am wanting to upgrade that dracky old outdoor setting, which I bought many years ago on ebay, but the time will come.)

Not a whole lot has been happening. Last weekend I hosted book club at my house on the Friday evening. I was a little pre-embarrassed at what all the classy Canberra folks would think of my granny-chic-decked-out-house, but they liked it, so I can disregard that hospitality trepidation.

On the Sunday I went to the Collector Pumpkin Festival. This was a fun day in a little country village about 50 kms away, though the wind! A few folks were going, mentioned it to me, and I had decided to make the most of any opportunity to push back the solitude. I learnt my lesson on that point over the Easter and the ANZAC long weekends. I always think a long weekend to just potter about at home will be great, and in some ways it is, but at three days it gets quiet and lonely. I didn’t arrange anything for ANZAC Monday and then was annoyed with myself for just loafing about wasting it, and wished afterwards that I’d actually written a LIST of things to do (yes, a list, for this non-list person). At church on that Sunday the fellow I mentioned previously did walk up while I was in the middle of talking to someone else and say “I gave you my phone number and you didn’t call me” (I was hoping he’d forget) to which all I could think to say was “no, no I didn’t”, which was an awkward moment. That will not be happening. I have a blanket refusal to phone men in place, as of the last time I tried to phone one, and nothing short of a man calling me himself is going to shift it, but I don’t believe that should make much difference since men don’t have to sit back getting impatient, cross or discouraged with me for not calling them; they can play the man and call me themselves. I don’t believe it is any harder or riskier for them to do it than it is for me, and I’d like to have someone phone me also. (This particular fellow doesn’t have my number, but he didn’t ask for it.) Anyway, enough of that. After the way my life has played out I feel like I have developed an aversion to/phobia of taking initiative towards men, and I don’t want to do it, and I internally (and sometimes externally) rail against men making me feel like I need to do it.

But, on similar, though much more helpful lines, the Gospel Coalition recently published a couple of posts on infertility, that I think also apply to singleness. (The article author mentions those who “grieve absence” and Wendy Alsup did single women everywhere a favour in this article when she validated the grief of singleness, which also brings its own infertility.)

I know the woman who wrote the articles, but she clearly doesn't want to be identified, and so be it. Here is Part 1, which is especially good, and Part 2.