Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bike Ride

Beyond the bird-wielding fields and dim discerned
in summer's fragrant falling dusk,
the far flung mountain slowly is interred
from the bottom up; sheer diamond lines diffused
so that it seems to float, like cloud: strange, that
over the thronging grasses and woods' belt,
the stronghold mount, ever white, becomes a ghost.

Friday, March 27, 2009


I have been going further into the bowels of the woods at Redwood Park lately. 80 acres, relative to larger areas of land, can seem like not much, but it is still a lot to get acquainted with over the years, especially when it is all forest in the main.

The land can be generally divided in half: the portion that comprises the hillside; and the portion that takes up the top of the hill. They are roughly equal in space, 40/40. The top of the hill is the more cultured part, though very full and expansive and beautiful and, well, forested. As you go lower down it gets more wild.

Lower in the woods I came to a crossways in the beaten path, and decided to go further down. I came, in the midst of all that deep wood, on an open beech grove. European beeches that are old - and haven't had various names carved into their boles. Imagine that.

When you come on an old beech grove, with their immaculate white, silver grey trunks, ascending without a knob, hunch or crook in all their years, and not a wrinkle in them, and their leaves have carpeted the entire floor that doesn't admit of any other creeping growth (aside from the odd holly seedling), you definitely feel like you've arrived at something serene and sacred, calm and cloistered.

I've been mentally composing a list of my favourite trees over the past couple years. I don't think I'll ever come up with an outstanding favourite over all the others, but beech and holly come close. Especially if the holly has been looked after.

The competition: Cedar of Lebanon (especially the more hardy var. stenocoma), western red cedar, giant sequoia, monkey puzzle, incense cedar, English oak...

and that's not the 'fruit trees' - or trees that are shrubs.

What are your favourites?

Forest Drawing

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Good Sad Distance, or Close the Screen Please

There are realities about repentance, forgiveness and conversion that the closed screen of Confession not only symbolizes but helps to foster within the operation of the sacrament. For one, there is the notion that sin cuts one off from God's grace, and so we remain outside as it were, or roomed in a sinful world of our own making and consent; not seeing Christ, but having been stagnating in our own sins. So it is when we confess. Jesus is there, very present, yet we confess our sins in repentance as one whose sins have cut one off, in varying degrees depending on the gravity of the sins, from God.

As humans who repent, we need our space as it were, to confess, repent and make reparation. The face-to-face way of open-screen confession (at least for this writer) suggests automatic reconciliation (as in the priest's absolution feels more like an afterthought rather than the moment of cleansing) and can obliterate the awareness of that insensible, invisible grace that transcends all situations.

There is a certain distance that Jesus preserves when He forgives through the Sacrament of Confession. It is not a distance that is cold; it is not a distance that distances; but it is a distance that goes only into proving the total intangibility of the grace of forgiveness, of cleansing, of being made whiter than snow.

It is the antithesis to the approach of cymbals and sounding brass. It is rather like the speed of light: distance is not annulled, but it does not by any means have any final sway or say.

This is by way of saying that the closed screen that once symbolizes how one has been cut off as it were, now becomes powerless in Christ's transcendent forgiveness, which is so transcendent it operates "right through walls".

Jesus does not make a show of His forgiveness. How could He?

One of the most immediately felt forms - and I believe there are infinite forms - of Christ's forgiveness and mercy is a special sense of what seems to feel like He is leaving you your personal space. But He has not just left you to your own space; He has opened up that personal space; He has become that personal space. He descends into your exile, becoming diffuse; His becoming diffuse being your very lifeblood. He exiles you from your exile and has you occupy the spatial freedom that is His own self and mercy. So it can be as though there is both distance and profound intimacy. His distance is without coldness; His intimacy is without cloying intrusiveness.

The transformation wrought on one in Confession can be likened to the transformation that occurs on the altar to the species of bread and wine. [I say "transformation" and not transubstantiation because I am making something more of a metaphorical/poetic comparison and do not want to get into theological mistakes; though what does take place on the altar is indeed transubstantiation and not just "transformation".]

The awareness of this transformation is heightened when the screen is there, closed. When the screen is not there, the awareness is lessened (Again, my personal experience). It is this way for the customs and observances and rituals that go into performing the liturgy of the church and her sacraments: if it doesn't heighten, it's not just then being status quo; it is failing.

This transformative experience in Confession is but the beginning of course; it is not a once for all deal. It is work, works, in cooperation with His mercy; continual, ongoing conversion, so that we do not abstract ourselves from our many foibles and faults and bad inclinations; our continuing habitual sins, which we rather benignly refer to as "struggles", while we are consenting to those foibles and faults and habitual sins. There is to be no compartmentalization; no dichotomy; no split personality. It is our pilgrimage, until this distance has been closed by purification; that distance which is sad, and part of our original sin and state, and yet necessary somehow: it is a good sad distance - and Christ doesn't want us to stagnate in it. Nor does He want us to be afraid of it, and thus try and tinker with it. He uses that distance. He wants us first to recognize it.

This good sad distance is nothing other than the trajectory of our life. Our life is at once a lot more beautiful than we know it, and a lot more rough hewn than we know it. Our life is not a potentialized photo album, with photos filling in their reserved empty places as we progress through time, while the album becomes accumulatively more substantial. Our life, our one, own, personal earthly life is unequivocal "rough matter" that is meant to be continually ordered; and our progression through time is to be at one with that ordering.

This realization is heightened with the closed screen: feel the swelter that your sins bring on; in proportion to it (or rather, out of proportion to it) Christ pours the coolness of His mercy; you will step upon your older self to rise.

"Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world, for my sake, will keep it for eternal life."

With the closed screen there is also a greater focus on the words that are confessed, and the words that are spoken by the priest. We know how visuals can take away from sound's power. With the screen, the words that the priest speaks to the penitent become very special; weighty; absorbable. With the closed screen, the ear naturally inclines to what the priest is telling the penitent. Likewise, the confession of the penitent becomes as singular words spoken into clear silence. The words spoken with the screen closed have a way of bringing the sins that are named out into the light.

The good sad distance closes, or is completely suspended, with our surrender, and without our pride trying to alter it.

More decayed tree(s) (and young ones)

Monday, March 23, 2009

At Conception

"Perhaps a reason that Christ’s story begins at conception is to bring a message to a world in which the womb is no longer a safe haven.

Perhaps it is to remind us that the most beautiful words in the world are not those spoken at the birth of a baby when the doctor pronounces the child alive and healthy.

Instead, the most exquisite words are the little veiled conversation that goes on in the heart of the mother many months earlier, when she first learns that she is pregnant.

The loveliest words of all come despite inconvenience, despite having other plans, despite being too young or too old, despite being too poor, despite being scared, despite being unmarried, despite being afraid of death.

The most beautiful words of all come at the moment when the mother whispers to God: “Let it be.” And that’s where the story begins."

From a post, Saying Yes to God by Lorraine V. Murray at The Ink Desk.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Humility Quotes

One day of humble self-knowledge is a greater grace from the Lord, although it may have cost us many afflictions and trials, than many days of prayer. --ST. TERESA

Humility is truth. --ST. THERESE OF LISIEUX

Persons who keep themselves low in their own estimation and love to be considered of little account and despised by others please God in the highest degree. --THOMAS A KEMPIS

Hold thyself as vile; rejoice to be so held by others; never exalt thyself by reason of the gifts of God, and thou shalt be perfectly humble. --ST. BONAVENTURE

The practice of humility consists not only in thinking and saying that you are full of faults, but in rejoicing because others think and say the same thing about you. --ST. THERESE OF LISIEUX

The most powerful weapon to conquer the devil is humility. For, as he does not know at all how to employ it, neither does he know how to defend himself from it. --ST. VINCENT DE PAUL

Get them every day this Lent from Father Anthony Ho


By Pavel Chichikov

The severed branch the wind threw down has shown
Green sprouting leaves where nothing should have grown
Without a root, green petals from a stem—
Who would have guessed the green and spring of them?

Jonathan, from what root were you raised
The four and one year life of your decades?
A gale of wind to break you where you grew;
Who would believe a green and spring of you?

Who would have guessed that severed branches green
Can grow another leaf—what can this mean?
What practice of a sign can make such things?
Who understands these likenesses of spring?

By Pavel Chichikov

Rain-soaked trees, the owl calls,
Clouds resist the setting sun,
Long to wait the daylight falls,
No shadows on the hillsides run,
Who would have guessed he would not be
Here among the rain-soaked trees?

Though the trees and streams defer
To dying, see the kingfisher
Dart and bank a way upstream,
Sky-blue, swift as any dream,
Who would have guessed he would not be
Here among the rain-soaked trees?

The sky departed into night,
It is a rhyme that God recites,
Fleeing fleeting metaphor
That what He takes He can restore

By Pavel Chichikov

Are you ready for a sleep?
Yes I am, for I would meet
The one who came before me
May I rest beneath your gracious tree
Until he comes this way?
May he not delay

Time is neither long nor little
In this deep shade, nor is there trouble
My leaves are sleep and rest
You are my guest
My garden has no wall
Or gate impregnable

He was my son who died with You
By suffering his spirit grew
In courage, spirit he
Attains the comfort of this tree
The deep recumbent shade
Where life once more is made

The Poetry of Pavel Chichikov

A wee story

I wanted a Medlar tree for a little space behind the garden that I have been planning and digging. I didn’t know where I was going to get one. They are not commonly available from nurseries, like other fruit trees.

There's a house I was working at just the other day. I do landscaping for work. I had met the son of the parents who own the house one late fall night. This son does, I am fairly assuming, most of the work around the place, which he enjoys. My boss knows him and his family and took me there that one night after work to see all the wonderful stuff he grows. They are Italian. We were introduced, and he showed us around the property as dark fell.

The family does everything themselves. Make their own wine, make their own juice, make their own bread, make their own crackers, make their own cheese, make their own pizza (in a beautiful brick outdoor stove), make their own pasta, slaughter their own meat, grow their own figs, kiwis, beans, grapes, and on and on.

On that fall night he mentioned, among the immense repertoire of trees and plants, he had a Medlar.

So, the other day we were trimming hedges for him in the front (he had a recent accident that temporarily prevented him from doing this work), and as we were gathering up felled limbs, I figured I would mention that he mentioned that he had a Medlar the last time I was there.

Honestly, my sole intention in mentioning it was simply because I wanted to see a Medlar tree, which I had never seen before (in the flesh), and which I never got to see that time that I visited in the dark.

He says right away, "Oh I got seven of them. You want one?"

"I would love one".

The Desert Fathers

CXXIV. When the abbot Macarius, carrying palm leaves, was returning to his cell at dawn, the Devil met him with a keen-edged sickle, and would have struck him, and could not. And crying out at him "Great," he said, "is the violence I suffer from thee, O Macarius, that when I fain would injure thee, I cannot: yet whatever thou dost, I do also, and more. For thou dost fast now and then, but by no food am I ever refreshed. Thou dost often keep vigil; no slumber ever falls upon me. But in one thing thou dost overmaster me, I do myself confess it." And when the blessed Macarius asked him what that might be, "It is thy humility alone," he said, "that masters me." He spoke, and the blessed Macarius stretched out his hands in prayer: and the evil spirit vanished into the air.

CXXVI. One of the Fathers used to say, "Every labour of the monk, without humility, is vain. For humility is the forerunner of love, as John was the forerunner of Jesus, drawing all men to him: even so humility draws to love, that is to God Himself, for God is love."

My, what big teeth you have

"The calculation is one of the largest bite forces ever calculated for any creature."

That's this one (a pliosaur, or Kronosaurus):

Not this one (a plesiosaur):

The one with the longer neck was at times the shorter neck's breakfast. But the quote above does not refer to the pliosaur next to Red Riding Hood in the above photo. It refers to what appears to be the largest discovered one yet; a new species, perhaps a new family.

Two partial skeletons have been discovered on a Norwegian island 800 miles from the North Pole. At least 50 feet long and 45 tons. A skull estimated to be 10 feet. Flippers also 10 feet. Each tooth being one foot. And that bite:

"With a skull that's more than 10 feet long you'd expect the bite to be powerful but this is off the scale," said Joern Hurum, an associate professor of vertebrate paleontology at the Museum of Oslo University.

"This one...could crush a Hummer," he said.

It had a bite force of about 33,000 pounds.

"More than 10 times that of any animal alive today and 2 to 4 times the bite force of T. rex." From this article, a pretty good read on the fossil discovery. Both photos above are from this site.

Do you ever get the notion that God is relaying some rather bold message to us from prehistory concerning His creative powers?

On the other end of the spectrum, I was looking at this helpful site, being interested in having plants that attract beneficial insects, and I learned that even parasites can get parasites. Take the parasitic mini-wasps. The stinger of the female allows her to lay eggs in the bodies of insect pests. When the eggs hatch the young eat the pest from the inside, leaving a hollow mummy. Which explains the paper husk of a woodbug that I occasionally find in the dirt.

Or the Tachinid Fly. The larvae are also internal workers, sucking the body fluids of the pest until it dies.

I want some. Not on me of course. But in the garden.

My new invention idea: automatic page turner

Nathan Perley Performs Chopin from Onyx House on Vimeo.

Great rotting stump

Friday, March 20, 2009

All glory is vain but God's and what we graft therein

If all I think about is how well I do something, or can do something, then I will never get around to finishing what I begin, or my finishing it will smear what good I began. Or I will fall into the failure of repeating what it is I do well.

If all I think about is how bad I do something, I will inevitably be drawn into a fazed and opposite direction; a directionless direction that leads to some danger I know not what, for I will be avoiding some test. This latter mistake is less worse than the former.

Both are parts of the dual problem that proves the efficacy of deciding that it is all going to be done for God's glory. He bears the burden of both failure and success. And success can too often prove the greater burden. He redeems failure and He brings success to the next height. Doing something - everything - for the ultimate glory of God is the most realistic route to take. It brings air and light to what is about to be stifled. It suddenly removes a barrier. Because God takes up both success and failure, one can head forth to another horizon with both failure and success behind one, and still have continuity.

But it must be added: it can be a naked, fierce and frightening thing.

Monday, March 16, 2009


The annual spring art competition and exhibition at the Surrey Arts Center is coming up. For the most part it is fun to look forward to, aside from the one thing I dread most about it: the framing.

Right off the bat I should say that I appreciate what framers do. It is for sure a certain craft that requires care, attention and skill. With that said - and this is entirely from my standpoint - I find having to get my work framed a detestable burden.

It is not because I am picky. It is rather the opposite: typically the first one that the framer shows me makes me want to say, "Yes. That one. Please do not show me any more options."

Really, granted that the frame is not some grotesquely ornate or garish thing, I really couldn't give a hoot about what frame it is. And they proceed to bring out endless possibilities.

There's something else. I don't like bringing my work into the framing store. It feels like I'm bringing a lump of coal into a jeweler's shop and asking him to set it in fancy gold. I'm not trying to look humble here; the feeling is like that, and that's the way it is.

I also don't like the high quality of the frames. That may sound strange. They're too slick, too manufactured, even when they try to look rustic. Even when the frame technically suits my painting, I don't like the way the painting looks with the frame.

Which lands me back to the fact that I may be picky after all. But how can one be picky when none of the options really satisfy? I want to go frameless. I've seen it many times before in past exhibitions. The artist simply paints the sides of the canvas that wrap around its wooden frame; a nice red ochre or something. And they attach the hanging wire to the wood frame already there.

It could be interpreted as being a little too minimalist, or falsely modest - or simply being cheap (with artists surely that is understandable), but I don't mind it.

But the other thing that attracts me even more is making one's own frames. I've come to the conclusion actually that an artist should try and make his own frame; one that is made specifically for a specific painting. (Both painting and carving could go into the frame.) This should be no more a stretch than that the artists of old had to make their own paints from raw material, had to stretch their own canvases - by Lord, even had to make their own brushes for all I know. Indeed, that was half of what the student being apprenticed by a master was all about: you learned how to do everything.

So, one must be vigilant and combative when entering both the framing and the art supply store. Do not let mere availability of supply cripple you.

And yes, I know what Chesterton said:

"Art consists of limitation. The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame."

The frame, that is to say, that is the four-square and inherent frame already there by virtue of the painting being, by its very nature, limited to the canvas - as something set apart from the infringing complexities of the world; set apart from them, yet distilling them, so that something is found, discovered, inducing epiphany. In this sense, the frame, by which we mean the wooden or metal thing we adorn a painting with, is just that: decoration of the frame already there.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Desert Fathers


I. A brother went to the cell of the abbot Arsenius in Scete, and looked through the window, and saw the old man as it were one flame: now, the brother was worthy to look upon such things. And after he had knocked, the old man came out, and saw the brother as one amazed, and said to him, "Hast thou been knocking here long? Hast thou seen aught?" And he answered, "No." And he talked with him, and sent him away.

XII. The abbot Moses, who dwelt in Petra, was at one time sorely harried by lust: and when he could no longer endure to hold himself in his cell, he set out to tell it to the abbot Isidore: and the old man asked him to go back again to his cell. But he did not consent, saying, "I cannot, Father." And he took him and brought him into the house. And he said to him, "Look at the sunset." and he looked, and saw a multitude of demons: and they were in commotion, and rousing themselves to battle. And again the abbot Isidore said, "Look to the East." And he looked, and saw an innumerable multitude of angels in glory. Whereupon the abbot Isidore said, "Behold, these are they that are sent to aid: those that are climbing up in the west are they that fight against us: and they that are with us are more than they that be against us." And the abbot Moses thanked God and took courage, and returned to his cell.

XXI. At one time Zachary went to his abbot Silvanus, and found him in ecstasy, and his hands were stretched out to heaven. And when he saw him thus, he closed the door and went away: and coming back about the sixth hour, and the ninth, he found him even so: but toward the tenth hour he knocked, and coming in found him lying quiet and said to him, "What ailed thee today, Father?" And he said, "I was ill to-day, my son." But the young man held his feet saying, "I shall not let thee go, until thou tell me what thou hast seen." The old man answered him: "I was caught up into heaven, and I saw the glory of God. And I stood there until now, and now am I sent away."

Friday, March 6, 2009

Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia)

At Redwood Park yesterday I noticed these cones in the vicinity of one of the dawn redwoods, close to one of the entrances. The Brown brothers planted at least two of them that I know of, and they are getting to be spectacular. With age these trees get very fissured and wide at the base, which spiders out in every direction; something straight out of Fangorn. Check out this one from somewhere else (the ones I know in Redwood Park don't even come close to that yet).

The dawn redwood was discovered alive in the 1940's, and was only known prior to that point through fossils. They thought it was extinct. So, it was quite something when it was happened upon in some remote part of China, living. The natives of that region were quite familiar with it though.

It's an evergreen, but it sheds its leaves in fall. It can tolerate swampy conditions. It grows very fast. It is long lived. In prehistory it covered much of the northern western hemisphere.

Some twenty years or so after the Brown brothers died, some crew came to the land and drilled down through all the layers. Of the fossils found, some were with imprints of dawn redwood. I like to ponder how it was many millenia until two deaf, reclusive twin brothers reimbursed that land with what was there, and then suddenly not there, millions of years ago.

What's nice about this is that typically you don't find seed-bearing dawn redwoods here in the west - not yet, because they were only brought over not too long ago, which means they need to reach something like 50 years of age to start bearing seed. Thank you, Brown brothers.

This handful I'm not going to stratify. I'm just going to try them straight up. Let's see what happens.

Surprise! Another tree

While I was drawing this, sitting on a cut log in the meadow, the sun was against my back. Though the weather is still cold, I was warmed when the wind didn't blow; and there was a few blackberry limbs near my feet, rather scraggly since the meadow grass in summer takes over, and I could smell the blackberry juices rising in the sun. Wonderful smell.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Here's some quotes to knock you off your feet

Give attention to cutting off your own will, and you will soon quit these phantoms of sanctity in which you repose so superstitiously. --St. Francis De Sales.

He who believes himself to be far advanced in the spiritual life has not even made a good beginning. --St. Francis De Sales.

Do nothing, say nothing before considering if that which you are about to say or do is pleasing to God, profitable to yourself, and edifying to your neighbor. --St. Ignatius.

Abase yourself very often in the abyss of your nothingness. --St. Francis De Sales.

True humility makes no pretense of being humble, and scarcely ever utters words of humility. --St. Francis De Sales.

You must lovingly leave some work to others, and not seek to have all the crowns. --St. Francis De Sales.

Annihilate yourself in the very depths of your being, to see that God wills to use your littleness to do Him a service of great importance. --St. Francis De Sales.

Let us sweetly hide our littleness in His greatness. --St. Francis De Sales.

These are all courtesy of Father Anthony Ho who during this Lent is posting daily quotes on Humility - in addition to his ordinary daily quotes.


The School of Love.

The School of Compromise.

The Desert Fathers

XX. At one time there came heretics to the abbot Poemen, and they began to speak ill of the archbishop of Alexandria: but the old man kept silence. But calling his disciple he said to him, "Set the table, and give them to eat, and so send them away in peace."

XXII. A brother asked an old man saying, "My heart is hard, and doth not fear God: what shall I do, that I may fear God?" He made answer, "I think myself that if a man would forever accuse himself in his heart, he would come to fear of God." The brother said, "What is it, to accuse one's self?" The old man answered, "That in every conjuncture he should accuse his soul, saying to it that he must stand before God, and again should say, Why should I bear any malice against man? For I think that if a man would abide in these things the fear of God would come upon his soul."

XXIV. An old man said, "Rising and walking and sitting, if God is before thine eyes, there is naught in which the Enemy can affright thee. If that thought abides in a man, the strength of God shall cleave to him."

Sun going down

St. Michael - further on

This is the next stage in the St. Michael icon (some of the previous stage in this post). The red stuff is bole. It goes wherever the gold leaf will be laid down. So for this, one can see the entire background and halo will be gold leaf.

Bole is a certain clay mixed with rabbit skin glue. You can also use fish glue. I'm not sure if water is added. I should know this by now, but I don't. Today we used bole that was already mixed, leftover stuff. The clay that goes into making the bole is a purified kind and it's used because it lays down flat.

To apply the bole to the board, you heat up the bole to between 100 and 150 F. To do this, you put the bole in a glass jar. You put the glass jar into a stone bowl that has hot water in it (obviously not so deep as to get water into the jar with the bole). You put the stone bowl, which has the hot water and glass jar of bole in it, into a larger plastic container. Into the larger plastic container you pour boiling water. One is to be careful with direct heat because you don't want the bole to reach too high a temperature, or else it will be useless forever after that. It will dry brittle.

This icon has around four layers so far. One can't let it dry too long before laying down the gold leaf. But this way, once we add two more layers, the present four layers will get sufficiently moistened for the gold leaf to adhere.

You breath on the bole just before you lay down pieces of gold leaf. Your warm breath opens up the adhesive stuff in the bole. I've heard that some use garlic juice. Obviously those people are rare, because garlic juice stinks like the fumes from hell.

And I like the word, bole. It's one of those English words that has this primal, universal connotation; for it is trees and clay.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Italian Stone Pine (Pinus pinea)

The Desert Fathers


VII. Another brother asked the abbot Theodore, saying, "Wilt thou that for some days I eat no bread?" And the old man said, "Thou dost well, and I myself have done the like." And the brother said to him, "I would like to take some peas to the mill and make flour of them." And the abbot Theodore said to him, "If thou art already for the mill, make thyself bread: and what need is there of this quibbling?"

VIII. Another brother questioned the same old man, the abbot Theodore, and began to discuss and inquire into labours which he had not yet performed. And the old man said to him, "Thou hast not yet found thy ship, nor put thy baggage in her, nor begun to sail, and art thou already in the city whither thou hast planned to come? When thou hast first laboured in that whereof thou speakest, then speak from out the thing itself."


By Pavel Chichikov

See them all as great sloped mounds
Sun-bricked clay, Mesopotamia,
The heavy footprint on the ground,
The great Esagila

Reach God, they think, by humble climbing,
For they have left him far behind
In the garden, in the fresh of evening
But him they will not find

He walks among the deathless trees
Which sway in the sweet cool wind,
But they as if they could be free
Climb up to be unsinned

They build a temple at the top
To Dream and Sacrifice,
One a goddess, one a god
Which never will be spliced

And He who walks can walk and wait—
The creatures browse and fawn
On the skirts of His robe but time grows late
And soon it will be dawn

By Pavel Chichikov

The worst is lost love.
There is nothing worse.
And He replies: Hush. I have it here.
And He shows His burning heart

The Poetry of Pavel Chichikov