Saturday, November 26, 2016

When we stand together

Black wings of crows against a dimensionless gray sky. Long chains of Canada geese flying wing to wing, navigating south now in earnest by sun, stars and internal compass.

Making we wonder: what and where is home? Do we think of home as our city, our nation or our planet? How much of our sense of home is rooted in the people around us, and our shared humanity?

Do we think of our fellow citizens as only the people like us—the same ethnic make-up, beliefs and politics? Or do we think of all humans as our fellow citizens of this one planet?

Now as the darkness of November has descended, courage has been at its ebb in my heart. In the dark hours it feels absolutely crushing—after a spring so full of hope, promise and progressive energy for real reform to address the huge economic and social injustices in America—that this is the winter of our reality:

A society systematically reshaped over decades to benefit the ultra-wealthy and to disenfranchise 99 percent of the people.

Militarized police forces who kill our black and brown brothers and sisters, and who do the bidding of corporations in attacking peaceful protestors as criminals.

An authoritarian demagogue and his kleptocracy, wrong-headedly elected by people fed up with a government that is not working, who are soon to be dismantling protections and selling off our beloved land for parts while enriching themselves and their cronies.

These represent the blindest segment of humanity—the one bent on racing as quickly as possible toward the destruction of planet and our species. For gain.

We have met the enemy, and he is us.

Humanity's shadow is on full display right now in America, and it is frightening. It seems about to swallow us whole.

It has always been there, but we do have to look at it and see it now, in all its wounded-ness and brokenness. I do not know what our chance of healing humanity's brokenness is. But without seeing it, we surely cannot heal it. So we have been given a clear choice, a chance to do something other than despise it, repress it and turn our eyes away.

We have an opportunity at this moment, all people of goodwill and open heart, of compassion and kindness, to stand together. To speak loudly for and protect what is right. To organize and mobilize and to spread peace and beauty in every way we can.

It is clear that pushing back against humanity's shadow with compassion is the only hope we have to survive as a species, and that NOW is the time we need to act.

This has been a year of great highs and sickening lows, a year of revelations. A year of stripping bare the illusions we've harbored, peeling back our comforting surface narratives to reveal that which is bleeding, wounded, neglected and ugliest about humanity. A year of challenge to ourselves to become more than we may have thought we needed to become.

It is a time when all feels upended, a time when I especially envy those with strong extended families, and close networks of friends to sustain them. Because in spring, summer and fall I am mostly content to wander in community with no one other than the trees, birds, grasses and sky.

But in winter, all ease and illusions are gone, along with nature's reassuring sense of becoming that I can pretend is my own. Winter strips it all away, and exposes how frail and important for our well-being are the human connections that hold us together.


All is far from lost. We (I) must take heart and take action. Here is what is encouraging: The progressives are mobilizing all across our country, galvanized by the stark challenges before us. What Bernie Sanders said before the primaries is as true now as it was then:

Our job is not to divide, our job is to bring people together. If we do not allow them to divide us up by race, by sexual orientation, by not allowing them to divide us up by whether or not we were born in America or whether we're immigrants...when we stand together, as white and black and hispanic and gay and straight, woman and man...when we stand together, and demand that this country work for all of us, rather than the few...we will transform America.

The challenge for a quiet, introverted homebody is to make a conscious and sustained effort (and it is a real effort) to reach out and connect with others, instead of retreating even further into books. Books are important for reaffirming what is best about humanity, for reminding us of what is wise, beautiful and true. Books are even community, of a kind. But even books (and I speak as a lifelong bookworm) cannot always take the place of connecting with real live humans.

Those of us who usually choose to go our own way—often disappointed idealists masquerading as misanthropes—do actually need a community made up of people...especially during times when despair threatens to sap our energy and spirits. Let's draw heart from each other.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Reading by lantern light

I read The Hour of Land by Terry Tempest Williams during our late September stay amid the dark, burnished glory of Jay Cooke State Park.

It was drizzling and gray the three days we were there, but we were well tucked away into a snug cabin next to a wall made of jutting faces of dark slate, flanked by pines and quaking aspens.

I read into the dark by the light of the lantern.

The wind shivered the aspen leaves, and their soft, silvery clamor sounded like rain, too...even when it wasn't raining.

While we built a couple of soggy campfires and took a long, damp hike, we spent as many lovely, quiet hours reading.

St. Louis River

I've been reading books by women who are living and creating in dialogue with the landscape. Especially wise, powerful, authentic and flawed women who raise pointed questions, who challenge the status quo, who are willing to speak truth and take action for what they believe in.

I revere women like these. Their path-blazing inspires me in the best way. I am always seeking guru sisters and guru mothers and guru aunts, I think. Not of the same blood (though we are all related, really) but of like spirit and mind.

Which brings me back to The Hour of Land, which I recommend for lovers of wilderness and wildness and wild women. TTW's subject is Americans' relationship with our national parks. But her relationships, knowledge, curiosity and mind range wide as the continent, and The Hour of Land  is about far more than national parks.

It is about love, sacred rage, politics, right action and self knowledge.

It is about grief and beauty (are they always intertwined?). The sensate world. Wonder.

Terry Tempest Williams is a protector and a warrior. She, like many of us, is angry about destruction of the land, of our heritage, of beauty and quietude, of the rights of the people, the animals, the water and the earth itself.

"Our species is committing suicide—that is a choice—and in the process, we are causing others pain. Who cares? Who cares about this wilderness? This glorious indifference?"

"I keep thinking the essential gesture is to act, to respond, to remain true to our core beliefs, and not to be afraid to give voice to our anger. For me, the danger is silence and it multiplies into complacency and consent. My question remains, how do we take our anger and transform it into sacred rage?"

"Our institutions and agencies are no longer working for us. It is time to reimagine our public lands as sanctuaries, refuges, and sacred lands. Time to rethink what is acceptable and what is not."


"Wilderness is not my leisure or my recreation. It is my sanity." 

 "We believe in more, more possessions, more power, more war. Anywhere, everywhere our advance of aggression continues. My aggression toward myself is the first war...Wilderness is an antidote to the war within ourselves."

"The time has come for acts of reverence and restraint on behalf of the Earth. We have arrived at the Hour of Land." 

This quote from Darnell Davis, a Blackfeet elder, brought tears: "The last best place is our first place."

The land of the first Americans was, and is, their everything. And they have always understood this in a way that far, far too many other Americans do not.

They know this land as a deeply loved and intimately known Home. As the source of nurturing Food. Powerful Medicine. Meaningful Work. Sacred refuge and source of spirit. As a Place of ritual and worship. A Place of Story and Wonder. A Place of memory, birth, death, ancestors. A Place of Blessing, also Home to All Our Relations: Bison, deer, wolf, moose, salmon, fox, raven, eagle.

A Place to tend to and shape, renew and care for. A Place to love and honor like a father, a mother, a child, a beloved. A Place to hold the People forever in the cup of its hand.

This land is a place worth protecting, worth our love, worth fighting for. Even if who we are fighting is our own institutions, our own agencies, our own police and military, our own government who is not listening to our voices.

There is no one and nothing more important than this planet on which we dwell. We ARE the land, and the land is us. The people are right to say Water Is Life. The Land Is Life. It is that simple, and that enormous.

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