We head out today from Wisconsin toward Utah, where canyonlands beckon. Steve used to volunteer for the National Park Service at Wupatki National Monument helping with archaeological and anthropological studies, and it ignited in him a passion for indigenous desert cultures. This will be our fourth trip out West together. Here is a photo from our first trip. This is Mesa Verde in Colorado:
Here is one I took in the Ojito Wilderness in New Mexico on our last trip:
On the way back, we stopped at the Cahokia Mounds State Historic site in Illinois where we saw the remnants of a pre-Columbian city of approximately 10,000 inhabitants. Some of those Mississippian peoples also settled in Wisconsin at what is now Aztalan State Park, where we’ve visited several times.
The more I learn about cultures who thrived in this country long before European settlers arrived, the more I appreciate the relationship they had with the places they lived. Our heritage as human beings is written on the landscape. We need to learn from the evidence of how we’ve impacted the resources of desert, woodland, or any other habitat. What we will pass on to the next generations of Earth inhabitants hinges on this collective wisdom.
This article is featured in the December issue of The BeZine.
“Truth is ugly. We possess art lest we perish of the truth.” – Nietzsche
Civilization kills. We are living in apocalyptic times. The Anthropocene is here; humans are dominating and destroying the Earth. Like all civilizations in history, though, ours will fall back into the dust, and Earth will absorb it in some fashion. I get angry with humans because of this. Our arrogance and hubris and stupidity is truly abhorrent. I would wash my hands from all association with my species if I could, but for two things: music and food. I am willing to forgive everything for Puccini and Marcona almonds sauteed in butter and thyme.
Perhaps it is nothing but hedonism to feel that my pleasure in a fine meal at La Reve on Tuesday might bring me back from the brink of utter despair. The “Holiday Train” event in the village late that afternoon had created horrific traffic congestion with black-clad pedestrians pushing strollers into the dark streets while some pop Christmas frenzy blared over a loudspeaker. I felt truly Scroogeish; humans are complete humbug. But then the ambiance of a Parisian bistro — chattering guests and tremulous accordion melodies — and the buttery oak in the Chardonnay spread its warmth over that cold, post-Truth fear surrounding my heart. I asked Irene, our Asian-American server, about how the chef prepared the pumpkin soup. We talked about how roasting brings out the deeper flavors of vegetables and stock bones and what items on the menu were gluten-free. By the time I had savored my way through triple-cream brie, salmon, lamb and chocolate caramel, I was ready to admit atonement of the human race was possible.
The next day, however, my thoughts turned dark again. How could I justify the expense of that meal, even though almost half of the cost to me was covered by a gift certificate? How had the animals invested in that meal been treated? How far had the ingredients traveled on fossil fuels to get to my plate? My awareness of suffering may have been dulled for a time, but it was not erased. I may have been treated quite well, but was I healed?
Healing. In Western culture, it’s about fixing pathology. In Eastern culture, it’s about making whole. Awareness is about opening up to understand the whole, the complete Oneness of the Universe. “Life is suffering” is the first noble Truth in Buddhism. Suffering is in the Oneness. Arising from the awareness of suffering are two responses (at least): Fear and Compassion.
I experience my fear for the human race and my compassion for it as well, blended contrapuntally. To recognize that only as thoughts criss-crossing my brain might drive me mad. To see that reflected in a complex pairing of wine and cheese or in the first act duet of Mimi and Rudolfo in La Boheme saves me from perishing from the ugly truth. I will never comprehend the Truth, although I live it every day. Making, enjoying, or experiencing Art is as close as I may ever come to holding the Whole in my heart. I believe that those who practice Meditation seek to do the same, while sparing the harm caused in producing Art.
May we all find a way to happiness, a way not to perish from the Truth, a way to be at peace with the Whole.
Text and photographs © Priscilla Galasso, 2016. All rights reserved.
What color is humility? What color is Pope Francis? What color is poverty? What color is racial injustice? What color is responsibility? What color is Noam Chomsky? What color is Bernie Sanders? What color is exploitation? What color is extinction? What color is cowardice? What color is love? What color is peace? What color is Thich Nhat Hahn? What color is health? What color is despair? What color is the sky? What color is Earth? What color am I?
100 Thousand Poets for Change event link HERE.
“There’s nothing out there! It’s a barren landscape. Why would you want to go there? Why should we preserve that useless place?”
Nothing out there, eh? Well, if that’s Nothing, it’s pretty spectacular. It’s vast, for one thing. Stretching in all directions, as far as the eye can see and further. And it’s limited, encased in a single droplet from a juniper berry, sweet and pungent in my mouth, yet powerful enough to stimulate a rush from my salivary glands and wet my parched throat. You could live on Nothing. Many have, and left their artwork in symbols on the rocks. Yes, they had time for Art in ‘subsistence living’. Do you have time for Art in your life? It is barren of some things. There are no strip malls. There are no straight lines. There is a meandering curve of vegetation down there. It’s a lot more narrow than it used to be. The air is warming. The climate is changing. Fecundity is fighting the curse that foists barrenness upon it. The energy of life will not give up easily. And that’s why I want to go there. To learn. We must preserve it in order to let it teach us. We are ignorant. We ignore the wilderness and call it Nothing. There is a story there. A Myth. One day we may get wise.
I have just finished reading a very informative book by Jane Goodall on the subject of Food. Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating has led me to reconsider the way I buy and cook and eat food. Much of it is based on common sense and natural practices (What would a chimp choose to eat? Have you ever seen an overweight chimp in the wild?), and much of it exposes the insanity that is our factory food production here in the “civilized” world. How civilized is it to cram thousands of chickens together in a cage, remove their beaks so that they can’t peck each other to death, pump them with antibiotics and force them to cannibalize their own kind by giving them non-vegetarian feed? And then to slaughter them, ship their polluted flesh over thousands of miles burning fossil fuels, and eat it? I was not thinking about that when I bought Super Saver packages of chicken breasts at my local super market. I think about it now.
And here is the surprising gift of hope: my children have been thinking about this for years. I didn’t lead the way.
Here is another arena of hope: reclaiming, salvaging and recycling living space. My daughter and her fiance purchased a home that had been severely water damaged and mold and mildew infested. The inhabitants had moved out to hospice care and died; the house was abandoned, but the water wasn’t shut off. In the winter freeze and thaw, the pipes broke and flooded the place. What a mess! But Joe comes from a family line of carpenters and construction wizards. He has completely re-worked the house: plumbing, electric, heating, floor plan and surfaces. He’s gotten neighbors, friends and family involved in the labor and in donating fixtures. The final step will be relocating the back yard garden. You see, this house is just a few doors down the street from the one they’ve rented for the past 3 years. So, by their wedding date one year from this month, they will have their own home and garden. They are marvelous role models for sustainable living, and I am so proud of them! Yesterday I went down to visit and take pictures. They sent me home with a bunch of produce from their garden. I am so grateful and awed by how life unfolds. The next generation is certainly capable of taking responsibility and working hard in a sustainable direction. Let’s just hope many of them choose to!
As a core team member of The Bardo Group, I have been invited, encouraged, challenged to participate in the 100 Thousand Poets for Change event. For more information about this event, and to be stirred and prodded in you own artistic lethargy, click here.
I yearn to be a poet, an artist, a musician. I often find a piece that seems so right, so seemingly effortless, so fitting that I think it can’t be hard to craft a work like that…it simply lays over its theme like a glove. Not so. Listening to music on my way to work yesterday, I heard a poet’s frustration: “I don’t know why I spend my time / Writing songs I can’t believe / With words that tear and strain to rhyme.” (Paul Simon: Kathy’s Song.)
I feel this theme of Peace and Justice coursing through my life, my thoughts, my work, my hopes, and I wonder how hard it would be to write a poem about it. I talked to a young man half my age who has studied forensic justice and just interviewed for a position as a mentor, a parole partner, someone who will help perpetrators and victims get together and talk, face to face. I thought it was a great idea, for both parties, for all parties. Here’s my attempt to let that idea percolate:
Let’s Face It
Behind the veil, the dirty shroud, the black burka, the white Klan sheet,
the knit ski mask, the heavy gas mask, the transparent oxygen mask, the impenetrable death mask,
the dense fur, the redwood bark, the shiny scales, the matted feathers,
the protective shield, the official badge, the repeated slogan,
the coarse beard, the perfect make-up,
the injections, the implants,
the scars, the screen
There is a face, a viable being.
When eyes recognize
kin and skin, then peace begins.
Face to face is the starting place.
The Word Press Daily Post Photo Challenge states: “As we sift through fleeting status updates, toss yet another egg carton in the recycling bin, and watch as seasons change around the world, it can seem like life is made of constant change.”
Well, isn’t it?
And maybe, to step outside of constant change is to see constant continuation. Thich Nhat Hahn doesn’t celebrate his birthday, he calls it a “continuation day”.
If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people. To be born means that something which did not exist comes into existence. But the day we are “born” is not our beginning. It is a day of continuation. But that should not make us less happy when we celebrate our “Happy Continuation Day.” Since we are never born, how can we cease to be? This is what the Heart Sutra reveals to us. When we have tangible experience of non-birth and non-death, we know ourselves beyond duality. The meditation on “no separate self” is one way to pass through the gate of birth and death. Your hand proves that you have never been born and you will never die. The thread of life has never been interrupted from time without beginning until now. Previous generations, all the way back to single cell beings, are present in your hand at this moment. You can observe and experience this. Your hand is always available as a subject for meditation.
–Thich Nhat Hanh, Present Moment, Wonderful Moment
Continuation and endurance are kindred concepts. It’s not about effort, it’s about the flow of life: life to life.
And now, for my illustration. Sequoia sempervirens, the coastal redwood. Amongst the oldest living things on earth, the species includes the tallest living trees on the planet. This particular tree is located in Big Basin Redwoods State Park, about 25 miles from the house I lived in as a high school student, where my brother lives now. It’s nicknamed The Grandfather.
If these trees continue to exist in 50 years, they may exist for a thousand. If they’re gone in 10 years, they’ll be gone forever. Redwoods reproduce by seed cone and asexually through lignotubers, called ‘burls’. Redwood burls are beautiful swirls of richly colored wood when they are sliced open. Unfortunately, poachers take these burls for decorative furniture and cut off the reproductive possibilities. Here’s an article describing how 2 men were arrested and charged for poaching redwood burls in a National Park.
What will endure for the next generation? How do I choose my path, living in continuation and protecting continuation in all life on our interconnected planet?
“It’s a time for celebration! 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Wilderness Act, the landmark conservation bill that created a way for Americans to protect their most pristine wildlands for future generations. The 1964 Wilderness Act…created the National Wilderness Preservation System, which protects nearly 110 million acres of wilderness areas from coast to coast. This anniversary is a wonderful chance to celebrate all that’s been achieved for wilderness in the past 50 years and remind Americans of all that we can achieve in the next 50.” (from The Wilderness Society website, http://www.wilderness.org)
I read this call to celebration with great delight. My partner Steve is also turning 50 this fall. We’d been searching for a way to live out the next half of our lives more intentionally embodying all that we’ve come to value. He’s been reading up on ‘Deep Ecology’ lately and examining his own philosophy of land ethic, relationship to the Earth, and living responsibly. It can all be a very thick soup to me, but at the mention of “WILDERNESS”, I began to find a kind of clarity. Images, feelings, an intuitive sense of freedom and sanctity began to emerge from the murky definitions and contradictions. Yes, I value ‘wilderness’. I need it. I know this, deep in my soul. What is this recognition about? What does ‘wilderness’ mean, and what do I learn from it?
“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” The Wilderness Act of 1964
What is our relationship to wilderness – or to Nature, for that matter? Are we visitors? Are we managers, stewards, masters? Conquerors? I hear the ‘beep, beep, beep’ of construction vehicles in reverse and the thud of jack-hammers that are currently tearing down the green space near my home and widening the interstate highway to create a Research Park, and I know that a large part of my culture is dedicated to conquering and altering the land and calling it ‘development’.
I am drawn to the prairie, to the woodlands, to green space wherever I find it, but I don’t want to be a mere visitor. I belong to this planet. My ancestry is here. When I was a little girl, I used to play in the Forest Preserve across the street from my house. I would duck beneath the shady boughs of a bush and sweep out some floor space with a stick. I would set up rooms and fashion utensils of twig and bark. I played House for hours on end, staking my claim, perhaps, to domesticity within that habitat. I want to live on the Earth, with the Earth, not in dominance or enmity, but in peace and harmony. In order to live in peace, however, I have to know when to leave well enough alone. I know this in my relationship with people, and I know this in my relationship with animals. It’s called Respect. Why shouldn’t this be true of my relationship to land and sea and air as well? Let it do what it wants to do. Let it enjoy autonomy, as I do. Let it be “untrammeled by man”.
If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.” – Lyndon Baynes Johnson, President who signed The Wilderness Act into law.
Is it naive to think that there exists any place on Earth that is truly pristine? Perhaps. And that need not be grounds to dismiss the idea of wilderness with a cynical roll of the eyes. I believe there is merit in creating what I call ‘secondary wilderness’ by allowing areas that have been previously used and even exploited to return to a more natural state. There is much to be learned by observing what time and non-human agents will do in a particular environment. Steve and I found a section of secondary wilderness right here in Wisconsin. Although most of the 110 million acres of federally designated Wilderness is west of the Mississippi in mountains, deserts, and Arctic tundra, there are forests in the North that have been abandoned by logging operations and allowed to return to wildlands. The Headwaters Wilderness in the Nicolet unit of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest is 22,000+ acres of previously logged forest that has been left wild since 1984. There are 2 Forest Service roads that divide the area into three sections, but enough contiguous acreage to qualify still for wilderness status. Backpacker Magazine’s site has given it the distinction of “deepest solitude” within that Forest. We headed there just after Memorial Day.
wilderness:(1) a tract or region uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings (2) : an area essentially undisturbed by human activity together with its naturally developed life community (Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary)
We found a dispersed campsite across the road from the designated wilderness on the banks of Scott Lake. As we set up camp, we were greeted by two trumpeter swans on the lake, a raucous chorus of frogs and a host of mosquitoes. That night, we had a bit of rain. In the morning, a bald eagle perched high in a dead tree on the far side of the lake, illuminated by the rising eastern sun. Staring at him through my binoculars, I imagined him enjoying an aerial view like ones I’d seen in pictures of Alaska. Could I really be in the wilderness, finally? My rational brain convinced me of the disparities, but my romantic soul glowed. Even here, in Wisconsin, there can be solitude, common-union with nature, and a wild hope.
“…in Wildness is the preservation of the World. Every tree sends its fibers forth in search of the Wild. The cities import it at any price. Men plow and sail for it. From the forest and wilderness come the tonics and barks which brace mankind…I believe in the forest, and in the meadow, and in the night in which the corn grows. We require an infusion of hemlock, spruce or arbor vitae in our tea…” Henry David Thoreau, “Walking” 1862
We found a hiking trail into the edge of the wilderness, marked by a series of white diamonds on the trees. The trail was maintained, after a fashion, but not with meticulous interference. I preferred it to those wide, paved “trails” in city parks where cyclists, boarders and baby strollers whiz by all weekend.
The inevitable down side of climbing the wilderness mountain is returning to ‘civilization’, re-entering the spaces that humans have altered and asking a million critical questions about our involvement. Was this action necessary? Was this change beneficial and for whom? How is this decision going to effect this environment, this habitat, this life? How do I take responsibility when my ignorance is so vast? How do I do my best to learn and choose and be aware? What do I do when I see individuals or systems causing destruction?
I learned the 4 pillars of Environmental Education while volunteering at a local Nature Center: Awareness, Appreciation, Attitude and Action. My experience in the wilderness took me on a journey past those milestones: being aware of the solitude, of the multitude of interconnected lives as well; being awed by the variety and majesty of all that I saw; feeling a deep desire to protect, to respect, and to serve Life; and finally, deciding to make changes and choices in my own life and lifestyle, to learn to embody the experience, not just as a vacation or a change from habit, but as a daily practice.
Steve & I are planning to attend the National Wilderness Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico this October. We are eager to explore the sacred space of our common ground, the Earth, with like-minded people who are also interested in fostering the understanding of our life in proximity with each other and with the life around us. I look forward to feeling the refreshment of wilderness in my soul and encountering new ways of expressing the spiritual aspect of this quality of life in art, morality and intellectual discourse.
Please consider this an invitation to join me, if not at the Conference itself, in the exploration of Wilderness as a part of our humanity. Please share comments here and likes here.
“Ben Jonson exclaims: ‘How near to good is what is fair!’ So I would say, How near to good is what is wild! Life consists with wildness. The most alive is the wildest. Not yet subdued to man, its presence refreshes him. One who pressed forward incessantly and never rested from his labors, who grew fast and made infinite demands on life, would always find himself in a new country or wilderness, and surrounded by the raw material of life. He would be climbing over the prostrate stems of primitive forest-trees. Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps.” Henry David Thoreau, “Walking” 1862