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 world...one 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 exist...to 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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