Words Patched Together

Last week was very intense. I suppose there must have been “stress” involved as I tried to do more than I could, but what I felt was just the intensity. It was actually good. Amidst all the house things that had to be done by Monday and the garden work that called for a timely response, I was also aware of a strong need to complete & felt, at last, the fiber context that has been changing and co-creating itself with its two recent spirit masks. On Sunday, I greeted the fibers once again and, because of the limits on time to think & re-think & over-think, I just plunged in. My noisy control-seeking mind simply had to move out of the way and let heart, intuition, and hands carry on — without interruption — their conversation with the fibers of wool, silk, and llama. I felt thoroughly engaged with the fibers as we worked together — or sometimes wrestled with each other — and as we opened to each other’s ways. I would speak more about the experience, but in the end I can only say it was deep and very old.

This morning I was reassured by Mary Oliver‘s advice:

"..... just 
pay attention, then patch 
a few words together and don’t try 
to make them elaborate, this isn’t 
a contest but the doorway 
into thanks, and a silence in which 
another voice may speak." 
                                             

~~~~~

~~~~~

We came up to the Blue Ridge Mountains Tuesday afternoon. I am comforted to be held, like a tired & fussy child, in the embrace of these wise ancient stone Beings. Shortly after our arrival, a magnificent pileated woodpecker stopped by. I had not seen one since we moved into town. His presence was pure gift.

At this altitude, it is still early spring. I spend long stretches of time just being with leaves only recently broken out of their buds. Tiny oak leaves are a newborn red, waiting for sun to wake them so they can suckle on its light. The small leaves of many other trees are bright green but still crumpled, like the wings of newly emerged butterflies.

Today the clouds have been drifting lower & lower, their gray mysteries gradually muting the forest.

Enough words for now…..

 "Observe the wonders as they occur around you. 
Don't claim them. 
Feel the artistry moving through 
and be silent." 

~~~ Rumi

“What we are creating is creating us.”

(today’s title is a quote from Adah Parris)

In my 4/15 post, I lamented the “problems” I was having with my current project. Later, re-reading what I had written, I began to recognize that the situations I encountered & named “problems” weren’t problems with the fibers but problems with me! I had forgotten to maintain respect for all the partners in this co-evolution/co-creation — fibers, loom, and self. I had apparently forgotten that respect means respect not only for the gifts but also for the limits of each participant. In my mind, I can easily conjure up all sorts of exquisite possibilities — and I was spending too much time in my mind. Feeling some sort of need to hurry, I seem to have forgotten that only with relaxed awareness and respect can loom & fibers & self be woven together in the dialog through which the mask emerges. I’d forgotten the words of my teacher Luisa Teish: “Before you begin a new venture — especially before beginning a ritual — be sure to set a clear Intention. Every beginning is a crossroads where Trickster waits. If you have no clear Intention, Trickster will be happy to choose a path for you…. You may find you’re not happy with his choice.”

For me, work with fiber is a kind of ritual to bring blessings into the world. But, when I began this project, I had an idea rather than an Intention. And, sure enough, Trickster sent me down a path where I found myself seeking control, trying to force the fibers to comply with my grand idea. The further I went, the more muddled I became. Finally, I was completely immobilized by the knots into which I’d twisted both the fibers & myself. I was forced to pause and catch my breath — and as I began to breathe, I began to remember. I remembered and renewed my Intention of blessing through making. I remembered to respect all participants in the process & the process itself. I remembered to offer common courtesy both to the fibers & to myself. The tangles & snarls & knots fell away and a new path opened.

As I pondered this more deeply, I realized that I’d been unwittingly replicating some of the current cultural norms that I despise: I was effectively treating the fibers not as respected individuals but as “resources” that I could force to conform to the grandiose picture in my mind, to do what I wanted. Somehow feeling hurried & trying to push myself beyond my inherent limits, I was sliding into an arrogance akin to that of the culture that is currently engaged in the destruction of Earth community (including both human and more-than-human).

It is no coincidence that “Trickster” was the name used by more than one indigenous tribe to refer to the invading colonists, who — like the Tricksters of story & myth — ignored or willfully violated the limits/boundaries of the world as it existed (and who continue to do so today). I had refused to respect limits and had approached this particular act of making as Trickster might have done, so — just like Trickster — I got thoroughly entangled in the mess I’d made.

And yet, as Lewis Hyde says, “Trickster is the mythic embodiment of ambiguity and ambivalence, doubleness and duplicity, contradiction and paradox.” For all his trouble-making ways, “Trickster the culture hero is always present … to keep our world lively and to give it the flexibility to endure.” As the title of Hyde’s book says, “Trickster Makes This World.”

Having once more found a balanced relationship among materials, process, and self — having set out at last on my Intended path — I am now thoroughly enjoying the few hours I’ve found this week for making. It is once again not work but play. And the games the fibers & I are now playing with each other and the dances we’re inventing — while Trickster plays his flute! — are, for me, joyful times of growing, learning, and (dare I hope?) serving. Life just doesn’t get much better than that! And I can’t help but laugh with Trickster at the rough path he slyly pointed out as I began my current journey, because it — with all its aggravations — eventually lead me to deeper understandings & to possibilities I wouldn’t have imagined for myself. That old trickster!

In Beauty
the world is begun.

It is woven on the loom
of the Cosmos,
while Trickster
plays a song upon the warp,
tangles weft threads into
new configurations,
ties unexpected knots,
enlivens the simple surface 
with his rowdy dance.

In Beauty
it is begun.

In Beauty
it is woven.

In Beauty
it shall be finished.

“In and out, up and down, over and over, she wove her strands of life together, patching hole after hole. Eventually she saw it was much more than the threads that gave her strength; it was in the very act of weaving itself that she became strong.”

~ author unknown ~

For Earth Day — and every day

“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement—get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible. Never treat life casually. …[B]e amazed.”  ~~~ Abraham Heschel

mck

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.

From Questions for a Resilient Future
HumansandNature.org

The Glorious Trespass of Simply Loving the Earth

Ryan Serito

~~~~~~~~~~~

“Our most urgent need at the present time is for a reorientation of the human venture toward an intimate experience of the world around us. If we would go back to our primary experience of any natural phenomena – on seeing the stars scattered across the heavens at night, on looking out over the ocean at dawn, on seeing the colors of the oaks and maples and poplars in autumn, on hearing a mockingbird sing in the evening, or breathing the fragrance of the honeysuckle while journeying through a southern lowland – we would recognize that our immediate response to any of these experiences is a moment akin to ecstasy. There is wonder and reverence and inner fulfillment in some overwhelming mystery. We experience a vast new dimension to our own existence.” ~ Thomas Berry, The Sacred Universe
(from the April 2022 Reflection of The Center for Education, Imagination and the Natural World) http://www.beholdnature.org

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Those of us who are part of an industrialized-capitalist-consumption culture are immersed every day in a multitude of situations that program us to consider ourselves Separate — separate from Earth & all her beings, including others who also call themselves “human.” For example, as I was scrolling through free photos of “person in nature,” I immediately noticed that most of the shots centered on humans atop some kind of peak or pinnacle or other. Many of them were hikers with all sorts of expensive equipment. This is a small example of how our “modern” culture places humans (mostly, in the photos, of European ancestry) & their technology (gorgeous backpacks, etc.) at the top of everything. It conjures up (visually & metaphorically) the cultural belief that Earth’s community is a pyramid, rather than the interconnected web that we know it to be — a pyramid where the humans are always at the top.

What joy to jump over those seemingly impregnable walls of separation and to once more find ourselves where we have always been — in a world of possibilities both ancient and new, embedded in Earth’s community!

As I’m sure others have said before me, perhaps the best possible form of resistance and revolution is simply to love Earth and all her beings & to act from love, kindness and (not transitory “happiness” but) indestructible joy!

As we're  surrounded by the symphonic bursts of Life in the Spring, 
it's an easy time to join in the celebration 
and to explore this active resistance further.  
The best time is always now - 
The best place is always here -
for we are always in the midst of this precious Earth community.

Sheshagiri KM — India

As so often, Mary Oliver says it best:

            WILD GEESE

"You do not have to be good.
 You do not have to walk on your knees
 for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
 You only have to let the soft animal of your body
     love what it loves.
 Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
 Meanwhile the world goes on.
 Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of rain
 are moving across the landscapes,
 over the prairies and the deep trees,
 the mountains and rivers.
 Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
 are heading home again.
 Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
 the world offers itself to your imagination,
 calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
 over and over announcing your place
 in the family of things."

War, Peace, Story, Language, Art

I have been doing my small work of making this week. The mask that I showed you a couple weeks ago (2/11), having already declared herself a Spirit of the Betwixt and Between, has suggested that she would be most comfortable in a forest at twilight. Easier said than done, but I’m trying. And Dreaming Towards Dawn (1/28) has also clarified her requests. Next week I’ll say more & send pictures, but today I want to share the art of an award-winning Ukrainian poet and of a Ukrainian painter.

On February 18 & 24, the CBC (Canadian public radio) spoke with the poet Lyuba Yakimchuk (still in Kyiv) and with the Ukrainian-American poet and scholar Oksana Maksymchuk & her husband, Max Rosochinsky, who have translated Yakimchuk’s poetry. You can hear the broadcast & read an accompanying summary at https://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/ukrainian-poet-lyuba-yakimchuk-reflects-on-war-and-the-burden-of-a-motherland-1.6364864

Lyuba Yakimchuk is no stranger to armed conflict. She grew up in a small town in the eastern part of Ukraine where separatists began armed conflict after the Ukrainian Revolution of 2014. Her parent still lived in that region & refused to leave. They planted potatoes & they slept on their harvest in the basement during the shelling. Yakimchuk wrote the poem excerpted here:

prayer

"Our Father, who art in heaven
of the full moon
and the hollow sun

shield from death my parents
whose house stands in the line of fire 
and who won't abandon it
like a tomb....
[....]
our daily bread give to the hungry
and let them stop devouring one another

our light give to the deceived
and let them gain clarity 

and forgive us our destroyed cities 
even though we do not forgive for them our enemies

and lead us not into temptation
to go down with this rotting world 
but deliver us from evil 
to get rid of the burden of a Motherland - 
heavy and hardly useful

shield from me 
my husband, my parents
my child and my Motherland"

For the past 5 years, a sniper has occupied the poet’s childhood home.

Yakimchuk speaks of Story and of Language during war time. The meanings of words are not the same in regions at war and those at peace. In her poems, she demonstrates how war deconstructs not only cities and individuals but also language itself. In the interview, she states that “Language is as beautiful as the world. So when someone destroys your world, language reflects that.” In her poem “Decomposition,” Yakimchuk writes:

"...there’s no poetry about war
     just decomposition
    only letters remain
    and they all make a single sound — rrr ..."

And stories — Both Yakimchuk & her translators speak of the ways that “a nation is narration.” Russia and the Ukraine have differing narratives about Nation & about The Golden Age. In the former, history has been rewritten to accommodate the narrative of Mother Russia.

Yakimchuk also describes the dangers of the traditional Ukrainian stories that say heroes are to be found only among the dead. [This reminds me of Trump’s comment that McCain shouldn’t be considered a hero because he had been captured, not killed….] From the article accompanying the CBC interview:

“War is also a story maker,” said Yakimchuk. “There are damaging narratives in every country — in Ukraine as well … Ukrainians believe that the heroes are dead people. According to [this narrative], a person who managed to stay alive, to survive isn’t a hero. And this idea is very dangerous when war is here.”

She points out that it is the survivors who can shape the stories and the future.

Yakichuk says succinctly [again from the CBC article]:

“I believe culture can program people for behavioral models, and that is what I mean when [I write about] a ‘burden of the motherland,'” said Yakimchuk. “It’s our burden, which in the end we should cope with. And we should invent new stories to tell ourselves. If we don’t, our enemies tell them for us.”

The poet and her translators all point out the difference between praying for Victory or for Peace. Words have meaning, words matter — Does one pray to achieve a success which still carries the seeds of on-going war or to change the narrative to something new and completely different? Perhaps this is something we all need to think about, not only in the political sphere but also in the depths of our own lives.

And still, in spite of everything, her translators point out that Yakimchuk’s poetry includes a sense of playfulness, an affirmation of the small everyday joys of life and the little acts of kindness that bind us together. May we, too, remember all that is good in life and build upon that foundation.

from Song of Peace:

     "To Death, said the enemy
       and we said, To Life!
       New life stirred in us
           new pride.
       To Death beat his bullets,
       Lechayim, earth cried
       after the holocaust --
       bursting into bloom.
      To Life, greetings fly
      as field salutes field...
   ...The sun fills up
      the earth's green cup
     Lechayim! Lechayim!
                            To Life!"

…..

We tell stories & share insights not only with words, but through all our creativity, including the visual arts. In her newsletter a few days ago, Julia Fehrenbacher posted this painting by the Ukrainian artist Olesya Hudyma — “Angel of Peace for the Ukraine,” painted in 2015 just after the revolution and during the fighting in the Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine (Donbas) where she had grown up and where her parents still lived. In the midst of turmoil this vision is a prayer for and affirmation of Peace:

“Angel of Peace for Ukraine XII,” 2015 – Olesya Hudyma
https://www.olesyahudyma.com

[I hope you will check out her website olesyahudyma.com to enjoy her beautiful artwork. So many of her paintings are filled with exuberant brushstrokes and color and with details (especially in her Fantasies) that capture the spirit of the Ukraine and its traditional folk arts & tales.]

Remembering the people of the Ukraine
and all the humans and other beings of this Earth community,
let us sing a song of Peace.

The Land Speaks in Swans….

Tired of all who come with words, words but no language
I went to the snow-covered island.
The wild does not have words.
The unwritten pages spread themselves in all directions!
I come across the marks of roe-deer's hooves in the snow.
Language, but no words.

— Tomas Tranströmer

I love this poem by the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer. It always reminds me of the summer of 1964, which I spent in Kenya and Tanzania as an undergraduate research assistant studying baboon behavior with Dr. Irven DeVore. In addition to the required reports of my observations, I’d planned to keep a personal journal of my own feelings & experiences — but I couldn’t. For these, I had no words.

Those were the days when, for example, it was OK for a scientist to talk about struggles for “dominance” among animals or about “instinctive bonding,” but any mention of emotional relationships or personal preferences among animals was met with outraged cries of “Oh No! Anthropomorphizing! Not Science!” [And, of course, that’s still true in some circles today.] I had to record the notes needed for the research project in the typical scientific language that pretends to be devoid of personal perspective, emotion, or judgement. And, of course, the constraints of this scientific language we used to translate our observations & experiences created the illusion of distance from the actual bio-scape in which we were, in fact, not some disembodied & unconnected “observers” but active participants.

For the deeper experience of spending whole days alone with a multitude of diverse other-than-human species, I found I could construct no adequate English sentences. I complained to myself about the “limits of language” but, of course, I was surrounded by a multitude of aural & visual languages akin to the “the marks of roe-deer’s hooves” — some of which I did learn. “Language” itself was not the problem. It was my own native English language — with its inherent tendency to separate & depersonalize — that led to my frustration. I imagined that the original languages of peoples native to & woven into that place — human languages that had arisen in close attunement to the languages of the land & its other inhabitants — might include not only a vocabulary but also a grammar through which I could have found ways to express my feelings and experiences of relationship. [I have since learned that this is true of Native American languages.]

My husband & I encountered the same problem years later, when we lived on a farm in the woods near the Blue Ridge Mountains. We could not find English words to use as a short-hand to describe our relationship with the clear mountain river that ran near our house. To say “our” river suggested an “ownership” that did not exist & which would have completely contradicted the nature of our relationship. We were not the “possessors” of the magical river. It was relationship, not possession. Respect, love, admiration, and humility….

Even terms like “nature” (meaning “other” than human) and “environment” (that which “surrounds” — i.e., is distinct from — something) cut us English-speaking humans off from our true kinship with Earth community. Trying to describe my experience of being with the swans this past week presents a similar sort of conundrum….

The time at the refuges was beautiful — overflowing with beauty … both the beauty of the swans and other creatures themselves & the beauty of my own comprehension of kinship with them… and so much more.

This was not the completely immersive experience we’d had with the great migrating flocks at Chincoteague, a refuge established in my birth year of 1943 & bearing fewer obvious marks of human control. Many of the swans we saw here in North Carolina were dispersed in small groups on fields that had been specially flooded after the harvest. We did see one large gathering of tundra swans (hundreds, thousands?) on the far side of Pocosin Lake. At one point, something must have disturbed them for they all rose together, filling the air with the loud music of both wings & voices as they swept in one coherent cloud around and around the lake before settling down again on the water. Majestic, awe-inspiring, far beyond words…

And I had the good fortune of watching from only yards away as otters swam and hunted under the water. Two rose separately to the surface, each with a big fish in his or her mouth, and galumphed off into the woods on opposite sides of the drainage ditch. One had to cross the dirt road where we were standing. I’ve seen otters swimming and playing — sliding on ice on the river near our old home — but I’d never seen one moving on land. Like the swans, so graceful in their water element but more awkward-seeming in their land-bound movements. Again, beauty….

Another blessing was my encounter with the land itself. Flat, flat, completely flat. [I’ll never again complain that the land around Greensboro is too flat!] I quickly became aware of all the drainage ditches & dikes that, over the hundreds of years since the European incursion, have turned the land from a variety of biologically rich swamps into fields for industrialized agricultural production. Not until the mid-1980s were national wildlife refuges established in this area of eastern North Carolina to at least partially restore some of the wetlands & to offer some protection to native plants and animals, including the great flocks of migrating birds. Current “management” includes such programs as on-going research, soil & water supervision, prescribed burning, and cooperative farming — a complex response to a complex situation.

It reminded me of our recent trip to the elk restoration project in the Appalachian mountains of southwestern Virginia and Kentucky. Ironically, the elk restoration was located on the “restored” land that remained after mountaintop-removal mining. At least it seemed an acknowledgement or gesture, though small, of restitution for human destruction of our kin. Needless to say, my response there, as it was last week, was mixed — grief for the destruction of irreplaceable Earth communities, hope for the efforts that are being made to mitigate the devastation & move into a more compassionate future.

Anyway, my husband & I were much restored in mind, body, and spirit by last week’s encounters. And my curiosity was also set aflame with many wonderings — about the land and its history, about the “official” human relationships with animals (e.g., the discontinued red wolf recovery project may soon be re-instated), and about the tundra swans themselves & their incredible annual migrations. How can the swans fly round-trip every year from Alaska & northern Canada to the mid-Atlantic seaboard of the U.S.?!

Our individual inner well-being, like our physical health, cannot be separated from the well-being of Earth community — from the well-being of all our relations. As always, the poets say it best:

Ah, not to be cut off, 
not through the slightest partition 
shut out from the law of the stars. 
The inner -- what is it? 
if not intensified sky, 
hurled through with birds and deep with the winds of homecoming.

— Rainer Maria Rilke

photo from Pixnio

Festivals of Light

Brú na Bóinne (Newgrange) at Solstice

Winter Solstice — the shortest day & longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere, the turn of the Earth towards lengthening days — occurred last Tuesday. Since earliest times, humans all over the world have noticed, felt, and expressed the significance of the shifts in light at both the solstices and equinoxes. For the most part, we can only guess at the earliest myths and rituals associated with these points in the dance of Sun & Earth. Fortunately, at least since Neolithic times, people in a number of places around the globe have built both simple and more elaborate & labor-intensive places to mark the movement of the life-giving Sun.

One of the oldest and most well-known of these sites is Newgrange (Brú na Bóinne) in Ireland, the mythic home of The Dagda (god of Wisdom & Fertility) and his son Aenghus (the god of Love & Dreams). Built ca. 5200 years ago, this massive Neolithic complex of underground passages and chambers, whose stone walls are covered with intricate carvings, was constructed so that only at the Solstice would a ray of sunlight, falling through an opening above the entrance, penetrate all the way through the darkness to light the main chamber. Can you imagine what it must have been like to be deep inside the dark and to watch the light coming in to meet you?

Today, as always, many of us continue to celebrate, in both story and ritual, the return of the Light and retreat of the Dark, whether understood literally or metaphorically — expressing our joy at this cosmic turning through festivals of light such as Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas, and many other spiritual practices, both old & new. And, everywhere, a symbol for this turning towards a positive Mystery is the Candle. So I’ve been thinking about candles.

At this time, we in the northern hemisphere can count on the lengthening of days, the literal increase in life-giving sunlight. But, in so many ways & on so many levels, Earth and her community (including humans) are going through some metaphorically dark times. I won’t enumerate the many dire challenges we face. You all know them. But the question is: How can we each help facilitate a turning away from destruction and into a place of light, joy, peace?

Have you ever attended a gathering of people standing in the dark, each holding an unlit candle? There are no words to capture the awe that begins as one candle is lit. And the awe expands as the first candle lights another candle & each of those light others & on and on, spreading the illumination outward until every single candle burns with its own lively dancing flame.

Is it possible to do something similar with our own inner light?

The poet Rumi reminds us:

"Being a candle 
Is not easy.
In order to give
light one must
first burn."

I ask myself, Am I willing to light my candle? What will it take? And how can I pass along its loving flame?

One candle is a small thing.

But many, gathered together, can illuminate the world!

Wishing you all peace and joy — now & always…..

Photo credits: Irish Examiner, Geralt, Myriams-Fotos, Mike Labrum

Celebrating the Winter Solstice

Turning

Now the earth slides faster down
the long dark days towards Solstice.
We’ve been flung
almost too far from the center,
skidding violently along
the curve of space.
The pace
presses me flat against the rocks,
among the dried debris of summer.
Blackberry canes snarl my hair;
faded petals or leaves,
compressed beyond recognition,
cling to my lips and eyes.
Oh, it’s a long slide
down to the Solstice.
But we 
      shall be
tugged sunward at last on gravity’s leash:
     a cosmic 
                     crack-the-whip.
We’ll hit the corner flying
and careen round into who knows
what great wind of passage.
Even I
may be blown clear out of this cave, clean
onto my feet.
Lifting my arms to
layer upon layer of translucent
color cupped to Earth’s curve,
I’ll feel the thrust of the planet
beneath my feet.
Gulping air straight
from Arctic floes,
I’ll raise my face to
the icy stab of Orion’s sword and
roar
              for Joy.

Saunter & Gawk

Eighteen years ago I was fortunate to take a life-changing course entitled “The New Cosmology,” taught by Dr. Larry Edwards. It was a week-long intensive class with lots of reading & a paper before the gathering and more reading & a longer paper due a month afterwards. We looked briefly at the origin stories told not only by our Western cultures but also by other cultures around the wold, and considered how different origin stories were both creators of & products of the cultures in which they were found. We looked at the current scientific explanations/stories of cosmic evolution, Earth’s evolution, the evolution of Life, and finally — within the context of these larger patterns — human evolution. We considered the ways that the various species of plants and animals in an ecosystem help shape each other’s evolution, creating distinct traits and skills that interlock. And the human? What is our special trait? Perhaps, Dr. Edwards suggested, it is our ability to become fascinated by what we encounter, to wonder, to simply stop & gawk. One of my classmates added the word “saunter.” That’s it we decided: What makes us human is not simply our physiology or our technical achievements — it is our delight in sauntering & gawking — and then making up stories (whether scientific explanations or extended reflections) about what we’ve encountered.

“Saunter & Gawk!” That pretty much sums up my life this past week. Even in my fiber work, I’ve been doing a sort of saunter-and-gawk as I spend time in the company of some poorly-prepared llama and angora rabbit fibers — trying to understand the nature and “desires” of these tangled fibers. I’ve also been sauntering & gawking with delight in the natural world that surrounds me here and in the written world of ideas & discoveries & the records of unique personal experiences.

A brief question from my brother about a current forest fire here in North Carolina led to questions of geology, and I began saunter (and/or stumble) through information about the geology of this place in which I now find myself living. So much to learn! Much of what I encountered was beyond my comprehension, but I did stop to gawk at some wonderful surprises. I’d sort of assumed that the Piedmont where I live was mostly a result of the erosion of the Appalachian Mountains to the west. Who’d have guessed that this place was — before that — a chain of volcanic islands that were eventually squished between colliding tectonic plates?! Somehow seeing that deeper story of the land upon which I walk daily delights me and makes me feel more at home here.

Yesterday I came across an essay by David Abram which affirms our class’s “saunter-and-gawk” hypothesis. https://www.humansandnature.org/on-being-human-in-a-more-than-human-world In it, Abram begins by sharing the question that was inevitably asked every time he spoke about the human place in Earth ecology:

‘Alright, Dr. Abram, I understand when you say that we humans are completely embedded within a more-than-human world, and I understand your claim that many other animals, plants, and landforms are at least as necessary as humans are to the ongoing flourishing of the biosphere. But despite the attention and praise that you bestow upon other species, surely you must admit that humankind is something utterly unique in the earthly world?’

After musing about that question and his responses over the years, Abram goes on to say:

And after puzzling and pondering the matter, over and again, sussing out the signature traits of our species, I began to feel my way toward a fresh answer, one that rang true to me even as it seemed to satisfy my challengers—or at least to give them pause.

For if there’s something exceptional about us two-leggeds, it seems to reside in our ability to become interested in—even fascinated by—well, pretty much anything. Diverse other creatures, as I watch them go about their days, seem to stay fairly focused on a range of matters that concern their own well-being, indulging in other whims and curiosities now and then, but rarely ranging very far afield, with their sustained attention, from the sort of things that seem to grab others of their kind. But we humans have a peculiar proclivity to become fascinated and enthralled by the most incommensurable matters. Among even my close friends, there’s a person who closely studies the antler patterns of moose, another whose hobby involves documenting the life cycle of various lichens, and another whose expertise lies in throwing and baking the perfect Neapolitan pizza. That same baker is also a fine gardener who spends much of her week wooing various butterflies down from the skies to alight on the plants that she’s carefully cultivated for their delectation. There are people who steep themselves in the long-dead languages of lost cultures, and others who listen in on and try to decipher the long-distance utterances of humpback whales. Still others decline to consider those calls as linguistic, but concentrate their talents on playing music with whale songs….

So perhaps there is, indeed, something uniquely unique about our species. Yet we defy this uniqueness when we strive to assert what is most unique about humankind. Whenever we focus so exclusively upon ourselves, training our attention day after day upon the specialness of our species, then we are no longer enacting the very trait that most exemplifies our humanity. ”

Finally, Abrams — after contemplating the linguistic relationships among the words ‘human’ & ‘humus’ & ‘humility’ — counsels humans to remember their intrinsic interdependence with the larger community of other earth-beings and to act, therefore, with appropriate humility.

As I’ve been thinking about saunter-and-gawk, I’ve come round once again to Trickster, for that is what Trickster loves to do — to ramble along, to see something & to get curious about it. But then, thinking only of himself and his desires, Trickster stops looking and just jumps into the situation head first — only to find himself, time and again, in dreadful trouble. Humility is not to be found in Trickster’s vocabulary or in his actions!

Can there by any doubt about what message Trickster stories have for us these days?

*************

We are humans. Who are we?

We are listeners, listening to the song of the Land.
And we are one of the many voices to which the Land listens.
We are spinners, spinning wild fleece into Meaning.
And we are the fleece being spun into Meaning by others.
We are weavers, weaving radiant colors into Story.
And we are the colors, being woven into others’ Stories.
We are children standing in awe of Cosmic beauty.
And we are the Cosmos reflecting on Itself.
And when we sing praise songs, sing songs of gratitude,
Then we become a part of the Song.
photo by Noah Buscher
photo by Casey Horner

To Be Remembered in the Darkness

The last month or so have been, for me, a difficult convergence of multiple medical issues and my on-going grief for so much ecological, cultural, social & political devastation. I know that Trickster loves stirring things up to make room for new possibilities but — once nightly insomnia joined my list of playmates in the downward spiral — I ran out of energy for the dance. I am fortunate to be one of those privileged few in the world with access to good medical care — so medical problems are being addressed and, as insomnia begins to fade away, I am once more alive to my self and to the world. Still, there is my grief at what I & my kind have destroyed & are still destroying.

A conversation several days ago reminded me of several poems by Rainer Maria Rilke (translated by Joanna Macy & Anita Barrows). In many of his works, Rilke writes beautifully of the embrace of darkness. Today, I want to share 3 of them. [Actually I’d like to share a dozen, but I’m becoming a “realist”…..]:

“You, darkness, of whom I am born —

I love you more than the flame
that limits the world
to the circle it illumines
and excludes all the rest.

But darkness embraces everything:

shapes and shadows, creatures and me,

people, nations — just as they are.

It lets me imagine a great presence is moving near me.

I believe in the night.”

~~~~~~

“How surely gravity’s law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of even the smallest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.

Each thing —
each stone, blossom, child —
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push out beyond what we each belong to
for some empty freedom.

If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.

Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.

So, like children, we must begin again
to learn from the things,
because they are in God’s heart;
they have never left him.

This is what the things can teach us:
to fall,
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.”

~~~~~

“Quiet friend who has come so far,

feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.

And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.”

~~~~~~

On the fiber front, I finally had enough energy to play a bit in the studio yesterday — making various small felt samples to try out different textures. I came up with some I liked & with many more ideas to try before making decisions. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to get a good photo of black on black felt. [And no, the color has nothing to do with my past few weeks! It is more a case of rebirth & growth as I once again work on a Raven shawl I’d woven 15 years ago & pushed to the back of the closet — given up as “hopeless.”] I’ll keep playing & hope to have the shawl completed to show you soon.

In his poem “East Coker,” T.S. Eliot wrote:

“I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”