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.

Wildness: Both Turbulent & Still

This week I have been living in two very different but equally Wild places.

Two books I’ve been reading concurrently have tossed me into turbulent cascades of Wild energy:

In The Eye of the Wild, the French anthropologist Nastassja Martin recounts her interaction with a bear — violent on both sides — in the Siberian wilderness of Kamchatka & her struggles to recover and to come to terms with what had happened. Her journey is slow and painful — physically and mentally. Martin has lived with both the Gwich’in people of Alaska & the Even people of Kamchatka — peoples who dwell in areas where climate and culture are undergoing rapid changes. She has been particularly on Animism. Now she must learn for herself what that intimate near-death encounter with a bear meant, how it is to be — as the Even say — medka, half-human/half-bear.

The Man Who Could Move Clouds: A Memoir was written by a woman who grew up, amid the violence of Colombia in the 1980s and 90s, in a Mestizo family — a people who experience daily a life of inbetween, being neither fully Indigenous nor fully white. Having a grandfather who was a well-known curandero — a healer knowing the old secrets — Ingrid Rojas Contreras found her family to be set apart in still other ways. As an adult in the U.S., an accident leaves her with an extended bout of amnesia — a condition that, she learns, was experienced by her mother as a child. As she tells of her own experience of amnesia and as she digs deeper into the stories of her family’s past, Rojas Contreras reveals the complex cultural & personal legacies that shape her sense of reality.

Both books are true stories of metamorphosis and becoming, shape-shifting and transformation, stories in which Wild energies are freed & allowed to have their say in the unfolding narratives.

And then, yesterday, Audrey di Mola’s energetic & enlivening retelling of the story of King Arthur, Sir Gawain, and Dame Ragnelle (aka “The Loathly Lady”). Here we meet Ragnelle not merely as some unimaginably ugly hag, but as the feminine embodiment of the Wild & Shape-Shifting natural (more-than-human) world — an energy that demands sovereignty, agency, its own right to choose.

So….. books & story — written and spoken words dancing with and through overwhelming waves of primal energy, swirling movements, volcanic encounters between humans and the Wild.

But also this week, I’ve known many moment of deep Stillness. As T.S. Eliot has written:

"At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
 Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
 But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
 Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
 Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
 There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
 I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
 And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
 The inner freedom from the practical desire,
 The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
 And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
 By a grace of sense...."                      

This Stillness, too, is a doorway to the Wild — Becoming so still that the birds at the feeder ignore my gradual approach. And with the evening deer by the bridge, becoming so still that even my rather excitable & frequently vocal little dog, after one low growl, sat quietly my side while the deer noted our presence but did not startle, cautiously returning to their grazing, then slowly gliding into the band of trees by the creek. This Stillness is a good place — less flamboyant & exuberant than the worlds I glimpsed this week through language & Story, but just as Wild, just as far from the constricting and life-sapping beliefs of the prevailing colonial-consumerist-capitalist-technocratic culture that now dominates more & more of the human world.

My making this week has followed two similar, seemingly divergent paths. On the one hand, the quiet contemplation of various ways to felt a leaf; on the other, a return to a wild making I began and abandoned nearly a dozen years ago:

I’m curious about what energies I will encounter or bring into being next week, about how I will live more & more into the Wildness of this life.

P.S. When my son read my mention of Stillness in the blog this morning, he said it reminded him of something that happened when he was about 10 years old. And oh yes! It is a perfect example of Stillness! He and I were on a rafting trip in southern Utah. The other passengers were a family with two children about his age. When we stopped to camp, the other children spotted small lizards & began trying to catch them. My son just stood still and watched. He was very, very Still…. and soon a little lizard ran up his leg and sat quietly on his shoulder. I remember the lizard staying there for a long long time … but who can discern time in the midst of such Stillness? It was a timeless moment filled with Beauty. My son named the lizard Turquoise. And Turquoise has remained with us.

LIFE IN AN EXPANDING UNIVERSE by Pattiann Rogers.

"It's not only all those cosmic
 pinwheels with their charging solar
 luminosities, the way they spin around
 like the paper kind tacked to a tree trunk,
 the way they expel matter and light
 like fields of dandelions throwing off
 waves of summer sparks in the wind,
 the way they speed outward,
 receding, creating new distances
 simply by soaring into them.

 But it's also how the noisy
 crow enlarges the territory
 above the landscape at dawn, making
 new multiple canyon spires in the sky
 by the sharp towers and ledges
 of its calling; and how the bighorn
 expand the alpine meadow by repeating
 inside their watching eyes every foil
 of columbine and bell rue, all
 the stretches of sedges, the candescences
 of jagged slopes and crevices existing there.

 And though there isn't a method
 to measure it yet, by finding
 a golden-banded skipper on a buttonbush,
 by seeing a blue whiptail streak
 through desert scrub, by looking up
 one night and imagining the fleeing
 motions of stars themselves, I know
 my presence must swell one flutter-width
 wider, accelerate one lizard-slip farther,
 descend many stellar-fathoms deeper
 than it ever was before."

Beyond Adventure

Again and again I am amazed by the world’s beauty — this week, this day — and every week, every day.

Since I last wrote to you — Deer. Once 2 does & 3 fawns grazing just outside our backdoor. Another time, 7 or 8 deer grazing on a nearby hill. Wary of our presence, they moved back towards the woods — the does hurrying a bit with an air of concern but their fawns leaping & leaping, obviously delighting in the recently discovered magic of muscles, sinew and bones. And I, too, enchanted, delighted by their delight.

I put up 2 bird feeders behind the house & soon the birds began to come. First, one female hummingbird and then at least one other have become frequent visitors to the nectar. Then other feeder — chickadees, goldfinches, titmice, and some sort of sparrow-like bird with a lovely rusty-rose breast. More magic as they perch on the feeder & then flit off into the trees and out of my sight.

On Tuesday we had just begun to eat dinner in the communal courtyard when a welcome rainstorm sent us back inside. Just as we got up to go out afterwards, I saw sunlight slanting through from the west, washing the tops of the buildings with gold. Stepping through the door, we were astonished by a beautiful double rainbow. What a gift! The 4 of us just came to a standstill. Colors so strong & vibrant [unlike those in these photos]! We gawked and marveled at the magic. I felt drenched through and through by the liquid colors & light. I didn’t even think of putting a lens between my eye & such glory. Cris did take a picture, so I can share it with you. Let your imagination fill in the colors & light that the lens could not capture. When we’d walked home, I did want to take an image of the rainbow with The Tree, but by then the inner rainbow was fading & the outer one dimmed to a glimmer so faint that I would have missed it if I hadn’t known it was there.

But isn’t its very evanescence part of the magical beauty of a rainbow? Its appearance and disappearance as light & moisture & our perspectives change…

I love the way something can flicker in & out of the range of my senses — rainbows, leaping deer, birds alighting then gone in a moment. None of this beauty can be captured or contained. Like the big spiderweb that appeared one morning in the corner of our back porch: I was standing there, just loving The Tree and the woods (full of their own invisible-to-me treasures), when something flickered in the corner of my vision. I turned to see, but there was nothing…….until…..it came again….and again…and I finally spotted a big spiderweb billowing in & out as the morning air currents moved it. Invisible, visible, then gone again, then back in a different configuration of glints. I tried to take a picture but was defeated by the ephemeral nature of the interaction — which was exactly what had taken my breath away & held me immobile for a long time. Not just the web but the dance….

Hummingbird wings, dancing deer, a brief flash of silk, colors across the sky — Elusive but not illusory, something moving that cannot be captured — or, if captured, would become something else entirely — no longer wild, a bird in a cage. Who knows? Maybe that’s one of the characteristics that draws me towards Trickster.

So much to love….

And then, the last day or so, some fibers and my hands beginning to converse… For several weeks I’ve been dwelling with green wools & silks — looking, touching, knowing them to be perfect just as they are. My hands wanted to interact with them, but…. The loose swoops of green in so many shades seemed to call for the open-ended possibilities of felting. At the same time I knew that, after the chaos of the last month, my spirit longed for a safe container in which to rest, a form, a focus. I finally found a sort of compromise. I’ve submitted myself to the gentle limits imposed by loom and warp, but left the weft fibers free, combed but unspun, unbound fibers sliding deliciously through my fingers and through the warp. I’m enjoying both the lively give & take of the conversation and the comforting over/under rhythm, both a sense of freedom and the focus I’ve craved. After a long pause, stepping over the threshold into the Unknown…. It just makes me happy!

And last, but by no means least, I’d like to thank you all for reading these posts — for just being there and for so often enriching them with comments & reflections of your own. It is one thing to toss words off into the Unknown and yet another to hear that some have landed, have been heard. It seems that the true creativity resides neither in the making nor in the seeing/reading/listening, but in that indefinable interaction where the two meet.

As water flows in when a well is dug,
as breath becomes song when the flute is carved,
I lay my words in the nests you have made
of your patiently listening hearts.

Do you feel it?
Love is pecking from the inside out.
Shells are cracking open.
Look!  We all
are growing wings.  

                                                ~~~~ With gratitude, Margery

Pondering the Imponderable

I hope you’ve all taken time to read the beautiful Comments that were sent in response to last week’s post — all of us moving together, groping towards new understandings. Much to ponder…..

When I try to address the Imponderable, I inevitably call forth too many words. Perhaps this is a hangover from too much academic writing. Perhaps I am just trying to dodge the truth, to fill the sacred Silence that the Imponderable demands. You can, if you like, read on to hear my current ramblings — my turning round & round and flailing about like a person lost in the woods at night — or you can stop here with this simple poem by David Whyte, which says it all so beautifully:

"Enough. These few words are enough.
 If not these words, this breath.
 If not this breath, this sitting here.

 This opening to the life
 we have refused
 again and again until now.

 Until now."

*******

For a long time — no doubt because of situations both global & personal — I’ve been thinking about action, about how I might choose to step into the Unknown of any particular moment. First, by waking up & looking at where I am — where we are — actually standing at this particular moment, noticing both the amazing details and the larger patterns that sometimes seem to shift & change like a kaleidoscope…. Then, by taking that next step and once again pausing, noticing….

It’s all about Movement — the condition of the Cosmos, of Life.

The Unknown, like Life, should really be verb, not a noun. Modern English seems to act as a noun-based language — focusing on the separation of things rather than relationship, movement, interaction. Sometimes we need a new kind of language….

The Cosmos and all it encompasses are Emergent Processes — unfolding, interacting, evolving. The idea of an established “normal” — whether macro or micro — is a human illusion. We are part of continuous & multifaceted movements, whether we notice or not. When we try to grasp & cling to what has always seemed “normal” to us — with our limited, human-shaped sense of time — we are trying to fight the inevitable. If there is no change, there is no life.

I love the metaphor of the butterfly whose flapping wings create a hurricane on the other side of the world. Certainly, every time we move (and that includes just sitting & breathing), we change the world around us and — because we are inextricably woven into the whole — the world changes us too. For example, I am sitting by a campfire…I shift my position slightly…I inhale a lungful of dense smoke, and I begin to cough loudly which frightens a deer who runs onto the highway and …. We can spin out that story of the deer’s fright (as storytellers love to do) in directions which could lead to many different consequences — perhaps to owl’s failure to catch the rabbit he’d spotted, to the feeding of a hungry human family, or to a car crash that changes in the course of human civilization, or perhaps to nothing so directly noticeable. Whatever the case, there will be changes, spreading out through space & time in ways we’ll never fully know.

When I was young, I didn’t think a lot about “Adventure” or the Unknown;” I simply plunged in & thrived on them. I was privileged to spend high school summer volunteering on the Northern Cheyenne reservation in Montana where I was introduced to both sharp poverty & rich cultural inheritance. A few years later, I was lucky to get a grant that let me spend a college summer studying baboons & simply learning to be present with the animals of the vast West African savanna, dwelling for awhile in a place beyond language. Then, after a heartbreaking rift of relationship (which I certainly did not experience as an “adventure”!), I took a trip — which coincided exactly with both my bank account & my vacation time — to the Central Sahara where I encountered for the first time many landscapes, peoples, ways of being, and the magical ancient galleries of rock painting high on the Tassili plateau. Having rediscovered the larger world, I looked for a job in Africa & ended teaching in Libya — arriving just before the revolution/coup that set up Gaddafi as dictator — and staying for 5 years. Many Adventures …. always changing, growing, learning — sometimes quickly, sometimes painfully, sometimes only in retrospect — through trial & error & often “dumb luck.”

In recent years I have been trying to approach personal changes in that same spirit of active curiosity. My mantras have been “It’s all an Adventure!” & a rather wry “All shall be revealed!” — meaning only that we’ll know what will happen next when the next thing happens. Our move to the farm & life with llamas was obviously an Adventure. I was sorry in many ways to have that come to a close so, when it was time to move to Greensboro & closer to hospitals and other help “just in case,” I told myself we were starting our “Urban Adventure.” Then, quick on the heels of that move, the 5-minute trip to a hospital ceased to be a hypothetical convenience & became central when I had cardiac surgery to repair a valve — a “Medical Adventure.” Now our move into a Quaker continuing care situation, about which I’ve been at times very conflicted, is proving to be a new kind of “Community Adventure” — filled with both “Not Knowing” (as described by Marti in her comment), which requires my focused research & specific learning AND also with “Unknowing,” which can only be known by plunging in. It is an Adventure!

But not all Adventures are — like most of those I’ve described — chosen. I’m thinking of hungry folks who walk through drought-stricken fields, of the streams of refugees around the world, of Ukrainians & Syrians & Palestinians & the many others whose lives are encompassed and upended by war…. How can they possibly view their daily scramble for existence as an “adventure”?

I know I am thinking of “Adventure” from a very privileged place.

Global climate change and other human actions are destroying and shifting the nature of beloved landscapes & species. Extreme authoritarian forces are threatening the democratic movements towards freedom and equality which I’ve witnessed — little by little — throughout my life & which I had expected would always keep moving — however slowly — more and more towards true justice. We find ourselves in the midst of dangerous changes on all fronts, deeply grieving the mayhem and destruction and fearing what may come.

I wonder if it is simply arrogant to try to view all this & what is still to come as “Adventure”?

How I wish there were a clearly marked path forward from Here to a truly better There! But as Antonio Machado cannot remind me often enough:

"Traveler, your footprints
 Are the path and nothing more;
 Traveler, there is no path,
 The path is made by walking.
 By walking the path is made
 And when you look back
 You’ll see a road
 Never to be trodden again.
 Traveler, there is no path,
 Only trails across the sea...."

If I am making my path — which is mine to choose — I’d better get started walking with more conscious awareness of each step & more openness to the Unknown, no matter how scary. How many times in the past have I let fears or ambivalence or sorrow bring me to a screaming halt?! In stepping out into the role of workshop & retreat leader and especially in starting this blog, I’ve become aware of how much growth can be found & how very much stifled and bound energy can be liberated with just another step into the Unknown.

*******

I’ve just started reading Estelle Frankel’s book The Wisdom of Not Knowing: Discovering a Life of Wonder by Embracing Uncertainty. In the Introduction, she says:

“Without what I call the ‘wisdom of not knowing,’ it is difficult to leave the safe harbor of the known for the vast, unpredictable sea of growth and change. Certainty may calm our anxious spirits, but it closes the door on possibility. Moreover, when the known overshadows the unknown, we forsake our infinite life for a counterfeit, finite existence.

(emphasis added)

*******

So what kind of existence do I choose? What might happen if, when contemplating global situations, I spent less energy on fear & lamentation and more on living/participating fully in the world as it is in its actual becomings, however painful? If I name what is happening not as Doom but as Adventure, can I free up more energy to heal wounds & mitigate the damage inflicted by myself & others? Can I learn how to be a blessing that enlivens the situations & beings I meet rather than a force that destroys?

What if, rather than hoping for a magic silver bullet to “fix” things, more of us found our Hope in the possibilities that reside within the Unknown? In any case, my Curiosity keeps me plodding ahead, asking questions, looking around to find out what might be. The Changes we’ve feared have already begun. How then shall we live in a good way?

*******

I believe I’ve shared this poem with you before, but it speaks to much of what I’ve been struggling to say:

Another World is Possible

by Rose Flint

We can dream it in, with our eyes
Open to this Beauty, to all
That Earth gives each of us, each day
Those miracles of dark and light–
Rainlight, dawn, sun moon, snow, storm grey
And the wide fields of night always
Somewhere opening their flower
stars – this, this! Another world is

possible. With river and bird
Sweet and free without fear, without
minds blind to harmony, to how
We can hold. We have been too long
Spoiled greedy children of Earth, life of rocks and creatures
Slipping out of our careless hands.
We must stand now and learn to love
As a Mother loves her child, each
cell of her, each grain of her, each
precious heartbeat of her that is
Ourselves, our path and our journey
Into our dream of future, where
another world is possible
cradling this one its arms.

*******

And, in my studio, I’m still hanging out with Green, and more Green — pausing to see where I am and what is here before taking that next great step into the Unknown. I am grateful for the Green & Healing Spirits of Willow who companion me.

Unknowing

The Unknown…. Yesterday I was sitting here, looking at a blank computer screen. I could have thought of that empty whiteness (as I so often do) as Threatening or Intimidating: What if I say something that everyone thinks is stupid or wrong? Or — horror of horrors! — what if I find I have nothing to say? But the blank screen is, at the same time, an alluring Invitation: A sort of muse offering me a space in which I can experiment, try to find words for the ineffable, discover what wants to come to the surface, explore possibilities. And, for me, it’s actually a fairly safe space. Unlike many authors past & present — May Salman Rushdie soon recover! — I doubt I’ll be jailed or attacked for anything I write on this tiny blog. More than that, I trust that when I do say something stupid or unclear (and of course there are those times!) , my readers will question it & call it to my attention so that I can explore more carefully both my thoughts & my words. It is mine to choose whether I see the blank screen (…or an overgrown lot or an untrained horse or whatever….) as something to Fear or as an opportunity to Learn.

So I pressed that first key and began the adventure….And adventure it has been! I wrote & wrote about Change & the Unknown. But, as someone once said, “How do I know what I mean until I see what I say?” When I read what I’d written, I discovered that my words were showing me some things about the world and about myself that I needed to ponder more deeply…. That post-that-would-have-been is gift from the Unknown that may –who knows? — lead me to new thoughts, new ways of being/becoming.

I’ll keep thinking about Change & moving into the Unknown. I hope you will, too, because stepping into the Unknown is exactly what we’re doing at every moment, whether we notice or not…..

I wish there were a clearly marked path ahead, but as the Spanish poet Antonio Machado reminds us:

"Traveler, your footprints
 Are the path and nothing more;
 Traveler, there is no path,
 The path is made by walking.
 By walking the path is made,
 And when you look back
 You’ll see a road
 Never to be trodden again.
 Traveler, there is no path,
 Only trails across the sea...."

If you’d like to share your comments & thoughts on this topic, please do. I’d be grateful for more perspectives than my own.

Well, in any case, this computer screen is not longer blank & I’ll see what happens. For the next hour or so I’ll step into to another small corner of Unknown:

This week

This week has been crazy. Even my dreams have wild, sticking with me through the day. Still, the first day in this new home we were greeted by a gaggle of Canada geese marching down the street in front of our house & a dazzle of huge dragonflies flying back and forth behind the house. Two groundhogs were grazing in the grassy space down the slope, one or the other often sitting erect to check out the situation.

The Layers
By Stanley Kunitz

I have walked through many lives, some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

Stanley Kunitz, "The Layers" from The Collected Poems of Stanley Kunitz. Copyright © 1978 by Stanley Kunitz.  Reprinted by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Source: The Collected Poems of Stanley Kunitz (W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2002)

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Packing

Finisterre
by David Whyte 

The road in the end taking the path the sun had taken,
into the western sea, and the moon rising behind you
as you stood where ground turned to ocean: no way
to your future now but the way your shadow could take,
walking before you across water, going where shadows go,
no way to make sense of a world that wouldn’t let you pass
except to call an end to the way you had come,
to take out each frayed letter you brought
and light their illumined corners, and to read
them as they drifted through the western light;
to empty your bags; to sort this and to leave that;
to promise what you needed to promise all along,
and to abandon the shoes that had brought you here
right at the water’s edge, not because you had given up
but because now, you would find a different way to tread,
and because, through it all, part of you could still walk on,
no matter how, over the waves.

from David Whyte’s collection, Pilgrim
©2012 Many Rivers Press
Posted [by https://gratefulness.org ] with kind permission from the poet

I have long loved this poem, which fortuitously appeared in my inbox this morning. But apparently Cris & I have not yet reached that edge:

we are still packing…..

The Return of the Salmon

Last week when I wrote about transformation, I think I forgot to point out that Salmon themselves are great Transformers. As their life circles around, they start as eggs which become freshwater fish in rivers, then transform themselves into travelers journeying downriver to the vast ocean, and next into adult saltwater fish. These are not trivial changes. And when the time comes, they change again as they journey back upriver to the place of their birth, where they breed and lay their eggs. There they die and begin their transformation in many different forms — human, bear, eagle, young plants, the Forest that protects their river. In their journeying, salmon carry bountiful gifts in their bodies. They bring themselves as food for the ocean’s web of life and then, in their return, food for life on land. And to the land it is not only the obvious gift of their own flesh that they bring, but also the ocean’s gifts of missing salts and minerals needed to sustain the living forest community. The salmon’s many changes are special glistening threads woven in & out through the warp of Earth’s community, helping connect and thus create the boundless tapestry of life.

No wonder Salmon are celebrated in myth & story wherever they are found — beloved & admired not only for their beauty, their strength & their generosity, but for so much more. The ancient Celts, for example, told of the salmon who dwelt in the Well of Wisdom and acquired all knowledge of the worlds when he ate nine hazelnuts that fell from the surrounding hazel trees. Whoever should eat the first taste of the Salmon of Knowledge would receive that knowledge and wisdom……..which, of course, led on to more wonderful, expansive myths and tales of adventure and change.

I was so happy, this week, to come across a salmon tale still being formed in our present time, written down by Marc Dadigan .

The first paragraph begins “Thousands of relatives of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe arrived at the McCloud River floating inside a little orange cooler earlier this week.” And those relatives were the “20,000 fertilized endangered winter-run Chinook salmon eggs which were about to return to an old home on the McCloud River, the Tribe’s ancestral watershed.” The preceding chapter of this story, leading up to the salmon’s return, includes both years & years of difficult negotiations and the steadfast spirit of the Winnemem Wintu people. “According to the Tribe’s genesis story, salmon gave its voice so human could speak and in return Winnemem Wintu people promised to always speak for them.” As the Tribe’s song captain Helene Sisk, “We’re always going to stand up for salmon, because they stood up for us.”

Salmon lives, unable to find appropriate breeding grounds below the dam that cut short their journey 80 years ago are returning to the upper river that had been barren and lonely for too long. The salmon were greeted & celebrated by strong ceremony, just as it should be. “We’re praying,” the people said, “that they remember these waters.”

The people native to this place refused to let the building of the dam be the end of the salmon’s story. The event described in the article is just the beginning of a new story with much more to unfold as the Winnenmem Wintu people continue to speak out for their relatives, the salmon.

So, on-going change & transformation……. Please read the article which includes much rich detail & photos. https://shastascout.org/were-praying-that-they-remember-these-waters-supported-by-tribal-ceremony-salmon-eggs-return-to-the-mccloud-river-after-80-year-absence/

*******

I’ve been spending time — full of learning & not without frustration — trying to discern a context for The Keeper of Rivers. Just in the contemplation of colors & forms, I have deepened my empathy for rivers and for the many ways of their being & the many different spirits they gather.

Thinking of rivers reminded me of the message that came from the Hopi people after 9/11/2001. It uses the River as it speaks about the flow of changes we are all experiencing:

  “You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour. Now you must go back and tell the people that this is The Hour.
And there are things to be considered...
Where are you living? What are you doing? 
What are your relationships? Are you in right relation? 
Where is your water? Know your garden.
It is time for you to speak your Truth. 
Create your community.
Be good to each other.”

Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said, 
“This could be a good time!
There is a river flowing now very fast.
It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. 
They will try to hold onto the shore.
They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly.
Know that the river has its destination.
The elders say we must let go of the shore, 
push off into the middle of the river,
keep our eyes open, and our heads above water.
And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate!
At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally. 
Least of all ourselves. 
For the moment that we do,
our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.
The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!
Banish the word “struggle” from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done 
in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for!’”

I finally felted this this piece yesterday & found (as I always do) that the wools & silks have been transformed by the process. A few surprises….

This still doesn’t feel finished, so I haven’t sewn on the mask yet. There may — or may not — still be some flowing and changing needed. I’ll pause and listen to the rivers’ songs.

*******

P.S. Since I was late posting this blog — running slowly & wobbly this past week — I shared this beautiful & wise poem at the regular 5 a.m. time for any first-day readers. I include it here so you all can enjoy it.

The Way It Is  by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

"Over and over we break
 open, we break and
 we break and we open.
 For a while, we try to fix
 the vessel--as if
 to be broken is bad.
 As if with glue and tape
 and a steady hand we
 might bring things to perfect
 again. As if they were ever
 perfect. As if to be broken is not
 also perfect. As if to be open 
 is not the path toward joy.

 The vase that's been shattered 
 and cracked will never
 hold water. Eventually
 it will leak. And at some
 point, perhaps, we decide
 that we're done with picking
 our flowers anyway, and no
 longer need a place to contain them.
 We watch them grow just
 as wildflowers do--unfenced,
 unmanaged, blossoming only
 when they're ready-- and mygod,
 how beautiful they are amidst
 the mounting pile of shards."

Sending you all love as we float or swim in the rivers of change —-

Change

"We must assume
our existence as broadly as
we in any way can;

everything,
even the unheard-of,
must be possible in it.

That is at bottom the only courage 
that is demanded of us:

to have courage for
the most strange,
the most singular,
and the most inexplicable 
that we may encounter."

                                                   --- Rainier Maria Rilke,
                                                                Letters to a Young Poet

Dear ones, I am writing to you on Wednesday rather than my usual Thursday evening scramble before the Friday morning post. This has been, for me, a week about change.

I’d expected to have The Keeper of Rivers completed to share with you, but the design keeps changing, flowing away in many different directions — unlike anything I might have imagined when I began the felt piece. I’m stepping away for awhile to let the waters settle and to wait for clarity.

Change has been the theme of the rest of life too. The on-going heatwaves, fires, floods & wars and the all the political & cultural crises around the world…. And, for me, there’s the personal turmoil of trying to get ready for a move that will change our lives in significant ways. Last Saturday, my body decided to join the dominant chorus of change, my heart shifting rapidly back & forth between a more-or-less steady beat and A-fib (which doctors have described as the heart just lying there quivering.) I’m scheduled for a couple of rather invasive cardiac tests tomorrow morning to get more information for a possible surgery. I do plan to watch the Jan. 6 Committee’s hearing in the eveining, with its information about big changes –past, present, future. And so life goes along….

As they say, Change is the one constant in life. I was delighted to come across Rilke’s inspiring encouragement (above) as I sorted through papers yesterday!

All this has led to larger thoughts about Change & Transformation, including the intrinsic role these play in mythologies from all over the world.

Tricksters, of course, are the ultimate transformers, changing both themselves & the world as they go along their way. Certainly this transforming is one of the things that drew me to Trickster. But myths & tales of transformation are by no means limited to tricksters. They are, rather, an intrinsic theme of many old myths, legends, and tales. I love the ancient stories of Selkies & of Swan Maidens (see post on 1/21/22) & other such tales that blur the line between human and other-than-human lives. I believe these stories tell deep truths. I’ll think about this some more.

Last week I included a striking example of a Salmon Transformation Mask. I love how these masks seem to show one individual being, but then open wide to show that the One is truly Many and the Many are One — humans, plants, animals & spirits woven into an inextricable web of connections.

This week I want to share the images of a Sun Transformation Mask from the Nuxalk people. This magnificent creation was “collected” ca. 1865 and now languishes — undanced — in a European museum. Still, it is filled with a power that I can feel, even if only through its image on a page.

I do not know how the Nuxalk people read this image. The closed mask makes me think of Raven with his prominent curved beak. The open mask is typical of Sun images throughout the northern Pacific coast of North America. And at least this speculation fits with one of the Nuxalk creation stories.

Sun Transformation Mask (closed), Nuxalk, artist unknown (ca. 1865), Linden-Mueum Stuttgart, photo by Anatol Dreyer — found in Down from the Shimmering Sky, by Macnair, Joseph,and Grenville.
Sun Transformation Mask (open), Nuxalk, artist unknown (ca. 1865), Linden-Mueum Stuttgart, photo by Anatol Dreyer — found in Down from the Shimmering Sky, by Macnair, Joseph,and Grenville.

Way back in my 2nd post of Sharing Trickster’s Hoard (3/19/21), I told you the Haida story of how Raven brought the Light. The story that follows here is the Nuxalk verision of the myth depicting Raven as Light-bringer. It is quoted from the website of the Nuxalk Nation: http://www.nuxalk.net/html/four_carpenters.html :

*******

“Nuxalkmc Elders tell us that in the beginning of time, when the world was covered in darkness, the very dim light was the colour of copper. The people were in constant sadness and prayed to the Creator, Alhkw’ntam, to give them light. Alhkw’ntam held the sun in a box in his long-house in the land above, Nusmata, and let no one see the light.

The Four Carpenters who made the world were sitting around a fire in Nusmata, when the eldest, Yulm, grabbed a piece of charcoal out of the fire and shook it in his hands. When he opened his hands it was a bird. The second Carpenter then made the wings. The third one made its eyes. The youngest one gave it life. The Carpenters asked the bird to say his name and the bird flew into the sky and cried out, “qwaxw, qwaxw, qwaxw!” The Carpenters gave the bird the name, Qwaxw, Raven. The people begged Raven to get the light for them.

He flew to Nusmata and observed Alhkw’ntam’s granddaughter, Skimina. He thought of a way to get the globe of light from her grandfather. Raven transformed into eagle down first and lay on the water where she drank every morning; but, she blew him away. Then he became a hemlock needle; but, she blew him away. Finally, when he muddied the water, she drank and he was taken in. She became pregnant and Raven was born to her very fast.

Raven grew up very fast and Alhkw’ntam loved him. When Raven cried for the box holding the globe, his grandfather refused to give it, until he could no longer bear the cries. Raven rolled the globe of light back and forth and finally, broke it against the wall of the longhouse. The light leaked out into the world through the smoke vent and became the sun, stars and moon. The people were no longer sad, because the darkness was gone.”

*******

Today, who & where are the Tricksters who bring not darkness but Light?

Salmon Boy

Transformation Salmon” mask by Kwakwaka‘wakw artist Wayne Alfred (shown in open position) from
Down from the Shimmering Sky: Masks of the NorthWest Coast, by Robert Mcnair, Robert Joseph, and Bruce Grenville

In his extraordinary book Being Salmon, Being Human: Encountering the Wild in Us and Us in the Wild, Martin Lee Mueller asks:

“How can we begin to think (as well as intuit, feel, and sense) salmon not as discreet ontological units, but as radically relational creatures: intelligent beings who engage creatively, cunningly, and fluidly in the metamorphic depth of the real? How can we alert our awareness more capably to an embodied sentience so unlike our own, one attuned to the Earth’s magnetic fields, to the oceans’ somatic soundworld, to the vaulted movements of celestial bodies, to drifting weightlessly in their waterworld as if gravity did not exist?”

Here, as a philosopher, Mueller seems to emphasize “thinking.” I believe — and I believe he does too — that even “scientific thinking” is intertwined with and nourished by intuition, feelings, and senses. So, when I hear these questions, I say that Art & Story are good places to start. These are the ways that humans have connected with the larger-than-human world since our earliest beginnings.

The beautiful wooden mask shown above is a good example. Among the indigenous peoples on the northwest coast of Turtle Island/ North America, these masks are not mere decorations or disguises. The masks are sacred objects imbued with active spirit and deep meaning, treated with reverence at all times. When a mask is danced, the Spirit of the mask is present and active.

In the words of Kwakwaka‘wakw Chief, writer, & curator Robert Joseph (Down from the Shimmering Sky):

“The masks of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast are powerful objects that assist us in defining our place in the cosmos. In a world of endless change and complexity, masks offer a continuum for Native people to acknowledge our connection with the universe. …. Masks have an important and significant place in our evolution. Every mask is quintessential to our desire to embrace wholeness, balance and harmony. In a simple and fundamental act of faith we acknowledge and reaffirm our union through song and dance, ceremony and ritual.”

Chief Robert Joseph began dancing the masks as a boy. He speaks of moment the mask is donned:

“It is a moment when all the world is somewhere else. I am totally and completely alone. My universe is the mold of the mask over my face. I am the mask. I am the bird. I am the animal. I am the fish. I am the spirit. I visualize my dance. I ponder every move. I transcend into the being of the mask.”

Most of the masks are carved from one piece of cedar (or, occasionally, maple). The transformation masks like the one above are different, are hinged. Closed they show one being (here a salmon). But when the dancer opens the mask, another being is revealed — a beautiful assertion of the Oneness of all Being….

I do not know the precise meaning to the powerful mask in this photo, but it reminds me of a story that is told — in many variations — by many of the peoples of the NW coast. I have heard and read quite a few different tellings. This is my telling for this moment, offered with humble gratitude to the Old Ones whose wisdom drew this story from their land & its beings, and to all the generations of storytellers who opened their hearts to this story & offered their voices to keep it alive. I don’t know if this exactly how it happened, but I know that it is true.

*******

SALMON BOY

There was a boy who was loved by his parents. They gave him the best place to sleep by the fire & a precious copper collar to adorn his neck. When it was time to eat, they always gave him the biggest piece of meat.

Now there came a time of the year when the stores of dried salmon were almost gone. “I am hungry,” the boy cried. “I am hungry!” His mother gave him a small piece of the remaining salmon. He stamped his foot. “No!” he said angrily. “No! It is not enough!” And he threw the piece of salmon into the bushes & stomped down to the river to play.

That boy didn’t think about what he had done, but the Salmon People knew and they were angry.

The boy threw sticks into the river & watched them float swiftly away, One stick did not float. He stepped right up to the edge of the riverbank and looked down to see if he could find his stick in the deep water. Something was there. Something was moving. He saw a silver gleam. He leaned further and further forward. That boy fell into the water and went down, down, down.

At first, he was afraid. But after awhile it seems as if he were in a canoe being carried into the depths of the water. When the canoe stopped, the boy stepped out and looked around. He was in a village not unlike his own — with small lodges & the Great Longhouse with its totem pole and carefully carved doors. And the village was filled with people.

These were the Salmon People. They took the boy in and fed him. They were kind to him and taught him their ways. After a time had passed, the Salmon Chief called all the village into the Great Longhouse. There as drumming and sacred dancing, and as the boy watched his eyes grew round. Then the Council of Elders said, “We are all ready for the journey. Now is the time.”

That boy felt how round his eyes were. He felt himself begin to change. His body glistened with silvery scales and his tail was strong. He was flying through the water with his friends, heading downstream.

And then the water, too, changed. It was salty, it was wide, it pulled at his body in ways different from the river. That boy slapped his tail and leapt high. He was filled with life!

Years passed. That boy journeyed far. Sometimes his friends were close and sometimes he was alone. That boy ate and ate. He become a young man. He grew and grew, fat and strong, until one day he felt himself turning towards home. Something was calling the Salmon People & they swam and swam until they reached their river. Upstream they swam, even when the current tried to push them back to the sea. Up they swam, leaping over rocks & rapids. Oh, they were fearless, fierce, and strong!

At last that boy found himself in the river beside his parents’ village. One evening he began to leap out of the water. He leapt high, and higher still. And his mother saw him and called her husband to see the great fish.

And his father speared him.

Quickly his mother brought out her knife to cut the fish open. But suddenly she stopped. She saw the copper collar around his neck. “This is our son!” she cried. “This is our son!”

They carried the fish to their lodge and wrapped him in a blanket. With great love, they laid him on the best furs to rest. During the night he felt himself changing. In the morning, when he arose, he stepped out of his fish-skin.

His mother heard something and turned from her cooking. With a great cry, she ran to him and hugged him to her heart. And he put his arms around his mother and knew he was home.

All the village gathered to hear his tales of the Salmon People and their village. He told of his adventures in the great salt water with its plentiful food & plentiful dangers. He told of their fearless journey back up the river. He taught his people the ways of the salmon and how they must welcome the salmon’s return each year with drums & prayer & ceremony. He taught them that the salmon give themselves as gifts to his people. He taught that they must use every part of the salmon they can and they must place the bones & the leavings back in the river with great reverence. In this way the salmon may be reborn & come again.

And the people named him Salmon Boy.

Oh, as the years passed, Salmon Boy became a great teacher and shaman and healer…. And so he is remembered to this day. And so Salmon Boy is reborn through the telling of his story, that he might teach us what we need to learn.

*******

artist unknown

*******

I’ll leave you with Martin Lee Muellers’ beautiful & insightful “scientific” description or definition of Salmon (Being Salmon, Being Human:

“A salmon is a sensing, sensitive being making conscious choices inside a sensuous aquatic world she coinhabits with other sentient beings. She is also the unique smell of that one estuary, that place where she once passed from her freshwater youth into saltwater adulthood. She is the magnetic field that spans from pole to pole and sends waves of recognition through her sensing body on the long journey back home. She is the anticipation of riverside humans who hungrily await her return from the ocean. She is the pace at which riverside Sitka spruce metabolizes icy skin into wooden bark, and the way in which grizzly bear metabolizes her into hair and fat that will sustain grizzly through another cold season. She is the river’s topography, its resistance, its moods. She is all that.

To define the creature away from her web of relations, and the web of relations away from the creature, is to open the way to exploiting this creature, to diminishing her, violating her, abusing her, denying her. We are who we are in relation to others. Salmon are who they are in relation to tress, rocks, ravens, rivers.”

*******

Let's stop and think.  
Who, I wonder, are we?