Quiet moment at home with Burnsie

It’s taken me seven decades to learn the wisdom of looking down. This Piscean Joseph ‘dreamer’ was born with his head in the clouds. So looking down with affection at the dust and dung of daily routine has not come easily. I’m a slow learner.

So I felt enormous affinity for author, Parker Palmer, when reading his autobiography, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (2000), where he tells of his mental breakdown, hospitalization and near suicide, revealing that finally what saved him was soul-work teaching him the dignity of looking down. He describes his neurosis as feeling that Life was pressing him down, crushing him against the earth. Psychotropic drugs only turned him into a zombie. Nothing in conventional psychiatry helped. Until one day a new therapist, sensitive to spiritual dimensions of the psyche, gave Parker a new perspective. He said, “Perhaps Life isn’t trying to crush you, only trying to bring you down to earth; perhaps your life as political activist, theologian, and academic, a life pursuing theory and great ideas, needs balance: your soul may be telling you that your head, so long in the clouds, needs the gritty reality of feet solidly on the ground. Perhaps the hand of fate you perceive as crushing you is Life’s helping hand holding you on the ground so you don’t fall from lofty heights.”

That re-framing of the situation changed Parker Palmer’s life. It speaks to me too about the value of looking down not just up. I’ve missed so much of the heartbeat of life over the years by living inside my head, my head in the clouds. Perhaps the most practical object lesson my Scotties-on-four-inch-legs embody for me is to stay close to the earth, to stay grounded, to look ‘down’ naturally and gratefully.

But recently I had to laugh at myself and Parker Palmer when I got a rude reminder that failure to look up carries penalties too!

I had mucked the barn, navigating through the corral to the compost heap an over-size wheel-barrow load of donkey poop. The day was blazing hot and unusually humid, and I was trying hard to “show up” for the task. I mean, I was conscious I was engaged in a ritual of “looking down” at the very earthy side of life with animals.

I was looking down alright: at the manure heap, at the heavily loaded wheel-barrow a bit unwieldy in my hands, at the spot where I chose to empty the load.

Where I failed to look was UP at a head-high broken tree branch which bloodied my bald head before I could say “squat!”

I thought of Palmer and his ‘helping hand’ bringing him down to earth and then, just as quickly, gained a new appreciation for circumspection which looks UP as well as down!

“Heads UP!” it turns out, is not airy-fairy; it’s a useful mantra not to be neglected in the compost heap of Life.

Joseph Harvill, publisher Great Scots Magazine

Contemplative moment at home with Burnsie

My orphan kittens are thriving. At least, two of the three are alive and doing well.

In June I wrote about new mouths to feed at Las Golondrinas: my seasonal Hummingbirds at the kitchen window and orphan kittens found in a hollow log near my well house. The three little ones were pitiful waifs, boney and frail like furtive ghosts. No sign of the mother cat around the old fallen tree.

Blogger's orphan kittens at Las GolondrinasBurnsie would whine at the gate at feeding times, eager to run to the fallen tree. He knew the orphans were there before I saw them. He wasn’t aggressive; he was curious.

I took them small bowls of half-n-half milk, almost certain they were too young to lap milk on their own. At first they wouldn’t coax out from the recesses of their log, but I left the small bowl anyway. When they did begin to come to their bowl I noticed the smallest one was roughly pushed away from access to the milk. I tried feeding the runt separately but after a week only two kittens were alive. Burnsie found the carcass of the runt.

As the Orphans gained strength they became quite bold. They would wait at their hollow log for our approach to feed the animals and run eagerly to meet Burnsie and me, often hazarding getting stepped on as they darted in front of my feet practically on top of my shoes. Other times the Orphans played and romped under the feet of donkeys who gathered in front of the well house, the kittens’ tiny size out of all proportion to their fearlessness.

One of blogger's intrepid My Orphans have now graduated to large curd “Scottage Cheese” mixed with cat kibble topped with a bit of half-n-half milk. They’re not boney anymore but still tiny and still fearless. I call them “Monkeys” as they scurry about my and Burnsie’s feet on the way to place their food bowl inside their fallen log where other mouths can’t reach it.

I certainly did NOT need more mouths to feed at Las Golondrinas. But, as Wendell Berry says in one of his poems, we live the Life given, not the one planned.

These days my ‘givens’ include two Orphans, now Burnsie’s feline friends and pint-sized inspiration to me. As the Orphans have learned to swarm around me, the Nurturer in their world, so I choose to believe Life gives as well as takes away. Like the kittens, if I am to nurture the fire within me, I must swarm to those who fan my flames.

Joseph Harvill, publisher Great Scots Magazine