Saturday, February 23, 2019

The earth asks us to change

As Greta Thunberg says, we need hope, of course we do. But the time for pep talks is over. The only way to feel hope now is by taking real action on global warming.

I am worrying (not an action).

I am grieving (not an action).

In the midst of this long, cloudy, snowstormy winter, stuck indoors, I find myself spending hours distracting myself from many bitter realities with long, glazed bouts of media consumption. Because life is already hard. Getting older is hard. Relationships are hard. Winter is hard. And much I/we love is under siege.

Like most, I work primarily to earn money for food and shelter. But I am sometimes overwhelmed by the cognitive dissonance of simultaneously feeling panic at the inaction of governments and nations in the face of the collapse of species, and knowing that instead of responding to this crisis in a manner appropriate to the threat, I spend my days doing paid work that is utterly pointless when it comes to addressing this looming threat.

Let me know if this is crazy talk, but it feels like the appropriate reaction would be to stop living our normal lives and doing our normal things, and instead do everything we can to respond to this crisis.

If your house was on fire, would you try to pretend it wasn't? Would you keep watching the Great British Baking Show while the flames consumed you and all you hold dear? Hell no.

(Even though I know you really, really love the Great British Baking Show.)

This is an emergency. We need to mobilize! This I say, as I sit at my laptop, blogging.

I feel like a fraud. Really, what am I doing? Planting natives to help our insects. Giving money to places like the Center for Biological Diversity. Contacting legislators and government agencies. Good things that I know are not nearly enough.

I hear this clarion call to DO SOMETHING, and yet I'm like a panicked animal in a pen, banging into the bars and not knowing which way to run to escape the threat. Do you feel this way, too?

It doesn't seem right that many of the actions recommended to take involve buying things, either. Buy an electric car. Install solar panels. Replace your gas-burning water heater, your furnace, your range.

Those would all be useful, but they are technological solutions to a much deeper cultural problem: that our relationship to this planet needs to fundamentally change if humans are to survive. 

Robin Wall Kimmerer, a ethnobotanist, writer, and member of the Potawatami tribe, spoke at a conference on native plants I attended last week about healing our relationship with place. She said so many wise things, and one of them was regarding the power of personal and collective action to address climate change. She said: "We don't need more data, we need another way of thinking."

Another way of thinking. Right now, she said, the earth asks us to change.

We are all on our own journeys, so it is up to each of us to figure out what that change looks like, whether it's planting a meadow, opening up our minds to considering the personhood of all beings, or taking our power into our collective hands.

Dark days dressed in bright white. Maybe some hope on the horizon? Perhaps we are finally after 40 years reaching critical mass on this issue, turning a corner? Do you sense a change?

In about six months, Greta Thunberg has gone from being a lone student protesting climate inaction outside the Swedish parliament, to leading weekly climate marches of thousands of students. The young ones have an energy and moral clarity most adults seem to have lost along the way. It is so easy to feel deadened by the constant barrage of loss. I am grateful to them for giving us something to believe in about humanity's capacity for compassion and another way of thinking right now. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

The green fuse

Now comes Bealtaine, following close on the heels of the snows.

Now comes the great flush of life unleashed from long months bound deep in ice: muskrat pouring through fresh-thawed waters, common loon and  trumpeter swan riding south winds to boreal lakes, the rise of the yellow warbler calling sweet, sweet, I'm so sweet. 

Mallard pair feeding side by side in the water meadow along the creek. Great Horned Owls roost in a tall willow, guarding their adolescent owlet, still tawny fuzz. Raccoon in twilight flowing up the stucco of neighbor's garage and in through the opening in the window frame, where she may be raising kits.

Everything swishing, splashing, rushing, shaking off the shackles of winter and hurrying to claim breeding territory, find food, arrange the world more to their liking.

Warm winds, changeable cloud stretched in streamers. Soft gray fur of the pussy willow. Whistle of the cardinal, the last full moon of April shedding her radiance on the mortal world like the Queen of the May.

New buds held tight, pointed green origamis bobbing tenderly in the wind. Browns of winter threaded with small green, a salad of golden caterpillar catkins, crisp willow leaves, soft moss and rolled, purple-green spears of bloodroot.

Following the travels of a pilgrim walking the Old Way to Canterbury, who ended his pilgrimage at dawn today by the edge of the sea. A stained glass journey in song, words and dreamlike images of the countryside, its sacred wells. Waymarkers, holloways, spirals of shell-fans with bone china ridges. A book of holy days, with the tale ending (or beginning?) on the great pagan fire festival as the rising tide of life is renewed, remade, released into the wild air to reanimate the earth.

I kindle no hilltop fire today but in my heart. I smell no blossom but in memory. Yet I light a candle for the holy day.

This morning's rain clouds shall pass as warmer air blows in from the south this afternoon. What I will pack for a ramble to observe this day: the lovely book I'm reading, notebook and pen for nature jottings, the last of the trail mix. And a reverence for spring, whose red-winged blackbirds float over waterlands, calls ringing through the cattails as they claim each moment of this fast-slipping life for their own.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Earth Bible

I was watching a PBS series on high-achieving women. One of them, who pilots jets, said she can't understand people who don't believe in God, because just look at the magnificence of His Creation.

That is totally circular thinking, but it made me wonder: Why don't people see the earth itself as a creator instead of a creation?

The earth is sacred and divine because it is a manifestation of life, a macrocosm of the universe, ever unfolding, branching, collapsing, rebirthing, reforming in a billion shapes and expressions, so wondrous, so natural.

When is natural supernatural? Perhaps when a human can't fathom or explain it. That we think of the earth as natural does not dismiss or take away its mystery, it allows us to recognize its true wondrousness and that it created and unfolded itself. 

If we allow the earth its own divinity, apart from human thought and beliefs, then we are granting it personhood, independent of any belief in god or religion. If we think of every animal, tree, mountain as a person, then surely it follows that the earth has personhood, too.

What is earthly is divine. That means, all earthly life is divine. We are divine, the animal and green persons are divine also. We are all immortal in that our death supports new life. We are all resurrected into the earth, the waters, into the plants, into the insects and birds. That is my take on reincarnation. We don't stop being part of everything when we die.

What are the common beliefs I may share with this woman? A sense of original instructions, of ethical guidelines, of helping not harming. Only her instructions are from the bible and mine are natural law. Why, I wonder, does the bible bear little similarity to the original instructions of Native peoples? It seems unpeopled by our wild relatives, the earth and its endless bounty, except through the single channel of God.

Where in it is our direct relationship to the Earth itself, the true source of all that is life-giving? What would the Earth Bible look like?

On this Earth Day, I'm thinking the Earth Bible is part user manual, part love letter, part wonder tale. It has one real commandment: That which sustains life, and the sustainability of life, is good. That which does not is bad. That's the morality of The Earth Bible.

If humans abandoned belief systems (whatever form they take) that have taken us so far astray—beliefs that allow them to continue destroying every creature up to and including humanity—then maybe they could once again follow the teachings of The Book of Earth. And we would halt our unbounded hubris and foolishness, and rather honor and tend to the health of our home every day.  So mote it be, for all of us who love this earth with all our being, and those of us who have lost their way.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The winter of our discontent

Not much to say except that I wish I could curl up small like a cat into my armchair and dream away the snowy hours until spring.

(Cats are eminently sensible beings, knowing what cannot be mended must be endured. Naps? A way of life.)

For it still snows, still it snows—such a long, grey dream of winter it seems timeless, mythic.

Not a winter but The Winter, whom the migrating birds battle for survival while we look on, numbed, through our dreary windows.

I feel like a child in the back seat of the car during a long drive (five months, heading into six) asking, when will we be there? We passed the signpost for spring weeks ago without seeming to arrive.

As flakes fall, the crows tear past the windows on their crow missions. Unlike some, they waste no time moping.

I am not sleepy, though very dull. I shall make a bowl of popcorn and crawl under a cozy blanket.

A proper if not very imaginative response to realities such as snow in April.


Then this morning, this fairy frosting as the sun took mercy and showed his shining face:

Goodbye, beautiful borealis, I believe your day is done for now.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Seedbed of dreams

Two nights ago I saw a moon like a half-filled chalice, cupping silver light poured by an invisible sun. 

I drank from that cup. As the moonlight slid down my throat, how I wished that radiance would water the ground of my being. Stir long-forgotten seeds to life. Show me whether I have fallen by the wayside, or if this path is true. 

Have you an inner wisdom, and what does she look like? Do you speak to her often, ask her questions nearest your secret heart? And does she answer in words you understand? 

Maybe she speaks in mind pictures, like animals glimpsed in the darkness on the side of the road you're traveling. Maybe in the sound of wind rushing past your face, or the jeweled dragonfly who lands on your hand, blessing you with its clawed feet?

Mine speaks like the young-old moon: a grandmother, a sister, a mother and a daughter. 

Her voice is like a silver-linked bracelet hanging with stars, and like a deep, damp seedbed of earth. 

She is within and without, which is a mystery. 

As moon without, she knits with long silver needles a waterfall of light between herself and the earth, her beloved; most beautiful of all the sky's children. She spills her light over me, which falls down my face like tears. 

As moon within, she whispers like rain. She stirs her cauldron of dreams, and waits for me to remember what I always forget: That I am she. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Love in the undying lands

Long ago it was that I learned the story of Beren and Lúthien Tinúviel, in a book I've read many times since, The Fellowship of the Ring.

In the tale, the mortal man Beren comes upon the elf-maiden Lúthien dancing in the forest, and is struck by enchantment:

The leaves were long, the grass was green,
The hemlock-umbels tall and fair,
And in the glade a light was seen
Of stars in shadow shimmering.
Tinúviel was dancing there
To music of a pipe unseen,
And light of stars was in her hair,
And in her raiment glimmering.

So powerful to Tolkien was this image that he wrote many versions of the tale, all of them inspired by his own Lúthien—Edith, his beloved, who once entranced him as she danced for him among the hemlocks.

I first read The Song of Wandering Aengus in my twenties, and its sorrowful beauty struck my heart like an elf bolt that quivers there still:

But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

But I was led to the poem, hearing it sung as the lyric of the most beautiful song I know, another tale of enchantment about a pursuit of love that inspires many years of wandering "through hollow lands and hilly lands":

Out of all the beginnings of our lives, one beginning is that thunderbolt of enchantment; the moment when we see deeply the beauty of another.

And entwined with that, we see the beauty of ourselves reflected back to us, through the language of our deepest needs, dreams and longings.

In that still moment, when you catch sight of your beloved, it feels like someone is calling you by your true name. At last you are recognized for who you are—as both human and an aspect of the divine.

You have entered into the great sea of myth, on a journey into the unknown, a long journey of beauty and grief.

Maybe for love to last, that image stamped on our hearts must be as powerful as a dream; powerful enough to live on over many years, as you wander together the hollow lands and hilly lands.

We hold that image so close to our hearts our whole lives through, as our most precious treasure, our deepest truth.

Outwardly we change but in the heart of the beloved, our essential selves still dance in that woodland among the wildflowers...there we dwell until time and times are done, like the sacred apple ever blossoming.

Under Sun and under Moon. By leaf, water and stone. Under the auspices of this song did we speak our vows on the greengrass all those years ago, within reach of the singing river, and I have not forgotten, nor will I forget ever.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

A sense of calling

Over and over I notice middle-aged and older people acting with a sense of urgency to do the things important to them now, while they can.

A coworker travels to Peru and China, leaving less-adventurous Europe for when she's older.

Friends venturing into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area on their own, where you paddle and portage your gear through wild lakes haunted by the calls of northern loons under a sea of stars.

Traveling off the beaten path to Cuba and Cusco, before health concerns make such travel difficult.

Picking up and moving to a new house or city. Daring to quit a traditional job — to give up wage servitude and lose health insurance and a measure of security — in order to gain greater control of one's own life through self-employment.

One who retired and went to the Dominican Republic to build houses through Habitat for Humanity. Another who retired and wants to leave the country to teach English as a second language. One a master naturalist who began a nonprofit on environmental education and stewardship in one's own neighborhood.

As for me, I always thought travel was my dream. I am fortunate to have pursued that dream, to the extent that time and money have allowed.

(My other dream was to be a writer of novels. And I did write two unpublished novels, whom I love very much. But ultimately I loved the idea of being a novel writer more than the reality of how much time it took away from being outside with the sky and wind and trees....)

As a young woman I expected to always be excited by the thought of traveling to new cities and lands. Now I've changed, and travel doesn't hold the rewards it used to. Travel (or maybe it's more fairly called tourism) often leaves me with the overall uneasy feeling of consuming rather than learning.

Maybe I'll figure out a more satisfying way to travel, maybe I won't, but the point is I feel in transition with it. Neither here nor there.

Today I'm taking stock. If that's not the dream around which to arrange my priorities anymore, then what is? What is the thing I feel I must do before it is too late?

Small acts of devotion to the earth, repeated over time.

Applied dreams, inspired by a desire to help, heal, restore.

Actions that are radical, because taking positive action is radical.

Tending actions that begin small, in partnership with earth, and that then build on themselves through a positive feedback loop, as the land begins to flourish, repaying many times the care lavished on her.

Actions that do not consume, but rather feed, give, nourish.

I am so particularly moved by instances where one individual took upon themselves a momentous task to restore a forest, or a jungle, or abandoned ranchland or farmland, or a prairie — and then did this work faithfully and often alone, for many years. This to me is love in action.

I am not a mother. Where are my children, my small legacy to the earth?

It is the trees I planted with the earth, the gardens I made with the earth.

I feel a sense of calling. I believe that if it feels like a calling, then one should listen.

In spring, I begin once again in my own back yard, planting, with the help of the earth, in this new place.

But I will keep my ear to the ground, trusting it will tell me what comes next.

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