This month, I was honored to be the Associate Editor of The Be Zine, and the theme of the issue is “The Joys of Nature: Wilderness, Gardens and Green Spaces”. Browse the entire blogazine here.
What exactly is our relationship with Earth, its wilderness, its gardens and its green spaces?
Of course we all value this place in some way. I won’t call it our home, although we all live here; we can live nowhere else. To me, the idea of ownership seems inappropriate at least and inaccurate at best. This place may be closer to owning me, in fact. And ‘home’ makes it seem so domesticated. Is that what it is? Or is it unapologetically wild and autonomous? I have decided to approach this place as I would an equal: with humility and respect for both of us. That seems to be the best moral decision I can make.
Others don’t agree. They consider this place a servant in need of stewardship. They talk of ‘eco-system services’ and measure the value of this place by the benefits it provides to one species, a single leaf on the great Tree of Life – Humans. They extract the elements that serve them, but they are not producers, like plants; they are consumers. They talk in economic terms, like ‘board feet’, but the only thing they truly produce is waste, of which only a minimal amount can be absorbed and re-used. They concern themselves with ‘management’, imagining a parental responsibility for the growth and training of this place. It’s ironic to me that the child they attend is billions of years their senior.
This place is often valued for its beauty, prized for delicate and powerful sensual elements that fill the soul and spark the imagination. Many who praise it lift it far up on a pedestal of mysticism but decline to offer it their understanding or their presence. To them, it can become remote, surreal and alien, a romantic fantasy on an epic canvas.
Some view this place with disinterest, perturbation, or downright disgust. Standing on it just means that it’s beneath them; they will not allow themselves to be grounded. It takes a great expenditure of energy to maintain this separation, but they achieve this distance by employing every distraction and applying every veneer currently available.
This has been called the “Athropocene Era”, the geological epoch of Humans. We are the dominant species at the moment and the major force impacting the Earth. We’re no longer a hunter-gatherer society, and our advancing technology is always at the expense of natural resources, even if our intention is to use it for conservation efforts. For example, the ‘progress’ we have made in recycling plastic still uses tremendous energy to break down the material and still results in the production of waste and toxins. The unchecked growth of our species has effected the climate of the entire planet and threatens a mass extinction.
It stands to reason that the only way to lessen our impact is to become less numerous, consume less, and produce less waste. We must slow down and live simpler, more sustainable lifestyles in order to stop this growth mentality that has become a global menace. Then we can begin to nurture an equal relationship to this place and its inhabitants.
Let us spend time with this place, pay a lover’s attention to its moods, its responses. Let’s be careful what we take and what we leave behind. Let’s respect this place in every detail and not dismiss the nuances in its character. Let us champion its autonomy and dignity, seeking to understand but not using that understanding for our own advancement and growth. Let’s explore to gain wisdom, not to invade. And let us celebrate our love for this place! Teach it! Demonstrate it in song, story, art and work!
I hope we will not grow weary or discouraged in this love. There will certainly come a new age of geography yet, whether our species is included or not. In our own lifetimes, though, living a loving relationship to this place is its own reward. It is a love to fill the heart, soul, mind and body and bless the world.
(this is a featured article in this month’s issue of The Be Zine. Click here to see the whole thing.)
Once upon a time, there were a bunch of Big Brains who decided that living things (which they rarely called ‘living beings’) needed to be neatly organized. Grouping things together based on similarity was important to them for some reason. So they made up categories and named them Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species, in succession from broad to specific. Then they had to remember these categories, so they memorized “Kindly Professors Cannot Often Fail Good Students” – apropos of nothing much. (Personally, I think “Kindly People Courageously Offer Fauna/Flora General Sympathy” might make better sense.)
Meanwhile, some other Big Brains decided that everything in the Universe was made by one Creator and that He gave humans dominion over all the other animal species on Earth and gave every plant for human use. That made them feel they were Most Important among the creatures on the planet. They felt very comfortable with that and valued themselves, and those that looked and acted most like them, very highly.
As for those creatures who were terribly different from them, well, they were kind of “icky”.
Well, these Big Brains were very clever. They prospered and multiplied (and divided and conjugated and came up with quantum physics). They learned how to make a Big Impact on the Earth, making things they liked out of the raw materials Earth had. And every year, there were more of them. They liked to be comfortable, so they tried to eliminate things that bothered them. Like locusts. And dandelions.
They liked to be powerful, so they claimed victories over other living things that had power. Like lions. And giant sequoias.
Gradually, they noticed that some of the other living things (or Living Beings) were disappearing completely. Some people thought that was a shame, especially if the thing was useful or furry or had a face. Others noticed that when one type of thing was gone, things began to change for the rest as well. A few Big Brains began to ask some really Tough Questions about why things on the Earth were changing so quickly and whether the Big Impact of humans had anything to do with it.
I can’t tell you the ending of this story. Perhaps the Big Brains will disappear like so many other Living Beings did, and Earth will go on without them. Perhaps the Big Brains will become less numerous, less dominant, and Earth will go on with them. Perhaps something altogether different will happen. It doesn’t really matter how I tell the story.
What does matter?
Well, here on Earth, ‘matter’ can also mean every Living Being and every non-Living Thing.
What we Big Brains decide to do with all matter will matter and will help tell the end of the story.
This piece is featured in this month’s issue of the BeZine. For a link to the complete issue, click here.
The hero’s journey is a deeply challenging topic for an amateur writer and philosopher. What a great invitation to read and research, to tie strands together and squint to see a pattern! Typically, I submit essays to this forum, as I am much more comfortable in prose. This time, however, I decided that an essay on this topic would be way too ambitious. What I have is Swiss cheese and spiderwebs, full of holes and only loosely connected, so I thought a poem would be more appropriate. However, I will preface this one with a bibliography. I began with the final chapter of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces, where I read this:
“Today all of these mysteries [“the great pantomime of the sacred moon-king, the sacred sun-king, the hieratic, planetary state, and the symbolic festivals of the world-regulating spheres”] have lost their force; their symbols no longer interest our psyche. The notion of a cosmic law, which all existence serves and to which man himself must bend, has long since passed through the preliminary mystical stages represented in the old astrology, and is now simply accepted in mechanical terms as a matter of course. The descent of the Occidental science from the the heavens to the earth (from 17th century astronomy to 19th century biology), and their concentration today, at last, on man himself (in 20th century anthropology and psychology), mark the path of a prodigious transfer of the focal point of human wonder. Not the animal world, not the plant world, not the miracle of the spheres, but man himself is now the crucial mystery. Man is that alien presence with whom the force of egoism must come to terms, through whom the ego is to be reformed. Man, understood however not as “I” but as “Thou”: for the ideals and temporal institutions of no tribe, race, continent, social class, or century, can be the measure of the inexhaustible and multifariously wonderful divine existence that is the life in all of us.” (emphasis mine)
That reading led me to recall lectures I heard from Dave Foreman at the Wilderness 50 conference. His essay on “The Anthropocene and Ozymandius” can be found in several online posts. From there, I considered Nietzsche’s Übermensch from Also Sprach Zarathustra. And always underlying my thoughts is my admiration for Buddhist practice and The Middle Way. So, with all that as the primordial soup, this emerged:
Homo sapiens sapiens Oh most separate, separating Anthropocene anthropocentric The Egoid egotist Ozymandius, great Wizard of Man Eyes on screen Fingertips fiddling
Journey who will
That Über undertaking Condescend to transcend Dare to die in darkness, Awake in wilderness At one, atoned In mystic Middle
Some Thoughts on Poverty – Spiritual Lessons from Nature Series
This article appears in this month’s issue of The BeZine. To read the entire issue, click HERE.
Raising a child is not rocket science. It is more complex than that. Rocket science is merely complicated. What’s the difference? The Latin root for complicated means “folded,” like pleats. There are hidden surfaces, but you can unfold them and draw an iron straight across it. Rocket science requires a long series of problems to solve, but with enough time and effort, you can get through them all and even repeat the entire process with very similar and predictable results. (Any one with more than one kid knows this is not the case in parenting!) In the same way, you can determine which peak is the tallest one in the Appalachian Mountains. You probably can’t guess correctly just by looking out over the landscape from a single overview, but get enough people with GPS tools to climb the hundreds of peaks on the horizon and take measurements, and eventually, you can figure out which one is the tallest. Complicated, but do-able.
Complex is a whole different story. The root of that word means “inter-woven,” like a spider’s web, where each fine thread is connected to another. And they’re all sticky except for the ones the spider uses to climb directly over to her stuck prey. But can you tell which is which? Can you tell that the one you just stepped into is sending a ripple right over to where the spider is sitting? She now knows exactly where you’re stuck, but she doesn’t know that you harbor a parasite that will kill her and make its way to yet another host when yonder sparrow snaps up her dead carcass. That’s complex.
Raising a child is complex. Trying to tell which peak in the Appalachian range is the tallest is complex, too, if the landscape is dancing: changing in an unpredictable pattern , moving to the rhythm of an imperceptible music. Which peak is tallest now? And NOW? And why are we even trying to find the answer to that question while watching this mysterious dance?
Poverty is complex. It is not something that is solved by simply devoting more time and effort to the problem. If it were, we would not be looking at thousands of years of history on the subject. We give in to the temptation to simplify poverty into a matter of dollars over time, reducing it to something measurable, predictable, and controlled, a mere graphic—the poverty line. But poverty is an inter-woven network of relationships and concepts—self worth, social justice, resources and their extraction, economic policies and global politics. It is as complex as our planet’s environment.
So how do you engage with a complex issue like poverty?
Aldo Leopold arrived at a Land Ethic after years of developing and recording a relationship to a particular place in Wisconsin. In the book A Sand County Almanac, he writes: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” Making personal decisions about right and wrong based on your relationship to the community is the responsibility of every individual. Applying that ethic rigorously and non-dogmatically is the work of love. How do you love your neighbor? How do you preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community on this planet of inestimable and finite resources? How do you alleviate the suffering caused by poverty? These are complex questions.
“We shall never achieve harmony with land, any more than we shall achieve absolute justice or liberty for people. In these higher aspirations the important thing is not to achieve, but to strive.” —Aldo Leopold
Maybe a more accessible question is this: How shall we strive to end poverty? To that question, I can imagine simple answers. Start early in your learning. Teach children about sharing and portion, not dogmatically, but in relationship. Strive toward understanding basic needs and toward a sense of what is enough. Build trust and hope and compassion. Be flexible, changing with the land and its resources. Be present with the multiple factors involved; do not look away, diminish or dismiss what is real. Be authentic and honest and diligent, and finally, believe that even on a dancing landscape, food is growing underfoot.
This article is my submission to the July edition of The BeZine. For the table of contents with links to my colleague’s work, click here.
“THE CRITIC AS ARTIST: WITH SOME REMARKS UPON THE IMPORTANCE OF DOING NOTHING” — Oscar Wilde wrote this essay in the form of a dialogue between two characters, Gilbert and Ernest, in the library of a house in Piccadilly. Here are some key quotes from that piece:
“The one duty we owe to history is to re-write it. That is not the least of the tasks in store for the critical spirit.”
“When man acts he is a puppet. When he describes he is a poet.”
I confess I have not read The Critic As Artist in its entirety and so have not discovered Wilde’s “remarks upon the importance of doing nothing”. However, I do have some understanding of our critical mind, the ways we apply it, and the results of being dominated by it.
First of all, what is ‘the critical spirit’? I think what the author is getting at is the individual thought process that creates meaning. What we ‘know’ of the world might be broken into 3 categories: Fact, Experience and Story. Fact is the measured detail of life — how old it is, how big it is, how it reacts chemically, that kind of thing. We learn some things from it, but it has no emotional arch, no meaning.
Experience is the raw sensation of the moment: emotions, smells, sounds, tastes, sights, awareness, feeling. It is how we know we are alive.
And then there’s Story, and this is how we are all poets: we take in data, we see events transpire, we feel emotion and sensation, and then, we put that together into a narrative that makes ‘sense’ to us. We have created a story, a meaning, and attached it to history. That work is largely supervised by our Ego as our thought processes select and omit and weigh the data according to our own preferences and values. We imagine and imitate what we like, we suppress what we don’t; we spin what comes out. These stories become part of the body of data that we use to create further meaning as well. It is essential to realize that we are constantly making up stories. Civilization is a story. Religion is a story. Philosophy and Art and Psychology and Anthropology and so many other pursuits are simply ways that we have manufactured meaning by creating stories. There is wonderful wisdom in recognizing “the danger of a single story”, and so it is a fortunate thing to have so many different ones. (a Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, fleshes this out in her profound TED talk, HERE) Stories are ubiquitous. There is no ‘right’ story. Good stories point at Truth, but there are lots of ways to construct them.
This awareness of the creation of story by your own Ego is the key to “the importance of doing nothing” as well. The plethora of stories and the facility of story-telling in our culture tends to dominate our reactions and expectations, creating drama, manipulation and anxiety along with meaning. In some ways, we want that. We find it exciting. But it’s also exhausting and can be exploitative. To be able to leave the story-telling aside and simply BE is important for my well-being and my personal peace. Meditation is helpful in the practice of stilling the ego and refraining from making up meaning. When I concentrate on the present moment and return to the simple activity of breathing, I allow the world to be what it is instead of conscripting it into the service of my creative ego. Then I am free to relax my mind and let go of my anxieties about how the story will turn out. My energy is renewed, and I am at peace. (This is a practice that I am only just beginning to employ. Awareness is the first step!)
“The imagination imitates; it is the critical spirit that creates.” We are invited to engage with the world on many different levels, all of which can be useful and appropriate at certain times. Wisdom is the art of choosing how to engage in a way that is edifying for yourself and others. For everything, there is a season: a time to imitate, a time to create, and a time to refrain from creative ego activity. May each of us find joy in the exploration of this Wisdom and delight where we recognize this exploration in others!
While I was off in California at my brother’s wedding, my blogger friend Juls from Paris challenged me to a writing exercise. Finally today, on a cool, rainy Saturday, I’ve had time to myself to sit down and write. Here is the link to Juls’ post. (This is my tricky way to get you to visit her site and discover an amazing quadra-lingual traveler and photographer!) Here are the rules:
1. Open a blank Document
2. Set a stop watch or your mobile phone timer to 5 or 10 minutes, whichever challenge you prefer.
3. Your topic is at the foot of this post BUT DO NOT SCROLL DOWN TO SEE IT UNTIL YOU ARE READY WITH YOUR TIMER!!!
4. Once you start writing do not stop until the alarm sounds!
5. Do not cheat by going back and correcting spelling and grammar using spell check (it is only meant for you to reflect on your own control of sensible thought flow and for you to reflect on your ability to write with correct spelling and grammar.)
6. You may or may not pay attention to punctuation or capitals.
7. At the end of your post write down ‘No. of words = ____” to give an idea of how much you can write within the time frame.
8. Do not forget to copy paste the entire passage on your blog post with a new topic for your nominees and copy paste these rules with your nomination (at least five (5) bloggers)
The topic I was given was “The Road”. I gave myself 10 minutes. Here’s what I wrote:
The road is the path for the journey. The road is where we spend our time, living and going, breathing, walking, being alive, moving forward. The road is not always comfortable for me. I have often wanted to stop, to set up house, to be sheltered and still, coddled and kept safe. Danger exists on the road. Danger exists in life, and every instinct in me wants to minimize danger, for myself, my children, my loved ones. Trying to eliminate danger, trying to make the road more like a safety shelter, is a constant struggle against reality. I have tried many established ways of making the journey of life and death more comfortable. I have gone deeply into religion, the sojourner who seeks the aide of the divine to travel more safely. I have surrounded myself with the buttresses of society, traveling in numbers to increase safety and minimize inconvenience. The funny thing is, when the most dramatic events occur, I find that I am truly experiencing them alone. No one really travels through death in company. When your brain is about to shut off, who thinks your final thoughts with you? No one.
I have lost a lot on the road; I have gained much as well. My sister and I were in a car crash on an Interstate Highway. She lost control and was killed beside me. I lost my husband in the safety of our own home as we slept. Death is in life, not in location. I have discovered life on the road, on the journey. Moving forward to greater acceptance of my children and their autonomy is a fine example of this. It is an experience of opening up to possibility, to opportunity, to change and movement and dance. You can’t step in the same river twice; you can’t leave the road and still go somewhere. I have been stuck at the side of the road for stretches of time. I invariably begin to twitch, feel hot and restless. It is not living. The road is wonder, challenge, growth. I want to be on it; I want to be moving forward, even as I resist and return to neuroses sometimes.
Word Count = 365 words…one word for every day in the year, oddly enough. My 5 nominees for the challenge are:
I have been invited by Terry of Through the Lens of My Lifeto participate in a Five Day Challenge. Each day, I will post a photo and write a story to go along with it. (I probably will interpret the term ‘story’ quite loosely. I do that.) I will also invite one person each day to take up this challenge on his/her blog. This challenge has been a lot of fun! It’s interesting to see where my brain makes connections between fact and fiction and how an image is a jumping off place for those associations.
This last little story is called “The Gold Coast”:
Jake is a bit of a space cadet, but he’s harmless. He does things like arranging the dried kelp on the beach into celebrity images. His Leonard Nimoy was quite touching, given the timing. He’s rather a local hero in Santa Cruz. You can see him cruising the volleyball courts near the boardwalk in the early morning, chatting up the homeless and delivering donuts. Seagulls follow him around because he chats them up, too, while providing breakfast. The other day, he gave an impromptu lecture on the California Gold Rush of 1850 from the middle of the wharf. Between his barking and the sea lions’, a small crowd of curious tourists gathered. Somehow, he managed to convince them that you could still find gold on the beach where the river emptied out, just beyond the eucalyptus grove. A few of them followed him to the spot. “Now, it’s only just flakes that are left,” he began. “You can say that again!” one of the gawkers snickered. “…so ya gotta get down real close, combat-style, to see ’em. Right down on your belly in the sand, dude, like this, and follow their trail to the sea!” Yup, Jake is a real scenic attraction. You never know where he’ll turn up next.
— Next, I invite you to visitVictoria Slottoat her blog. She is a published poet and author who is delving a bit more deeply into her photography as well. Peruse her site for lots of beautiful images, verbal and digital, and stories that will spark your own connections. She does quite a few writing prompt challenges, so there are lots already there in her archives.
I have been invited by Terry of Through the Lens of My Lifeto participate in a Five Day Challenge. Each day, I will post a photo and write a story to go along with it. (I probably will interpret the term ‘story’ quite loosely. I do that.) I will also invite one person each day to take up this challenge on his/her blog.
Today’s offering is titled “Scarring and Healing”:
The cold air pricked her cheeks as she walked the soggy trail. The sting kept her alert in her solitude, her daydreams suppressed by the chill of Now. Her downcast eyes were wary, marking her footing lest she slip on an icy patch in her resolution to maintain a brisk pace. On either side of her, oaks and pines stretched darkly upward into a damp, gray sky. The leaf litter beneath her feet offered up the rich, earthy smell of decay. She breathed it in deeply and raised her head. At the fork in the path loomed a large, lichen-covered trunk. At eye level, the bark was stripped away and a curious zigzag was laid bare. Suddenly, her legs grew weak. She stood still, staring at the jagged gash. Tentatively, she raised her hand and pressed her fingers into the seam. The place felt warm to her touch. Slowly, she traced the serpentine line, caressing each inch with intent awareness. Her brows pinched together, and her nose stung. Her salty tears ate away the iciness of her cheeks. This living tree displayed the image of her memories, the shiny white scar down his breastbone, wider and redder in a few places where the staples had given way and the flesh had became infected, punctuated here and there with the small holes of needle entry. How often she had looked anxiously on those scars. How guilty she had felt when she at last laid her head on his chest again and noticed the swelling when she raised it precious minutes later. The last thing on earth that she wanted was to add to his pain. His quick laugh was enough to assure her that he wanted her closeness more than her worries. And with that memory, she recalled the tender touch, re-enacted it, and reverenced the miracle of healing in the patient example of the living pine. The tree stood tall bearing witness to its tale, and she moved on, alone, bearing hers.
— Next, I invite you to visit Edward Roads at My Two Sentences. Each of his posts is exactly that, two sentences, narrating an idea inspired by his photos. His genre makes my brain whir, filling in more detail to the story, and his vocabulary makes me get out my dictionary – which I appreciate! I reckon his two sentences amount to a story, so he’s already completed this challenge and will probably keep it up for at least five more days. (So, no pressure, Edward! 🙂 )
I have been invited by Terry of Through the Lens of My Lifeto participate in a Five Day Challenge. Each day, I will post a photo and write a story to go along with it. (I probably will interpret the term ‘story’ quite loosely. I do that.) I will also invite one person each day to take up this challenge on his/her blog. I’m excited to participate, as I have been eager to set aside time to indulge my creative side. It’s a spring awakening, of sorts, so thank you, Terry! Here’s my first offering:
Sometime during the night, a winged spirit must have visited my window. There are the traces of his presence and his flight, frozen against the pane. It’s as if he were caught peeking in at my dreams, and perhaps left a note to apologize for the intrusion. Dear Messenger, does your scrolling script bring word from that soul who lives in my memory and heart, the figure of my dreams, the love of my past youth? If so, then I thank you for this precious gift, gone with the rising warmth of morn. A brief delight, as was his kiss, a fluttering pulse. It is enough to tickle my imagination and leave a smile.
– Next, I invite you to visit Naomi Baltuck at Writing Between the Lines. She has already accomplished much more than this challenge requires, and as a professional storyteller and author, she may not have time to participate in this specifically. (You’re off the hook, friend! But you’ve been tagged for visits. 🙂 ) I love her posts…it’s like nestling into the cozy corner of a children’s library for Story Hour. Her photos and stories are like the picture books that you loved to discover as a kid: humorous, expertly illustrated, and with a great message to take away. Enjoy! And thanks for spending time here!
What’s New? That’s actually a very complex question. Perhaps you’ve heard it said that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed. That means that everything is just a recombination of ancient atoms and forces. Even the sunlight of a new day is coming to us from so far away that the first beams to reach our eyes are already old. Therefore, “there is nothing new under the sun,” to quote wise old Solomon. ‘New’ is a concept that we’ve made up, a proposition of dualistic thinking.
Which makes it impossible for me to come up with an accurate illustration.
So, I’ll leave accuracy aside and go for poetry.
Firelight, flickering to life moment by moment. Have you ever stared into a flame and wondered how it keeps going? Have you ever contemplated ‘eternal combustion’ and wondered how the sun keeps shining? Have you ever wondered how it is that Life Goes On? A new year. Did you ever doubt that there would be one?
What if one day, the sun went dark and time stopped? What if the Universe did not behave as expected? What if meaning and existence and relationships and substance turned out to be utter nonsense? Have you ever stared into the abyss? Have you ever turned toward existential angst and forgotten to look away?
What did that feel like?
I’ll tell you how it felt to me on New Year’s Eve. Steve read me a story aloud at the dinner table. The story was Flannery O’Connor’s tale A Good Man Is Hard To Find. I’d heard it before. This time, as he finished, the tears began to roll down my face. The leftover bits of caviar and salmon on the table looked like a joke. I felt like I was dead. And then I felt like there was very little difference between being alive and being dead. I felt akin to all of humanity, all of its pointless suffering joy, and resigned. The champagne stayed in the refrigerator.
Is that depressing? Is that grace-less? It felt new. I’d never felt that way before. I didn’t brush it off with a hasty grasp at consolation. I let myself feel that mystic emptiness. Steve said later, “Whatever doesn’t make you kill yourself, makes you stronger.” Dark and light. Old and new. What brave, new world would I live in if I could embrace both?
(And if Ms. O’Connor can write a story that illustrates a feeling I’d never had before so powerfully that I’m in tears for an hour afterward, does that make her the greatest writer on the planet? I don’t know, but she’s gotta be damn close.)