Falling Down and Going Under

 

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TASHA – Upside Down

(photo credit North American Bear Center)

 

I have been traveling across country during the past week from New Mexico to Maine, leaving one “home” for another wondering what the word even means for me these days. I suspect the word doesn’t refer to a place, but a state of mind/body that continues to elude me.

 

In a forested glen in Virginia I first heard the cardinals singing from the trees and smelled fragrant mounds of trailing honeysuckle that cascaded over every bush and lichened granite stone. For a while I seemed unable to soak in enough of the fully leafed out deciduous trees – trees dressed in miraculous shades of lime, deepening to dark spruce. My endless hunger for emerald green was finally appeased by endless rolling hills and blue tipped mountains.

 

Arriving in Maine brought rain, a second spring, the joy of peepers chiming by the thousands in the bogs, a million shades of unfurling greens, muted maple flower reds that veiled the trees, and willowy emerald grasses waving to the hills. The rich scent of forests, ponds and brooks allows me to breathe in rich moist – laden air with an appreciation for humidity that I have never had before l moved to the desert. The North Country woman has come home to cobalt blue skies without a harsh summer white out, and the brutal west winds of the desert have been left behind.

 

Last night, the bears came. First a small yearling who climbed bb’s pine after feeding a few minutes on the ground – oh, the sound of pitiful wailing and moaning broke my heart. Where was the yearling’s mother? After about 45 minutes she arrived, ate a few morsels, tipped over the bird feeder for her yearling’s pleasure and strode across the lawn with the confidence that comes from knowing her territory and accepting recent non – threatening human/dog arrivals. Disappearing down to the brook she finally re appeared behind her little one. Suddenly, startled by some strange sound, she sprinted down the hill with her youngster trailing close behind. This mother behaved so casually towards her offspring that I wondered if family break up was immanent. When the female comes into estrus she will leave her yearling on its own… a normal process, though heartrending to experience. Yearlings are often very afraid to be left alone. After they left I stayed by the window staring into the night, and sent a silent prayer of gratitude and prayers for the safety of these bears to Venus who was perched in high the night sky over the eastern horizon. If any experience would help me find ‘home’, I thought, an experience of seeing beloved wild bears would.

 

Yet I am still walking on air.

 

Upside down, backwards, sideways. No wonder we feel dizzy and nauseated much of the time. Legislators discuss ”consensual rape,” presidential spokespeople insist there are ”alternate facts,” and lies become beyond brazen since there are written, photographic, video, audible, publicly witnessed records and testimonies exposing the lies. Crowd size, for example. What was said in an un-doctored videotaped interview or speech. What crime was boldly committed and baldly denied. When enough of these accumulate—and they come in an avalanche daily—they leave tiny pits, then dents, in a citizen’s self confidence about recognizing reality, until the blizzard of pebbles becomes a pelting of stones and finally a hillside of boulders roaring down to bury the self, the truth, the real…This happens through language and action both, via short-term tactics and long-term strategies. It’s so blatant it bewilders the rational mind…It’s so continual it exhausts attempts to select one discrete example and analyze that constructively… It’s so absurd that in lighter moments we liken it to Wonderland or the looking glass, with ourselves as Alice–shrinking, swelling, lost, being bullied, even being sentenced to our own beheading. There is fear, and worse: the massive combination of all this seems so encompassing as to feel overwhelming, it evokes despair.”

This morning Robin Morgan’s words burned through my bear haze, reminding me that along with all the wild creatures I cannot inhabit this planet in peace. Just like the haunted, hunted bears, I too am on the run. Because ‘the personal is political’ no place is home because most of the humans on this planet have gone insane and there is no safe place left to go…

Postscript:

What I didn’t realize until I wrote this post was that on one hand we are being assaulted – the Earth and her peoples, and on the other side we are faced with a wall of personal and pubic denial of what is…there is no way through. We are stuck in a crack in between.

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The Gift

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We drifted through

the green

hungrily absorbing

plant souls,

each twig, flower, and tree

has her own story to tell…

 

Such a joyful way

for me

to spend a

‘mother’s day.’

Being with him

when family

extends sharp claws

is an antidote to suffering.

 

“This is my church”

He said,

not for the first time.

I nodded.

He and I are almost

always in agreement

when it comes

to plants

and people.

 

He bought a pear tree.

His Vision has

brought to life

a thriving orchard –

blossoming trees

whose swelling

seed pods will

one day

offer gifts,

just as he does-

free of tithing.

 

I picked a rosebud.

“The ones I love the best

are wild

I murmur – imagining

sweet magenta flowers

buzzing with bees

halfway across the country.

He listens attentively.

 

“Here are some!”

He remarks with enthusiasm,

gesturing

with generous hands.

We walk down

a stony path…

 

Mary spreads her sails above us

shrouded by cottony clouds –

Lady of Roses,

Wild Peace and Places,

No wonder Pear Trees love her…*

 

When we reach the spot

I am astonished

prickly budded bushes converse

awash in a swirling palette;

pink, purple and blue.

Intoxicated by fragrance,

I inspect leaves and stems.

Laughing, I exclaim,

“ Here the only place

I’ve seen these roses

is at gas stations!”

 

I suppose it was inevitable

that She came home with us.

He dug the cavity so

I didn’t have to,

added yet one more drip

to feed her

before we ate

the sunset.

Does he know that

to fill a void

with a rose bush

sustains me

in the dark?

 

We plant seeds

and trees,

observe with fascination

iridescent black

birds who make their living,

at Walmart –

always meeting

on the edge

of radical possibility,

our friendship flourishes,

rooting underground.

 

Postscript:

*Mary’s Rose

I grew up without a nurturing mother and turned to Mary for help – in so doing I developed a kind of learned helplessness that did not serve me well. I struggled to find my voice, struggled to own it, and continue to struggle to take action on my own behalf.

I will always love Mary – she was my first Goddess – but I see her as a one sided figure. By mid -life before leaving Christianity I was embracing the Black Madonna and Mary Magdalene as parts of Mary that I needed to internalize in order to claim my own voice and power.

May is most definitely the month of Mary. Every year I come around the circle to embrace the Mary of my younger years, feeling that same sense of powerlessness and loss of autonomy that comes out of my unconscious alignment with this figure.

This year Mary emerged as one of her roses on mother’s day offering me a gift, but later in the week in a dream I saw a forest of tree trunks stripped of their bark.  Since flowers and blossoming trees are meaningful images of Mary I experienced both sides of Her in one week. The latter image of  dying trees whose bodies are stripped of their life force speaks to the “dark side” of Mary, the entity with no voice, no body, nor agency, the figure who is powerlessness to shift the paradigm of impending death of self and Nature. Very sobering.

And yet, this isn’t the whole story because the self in the poem ( as in day life) is drawn to one special kind of rose – the wild rose. This “Lady of the Wilderness” may embody some hope.

Lizard Love

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The lizard I write about is the male in the foreground of his cottonwood house. Note the cobalt patches on his neck… He looks as large as his mate but this is a visual distortion – In actuality his mate is larger. I took this picture just after the two mated.

 

He was splayed out

in the pail,

waterlogged.

I gasped.

How long had he been there?

Placing my

hand under his

limp gray body I

laid him out

on a strip of sun warmed

cottonwood bark

noting his cobalt

underbelly- shimmering

emerald silk.

 

Identifying him as

one of the new mated

males, I blamed myself.

for his death –

It had rained the night before.

I hadn’t remembered

the upright pail.

 

Moments later

a gold rimmed eye

opened

into a slit.

 

Filling my lungs

with air

I ceased all

thought,

opened

my body

to the beyond,

(the place where living

and dying co- exist

in unbroken wholeness)

breathing life

into his exhausted

animal body,

walked away,

accepting uncertain outcome.

The sun warmed ashen flesh.

 

Five minutes later

I return to check,

Lizard raises his head

peers about,

his skin is regaining its pattern

of stripes.

I wonder how long

it has been since he has eaten?

He gazes at me intently as

I welcome him home…

 

 

Working notes:

 

Last year when I moved into this adobe house I made friends with each of the sagebrush lizards who lived here. I was privileged to get to know each one by sight as they greeted me in the early morning by appearing the moment I stepped outside the house. Just knowing they were with me helped me survive a summer of such intense heat that I was housebound for months.

 

Last fall I built a half moon garden on the south side of the house and all seven house lizards moved in for the winter, including baby lizard who was born in late August. I was thrilled, knowing that I had created an unintentional haven for these reptiles! During the winter I thought about lizards sleeping just beyond the adobe wall… I loved knowing they were nearby. When my friends emerged this spring (March) I noted that I hadn’t lost one!

 

One surprise was that soon I noticed new sagebrush lizards that were also making their home here (was some kind of lizard grapevine working behind the scenes?). The newcomers were shy, and it took me a while to show them that I could be trusted. One new pair also took up residence on the garden wall. The male had taken a special liking to me and often appeared from a crack in his cottonwood abode whenever I came by and spoke to him.

 

When the lizards began to pair off this month (May) I watched two pairs mate; one was the male that fell into the pail. I am happy to report that the mated females are pregnant and the couples continue to hang out together on different parts of the adobe house, some in the east, some in the south, two pairs on the garden wall. I placed rounded pieces of cottonwood bark as extra lizard houses on the top of this parapet. The lizards can bask there in the sun, hunt for ants, and disappear in seconds if need be. It was on the surface of one of these bark houses that I placed the lizard I thought was dead.

 

To find him floating in a pail of water horrified me not just because I knew I was responsible, but because the lizard was my friend.

 

When a lizard is dying his very distinct markings fade into a dull uniform dark gray; I was barely able to identify this one. That the cobalt patches turn to emerald was another surprise.

 

I am not sure how I learned that sometimes I can help an individual by setting an intention for Life, clearing my mind, cultivating deep breathing, and letting go of the outcome, but learning this technique has helped me at times to save lives.

 

As I watched the lizard recover I viscerally felt and sensed the power of interconnection to effect outcome.

 

I call that power Love.

The Seeds of Friendship

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(Andrew doesn’t like his picture taken so I added one of me, loving the Earth as a mountain with my pockets full of rocks! Thank you Iren for taking the picture.)

 

I have a friend who carries a precious seed for a very different kind of future. He really cares about trees and people and is genuinely attached to the word “community”. It is a pleasure to be around this young man who knows how to be a man and gives his own mother credit for helping him become who he is.

 

I’ll never forget the day Andrew told me that the first thing he noticed about me was the power of my light. I was stunned. How was it possible that this almost stranger half my age could see who I had become so clearly? Many months into this friendship, I still don’t know, but Andrew has followed this remark with others that reflect that although we are separated by generations he can actually see the woman I have become.

 

He defines himself as an outsider, and this is probably true because he is a visionary thinker and multi-valenced artist, as well as being a person who is able to navigate seemingly impossible odds in a very grounded/concrete way by writing proposals that result, for example, in the procuring of food stamps so that people who do not have the money will still be able to buy fresh vegetables at his outdoor market.

 

He has been able to garner emotional (and financial) support from others, who like me, also long for a relationship oriented culture, one in which the mechanized Iphone/FB isolation of ‘the family of man’ is finally replaced by a paradigm that puts caring and community at its center.

 

If this model can be adopted by even one community, then all is not lost. Of course, Andrew is facing a host of challenges – steep mountains to be climbed. He stands at the beginning of his own winding road as a different kind of leader…but because he embodies his own light, that inner light will guide him. As I have told him on so many occasions my belief in him and his ability to manifest a life sustaining community based reality strengthens with each passing day.

 

Andrew and others like him embody hope not just for humans, but for all non –human species and for the Earth, the planet we call home.

The Sound of Silence: a mother’s day reflection

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Here in the high desert it has been raining off and on for the last few days. A giant puddle sits in the driveway and all the trees range in color from subtle shades of sage to emerald. Fringed Chamisa, spun gold and salmon wildflowers are bent low but stems are luminescent. Seedlings are sprouting in unlikely places.

 

I can’t think of a better mother’s day present for the desert than these ongoing cloud-bursts that are nourishing the earth with water and minerals from the sky. I am profoundly grateful for this year’s spring greening.

 

The earth is experiencing a sense of renewal. I wish I could say the same for me with respect to mothering and mother’s day. I approach this cyclic threshold with the same feelings of dread and grief that overpower me each year. Neither of my children acknowledge me as the mother who once loved them so fiercely, but oh so imperfectly in her own confusion and despair.

 

I was such a young wife, barely twenty when I became pregnant with my first child. By the time I was twenty – two, I was a mother of two sons. Two years later I was divorced and on my own.

 

Although I tried to repair the damage as soon as I was able, neither child was willing to join me. I desperately suggested counseling – many times. As adolescents and young adults both Chris and later David, responded with chilling silence and apparent indifference to every frantic attempt I made to bridge the gap.

 

It was decades before I began to understand that after my brother’s death I surrendered my children to grieving parents whenever they wanted. I had no idea my behavior was rooted in survivors guilt (My 50 percent). Later, after my father’s sudden death, my mother co opted my children for her own reasons, making certain that both would shut the door on me, just as she had. She demonstrated the power of silence/absence as a means of soul destruction, and cheerfully passed the torch onto both my children.

 

It was too late.

 

Yet, I kept trying for another 25 years. Two years ago, after yet one more aggressively abusive phone call from my youngest son I snapped, and gave up the ghost.

 

I struggled then – mightily – to find a way to accept incomprehensible truth. That I had two 50 plus year old children who couldn’t see me for who I am, children that don’t care about, or respect me. Love is not part of their equation. This reality seemed so extreme that I couldn’t digest what was.

 

I still can’t.

 

I suspect the stomach issues I am dealing with today with have everything to do with the fact that a person can only live with so much emotional suffering before physical collapse becomes a reality.

 

As my body continues to weaken, most of the time I retreat further and further from that which I am powerless to change.

 

But around mother’s day I can’t help but think about my relationship with my children and my mother because I am both mother and daughter and because my life is permeated by the suffering that comes from being silenced, rendered invisible and unloved. An intergenerational pattern of harsh judgment/rejection lives on and I wonder who will be damaged by it next.

 

My mother is dead and my children are well past mid –life and responsible for their own choice -making. I no longer make excuses for either of them. I hold each son accountable for mother betrayal, just as I learned to hold my mother accountable (after her death) for her betrayal of me. I don’t know my grandchildren well enough to make any judgment. Like my mother, my oldest son, their father, made sure they were never able to see me until they were already 18 years old. They were taught how to use silence as a weapon of destruction too.

 

If I am willing to be accountable for the mistakes I made as a parent knowingly and unknowingly, and I am, then so are the other members of my family. It’s that simple.

 

I am aware that my story is not unique. Families twist realities and create their own cruel and distorted stories. We are all are living through dark times; cultural and earth destruction are ongoing realities. Some days I can barely imagine a future that embodies hope on either a personal or a collective level.

 

And yet, when I walk out the door I see the seeds that I did not plant sprouting new green. When I lovingly water them I am catapulted into the Field of the Living Earth… S/he too has lost children, millions of non – human species, and will lose so many more before the story ends… Yet, she continues to align herself with Life. I choose to join her. I hope that before I die I will find a few more seeds to plant and nurture even if they did not emerge from my own body.

 

The prophet Gibran once said that our children do not belong to us but are life’s longing for itself. The Earth demonstrates the truth of this statement; I want to believe it too.

 

 

Wandering Mystic

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We are

the golden sun

as it rises

over the luminescent

leaves

casting a lemony

haze over

sharply etched veins –

Sap is rising.

 

We are basking

in the early morning

light, saluting

each other

as lizards

in a universal language

we both comprehend –

Knowing too that

the steep price of intimacy

is loss..

 

The present is

my refuge

as I weave

through lime green

bushes and pale

gray scrub.

Delicately perfumed

magenta, deep purple,

salmon, and

buttery wildflowers

cry out for life as

we burst through

chalky alkaline soil

softened by rain.

Graceful giants, we

stretch our bowed limbs

Earthward,

gifting some with blessed shade.

Our roots

are starving sponges

soaking up

puddles of standing water.

 

I feel wonder at the stillness

that allows for Nature’s

Voices to be heard.

Towhees,

white crowned sparrows

doves and nuthatches

chant in harmony.

One cicada strums.

 

High Praise is offered

to Life in all

its complexity

without hesitation…

I envision the wolf

that licks my face,

a tangle of black snakes,

wiggling tadpoles,

pear trees birthing the fruit

of dreams?

 

 

These mental sparks

cast too dark a shadow

of separation,

and I breathe

deep

sliding back in.

 

 

Then I hear him:

My gray tree frog,

his throat blown into

a translucent bubble

trilling just beyond the veil…

 

 

I am both – him and me,

self and whole,

spinning Nature’s web.

I am the living land,

overflowing with her grace.

Breathing in like my frog does

intoxicating feeling,

sight, sound, vibration,

through fragile wrinkled skin –

open to impermanence,

‘predictable pain’,

and this precious moment

of Becoming.

 

 

Working Notes:

 

Recently, I wrote that there are not enough visionaries and mystics left in our culture, let alone in the world. Sometimes I write to find out what I am really thinking/feeling and I realized when I penned these words that I had uncovered a belief I didn’t know I had. I do believe that modern culture has lost access to its visionaries and its mystics. We dismiss these people as folks who are at best impractical, unrealistic, at worst delusional or crazy. It occurs to me that without including visionaries and mystics any culture will eventually self-destruct from lack of Imagination and lack of Love.

 

One definition of a visionary is a person that thinks about the future in a creative and imaginative way, a person with keen foresight. Many artists and writers are visionaries. This kind of person often lives in what I call the crack between worlds, inhabiting a space that is outside time or ahead of linear time as most of us experience it. If non –conventional or radical ideas are not acceptable then individuals will be forced to live in exile. A good example of a visionary who went through this phase is the poet Bob Dylan who had a pulse on the culture of the sixties and beyond, and was despised for speaking out during the folk era that was so focused on a change for the better. When I listen to Dylan’s early songs it is clear to me that he knew “something” was coming but it wasn’t necessarily a positive development. A careful reading of Dylan’s early work, (The Times They Are A-Changin’ is a good example) will initiate the reader into the visionary’s perspective.

 

There is a relationship between being a visionary and a mystic but there can be differences too. Visionaries “see” what’s ahead but may or may not understand what they are seeing, mystics actually “enter” other realities to experience them. I believe Bob Dylan did both.

 

Visionaries may survive as artists of one kind or another but today mysticism has no place in global culture as it is generally experienced, with the possible exception of the probably insane person who is directly tied to a particular religion who is also tagged as a mystic.

 

Some partial definitions of mysticism that made sense to me focused on those who seek by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the absolute. Direct experience/intuition/apprehension or its opposite – an experience of nothingness seem to be intrinsic to the mystic’s experience. What isn’t mentioned here is that we are also talking about the experiential aspect of Love.

 

I personally like William James’s viewpoint which suggests that during mystical states we become one with the absolute and/or become aware of our oneness. This perspective contributes to the interpretation that mysticism is a distinct experience that highlights the importance of the senses to attainment of unity with the ‘divine’ however ones defines that word.

 

According to James mystical experiences have four defining qualities: They are ineffable; they cannot be explained in words. There is a noetic quality to these experiences; any insight into the depths of truth cannot be apprehended by the discursive intellect. Thirdly, these experiences are usually transient but their effect persists. And lastly, mystics do not come to these experiences as active seekers, but as passive recipients. It’s important to note that for James there was nothing inherently theological in or about mystical experience.

 

It is also argued by some that mysticism is part of the process of perception, not interpretation; that is to say that the unity of mystical experiences is perceived, and only afterwards interpreted according to the perceiver’s background. This may result in different accounts of the same phenomenon. For example, a nature mystic seeks union through objective experience, an individual mystical experience of union can also occur in the Great Void.

 

Visionaries and mystics allow us to perceive possibilities or actualities that are beyond our very limited human androcentric understanding. They also teach us about Unconditional Love. They lift us out of ordinary time, not through intellect, obfuscation, or denial but by opening a door through the present moment into a place where experiences have no past or future. The Now is all there is.

 

I have spent my life trying to function in a foreign culture that has remarkably little meaning for me; a culture totally disconnected from that of the natural world. Personally, Nature is both source and container – the place where both the visionary and the mystic originate and thrive because we are one. On-going communication with non-human species is a natural part of this way of being in the world, and all language, human and non human a like, is directly mediated through my body, which is, I repeat, also the body of Nature.

 

I always capitalize the word Nature because S/he is generally ignored, dismissed, despised, exploited (read raped) by humans; I seek to re-dress that imbalance by highlighting her importance, and not because I perceive her as some kind of deity.

 

The little poem I wrote attempts to illustrate how fluid this natural connection is for this nature mystic, and how easily I slip from one way of being into the other. It is also a reflection on what it means to be ‘in love’ in the largest sense of the word.

 

I should probably add here that I am severely directionally dyslexic – the universe does have a sense of humor – navigating the natural world may be effortless (although I am never the one orchestrating these experiences/relationships), while I am literally lost at sea in the violent culture I was born into.

 

As a dedicated naturalist and a nature mystic I also can’t help wondering how entering into an intimate relationship with Nature might change our attitude towards the planet we depend on for life. Perhaps instead of seeking transcendence we need to choose immanence?

 

 

Blue Truck and Open Sky

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I waved goodbye

gazing into

blue space

as rattling metal

dissipates,

leaving

dust

in its wake.

 

‘Change is the

only constant’

I remind myself

as I turn back to the adobe

to prepare for

my own leave – taking

with a hole in my heart.

Am I always saying goodbye?

 

The next day

I cannot get out of bed.

Is it too much to expect

that I can continue

to endure these ruptures

that catapult my body into

a coal black cosmos,

even as a spring veil

casts her grace

over the land?

 

I have no answers

to these questions.

I lean into gray – green

imagining warm rain

that falls quietly for hours

aligning myself

with elements

I trust – hoping

for insight.

 

I dream about Black bears,

those primal mystics of the forest.

Like them I must have a Tall Tree

to sleep under,  to lean upon…

 

On the outside

I endure

my body exhausted,

wrung out, as

I throw a furry coat

over a shivering child

who no longer trusts

that dawn will come.

 

Postscript:

I am struck by the personal truth that childhood abandonment creates its own powerful reality – a closed system that even the most self -aware adult cannot shift. Developing keen awareness regarding this issue may even make this ‘knowing’ more difficult because it becomes impossible to medicate this void with denial or any other kind of drug* induced coma. What is left is to endure. This is the position I find myself in as I attempt to create a bridge to move from one beloved earth-space to another.

*I use the word drug in the cultural sense not restricting myself to medical/ recreational drug overuse, although, of course, I include these with the others. We often cite medical/or recreational drug users as the core problem while the rest of us appear to be numb to the fact that unhealthy addiction includes any behavior that is taken to the extreme in every day life. It’s also important to recognize that we live in a culture that celebrates “doing” (read as addiction) as the way of life. In this way of thinking if a person is not actively engaged with some activity or machine every second of her/his time then there is something amiss. Being alive isn’t enough. Healthy doses of silence and self-reflection are not considered useful.