By Joyce and Barry Vissell
I want to share a poem I wrote on one of my solo adventures in the wilderness, this time on the Owyhee River in the remote high desert canyon country in southeast Oregon. Some people are concerned about me, now at age 74, going off into some of the most remote areas of the western U.S., all alone, not seeing another soul for days. Yes, it’s true, any number of bad things can happen, from badly spraining my ankle on land, to an accident on the river. And yes, I’m prepared for most scenarios. And I’m extremely careful, not taking any unnecessary risks. Because the consequences for mistakes are higher with no one around to help, I do two things: I pay closer attention to every action, every rock on the river, every step I take on land. And second, I ask for spiritual help and guidance.
Day after day, I sink deeper into peace, absorbing all the many gifts nature has to offer. I sing more than ever. I write in my journal, sometimes composing songs. I talk with God and the angels, and try my best to hear their message for my life.
Sometimes Joyce goes with me, and this is wonderful. She brings to the trip her namesake, joy, lifting my spirits with deep conversation, laughter, and delicious intimacy. But she has a limit for how often she is willing to go on these adventures, and I understand. She would much rather go on a vacation to Hana, Hawaii, where we stay in a small cottage right next to the ocean. Or going on an adventure in our truck camper.
I thoroughly enjoy being with Joyce anywhere. And, in the summer, she understands my need for a few solo adventures.
My poem is inspired by Saint Francis’ famous poem, “The Canticle of the Creatures.” His poem was written in an Umbrian dialect of Italian, and is believed to be among the first works of literature written in the Italian language, instead of Latin, the language of the church. Saint Francis was radical for his intimate relationship with all of nature, singing to “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” and to all of creation. He is said to have composed most of the canticle in late 1224 while recovering from an illness at San Damiano, in a small cottage that had been built for him by Saint Clare and other women of her Order of Poor Ladies. According to tradition, the first time it was sung in its entirety was by Francis and Brothers Angelo and Leo, two of his original companions, on Francis' deathbed, the final verse praising "Sister Death" having been added only a few minutes before.
My poem is about the relationship between Sister River and Brother Rock, but as you will see, it’s about the relationship between Joyce and me, and all relationships:
Bless you, Sister River, you who are unstoppable.
Thank you for carrying me safely through your turbulence,
Between and over Brother Rock.
Thank you for your times of tranquility
Where I can smoothly glide in silent contemplation
And wonder at the beauty that you sustain on your shores.
Bless you, Brother Rock, you who are sometimes majestic in your grandeur
Towering high above Sister River and blocking Brother Sun for many hours.
Yet the pebbles, even the grains of sand, contain the essence of your greatness
Just like a redwood seed contains the essence of the mighty tree
Or each human being contains the spark of God.
Thank you for letting me pass around or over you on Sister River.
Thank you for your hardness and strength
standing your ground to encourage Sister River to change her course.
But thank you also for your vulnerability, yielding to Sister River
Letting her break you down into more humble pieces
Even though it may take eons
Thank you for letting her lead the way.
And thank you, Sister River, for shaping Brother Rock
For polishing his hard edges
Transforming him into a thing of beauty
With sheer vertical faces
Or the smooth rounded boulders living under you
Even the grains of sand shimmering with the light of Brother Sun or Sister Moon
Thank you, Sister River, for your never-ending dance
Mostly following the lead of Brother Rock
But sometimes leading him
When he steps too much on your toes.
And thank you, Brother Rock, for your stillness
Your own motionless dance.
Not completely motionless
For in yielding to Sister River
You slowly shrink in physical size
But grow in beauty as well.
And thank you, Sister River and Brother Rock
For sustaining other life forms
The birds who nest in your massive cliffs
The fish who swim in your changing currents
The agile mountain goats who clamber down your body, Brother Rock
To drink deeply from your body, Sister River
Who get divinely inspired and nurtured
By each visit to your heavenly, primeval home.
Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are passionate about conscious relationship and personal-spiritual growth. They are the authors of 9 books. Call 831-684-2299 for further information on counseling sessions by phone, on-line, or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at SharedHeart.org for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.