This I Believe: Ann Bushnell (1967-68)

According to the rules of the game, I am supposed to tell you what I believe.  After several weeks of pondering this question at odd hours of the day and night, I think it would be a lot easier to tell you what I don’t believe.  But the mere fact of my being up here at all pretty much tells you that.  Also, there are enough charges floating around that the Unitarian Church is based on negative attitudes without my adding to them.

So, to what conclusions did I come?  I wondered if, in light of Charles Grady’s sermon the week before Easter, I had had any peak experiences from living dangerously that would qualify me as being religious.  I guess I haven’t lived very dangerously and the only experience that came to mind was when I once tried to climb a mountain with a hiking club.  I made it to the top looking at everybody else’s shoe soles all the way up.  The only danger was in collapsing from exhaustion before I could enjoy the view and the end result was a painful case of downhill knees from trying to keep up with the others on the way back.

In retrospect, I think if I had undertaken that mountain at my own speed with companions as unaccustomed to uphill trudging as myself and if we had paused often enough to enjoy the living things, both plants and animals, to be seen on the way, that small Adirondack peak would loom much larger in my memory as a precious experience.

And from this, I come to the conclusion that what is important or “religious” to me are the small things, the everyday pleasures of life – but to be more specific than that – the things associated with the cycles of life and growth.  I suspect this is a very feminine viewpoint but that is as it should be.

To illustrate:  I find it exhilarating to walk in open fields or woods or along country roads just looking at all the things to be seen there.  I am a bird-watcher and a plant-watcher.  You know, it’s nice to be both; if the birds prove too elusive, the plants at least stay put.  I chafe if the weather is so bad that I cannot get out and walk about the yard to see what progress the plants are making and cheer them on to greater efforts.  I think if there is anything to reincarnation, I must have once been a Druid.  I hope I sacrificed no one and confined my activities to tree worship.

I love to see things grow and garden mightily indoors and out.  Even the growth of the yeast in the dough under my hands when I bake bread is a pleasure.  The small changes in my children are nice – most of them.  A particularly memorable incident was watching my five-year-old walking in the rain under the trees in her yellow raincoat, umbrella dragging on the ground and face upturned.  The cycle has come all the way around; I used to walk in the rain that way too when I was little.

Sometimes in the dead hours of the night, I produce an occasional light poem, brought on I suspect by too much coffee but very gratifying to me when it comes properly.

Well, you say to yourselves, it is obvious that she is a garden-variety housewife/nature-nut.  Furthermore, she is a loner, she hasn’t said anything about people or about church either.  Why does she need a church if she can go out and moon about the countryside with such satisfaction?

And, of course, the key word here is people.  Lectures and/or sermons can be had most anywhere, which is not to say that I don’t appreciate the good ones here.  Music is everywhere.  But this collection of people isn’t everywhere.  So, to me, the church is people – part of my community.  At its best, it is a place to come to recharge my spiritual batteries since I know that others are here for the same purpose.  Coming to church helps me keep my values in the proper perspective and gives a necessary focus to the week.

It still sounds like all give and no take; there has been heavy emphasis on the pronoun “I” up to now.  Is the church only a place to come to get things?  No, not for me; I get nothing without giving and my family, the outdoors, the community and the church become more meaningful to me in direct ratio to the time and attention I give them.  This is an obvious statement but one which needs saying every so often.  So, the Unitarian church represents a certain necessary balance in my life.

Also, I want to be part of the growth that I admire in other things and the church helps me – sometimes makes me expand my viewpoints on the world and the people close to me.  I value this highly.

To finish, I would like to read two of my middle-of-the-night poems.  The first, written in 1966, talks about what is lost when a person counts only what is important to himself and is not aware of what is important to other people.  It is called “Census.”


The farmer goes to count his trees.

“I’ve got some good hard cash in these,”

he thinks, and plans to call the men

to come who’ll cut and harvest them.


While coming homeward from the wood,

a hunter asks him if he could

hunt for squirrels; has he seen many?

Farmer says, “No, I don’t think any


but go ahead and bang away

I expect it will take all the day

to count just one.”  Yet in an hour

he comes with four, says “Thank you, sir.”


Then two ladies from the Audubon

ask if they can wander on

his property and he says, “Sure,

so long as you don’t build a fire.”


And later, “Well now, what’d you see?

A rooster up a maple tree?”

They smile.  “No, nothing quite like that.”

He grins and tips his farmer’s hat.


And when the counting day is through,

the hunter fixes squirrel stew;

the ladies talk of chickadees

the farmer thinks about his trees.


The second, which has no title (perhaps someone will think of a good one for me) has been germinating some weeks but finally jelled just two days ago.


A half-built house is best,

standing straight in its framing;

casting hardly more shadow

than did the aspen grove

and blackberry tangle it replaced.


It faces neither east nor west

but gathers in all the winds

pitching its pine bones whichever

way the sky intends.


Children know it is half-grown

like themselves.  They come to swing

on rafters, climb the new earth hills

and, flinging their feet up,

hang head down from the stairs

hair swinging.


But, after all, it’s adult-owned.

Soon the windows carry glass

and plaster covers pine.

At last the roof is on, the secrets pass.

Finished, it crouches on new grass.


I hope, unlike the house, that I never get completely finished.