Curses on L. Frank Baum for sentimentalizing rainbows. I woke up this morning to see this double rainbow arching across the Salish Sea. I threw my jacket over my pajamas and watched on the windy deck. The foundations rose from the most churning part of the water. The bells rang inside me at this beautiful transitory thing the world had made. But how could I possibly write a 7:30 BELLS post about rainbows? It’s all been said. And then I thought, not every beautiful sight has to come with or be expressed by some personal or divine revelation. Sometimes it is enough, even for the poet, to simply stand there in witness and wonder.
Soon the rainbow faded and I went in to warm up.
Not five minutes later, a second double rainbow appeared, this arch more complete and brilliant than the first. Again the jacket flew over the pajamas. Two double rainbows in five minutes. You know what, Dorothy? Birds don’t just fly over the rainbow. Birds fly under the grandest most triumphal arch in the world. That’s the way I want to go. Not over, but deeper into the world.
There. You knew I couldn’t leave it alone, didn’t you?
As night fell, this unexpected image caught my eye: a silhouetted
dolphin (on a weather vane) rising from the trees into the sky. I don’t know about
you, but I’ve never seen a dolphin leap from the trees.
I love this image. I love it because it exploded with meaning that resonated for me.
Usually dolphins leap from the sea, symbolically like
something flashing into consciousness from the unconscious, unknown deeps. So
what does it mean for a dolphin to leap from the trees into the sky? Some might
say this is the proverbially “fish out of water.” But to me, it seemed like an
That’s because, being an intuitive introvert, I filter everything I see
through the subjective filter of my experience. Trees have become powerful
symbols for me in the last year (for more on that see this earlier post).
Also, this dolphin perching on a weather vane suggests that
the weather of my life, or the weather of the world, is giving the dolphin a
chance to soar into a new and unknown element. Who knows what luminous experiences of life await a
dolphin swimming through the stars?
Poems emerge from such suddenly apprehended, unexpected images. Think I’ll work on one now . . .
Oh, and do I even have to tell you that the bells are ringing?
LORE OF THE BELL
Interpret unexpected images through the
filter of your life,
What words of wisdom do I have for beginning writers? What kind of store I would open if I could? What makes me laugh AND want to throw up? How do I know when a book is finished? I'll answer that one--When I have thrown the book on the floor and stomped on it so many times, I can't squash it any further. But for answers to the previous questions, and any other questions about me that you were afraid to ask and probably even more afraid to have answered, please read my interview on Author Turf with Britney Breakey.
With the days turning dark and rushing toward the sacred holidays, I'm so pleased to offer this guest post by author/explorer Marc Calhoun who has spent twenty years exploring the Hebrides and written two books about them published by The Islands Book Trust. (And he is my big brother!)
It is amazing the impact a good author can have on a reader:
for me, one of those authors was Alasdair Alpin Macgregor (1899-1970). He wrote
lovingly about Scotland and instilled in me that same love. One of the first
books of his I read was a collection of folk-tales called The Peat Fire Flame (1937); a book that kindled an interest in the history of Scotland and its early Celtic Christian Church.
A chapter in The Peat Fire Flame titled Bell Lore, describes some of the handbells used by theearly Celtic missionary saints in Scotland.
A saint’s bell was his prized possession; used to call the faithful to church and rung at certain times during Mass. I learned that one of these ancient handbells is still to be found in situ, standing on the altar of a church founded by St Finnan in the 7th Century.
It took two attempts over a period of five years to visit the church of St Finnan’s Bell; for it lies on a small, uninhabited island in a remote Scottish loch. It was a cold spring morning when my wife and I finally set foot on Eilean Fhionain, the island of St Finnan. We climbed to the top of the island to the ruin of St Finnan’s church. And there atop the altar, coated with a fine green patina, stood a small bronze bell. I gently picked it up, hoping to make it ring. As I did, the clapper fell out. The bell looked fragile, so after re-attaching the clapper I slowly set the bell back on the altar. Although I did not hear it ring, I did not need to. Just holding it in my hands let me hear its message; one it has been sending throughout the centuries, a message that had brought us to a very special place.
There are a few other saint’s bells still in existence. Inscribed on one is a message that proclaims the power a sacred bell-ring can have:
Funerals I toll, Lightnings I break, Sabbaths I proclaim, the Slothful I rouse, the Winds I scatter, the Cruel I appease.
Holding an ancient holy bell on a remote Scottish island was a memorable experience, one I owe to an author who wrote something 80 years ago; and whose work, like a sacred bell, still rings down through the years.
I run "Best of the Bells" to share popular posts from the past. This one from last fall is about hunting for chanterelle mushrooms in the woods.
Knife in hand, I prowled the mossy wood, searching for gold. Not gold nuggets, not gold coins, but the golden caps of chanterelle mushrooms. Some hid under Oregon grape, humus, and fallen leaves. Some, like those in this photo, sang out against the green. I walked, scanning the ground, thrilled each time I spotted gold. I knelt, my fingers probing for the stem, sometimes loosening the dirt and twigs around it before cutting. After double checking the species, I dropped the chanterelle in my bucket and began searching again.
Every sense intent on finding treasure, I thought of nothing else. My bucket half full, I glanced up from the hunt. At quiet woods. At streaming sun. At the first day of Autumn. My husband’s bucket clanked in the distance. And I heard the bells ring, slowly, steadily, with the somberness that comes from sanctity. I smiled.
Then I returned my total attention to the hunt, looking for food—and being fed.
Ancient mapmakers who didn’t know what lay beyond the boundaries of a kingdom wrote, Here Be Dragons. Now substitute the word dragons with bells.
Sometimes the bells of our longing, the harbingers of what will bring us more alive, ring only faintly, at the edge of our hearing. We might hear a haunting sweetness on the air and look up to listen. But the sound fades, and we’re suddenly uncertain if we heard anything at all. So we shrug, and return to whatever we were doing. But the bells’ calling leaves behind some strange restlessness or yearning.
I once thought such bells rang faintly because they weren’t important. But over the last few years I’ve discovered the opposite is true: faint ringing is the ringing I need to heed most. The bells are only faint because I can’t clear away the obstacles in my life that are stopping me from hearing them. Obstacles like the towers of distraction, fear, numbness, and especially, strategic thinking placed before heart thinking—all the many reasons we stay safely at home. Sometimes it is wise and necessary to stay home. But doing that all the time leads to the death of whole-hearted living.
So follow the ringing that come faintly on the wind. Follow the bells which call you out of your comfortable dwellings of body and spirit. Follow the bells until you stand beneath them in all their bronze glory and hear the now clamorous ringing that compelled you to find them. If you do, you will find that boundaries of your kingdom—your heart, your life, your soul—have been pushed outward.
We will never discover all that’s waiting for us. There are still bells waiting, calling, and that’s the joy of life. But take one step at a time. Bell by bell. Find your new dwelling and hunker down with a cup of tea. Until that faint ringing stirs on the edge of the wind again . . .
Oh, and be sure to tell the mapmakers that your kingdom is bigger now.