Friday, October 28, 2016

An Ode to Cyrus Butler

Despite the sooty name, Black Mountain,
the climb to its top was anything but, it being swathed in
orange and yellow and several shades of red.
It looms above the central stretch of Lake George,
imperiously lodged on the eastern shore, the backbone dividing
Saint-Sacrament from Lake Champlain. The former
flows into the latter and thence to the St. Lawrence and out to sea.

From the more populous western shore
it may seem a raven-hued silhouette
before the sun clears its peak.
In the latter half of the 1800s this “Queen of Lakes” was all the rage,
the steep forests that gird the waters we plundered,
giving up their hardwoods for the charcoal forges
to springboard America’s industrial age

One Cyrus Butler bought the steamboat Minne Ha Ha
and erected the Ur-Adirondack Lodge,
at Black Mountain point, a choice destination.
With ready money from his iron works just miles north at
Ticonderoga, where the two lakes copulate,
he cowed the mighty mangy mountain,

logged down to pine and hemlock and some
straggly birch and poplar, to afford his more rugged
clientele access to the peak by mule or horse.
There, twenty-three hundred feet above the lake,
they might take in the astonishing view up and down its 32-mile length,
west across the expanse of the Adirondack massif—and east
the Green Mountains and Champlain plain.

Our band of hikers, two monks, a preacher,
a lawyer, and a singer set out on a cool Monday
in late October. We approached from the East
off Route 22, the same highway that cleaves little Cambridge.
The trail was carpeted in leaves, lovely to behold but
chancy of footing; it’s a rocky trail, a tectonic attribute.
Cyrus’ bridle path was well laid out, coping the ascent
by frequent switch-backs, with built-up corners of available stone,
unmoved after a century and then some.
The woods have rebounded to dense forest.
One must bend the mind to imagine industry abounded.

An hour into the climb we began to hear the strangest sound.
It had a Twilight Zone effect, getting sometimes louder and varying in pitch.
Deep woods have voices: from the purr of a breeze to roaring wind;
squeaks and squeals of broken trees, wedged in their falling
and pinched in their perch. But this was utterly alien.
It was above us, but nothing in the line of sight betrayed its source.
Descending hikers resolved our curiosity:
a wind turbine roosted on the summit.

The last half-mile revealed snow on ground greenery.
Gaps in the trees at rock ledges admitted teasing vistas. Logically the
steepest part of the trail provokes the “are-we-there-yet” temper.
By and by the tower came into view, and the turbine,
shining in the sunlight like a silver Jurassic pterosaur,
eight-foot blades and a rudder to head it into the wind.
In strong gusts it sounded menacing, as if at any higher speed
it would come unmoored and fly to pieces.

Lunch. Then the descent via the South face.
—So many views, including three large ponds
cupped in saddles lower down, it took effort
to eye the trail. I have fractured some ribs
learning this lesson: watch the track, use the poles.

We completed our loop and signed out
at the trail-head an hour before sunset,
with wobbly legs
but spirits buoyed by unbounded beauty.

The topside tower, no longer needed to
spot fires, satellites rendering them obsolete,
now serves as a Search and Rescue transmitter.
The fence enclosing the modest installation
bore a warning not to trespass or interfere:
Search and rescue is a service
to save could be yours.
A sermon subject lies cached therein.

Br Stavros, October 24, 2016

Two Aids to Prayer

By Brother John
     First, I will slowly and painfully learn how to pray, but it won't come overnight—maybe not until I am almost dead! I must stop worrying that I cannot sustain prayer for any length of time. I must do my best, or am I more interested in pleasing myself rather than God? The God of prayer is far more important the prayer of God, just as he is far more interested in me who prays than in the prayers I recite. I must be patient—Rome wasn't built in a day. My business is to manifest my good will by being ready for prayer, somewhat like a dog who is content to sit at the master's feet. If the master decides to play with him, attend to him, fine. If he doesn't, the pup remains in that place. If God is going to help me, he must be free to do as he sees fit, not as I see fit. I will try to pray, but if I can do no more, then I sit there and simply attend to God as well I can at that time of day or mood.
     St. Therese once remarked that a child may fall asleep in its father's arms (in a literal sense, or as a distraction), but this does not mean I cease loving the parent. I can think of myself as the father, or child (or as God being the father, or child). Contrary to all my fears, I am not displeasing to God if my best doesn't meet with my approval.
     Second, any worthwhile prayer is deeply personal. All I can do is ask God for light and try to understand and be aware of the principles taught by those who did pray. So, when I pray, first of all I must put myself in God's presence by realizing that he is everywhere, beyond my most daring appraisal of him. Then I must ask the Holy Spirit to help me, leaving the “how” up to him.
     I can pick up the New Testament, and slowly read until a thought comes, if at all. I don't need to read the Scriptures cover to cover, pausing over every word, but simply a section: perhaps as it is marked for the day, for a Sunday or a feast day. Or try doing the same thing with the Old Testament. If l find I am incapable of making any prayer at all, then I can just sit there, content to be with God, content to tell him that I love him, content to be at his disposal. He just may want me to be with him in silence. I have to be patient and relaxed. God is not to be found in anxiety, in the whirlwind of life’s crosses and worries. God is peace, and comes with his peace if I prepare by trying to be calm


A Burst of Sunshine Through a Cloud of Sorrow

by Brother Luke

For those of you who check out the New Skete Facebook page, you will see from time to time videos of my dogs playing, as well as our newly born puppies entering their new world during their first eight weeks of life. After the first eight weeks they migrate outside the reach of our video radar! We bid them farewell as they head off with their new families to grow up and bond with them. Sometimes, however, we have the opportunity to cast that video radar on a puppy that is being raised here. Right now that is what is happening. A puppy has joined me and my other canine charges. And this little bundle of joy is named Shems, the Arabic word for sun. Maybe I should say this little burst of sunshine! My boy Kahn is her grandfather, so I have an extra emotional tug invested in this little pup. When this process begins, namely, raising a puppy which we hope will make it into our breeding program, we have no guarantees of the outcome. At one year of age she will be x-rayed to see if she has hips and elbows of the quality needed to be suitable for breeding. Will she still be my dog a year from now? I do not know. So we do all we can to raise her and train her and enjoy her presence as long as is possible.
Sadly, as it turns out, just as Shems entered my life, I had to bid farewell to one of my dogs that we retired from the program. Unfortunately, while we were in the process of looking for a family to adopt Quena we learned that she had spondylosis, which had advanced in just six months to such a degree that it was already causing her great pain and would only get worse, possibly very quickly. My hope that she would be going to a new home was dashed by this devastating news. To see her pain and to know that soon she could lose the use of her hind legs, that her remaining life would be only a shadow of what it was, led us to make that painful decision to put her to sleep. The family that was on the verge of adopting her sent a beautiful bouquet of flowers to us in her memory. The flowers remained in our church for two weeks. There is no way that this happens and you don’t cry. Grieving a loss such as this is necessary. She was a special dog and required a lot of tender love and attention to get her over her fears when she arrived here from Germany carrying six puppies. But once that Rubicon was crossed, she blossomed into a very affectionate companion and became a favorite of many of our staff. On our walks in the woods, or even down our road, she was the great explorer, ever alert to check out any rustle in the leaves or movements around the trees and shrubs. But no matter how far she strayed, I whistled and back she would come. She was totally reliable in my room and never destroyed anything, unlike Kahn, who eats toys, blankets, and socks—and then off to the vet we go to get them removed—or Jaci, who will rip apart dog beds if left alone in my room for any length of time. Not Quena. She was never a problem there. In a dog crate or in the kennel, now that was another story. She could sound ferocious; but out in the open she would sidle up to you and wag her tail, lean against you and expect to be petted. Many reading this story will recognize some of these traits in their dogs. Memories are bittersweet; they bring a smile and a tear. 


Kahn and Quena

Quena and Rita

Quena napping on a dog cot in a staff member's office.

Jaci and Quena

Quena in the sun.

And then the puppy comes in and breaks that spell. Shems insists on play and usually will get it out of even the most recalcitrant dog or human. You might have to fend off her teething on your arm or pant leg, but soon she will be on her back, inveigling a tummy-rub out of you. She knows no fear, even though she would be better off if she recognized at least a little bit of the danger she can bring on herself. She reminds me a bit of my dog Goldi. She goes for roadkill, which around here usually means frogs or mice. I could never get them away from Goldi; she was too quick. I’ve had a little better luck with Shems, but wait until she grows up!
Shems in a staff member's office

Shems shows signs of being a very intelligent dog. She quickly learned to negotiate our dog run. She makes it through the night without accidents in my room. At night she is free in my room and is no trouble. She knows “sit,” but “stay” is another matter. “Come” still works, although it works even better if I have help from another dog! She’s pretty good at “fetch” and actually returns the ball. I think “chuck-it” is definitely in her future. She is now old enough (four+ months) that Kahn is willing to play with her. But he still lets her know when play is done!


Shems is not a replacement for Quena. Each dog (animal/pet) is irreplaceable. They all have their own unique personalities and character. But the pup can help us see beyond the loss. They remind us of the ever-renewing nature of life, even as we deal with the immutability of death. They help us look beyond the grief and pain. They insist on building a new relationship even as we struggle to let go of the old. They remind us that the gift of life is fleeting, yet precious, and we need to embrace each moment of it fully while we can. After all, that is what Quena did and Shems now is doing. A lesson worth learning. While I am raising a puppy, the puppy is raising my consciousness and awareness of the gift of life. It is a partnership I am lucky to experience.