Things Unseen from the International Space Station

“There it is!” a woman said pointing to the dusky western sky. “I see it!” chimed another. Half a dozen others looked up to watch the bright light of the International Space Station move steadily from one horizon to the other.

At one point, it shimmered strangely directly above the small group of people who gathered around a glowing fire outside an apartment building on a chilly October evening in an ordinary town in America’s Heartland.

It was an impromptu get-together of residents including three widows, a single retired teacher, and a gentleman and his wife who needs constant care. Two others joined them, adult children each visiting their mothers from out-of-town.

Whether they were companions that evening out of chance or destiny, a feeling of fellowship passed over them as odd and surprising as a space station hovering 250 miles above.

From lawn chairs, they tracked the space station as it came into sight somewhere over Montana and five minutes later faded out of view over West Africa. Comments circled around the fire pondering ever-advancing technology, the future, and their own smallness in the universe.

As they stared into mesmerizing orange-blue flames, there was quiet conversation against a backdrop of nature’s nighttime noises and constellations that grew brighter in the darkening sky.

Inside the space station, roughly the size of a football field, a six-member crew conducts experiments in human research, space medicine, life sciences, physical sciences, astronomy and meteorology. They orbit the Earth every 92.68 minutes gathering data and testing hypotheses.

Despite costly and important research, it’s doubtful the crew could ever quantitatively measure or observe the most important qualities of the human spirit, like those displayed around the small gas fire pit more than a million feet below them.

Strength to carry on after losing a loved one.

Courage to face illness and pain.

Love to care for another person.

Determination to overcome loneliness.

Wisdom to keep learning and growing.

Hope to stay encouraged.

Service to community.

Faith to believe in a better world.

The cameras and crew on the International Space Station have awesome views of our planet, but what they couldn’t see as they orbited the Earth that chilly October evening was the human bond of unlikely friends sitting around a glowing fire outside an apartment building in an ordinary town in America’s heartland. §

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Artist, a Tree, a Poet and Me

In the heart of Nashville, Indiana, on a walking trail that runs along the banks of the Salt Creek is a sycamore tree that would stop most observant travelers in their tracks. If they heed the call to come closer, they are rewarded with gifts of man and nature’s creative collaboration.

The tree stands about a hundred feet tall with two big trunks of equal size rising from a massive exposed root system. The thick roots naturally form what looks like a bench, perfect for a person to rest, or think or pray.

Upon closer examination, the gnarled roots at one end of the bench are expertly carved to look like a large benevolent hand. Five sturdy curved fingers rise out of the flat root bench to gently hug anyone who stops to sit under the sycamore on the bank of the Salt Creek.

As I relaxed in the tree’s embrace and absorbed the beauty of nature and art, I was struck by the deep relationship between the two. I imagined the sculptor reverently asking the sycamore for its permission to cut into its roots to co-create something that would celebrate its magnificence.

When I rose from the comforting spot, I noticed a piece of paper hanging by a nail on the primary trunk of the tree. I climbed up the roots to get a closer look. At the top of the page it read ~ Friends, if you like this poem, please take a copy. The poem was titled View of Life by Andrew Hubbard.

Ceremoniously, I removed the white laminated paper off the rusty nail. My heart soared before I even read the poem. Under the fading fall canopy of a sycamore, I felt I’d stumbled upon a secret society of poets, artists and mystics as inspired by nature as I.

The irony of a poet posting a poem on a tree amused me. At a time when people hastily share their every thought on social media and the Internet, I found Hubbard’s post refreshingly clever, quaint and genuine.

On the back of his poem, Hubbard wrote that this month marks five years since he began hanging poems on the tree “partly in an attempt to publicize myself, and partly just for fun.” He posts a poem every other month and replaces copies as they are taken.

With my eyes on my gift from the sycamore tree, I slowly walked down the Salt Creek Trail feeling crispy leaves crunch underfoot. The dappled sun danced on the page through yellowing limbs and wild sounds along the creek vibrated as I read Hubbard’s poem and contemplated my own tiny mark. §

View of Life

Of all nature’s metaphors

The one that takes my breath

Is the blast of October wind

(Sometimes with a slap of rain)

Tearing loose a million leaves

And twirling them to crisp drifts

That will fade and collapse 

Under the stern weight of winter.

On every tree each fallen leaf 

Left a tiny mark, a place

For a new leaf to push 

Its way into sunlight

When the infinitely slow, infinitely certain

Pulse of spring sings to it.

The ones who went before, 

Leaves and people,

Have little trace or memory

And there is sadness in that

But grandeur also.     

Andrew Hubbard is a poet who lives in Nashville, Indiana. He has published three books of poetry titled “Things That Get You”, “The Divining Rod”, and “Meeting the Moon Halfway”. Hubbard’s books are available at Amazon.com or by contacting him at ahubbard1050@yahoo.

 

10 Ways to be a Fountain, not a Drain

A decorative water fountain sits on our front porch. Every time I open the door to go out into the world, the trickling sound of the water urges me to be a fountain, not a drain.

When my father died a few years ago. I was given a gift certificate to purchase something special in his memory. My husband and I decided to get a fountain. We were at the garden store deciding between two designs. “I wonder which one my dad would like best,” I said. After several seconds of silence, Mike confidently stated, “He likes this one.”

“What makes you think so?” I asked. Pointing to the ground, he said, “He put that penny right in front of it.” Mike picked up the coin and put it in his pocket. That same penny has rested in the basin of our fountain ever since. (My husband continues to find coins left by my father the same way my mom knows every hawk is my dad flying by to say hello.)

The fountain is a sweet daily reminder of my father and the lessons he taught me. The elegant shape, soothing sound and inherent symbolism bring me comfort and joy. The continuous flow of the water represents the endless nature of unconditional love and the transcendent mystery of eternity itself.

Leonardo da Vinci said, “Water is the driving force of all nature.” Certainly, life can’t exist without water and many of us find peace in its sight and sound. When I see a fountain, I often find myself humming that Sunday school hymn deep and wide, deep and wide, there’s a fountain flowing deep and wide… 

Among all of his words of wisdom, I never heard my dad use the expression, “Be a fountain, not a drain,” but he embodied the philosophy.

Ten Ways to Be a Fountain ~

  1. Be calming. There are more than enough people in the world who like to stir things up. Let your presence be a calming influence.
  2. Be energetic. The water in a lovely fountain is never dull and stagnant. Be full of energy and vitality.
  3. Be hopeful. Where there is water there is life, and life is always full of hope and promise.
  4. Be welcoming. A beautiful fountain beckons all to come closer and rest in its hospitality.
  5. Be cool. Angry, hot-headed behavior seems to be acceptable these days, but try to keep it cool, man.
  6. Be refreshing. The world can make us weary. Do what you can to refresh your soul and pass it on.
  7. Be cheerful.  Bubbling water sounds a little like laughter. Make a joyful sound.
  8. Be gentle. Aim for your words and actions to be soothing, like water flowing from a fountain.
  9. Be clear. A fountain filled with dark, murky water loses its beauty. Be transparent and honest in your interactions.
  10. Be peaceful. There is so much disharmony in the world about which we can do little, but we can all work towards creating peace in our homes, relationships and communities. §

 

 

 

 

Finding Inspiration When You Want to Quit

My husband and I planned to spend the whole day in places guaranteed to fill my well with bucketsful of inspiration. We started our day at a lovely botanical garden. We strolled through winding paths lined with flowers and butterflies, trellises and arbors, sculptures and reflecting pools. My romantic soul swelled with appreciation for nature’s beauty, and my mind overflowed with ideas for my blog, The Simple Swan.

Just beneath my joy was the familiar fluttering anxiety about the fate of a book I’d written with a friend from my teaching days. An editor at a well-known publishing company had reached out to us more than a year ago about our self-published book, Lessons in Loveliness.

Legal contracts were signed, several painful rounds of edits were made, and a sample version of our book went through two test markets. The editor told us she would have a definitive answer for us by the end of August. It was the second week in September and more than fifteen months since the process began.

Mike and I were enjoying lunch at a favorite outdoor restaurant when my phone dinged with an email from the editor. Her message was to the point; the answer was no. My co-author and I briefly consoled each other. It was a learning experience, and we certainly had no regrets. I assured Mike I wasn’t upset and was ready for a fun afternoon at the zoo.

Then the voices appeared. Why did you ever believe you would be a published author? The book wasn’t very good. You’re a terrible writer. Your blog is stupid. You should stop writing. Tears flowed, but only for a moment. I remembered a quote by Vincent Van Gogh, “If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”

The animals at the zoo further lifted my spirits. As we were leaving, we saw two white Trumpeter swans gliding on the far side of a lake. I was content to watch them from a distance, but my husband spied a path behind a building where he thought we could get a little better view.

Leaning against a fence, we noticed the swans were swimming closer to us. I snapped pictures on my phone, certain they would soon turn away, but they swam right up to the bank about a hundred feet away. Unbelievably, they walked out of the water and moved closer and closer to where we were standing. I held my breath, not wanting the magic to end.

Just inches away from us, they pranced and posed gracefully like ballerinas in a private showing of Swan Lake. I was mesmerized by their curved snow white bodies, long elegant necks, and jet black beaks. Their inky markings stretched across their eyes like glamorous masquerade masks. They occasionally made a soft sound like a single note on a trumpet. After nearly half an hour, I thanked them for filling my deflated heart with an enchanted combination of awe, happiness, creativity and faith.

I am sure the swans were a serendipitous sign from the heavens that I should keep writing. A skeptic may say the swans came to us because we were standing where they’re often fed. Thankfully, I am a romantic. Nature, my muse, came through at just the right time, with just the inspiration I needed.

And you, my friend, must find your muse. What inspires you? Is it music, art, children, athletics, academics or something else? Seek it out and let it sink deep into your pores so it becomes such a part of you that you have no choice but to let it out and share it. Keep doing the thing you were made to do, no matter what the voices tell you. §

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Bee or Not to Bee

Drinks in hand, Mike and I stepped onto our boat for a quiet evening ride around the lake. We noticed a few bees buzzing around the front of the pontoon and absent-mindedly shooed them away.

Bees are the world’s leading crop pollinators.

I was getting settled in my usual spot when I flicked away a bee and spilled my entire glass of wine. While lamenting that tragedy, I felt a sharp sting on my right middle finger. I held it up in what appeared to be an angry gesture I don’t usually use. “Stupid bee!” I wailed.

Since 2006, the bee population has declined considerably.

Looking to Mike for sympathy, I saw him dancing erratically on the dock. His gin and tonic glass lay empty on the ground. He was holding his cheek, and I could see a welt beginning to form. We realized the bees were darting in and out of a small opening between the boat seat cushions.

The causes for decline include pesticides, disease, parasites and climate change.

We ran to the top of the wooden stairs to regroup and come up with a battle plan. This was war.

If we lose the bees, we could lose all the plants they pollinate. 

While I explained to our neighbors what all the buzz was about, Mike disappeared toward the house. He returned with fresh drinks in one hand and a can of insect spray in the other.

Eventually, we could lose the herbivorous animals that depend on those plants to live.

He violently sprayed directly into the opening where the bees were coming from. When the melee was over, we realized Mike had been stung several times on his arm, hand and face. He said he was fine and still wanted go on a short ride to watch the sunset.

Ultimately, this could work up the food chain leading to worldwide famine, poverty and possible extinction. 

We were not yet out of our cove, when I saw Mike’s face getting blotchy and swollen. “My mips meel a mimmel mummm,” he said. “What? Your lips feel numb?” He nodded. We went back to the house and I gave him some Benadryl and an ice pack. I was dabbing his stings with vinegar when he mumbled his throat felt weird.

More immediately, we could say goodbye to honey as well as carrots, apples, lemons, onions, melons, almonds and coconuts.

Mike didn’t argue with me about going to the emergency room thirty-five minutes away. By the time we arrived, he looked a little like the Elephant Man. He got a shot in his rear and was monitored for a few hours. We left the hospital with a prescription for prednisone and a lifetime of bad bee puns.

To really bring it home, there would be no limes for a gin and tonic. No grapes for a glass of wine. 

A couple of days later, we went down to the boat. Mike carefully lifted the seat cushion with a wooden oar, and we saw an empty bee hive the size of my head. He muttered something about losing the battle but winning the war.

A world without bees couldn’t possibly sustain our planet’s human population.

Looking at the destroyed hive, I expressed my concern for the bees and our environment. Mike stared at me incredulously, his hand and face still visibly swollen, and said, “If the bees want to survive, they need to stay off my boat.” Waving the oar, he added emphatically, “Bee-lieve me!” §

(Source for italicized information is BBC.com ~ pun not intended.)

The Man in the Moon

The August moon is full and bright on the night of my father’s birthday. I miss him even more than usual, and the gossamer glow both increases and soothes my melancholy.

Gazing at the mysterious moon in the still of the night, I imagine Claude Debussy’s piano classic Claire de Lune quietly playing in the background, as a perfect accompaniment to my bittersweet emotions.

Claire de Lune, meaning moonlight, is one of the most well-known and beloved piano pieces of all time. It is the third and most famous movement of Debussy’s 1890 Suite Bergamasque. (I’ve attached a link at the end of this post, if you’d like to hear it.)

In a spirit of creative cooperation, Debussy was inspired by Paul Verlaine’s poem Claire de Lune which was inspired by the moon itself. Whether or not you understand French, doesn’t this poem sound lovely? Et leur chanson se mele au clair de lune. Au calme clair de lune triste et beau. These lines from Verlaine’s poem are translated to mean, And their song blends with the moonlight. With the sad and beautiful moonlight. 

Triste et beau. Sad and beautiful. Yes, those two words do strike a chord. I’m in awe and appreciation of nature’s ability to inspire masterpieces that express our seemingly inexpressible emotions. Both nature and art make us feel less alone and connect us through a timeless shared humanity.

My mind travels back to a moonlit evening many years ago. My handsome young father is at the piano plucking out chords and humming a tune. He had an ear for music and could find the notes to any song he heard. My sisters and I gather around him in our nightgowns, squeaky clean from evening baths, and sing together for at least an hour before dreamily floating off to bed.

Looking up at the full moon this evening, I wish my dad a happy birthday. Silhouetted against a heavenly circle of light is the man in the moon. He is sitting at a piano sweetly playing Claire de Lune. §

Turtle Logic

An enormous sea turtle appeared on the dusky beach with a helpful push from high tide. Word spread quickly among beachcombers taking an evening stroll. A crowd gathered to get a glimpse of the gentle giant who batted her large, sleepy eyes as if seeing alien beings for the first time.

The loggerhead laboriously planted her fore flippers and pushed her beak-like mouth in the thick sand to slowly pull herself forward with one purpose in mind. No telling what she had gone through to reach this particular spot on Hilton Head Island to lay her eggs.

Most of the onlookers remained a respectful distance and watched the beautiful creature in awe, but others moved closer and closer. They clamored over one another to take selfies. A dog’s owner allowed it to jump and yap furiously a foot from the turtle’s thick, calloused face.  A young couple actually attempted to perch their baby on the turtle’s three-foot long carapace. Their plan for the perfect Instagram post was thwarted by a tiny but mighty woman with brown leathered skin wearing a Volunteer Sea Turtle Patrol T-shirt.

The turtle’s sad expression was one of exhaustion, stress, and recognition that she is an endangered species. She stopped moving and seemed to stoically wait for the will to push past the noise and narcissism. Sea turtles can’t retract into their shells, though she looked like she wanted to. At last, she stopped struggling, gave in, and allowed several big waves take her back out to sea.

Sea turtles undergo epic oceanic journeys and return to the exact spot they were born to mate and lay their own eggs. With this kind of wisdom, it’s likely she chose to return to the ocean out of sagacity, not defeat.

I’ve felt a lot like that turtle lately.

I squeeze my eyes open and shut, not quite believing what I see.

I shake my head slowly from side to side, not quite believing what I hear.

And sometimes, I go into my proverbial shell and just let it all crash over me.

It’s been nearly a month, but I still think of that loggerhead sea turtle. I hope she’s happily swimming through tranquil deep blue water fully recovered from the world’s madness. I wish I could send out a bottle carrying her a message of sympathy and solidarity ~ I’ve been there, my friend. We’ve all been there. Sometimes the wisest, most logical thing to do is quietly retreat to regroup and regain our strength and sense of self. Be well, beautiful turtle, be well.  §