Mostly Just Being

Here it is Thursday evening & I am suddenly aware that all week I have been taking a kind of vacation — not “from” the everyday world but in it. Not trying to decipher or explain anything, but simply living where I am.

I’ve spent long stretches of time watching the birds at the two feeders — seeing the individual quirks and always interesting interactions of the many seed eaters, watching the flock of mourning doves who come to pick up spilled kernels from the ground, and noticing that the two female hummingbirds have been coming less often to their feeder. Perhaps now it is just one. I wonder if the hummingbirds are heading south already — but I feel no overwhelming need to “know.” They are doing what they do, and I am privileged to get even such brief glimpses of their lives. One evening, a large red-shouldered hawk roosted for awhile in one of the trees near the bridge before flying off in all his magnificence. Most evenings, we see a small herd of does & fawns grazing on the grassy berm beyond the bridge. This evening a group of deer came up from the woods to graze just outside our window. Several of the fawns were still spotted (younger than I’d expect at this time of year) and still full of mischief, chasing each other and making exploratory forays away from their mothers.

Mary Oliver says it most beautifully:

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

Besides the animals, I have had 2 great Teachers this week.

As always, The Tree — the old one behind our house — continues to encourage me to grow my roots more deeply into this soil and also to grow upwards, becoming (perhaps, some day) strong and firm enough to put forth more generous branches. I am in awe of the gifts of food & sanctuary The Tree offers to squirrels, to birds, to myriad other unseen creatures, to the soil that supports her, and to me — every day.

My other Teacher has been the Shaman figure — the Lady of the Forest — to whom I introduced you last week. When I started her so many years ago, I was fascinated by a knobbly piece of wood with two antlers projecting from one end — fallen from some never-identified tree. Without any plans about where this might go, I made her a head to hold the branching bits & covered it with paper from an old wasps’ nest. I’d gathered several more twigs that could serve as hands. I began to collect shells & other small objects she might like. I vaguely supposed I could make her a body of felt & stuff it with wool. I tried. It didn’t work. I realized she needed some bones, an armature to support her firmly, but — not knowing where to begin — I stuck her safely in the back of my closet. Every so often I took her out to spend time with her ….. but I was never ready to undertake the work required. Easier to stay with the soft fibers that were familiar beneath my fingers. And back into the closet she went.

After our move, she caught my attention in a new way. Somehow one of her antlers had failed to survive the short journey. No problem, I thought. I glued it back together so that the break could be noticed only if one studied it intently. Perfect! ….But…. the glue didn’t hold for more than a day or so. I thought of leaving her with only one antler and one stub [surely there would be a story in that] but she looked back at me fiercely & her will was stronger than mine. This past week I spent day after day, trying to mend the break. At last, I succeeded. The failed attempts had left their marks on the wood. There is now a noticeable scar. But then, if one is alive, there will be marks & scars from various encounters. I certainly have many — visible and invisible — and, after a time, I have become stronger for the encounters — the woundings and the healings. In the Old Way, a shaman’s powers were achieved or deepened by the survival of life-threatening encounters — so it is fitting that the Lady of the Forest bear scars of her encounters with life, including my clumsy fingers. Somehow, the scarring has made her seem more approachable….. I’ve continued our conversation eagerly, with new understanding.

The Lady has made me leave my comfort zone — forcing me to get over my hesitations & just figure out how to work with wire and how to engage short stubby branches — how to help her become the strong and firmly rooted Being that I’ve seen in her all along. Now I must stretch myself again to make clothes for her — not out of my preferred felt or cloth, but out of what she demands.

In keeping with my sense of who she is, I am — except for the purchase of wire — using only the materials I already have on hand. I found two scraps of leather in a drawer. One seemed to be a perfect grey-brown, matching the tones of her head and body (wrapped with yak roving), but it is too small for a dress. The larger piece is too yellow. Fortunately I’d saved a couple of bottles of my walnut dye from last winter. This morning I tried a small bit of the yellowy leather in the dye — and was doubly delighted. Not only did the dye subdue the yellow, but the process let slight variations in the leather’s surface absorb the dye in different ways. Random and subtle and just what I think she would wear — much more appropriate than the unvarying commercially-produced “perfect” color I’d thought was my first choice. A wonderful affirmation of Process — and the source of many smiles & a good reminder of the fun of just playing with what is at hand. [I’m sorry I couldn’t capture the three true colors in a photo. They really are quite different from each other.]

So…….now I have to figure out how to sew the leather. It is soft & pliable, but still thick enough to challenge a needle. Again, the puzzle — and the joy — of working with What Is.

I’ve always tended to fight “limits.” In my writing, I’ve stubbed my toe on and lashed out at the inherent limits of my language. In my weaving days, I spent hours threading a multiharness floor loom in a way that could establish complex patterns…..only to spend most of my weaving time trying to subvert the structure — the limits — of the warp I’d created. [In this, am I a rebel against or a child of the current MonoCulture that insists “Anything” should be possible…?]

In any case I am learning again and again that without form, structure, and limits, there would only be a dreary mishmash of nothing-in-particular. Even Trickster tales — as liberating and paradigm-shattering as they can be — acknowledge the presence of constraints. Oh, I guess I’m ready to explore this knowing again — ready, at last, to accept what this Shaman, the Lady of the Forest, has been waiting so many years to teach me.

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