Sunday, April 5, 2015

A human-shaped life

This is Fort Zachary Taylor State Park in Key West, our March getaway.
I should just write about that: The butterflies, pelicans and gypsy roosters. The soft clacking of palm fronds outside our open bedroom window at night, which kept fooling us into thinking it was raining. The charismatic otherness of Key West—its roguish uncle, dirt-under-the-fingernails, bootlegger brand of romance. It was lovely.
I can't, though. When I tried to, my brain formed a perfect logjam. 
Not writer's block. Writer's block is not why I've been away. It's more: I feel increasingly uncomfortable with the amount of time I spend in front of screens, and I haven't figured out what to do about it vis-a-vis blogging.
(Yes, there's an immense irony to writing online bewailing how spending hours staring at screens keeps us from getting out and experiencing the world with our senses.)
These words I read yesterday hit me like a truck:
"The present is going by and we are not in it. Maybe when the present is past, we will enjoy sitting in dark rooms and looking at pictures of it, even as the present keeps arriving in our absence." —Wendell Berry

Right there, one of my deepest aging-person fears: That writing, blogging, photography, reading, television, social media have already taken the place of living the majority of my life, and that I have no time left to waste on a single one of them. 
And by living my life, I mean directly experiencing, engaging, smelling, touching and feeling it, instead of living through another's experience. 
Will I feel comforted to know when I have grown too old to walk under the trees that I have 80 Pinterest boards where I've collected pictures of somebody else's present? 
No. (Though they are really nice boards.)
My Rational Side recognizes this is not an all-or-nothing proposition. I have loved engaging with many of these activities. They have enriched my life and experience, and given me a way to contribute my own voice to the Great Conversation of the living. I may be missing the point by contemplating heaving them overboard.
But my Fear Side says: Every minute you stare at a screen (a page, a monitor, a viewfinder) you are frittering away another precious moment of your time on Earth, human. 
"Yet our organic attunement to the local earth is thwarted by our ever-increasing intercourse with our own signs. Transfixed by our technologies, we short-circuit the sensorial reciprocity between our breathing bodies and the bodily terrain. Human awareness folds in upon itself, and the senses—once the crucial site of our engagement with the wild and animate earth—become mere adjuncts of an isolate and abstract mind bent on overcoming an organic reality that now seems disturbingly aloof and arbitrary."—David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous

I am not alone in these questions. A certain restless contingent of web-loggers are squirming like wild salmon swimming for home against a raging river current, trying to find to a place that feels more home, more authentic, more wild and human-shaped. 
So where do I stand? Does writing make my or others' experience richer, clearer, more meaningful? Or does it keep my awareness "folded in upon myself" and distract me from living in closer connection with physical reality?

Maybe the real question is: What will give me peace right now? 
So I needed to post this. And that seems to answer at least one of my many questions. 

And what the hey, here's another photo from Key West, where such fraught questions take sail on turquoise seas, never again to trouble the horizon.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Acts of man

A couple of days ago, a friend posted a photo of a rhinoceros on Facebook. There was a bloody stump where its horn had been and it was sinking to its knees, dying from an unspeakable act of cruelty.

My friend wrote a poem to express his rage toward the poachers who killed the rhino for its horn. Punched in the gut with grief and sickened by a glimpse of this horror, I voiced my sadness on the thread of comments. 

Later that day, a wildlife rehab organization posted a photo of a bald eagle in Alaska caught in a leg hold trap. A woman found and tried to rescue the eagle. She was charged with interfering with legal trapping. 

The magnificent wildling, who had broken both of its wings trying to escape, was beyond healing and was put down.  

Two days earlier, I’d finished a book with several excruciating scenes of animal cruelty that seemed to be a commentary on how much damage that deadened humans wreak on all around them.

Sadness sticks to sadness. It accreted into a mass that day. A heaviness, an injury no one could see. Probably everyone who saw those photos felt injured by them. What did they do with that injury, I wondered? How do we carry such sights, such knowledge? 

Sometimes we are afraid that we can’t. We look away. Not many look away with indifference…we look away in sorrow. 

We look away, with a grief so keen we are afraid to give ourselves over to it, lest we sink into it whole, never to rise again. 

We feel rage, like my friend, or are nearly crippled by the pity of it, how helpless we feel, how appalled and shamed by our species’ atrocities.

The only way out is through, though. 

Maybe our compassion, even an ocean and a continent away, helps heal the wounds suffered by that rhinoceros, that eagle, our planet. It certainly helps our own humanity. If we look away too much, we are only pretending evil doesn’t exist, and help no one at all. It is right to feel pain. But it is still hard. 

I begin to think that the fall of man really did happen, and keeps happening. Not with God and the serpent, but when humanity chose this path that views the earth and everything on it as a “resource,” i.e. a commodity, with no spirit, sentience or intrinsic worth beyond the money for which it can be sold.

That evening, I sat down with my Native Gardener’s Companion

I began to plan the new gardens I am going to plant come spring, and all the caterpillars, bees, butterflies and birds they will feed, and my heavy heart began to ease. Helping, the only cure I know. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A tale of tracks or, Do you know who you are, even after all these years?

I arrive too early and wait inside my car, because it is winter.

My eyes wander over the stands of dried stalks in the astrologer's front yard. Golden remnants of flowers and grasses poke through the snow. A shapely bare tree on one side of the yard, flanked by layers of plantings and shrubbery stretching out onto the boulevard lining the street, where I am parked and cars pass too quickly.

In summer, this garden must spill over onto the sidewalk edges and lean over the chain-link of the neighboring yard—a small patch of wildness on an ordinary city block of stucco bungalows. The home of a person who values privacy. A lover of growing and living things, comfortable with nature's kind of order. That is what is visible to the eye.

It feels, however, like a crone's cottage, with healing herbs under the snow, protective spells encircling the boundaries and a tendril of plum-colored smoke curling from the chimney.

(Probably there was no chimney smoke...yet that is how I'm remembering it.)

I walk up the front walk, ring the bell. The woman, the astrologer, seats me at a wooden table in a cozy room and offers me a cup of tea. She is older than I am, but not old. Her white hair is thick with curls—not the regimented curl of a permanent wave, but a luxuriant and wild curling, springing from her head like leaves unfurling in April.

Green plants crowd the windowsill. A gray tabby cat snoozes on a cushion set atop the radiator. A few carefully curated artifacts and objects gather around the edges. There's my birth chart, on the table in front of me.

I can't shake the soothsayer-in-the-cottage feeling. Maybe it's because I really like it. I like coming to consult the wise woman, who reminds me of the wise eccentric inside of myself. I like meeting this person, I like how she speaks in possibilities and the way it launches a parallel, unspoken conversation: "Look, this is a way to be even more yourself. Here is a good way to grow old."

The reading progresses through the Houses, touching on my oldest stories. Stories that shaped my ways of growing and not, stories I've told and reshaped and retold to myself, the stories changing as I've changed and was able to reframe them: Once upon a time, a girl child was born. Here are the clear gifts she was given. Here are other gifts, in the guise of difficulties, challenges and curses.

What was it like to be you as a child, with your joys and griefs? What were the wounds you received, and have you found a way to heal them? Have you known your gifts all along, or were they buried, needing to be nurtured carefully and coaxed to the surface? Have you had to learn to be your own parent, and your own daughter, too?

The reading shifts to talking transits—the invisible but powerful tracks the outer planets in particular make as they move in their orbits in respect to the natal chart.

"Art is your way into the world," she says. "That’s where the invitation is to be in the world."

For me, astrology is about illuminating influences, impulses, identity, energies and cycles. It is just one tool for amplifying the whispers of wisdom inside myself that I forget to listen for. Like the tarot, it is rich with metaphor, story and archetype, with clues for understanding life as it is unfolding...a kind of taking stock, a kind of signpost.

When something in the reading resonates with experience and intuition, I pay attention, then try to follow that red thread, in hopes of stitching a true track through the rising and falling lands of my journey. While also looking down on this often confusing path I'm treading like a circling raptor hunting for mice: What will feed me, where is the sustenance?

And: What is the guiding metaphor?

A tightly closed red bud, waiting to unfurl?

An empty fountain that's been shut off for the season, or a freely flowing stream?

A sliver of blue sky after an eternity of heavy clouds?

Maybe a meadow of ghosts, whispering stalks and old bones, with an invincible heart deep beneath the soil, immensely old and ever young?

My astrologer-fairy godmother says: "You’re going to put beauty into the world, motivated by a deep desire to help. Kind of a social worker for the earth."

This, I love.

How do you put your finger on the elusive being of You, as you are being made and unmade, unendingly shifting and flowing like a wave? Fixed yet fluid, past present and perhaps all at once?

All I know is that you, and every other being who has ever lived, are more. More than any name, description, definition, list of characteristics, image, memory, circumstance, voice, or story—even the ones you like most, even the ones you've claimed for yourself.

You're an ocean, you're a field of stars, you're matter in shifting form, you're a hawk sitting on a high tower, searching for food because you love this life, wherever and whoever you are.

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