Saturday, December 28, 2013

The love that binds us

Some say we protect that which we love....

...because when we love something, we take it into ourselves, and it somehow becomes part of us, to be sheltered and nurtured and cared for and helped.

Others say what we love will save us...

...because love for other creatures brings meaning and joy into our lives, rescuing us from aloneness in this world.

The works of video art embedded below speak to the oneness that connects life on earth, the love that binds us all in an intricate and ancient web of existence.

And, like love, they are heartbreaking in their beauty. If you do not tear up at least a little while viewing them, you are made of sterner stuff than I....

"The Awakening" is part of a dance, film and photography project for monarch butterfly conservation. I am happy to say they exceeded their initial Kickstarter funding goal a couple of days ago, but I'm sure there will be future opportunities to chip in.

I post it here in honor of the three monarchs I raised last summer.

Moving for Monarchs: The Awakening from Moving for Monarchs on Vimeo.

The "Ashes and Snow" video by Canadian filmmaker Gregory Colbert is described as "a poetic field study that depicts the world not as it is, but as it might be—a world in which the natural and artificial boundaries separating humans from other species do not exist. The viewing experience is one of wonder and contemplation, serenity, and hope."

A consecrated Earth is always the paradise I imagine--a kind of Eden, with humanity's relationship to the all the world's creatures restored--it would look a lot like this stunning film.

I don't even want to think about a world without Monarch butterflies, or polar bears, or gray wolves, or elephants, or bees. And yet, to turn a blind eye, to refuse to see what is happening and do nothing is unloving and wrong.

I do not know how it has happened that so many have forgotten that we--humans and all other living things--are all vital characters in an enduring love story old as time. Our well-being and survival are knitted together, blood, breath and bone...encoded in our genes in ways we cannot yet measure, yet that are nonetheless real as the love that binds us.

Friday, December 20, 2013

A blessing of bones

LAST NIGHT, I was blessed by the Old Bone Mother.

In her old hands, she carried reindeer bones. Click! Clack! They rattled as she prowled through the dark stone cavern-space where we sat.

Bones scratched over scalps, rested over hearts as the Dreamers dreamed their way along twisting inner paths, anchored by the pulse of the Drummers.

In the Celtic lands She is the Cailleach. The Unmaker, the Uncreator, the Unwinder, the Remover. Her breath blows cold on the back of the neck in the Dark Time, She throws boulders that make mountains, She brings the fierce cold, She is an elemental force as She moves through this world, collecting what needs to be Taken.

She Takes.

(This was how the story was told to me: She Takes.)

Deep beneath the sacred mound of Sí an Bhrú, Newgrange, in a dark womb of a chamber, She sings as She knits together the bones of those and that which have been Taken, reshapes them to live again on the earth in new form.

Because of Her, nothing is lost to the world, not ever lost, not truly.

And in this space, where the Old Bone Mother paid a visit to the Dreamers, a trickster-shapeshifter-shaman of a man told us: "We are given two great gifts in life. The gift of being created. And the gift of being uncreated. Throughout time, throughout culture, how we respond to these two gifts becomes our religion."

The Cailleach's blessing is to take from us something that needs to go. It is too soon to know what is gone from me. So many things I no longer needed, that I wanted to push out the door like a houseguest overstaying her welcome by months or years.

Tears overflowed, silently. My heart overflowed, silently. This went on for a while. And then I felt at peace.

Last night, I was blessed.

Last night, the drum was alive under my palm. Though stored away for long years, it still had not forgotten how to sing, how to vibrate and shiver its skin in answer to my hand, resonating for long moments in the humming silence. I played the drum, the drum played me, for a moment all one and the same.

I have walked the passages of Newgrange, Sí an Bhrú, in body. A dozen years ago, in the springtime, when the lambs frolicked and the Cailleach slept.

Did the echoes of that mystery plant their seeds in me then? The potent magic of the Irish-green grass, the druid sun tracing gray stone spirals, the paradox of timelessness amid great age, those stay with me.

But if I am a drum, one beat was struck on me that day at Newgrange, resonating over years until the same hand last night struck me once again.

Maybe it is as he, the shapeshifter-shaman, said: "We are all Drummers on the Skin of Mystery."

Mystery is rattling in your ears, striking Her fists on your bones. When She strips you bare to scour you and refashion you, when you are uncreated and lose your identity, your trappings, your anger or your way, say to yourself it is a gift.

She Takes, and it is a gift.

Last night, this is how the story was told to me. And then, how I told the story to myself.

And now, I tell it to you.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Kindredness & kindness

I've been applying for a lot of jobs lately. But in my heart, I want my life to be branching like a tree, silhouetted in bare grace against the winter sky. No more trammeling myself into spaces that feel small. No trying to impress, convince, persuade. Trees, stones, water, birds...nothing on this earth ever tries or wants to be other than itself, except for us. They just are.

I mean, look at the trees, stripped to the bone. That essential being-ness of trunk and branch is like a song traced against the sky, a quiet refrain repeated from tree to tree. Each a living being, and also a branching map of its own life. Like a human, specific to itself in its particulars; and again like a human, akin to others of its kind. Unique...yet not alone.

Along with the job seeking, one of the things I've been doing rather than writing blog posts is gathering photos of crones. Over and over, I am struck by how so many of their faces shine with joy and radiate such love and acceptance. I feel wrapped in an embrace just by looking upon their beautiful faces. How diminished we would be without the grandmothers and their wisdom--a cauldron of power that has distilled over the course of many-years-lived into its bare-branches-against-the-sky essence.

By looking at photo after photo of women who are wholly who they are, I hope to honor that essence in others and nurture it in myself. It's a kind of choosing. A kind of reminding, envisioning, invoking: This is the kind of woman I want to be, how I want to grow old. Like a grand, twisting tree, like a wrinkled and happy and lovely old woman, enough in myself.

I've been thinking what a gift to the world that kindness is. How powerfully it affects us when we are touched by another's kindness, and how we long to be accepted and to belong. That longing must always be there, underlying surface-dwelling things, like a tender nourishing stream beneath the tangle of tree roots.

It is never so clear that the longing exists as when a stranger unexpectedly smiles at you, or a small child you do not know reaches out her arms toward you and laughs, just at the sight of you. Suddenly, you feel yourself light up from within, a welling of joy and gratitude for being seen for who you are: Nothing more and nothing less than a human person walking in this world, over this ground, under these stars and these clouds, following a path and singing a sometimes-brave, sometimes-wavering tune as you go.

Mary Oliver wrote, "You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves." And "When will you have a little pity for every soft thing that walks through the world, yourself included?"

It takes such a small act of kindness to ourselves or others to swell that small, unseen, tree-rooted stream, and to feel its nourishment. Then compassion arises feeding healing tears, as we accept ourselves and are accepted by others, at the root. That is how our hearts expand, sending out tendrils and branches toward others, like a beautiful tree during the crone-time of winter, still swelling buds and green with life within.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Popes, planets and politics

Last night, we headed to our local second-run movie theater to watch Elysium, described thusly:

"In the year 2159, two classes of people exist: the very wealthy, who live on a pristine man-made space station called Elysium, and the rest, who live on an overpopulated, ruined Earth. The people of Earth are desperate to escape the planet's crime and poverty, and they critically need the state-of-the-art medical care available on Elysium -- but some in Elysium will stop at nothing to enforce anti-immigration laws and preserve their citizens' luxurious lifestyle."

Generally, I avoid films and books that present bleak visions of the earth's future. The premise that humanity and the planet are doomed, that we are fated to be victims of the worst parts of ourselves...this overall seems to encourage us to be powerless and passive in response to this perceived inevitability.

And in that way, it seems to me such creations may enable these grim futures even as they decry them. Surely we can imagine and create a more positive, hopeful scenario for humanity to strive for? What is this unhealthy fascination with violence, cynicism and darkness? (I do believe I've become a Pronoia-ist without even realizing it. I thank Rob Brezsny.)

In any case, the injustices and inequalities portrayed in Elysium are all too real. Money rules in a capitalist society. The government, the economy, our cultural beliefs and values, the way hundreds of millions of us live our lives--all based on a socio-economic system that puts money at the center and marginalizes humans and the earth our home.

Of course we each can try to live and act from different values. But the systems in which we function are themselves based on a fundamentally flawed relationship to the earth and other peoples--the culmination of centuries of conquering, consuming, destroying and discarding.

Not only are lives and our humanity diminished by these impoverished and destructive systems; most horrifying to me is that they are systematically destroying the life of this planet. But it doesn't need to be this way; for thousands upon thousands of years, human societies were human- and earth-centered.

And that is why I am so inspired and moved by Pope Francis's powerful denouncement of our morally bankrupt financial system. Even on the page, his words ring with Truth, compassion and righteousness.

I am not a Catholic, but this is not a matter of religion; it is a matter of that which no religion owns: ethics, morality, compassion, justice. Humanity. In our most positive sense, not our least.

Pope Francis writes:
"Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.
Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded.....
The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule."
YES to that a thousand times. When righteousness speaks with such a powerful voice, it makes us feel part of something larger, unites us in a joint cause...we have suffered so many losses, yet perhaps all is not lost. Humanity is so close to overthrowing the current paradigm, and we need words like these to lend support and shape our thoughts and actions.

Read the apostolic exhortation in its entirety here.

This, too, came floating across my screen today. The first commandment really encompasses all the rest; but ten makes for a nice symmetry.

Earth's Ten Commandments

1. Thou shalt love and honor the Earth, for it blesses thy life and governs thy survival.

2. Thou shalt keep each day sacred to the Earth and celebrate the turning of its seasons.

3. Thou shalt not hold thyself above other living things nor drive them to extinction.

4. Thou shalt give thanks for thy food to the creatures and plants that nourish thee.

5. Thou shalt limit thy offspring for multitudes of people are a burden unto the Earth.

6. Thou shalt not kill nor waste Earth's riches upon weapons of war.

7. Thou shalt not pursue profit at the Earth's expense, but strive to restore its damaged majesty.

8. Thou shalt not hide from thyself or others the consequences of thy actions upon the Earth.

9. Thou shalt not steal from future generations by impoverishing or poisoning the Earth.

10. Thou shalt consume material goods in moderation so all may share Earth's bounty.

And here is a slightly different version, enhanced by music and visuals of our beautiful planet:

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

In which a candle is lit

A day made for fire. 

A day so dim, still and cheerless--a day so November--that flickers and flamings felt needful to my mental health.

Our home has no hearth (woodsmoke brings on a headache, anyway), so I lit two votives. Juniper, who is yet a young and inexperienced cat, jumped up to investigate. I shooed her away. But with the persistence of the feline, she would not stay shooed. And in an instant, the fire elementals had kinked her eyebrow hairs.

After that, she abandoned the intrigue of the candles and sensibly curled up against my side.

Maybe going to sleep is what I should have done, too. Instead, I worried, about not having found work yet, and every other thing I could latch onto. Like the November sky, my inner weather was murky with cloud. Every pathway of thought ended in a confusion of tracks. What step to take next? Where am I even trying to get to? Questioning this. Second-guessing that. Resisting…spinning like a leaf in a pool where the stream’s been dammed.

But the next day, the sun was blessedly bright. With it came a sliver of clarity: Perhaps I can’t pin down where I am, because I am in motion.

Where I am is not where I was—yet neither have I reached the place I am trying to get to.

This year in particular, my thoughts were shaped by the people whose creations or lifestyles or insights have lit me up. Through these gurus, it may be that part of me has leveled up in some way—but uncomfortably, the rest of me hasn’t caught up yet. The outside doesn’t match the inside.

And maybe that is why I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time expanding my Pinterest boards. Maybe, in an intuitive sort of way, I’ve been trying to shape a vision for where I want to get to. What does this same-only-different Carmine look like? What does this different life look and feel like at its essence?

My mantra this year has been: "Listen and receive." To paraphrase Sonya Darien over at tiny buddha, if everything I am receiving is perfect as it is, what is it that I am not seeing?

“Receive” means embracing the whisker-burnings as well as the flame’s beauty…the darkest of November skies and the mystery of not-knowing, alongside the moments of near clarity--like the sharp call of the soul-as-Blue Jay that says Wake up! Be patient. Something is happening.

On the paths of confusion, it would be wise to trust that all is happening in perfect timing. Even and especially in the closing-down days of November and December.

Photos: Early November 2013, Minnehaha-Park-above-the-floodplain

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

True sight

WHEN I WAS small, I would lie in bed at night and gaze at a street light that shone through the filmy curtain draping my bedroom window.

I found that if I looked at it a certain way through my lashes, one light would become two lights. Gazed at another way, the light haloed and danced around its original boundaries.

And if I squinted at it, sudden silver rays would flash forth from two sides--street light reborn as a gleaming blue-white star, flickering just like the real thing in response to minute tilts of my head.

In winters, the street light and moonlight embraced, casting their silver nets over deep blankets of snow, setting it afire with starry glints in their thousands, dazzling along the edges of ice flowers blooming on the window pane.

My distance vision shifted as I grew, so gradually I did not notice. I had become used to seeing a soft and dreamy sort of where details, like the sand on the kitchen floor that I had been asked to sweep up, were simply unseen.

When I got my first pair of eyeglasses, how suddenly clear and crisp the world that sprang into view! In my amazement, I saw freckles sprinkled across my mother's cheeks. I hadn't seen them in years, maybe since I was too young to pay them any mind.

Before eyeglasses: everything a lovely, though sometimes inconvenient, blur.

Afterward: the world's beauties and imperfections visible in equal measure.

Of course, most anyone would choose the latter over the former. You would think that casting a blur on reality banishes unpleasant things from sight...but in actuality, it makes it more likely that you will stumble over them, like the proverbial elephant in the room.

Still, blur does beguile. Blur is the Impressionist painting of sight. On Pinterest, there are whole pinboards dedicated to lovely, blurry photography. It is one reason why filters and plug-ins and effects modify reality, suggest ambiguity, evoke mystery.

And maybe also because it is almost like having a new pair of eyes through which to experience the world. Lucky for me, Blur World is a place I can visit any time with my natural, unaided, streetlights-into-stars vision, no equipment required...all I need to do is take off my glasses, and be very careful not to step on a cat.

Friday, November 15, 2013

How it falls

ON THE DAY OF THE BEAVER, a day when the winds were calm, I tried paying attention. Maybe for the first time, I saw how maple leaves fall stem-first, spinning around their own axes like golden goblets then landing upright for a moment where grasses are thick.

I paid attention to the course of oak leaves. Burnished and glossy, heavier than maple leaves, they drift through the air on their backs...swinging to and fro like small pendulums marking time.

Deeper into autumn, on a day when the Lords of the Winds gusted mightily, I paid attention as the leaves flew sideways like fleeing birds, driven far from their trees instead of heaped at their roots.

As I lay on my back on a leaf blanket, paying attention, my eye was drawn again and again to this particular oak tree. It was so beautiful, with its speaking contours, the contrast between its bold branchings and bronzed leaves, which flashed like spangles against the sky. Reminding me of the woods through which the Twelve Dancing Princesses progressed on their way to their mysterious nightly revels: a forest with leaves of silver, a second with leaves of gold and finally, closest to the enchanted castle, a wood whose leaves sparkled with diamond dew drops.

The authors whose works I have been reading suggest that that particular tree was speaking to me, which is how it drew my attention; communicating with me in the way of a tree person to a human person. Color is a kind of speech. Sound and movement, as well. They can inform us about weather, season, health of the tree. But is there more to interpret? What else was being communicated?

While I am used to sending feelings (and words) of praise and gratitude to trees, is that is as far as the reciprocity extends? Perhaps the images and associations they spark are more than just my own mind at work...maybe it is more mutual, a kind of conversation between my mind, my intuition and the other beings around me? Co-creating the world?

I am not entirely certain how to receive that which a tree may want to tell. But it likely begins with cultivating a state of openness, and...paying attention.

Priscilla Stuckey in Kissed by a Fox writes, that though the typical American knows how to work or make use of the land, "Far less often do we stop to merely gaze at the land, open-eyed--to watch it, as students, over time....Knowing where we are takes attention. Sustained looking. Seeing. Becoming rooted in the place we live, whether bright desert or blustery mountain, dark woodland or windy shore."

She also writes: "Though many modern people express a longing for lost wildness, what I think we are really missing is personality--the integrity of place. A relationship with the unique piece of Earth where we dwell, an ability to see its deep character."

And: "Among my people, children are taught to read books; among some other peoples, children are taught to read trees."

My musings: For a person who has not been taught to read trees, watching a leaf fall to the ground and noticing the way in which it falls is one small way of paying attention. It is part of learning to be literate about the personality and ways of an oak or a maple, the winds, this particular land, and its non-human inhabitants.

The immediate rewards to paying attention to this other-language: a sense of peacefulness, calm and well-being. A few moments of restfulness from the brain chatter. Slowly I am shifting a small part of my way of being, from interior, ruminative, dichotomous and feeling apart to one more observant, receptive and "part of."

This keeps me feeling young...young, as in, the world fascinates and surprises me. As in, there is more to the world, Horatio, than is dreamt of in my philosophy.

Maybe it is as Mary Oliver wrote, and I did not have ears to hear it until now:

"Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,  
the world offers itself to your imagination,  
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -- 
over and over announcing your place  in the family of things." 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Tooth and tree

“Lifting a brush, a burin, a pen, or a stylus
is like releasing a bite or lifting a claw.”
--Gary Snyder

ONE DAY a couple of weeks ago, I was walking on the path along the creek. Something unusual caught my eye through the grasses and wild saplings gathered along the bank. 

A beaver had quite recently gnawed down a tree! In fact, it had dispatched another tree, too, a stone's throw away. 

I repeat: a beaver.

I do not live in a rural area, mind. This was in the city, albeit in a semi-natural setting (to be specific, just east of where Minnehaha Creek flows out of Lake Hiawatha, on its way to Minnehaha Falls and then the Mississippi).

I reiterate: A beaver!

Did the beavers somehow travel to here up from the river? Did they swim across from Lake Minnetonka west of the city, through the Chain of Lakes?

I knelt by one of the fallen trees and examined the pattern of neat incisor marks ringing the stump, then rummaged through the fresh wood chips piled beneath. They were still damp with sap and felt almost waxy, like puddled candle that's cooled and cracked into pieces.

I was as excited as a child by this discovery. It felt like a gift. Not just to me, but to all human persons fortunate enough to encounter such a wonder on their urban walk; this particular wonder. It felt also like an honor that our domesticated, tamed-down wild spaces would be found an acceptable home by a family of beavers.

Almost like we were chosen, right? We. Were chosen. (Editorial note: Fervor: — n 1. great intensity of feeling or belief; ardor; zeal.)

The felled tree reached out into the creek. I scanned the vicinity for beavers or beaver houses. (As it turns out, they are crepuscular, only active at dawn and dusk, so they were likely napping as I admired their handiwork.)

From a website on beavers: "They cut the trees by standing on their hind legs, using their tails for balance."

I was standing on the spot where a beaver stood!

But, because I have no faith that the Park Board or the DNR, once they find out, will share my glowing excitement about a family of beavers making their home here, I was also worried about their fate. Native wildlife (and nature itself) in the U.S. is generally seen as a nuisance, a problem to be gotten rid of or fixed (or simply a thing, i.e. a "resource" to be harvested or hunted or exploited)...god knows we wouldn't want any actual wildlife bigger than a squirrel in our "natural" spaces.

(A tragically destructive, persistent and entrenched philosophy inherited from our European forbears, the history of which I am currently reading about in Kissed by a Fox--a highly recommended book I found out about via Terri Windling's wonderful Myth & Moor blog, here.)

Two separate passersby saw me worshiping at the altar of the beaver, and we all struck up a conversation. Both had worries of a different sort--that the beavers could be a problem, if they kept on chewing down trees along the creek.

"I don't mind if it chewed down a tree that was dead, but if they kill trees then that can't go on," said one. "It will build a dam, and then it will flood." (For the record, neither tree had been dead before the beaver came along.)

The other guy mentioned seeing all kinds wildlife on the Superior Hiking Trail, 250 miles to the north, but seemed fairly detached about the outcome for this wildlife--as if the beaver's days were numbered, but it couldn't be helped.

"But how amazing that we have that wildlife living here!" I said. After all, how can you beat beavers as a city amenity? Do you have beavers in your city? No, I didn't think so.

But they did not seem to share my wonder. Maybe they were keeping it inside. Or maybe they couldn't let themselves feel it, because then they'd have to feel sadness at its loss....

The thought that this is the beaver's home, too--in fact, that the beavers were here first--and that humans can find ways to coexist with other animals even in a city--just did not seem to surface. They clearly thought that a beaver's place is...somewhere else. Somewhere not here.

For my part, I am cheering on those industrious beavers. I would pay more taxes if that's what it took to get the city/state to protect wildlife rather than kill it because they find it inconvenient. I sign petitions and send emails by the dozen about issues like these. But in this case, I'm crossing my fingers that somehow, the presence of city beavers will stay off their radar.

If nervous NIMBY residents create a fuss, though, I hope the wild ones are relocated to another creek far away, one where they can be their amazing, beaver-like selves, safe from unfriendly people and appreciated by the friendly ones. So that human persons can keep coming upon beaver persons unexpectedly, and marveling at their doings, and feeling the wonder of them. I truly believe that people need that as much as the beavers do.

Beaver information on photo captions from this site.

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