Monday, July 22, 2013

Missing the Tree: Even Small Change can be Hard

About an hour ago, after I had completed my morning meditation, I heard voices outside my living room window and looked up to see workmen trimming the trees of my backdoor neighbor.  As I watched, I quickly realized that they weren't just there to trim the trees; they were actually removing the redbud tree that grows right outside my neighbor's porch.  It blocks my view of her porch.  She usually has bird feeders hanging from it, including a hummingbird feeder, and a bird bath sits under it.  Squirrels run up and down the tree all day, and birds often perch on its limbs before dropping down for a bite to eat or soaring off to another neighborhood tree. 

Now it's gone.  Empty space greets my eyes every time I look up.  I had not realized how often my gaze rests on that tree and its inhabitants.  It is the first thing I see outside my window.  And now, I can't seem to stop looking for it.  If you've ever had a tooth removed, then you know what I mean - it's like not being able to stop my tongue from looking for the missing tooth.  I just keep looking up and seeing my neighbor's porch.  No tree.

Of course there are many other trees out the same window if I look in a different direction.  Birds and squirrels play in those trees as well.  It's not like all the green has gone away.  And yet I feel sad, missing a tree that I've always taken for granted, the tree with the heart shaped leaves and the sweet purple flowers in spring.  The tree that made my living room feel very private even with the blinds open.  It wasn't a huge tree, but it played an important role in the green space behind my house.

Maybe the absence of the tree will allow more light in and help the grass to grow in our common area.  Maybe some of my plants in the backyard will grow more now that there is more light.  Maybe I will come to appreciate the open space that has been created.  For now, though, I miss the tree.  Even small change can be hard.  Something to remember when I find myself asking other people to change.  Even small change involves loss and possibly grief - not large sobbing, soul-shaking grief, but small grief that's easy to ignore so it gets lodged somewhere with all the other unacknowledged small griefs until it comes out sideways somewhere down the road. 

So, before I go charging off to the next task, pulling myself away so that I don't have to keep facing the empty space in my backyard, I will take a moment to mourn the redbud tree, a living thing that needed to be cut down because its branches could cause damage to the roof of a house, a part of God's creation that brought me joy even though I couldn't have named that until today, a green and growing element of my life that has now died.  Good-bye sweet redbud tree.  I will miss you.  Thank you for all the pleasure you brought to me and this little corner of the world.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Entertaining Strangers: Visiting with Ashley Bryan

On the weekend of July 13, the people of Little Cranberry Island, off the coast of Maine, gathered to celebrate the 90th birthday of Mr. Ashley Bryan.  On Monday, July 15, I learned of Ashley as I traveled on the mail boat from Northeast Harbor to Little Cranberry (known also as Islesford) to catch a boat for our lobster tour.  A lady on the boat asked if we knew that it was Ashley's birthday.  I had never even heard of Ashley and certainly didn't know of his natal celebration.  The woman suggested that we walk up to his house on the island and ask to see his sea glass windows.  Some of them were on display in the Congregational Church on the island, but she assured us that he also welcomed visitors to stop in and see him.

I have to admit that I was skeptical.  It didn't seem right to just drop in at the private home of an artist.  When we arrived on the island, we walked up to the church and saw the windows portraying scenes from the Bible:  the Palm Sunday procession, the Nativity, the calming of the storm.  They were beautiful and so unique.  So we decided to try to find his house and meet the man who had created such lovely windows out of glass washed up by the sea.

Ashley was outside his house with several other people.  When we introduced ourselves and told him that the lady on the mail boat had said he was the highlight of the island, he invited us in to his house.  He told us we could play with the toys on the porch if we wanted to, and then he led us inside and showed us all the items he has collected from his travels around the world.  Every inch of space in his house was filled with objects from across the globe.  It was like being in a museum.

Best of all was Ashley's own work.  He led us into a bedroom to see his sea glass windows.  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Two evangelists stood on either side of each window with Biblical scenes in small squares interspersed with flowers.  Sea glass of all shapes and colors reflected the light streaming in from outside.  They were stunning.  Ashley showed us a window in progress, one of St. Paul, and demonstrated his method of using papier mache, pounding it into a paste, and inserting it between pieces of sea glass.  It didn't look very impressive to me lying on a table, but as soon as he held it up to the light, it was like magic. 

Ashley also showed us his collection of puppets made out of found objects.  He demonstrated how one could use the puppets to tell stories based on the mystery plays of old.  There were puppets of all kinds - such creative combinations.  He kindly allowed us to take pictures.  We later got to see his illustrated books in a local shop on the island.  He has won numerous awards for his books and uses many mediums for his art.

What amazed me most was Ashley's hospitality to strangers.  He welcomes those who come to his house, invites them in, offers the use of his bathroom, shows them around, and answers any questions.  He seems to delight in showing his work, though he is very humble about it and does not mention awards, talking instead about his joy in creating the art.  When he came back from serving in the war, he was determined not to let the horrors he had seen destroy his life.  Instead he has embraced life and art and books and shares them with everyone who stops by.

I admire Ashley's art, but most of all I admire his generous spirit, his joy and wonder, and his graciousness in welcoming all to his home and sharing the gifts he has been given.  Hebrews 13:2 says, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it."  In this case I think it may have been the angel who was showing hospitality to us.  May he be blessed with many more years.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Maine Trip Overview

I spent the last week house sitting for friends in Maine.  While I was there I didn't have time to write about what I was experiencing, so I'm going to write a few posts now to try to capture the trip.  This first one will be a short overview, and then I'll go into details in future posts.

We drove up to Maine in 1 day, just shy of 15 hours of driving, hitting 10 states on the way.  We arrived in a deep fog and worried that our trip would be spent mostly indoors, but the next day the fog burned off by noon and never returned.  I love how Maine smells, like low tide and Christmas trees.  Fresh and clean and salty.  The balsam firs are everywhere, their delicate scent drifting in to sweeten the air every so often. 

On our first day we got to spend time with Miko and Bella, our two charges for the week, and we toured downtown Ellsworth where we were staying and drove over for a visit to Bar Harbor and the Loop Road of Acadia National Park.  Beautiful.  We strolled down to the water in Bar Harbor, explored some of the shops, scoped out the Episcopal Church for Sunday, and took the mile long shore walk before heading out to Acadia and the rugged Maine coast.  We stopped for views and pictures and even meditated on the rocks with the sound of the ocean waves providing the background music. 

On Friday, our second day we decided to take a tour of the Schoodic Peninsula, about an hour north and got to play on the rocks where the ocean waves were breaking.  We saw lots of gorgeous scenery and stopped in the sweet little town of Corea at the Wharf Gallery for grilled cheese lobster sandwiches.  Yum!  We fell in love with the little Corea Harbor and drove all around it.  On the road in we also saw a puffin's nest on top of a telephone pole. 

On Saturday exhaustion from the trip and a rough night up with the dogs caught up with us, and we had a mostly quiet day.  The view from the house of Union River was stunning, and the wind stirred up the river waves at high and low tides.  We had dinner that night at Finn's Irish Pub, good fish and chips and ice cream later from Morton's Moo in Ellsworth.

On Sunday we headed in for church at St. Savior's in Bar Harbor where we participated in a lovely service and then took a tour of the church which has 10 Tiffany windows.  The tour guide was delightful, told great stories and had a wonderful sense of humor.  After church we changed clothes and caught the Island Explorer bus to Jordan Pond where we had popovers before heading out on a hike to Bubble Rock and around Jordan Pond.  More about that in another post.  After completing our hike we took the bus back to town and arrived in time for ice cream (macademia coconut white chocolate) before the evening service for seasonal employees at St. Savior's.  Turns out that it was a prayer and praise service, and the largest group in attendance were from Jamaica.  We heard Jamaican Gospel music filling the walls of St. Savior's and enjoyed worshiping there.

On Monday we took the mail boat to Little Cranberry Island where we got meet Ashley Bryan and tour his house and his art.  More about him later.  We also went on a lobster boat tour.  Such fun!  We learned a lot about lobsters and had a great afternoon on the water.  We ate that night at the Lobster Pot in Ellsworth - yummy lobster mac & Cheese.

Tuesday was our last day, and we spent the morning working on the farm where our friends get shares of vegetables.  We picked cucumbers and beet greens and washed and packed them.  We went back to Corea for the afternoon for more fresh lobster and local friendliness.

On the way back home we stopped in Baltimore for a lovely dinner with my cousins, Anne and Shirley.  It was a wonderful trip, and I look forward to sharing some of my reflections in later posts.