Archive for July, 2010

The Last Blessing

The other day my son and I were attending a lecture. The topic was on the blessings we have in our life that we don’t normally think about. In the last year I have had many reminders of the blessings we don’t think about on a regular basis and it’s only when we lose a blessing that we realize what we actually had. So in this lecture, the presenter asked everyone to think of a blessing that we have that we normally do not think about. Someone mentioned trees. Now don’t get me started on trees, (as Trees are the Answer).  The presenter then started to enumerate all of the blessings that we get from trees, with the help of the audience giving additional suggestions; They give us oxygen, they consume carbon dioxide, they provide shade, they provide food and the list went on.

Later that day, I decided that it was time to fire up the grill and have a good ‘ol summer barbecue with the family.  Especially after spending a good portion of our summer so far cooped up in the house under quarantine so as not to infect the world with whooping cough.  So as I normally do, I made the call to the kindling brigade, my kids, who sprang into action gathering up twigs, sticks, pine needles and the like to help get the fire started.  Only this time the task seemed to have been completed much quicker than normal.

I went outside to find next to the barbecue a large pile of fine twigged branches.  On asking where they found these and my oldest son said from the dead birch tree.  He had taken a large stick and trashed some of the lower branches of one of the White Birch trees in our backyard.  I showed my displeasure with that and reminded him of the lecture that we had just attended.  He looked at me and said, “Well, this tree is dead, it has already given us all the blessings it can from its oxygen and shade, and so this is its last blessing, its wood, which will help nourish us by cooking our food on the flames it will produce.”  His statement floored me.

We used to have three of these beautiful trees in our yard.  Two winters ago, during a very strong storm, one was toppled over, leaving its two companions to live on.  Then some time last year the second tree lost its leaves and never grew new ones.  It still stands although just as a skeleton of its former self.

Upon hearing my son’s comment, I really started to ponder about the benefits we get from these delicate and lovely trees.  So I pulled out the camera, as I have done numerous times before trying to capture the essence of these stark white trunks against the dark green leaves in summer or vibrant yellows in autumn and started to photograph them again.  Only this time there was a deep connection with them.  They were more than just trees.  They were companions, helpers in my journey to my own end.

White Birch in Afternoon Light

What started out as an intention for a couple of snapshots turned into something much more profound for me. I moved from photographing the detail of the leaves and trunk to how these trees bask in the sun, taking in the glorious light and making their own food from it. What brought this lovely tree to its demise will be a mystery forever I suppose and the question that begets me is will the last standing tree suffer the same fate as its sisters?

Standing as a mere skeleton now, the dead birch has but a few branches left, luckily out of the reach of my over ambitious son in search of kindling. But nonetheless, its branches and twigs are much appreciated as they did most certainly kindle the fire that cooked our meal that evening. As I snapped the dried branches and piled them into the barbecue, I never once realized the blessing we have in the left over wood from dead trees. It just never seemed to register. We don’t see that wood as a tree anymore, but it was a tree.

The Last BlessingSimple twigs and sticks, not much at all to look at or to even ponder about, but it is from those simple little things that great results emerge.  A small spark, a flame, and the next thing you know you have a roaring blaze that brings warmth and the energy to cook our own food.  For tens of years, that tree stood absorbing the energy from the sun, making its own sugar as food through photosynthesis allowing itself to grow.  Each year adding more girth to its trunk and branches, producing shade giving leaves and then shedding them to the ground where they became the mulch and soil that the tree itself needed to remain firm and steadfast in the ground.  A cycle that continued until The Sustainer decided that it was time for this tree to stop, and the cycle was broken.  However the benefits continue.  For now, locked in its wood, the accumulated years of energy lies dormant waiting for that small spark to ignite the wood and release it for one more final blessing.

The coals that evening were particularly mild.  Hot enough to cook on, but with no scorching and very few flares that tend to char the food.  Red Hot CoalsThe coals themselves originating from hardwood trees themselves also finally gave their last blessing as well.  The entire evening was riddled with final blessings right and left.  For not only did these trees give us what they could in cooking our food, so too did the chickens whose meat we were about to cook, and the grains of Bulghur wheat, tomatoes and onions that were stewing on the stove, all giving us their last blessing as well.

I think we fail to realize that we are the end users of everything on this planet, from the air we breath, to the water we drink to the food we consume, to all the other natural resources that we use for our survival, comfort and gain.  How should we feel as the benefactors of all these blessings?  Do we feel gratitude?  Do we feel a sense of shame in front of The Bestower who gives us these blessings and we do nothing in return, not even giving thanks?  Do we feel any responsibility at all in returning the good we have received by doing good to others and to our world?  I shudder when I think of all the blessings I have in my life, for my benefit, for my comfort and gain, and I go heedless in life not realizing that all I do is take and give nothing in return.

The meal that night was fantastic.  We all ate to our fill and to our satisfaction, and in some part wishing that we still had more for later.  The benefit from that meal has already passed through our bodies, but what we learned from it, what we can give back because of it can go on for a very long time.  I am going to be more cognizant of the blessings I have and will make more of an effort to give back to the world at least some portion of the good that I have taken from it.  I invite all of you to do the same, so that in times to come, others might say of us what we can say now of the blessings we have.


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I Can’t See It

Every month for the last 20 years I have gone out to look for the new crescent moon.  Sometimes I see it and other times I don’t for one reason or another.  It has become a family tradition and my kids love to go out to look for the moon as much as I do.  Hopefully they will continue on with this monthly tradition after I am long gone and that they will will pass it down to their kids.

Shabaan Hilal, 1431 - July 12, 2010

This evening we went out to sight the new moon for the Islamic month of Sha’baan. It is the 8th month in the Islamic year and it is a crucial moon to see as it helps mark the beginning of Ramadan, the 9th month and the month of fasting. I saw it first among my family this evening as the kids were playing around. When I called out ‘There it is!’ of course they all ran to me and started probing me so they could see it. One after another, like dominoes, the lovely sound of “Ahhh, I see it I see it!” All but one. My youngest daughter, only 4 years old, and so determined to see the moon cries out – “I can’t See it!” “Where is it?!” After about 2o minutes of pointing to it, and helping her find landmarks where she could cast off into the sky to see it, we still were no better off.

I told her to relax, it will get brighter and you will see it. As we sat there, she suddenly asked, “what’s that black thing up there?” She had noticed a jet liner coming into the Bay Area to probably land at the San Francisco International airport. It was flying directly at the moon. I told her to, “keep watching the plane, and it will fly right next to the moon and when I tell you, look real hard.” Suddenly I say – “Now!” “I see it, I see it!” she yells out in glee.

It is the strangest thing, seeing the new moon. It brings great joy to my heart, and to everyone who has ever come out with me and saw it. One moment you are looking at blank sky and then the next, there it is, as plain as day itself. Its as if it suddenly comes into existence from nowhere, its born into the world – somehow almost miraculously.

Next month, for the month of Ramadan, we are expecting the moon to be seen on the evening of August 11th. Go out an experience a miracle. Your heart will thank you for it.


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Fourth Off July 4th Sale!

From July 3rd to July 5th, you can now receive a 25% discount in honor of the 4th of July. I am offering this substantial discount this year as I am still down for the count with my cough and will be unable to exhibit in the lovely town of Corte Madera at the annual 4th of July Parade and Festival.  So to all my Marin friends and patrons who were hoping to see me this year, please check out the new works online and consider making the purchase you would have made in person – you would not have seen such a discount had I been there 🙂


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