Bear and I had a walk like we haven’t had in a while. There was so much to smell. The trail was a mess — snow, packed snow, ice, bare gravel, mud, whatever. We don’t care. I only wanted to go as far along the river and into the slough as I knew I wouldn’t be entering the great cattle litter box that is the Rio Grande Wildlife Area at the moment.
The views were amazing — I took pictures but…
It was truly the first magical hike since I hurt my foot in September. Bear felt it, too, which is the great thing about dogs and Bear in particular. She is capable of entering into my experience which is, I guess, an attribute of the livestock guardian dogs. They are bred to be “tuned in.”
The Rio Grande is still mostly frozen, but a channel in the middle is flowing and breaking up the ice. That was very cool to hear. The sound made me think of Into the Wild. I thought of Chris McCandless (aka Alexander Supertramp) and came up with the McCandless Rule of Survival: park your bus on the side of the river from which you came and where you remember there having been a store and a gas station.
A magic hike is my version of a religious experience. Lots of things can interfere with that — lately it’s been apprehension over the foot. Now I know the limitations of that foot and also that I can ignore most of the twinges.
THE moment came when I heard a few geese take flight over the river in a spot where the bank was too high for me to see them. I thought of climbing up the hill then thought, “No, this is perfect, this is ideal. They don’t need me to see them. And, for me, hearing them is enough.” So bear and I watched the bank where we couldn’t see the geese. We tracked their flight — there might have been anywhere from 2 to 4 geese — through their calls and it was lovely. Then the little prayer wafted into my heart directly through my eyes as it does. “I love you so much,” I said, softly to the world, to the light, to the trees, the uneven snow, the geese, the moment, the pure blue sky, the moment. Bear leaned against me, wrapping herself so I am standing in a shallow curve made by her body.
“Thank you for bringing me to this river,” I said softly to the sky. “Thank you for understanding my fucked up knees, and thank you for showing me this world which has been completely new to me.” Bear continued leaning and I pet her ears. “Thank you for bringing me this dog who doesn’t need to hurry and who is such amazing company.” I also thank whatever it is for all the huskies and all the trails we ran. I am again in the timeless embrace of “god.” It’s been a while.
I don’t know how to explain it, but in the gesture of loving me Bear shares my love for everything. I am 100% sure she — as much as a dog needs to pray — prays my prayer with me. We do love it so much.
All the human BS of the last few days retreated into the vast chasm in which it belongs. I have returned to the timeless transience of light, land, water, rock and beast. Thank whatever. ❤
Flowers don’t cry. One of the true and unromantic wonders of nature is that plants aren’t going around wearing emotions all over the place. When Faith, the Aussie pumpkin, was compelled to surrender to a killing frost, she did it with no fanfare. This is not to say the resultant limp leaves and black, lifeless stems weren’t sad to me. They were. I’d hoped for a late fall and the chance for at least one of Faith’s fruits to mature, but what Faith did accomplish I have here on my table.
Many people find nature “relaxing.” I think (for me anyway) it’s movement in nature that’s relaxing. I don’t think nature is doing its thing thinking, “I’m so beautiful! I will inspire everyone!” It’s just part of human nature to seek respite from the human grind, human nature to experience inspiration. Nature itself is constant struggle. There is a LOT of drama out there.
This time last year I was crossing the golf course and happened on the remains of a red tail hawk. I could read the story just from the strewn feathers. Fox. The moment of their intersection would have been pretty dramatic, and maybe the hawk had screeched. At that moment, he was after food, maybe digging worms out of the ground, maybe a mouse or bunny was scurrying along the grass, and the hawk dived just as the fox was preparing to spring.
As it happens, I later met a guy who was there to see it. I’d read the story right.
One of the great things of hiking in the morning on dusty trails or on snowy days is the stories written on the ground. It’s a constant reminder that things out there are not all sweetness and light. It’s truly kill or be killed, and yet, for us humans — and maybe other creatures — there is the quality of wonderment, like last December when I realized my walks were shadowed by a small herd of mule deer. Over the next few days, I saw that they were curious about me. The watcher was being watched. I wondered what questions were going through their minds.
I thought they were thinking, “Friend or foe?” There came a day when one of the does came within 20 yards of me and continued approaching. I held Bear and said to the doe, “I’m not your friend. I’m really not your friend. Go back.” As if she understood me (though I think it was just my voice that did it), she turned and went back to the herd. The truth is I WAS her friend. I loved this little herd of deer very much (I confess I told them, too, both with my voice and in sign) and went out to see them every day. Even Bear had learned to sit quietly when the deer were in sight.
Similar moments have happened between me and other wild animals. Curiosity seems to be a trait of sentient beings everywhere. Foxes, coyotes, hawks, and certainly ravens have all wanted to know what was going on with me and my dogs.
I haven’t been out there in nearly a month since I sprained my foot — a mid-foot sprain, nasty. Things were moving in the right direction until I reinjured my foot somehow in the night, so I’m in pain again. Sprains take a long time to heal and they are easily re-injured. I know that. A mid foot sprain is very vulnerable and maybe I was stupid not to get the big boot and all that. I don’t know. But it’s my right foot, and I need to be able to drive. Maybe my values are backward. Maybe I should have cancelled my life and done that. It’s nature, after all, my body is nature as much as is a tree or an Aussie pumpkin, a vulnerable red tail, or a curious doe. I don’t know about the existence of “will” in non-human beings, but I know mine is formidable and not always my best friend. It’s been three weeks since I last re-injured it. I suppose I have now to start all over again with the recovery and rehab. Well, with no events planned after this weekend, maybe it won’t be so difficult.
Until last year, when I was walking through the golf course into The Big Empty, I never put it together that deer can hide because their coats match the ground and their antlers look like branches. Such excellent camouflage. I hope “my” deer are there this year as they were last year, and I hope by their season (a month or more away) I’m there, too. (Come on foot, heal!!!)
Nature’s mimicry is so cool. One of my favorite bugs is the stick bug — a mantid-like-creature that looks like whatever kind of grass and sticks into which it was hatched. The first one I saw was in the chaparral. I had sat down on a rock to have a drink after a run and before starting an uphill. I stared aimlessly at the grass at my feet when one of the blades crawled slowly up on my leg.
This little guy — the Northern Pacific Tree Frog — can be green or tan depending on what’s happening with nature. You can’t see them unless they happen to be sitting on a red flower or something. They look exactly like the leaves of any oak tree in the Southern California mountains — green when the trees are green and tan when the leaves are falling. They were always coming into my CA house and once I found one in my blender (truth). No, I didn’t run the blender. One of them liked my (tan) telephone and would sit there most of the time.
Snakes have mastered the whole thing of mimicry and some of them even mimic each other. Gopher snakes, non-venomous friends to man, resemble and behave like rattlesnakes as a way to protect themselves. They will even coil and wave their tails about. If you happen to have the chance to get familiar with these guys, you soon learn there are many obvious differences between a gopher snake and a rattlesnake, but I can’t imagine anyone NOT taking several steps back seeing a gopher snake coil and rattle.
It got to be a thing with me all those hiking years to SEE what was there to see — owls against the bark of a tree, snakes in the lower stories of bushes along the trail, Spike, the little California horned lizard.
I love how a coyote can blend into the scenery. A person could hike through the midst of a pack without even knowing it. I only saw a mountain lion once, but I’m sure she saw me countless times. Hunter or hunted, nature seems to say, “Stay cool, blend in, and pay attention.” That is advice I should have heeded on the day I hurt my foot, but not all our foes are, uh, visible — or animate.
Throughout history there have been several social movements led by children. The two that come to my mind are the Children’s Crusade of the early 13th century, and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution0s of the mid 196, both of which were disasters for the very children involved.
Having forgotten the details of the Children’s Crusade, I had to look it up. Wikipedia has the most succinct explanation; The variants of the long-standing story of the Children’s Crusade have similar themes. A boy begins to preach in either France or Germany, claims that he had been visited by Jesus, who instructed him to lead a Crusade in order to peacefully convert Muslims to Christianity. Through a series of portents and miracles he gains a following of up to 30,000 children. He leads his followers south towards the Mediterranean Sea, in the belief that the sea would part on their arrival, which would allow him and his followers to walk to Jerusalem. This does not happen. The children are sold to two merchants (Hugh the Iron and William of Posqueres), who give free passage on boats to as many of the children as are willing. The pilgrims are then either taken to Tunisia, where they are sold into slavery by the merchants or else die in a shipwreck on San Pietro Island off Sardinia during a gale.
The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in the People’s Republic of China resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of educated Chinese (no one knows the exact number). Essentially, it was a movement led by Chairman Mao (ostensibly started by Chinese youth). It’s main goal was the overthrowing of the “four olds” — Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits, and Old Ideas.
Being led by children hasn’t worked out that well in history, though I understand the frustration that has led to children marching against climate change. I feel it too, all the time, every day. I’ve seen the effects in real life, the change in the climate in Southern California while I lived there, most pronounced during the time I lived in the Cuyamaca Mountains. When I moved there, September, 2003, the fields across from me were waist high green grass in which cows could hide. The field was filled with healthy oaks. That very year the second largest fire (the largest happened last year) came sweeping through those mountains. The field in subsequent years (though not destroyed by the fire) became incrementally dryer and dryer until the grass was green for only one or two months in a rainy winter. All the trees died. It was an observable shift in normal.
The temperatures rose, too, over that period. When I moved into my house, the hottest temperature during the hottest season of the year was 90 F/32 C. By the time I moved away in September of 2014, it was often 110 F/43 C by 10 am during the summer. That year there were new fires every day, most small and remote, but they were happening. All the rakes in the world won’t stop fires in those conditions.
So why does the marching of children yelling at us that “we” destroyed “their” world have such an impact? I really don’t know. No one listened to me when I yelled about this. Well, that’s not true. I was kind of a curiosity; a girl succeeding in a competitive speech event in which boys usually won. I got to give my speech to lots of civic groups in Colorado Springs.
I was 17 when I wrote this speech. That was 1969. The big issues in the world were the Viet Nam War and The Bomb. Those were not, to me, the biggest issues, but they were the most gruesome, the most scary (in the short term) the most accessible to most people, the most easily sensationalized by the news. Of course, I mistrusted the adults, too. After all, hadn’t they “allowed” all this to happen?
I was doing competitive speaking in an effort to overcome my terror of speaking in front of people (never completely succeeded in that but I never stopped trying). This speech (and my delivery of it) took second place in the state of Colorado. I lost to a speech about the Viet Nam war.
The speech begins with a little dialogue between a teacher and a student. A student has found an aster growing in a crack in the pavement and brought it to class. The teacher has an allergic reaction and doesn’t know what the flower is. (Youth is truth). Then…filled with youthful cynicism (faux sophistication):
Then, having gotten my audience’ attention, I got real (for 17)…
“The human race, that’s you, for one, and Americans in particular, are racing toward total annihilation with, at last, no exceptions made as to race, creed, gender or nationality. Man abuses the air he needs to breathe, the water he needs for sustaining his life, and he is brilliantly (as usual) devising technological advanced ways to destroy the delicate food cycle of which he is the ultimate beneficiary.
Adlai Stevenson compared Earth, our plant, to the several satellites that have, at certain intervals, circled our world. In these words he explains the necessity for preserving Earth the Beautiful (I got over love of country early):
We travel together, passengers on a little spaceship, dependent on its vulnerable reserves of air and soil, all committed for our safety to its security and peace; preserved from annihilation only but the care, the work, and the love we give our fragile craft. (Stevenson was born in 1900)
At that time, the population of the earth was beginning to be a concern. Paul Erlich was writing articles on this topic and they would soon appear in a book, The Population Bomb. I was very affected by his argument and it entered my speech, too. It’s still a problem, but…
“As any American will agree, empty space is wasted space. With the population of the world doubling every 5 years it is illogical that even the most radical conservationist would want to you a river for anything except a source of power or would want a hunk of forest to just sit there making trees. The words of the Scottish essayist, Thomas Carlyle, bring this idea close to home:
“You won’t have any trouble in your country as long as you have few people and much land, but when you have many people and little land your trials will begin. Thomas Carlyle (Carlyle was born in 1795)
So how did I end this bit of juvenile satire on the subject that has been closest to my heart since I was eight? With a call to action that was based on individual personal responsibility.
Back in 1969 many, many of our current problems had not come into existence. Soda was sold in bottles (cans were only starting to show up) that came in cardboard cartons. Until the early 80s, food came home in paper bags. Detergent came in a cardboard box. There was no recycling partly because there wasn’t a lot to recycle. In the 1950s (and before) we had backyard incinerators. Burning in the backyard was banned and that ended (though now we have fire pits???) leading to more trash going to landfills…
Throughout my lifetime technological development has moved faster than our understanding of the consequences. The Dead Kennedy’s masterful album, Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death (1987) is well titled and descriptive of our lives.
So, should we be led by these children? Why not? We haven’t listened to anyone else so far.
Possibly because I taught late adolescents and post-adolescents for 30+ years, almost since I WAS one, or possibly because I remember so well how I was at that moment in life, I have a hard time when one of them pops off a lot of half-baked opinions from their well of passion and ignorance. I know about that. I did it all the time. I remember doing it very often, very loudly, and usually at the dinner table.
When I was trying to get over my fear of public speaking, I joined the speech club at my school. My senior year I competed in Original Oratory and took second place in the state of Colorado. My speech was about caring for what we so glibly now call “the environment.” At the very least it should be “our” environment. My speech was ten minutes long. It was well reasoned and researched. It was about what I felt then — have always felt and still feel — is the only important issue in our world today.
What my mother tried to explain to me back then and what I learned watching China attempt to develop (for the welfare of its people) is that it really is not so simple. I didn’t believe then — and I don’t believe now — that the intrinsic complexity means we should stop trying. Far from it. Every day in some news source I follow on Facebook or via my email (I like printed magazines, but…) I learn of progress being made in myriad areas.
It’s slow, but it’s progress.
In 1970, the year of the first Earth Day and the year my speech won a trophy, there was only leaded gasoline and cars got about 9 miles to the gallon. Anything else was considered impossible. By the 70s there was unleaded gas (you could choose it) and the catalytic converter — which reduced emissions — was becoming standard equipment in new cars. People resisted, but it happened. In 1970, Lake Michigan was essentially dead and you could not see the sun most days in LA. The EPA was formed and went to work.
It’s been a constant tug-o-war between assholes and conservationists (a term I like a little better than “environmentalists” though I’m doubtless splitting hairs). The expense of reversing the 1950s philosophy of progress (which I also get) was astronomical both economically and politically. We’re still fighting that (“clean coal is beautiful, they wash it before they use it”).
Technology to make changes had to be developed and the public needed to be educated (nudged, forced) to accept it. I live in a place — an impoverished rural area which is a microcosm of the efforts to transform our tools for production and agriculture — which is working hard in every area to make and use new technology. On example is that we have and use an enormous solar farm, another is the constant fighting (usually successful) against drilling for oil in all the areas surrounding my valley. Last year all of us were offered the option of choosing different percentages of our electricity from renewable energy sources. I opted for 100% and I don’t really care if that ends up costing me more.
NONE OF THIS EXISTED in 1970 when I made my speech. In the grand scheme the 50 years it’s taken to get to this point isn’t such a long time, but I also feel (wish?) it should be faster. I also wonder if faster is even possible.
Factors I didn’t understand at 18 were the cost of developing technology, the resistance of the general public to change, the difference between the options of a developed country and an under-developed country. I could not begin to understand the complexity.
Right now one of my things is bewilderment over the fact that now my supermarket offers us paper bags into which we put all the plastic shit our food is packed in. That makes NO sense to me. I’m performing an experiment with my trash hauler. I put all the frost-killed plants from my garden in a paper bag and closed the top. Then I put it in a bin that says, “All trash packed in plastic bags. No loose trash.” The landfill where the trash goes also offers recycling… Putting dog shit in a plastic back seems REALLY dumb, but…
This is just to illustrate the efforts and attempts on the scale of one little lady in Monte Vista, Colorado. Do I think I’m going to change the world this way? NO. I get it now, at 67, that the best I can do is not make things worse. When I was teaching, however, I taught critical thinking through nature writing. It was my little effort to awaken at least my students to a world bigger than their car, family, house and dreams of material prosperity. I guess it might have worked with some students. No teacher reaches everyone. I also worked in the establishment of an urban wilderness park on 5800 acres of chaparral in San Diego that was slated for development. It mattered to me, mostly for the sake of the beautiful land itself, but also for the future — so kids in 20 years (which is now) could know the indigenous landscape of their world.
I was appalled when OFFAL (Our Fearless Leader) pulled out of the Paris Accord. Yeah, the Paris Accord is little more than a gesture in the right direction, but like me choosing to get my electricity from renewable sources, it’s not NOTHING.
On the other hand, all around me is a living paradox. Until 1960, potatoes (the main crop of the San Luis Valley) were stored in very beautiful and functional adobe potato cellars which, all by themselves, without any air conditioning or other electrical climate control, kept the potatoes at EXACTLY the right temperature and humidity BECAUSE, though above ground, those potato cellars were essential big piles of dirt. Sometime in the early 60s farmers changed from these lovely, though laboriously built, structures to buildings of concrete or steel. The new buildings will need to be destroyed someday and then what? Where does all that steel and concrete go? The adobe? All by itself will return from whence it came.
The same with water. Water here in the San Luis Valley is — well, there’s nothing more important. We sit above a gigantic ancient lake, an immense aquifer, much of which is still there, but very far down. Our climate is a legitimate desert. Now the “Front Range” — an alien world comprising Denver, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, Boulder, Pueblo, cities, in other words — wants to “buy” our water. It’s impossible to overstate how fucked up that is.
Some aquifers are depleted. Potatoes, grain and alfalfa are heavy water users and they are the predominate crops. So what? Some farmers are switching to hemp, both industrial hemp and help for CBD oil. Hemp is a great crop because it uses comparatively little water and doesn’t deplete the soil of nutrients BUT the anti-marijuana posse are against it, unwilling to recognize the chemical difference between some intoxicating herbage and a fiber that can be made into clothing.
And, again, back in the old days the farmers had a method for ensuring water and that was the acequia. The use of acequias meant little reliance on dug wells. The moral of THIS part of the story is, “Those old-timers understood shit we’ve forgotten.”
So, today on the egregious platform of Twitter I heard the vapid angry shrieking of a child. I was appalled at the reception she was getting. Where are her parents? If I could talk to that child, I would tell her, “You have not earned that podium. Go home and go back to school in your country which, be grateful, has an excellent education system. Put your skinny Asperger’s shoulder to the wheel and learn history, learn science, become aware of the challenges that face a world that’s far more complex that you can possibly know yet. Allow your frontal lobe to mature. Travel, with some humility, and see what’s going on, first hand. Learn what has been tried, what has been not, what has proven unfeasible (now but maybe not for someday), learn what is slated (hoped) for the future. Learn about progress that has been made and learn about the historic challenges to that progress. Experience the struggles of the under-developed world in achieving even the smallest benefits of technology and why people there might resist the kind of progress the world needs. Anyone can scream. Not everyone can dedicate a life to change, can accept that there are no guarantees, that your efforts might be futile or bear limited fruit, they might not be in the shape you imagine, and work anyway. It’s not MY job to preserve the world for YOU. What the fuck do you think I (and others) have been doing for the last fucking 50 years? The world is as much yours as mine. Pick up that baton, accept the challenge and keep going.”
The last time angry youth took over anywhere we had the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Good times, good times.
We humans make a lot of choices — and pursue hobbies, interests — that, by their nature, silence the jumble in our minds. I’m not a climber but I’ve known enough climbers and done enough boldering (sometimes a little more) to understand how climbing pretty much eliminates anything from your thoughts except getting up safely and back down again (safely).
What I loved about hiking in the days when I could hike for hours and hours was that after a while something happened in my head and there was nothing left in there but the trail, whatever was happening in the natural world in those moments and my dogs. A lifetime of hiking habits has trained my mind so that even though now I don’t hike 12 miles a day, I can get into the “zone” pretty quickly, even riding the sainted “bike-to-nowhere.”
Several years ago, back in California when I had a shed that was a little art studio, I discovered that painting was the same thing. Out there — away from my house (only 10 feet or so) and focused on a canvas, panel or paper — all that mattered was the work I was doing and where it was taking me. Writing a good story can be the same.
It’s such a relief from all the stuff that clutters the inside of my head.
Yesterday — a cool, cloudy day, presaging fall — we headed out for a walk. I decided to take the trail along the Rio Grande. It was the first time this year because the pathway in was very overgrown in tall grass and weeds. I noticed yesterday that a few people have trodden down the plant life a little bit, so I parked, took out the dogs and made them walk behind me, single file — a new “trick” for Teddy.
I love the Rio Grande, and it’s fascinating to watch throughout the year. I have never lived beside a mostly-wild river before. The trail along the river is wide enough for an ATV cowboy to ride along which is good for me and the hounds. Most of the way the river runs alongside it. The sound fascinated Teddy who had never heard a river before — it was a little difficult to keep him where I wanted him, next to me. It seems like rattlesnakes are not very common down here on the floor of the San Luis Valley along the river, but years of hiking with them as an ambient part of the environment has made me very vigilant about the nether parts of the bushes lining a trail.
The cottonwoods are still mostly green. The wild asparagus is beginning to turn the glowing gold of fall. The milkweed is between seasons. It was a sweet walk. In the act of observing the natural world and noting the changes, the jumble clears.
We even have a word for this nowadays, “mindfulness.” I hate that word and all that is behind it, one more thing to add to our list of “shoulds.” I hate the way the outside has come to be regarded, too, like it’s someplace to go because it will “heal” you. To me, that turns nature into just one more commodity. Nature isn’t a “commodity” and it doesn’t exist to “teach us mindfulness” or heal us. Conceptually that’s one more step in the distancing of humans from the reality that WE are nature. It’s not “out there” it’s INSIDE, and that means we — consciously or unconsciously — play an active part.
I recently read that the elk population up on Vail Pass has declined by a drastic percentage not because of hunting or predation, but because more people are “going into nature” in elk habitat.
“…there’s been a dramatic increase in backcountry use in the past decade. Bertuglia noted that trail use in the Vail area has doubled since 2009. There’s 30 percent more overnight use in the same period.”Vail Daily
All this human traffic disturbs the elk’s breeding grounds. Without “privacy” in an undisturbed world, elk don’t breed. Wildlife managers close the area, but people ignore the closures believing, I guess, that their “right” to go into nature trumps nature’s right to be alone.
My wildlife area closes in March and doesn’t re-open until mid-July. Those are beautiful hiking months, and I wish I could go there but I don’t. The water birds nest there during that time and have for millennia, I imagine. I don’t doubt for one minute that just one person — just me — with two leashed dogs, could be enough to disturb that. It seems to me that “mindfulness” more properly means being aware of the consequences of our existence.
Lawns. Everyone around here has one and it looks to the uninitiated observer that I do, too.
But I don’t. 2/3 of my yard — everything west of the little sidewalk — is wild asters. If I didn’t mow them it would be a little ocean of lavender flowers and clover. I didn’t plan it, but during years in which watering was a challenge, the dry loving plants took over. Among the non-lawn plants in that part of my yard is a tiny alfalfa field — one plant. I have a sprinkler system, but if I use it I face two problems — I don’t know how to turn it on and off myself so I have to pay someone, and using it results in a high water bill.
I like the idea of a wildflower yard. It makes sense to grow things that WANT to grow here. I am thinking of buying an immense packet of wildflower seeds, scattering them out there this fall and then waiting to see what wonders I get come spring.
Which brings me to the poem that drifts into my mind at the sight of wild asters.
Anyone who has read my blog for any length of time knows my relationship with my mom was problematic. Still, maybe even the weirdest mom leaves us with some treasures, and among those she gave me were the love of nature and a love for poetry. My life would have been greatly diminished without those two loves — I would be someone else. That goes a long way to ameliorate the damage and confusion her sketchy parenting caused.
She was elementary school teacher who started out in one-room schools on the Crow Indian reservation in Montana. One of her things was teaching poems to her students. Back then people learned poems “by heart” (is that not a beautiful phrase?). In her day, school started in September and the first poem they learned was this:
The goldenrod is yellow, The corn is turning brown; The trees in apple orchards With fruit are bending down.
The gentian’s bluest fringes Are curing in the sun; In dusty pods the milkweed Its hidden silk has spun.
The sedges haunt their harvest, In every meadow’s nook; And asters by the brookside Make asters in the brook.
From dewy lanes at morning The grapes’ sweet odors rise; At noon the roads all flutter With yellow butterflies.
By all those lovely tokens September days are here, With summer’s best of weather, And autumn’s best of cheer.
Nature is often called “serene” but it’s only serene because somebody said so. Nature has (also) often been called “harsh” and that’s a lot LESS in the eye of the beholder than is the serenity. The battle between humans and nature is as old as humanity, but it’s a silly battle. Nature WILL WIN, at the very least against every individual human.
My life in the destination we call nature has involved lots of small negotiations. I live in a house. 😉 I carry a stick to warn snakes. I wear warm clothes in winter. Because there are legitimate foes out here, I leash my dogs. Now I will wear bug repellant at the slough. I accepted that if I did see a mountain lion someday (I did) it might not go so well — did I still want to? (I did) Lucky for the lion and me it was a happy meeting. If the lion had attacked me, it would’ve been killed by a ranger or something. Most important, staying alert. I know if I take Bear out in a thunderstorm it might hail. Can I get to shelter along the way if that happens? And what about lightning? There’s a long list of accommodations like these that I can’t even think of now; they are second nature. I think the most important thing is knowing my limits (also nature) and, if I want to expand them, knowing I can’t do it in a day (nature seldom does anything ‘in a day’).
I think that the one lesson we can get from nature that might lead to serenity is the lesson of humility. A horsefly is small, but it brought me down.
“When men lack a sense of awe, there will be disaster.” Lao Tsu
“I’m uncertain whether to comment. Again. I want to know do we all feel this? Why? Take your time.” Tracy
Yesterday I wrote on the prompt “Transitions.” The post turned out a lot deeper than I thought it would when I commenced writing it. Then Tracy asked me that serious question after she read it.
Damned chain reactions (Neils Bohr)
In the post I talked about myself and how, as a young person, I was extremely uncomfortable with uncertainty and confusion, how I wanted to know answers to my questions RIGHT NOW. The whole thing (post, life) culminated in the understanding that letting things be is often the only rational “choice,” not even a choice because that’s what’s going to happen anyway.
I learned, finally, beginning in the late 1990s, that what I was really seeking was reality. Life as I had always known it was built on lies. I didn’t know the whole story. All I knew was that on some visceral level, I was aware that things weren’t right. I wanted to stand on solid ground, but I didn’t know where it was and why I wasn’t standing on it.
So what’s the story, Morning Glory?
I think everyone feels restless sometimes and wants to know what’s going to happen, like “What’s Santa going to put in my stocking?” I’m not sure everyone is continually apprehensive. I think, in my case, it’s probably something shared by other children of alcoholics.
In all my reading 20 years ago or so when I first began to come to grips with this, to comprehend this, I learned that the people in families like mine have “roles” and my role was to keep things going in a semblance of normalcy. The alcoholic parent is a puppet-master, giving and withholding love as a way to retain control over his/her life. The “keeping-things-going” (KTG) kid has to be constantly working to earn that parent’s love or the KTG might (good god we can’t let this happen) relax and see reality for what it is.
An added factor in the unreality of life with my mom was that no one knew she was an alcoholic until she was a month or two from death in 1996 (she was 74) and the hospital, trying to figure out the sudden onset of severe dementia, did a brain scan. The brain scan found masses of lesions and scar tissue consistent with long term alcohol abuse. I did not even have the chance some other children of alcoholics have of KNOWING my mom was a drunk. I couldn’t even say, “Well, she’s been drinking,” because I didn’t know. Part of the strategy she employed was making sure I couldn’t see what she was doing. Why?
She didn’t want to stop? She was ashamed? Only she would know why, but the upshot was that until that phone call with her doctor, I had no idea about the truth behind my uncomfortable life.
My mom was a master at keeping me off balance. One day I was her best friend, the next day the worst thing that ever happened to her. All I wanted was to know — for once and for all — that she loved me and that I was doing OK. Naturally this affected every aspect of my life. Regardless of what happened, all the bad things were my fault. Mean childhood friends, “You have to learn to get along with people. Go to your room.” Abusive first husband? “What did you do to make him hit you? You married him. You stay there.”
And the good things I did? She refused to notice other than to say, “You think you’re so great, but I know who you really are.” Or, “I have no use for art. It’s a dirty word.” Or, at a dinner put on by the Rainbow Girls group of which I was a member, “You have these people fooled. They don’t know you like I do,” accompanied by a hard pinch to my upper arm.”
She was a mean bitch.
What’s more important, a healthy sense of self and the ability to accept love do not grow in a family agar culture like that.
The journey to reality has been long and I’m still on it. It began with therapy in the late 90s when I began to learn about the dynamics of the alcoholic family and heard from someone else how the mechanics of such a family work. I was shocked to the core by what I heard from my therapist, by its accuracy. She explained why I never knew what I really FELT. I didn’t. I didn’t recognize feeling, emotion, as information I could use, a color that completed life’s painting.
There was a moment — 2000? or so — when, having met Goethe, I got the “answer” that allowed me, has allowed me, to at least “fake it until I make it.” He said to his secretary, Johann Peter Eckermann, who was pondering whether to take a teaching job that had been offered him and leave Goethe, “Hold your powers together for something good and let everything go that is not for you and is not suited to you.”
That became my mantra(?) It was clear instruction about what to do until I had a better understanding of life, the universe and everything. It told me, simply, what to do until I understood, until I found solid ground. My lifelong instinct to get away from the family madness into the woods, hills, rocks, rivers, mountains was sane. I was looking for reality at the very source of reality.
It’s been a long journey and I’m still traveling. A few years ago, when “the man” first expressed his feelings, I was shocked and confused and, well, felt like a moth trapped in a light. I didn’t respond for a long time. I had understood that I needed to think about it, about our sketchy past and where I am now. After a while, I reached a conclusion about love — all love, friendship, romance, whatever — that it demands consistency and kindness. I saw that is what love is. I finally responded and from that began a long correspondence that covered all the mistakes and blindness of the past 25 years that we’ve known each other. At this point, I’m just amazed that two people could successfully communicate about feelings and build a relationship. For me that’s a huge step and measure of personal growth.
I think on all our journeys we reach trail markers. Sometimes they are clear and give us direction; sometimes they’re obscure like the markers on the mountain bike trail at Penitente Canyon that are just a number and the words “Trail Confidence Marker.” But clear or obscure, they are information.
One thing I’ve learned from being older and less pressured by life in the daily sense (godnose the ultimate deadline is closer) is that when I give something time, I’ll reach a better understanding of it. I imagine some people get that when they’re young, but I didn’t. I often thought I understood something, but I didn’t, really. I wanted answers to my questions NOW and never thought that maybe the other person didn’t have answers at that point. It never occurred to me that they might have been as confused and uncertain as I was. This was a problem especially in relationships — love relationships and work.
I also remember feeling all the time that I had to get somewhere. I had no idea where that somewhere was, or what. I still don’t know. I wonder what inspired that constant feeling of pressure. I remember closing doors arbitrarily just to have some certainty, only to learn that the door was never closed and the room into which it led was exactly where I needed to go. That’s a pretty good summary of the story between the man in my life (7000 miles away) and me. Strong-willed and scared, both of us slammed the door over and over again only to discover we live in the same room.
It’s taken me a year to understand and accept that.
When I was younger I thought confusion and uncertainty were temporary states, and I’d solve whatever was keeping me awake and move on to a life that was clear and comfortable. But now I know. Transition after transition (most of which I could not control or even make decisions about) has shown me that confusion and uncertainty are life.
Running on all those trails — where I went often to get some relief from confusion and uncertainty — I was able, at least to bide some time. I didn’t realize that I was learning how nature bides its time. It knows that it is in the power of the sun, and where that flaming ball sits in relation to our planet determines what nature does. On top of that? So many variables — Earth’s movement, the Gulf Stream, on and on and on…humans.
This time last year, my Scarlet Emperor beans were 7 feet tall, blooming and making beans. This year they’re barely 14 inches. This time last year, the crabapple trees by City Hall were laden with fruits for jelly-making. This year, there is nary an apple. BUT last year farmers and ranchers had to go outside the valley to buy hay. This year they will get three cuttings.
None of this is negotiable. My visit to my yard just now, dog inspired, intersected with the flight of a large formation of Sandhill Cranes. Early? Maybe but they have had nearly 2 million years to get in tune with the celestial imperative. I think they know better than I will ever know what time it is.