Changing Circumstances   16 comments

I apologize for the radio silence of late. I’ve been in the midst of some changing circumstances, looking for a new place to live and making trips into Portland. Coupled with that activity has been a distinct lack of urgent or well-formed ideas for posts, which has led to a distinct lack of updates for the last month or so.

So instead of something thoughtful and considered, here are the quick life updates:

  • I’ll be moving, literally, a bit further down the road at the beginning of the new year. I will continue the same work I’ve been doing and am simply changing my living arrangements. My current residence has been great for me the last nine months or so, but it’s time for a shift.
  • My new living quarters will see me living with a couple. I’ve gone back and forth on my thoughts about an ideal living arrangement, but I’ve been swinging back toward community of late. I think it will be good to live with others. The isolation of living alone is challenging at times, in a variety of ways.
  • I have picked up a number of interesting books of late: Sandor Ellix Katz’s The Art of Fermentation, Wendell Berry’s New Collected Poems and his new essay collection It All Turns on Affection, John Michael Greer’s Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, Rick Bass’s novel Where the Sea Used to Be, and the 1972 illustrated abridgement of Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History. I think these all will lead to much good thought.
  • I already have devoured Greer’s Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth. It leaves me yet more interested in studying within one of the mystery schools, as I continue to feel the draw of some kind of spiritual ecology. Early this year, I had designs on druidry, but I never followed through on that. We’ll see where this current desire goes; I need to study more on the subject.
  • Finally, this blog continues to marinate in the back of my mind. I have thoughts about where it might go as well of thoughts of shutting it down. Yet there still is plenty I would like to write about. I plan to reevaluate once I’ve made my new year’s move and am figuring out my new patterns of living. There may be one or more updates before then, but it also may stay quiet here until then.

I’m always interested in what my visitors are up to, so please provide me some life updates of your own in the comments, should you feel so compelled. As a small apology for the quiet of late, I’ll leave you with two Wendell Berry poems. First, “The Reassurer.” Following that, an actual—small, but yet large—reassurance.

— ∞ —


A people in the throes of national prosperity, who
breathe poisoned air, drink poisoned water, eat
poisoned food,
who take poisoned medicines to heal them of the poisons
that they breathe, drink, and eat,
such a people crave the further poison of official
reassurance. It is not logical,
but it is understandable, perhaps, that they adore
their President who tells them that all is well,
all is better than ever.
The President reassures the farmer and his wife who
have exhausted their farm to pay for it, and have
exhausted themselves to pay for it,
and have not paid for it, and have gone bankrupt for
the sake of the free market, foreign trade, and the
prosperity of corporations;
he consoles the Navahos, who have been exiled from their
place of exile, because the poor land contained
something required for the national prosperity,
after all;
he consoles the young woman dying of cancer caused by a
substance used in the normal course of national
prosperity to make red apples redder;
he consoles the couple in the Kentucky coalfields, who
sit watching TV in their mobile home on the mud of
the floor of a mined-out stripmine;
from his smile they understand that the fortunate have
a right to their fortunes, that the unfortunate have
a right to their misfortunes, and that these are
equal rights.
The President smiles with the disarming smile of a man
who has seen God, and found Him a true American,
not overbearingly smart.
The President reassures the Chairman of the Board of the
Humane Health for Profit Corporation of America,
who knows in his replaceable heart that health, if
it came, would bring financial ruin;
he reassures the Chairman of the Board of the Victory
and Honor for Profit Corporation of America, who
has been wakened in the night by a dream of the
calamity of peace.


When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.


Posted December 13, 2012 by Joel Caris in Meta, Poetry

Tagged with , , ,

16 responses to “Changing Circumstances

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  1. Aloha, Joel, so your life is changing again. I wish you well, and hope you keep up the blog as I enjoy reading it. Thank you for the two Berry poems, the first is particularly apropos to my life right now. My son-in-law shot himself in the head, not four weeks ago, leaving my eldest daughter a widow with a lovely five year old son. It turns out he was on many different psychiatric drugs and had been getting weirder and weirder the last month of his life. I see him, too, as a victim of this American life, taking drugs given to him by doctors, “experts”, as Berry would say, who didn’t know a damn thing, certainly not how to help him. I grieve for him and my daughter and grandson. And my cousin, who died two days ago, basically because she couldn’t afford health insurance and so didn’t see a doctor until it was too late. And we who have to carry on in this poisoned world. I feel such despair right now.
    Many blessings and peace to you Joel, I hope your new situation works out for you.

    • Good God, Heather, I’m so sorry. It’s such a strange reality to live in a time so full of luxury and yet so antithetical to good living. All I can think is that I’m glad the hard limits of the world will eventually pull us back from this poisoned reality of ours—though I can’t see that process not being quite painful, as well. I’m not a religious person, but I do see meaning in our lives, in our constant struggles to learn and to attempt to live well. That seems driven by pain as much as anything.

      Blessings to you as well, Heather. I hope you and your family are in for a stretch of better times not too far into the future. Thanks for your kind words.

  2. Paradise Lost – My splendid solitude is in danger. My landlords step-son-in-law is moving into (what I thought was) a derelict trailer, just 180′ from my front door. With his two kids. 9 and 11. I am not happy. I’m beginning to think about moving on.

    My friends who I farm sit for are thinking of selling their place and moving over to Idaho. They’d like me to go along. The one place they are looking at has no trees and only 20″ of rain a year. The other is a pretty little valley, with trees that gets the most amount of snowfall in the entire state of Idaho. I don’t think I’d be very happy over there. Having them go will leave a big hole in my life as they are about the only regular contact I have with people. See what happens when you buy into attachments? 🙂 .

    Had our first snowfall of the season. (SW Washington State) I woke up to 4-5″ in the yard. Down in the valley, they only got a dusting. But, I’m up around 620′. A warm front is supposed to blow in this afternoon, so it will probably all be gone by tomorrow. This was my young cats first snowfall. She doesn’t seem to know if she should eat it, or play in it. There’s a small herd of black angus cattle out back of my place. There is one tiny calf. He was frolicking in the snow, this morning.

    The big windstorm this last weekend was pretty much a non-event, here. I’d say the wind two weeks ago was a lot worse. But, I have never seen my barometer fall so far and so fast. Don’t know why it passed us by. Lights didn’t even flicker, unlike the previous storm.

    There are periods of clearing, and I get out and fiddle in the dirt. Just small areas. Time to start getting serious (or, at least thinking about) next years garden. Now that the blackberries are in control, I’ll have more time for a garden. Hard to get excited given the changing circumstances, but I’ve decided to just look at it as “honing my skills.”

    As far as Christmas goes, living in the boonies and only going to town 2 or 3 times a month has it’s advantages. I’m pretty unaware of the holiday season unless I stop and think about it. It’s not in my face all the time.

    If you have to participate, ya’all have a Merry Christmas. And, a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

    • Hey Lew,

      Bah! That’s terrible Solstice news.

      Yeah, attachments are troublesome, though also lovely and necessary. I seem to swing back and forth between seeking and avoiding them. Why would you not be happy in Idaho? The community (or lack thereof)? Landscape? Climate? Not saying I have any desire to move to Idaho myself, just curious what about that scenario makes you skeptical.

      I can’t remember exactly where you are—up near Centralia? Onalaska? I seem to have a memory of you being near the Vipassana center I went to once. Anyway, it hailed and graupeled and corn snowed around here, but no real snow. Although I had an intermittently slushy drive to work on Tuesday. Now it’s much warmer and raining. Yesterday it just poured all day long and the fields are flooded again. I was going to head up to Astoria to make a meat delivery today, but it’s been pushed back to Saturday due to flooding on 101. I imagine you’re back into the rain as well at this point.

      I remember watching a cat’s first snow experience a few times. That’s delightful. I don’t think I’ve yet seen a calf frolicking in the snow, but hopefully that’ll become a new memory this winter at some point. If we even get snow out here on the coast. I imagine that was quite fun to watch.

      Wind storm was more or less a none event here, too. It was gusty for sure, but less so than the previous storm, as you note. In fact, last night was near as windy as the supposed big storm was. We didn’t lose power either, though the lights flickered a few times.

      Good of you on the garden planning. Might as well assume you’ll be there and gardening and if things change, so be it. Last year, with my uncertainty about where I would end up being and when, I didn’t really plan at all and thus got quite the late start. This year, I intend to be more on top of it, though I’m back into the realm of uncertainty about the what and where of my garden. And I haven’t started to plan at all! So I’ll have to get on that in early January, once all the next week’s busyness has passed.

      Anyway, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, as well!


      • Well, as far as Idaho goes, I was born in Portland and have only spent 3 years away. S. California in the early 70s. So, I’d miss the rain and hate to deal with as much snow and cold as they get over there. And, the trees. Also, I know it’s silly, but they have snakes! Poisonous snakes! We are truly blessed to live in a part of the world where we don’t have to deal with that. And, I have a 92 year old father down in Vancouver. I don’t see him often, but I’d hate to be so far away.

        Yes, I’m between Centralia and Onalaska. In fact, 4 miles, as the crow flies from Onalaska. Very close to Raintree Nursery. Only 15 minutes from downtown Chehalis.

        My neighbor has about 30 head of black angus that he runs in the pasture behind my place. He doesn’t have a bull, so I don’t know where the little calf came from. He just showed up with the herd about a month ago. So tiny. Black with comical markings on his face.

        Yup. The snow was gone by Wednesday afternoon. And then it rained. And rained. I went into town yesterday and there was a lot of flooding in the fields and the rivers were high. Today, clear and patches of blue sky.

        Happy Solstice to all your readers or whatever holiday you happen to celebrate!

        • I certainly understand wanting to stay in the area you know. I never want to leave the northwest and I often think of moving back to Portland or closer—though the coast isn’t so far away (for now.)

          Thanks for the holiday wishes. I’m in Portland for the week, seeing friends and family and just generally being spoiled as hell. I head back to the coast on New Year’s Day and will spend that evening in my new place. I feel pretty good about 2013.

  3. I just did a post on consumerism with a quote and a partial poem from Wendell Berry and now I’m browsing the blogosphere seeing what others are writing about (or from) him. I like the balance of these two poems you’ve included here. Berry the social critic would be hard to bear, possibly lapsing into cynicism or even nihilism if it weren’t for Berry the faithful steward of God’s good creation. His work as a attentive farmer and his words as an accomplished poet drive his sensitivity and give even more power to his sharp words that all is not right in the world. Thanks for the post and I hope we meet again.

  4. Now that we all have apparently survived 12/21/2012 (or perhaps we are now in an alternate Universe), Happy Holidaze to all Y’all –

  5. Joel,

    Just dropping in to say that your blog continues to inspire me. Thank you for taking the time to post such thoughtful essays and sharing your work and ponderings. Have you done any more with the short story/creative writing?

    Wendell Berry is a favorite poet of mine. For a birthday one year, a friend, with incredibly beautiful handwriting, wrote out The Wild Geese for me on a thin piece of paper. I keep it folded and tucked into the pocket of my everyday jacket for “reassurance”. Berry is just like that, you know!

    Merry Christmas to you and best wishes for a Happy New Year!


    • Thank you, Chela! Consider me quite flattered to be called inspiring. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any stories or creative writing done over the summer as I hoped to. I do have intentions around that idea for the new year. I’m kind of resetting myself at the moment—I fell out of some good habits the last few months of the year, into some bad habits, and just haven’t been in the best of places. Time to get my mind in order. And I want to make writing a part of it.

      Love the idea of having a beautifully-copied Berry poem tucked away on your person. Great idea!

      A belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, too!

  6. The Annunciation – Written in 1957
    Thomas Merton

    Ashes of paper, ashes of a world
    Wandering, when fire is done:
    We argue with the drops of rain!

    Until one comes Who walks unseen
    Even in elements we have destroyed.
    Deeper than any nerve
    He enters flesh and bone.
    Planting His truth, He puts our substance on.
    Air, earth, and rain
    Rework the frame that fire has ruined.
    What was dead is waiting for His Flame.
    Sparks of His Spirit spend their seeds, and hide
    To grow like irises, born before summertime.
    These blue thinas bud in Israel.

    The girl prays by the bare wall
    Between the lamp and the chair.
    (Framed with an angel in our galleries
    She has a richer painted room, sometimes a crown.
    Yet seven pillars of obscurity
    Build her to Wisdom’s house, and Ark, and Tower.
    She is the Secret of another Testament
    She owns their manna in her jar.)

    Fifteen years old –
    The flowers printed on her dress
    Cease moving in the middle of her prayer
    When God, Who sends the messenger,
    Meets His messenger in her Heart.
    Her answer, between breath and breath,
    Wrings from her innocence our Sacrament!
    In her white body God becomes our Bread.

    It is her tenderness
    Heats the dead world like David on his bed.
    Times that were too soon criminal
    And never wanted to be normal
    Evade the beast that has pursued
    You, me and Adam out of Eden’s wood.
    Suddenly we find ourselves assembled
    Cured and recollected under several green trees.

    Her prudence wrestled with the Dove
    To hide us in His cloud of steel and silver:
    These are the mysteries of her Son.
    And here my heart, a purchased outlaw,
    Prays in her possession
    Until her Jesus makes my heart
    Smile like a flower in her blameless hand.


  7. Hey Joel, it’s been a while, but I’m very glad to see you’re still getting on well. We’ve exchanged a bit over the years on JMG’s and the poetry blog I had running for a while. I definitely understand the back and forth on continuing to write publicly and feeling the need to pull it all in.. Anyway, life has found me moved to Portland now; I’d love to connect the next time you’re over this way if it works out..drop me an email and let’s stay in touch.

    Be well..

    Dan aka myself:themuse aka DW when replying to Mr. Greer.

    • Hi Dan,

      Yes! I would love to connect, as well. But it may take a bit of time. I should next be in town around the middle of February, but I haven’t really planned that out yet and if it ends up a short visit, I may be terribly busy throughout. Still, there usually is a few spare hours to be found. I’ll be in touch.

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