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Hello Rabbi!

Today my to-do list is too long to allow for blogging. So instead of crafting any of the carefully-polished blog posts that float about my imagination, today I offer an amusing photograph.

The small print circling the border of the notebook reads, "Hello rabbi! You are my best friend!" It was made in Korea, unsurprisingly; it comes to me from a new friend in Finland, and it makes me laugh. So I thought I'd share.

Shabbat shalom, all!

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This week's portion: on hubris

This week's Torah portion is a doozy (surely that's the technical term) -- parashat Korach. Here we find the story of the eponymous Korach, whose challenge to Moses' authority resulted in the earth opening to swallow him and his followers.

In this week's post over at Radical Torah, I explore a few different angles on this week's Torah portion. What does the portion tell us about ownership of Jewish tradition? What exactly does it mean to say that Korach and his gang descended into Sheol? I'm indebted to Nehama Leibowitz's commentary and insights, especially on the matter of what exactly Korach and his not-so-merry band had done wrong:

For Leibowitz, the error of Korach and his followers was falling prey to the hubris of believing that their individual holiness trumped the holiness of the collective. That each of them, alone, was special enough to outweigh the needs and aspirations of the community. As tantalizing as that notion might be to us today, grounded as we are in a culture that prizes individualism, it's arguably a profoundly un-Jewish point of view.

Read the whole thing here: The hubris of Korach.

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Purely blessed

It's never convenient, doing taharah. There's no way the call can come at a comfortable time. Maybe we knew the congregant or family member in question; maybe we didn't. One way or another, when the phone rings each of us wrestles with the question of whether and how we can make it to the funeral home by the end of the workday. We have jobs, families, obligations that need to be juggled. When we arrive after work, we're all a little bit harried. It's inevitable.

But as we read psalms, gathered in the bland funeral home livingroom, the stresses of the day start to fall away. Slowly, without realizing it, we move into a different headspace. When we wash our hands, when we glove up, when we talk to the meit and ask her forgiveness for any inadvertant error we might commit during the process of taharah. When we caress her with washcloths, when we pour our portable mikvah in a continual stream, when we declare her tehorah, pure, and mean it.

Afterwards we stand outside the funeral home, blinking in the dazzling late-evening light of high summer, and talk quietly, reluctant to break what we've woven together. We say things like, "Maybe it sounds strange, but I really felt God in that room." We say, "I can't put it into words." We say, "The whole day is different now." And we smile, and thank each other, and hug each other, and drive away changed. For a short while, everything is transformed by the extended meeting with the ineffable that arises in the work of taharah. There is nothing like it. We are so blessed.

(Previous posts about taharah: Facing impermanence, Shmira.)

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Bonne fortune!

It's a season of many weddings: one last week, and one just now! Yesterday we flew down to the DC area for the wedding of a dear college friend, which I had the pleasure of crafting and performing.

Creating this ceremony was an interesting challenge. The bride feels her deepest spiritual connection is to the natural world and the divinity immanent in creation; the groom (though reared nominally Christian) is "allergic to religion." We spent some months talking and emailing about the ceremony, sending ideas and drafts back and forth, before finalizing the words that would make their wedding real. I groove on this process, so I enjoyed the challenge of stitching together a wedding which would reflect who and where they are.

On a practical level, it's a very good thing their wedding was indoors; the torrential rains were impressive, as were the thunder and lightning. (Apparently thunder punctuated most of the ceremony; I was so caught-up in the ritual that I didn't notice!) What I'll remember most about this wedding will be how Kim and Martial's faces transformed the moment they were at the front of the room together. I love the light that gets created at a moment like that. Their vows were dazzling, too -- they each wrote their own, and both sets were heartfelt and powerful. There wasn't a dry eye in the house.

And then, of course, came the joy of the reception -- getting to reconnect with old friends, to make new ones, and to celebrate Kim and Martial together. Several guests said tremendously kind things about the ceremony. And though it wasn't a Jewish ceremony, one fellow engaged me in a delightful conversation about Jewish Renewal afterwards! (If you'd like to see the ceremony, you can go to my site and click on "ceremony archive," or download it here in .pdf form.)

And now I'm home, still floating a little on the wave of having done something for and with my friends that really matters. Three cheers for Kim and for Martial; may they always find as much joy in one another as they do today.

(Photoset here, for those who are interested...)

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Planning for pluralism

Because it's barely three weeks until the Progressive Faith Blog Con (eek!), I spent a good chunk of this afternoon working on the erev Shabbat liturgy for the scheduled Friday evening service.

In hindsight, I kind of wish now that we hadn't labeled the services "ecumenical." I've gotten feedback suggesting that that term isn't entirely clear. (I tried to explain what we meant a while back on the con blog, though I don't know how helpful that was.) Well, maybe next year we'll use different names for things. What we meant all along, and what we still mean to do, is to enliven the weekend with prayer, meditation, and worship, in a way that's authentic to each of these several traditions, but is also welcoming to those who aren't from that tradition.

The idea is to create liturgical experiences designed for "insiders" (we expect the most ardent and informed participants in the Jewish service to be the Jewish bloggers in attendance, for instance) but also designed to be open to "outsiders" (we hope that everyone will attend all of the sessions, regardless of whether you happen to be Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, or of a different tradition/persuasion altogether.) We also have high hopes that we'll be joined by bloggers who don't belong to any of the traditions I just listed, and we're aware that not every religious tradition is represented on the schedule -- but hey, time is limited, we made choices. Next year whoever's on the planning committee is welcome to choose otherwise!

Anyway: the real question is how to create a service -- take the Jewish one, since that's the one I'm actually trying to compile -- which will be simultaneously comfortable for those within the tradition, and comprehensible for those outside it. How should we navigate the fact that different Jewish communities pray in very different ways and styles? How to deal with the fact that we won't all know the same melodies for many things, that some of us are accustomed to praying solely in Hebrew and others are accustomed to praying primarily in English, and that when it comes to translations our different siddurim (prayerbooks) probably don't match?

Continue reading "Planning for pluralism" »

Joshua Judges Ruth

I've long thought that Lyle Lovett's album Joshua Judges Ruth is one of his best. I can't quite call it the soundtrack to my season, since I won't be studying Joshua or Judges this summer, but I will be reading Ruth -- in fact, I started this morning. My rabbi and I met at the coffee shop in Williamstown, settled ourselves at a corner table in the back room, said the bracha over Torah study, and opened sefer Ruth to read.

I've read Ruth a bunch of times. (It's a traditional text for study at Shavuot, so I run into it every year.) But there's a big difference between simply reading the text, in translation, as one might read any old story, and reading it closely and with intent. Already I'm learning things I hadn't known. For instance, we spent a while talking about the opening words, "In the days when the chieftains ruled..." (That's how JPS and the Oxford study Bible render it; others offer "And it came to pass in the days when the judges judged.")  R' Jeff offered a Wild West metaphor for the lawless days of the chieftains, and we flipped back to the end of the book of Judges to read chapter 19, the truly distressing story that echoes the story of Lot, to get some context.

We talked about what it meant that Elimelech and his family left the land of Israel during the famine, how his action reversed the communal trajectory, and what it meant that he chose to be a ger toshav, a resident alien, outside his own place. We talked about the theological implications of the famine they were trying to escape from, and of the deaths of Elimelech and his sons. And we talked about the hidden reference to Levirate marriage in Naomi's speech to her daughters-in-law. Isn't it intriguing that Naomi is the one to bring up Torah and its laws (in however veiled a manner), when she argues that her daughters-in-law should go home because she has no sons to give them?

As Naomi sees the situation, she's doomed; she urges her daughters-in-law to leave her, to return to their own mothers, and to begin again. In contrast, Ruth -- with her unshakeable faith in the God of Israel, and in how that God will provide despite the dire straits she and Naomi are in -- offers a completely different view of the situation. Ruth is about to break the rules (by entering the household of Israel, against the law of the time; by pledging to remain with her mother-in-law, despite Naomi's inability to give her a son to wed) -- but, paradoxically, that rule-breaking is going to be rewarded, because she's going to be redeemed, and her act will have redemptive implications for the entire community. We talked some about the intriguing notion that Ruth and Naomi represent two modes of religious being, and two paradigms for understanding Torah.

Emptiness and fullness ("I went away full, and Adonai has brought me back empty," says Naomi), the sweet and the painful (Naomi's name means "pleasant," but she gives herself the new name "bitterness"), famine (ironically arising in Beit-Lechem, the House of Bread) and the beginning of a new harvest, loss and the anticipation of solace: these themes are already present as the groundwork is laid for the story to continue. And that's where we left off, having read chapter one [Hebrew]. Now I have homework: to read the rest of the book, in Hebrew, and to head for the college library and begin learning my way around indices of Biblical scholarship. (I have to bring at least one scholarly article on Ruth to our next study session next week.) My summer is about to get a whole lot busier, but man, this is fun.

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More blog con goodies

Over at the Progressive Faith Con Blog, we've just posted information about blog con scholarships (the short version: we have a limited pool of funds to disburse to bloggers who want to join us at the Progressive Faith Blog Con but can't afford to do so), so if this kind of thing is interesting to you, check it out.

Meanwhile, our attendee list is growing. Still smallish (our pipe dream is sixty; right now we're at about twenty) but every time someone signs up I get more excited. This is a crazy lot of work to put together, but I think it's going to be a lot of fun, too. Join us.

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This week's portion: seeking the big picture

At the very end of this week's Torah portion, Sh'lakh, there's a fascinating juxtaposition of passages. First, four dramatic verses concerning an episode in which the Israelites find a man transgressing the Sabbath and put him to death; then five dramatic verses containing an injunction to wear tzitzit, fringes, on our garments in order that we might be mindful of God and live righteously.

It's quite a one-two punch -- one snippet of text that appalls the contemporary sensibility, followed immediately by another which exhorts us to live up to our highest ideals. The tension between the two gave rise to  this week's Radical Torah post:

But did God bring us out of Egypt to instruct us in such punitive measures as stoning to death individuals who dared to collect firewood on Shabbat? How can we reconcile the stoning of the man in the first passage (who, as far as the overt text is concerned, was given no chance to repent or change his ways) with the ethical injunction toward righteousness in the second passage, when that stoning may not look righteous to our modern eyes at all?

Read more here: Little picture, big picture.

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Recently I had a strange shehecheyanu moment: I said a blessing over my first blood pressure pill.

I've known for a while that I probably don't take good-enough care of myself. I work too hard; I don't  sleep enough or exercise enough or make enough time for self-care. But I figure I'm not alone in that, and on some level I've always assumed there would be time for that later. For now, there's so much to do! And I like what I do, and I like the satisfaction of taking on work and doing it well. But the flipside of that coin is that sometimes I demand too much of myself. And lately that trend has come to a head.

Last week I discovered that my blood pressure was distressingly high. In a way, the news wasn't surprising; this has been a high-stress year, between beginning rabbinic school and continuing to run my arts nonprofit, taking the reins of my shul and establishing the Progressive Faith Blog Con... Anyway, to make a long story short, we're taking appropriate steps medically. Meanwhile, discovering the hypertension has sparked a cascade of emotional and intellectual responses.

Working at the hospital taught me, in visible and visceral ways, that our bodies are fragile. But it's one thing to recognize that other people are dealing with the challenges of embodiment  and another thing entirely to realize, deep down, that one's own life is a training-ground for these same lessons.

Continue reading "Pressure" »

Wedding blessings

Weddings involve a lot of cat-herding. They require advance preparation. And they reward openness to what arises, the willingness and ability to notice and enjoy serendipity.

Tonight's wedding went well. (They always do.) We lucked out; the morning's rain dried up and we got a beautiful, if somewhat humid, June evening. Signing the ketubah beforehand in the MASS MoCA clocktower, I noticed how natural the bride and groom already were together, how easily their teasing flowed.

People seemed to like the ceremony. (There were several congregants there, which was a nice treat for me.) My trusty votive (meant for lighting the havdalah candle) failed me but I had a backup lighter in my pocket, so all was well. The bride and groom circling each other was surprisingly intense, and lovely like an old-fashioned dance.

But the best moment came when the groom's mother was called up to offer one of the sheva brachot, the traditional seven blessings at the heart of the Jewish wedding ceremony. She has Alzheimer's and seemed at first too confused to participate, but then she faced the crowd square and asked, "are you ready for this?" And she read her line beautifully.

A moment later, three elderly sisters came up to read the penultimate blessing in chorus. The courtyard practically vibrated with joy.

I love doing weddings because they're such happy occasions. Because they're a chance to celebrate and sanctify the transition between one state of being and another. And because something always happens that I didn't expect, and if I'm smart enough to be open to it when it does, it always leaves me feeling blessed.

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A visitation

I wouldn't have noticed if it weren't for the cat.

I was lounging in the living room reading my blog aggregator when Thorn dashed across the room to the relative safety of the front hallway and froze there, a whole-body exclamation point. I turned around and saw what had spooked her: a pair of bears in our yard.

One was right outside the window, looking curiously in. I tiptoed across the room and slid the glass door shut, then dashed across the house to fetch my camera. By the time I got back, they had ambled out to the patch of wild thyme by the rock where Thorn likes to sunbathe, and were turning around to wander up the hill.

(Here's the pair of them, though one is obscured by scaffolding.) After only a minute, they were leaving through the high grass, and then they were gone.

Dave, at Via Negativa, posted recently about seeing a bear:

Eva stops short about seventy-five feet from the powerline right-of-way. “There’s a bear!” she whispers. Now it’s my turn to be skeptical. But I crouch down until my head is level with hers and I can see out under the leaves at the edge of the woods, thanks to the browse line made by our too-numerous friends the deer. Sure enough, a dark space among the ferns has the exact shape of a bear. It looks much bigger now than it did in the light of late morning. It’s standing still, facing the sunset, and my inclination is to stay still and see what it does, but Eva is already creeping forward on her hands and knees, so I have little choice but to follow suit.

When I read that, I was vaguely envious, wishing I too could live in Plummer's Hollow and see what Dave gets to see. And now I've had my own visitation, unplannable and ineffable. I'm going to have to reread Elizabeth Bishop's The Moose tonight, in celebration of my brush with the gloriously wild world! Time for a heartfelt shehecheyanu -- how fortunate I am to live in this world, and to be blessed by its encounters.

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Conversation, sparked by yarn

This afternoon I was sitting on the low stone wall in the MASS MoCA courtyard, beneath the upside-down trees, kicking my heels and waiting for my 2pm appointment to arrive, when a man about my age walked by with an eager dog on a leash.

"That's a beautiful kippah," he said, stopping and smiling. (I was wearing my favorite kippah, the rainbow knit one I got at Elat Chayyim.) "Did you make it?"

"No, sadly," I said. "I wish I had! It was made by Belle Kipa."

We chatted a moment longer, and then he said, "hang on, you might enjoy this." He dashed to his car and brought back a postcard promoting Challahpalooza (a.k.a. the Berkshire Jewish Music Festival, a presentation of Chabad of the Berkshires which will feature the band Klezmerfest, a children's choir called M Generation, and the BIMA Jazz Ensemble.)

And then we shook hands and wished each other well and he headed off, as the bride and groom I'm marrying this weekend arrived and I transitioned into thinking about wedding logistics.

I don't know that I'll attend the festival. Having listened to the children's choir online, I'm just not excited about their music (not to mention the fact that the "M" in the name "M Generation" stands for Moshiach, which is a little corny to me)  and if I were seeking out klezmer I'd head down to Club Helsinki, which is a more energetic and interesting venue.

Still, it was a sweet little encounter. I'm often pleasantly surprised by the reactions I get when I'm wearing a kippah. I'm still not likely to shift my practice to wearing one all the time, but I do like the conversations that arise...

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This week's portion: a Torah soap opera.

This week we're in parashat Beha'alotcha, which includes the fascinating story of Miriam and Aaron getting uppity, God striking Miriam with snow-white scales, and Moses offering a beautiful spontaneous prayer on his sister's behalf.

Miriam, Aaron, and God all seem pretty frustrated in this story. Honestly, it's a real soap opera. That's my path in to this week's Torah portion in my post over at Radical Torah:

It's easy to come away from this story shaking one's head at everyone in it. Again and again, during the story of the Israelites' wanderings in the wilderness, the children of Israel disappoint God. They fail to live up to God's expectations. They make poor choices, they are driven by greed, they allow their fears to rule the day. What's interesting here is that I think an argument can be made that God occasionally disappoints the children of Israel, too. This week's narrative is one of flashing anger and vindictive punishment -- not the boundless compassion and limitless understanding we might have hoped for.

Read the whole thing here: Offering God compassion.

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In Montreal last weekend, Dale gave me a copy of Disenchantment, a chapbook of poems by Elizabeth Domike. I accepted it without expectations, but when I started reading the poems on the train ride home I was delighted. When I've posted about poetry lately there's been some apparent interest, so I thought I'd blog a little bit about Domike's work.

There's a stunning short poem of Domike's online in Red River Review. The poem is called "Ninety Four Percent Humility," and it's here. Another of her very short poems can be found at The Golden Lantern; it's called Reflection, and I love its wry impatience.

Let me offer one of the short poems from the collection which struck me most:

A Fish Describes Water

There are prayers best said
only at night, in depths; water steps,
rubies in the mouth.

Winds ripple across moon grass
longing to be released by washed
stones. The rowboat

is empty. What remains
is song, a solitary gold-winged
warbler, the pattern of rain.

I love the way Domike connects the act of secret or silent prayer, depths and emptinesses, patterns. I find, too, some resonances between this poem (and its reference to song being what remains) and Voice, ear, a post by Soen Joon about learning to chant...

Some of these poems touch on religion in ways that intrigue me. Several of them are startling. ("Time to Go" includes the quatrain "My little sociopath. Trouble/ from the day you were born./ At least that's what your dad said/ when he set your crib on fire.")

On the inside front cover of the chapbook, Domike offers a link to an album of photographs. They're not directly related to the poems in the collection, but looking at them after reading the poems informs the poems subtly for me.

Dale offers a review here, which shows a slightly different cross-section of the collection. If you'd like a copy, you can pick one up at Meander Knot Press for a mere $5.

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Blog con news

The Progressive Faith Blog Con has a new website! Thanks to the css stylings of my friend Kate, the Prog Faith Blog Con has a whole new look.

We have a new FAQ page, which tackles questions like "where is the con again?" (Montclair, NJ) and "where should we stay?" (we have an official con hotel) and "how about bloggers who are shomer Shabbat and can't drive on Saturdays?" (we've arranged for some rooms on-campus for those who need them, and are also looking into homestays with local community members).

We also have a shiny new registration page where you can, as you might expect, register for the con! Two things are noteworthy there. The first is that you can choose which aspects of PFBC programming you want to help out with; we're actively seeking volunteers to help us shape the con, so if you're interested, let us know. The second is that we're asking a $25 advance registration fee (which will go up to $45 the weekend of the con -- incentive to register early.) That fee will cover conference meals (all but Saturday dinner) and registration packet and things like that.

We're maintaining a list of bloggers we know are coming -- so far it's a small list but a really cool one, including people like Reverend Chuck Currie, Mik Moore from JSpot, Pastor Dan from Street Prophets, and Rabbi Arthur Waskow from The Shalom Center.

The con website describes what we think the weekend will entail:

During the first annual Progressive Faith Blog Con we'll talk about the intersection of religion and politics; the roots and branches of our faith traditions; ecumenical and interfaith blogging engagement; and the challenges and blesssings of pluralism. We'll have breakout sessions around faith-tradition, and around meditation, liturgy, and scripture. We'll talk about justice and poverty, about progressive faith activism, and about the religious right...

The conference will be led by and for the community of progressive faith bloggers, and everyone who attends will have the chance to help shape it. Join us!

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School's out

If I were the kind of Hebrew-school teacher I want to be, I would have spent the morning baking, fashioning letters of the aleph-bet out of cookie dough and gilding them with glassy sugar. I would have planned something wise and inspiring to say to my two groups of students on our last day of class. They would have shown off their shiny new Hebrew skills, and I would have praised them for all they've learned, and then they would have hugged me goodbye and dashed out to their parents' waiting cars.

Instead this week I am clinging to my to-do list by the tips of my fingernails. I managed to pick up some cookies at the coffee shop on my way to shul, shaped like stars and butterflies instead of Hebrew letters. My younger students filed in late, promptly got high on sugar, muddled their way through a few lines of text while throwing things at one another, and I had to swallow the sinking realization that over the summer the younger ones are going to forget most of what I managed to teach them...

And you know what? It's okay. It is the nature of Hebrew school teachers to wish we could impart a genuine love of our material to our charges, and it is the nature of adolescents to wish they were anywhere but Hebrew class. So it goes. (At least my older kids listened with apparent attention when I closed class by reading a modified kaddish de rabanan -- that was heartening.) In the end, what can one do? I hope they learned something; maybe they'll remember something fondly; and in the fall we'll regroup and try this whole enterprise over again. For now, school's out for the summer...huzzah.

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My friend Ellen recently posed an intriguing question:

In literature or in life, what does transcendance -- the noun, used all alone -- mean to you? Just what is being transcended, and how? Is that a good thing? Why, or why not?

To me, transcendence implies a state of heightened consciousness. That which is transcendent exists or extends beyond creation, as opposed to that which is immanent and is embodied in creation. Of course, I'm most interested in what bridges the presumed tension between transcendent and immanent, between the numinous that pervades creation and the numinous which extends beyond it...

I've had experiences I would characterize as transcendent: moments of powerful emotion, exquisite flavor, music that moves me. Those moments of transcendence allow me access, however temporary, to something far greater than myself. I enjoy that. It's good for me to be reminded that there's more to the universe than whatever's frustrating or confining me at any given moment -- that if I get out of my own way, I might be able to see a larger picture, and be transformed by that seeing.

Of course, the term "transcendence" can also be a cop-out, a sloppy description of an ill-defined category of experience. I'm skeptical about prepackaged mystical experience for this reason; I don't trust the perpetual search for something extra or beyond. I value my spiritual practice precisely because it isn't transcendent, most of the time, nor does it aim to be.

But regular spiritual practice can open up a space in which occasional moments of transcendence can arise. What's critical for me is the balance between the two. My immersion in daily experience is what makes it possible for me to occasionally see beyond that daily experience. If I never looked out beyond the confines of the mundane, I'd be diminished -- but if I spent all my time chasing the extraordinary, I'd miss the ordinary, and that would be a diminishment too.

Okay, your turn: what does "transcendence" mean to you?

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Marriage verses

Last year on this day I posted two poems, one by John Berger and one by Wendell Berry. This year, I offer a few short lines by Rumi, and a link to a photograph, and a sense of my miraculous good fortune through which I am unendingly blessed.


This Marriage

May these vows and this marriage be blessed.
May it be sweet milk,
this marriage, like wine and halvah.
May this marriage offer fruit and shade
like the date palm.
May this marriage be full of laughter,
our every day a day in paradise.
May this marriage be a sign of compassion,
a seal of happiness here and hereafter.
May this marriage have a fair face and a good name,
an omen as welcome
as the moon in a clear blue sky.
I am out of words to describe
how spirit mingles in this marriage.


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Finding beauty

I take pleasure in where I live. In the everchanging hills and gentle mountainsides, the annual rhythms of Caretaker Farm, and the way even my own ornamental garden rises and falls. We've chosen to live in a place where takeout food is limited but natural beauty is abundant, and I am thankful for that every day.

Well, I try to be. Lately it's been something of a challenge. Parts of my town (and the two other towns nearest us) have been overrun by tent caterpillars this spring. A single tent caterpillar can be beautiful, furred and soft with an Oriental-rug-like pattern on its back. But once there are thousands of them, I lose access to their beauty pretty quick.

Worse, the caterpillars have devoured my landscape. This is where it gets personal: they've decimated my hillside, eating everything down to the barest hair-thin sticks. Glorious foliage trees several times taller than our house are bare now, along with our new lilac bushes, the wee blueberries we planted last year and nurtured through the winter, and pretty much everything else that ought to be green. It looks surreally like the earliest days of spring. (Here's a shot of a hillside in south Williamstown -- note how the foreground is green, but the ridgeline is bare.)

For days I've been telling myself this isn't such a big deal. They're not actually eating our house. They don't sting or bite. Eventually they will turn into moths and fly away. And everyone I've spoken to tells me there's a good chance that, once the plague is over, the trees will put out leaves again. Our glorious landscape will almost certainly recover from this, probably in a month or two. Even so, the infestation unsettles and saddens me. When the hills are denuded the world feels off-kilter.

Tonight I snapped a few pictures (here and here, not for the faint of of heart!) and took a broom to the door and front steps (I couldn't stand to see our mezuzah obscured). I sprayed the house (probably futilely) with something meant to drive the critters away. And then I took a long hot shower and settled in to davven the evening service, which settled me.

Now there's a thrush calling in the twilight gloaming. I adore the strange spiraling of a thrush call, which is like nothing else in the world. It reminds me that all is not lost.

It's easy for me to take the spectacular natural beauty of our surroundings for granted -- and when something happens to mar that beauty, it's easy for me to feel cheated and depressed. In the days to come I hope I can allow this temporary plague to recede from the forefront of my consciousness. And once our woods come back (God willing!) I hope I will be even more mindful than usual of how fortunate I am to live where I do, surrounded by so many of the beauties of our world.

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A brief sojourn in another world

The trip north took longer than expected. Then there was a metro to be navigated, and a walk to my hotel, and then a slip of paper I clutched all the way down rue St-Denis, looking for a Thai restaurant without a name.

But eventually I made it to dinner, where a chorus of shouts greeted me. Imagine: a dozen blog-friends, from as far afield as Portland (Oregon) and London (England), sitting at table on a terrace in Québec! In short order someone brought me dinner, and a beer, and the evening passed in a flurry of conversation.

Saturday was rainy but we wandered the streets nonetheless. Everywhere we looked there were murals and street art. We walked for hours, and ours were often the only Anglophone voices. We talked about poems and blog posts, travels near and far, the immediate and unmediated world.

When the downpour got too heavy, we sat beneath the awnings of a sidewalk cafe on cobbled streets. We drank strong café au lait and ate maple-sweetened bannock baked in hot coals. In late afternoon some of us found a noodle bar, and then an art museum (I loved Brian Jungen's totemic masks made from Nike sneakers, and his vast and ponderous skeletons made from lawn chairs suspended like undersea behemoths.)

By evening, the downpour had largely ceased. We walked to a pedestrian street and ensconced ourselves at a Greek restaurant, where we drank good wine and talked some more. We toasted our absent companions. Eventually we found our way to yet another coffee bar, where I nursed an enormous bittersweet chocolat chaud. At evening's end we had a group hug in the middle of a sidewalk, so that those returning across the ocean could carry our warmth and good wishes home.

Some of our merry band left early Sunday morning. The rest of us gathered for brunch, which for me meant crépes slathered in béchamel and gruyére, and conversation about wildlife and windmills and art. More hugs, more goodbyes. A ramble through a new bit of town, the park near our friends' house, children and bicyclists and dogs and everywhere the spiralling descent of maple seeds...

Meeting blog-friends is a deep pleasure. Before we meet I'm never sure what I expect voices to sound like, how mannerisms will translate from the screen to embodied life. After only a few minutes, I feel we've known each other for years.

I know we will meet again. Meanwhile, by the time I finish the long train journey back, a few dozen email messages will be waiting to welcome me home.

Edited to add: find other accounts of our meetup here at The Middlewesterner, here at 3rd House Party, and here at Hoarded Ordinaries...

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