January, 1995. “Today, I went for a walk. I was searching for something and I needed to release the tension that comes whenever I think about the abuse. I found what I was looking for in a scrubby, dense Palo Verde. Two saguaros, each a foot high, grew in its shade. It was a nurse tree.

In the desert, the shade provided by nurse trees gives moisture to germinating seeds. Desert soil is thin, rocky and sparse in nutrients. The debris from the trees and other plants which grow underneath their limbs enrich the soil. Those few, square feet of shade become a sanctuary, an entire microenvironment of plants and animals.

One of the saguaros was near the trunk of the palo verde. Years of slow growth from now it will push through an embrace of spiny branches to tower over the tree the way an adolescent boy, on his way to becoming a man, does his mother. At that time, the intimate arrangement of tree and cactus may seem haphazard unless the observer understands their history. It is the safety provided by the Palo Verde that enables the saguaro to grow.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Sunday Afternoon

Church ended at noon. My husband and I had some soup I made yesterday – chicken and vegetables but with a Mexican flare – oregano and green chiles, served over blue corn tortilla chips. Then I took a nap. I taught Sunday School this morning so I got up at 4:30 to finish preparing. Now, it is late afternoon. The sun stretches in dappled shadows across the bark of the eucalyptus outside Purgatory’s window and washes the pepper tree with a flood of golden light.

To honor this fine afternoon, I recalled Gerard Manley Hopkins sonnet, Pied Beauty, and read it. It is one of my favorites.

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

With all of the worry and sadness of the last year, and particularly the last few months, I had forgotten this poem and how it stirs in my mind tranquil images of things I love. I read out loud Glory be to God for dappled things – / For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow and am calm. It is a beautiful thing how words tool emotion.

Recently, I have forgotten other things as well – how the dry breath of the desert stirs the sunlit leaves of the eucalyptus; that the scent of fresh basil must come directly from heaven and I like having it in my garden; that through the adversity of drought this desert landscape teaches lessons in wearing well which after 40 years here are part of who I am.

One spring, during my residency and after the birth of our second child, I forgot the mocking birds. I was busy—working 80-90 hours a week, two small children , a church calling—and didn’t think to spend 10 minutes on the porch and watch them dive bomb the cats and sing their hearts out from the tops of the sour orange trees in front of our house. Mocking birds are another of my favorite things. When I remembered, in December, that I had missed them that spring, I felt I had lost something so precious I cried. Watching the mockingbirds was a remedy. It was an opportunity to feel the soothing hand of Mother Nature on my forehead and I missed the appointment.

We are a plugged-in society attached to our computers, I-pods, cell phones, planners, television sets, digital recorders, and automobiles. Either because of direct access through ear buds and head sets to our brains, or because we have trained ourselves into addictive dependency, they perpetuate the kind of forgetfulness that made me miss the mockingbirds. When trouble comes, when stress comes, when angst comes, these attention getters make it more difficult to remember the lovely, precious things which bring peace.

And, we are busy bodies, literally, first in our minds with all we should be doing and then in our lives with what we actually get done. Being busy, working, accomplishing – these are good things. But they don’t equal a 10 minute time-out on the porch to watch mockingbirds.

I used to talk to my patients about their reserve tanks and how many of them were running on fumes. They often came in anxious, depressed or angry because they hadn’t taken time to refuel. What they didn’t need were anti-depressants, anxiolytics or long-term counseling. Their spiritual buckets were empty and they needed to fill them up.

Spiritual doesn’t refer only to religious things, but also to matters of the spirit. Glory be to god for dappled things—/ For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow . . . . We refill our spiritual tanks by connecting with our Creator. And, in part, we are our own Creators, aren’t we, we who have agency and choose to be unrelenting busy bodies, or choose to time out with that which replenishes our souls.

This has been a good Sabbath day. It has been a day of rest, reflection and remembering. It has been a day of healing.

I wish each of you a such a day.




  1. Beautiful, Rene! I love that poem and all GMH poems. I was thinking this was the poem that mentions the gold vermillion in a fire, but that must be something else. I'll have to look.

  2. beautiful post, Rene. I love the poem..and I love the images you paint with your words. Now I don't feel guilty serving dinner late tonight because I was working in the yard and stopped to watch the sunset as it first lit up the snow capped peak of Mt Timpanogas, then washed the sky with shades of pink and orange. I felt at home tonight. I miss Arizona, but I know this is where I am supposed to be right now. And your post helped me see that more clearly.

  3. You have such a special way of communicating through your writings. Beautiful post.

  4. Rene, your quiet words have stirred my soul. Thank you.

  5. Lovely thoughts, Rene. Even your words are healing and tender. Thank you.

  6. Hi Rene -
    What lovely imagery. I love the word "dappled"!