Sunday, July 20, 2014

Convent Culture 4 : the Annual Retreat

statue of St. Louise de Marillac, outside the wing where I live

Convent Culture 4 : the Annual Retreat

This requirement is one that we all embrace.  Eight days of silence and prayer! Perhaps the extroverts get itchy by the end of it, but we introverts just revel in it.  My congregation prefers us to make the retreat with other community members, so it has a theme and focus related to our charism. I’ve been doing this for , I’d say, 34 out of the 35 retreats I’ve made. Many years it was in Princeton, New Jersey, at the Vincentians’ retreat place, but that closed, regretfully. I loved it there. The retreat planners set up retreats around the calendar and at retreat places around our large province. Last year, I was in Louisiana; the year before, Syracuse NY. This year I was set to go to our campus in Evansville Indiana. It’s a wonderful place to make retreat, and for me, a birder’s paradise.  But I got sick on June 28 and was sick for almost three weeks, and then, recovering. So I cancelled the trip to Evansville and made a private retreat right here at home. Very delightful and peaceful. 
I gardened every morning. The weather went from hot and humid to cool and dry – amazing for July in Emmitsburg.  I finally got the upper hand over the weeds and used the entire mountain of mulch, so the garden looks the best it has in about four years. Maybe longer!

 Lamb's Ears, Lilies of the Valley, Daylilies, Hosta, Sunflower, etc.

Asiatic Lily and Bee Balm

I read James Martin’s book Jesus – a Pilgrimage. It’s a combination of Scripture, History, Geography, Martin’s narrative of what he saw and felt on a pilgrimage to Israel. 

I prayed, went to a late Mass every day, and slept every afternoon.  Crazy as it is, it reminded me of the part in The Nun’s Story when Sister Luke has TB in the Congo, and lives in a tree house for months as she takes the TB treatments. All I needed was Peter Finch and a monkey.

"The Nun's Story"  1959 film with Audrey Hepburn and Peter Finch. Taken from the novel by Katherine Hulme.  One of my favorite novels and films from my childhood.

I fasted from Facebook, but checked my email. I  communed with the birds who visited my windowsill feeders. The hummingbirds emptied the little feeder twice a day.

The eight days went along at a wonderful pace.
Now I’m back, trying to write some poetry.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

After the storm

We had a powerful thunderstorm in this early evening.  Now everything has cooled off about 25 degrees, and my garden is glistening.  I'm photographing it from above, from the bedroom window:

I've also just  had my own storm:  since June 28, I've had severe gastroenteritis -  I am skipping the gory details, but I ended up in the hospital for three days with it, and with dehydration.  Now I am still taking the antibiotics and the anti-vomiting medication, but I am much much better.  Able to think clearly and walk steadily again, thank God!

From June 22-28, I was in St. Louis , at our once every six year Provincial Assembly. Since four of our provinces merged into one in 2011, it was our first large meeting. We've had other gatherings, starting in 2007, but this was the big "canonical" meeting prior to our community's General Assembly in Paris in 2015.   I won't be going to that one!

This is what our group looked like:

I'm in that sea of blue, about five rows in from the front,left center.

It was a grand meeting, but I came home with this bug.  No one else got sick - glad of that.

So I resolve to write more very soon, about all that has been going on in this last month.

Seems that the rain is over, and a cool sweet breeze arrives at my window with a hummingbird.

Friday, June 20, 2014

After long silence

Ed Egan's house on the left. Photo by Kelly Phillips. I didn't stay there, but have visited there.

I’ve been out of town for two weeks; that’s my weak excuse for not writing.
Had a wonderful week at Cape May. Lots of birdwatching, especially at the wonderful Villas WMA.   Saw my very first Chuck-Wills-Widow, in addition to enjoying the numerous and joyously singing Great Crested Flycatchers, Indigo Buntings, Blue Grosbeaks, and Yellow-breasted Chats.  That’s just to name a few.

Yellow-breasted Chat.  Photo by Julie Zickefoose

Unpack, repack, and then off again to the West Chester Poetry Conference.  I’m sorry I didn’t have the camera with me.  I was part of the Critical Seminar on Dylan Thomas, which was so interesting .  A big highlight was meeting and having great conversations with Gwyneth Lewis from Wales.  She’s the former Poet Laureate of Wales, and a powerful poet, but such a witty, understated, and gracious presence.

Kim Bridgeford, Russell Goings, and other participants

Gwyneth Lewis

Mike Peich, founder of the conference and of Aralia Press

These two weeks back at home have been occupied with gardening; the weeds were taking over. Not just the weeds:  I’ve realized that my two favorite flowers, the Violet and the Lily of the Valley, are very aggressive in the garden!  I had to be brutal in beating them back.  Then the weather became too hot and humid for me to work out there.


Dianthus, Ajuga, and Weeds

I also spent some time on the road back and forth to Baltimore, visiting and later picking up one of my sisters who was in there for very serious, but thankfully successful surgery.  Then, the mother of one of my friends died, and I went down yesterday to her wake. As we say, it was all the way on the other side of the Beltway, an area of Baltimore I’m least familiar with. But I found the funeral home and was so glad I went.

Then I have been lingering on Twitter.  What a great time-sucker that is!  There’s a whole sort of informal  Twitter group  #binderwriters, which is loaded with wonderful women poets, and I’ve been reading their tweets and following them.
I should be writing, though.

Right now I am enjoying a cacophony of bird conversation and scolding and begging on my windowsill, not two feet from my head:  hummingbirds, and several fledgling Downy Woodpeckers, and some goldfinches.  It’s great.

I have started to re-read Helen Luke’s wonderful book The Way of Women, which is filled with very thought and feeling-provoking essays with titles such as “”The Bridge of Humility,” “The Life of the Spirit in Women,” and “The Cat Archetype.”  I hope to write more about these in later entries here.

Friday, May 23, 2014

One More Fantasy Bites the Dust

Read this post just now on Facebook:

All Hallows – the end of an era!

All HallowsPress release from All Hallows…

It is with huge regret and deep sadness that All Hallows College today announces its intention to wind down the college.
The college, which is not in receipt of state grants, has been operating at an increasing deficit over many years, and although in recent times it has embarked on a stringent programme of sustainability – including increasing its activities and embarking on an extensive fund-raising programme  -  the challenging landscape of today’s third level education arena has led to a diminishing of the college’s reserves to an unsustainable level. In addition, the option of growing enrolment figures has been constrained by the cap on the numbers of undergraduates eligible for the free fees scheme. The wind down of the college will begin immediately and will be conducted in a phased and orderly fashion.
At this difficult time, students and staff are the main priority for the Trustees, the Governors and the management of the college.  At present, there are 450 students on accredited degree courses and in excess of 70 staff.  Every effort will be made to facilitate existing students in the completion of their courses and the college’s administration will be in contact with current applicants.  The college will commence a consultation period with its staff in the coming week.
Today’s decision has been taken mindful of the long history of the college, its proud traditions and its contribution to education in Ireland.   All Hallows college has educated generations of leaders and professionals; serving communities in every corner of the world since 1842, and has been under the stewardship of the Vincentian Congregation since 1892.

 All Hallows website

For the past two years, I have been fantasizing about how to get back to Ireland... and this was one possibility I was entertaining.  A friend of mine, an American Vincentian, has been the president of this college, and I was planning to send him copies of my books and write to him about my coming over there for a semester to teach.

Well, I never got around to writing to him, not that it would have mattered or changed anything.

Sigh.  So sorry for this school, its professors and students, as well as for myself.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Classic TV

There wasn't much of interest on TV, so we watched a DVD of Columbo which I borrowed from the library.  This was Season 6 of Columbo.  After we watched it for a while, I became fascinated with the details of the production.  I went to good old Google and found that this episode was filmed in 1976!  In one scene, the murderer rigs an alibi by recording a ball game that was on TV; he used a very large VCR; later, Columbo asks him about this new fangled machine, and its cost - $3000!  .Besides the fact that everyone was smoking and drinking, and the clothing and hair styles were so indicative of the period, I noticed the staging.  It was more like a stage play than the TV series on in 2014.  I don't know anything about filming and editing or about video cameras, but the long passages of dialogue at the same camera angle, the lack of closeups and very little cuts from shot to shot, were noticeable even to me. I always enjoyed Columbo, but this time around I noticed how unsophisticated the story was... how blatantly the murderer revealed himself to Columbo.

I thought about today's TV series.  I dislike most of them - have never watched them, but the previews and ads turned me off.  So I thought about the two shows I have been watching for a number of years:  Law & Order SVU  and NCIS

Look at the sophistication of the camera work just in these two shots.

  Then, I turned to photos from NCIS:

It's the technology which has advanced so far in almost 40 years since that Columbo episode, but also the expertise of the directors and editors.   Here's a behind the scenes shot of an NCIS scene being filmed on location:

One look at that portable equipment and I really see why the shows look so different.

I still enjoy Columbo, and not just as a period piece.  I miss his humor; most of the time today's police/detective shows and just so dead serious.  No pun intended!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Ten Commandments for the Long Haul

These were written by Daniel Berrigan.  I love them.

"Ten Commandments for the Long Haul"

1) Call on Jesus when all else fails. Call on Him when all else succeeds (except that never happens).

2) Don't be afraid to be afraid or appalled to be appalled. How do you think the trees feel these days, or the whales, or, for that matter, most humans?

3) Keep your soul to yourself. Soul is a possession worth paying for, they're growing rarer. Learn from monks, they have secrets worth knowing.

4) About practically everything in the world, there's nothing you can do. This is Socratic wisdom. However, about of few things you can do something. Do it, with a good heart.

5) On a long drive, there's bound to be a dull stretch or two. Don't go anywhere with someone who expects you to be interesting all the time. And don't be hard on your fellow travelers. Try to smile after a coffee stop.

6) Practically no one has the stomach to love you, if you don't love yourself. They just endure. So do you.

7) About healing: The gospels tell us that this was Jesus' specialty and he was heard to say: "Take up your couch and walk!"

8) When traveling on an airplane, watch the movie, but don't use the earphones. Then you'll be able to see what's going on, but not understand what's happening, and so you'll feel right at home, little different then you do on the ground.

9) Know that sometimes the only writing material you have is your own blood.

10) Start with the impossible. Proceed calmly towards the improbable. No worry, there are at least five exits.

--Daniel Berrigan, SJ

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Woodman, Spare that Tree!

"Woodman! Spare That Tree!" (1837)
A Ballad

The words were taken from a poem published in the New York Mirror,
written by George Pope Morris, 1802-1864,
The music was composed by Henry Russell, 1812-1900.

Woodman spare that tree!
Touch not a single bough;
In youth it sheltered me,
And I'll protect it now;
'Twas my fore father's hand
That placed it near the cot,
There, woodman, let it stand,
Thy axe shall harm it not!

That old familiar tree,
Whose glory and renown
Are spread o'er land and sea,
And wouldst thou hack it down?
Woodman, forbear thy stroke!
Cut not its earth, bound ties;
Oh! spare that ag-ed oak
Now towering to the skies!

When but a idle boy
I sought its grateful shade;
In all their gushing joy
Here, too, my sisters played.
My mother kiss'd me here;
My father press'd my hand--
Forgive this foolish tear,
But let that old oak stand!

My heart-strings round thee cling,
Close as thy bark, old friend!
Here shall the wild-bird sing,
And still thy branches bend.
Old tree! the storm still brave!
And, woodman, leave the spot;
While I've a hand to save,
Thy axe shall harm it not.

The tree in the top photo is still standing -  I don't know if an execution order has been issued for it.

I came home from school today and viewed the destruction in the second photo.  Actually, there were two trees that size which, apparently, in the interest of the construction in process, had to go.  Those two trees had been flourishing there for at least forty years.

I know that there are so many worse situations for humanity and nature all over the world, so I shouldn't make such a big deal out of this one. But still, it makes me sick.   

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Window Strike

I found a dead bird on the sidewalk outside of Peebles Department Store in Gettysburg today.

not just any dead bird... a Chestnut-sided Warbler, in breeding plumage.

I brought him home and buried him in my garden, but not before photographing him as he lay in state on my bedspread:

any dead bird is sad; any dead bird killed by flying into a plate glass window is more sad; a bird as rare to see as a Chestnut Sided Warbler is the most sad of all.

I had just read an article in the Washington Post Magazine from March 16, 2014 called "Dead Bird Society" about people in DC who recover birds who have died this way.  The article said that 500 million to 1 billion birds are killed annually nationwide because of collisions with buildings, communication towers and power lines.

To hold that beautiful creature in my hand - and he just fit in the palm of my hand -  hurt my heart and soul.  

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Tech-Impaired Duck

If this duck had teeth, it would be grinding them:

Now I can't even locate the meme.

I have wasted at least two hours of this day trying to re-post the ClustrMap map that I inadvertently removed from my blog.  I followed all the directions, but can't get it to work.

It looks like this :
Nope. Won't even be attached here.  Sigh.

I need to quit this and go back to grading exams.    Or writing poetry.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

As I walked out on a May morning

That's the first line of an English ballad;  it fit me today. 

My view, looking west toward the mountain, as I started out.

I started out at 7:30 for the Mount, for the Elizabeth DiNunzio Memorial Trail, created a few years ago in honor of an outstanding Mount student who died just weeks before her graduation, hit by a truck as she was running along Annandale Road.
It's a safe place - a two mile track around the edges of the West Campus - for runners and walkers.

This morning it was a delightful place for birds, and birders.

along the trail...

I saw 33 species without ever leaving the trail ( know I would have seen more if I had ventured closer to the streams and thickets).

Among the highlights:  my first view this year of Baltimore Orioles.  There were many, all along the trail, and they were singing.

 (photo from Casa

Another highlight:  my first ever sighting of a Horned Lark,  just grazing on the track, looking at first like a Mourning Dove.

 (photo from

What else?  Brown Thrasher, Pine Warbler, Savannah Sparrow...

 (Savannah Sparrow, photo from JimBurnsPhotography)

It was 65 degrees, sunny and breezy, a blue sky morning, and I was in my glory.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Catbird is Back!

(photo by Russell Joseph Reynolds)

Saw him/her this afternoon at my bedroom window feeder - so glad!

I had a good morning of birding at  the Lillian Holt Park in Overlea, in Baltimore, today.

 ( trail in the woods at Holt Park)

 ( pond at Holt Park - saw a Great Blue Heron here)

 Cool and sunny -  many many birds calling, more than I could get my binoculars on.  But I did see 25 species,
among them:

Common Yellowthroat
( photo from Warbler Calls website)


(photo by Sean McCandless)

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

( photo by Jerry Oldenettle)

a pair of Red-Shouldered Hawks working together on a nest

( photo by Patrick Harwood)

and one I saw quite clearly, but couldn't identify. When I looked him up later, I think I saw a Solitary Vireo, which if very exciting!  

(Photo by Brooks Mathewson)

Gratitude for these photos -  I don't have a camera with these capabilities.

After my birding,  I went on to visit one of my Baltimore friends,  and then came back to Emmitsburg.

Tomorrow, if the weather is this delightful, I'll try a trail over at the Mount.

Still haven't seen the Rose-breasted Grosbeak...