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May 15, 2011
Dearest Redwood Men,
Marc Deprey has told me that you are having the Redwood Men’s Conference at the Mendocino Woodlands Camp this year. I am so happy to hear you are together once again under those magnificent trees. I also know that you will bring much grace to the new venue. Once again, I’m sorry that I am unable to be with you, but please know that I am thinking of all of you this time of year.
My best wishes to you all,
Robert A. Johnson
May 5, 2011
I have previously sent you a poem by Mary Oliver and asked of you that you spend some time with it and take it in.
There’s a bit of a story behind my selection of this particular poem that relates to the up-coming conference at the Mendocino Woodlands Camp III in less than three weeks–Thursday May 19 to Sunday May 22 where we will gather in community for the twenty-first time and the very first time in our new home, deep in the Mendocino forest, among the tall redwoods that filter the sun’s rays as they fall through the branches as only redwood trees can.
It is a protected and cared for historic public setting, whose unique history and current scope is well documented on the web site of the Mendocino Woodlands Camp Association ( http://www.mendocinowoodlands.org/home.html). Many of you know the three camps already but for those of you who don’t. I urge you to visit the web site. It is inspirational.
But back to the poem.
Another first for us this year is our hiring of a professional caterer to provide us with nourishment for our bodies commensurate with the nourishment we always find for our souls when we gather together in community the way we do–year after year. I have had the pleasure of getting to know Chef Oscar of The Phantom Cafe who will be preparing our meals for us. Hari Meyers and I met her back in October of last year in Ft. Bragg when she agreed to be our chef. Yes, Oscar is a she, Oscar Ann Stedman, her first name having been chosen by her grandfather, she tells me.
With the conference just three weeks away, Chef Oscar has begun to do the shopping, laying in some of the non-perishable supplies essential to the practice her art and we have had several conversations and have chosen menus selected from the multiple options she offered us. I will not reveal everything to you–the smells that will be emanating from the large lodge kitchen as we go about our work and play together will titillate more than any words I could find to describe this menu or that one.
But since I’ve promised to tell you how I happened upon Mary Oliver’s poem, I will tell you this much. The committee decided to spend a little extra money to have Chef Oscar present us with one of her premier specialties, a fresh caught King Salmon banquet. When I told her this, she was very pleased, telling me she was just that morning talking with local fishermen who were thrilled to be able to begin salmon season for the first time in several years on this very Sunday. She went on to describe her method of baking the salmon–topped with seasoned breadcrumbs, resting in a bath of white wine and lemon juice, which makes it poached as well as baked and through some miraculous chemical or alchemical process of heat and moisture and flesh, the grain of the fish flesh rises to a vertical position, as if the fish itself were a souffle rising, at least that’s the best I can remember what she said. I needn’t tell you I was actually salivating by the end of her description.
But there was another thing that happened–I remembered, vaguely, Mary Oliver’s poem about the bear and the salmon and so it was on my mind this morning as I was thinking about sending out the call for our first Wednesday of the month spoken word gathering. I looked it up and loved it, again, as I most often do with Mary Oliver’s poems. After all, it was her poem, The Journey, the first poem of hers I had ever heard, when Doug spoke it on Memorial Day in the Temple of Melodious Sound at Camp Gualala in the year 2000, that launched me on to my own journey toward being what I was born to be. You may remember this. I have shared it before . . .
The singing had stopped
and with it, for a moment,
our very breath,
as if life itself had been left behind.
In that deep, transported silence
beneath the old growth canopy
where forty men
like ancient monks, in filtered light,
had sung their morning ritual,
a voice—a knowing voice,
deep and rich in timbre, spoke:
“One day you finally knew
What you had to do . . . ” 1
Like the spirit of God hovering above the deep,
these spoken words
and those that followed
breathed life once more into my soul;
and there began, again my journey
1. From Mary Oliverâ€™s The Journey
Such life changing experiences that happen when we come together in community are not unique to me.
So I simply want to remind you each of the richness of experience that awaits us in Mendocino and ask you each to consider coming to join us if you have not already made that decision. Who knows what miracles, what changes within and what connections may be forged among us if we step into this experience together. Think about it and come, if you can. You owe it to yourself and to those whom you love.
May 1, 2011
Listen! Listen to this! Can you hear it?
Try speaking it aloud. Take a breath.
Give yourself over to it, even if you are in the presence of someone else. Do not think, “This is an e-mail.” Do not think of all the e-mails waiting to be opened. Do not think of all the pressing obligations that await you, all the things you have not done.
Think instead, “This is a moment for me to accept a gift, a precious gift of words filled with the magic that words sometimes hold.”
Try it. Do it. Do it now . . .
Night and the River
I have seen the great feet
into the river
and I have seen moonlight
along the long muzzle
and I have seen the body
scaled and wonderful
slumped in the sudden fire of its mouth,
and I could not tell
which fit me
more comfortably, the power,
or the powerlessness;
neither would have me
entirely; I was divided,
After a while
it was done,
the fish had vanished, the bear
to the green shore
and into the trees. And then there was only
It followed me home
and entered my house
a difficult guest
with a single
which it hums all day and through the night
slowly or briskly,
it doesn’t matter,
it sounds like a river leaping and falling
it sounds like a body
Mary Oliver from Red Bird, 2008
If you followed my admonition, my heart felt admonition, I cannot presume to know how these words touched you inside but I would wager they touched you in some way–such is the nature and purpose of Mary Oliver’s tremendous outpourings over the years.
- Brother Bill