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Reflections: Thoughts and Images Bending Back

This morning, the late winter sky and trees formed a reflection in my coffee. It was the second reflection that I consciously noticed this week. It was much smaller than the other reflection, which was framed by an entire landscape. I was at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens at the entrance to the Japanese Garden path, which skirts one side of a pond. As I looked across the pond toward the mansion, the calm water was reflecting a field of brilliant daffodils and the mansion beyond.

The view reminded me that one of the fascinating facts about Cheekwood mansion is the way that every view from the house was made to either see or hear water in the form of a pond or stream or fountain or reflecting pool. Last fall I took a group tour of the mansion, and as we stood on a side porch under a wisteria arbor, we could look down on a rectangular pool flanked by stone benches and statues of muses. Our guide called it the reflecting pool.

“Because it reflects the hills and trees and sky?” I asked, enjoying the landscape and skyscape mirrored in the water.

“Because it’s meant to be a place to sit and reflect,” said our guide.

Ah. I hadn’t thought of that. But I realized that both meanings were true. The pool obviously reflected its surroundings, but it was also peaceful and quiet, a perfect place for reflection of a different kind.

So I’ve been reflecting on reflection. I had never connected the two definitions before, but they both relate to their Latin origin, reflectere. Flectere means “to bend.” (Think flex. Or flexible.) Reflectere means “to bend back.” Energy – in the form of light, heat, sound, and even radio waves – bends back after hitting a surface. It returns in what we experience as a reflection.

Reflect also means “to think quietly and calmly.” When our minds reflect, we keep our thoughts to ourselves, thinking them and then letting them bounce back to us so we can think them again, maybe refining them as we do. Or we join them to other thoughts and let those reflect as well. Here in the South, we often call it pondering, which comes from Latin pondus, meaning weight (as in pound). Ponder means “to weigh in the mind.” We reflect in order to weigh our choices. We reflect in order to figure out what we believe. We weigh our thoughts.

Reflecting and pondering are essential to the process of creativity. A joke among writers is that we spend a lot of time sitting around staring into space and get to call it work. Most of the time, it actually is work. Film producer Samuel Goldwyn said, “If I look confused, it’s because I’m thinking.”

Shakespeare must have done a lot of reflecting in order to create his plays and sonnets. In one of his sonnets, he tells us what else he reflected on:

“[T]o the sessions of sweet silent thought

I summon up remembrance of things past.”

Sonnet 30 – 


Reflecting can also be a type of prayer. Dramatist G.E. Lessing wrote, “One single grateful thought raised to heaven is the most perfect prayer.”

Reflecting to create.

Reflecting to remember.

Reflecting to weigh our choices.

Reflecting to figure out what we believe.

Reflecting to pray.

Five reasons to reflect.

And then there’s a sixth, which circles back to literal reflections, like the sky and wooded hills reflected in the ponds and pools at Cheekwood. We can reflect to enjoy nature. Reflecting is a way to wonder and enjoy the beauty of the world. Noticing and admiring reflections – in a window, a coffee cup, or a pond – enriches the spirit.

“The whole moon and the entire sky are reflected in dewdrops on the grass, or even in one drop of water.” – Dogen Kigen


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Text and photos © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.


The Moon and the Mind’s Eye


“A photograph is a secret about a secret.

The more it tells you, the less you know.”

Patricia Bosworth

One day last week when the moon was full, I rose at dawn and happened to glance out my bedside window. There, cradled in the bare branches of a hackberry tree, was the moon, big and round and bright. Of course, it was not really cradled by branches but was setting in the west even as the sun was rising in the east. But the moon looked for a moment as if it had been snagged in the branches, held so close that I could see its craters and “seas.” Awestruck by the beauty and wonder of the moment, I grabbed my camera and took several pictures as the moon slipped through the branches and sank beyond my view.


But when I looked at the photographs I had taken, I was disappointed. The moon showed up big and round and bright beyond the silhouette of branches, but its brightness had overwhelmed the craters. None of them were visible. I had to go back to my mind’s eye to see the image I had wanted to capture. But I did just that. I held the image in my mind, in my spirit, in my heart. I kept the moon, craters and all, framed in that window, in those branches, big and bright and round at dawn. I couldn’t share the photograph as I actually saw it, so I kept its full beauty as a gift presented only to me in the early hours of dawn.

Ours is a sharing society. With social media, it’s easy to instantly post thoughts and opinions, questions and advice, and photos of friends, families, and meals. (I did, in fact, post the photograph of the full moon that I took that morning – it’s the one you see above.) In fact, some of us were taught to share whatever we have, so there may be a feeling of obligation involved. In other words, we may feel that it’s not right to keep the joy of this moment to myself. But the full moon that morning taught me that some gifts of wonder are private.

Some moments are meant just for you, not to be shared but to be treasured in your heart as a secret gift. The scent of a hyacinth, the flavor of a berry, the call of a cardinal, the texture of a clean sheet, the sight of a dandelion growing in a crack in the sidewalk, a glistening raindrop on the knife-edge of a leaf, a heart-shaped shadow – something about it catches your attention for a second, enters your senses, and nourishes your spirit. No photograph required. No sharing necessary. It’s your treasure, meant to enrich your soul.

As I discovered with the full moon at dawn last week, we can frame moments like these and let that one sight or sound or scent feed our soul for the day. We can return to that moment, revive it, and rest in it when we’re starting to become stressed. We can pause for a moment and wonder again at the generosity of such a gift. And we can be grateful.

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Text and grass and moon photos © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Heart and blueberry photos courtesy pexels.com.


When Life is a New Song


“Let us sing a new song not with our lips but with our lives.”

– Saint Augustine –

Does it ever seem to you that your life sometimes has a Word for the Day or a Theme of the Week? My theme for this week seems to be the word new.

New, as in reappearing. Like the wild violets that cover my yard in the spring. A new one appeared this week, tipped with droplets of rainwater that sparkled in the sunlight. Nature is moving into a new season.

New, as in existing for the first time. Like the paintings that I plan to create in art class this week, expressions of my soul that have never been seen before.

New, as in unfamiliar. Like the information that I’ll learn this month about flowers and trees and trails at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens as I prepare to be a docent.

New, as in different from the usual. Like the schedule that I’ll begin this week, taking care of my grandson on the days that my daughter-in-law works at her new job.

New, as in starting over. As I will do tomorrow morning and the next morning and the next morning . . . beginning again and again for the rest of my life.

New. It’s a word of wonder. And possibility. And hope.

“New,” says Augustine. “Let us sing a new song. With our lives.” Yard work, cooking, cleaning, desk work, commuting, shopping, studying, exercising, playing, eating, laughing, crying . . .

What’s new for you? What has never existed before until now? What is fresh? What is unfamiliar? What returns again and again like the new moon? What holds wonder and possibility and hope for you?

Let life be the song. Let us live andante (at a walking pace), allegro (cheerful, brisk, lively, fast), pianissimo (quietly), and forté (loud). All our lives together will be more than just a song. We’ll be a symphony.


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Text and flower photos © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Bird photo courtesy pexels.com.


A Yard Full of Yes


This week my yard bloomed with daffodils. As I admired one – thinking of how it reminded me of a little dancer dressed in sunny yellow – I realized that my yellow daffodils are the exact color of yes.

That may sound strange, but in my mind, some words have colors – which makes a bit of sense if the word represents something that already comes in a traditional color, like grass, which is, yes, green. (Although I know logically that grass is sometimes brown and even when it’s green, it can range anywhere from yellow-green to forest green to nearly blue. My word grass appears in yellowish green, which is hardly original.) But when a word does not have a traditional color, my mind may automatically give it a color. Like numbers: one is baby blue, two is pink, three is yellow, four is green, five is red, six is blue, seven is violet, eight is orange, nine is black. Then there are words like play (lavender) or hope (bluish white) or dinner (dark brown).

So I have a yard full of yes. Which is delightful. Yes is an open door, an open window, open arms, an invitation. Creativity and discovery appear with yes. Yes can set us free.

Yes can be soul-warming. At church, when we celebrate the eucharist – or communion or Lord’s supper as some call it – I tear off a bit of bread, and I’m told, “Christ’s body broken for you.” I dip the bread into wine, and I’m told, “The cup of salvation for you.” As I place the wine-dipped bread into my mouth, I think, “And this is my YES.” I accept, I receive this gift. Yes is a warm, open word.

I do have to admit that in my daily whirl of events, I often add an ochre tint to my bright, hopeful, yellow yes. It comes in the form of the word but. Yes, but . . . my thoughts say. Which slides the whole phrase toward the gray of worry. Worry tilts toward no and often overlooks the yes in my hand. Yes, but I might fail. Yes, but someone might not like it. Yes, but it might be too late or too hard or too risky.

I realize that there is a place and time for no. (Which, btw, is midnight purple.) My one-year-old grandson is learning some important no’s. No, that’s too hot to touch. No, you can’t pull the cat’s tail. No, scissors are not to play with. Of course, the truth is that no is not just for children. A lot of adults are learning the importance of no right now. No can be good. Strangely enough, a good, solid no at the right time can also set us free.

But there’s that yes on the flip side. No, you can’t touch that, but you can touch this. No, you can’t pull the cat’s tail, but you can stroke her gently. No, you can’t use the scissors right now, but you can when you’re older. As for playing with scissors, some day in art class, you might discover that they’re exactly what you need for play.

So I have an abundance of colorful words available to me. But for this week, this day, this moment, I’m going with a yard full of bright yellow yes.

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Text and photos © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Window photo courtesy pexels.com.



The Curious Case of Lost Opposites


“We are walking lexicons. In a single sentence of idle chatter

we preserve Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Norse;

we carry a museum inside our heads,

each day we commemorate peoples of whom we have never heard.”

Penelope Lively

Since you’re a walking lexicon: What’s the opposite of immediate? What’s the opposite of ruthless? What’s the opposite of exhume? If you answered with words like eventual, caring, or bury, you’d be right – in today’s world. But if you had lived back in the 1400’s – or even the 1800’s – your answer might have been different. And if you’re a word lover like me, well . . .

While doing research this week, I discovered that some common English words have lost their original opposites – or we rarely use them. Consider these curious opposites.

immediate – mediate

ruthless – ruthful

exhume – inhume

inclement – clement

inevitable – evitable

emancipate – mancipate

invincible – vincible

inalienable – alienable

impervious – pervious

accommodate – discommodate

impeccable – peccable

income – outgo

ungainly – gainly


So . . . may your way be gainly, your weather clement, and your income greater than your outgo.

I’ll leave you with this to chew on:

“The opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s certainty.”

Richard Holloway

In English Through the Ages, you can find these and other long-lost English words and discover when many of our words were first used.

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Text © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Photos courtesy pexels.com.


A Valentine: Do You Know How Beautiful You Are?

It had been a whirlwind of a day, long and busy, but I made it to my art class a bit ahead of time. Still, everyone else had already gathered in the next room. I could hear them talking and laughing, and as I took off my coat, I paused, struck by the unique tone of each voice. They were all speaking, all laughing in a lovely symphony. And just as I’ve sometimes picked out the sounds of specific instruments in a symphony, I could pick out each one of my friends’ voices. I knew exactly who was commenting, who was agreeing, who was questioning, who was groaning, who was chuckling. I wondered if they knew how beautiful each of their voices was. And how beautiful they sounded in conversation together.

Do you know how uniquely beautiful you are?

You are a poem.

You are a symphony.

You are a tree growing through the changes of each season.

You are seasons.

You are the path someone follows.

You are the footsteps.

You are a freshet, a river, an ocean.

You are tidal.

You are a story, an epic adventure.

You are a gatehouse, a shelter, an archive.

You are a garden,

a sculpture,

a masterpiece,

a drama,

a comedy,

a hope,

a treasure.

You are a miracle, the grandest of magic.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Text and photos © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.


Some Things Are Best the First Time Around

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly;

what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Each week on Thursday and Friday, I take care of my 14-month-old grandson while his mom and dad are at work. On those days our schedule includes, of course, nap time in Mimi’s (that’s me) big bed. It just so happens that my bedroom is where I hang many of the paintings I create in the art class I attend. Most of them are abstracts. I shift them around each week, taking the older ones down and adding the new ones so that I can reflect on them to see what I enjoy about them, what I don’t, and what I might do next time I paint. I’ve hung so many paintings now that some of them are only about three feet off the floor.

Back to my grandson. Every week, he naps in my room, but he has never paid any attention to the paintings. Until last week. When he got up from his nap, he stared at one of the lower paintings and, never taking his eyes off of it, slowly walked to the wall and stretched out his hand toward the painting. The only way I can describe how he looked is “reverence.”

“That’s a painting,” I said. “You can touch it.” And he did. Gently.

“Reverence” is not a word we use often. It comes from the Latin revereri, to fear in the sense of respect. Vereri is where our word “wary” comes from. Vereri moved into Old English as waer, which meant careful, aware, or wary, akin to Old High German giwar, aware or attentive. All that comes from a bit of research in Webster’s, which defines “reverence” as profound, adoring, awed respect.

Profound, adoring, awed respect. That’s what I saw in my grandson as he experienced an abstract painting for the first time. Which made me think about how we adults might try to regain some of that same awe ourselves, looking at the world as if seeing it for the first time. If you were tasting toast for the first time, how would you describe it? If this were your first time to see a tree or smell a rose, how would you react?

I remember getting glasses for the first time – I think I was in the fourth grade. For months before I got glasses, my vision had been blurred. When I walked out of the eye doctor’s office with my glasses, I was awed at how each leaf on the tree outside was so distinct. For years, I had to wear glasses or contacts to see anything farther than a few feet away. Then I got my vision corrected with laser surgery. Looking around for the first time without glasses or contacts was amazing. Waking up in the morning, looking out my bedroom window and actually seeing the trees, I felt profound, awed appreciation. Reverence.

We so often go through our world with our minds on the past or the future – or the screen in our hand – and we miss the wonder of the world around us. Can I tell a redbud from a goldenraintree from a contorted fig? Did I know there are red-violet shamrocks that fold up at night, or did I think the St. Patrick’s Day green shamrocks were the only ones? Did I know that there’s such a thing as blue poppies? There is, and they are amazingly beautiful.

Maybe part of the joy of wine-tasting, coffee-tasting, cheese-tasting is that we get to try something new for the first time. We try new foods or a new combination of flavors at a restaurant. Or we listen to a new song. Or witness an eclipse or see a falling star or watch a full moon rise. And if we stay aware, we may feel reverence.

Some things are just best the first time around, but if we can pause and see as if for the first time, maybe we can bring back the wonder. And, yes, even reverence. That’s why it’s a privilege to share firsts with a child. Because sometimes the best view is through a child’s eyes. (Also, it doesn’t hurt to have a good nap after lunch.)


“The only real voyage of discovery consists

not in seeking new landscapes

but in having new eyes.”

Marcel Proust


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Text, paintings, and photos © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.


How to Breathe Your Way to Peace


“Worry is a cycle of inefficient thoughts

whirling around a center of fear.”

– Corrie Ten Boom –

In the art class I attend, before we create, we gather to breathe deeply. Our goal is to let go of the chaos, confusion, pressure, and stress of the week and, as much as possible, settle into a calm place. We try to set our minds and hearts and intentions on allowing our souls to find free expression in our art.

Usually I picture letting go of my worries and stress by exhaling all that’s tense and negative within me and inhaling a calm, fresh start. But this week, we gave our breathing ritual a bit of a twist. We focused on inhaling chaos and exhaling calm. We became change agents, transforming the clashing noise of the world around us into a calm harmony that we then breathed out into the world.

All week I’ve thought of how, like a purifier, we can filter out the negative and pour the positive back into the world. In the Bible, the apostle Paul wrote, “[W]hatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. . .  And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8)

And the God of peace will be with you.

Peace. Inhale, exhale. We hear lies and deceit but refuse to let them lodge in our souls. Instead, we counter them with integrity and breathe out into the world what is true. We see the ignoble and dishonorable raise its head, but we refuse to embrace it. Instead, we counter it with what’s honorable and breathe out into the world what’s noble. We inhale what’s tainted with wrong, distill it, and exhale what’s right. We take in what’s sloppy or mediocre, let it evaporate, and breathe out what’s excellent. We see what’s shameful but refuse to give it a home in our hearts. Instead, we give back what’s worthy of praise.

“To fear is one thing.

To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another.”

Katherine Paterson

Inhale, exhale. Peace.

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Text © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Photos courtesy pexels.com.


Where Do You Feel Most Welcome?

Did you ever want to step into a painting? Or into an illustration in a book? When I was a growing up, book illustrations could draw me in until I could almost smell the forest, hear the waves, or feel the breeze. I could imagine myself in the setting, a staging ground for adventures to come.

I had that same experience Thursday night in the art class I attend. One of my friends painted a large mural of abstract brown, green, and blue sections overlaid with a forest of bare trees. As I studied her painting, I found myself wanting to walk into it, to hike over the abstract hills and find out where the adventure would take me. The word that came to mind was welcome. The painting welcomed me. It invited me in.

That word – welcome – winked at me again from one of Mary Oliver’s essays in Upstream. She says, “There is a rumor of total welcome among the frosts of the winter morning.” Again, I saw bare trees, this time sparked with frost. I actually didn’t have to imagine it. I could just look out my windows and see the real thing.

Sometimes I think of my windows as ever-changing paintings, framing nature and the comings-and-goings of my community. In the snow and ice and bitter cold of last week, those comings-and-goings were minimal. My community is not accustomed to – or prepared for – a thick blanket of ice and snow, whereas my Norwegian daughter-in-law grew up where winter was an invitation to put on boots or skis and to enjoy the outdoors.

I, on the other hand, grew up in West Texas, where most of the year is warm, even hot. We did have “blue northers” blow in during the colder months. I remember crossing my college campus head down against a wind so strong and icy that it felt as if it might cut right through me. Years later, I studied for my master’s degree in Vermont. The January that I graduated, snowdrifts piled up as high as West Texas hills, icicles were as big around as my upper arm and hung from roof almost to the ground. My friends and I crossed the quad with every inch of ourselves – except our eyes – bundled in multiple layers, braving the steel-cold air to get to the dining hall.

As good poets often do, Mary Oliver gives a new slant to the chilly winter landscape. Welcome. I tend to think of spring as the welcoming season. But Mary Oliver invites me into winter. This week, a friend said that she loves winter-bare trees, because they reveal their true shape, their curves and angles. I enjoy the patterns they make silhouetted against the sky. Lace. Lattice. The branches catch the splash of sunrise and the glow of sunset. And yes, the frost. “There is a rumor of total welcome among the frosts of the winter morning.”

Welcome comes from two Old English words: will, meaning want or desire, plus cuman, meaning to come. I will you to come. So welcome is not an off-handed, “We’re open; feel free to enter,” but an earnest, “Come in! You are wanted here.”

In every age, there are people who say, in essence, “We welcome only people who are like us,” meaning like us in social status or race or political views or religious beliefs. Or all the above. Sometimes before we welcome people, we require them to change to suit us. But that’s backward. Change doesn’t work that way. We welcome people first, and then change begins . . . perhaps in us as well. Because each of us has something the other needs. But we’ll never discover it without welcome.

Total welcome, writes Mary Oliver of the winter frost. Is nature the only place we can find total welcome? Where do you most feel welcome? It’s a great treasure. How can you extend that treasure to family, friends, and the people you meet each day? How can you welcome those who need it most?


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Text and photos of windows and trees © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Other photos courtesy pexels.com.


Winter’s Secret

I felt Spring this week. It sounds strange to say that after a week of record-breaking cold temperatures over a large part of the U.S. In fact, today we are below freezing and snowbound. At the moment, the sun is out, making the ice-coated tree branches sparkle as if they’re wearing diamonds. Maybe it was the bitter cold earlier in the week that led to the touch of spring I felt as weather warmed into the 60’s for a couple of days. On one of those cool-warm mornings, I stepped outside to feed the birds and, dog-like, lifted my nose to sniff the breeze. And I caught the scent of spring.

Of course, I’m too experienced with this touch-and-go weather of spring in midwinter, to think that spring is actually upon us. No, it’s just teasing us, weeks away from settling in. Still, spring is coming, and the hope, the anticipation, gave me a deep, satisfied breath. Winter was whispering its secret: “I’m not here to stay.”

For some reason, when the year tiptoes toward spring, I remember poems read to me in my childhood from a set of orange Childcraft books. Actually, it’s the illustrations that I remember first and then the words and how I felt taking it all in. I’m not even sure I can describe the feelings – warmth, peace, serenity, possibility, hope, goodness. It’s a feeling of there’s-a-whole-big-beautiful-world-out-there-for-me-to-experience. Maybe it’s the feeling of wonder.

“Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,

A frosty, fiery sleep-head;

Blinks but an hour or two; and then,

A blood-red orange, sets again.”

Robert Louis Stevenson, “Wintertime” –

“In winter I get up at night

And dress by yellow candle light.

In summer, quite the other way, –

I have to go to bed by day.”

Robert Louis Stevenson, “Bed in Summer” –

Winter can be disheartening. Short days and long nights and bare trees and brown grass and flu and staying indoors can make us feel downright gloomy. Winter can be a hard season to thrive in.

I wonder if the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley felt the same way. In “Ode to the West Wind,” he wrote,

“O, Wind,

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”

And in “The Question,” he said,

“I dreamed that, as I wandered by the way,

Bare Winter suddenly was changed to Spring.”

But, then, it was a dream. When Shelley woke up, the wind still blew cold and the trees were still bare. And yet, the dream also reminded him that spring would return.

“Imitate the trees,” wrote May Sarton in Journal of a Solitude. “Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember that nothing stays the same for long, not even pain, psychic pain. Sit it out. Let it all pass. Let it go.”

I’m grateful for the weather’s foreshadowing of spring when winter warms a bit. I’m grateful for the supermarket where, year-round, I can find the taste of spring in the produce section (ah, blueberries!) and where I can stroll through a garden of fresh flowers in the floral section (Gerbera daisies! Roses! Lilies!). I’m grateful for the feeling of eternal hope and possibility that return with childhood poems. Midwinter, I’m grateful for the scent of spring.

Albert Camus wrote, “In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.

Yes . . . but for me, it would be “an invincible spring.”

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Text, winter photos, and white bloom photo © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Candle photo courtesy pexels.com.