Summoning Rain

Liberian rain stick and tribal masks

Across cultures, from Australia to Argentina to Mexico to Tibet, the rainstick serves as a musical instrument, a necessary adjunct to tribal ceremonies, and a means of calling up rain.  My own rainstick comes from Liberia, West Africa, where I worked for a few years. Unlike those made from dried cacti and filled with beads or seeds, mine was formed from a stalk of a different sort of plant; I’ve always assumed its sound depends on falling rice or seeds.

Some say rainsticks are magical. Whether that’s true I can’t say, but now and then I ponder my stick’s survival for nearly fifty years in the heat and humidity of both Liberia and Texas. Occasionally I turn it as I walk by, and find myself transported back the bush: hearing again the sound of approaching rain. Sometimes, if long anticipated and much needed rain is in the forecast, I turn the stick several times, hoping the magic is real.

Seamus Heaney, the Pulitzer Prize winning poet known for works exalting everyday miracles, has considered the rain stick. His poem celebrating its qualities was published in The New Republic in 1993; its words still fall on the ear as easily as the sound of coming rain.

Up-end the stick and what happens next
is a music that you never would have known
to listen for. In a cactus stalk
Downpour, sluice-rush, spillage and backwash
come flowing through. You stand there like a pipe
being played by water, you shake it again lightly
and diminuendo runs through all its scales
like a gutter stopping trickling. And now here comes
a sprinkle of drops out of the freshened leaves,
Then subtle little wets off grass and daisies;
the glitter-drizzle, almost-breaths of air.
Up-end the stick again. What happens next
is undiminished for having happened once,
twice, ten, and thousand times before.
Who cares if all the music that transpires
is the fall of grit or dry seeds through a cactus?
You are like a rich man entering heaven
through the ear of a raindrop. Listen now again.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Common Things

 

It is time for all the heroes to go home
if they have any, time for all of us common ones
to locate ourselves by the real things
we live by.
Far to the north, or indeed in any direction,
strange mountains and creatures have always lurked —
elves, goblins, trolls, and spiders: we
encounter them in dread and wonder.
But once we have tasted far streams, touched the gold,
found some limit beyond the waterfall,
a season changes, and we come back, changed
but safe, quiet, grateful.
Suppose an insane wind holds all the hills
while strange beliefs whine at the traveler’s ears —
we ordinary beings can cling to the earth and love
where we are, sturdy for common things.
                                                       “Allegiances”  ~  William Stafford

 

Comments always are welcome.
Photos can be enlarged by clicking on the image.
For more information on poet William Stafford, please click here

The Christmas Cattail

(click image for more detail)

 

On Christmas day, after most humans already had disposed of the fancy paper and ribbons that surrounded their gifts, this pretty cattail (Typha latifolia) continued unwrapping itself at the edge of a Brazoria Wildlife Refuge pond.

 

Comments always are welcome.

The Sweet Grass

 

Will the hungry ox stand in the field and not eat of the sweet grass?
Will the owl bite off its own wings?
Will the lark forget to lift its body in the air or forget to sing?
Will the rivers run upstream?
Behold, I say — behold
the reliability and the finery and the teachings of this gritty earth gift…
Eat bread and understand comfort.
Drink water and understand delight.
Visit the garden where the scarlet trumpets
are opening their bodies for the hummingbirds
who are drinking the sweetness, who are
thrillingly gluttonous.
For one thing leads to another.
Soon you will notice how stones shine underfoot.
Eventually tides will be the only calendar you believe in.
                              from “To Begin With, the Sweet Grass” ~ Mary Oliver

 

Comments always are welcome.
The native Texas grass shown in the photo, giant bristle grass (Setaria magna) occurs in only a few counties, primarily along the upper coast.
For the complete text of Mary Oliver’s poem, please click here.

 

An Unexpected Gap

Crossing into spring

 

Reaching high into the air, this long, slender branch from what appears to be an elm tree caught my attention because of its bridge-like curve, and the lovely, green glow of its leaves against the sky.

As so often happens, enlarging the photo revealed an additional, amusing detail: a gap in the neat procession of growth where one bud had failed to open. Was it sleeping? Just a little lazy? Perhaps it was protesting Spring’s arrival, or had been prevented from opening by some external force.

Whatever the cause, the gap among the leaves recalls these words of Annie Dillard, from Pilgrim At Tinker Creek:

The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit’s one home, the altitudes and latitudes so dazzlingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself like a once-blind man unbound.
The gaps are the clefts in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God; they are the fissures between mountains and cells that the wind lances through: the icy, narrowing fiords splitting the cliffs of mystery.
Go up into the gaps if you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock — more than a maple — a universe.

 

Comments always are welcome.