#156 Getting There from Here

Getting There From Here.

Years ago when I returned to college to finally finish my undergraduate degree (sixteen plus years after I had dropped out) the first class I took was “The Philosophy of Creativity”. The age range in that class was from 72 to 19. Whatever topic was discussed there were those in the class who had new, fresh ideas of how to tackle it and there were voices of experience who had tried. What never left me was the power of that range of idealism to experience and how, when given an opportunity to be together, that range provided an expansiveness not possible in more narrowed situations. To solve anything both idealism and experience are inexplicably tied together.

There is enormous wisdom in the trope “Keep the Lesson but Throw Away the Experience”. It isn’t that our particular story of how we came to an understanding  doesn’t count; it’s that at a certain point in life we all have stories and paths and what counts above everything else is the learning—the wisdom—that we come to on our individual journeys. How we came to that learning might be interesting but it is almost always a side issue.

I’ve been thinking about the difference between experience and opinion and how we can recognize in conversation which one is in operation. Many of us took to using Zoom during the pandemic, for comfort, for connection, for information. The standouts in this process were the moments when experience informed but did not limit. Out of respect or desire for contact or communications on many occasions we were able to open channels that might have remained closed and we stretched into unknown territories together. My suspicion is that Zoom became a successful medium for those longing for such expansion. The lockdown—those long hours and days of keeping our own company—allowed us to experience our own boundaries and some of us found them to be too confining. The way to move out of confined spaces is to listen and to learn from others, to expand beyond our own boundaries. This is where the line between opinion and experience gets critical: Experience carries gravitas. Opinion is often just hot air. We can feel the difference.

The stories of our lives are merely how we got to be where we currently are. If there’s time and space sufficient for the telling, then that might be helpful for understanding, but just maybe that story takes a back seat to what came out of what happened and that what you did with what you learned was more important than anything else, for you and all those lucky enough to have the opportunity to listen.

 

#153 Depletion. Nourishment.

Depletion. Nourishment.

What Depletes:

Drugs

Porn

Sleeplessness

Anxiety

Pain

All of the chemicals in all of those boxes, bottles, and bags in things called “food” in the middle isles of grocery stores

Caffeine

Hatred

Poverty

Despair 

Racism

Sexism

Barriers to potential

Concrete 

Alcohol

Soul sucking jobs

Long commutes 

What Nourishes:

Shared work

Shared joy

New life

Farm stands and farmer’s markets 

Homegrown and local seasonal foods

Fresh air

Sunshine (when there’s been sufficient rain)

Nature

Good friends

Laughter

Connections

Asking good questions 

Finding needed answers 

Flowers

Listening

Singing 

Dancing

Being quiet 

Poetry

New ideas 

Watching children play

Trust

Gardening 

Watching wildlife

Dogs

Cats

Families

Trees

Caring

Work that satisfies 

Lakes, Rivers, Oceans

Finding context in your life

Belief in something larger than yourself

And maybe even a homemade strawberry rhubarb pie.

It would be lovely if you would share additions to these lists. Just use the “Reply” box. 


# 152 Cri de la Coeur

Cri de la coeur.

On a weekend afternoon I’d driven over to one of my favorite parking spots needing a bit of fresh air and sunshine on a day with the kind of chill that often makes old bones ache and movement painful.

A older woman, large eyes peering out from under a baseball cap, was attempting to back into one of the parking spaces next to me. I motioned ahead to two spots closer to the water telling her she’d have a better view there. As I was getting ready to leave she backed into the spot next to me and motioned she wanted to talk. 

Beginning with profuse apologies she then rambled: she was 72–she was widowed—she’d recently taken a fall—she was carrying stuff in her car waiting until she could give it away—she was sleeping in her car to “test out” what it would be like to drive across America in a used van she hoped to purchase—she’d given up her apartment.

I thought I saw worry and fear in those large eyes but I did not know, or trust, where this encounter was headed. My physical need in that moment was to be lying down on my bed not sitting in the car, an audience of one trying hard to listen while questioning what my role was in this situation and trying to think through flooding pain. After a bit my body discomfort overcame whatever I was being asked to do, and I made my excuse and drove away.

Later, a friend reminded me of a recent encounter she had experienced in a different town with a homeless, car-bound woman who, eventually, asked her for money while she was getting gas. With troubled thoughts and accompanying compassion my friend gave her the largest bill she carried in her wallet.

There are hundreds of questions below the two sketchy, skittery “conversations” that took place. Whatever was beneath the stories each woman told, there was the truth of two women in troubling circumstances. One story is disturbing, two stories exponentially more so. Are there women panhandling from their cars that have become their homes? Have they come here because it is seems safer or because it is cooler in these summer months? Our two encounters seem unlikely as happenstance and each carries unpleasant resolve.

My chance encounter turned my woes into a grateful “Thanks” for my circumstances. “Old age is not for sissies” said my mother and through each new awareness and, with what is learned in conservations with fellow travelers, there comes the challenges aging brings. There’s the daily unfolding knowledge that we can no longer power ourselves through or do simple tasks that once would have easy. Old bodies often hurt. A lot. Sometimes there are blessings and occasional grace that allows seeing bigger pictures and contexts. Sometimes, alone, we just get through the day as best we can.

What are the things we need to know before we pass from this life? What are the responsibilities each of us holds in seeing our world with flashes of what might resemble wisdom? If indeed wisdom is present, then how do we share what we’ve learned?

And now there’s this new question: What is our role when our paths cross troubled (and troubling) souls?

#151 Old Dog, New Tricks

Old Dog, New Tricks.

We are emerging from our pandemic induced isolation and we are finding our lives altered. In my life a daily Zoom connection hosted by our local public library became a slim digital thread, a connector where I could check in and hear how others were responding to our abruptly changed world. This come-and-go group had gotten to know each other over the stretch of time when most all of us only went out when necessary, masked and constantly on alert, doing our errands as needed but feeling safer when back in our own abode. It’s more than a little painful remembering how much the constant political upheavals were rattling our already shaky selves so, in the beginning and until things started to calm down, politics was a constant theme in our discussions.

Sandwiched in between our fears and our rants were pieces of our lives that we shared with each other. The flat screen faces were kind and thoughtful. They responded in quick bursts or sat back and listened, allowing our inner cores breathing room as judgement surrendered to compassion and understanding. We heard road trip stories, family stories, and (joy!) saw pets take over screens as we ooood and awed, especially if we were living alone without furry companions. Linking the serious moments was hilarity in daily jokes and lightening quick puns. We literally laughed and cried together.

As the months went on various people joined the group or left the group, mostly without any fanfare; it was always understood we were self selected. Our library teamed up with another library in Illinois and our screen face friends expanded to include friends or relatives and those who found the group by digital miracles. Geography made everything expand in ways that would not have been previously possible but we expanded by age range and circumstances too.

After vaccines became widely available literal breathing room crept into our lives. One person’s willingness to translate a desire for three dimensional experience instead of the flat screen images provided an opportunity for some of us to gather together, in person, in a living room, and on a porch! Now we know somehow something extraordinary has happened, something new in our world, a thread of possibility formed out of a truly strange time, a possibility which might never have occurred without this crack in our world that made new ways of being possible.

None of knows what lies ahead. I suspect many of us sense we have undergone permanent shifts. We are listening and watching, wanting to incorporate who we once were with the person we’ve now become. Finding fellow explorers, kindred spirits, in unexpected ways and places, is the crack of which Leonard Cohen wrote: “the crack where the light comes in”.

Listen: https://youtu.be/c8-BT6y_wYg

Anthem Song by Leonard Cohen

The birds they sang
At the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don't dwell on what has passed away
Or what is yet to be

Ah, the wars they will be fought again
The holy dove, she will be caught again
Bought and sold, and bought again
The dove is never free
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in

We asked for signs
The signs were sent
The birth betrayed
The marriage spent
Yeah, and the widowhood
Of every government
Signs for all to seeI can't run no more
With that lawless crowd
While the killers in high places
Say their prayers out loud
But they've summoned, they've summoned up
A thundercloud
They're going to hear from me

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in

You can add up the parts
But you won't have the sum
You can strike up the march
There is no drum
Every heart, every heart
To love will come
But like a refugee

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in
That's how the light gets in

Source: Musixmatch

#149 No Roots.

DSC_0018

No roots.

The gardeners were working in the flower beds next door at the Lobster Shack. I asked for help for a few minutes in my attempt to improve a small garden patch in front of the house. While we were talking one of the gardeners reached down and extracted a large, quite perfect dandelion plant with its very long taproot intact. It resembled the shape and fullness of a bridal bouquet, quite a feat for a perfectly ordinary dandelion. What struck my memory camera was that root.

I’ve mentioned I’ve been going through old family photos trying to identify, label, and organize them as I’m about the only one left with family memories intact sufficiently enough to do this. I’m told by two friends who are steeped in genealogy that I should definitely not toss out photographs with subjects any I don't know. When I began this project I saw it as quick work and now, weeks later, I have walked down memory paths I did not know were still within me. It has not been easy work.

As names and events floated up into awareness I think of how unlike that magnificent dandelion with its long taproot my life turned out to be. I would describe my life as mostly surface with very little root. (“Rutts” as it would have been pronounced in many places I’ve lived.) I seemed to have been a wandering plant, one that didn’t “take” to one particular place or another. 

Seeing faces and places that once were but are no longer is a peculiar thing. Sometimes I recognize if this or that person were still in this world we’d still have issues with one another. Sometimes with others there is an almost pure longing for what was not appreciated, a sense of comfort and belonging I’ve not felt since they were still in my life. Yes, regrets seep out from such work. How little I understood about the fleeting moments of relationship. My epitaph would rightly read “She took too much for granted.”

Now I live a long way from where any of them lived and there are very thin, occasional threads of connectivity with the tiny family few who remain. Now I understand about conversations that did not happen. Oh for a few more moments at tables with bowls of potato salad, baked beans, and laughter. I am grateful we did not have to share pandemic stories and that I was spared the worry of loved ones I could not have helped but as I see these faces in fading photographs, what happened to those moments where I thought there would always be enough time? It turned out there wasn’t.









			

#148 Good Vibes

Good Vibes.

A number of weeks ago I was driving home from doing errands with the radio tuned to the classical radio station. As the announcer described upcoming pieces that she was going to play I misunderstood the order so when the opening notes of the next play began they startled me because, expecting something new, I instead heard something familiar. It was one of those soaring, transformative moments like we’ve all had where music propels us far beyond our current time and place.

Later, believing the piece was Vivaldi’s “Spring” I went looking for the music wanting to hear it again. After a bit of poking I realized it was not Vivaldi’s “Spring” but instead another part of his Four Seasons, “Winter”. As the quickest and cheapest route to hearing a piece of music is to find it on YouTube, I began listening to the versions that came up which were all played on violins. What I was hearing did not exactly match the piece on the radio that had stirred me, so my next step was to search the radio station’s playlist for the specific piece I had heard. To my surprise, the piece that had been played on the radio was performed on a cello not the standard instrument for the piece, the violin. Why did the instrument make such a difference in my reaction to the piece?

Once, long ago, I had brief contact with a group of gifted folk in Vermont by attending an evening gathering that was exploring using tuning forks and sharing the concept that we humans each have a particular vibratory resonance. Without knowledge about the particular vocabulary of music or a scientific explanation of vibrational theory this was all totally new to me. What was not new was that I clearly felt some sounds quite differently than I did others. Violins are a good example in that the beauty of that soaring instrument’s diversity is profound but my physical reaction to violins has always been slightly “off”, as if it sets something in me to some state of agitation that is just a tad uncomfortable. Vivaldi’s “Winter”, played on the cello, changed the vibratory levels and seemed to resonate with something inside my being.

I had experienced this before; there is something about the sounds of a cello, something I find more compelling, a bit more raw, rough, guttural, or gritty than the other stringed instruments. What is it like to wrap one’s body around the size of it, feeling the vibrations throughout the body as well as hearing the sounds? Surely it must fill the player with joy. Of course, it is not only classical music that can make one’s physical being soar. All kinds of music have this potential. I cannot imagine that you have not experienced the shiver up the spine or an instant transformation from hearing a particular musical piece. Next time that happens see if you can physically feel it in a new or deeper way.

Could it be your own interior tuning fork doing its magic?

Listening:

  1. Antonio Vivaldi–“The Four Seasons”–Winter – (Violin: Itzhak Perlman)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ltQGDOCP9I

        2. Luka Sulic. Vivaldi. Winter.(1st Movement.) (Live in Trieste):  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3HoWUuinkQs

And just because you should always smile when listening to Vivaldi:

         3. Bobby McFerrin: vivaldi-Concerto for two cellos in G minor (RV 531) Gewandhausorchester Leipzig:         https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ip09OPFfJb8&list=RDip09OPFfJb8&start_radio=1

And one to read:  “Which Nonvocal Musical Instrument Sounds Like the Human Voice? An Empirical Investigation. Emery Schubert. March 28, 2018:   https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0276237418763657

#146 Why Do I Explore the Dark?

rockswirls

Why Do I Explore the Dark?

Why do I explore the dark

when others dance lightly on

the surface in the sunshine

while I’m drawn to

downward spirals trying

to find answers

to the mysteries?

Mostly that’s okay

but sometimes I meet up

with a dancer in distress

and my communication

with them is too intense.

Did I purposefully

ask for this role

when I came into this life?

Why would a being

choose such a path?

I unexpectedly came

into a sorrow

that I did not want,

(or so I thought then)

and so I still think now.

Then another sorrow arrived

as if to remind me

to stay on the path,

to not attempt

to shy away

from the toughest questions

I could ask

about who I am,

why I came,

and how I can make use

of a path that seems

sometimes more twisted

than the paths of others?

But that can not be so

as the daily headlines

are filled with tragedy and trevail.

No life is untouched by sorrow.

[That is a question.]

Each of us has touched joy

so the presence of the

occasional opposite of that

seems logical.

We all search for

balance.

Perhaps it is merely our

reactions which differ

or the reactions we allow

others to see.

Maybe I just never got good

at concealment

or containment

and let those suckers

out of the bag.

It wouldn’t be the only

social grace I lack,

unlearned,

as I went

poking around

those dark corners.

Such an odd way

to go about

trying to find

light.

#145 Magic, Mystery, Wonder: The Unseen

ghostsail

Magic, Mystery, Wonder: The Unseen.

When I was young I was out with my parents at a Christmas party. When we returned to the place where we lived there was a large, handled paper bag wedged between the outer storm door and the regular door. In the bag was a fairly large stuffed toy, a poodle that had a short chain leash and a collar. It was obviously intended for me as the only child in the house. I never learned who gave that stuffed dog toy to me but what I have carried with me for all these years from this experience was the idea that Magic existed. To me, Magic was somehow the source of this gift (even though I often thought about the various people in my life who could have left that gift for me). The point is I wanted to believe in Magic even more than I wanted to know who had given that gift. 

My adult version of Magic transformed into an attraction to what I now call “the unseen”. Over time my desire for the existence of Magic has manifested in attraction to Astrology, Channeling, Life After Life (or Life After Death),  Reincarnation and more. Over the course of an academic career my interest in such subjects did not lessen but I learned to keep it to myself. After retirement, freed from my self-imposed bounds, I re-discovered the field of Consciousness Studies. I was overjoyed to learn that while my exploration in this area had taken a very long break scientists had forged ahead and were very intensively poking and researching using the scientific method as a tool to uncover much of what had before been dismissed. Under the academic disciplines of Philosophy of Mind, Psychology, and Quantum Physics much was being uncovered and understood. While I cannot here give any succient description of this work, I (oddly) understand what I have read and watched. As I slide into becoming an old woman, I realize I have not lost the longing for Magic to be in the world. While I came to have deep respect for science and its particular processes for discovering truth, I never stopped wanting the more sophisticated forms of such beliefs in what had been my childhood longings for the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus to be real. To this day I simultaneously carry beliefs that both science and Magic are present, concurrent and real.

Aging has brought me to relishing in the delights of mystery. I don’t want to know detail by detail every aspect of our world as studied and explained by one scientist or another. Recently, I stood on the stairs to the entrance of the house where I live for a long time watching the small birds gathering for their late afternoon feeding on the seeds I’d put out earlier in the day. There were varieties of sparrows, and Tuffted Titmice, Chickadees and House Finches. The different species came together all at the same time, and in the silent blue sky afternoon the sounds of fluttering wings, of air moving through feathers, was over my head as these birds moved from trees to the feeders, over and back again and again.. Time stopped as I, in utter delight, was absorbed by these small, ordinary birds. I did not clamor for a scientific explanation of how these different species came together all at once, in coordination and cooperation although I could tell that there were definite protocols being followed by who got to be at the feeders at the same time. I am certain ornithologists have the answers to explain these behaviors but what I cared about most was standing in love and awe out of time and absorbed by what was happening.  I had no desire to seek out behavioral whys. I wanted the wonder, the Magic, of simply observing and being.

 Maybe it is as easy as that. Scientists can research and write papers, and we can seek out that information or we can observe and experience without that form of knowledge, simply wanting to be present. No matter who we are we cannot know all and just maybe that within the space of our unknowing is the real definition of what Magic really is.

On a very “feet on the ground” way of seeing the world, I remember long ago reading that “someday” humans would heal with light and sound. At the time I could not imagine what that meant. When I remembered this so much later in my life I realized that the prediction had already arrived. Ultrasound and Lasers are tools for healing with sound and light. I lived long enough to see that prediction become reality. In my–your–lifetime we have witnessed all manor of amazing new things: computers and then computers in the form of phones ever present in our pockets, where we can use FaceTime and Zoom to talk with one another separated by rooms or miles. What was once Unseen now fills our world.

 

#140 Unfinished

Unfinished.

Back to the subject of dreams. Not even halfway through the night I’ve been brought sharply to an awakened state as three separate dreams have come right to the make or break point then whoosh I was out of there and awake, nearly panting at the closeness of resolve but instead left hanging and wondering. I’ve not been one much interested in dream interpretation via external sources preferring to believe in individual symbolism rather than in overreaching archetypes. In this case it’s the pattern of dreaming itself that has left me questioning. Well, that and a sense of doom or fear facing which, apparently, I’m not (yet?) ready to do.

Dreams are such curious manifestations. While many researchers work on poking at the truth of them–their origins and purpose–most of us remember little upon waking up, our separate selves operate mostly in realms of night or day, waking consciousness or boundless sleep. My sense of it is we could not survive without dreams, that within them lies guidance and the paths that our lives will take, but so much is not remembered. That’s not proof however that dreaming isn’t critical but only that we are very far from understanding the most basic mechanisms of our own being.

Now that I’m here it strikes me that I rarely understand most of where and how my life has unfolded. I came into these later years striving for amalgamation, looking to a time of contemplation where the seemingly separate parts of my lifetime could be pulled together into some kind of (at least) relational story. I wanted to make a whole after so many seemingly separate parts. Just as with tonight’s dreams, that work lies unfinished. Does that suggest that it takes the availability of a more vast perspective than what is available to most of us in our earthy form? Tonight I have only questions and no answers. Maybe a return to sleep will lead to yet more remembered answers.

Later Addition:

Morning light brought slivers of more dream memory, of returning to a place of departure (geographic or mindset) where leaving this life was joyous rather than gloomy, where a soul experienced a sparkle upon approaching this task. The time for departure had come and it was embraced. It seems an affront to even entertain such an idea but there it was with laughter and a sense of lightness and delight. A rested human body perhaps enabled such thoughts. Unfinished, replaced by simply unknown.

#136 Agency

Agency.

Awakening waking from a dream every once and awhile there is a glimpse of a higher sense of self behind the curtain  of my ever-so-flawed daily life. Getting to the level of sleep needed to make the higher self connection and then carrying back observations or knowledge into waking reality is what is important and needed but this task is the tricky part.

If you are  striving for “mindfulness” via meditation or yoga or any of the other currently popular practices designed to connect your mind with this higher sense of self, I applaud your diligence. Reaching for knowledge delivered from my higher self is a longing which has been present since my twenties, but I have a rebellious streak that chafes at doing what is recommended (sticking to that daily consistency of practice) especially when I perceive the practice to be trendy. I mean no offense to those of you disciplined in ways I am not. This confession is only a self-defense mechanism; I’ve always been attracted to swimming upstream or standing on the sidelines serving as an observer rather than a practitioner. My glimpses or intuitions come, but not out of disciplined practice, but arrive instead in an ad hoc kind of way.

Because I love words, I often am aware of new ways they are pronounced or used. Lately the word “agency”  has been popping up regularly in print, or on social and broadcast media. This “agency” is not the one describing a local agricultural organization or the name of a business where you go to purchase insurance or a governmental department on the chopping block. The new use as described in Wikipedia:

“…agency is defined as the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. By contrast, structure are those factors of influence (such as social class, religion, gender, ethnicity, ability, customs, etc.) that determine or limit an agent and their decisions.

My higher sense of self popping out from my dream cloud has “agency”. My daily, waking self seemingly floats in a steam of anything but. Do you feel a sense of agency filling your life? If I were to begin to meditate daily would this bring me a sense of agency ?. Do I have agency getting contactless grocery deliveries or pickups? What is the connection with this use of agency  in the midst of year one of a global pandemic when divisional politics have shredded our sense of common purpose? When we violently split over the legitimacy and legality of a presidential election? Timing is everything. This word’s new use is a clue.

I believe we want to think that we have agency in our lives whereas the truth is we float along in the stream that is our daily existence wanting to believe we have choices, that we are in “control”. It is my hope that agency  is my higher self, manifesting a sorely needed idea translated out of my dream state rather than out a sense of my deeply rooted cynicism which suggests the current use of the word comes at a time in which a sense of personal agency is far from reality. The challenge—the longing—is that agency  is a message from our collective higher selves, in hopes that we will absorb it into our daily consciousness at a time when we seem to have lost so much. This morphed use of the word may be a clue of where we need to be rather than where we currently are. That would be as close to agency as we could get.

#135 Living History

Living History.

A number of years ago I became drawn to the history of the UK during the World War II era. My attraction was not to the stories of war and heroism, or to battles, or to studying the actions of world leaders during that time. Instead, I wanted to know the stories of the ordinary, daily, lives of the people trying to make it through those wars years, 1939 to 1946 or a bit after. Long before a hint of a pandemic future, my interest in this period stayed strong and I, who have never stepped foot in the UK, got sucked in by the remarkable number of surprisingly good books and films that cover so many aspects of this time. My latest is a binge watch of a BBC docu-series first broadcast in 2012 called “Wartime Farm” in which an historian and two archaeologists filmed a year long re-creation of the Britain’s “other” war, the one concerned with keeping Hitler’s forces from using starvation as a weapon to overtake the UK as they had done in so many other European countries. Tractors, chickens, dairy cows, flax and wheat, making do, using everything at hand, and all aspects of life, including attitudes,  were “weaponized” to keep Great Britain out of German control. What a tale.

Is it ever possible to truly understand an historical period not of our own experience? More than one biopic has sent me scurrying to thick biographies as a check or challenge to what’s been shown by the life depicted on screen, but all such endeavors are found to be lacking, full of inaccuracies of one form or another. Questions always remain.

This day-to-day slow crawl of a worldwide pandemic is history in the making as are the parallel, ongoing, worldwide political upheavals. I am continually struck by how our individual experiences vary wildly even when we attempt to reassure one another that we are all “in this together”. Since the pandemic enfolded the experience of those with jobs (i.e., paychecks) could not equal those who have lost their livelihoods or their businesses. Those among us who have contracted the virus, or have loved ones who have become ill or who died, are in a different boat from those of us staying sharply isolated, afraid, and remaining physically safe but possibly losing our mental grip.

A question for all times: how do we see our own lives in historical context even as we are living through it?

I have talked (socially distanced via Zoom) with a variety of people who declare that they have not been all that affected by this pandemic, people who have in one way or another still traveled, still retained close family contact. I find myself wondering about optimism or the opposite, falling down into dark rabbit holes. And what about so many of us who are experiencing bits of both at the same time? Despite our perceived commonalities, a car ride through neighboring communities already gives evidence of sharp change—closed businesses, ubiquitous masking, “For Sale” signs popping up on homes and pasted on to darkened empty windows, the residents or owners or proprietors already gone. When we can again roam freely, we will be stunned by the changes to places we hold dear in our hearts? There will not be a return to “normal”, only an arrival at a new normal, one we create as we move along. Our constant flying blindly into the blank state of the unknown then somehow emerging and trying to piece together what happened is our history.

Recently I took a class on historical pandemics wanting a glimpse of what previous humans suffered in the various forms of past plagues of plagues and epidemics. What did they know and how they were affected? It appears that Black Death survivors in the 1300’s, without knowledge of “virus” made common sense observations which some used to stay isolated and alive. Yet during this Coronavirus pandemic segments of current humanity, those with access to all manner of understanding of disease process, chose to ignore science and rely on their own opinion of what was “real”. Some of them became ill or died, but not all, at least not yet. Did we humans make progress only to yet again fall back into superstition and ignorance?

The more I try for even a narrow glimpse of truth through peepholes into the past, the more I am humbled at the vastness of the task. I feel like an ant trying to understand the magnitude of galaxies. My personal current history is a slow crawl of one day blending into the next, of isolation filled with questions, of not one iota of progress as the clouds and sun come and go in rhythms I also do not thoroughly understand. On second thought, that ant may be be far better equipped for the struggle than I who remains baffled.

#134 My Roots Are Showing

My Roots Are Showing.

Recently it has dawned on me that I am a throwback to a much earlier time. I think I was unaware to the extent I was influenced by my early childhood connections to aunts and uncles from an era long since departed. As the years go past I feel these connections and recognize that they do not resemble anything in my current life.

The geography of Northern New York–above the Adirondacks–is a place where the earth flattens out as it steadily rolls from the mountain range’s high peaks region to the St. Lawrence River bordering Ontario. On a clear day you can see for miles and miles driving the back roads up there, the landscape rolling away from your eye, the silver thread of the shining river on the horizon far off in the distance. The town in which my parents grew up was the home of Almanzo Wilder, husband of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and the book she wrote of his early life called “Farmer Boy” is practically the only reference that anyone would connect to tiny Burke, NY.

I thought of this area as a place out of time, or at least a place that felt 30 or 40 years behind whatever year we were in. This place still has active evidence of family farms, a tiny  town far away from the tourist trade. The farms, dairy or cropped based (once mostly potatoes), were sold over the last decades to Amish families looking for affordable land to work and farm living their private lives in a place where they would be free to be with others who shared the same beliefs. I was long absent by the time these land exchanges were happening but perhaps the Amish were right in that the area was an easier fit than other possibilities.

What I remember from my childhood was a sense of shared values, of neighborly concerns and real help if that was what was needed. I was dimly aware that the price of such deeply rooted connection might be traces of intolerance to “other” which I first came to understand from road trips to visit my cousins just a bit north. The drive was through Native American [Mohawk/Akwesasne] “Reservation” land. I remember looking out of the backseat car window and seeing animated young, brown skinned men carrying lacrosse sticks. This was long before lacrosse had been adopted (culturally appropriated?) by New England’s private schools and eventually most of the high schools in northern latitudes. Lacrosse back then was the Native American sacred sport in a society where the struggles were centered on dirt poor poverty and maintaining their own language and identity while surrounded by deep prejudice from the culture that hemmed them in.

My memories of family center on my father, a storyteller by nature, who filled dinner table gatherings with of tales of working in the woods (those Adirondacks) and the characters he knew doing such work. My aunt’s husband, Karl Pond, build roads through those mountains when road building was not done by engineers, but by local talent. My Dad always said you could tell Karl had built a section of road because he knew how to build a curve which you could feel behind the wheel of your car. One summer by aunt joined him living in a shack in the woods spending her days gathering balsam needles for the Christmas present pillows she made. Mine was made of purple cloth and I kept it for years, the sweet, woodsy scent fading slowly over time.

I am wandering down memory lane now because I have begun to notice how out of step I am with current mores or values. Only though contrast have I come to realize how deeply I absorbed what I learned from sitting at those kitchen tables listening to their history and their stories. Now it is I who is out of step with the times, it I who longs for that particular kind of decency and caring. I do not intend to “whitewash” the memories as that term fits way too well describing other unpleasant aspects of those times which were very far from perfect.

I guess if you live long enough your memories begin to clash with the world that surrounds you which often becomes so alien. At what point do we begin to separate ourselves? In a Best Buy store a number of years ago I realized that I did not know what many of the consumer goods offered on their shelves actually did. As I considered myself reasonably tech savvy at the time it was a moment of real shock. Now I find separations daily. I feel old yet occasionally pleased that I can remember that long ago time, when I felt in tune with those around me, content in trusting that I belonged, trusting that my world made sense and that people in it were essentially decent and fair. My memories are bridge to nowhere as all connections to that time are lost.

Reflections: A History of Burke, NY:  https://burkeny.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Reflections.pdf

Akwesasne:  St. Regis Mohawk Reservation https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Regis_Mohawk_Reservation

Traditional Lacrosse:  https://akwesasne.travel/traditional-lacrosse/

# 132 The Dead of Winter

The Dead of Winter.

Mid-winter. The days begin to lengthen but there is still far too much darkness for those of us who crave sunlight. Behind us, the holidays are sufficiently past to have tucked away decorations and tossed out greenery but thoughts of spring blossoms are too far ahead to bring much comfort. It’s “getting through it” time.

In this pandemic year fear adds layers of meaning as the dead of winter becomes literal and we huddle in our houses trying to remain safe or we don’t and, in denial or defiance, we take our chances and spread those chances along to others. The world we knew has gone. What will emerge remains unknown.

Just last year the dead of winter was a time of tea and good books, a time of pleasant rest and contemplation, the perfect counter to summer’s frenzy. Now, long denied, we wearily pine for the solace found in the company of others, to be with friends and family sharing meals and swapping stories, in person not on screens. Not one of us remains untouched yet each of us remains, one way or another, untouched.

We need to nourish our bodies and our souls in this time of darkness and confusion but how do we do this locked away from each other, with resources and access in short supply?

There are no “right” answers. Within the  questions lie both the problems and their solutions. All require belief, hope, and hard work. While the pandemic is global it is also intensely personal. Others long before us separated and isolated trying to stay safe as disease worked its way through populations. Perhaps strangest of all is that we’ve learned so little from our historical past, finding ourselves in shock having blithely ignored that this has happened many times before.

There’s a cold snap coming with hints that a big storm may arrive after that. This is normal in the midway point of the season yet such news carries added dread. We will need to dig deeper hoping to find reservoirs of strength and patience to tide us through. It’s a tough time and yet ahead, after this testing and trouble, there may well be changes that bring us to a better, more just and joyful world.

The dead of winter is always followed by the rebirth of spring.

 

 

 

 

# 129 Moral? Ethical ?

Moral? Ethical?

I watched a beautiful Cooper’s Hawk concealed within the bare tree branches very near the feeders. A patient, watchful, no doubt hungry hawk sat waiting for the little birds to come for breakfast as they do nearly every morning. She/he sat for a long time without any other birds in sight until a FedEx truck turned around in the parking lot and flushed the hawk from its hiding-in-plain-sight spot. A bird feeding station becomes a hawk feeding station. All bird lovers learn that there are far more little birds than raptors and that everyone needs to eat. It’s nature’s way. Accepting this in real time in front of you is a wholly different matter.

The beautiful white-with-spots Snowy Owls come down from their far northern summer grounds of Canada [irruptions] to the northern latitudes of the U.S. in the winter. They, too, are looking for food. As they are birds of the tundra they like wide open areas, marshes, long stretches of beach, or airports; vast flat areas with long sight lines. They sit still for extended periods of time perched in higher places (chimneys, tall poles, or sometimes merely rises on the ground) waiting for rodents to resume their normal scurrying. This gives avid photographers a lot of time to stalk a perfect Snowy capture, that odd term photo buffs use for a good photograph. When Snowy’s are disturbed by too avid shutterbugs they fly off without a successful hunt. Emaciated, starving owls sometimes end in wildlife rehab centers, or at least the “lucky” ones do and they make it. Others die in this habitat as a result of trophy hunting by those wanting to get their “shot”, each feeling entitled to do this despite the obvious reality that getting sufficient food is why the Snowy is there in the first place. The the code of conduct guidelines for birders is that if you’ve flushed a bird or if whatever the bird is doing in it’s habitat is disturbed, you are too close. For birders, that’s the purpose of very expensive binoculars or scopes. “Serious” photographers also have equally long lenses but now they want to get close enough for tight head shots, focused eye details,  or close ups of talons thus eliciting social media and Facebook group members to swoon and praise.

Trophy hunting is always putting the wants, the desires, of the human before basic needs of wildlife survival. There is only the thinnest of lines separating camera and gun when the lives of the wildlife are at stake. Photographers protest such a stand as extreme but if their objects of desire die as a result of their actions, is it?

The elected leaders of the nation go golfing and skiing over a Christmas holiday as the pandemic guidelines require everyone to stay home. Do what I say not what I do “ leadership”. Cases spike alarmingly upward. The government heads are on vacation while vaccine distribution is not yet detailed, stranding potentially life saving help in warehouses. Congress passes a mere sketch of financial assistance as families are evicted, unemployment benefits lapse, and children go hungry. This legislation goes unsigned for days as the petulant president clings to fantasies of retribution towards those who accept reality. I am not writing divisive political commentary; this is an observation of breakdown and chaos, of unnecessary hardship and loss. 

How do we measure our individual morality or ethics? It seems as even the most mundane parts of daily existence are now laced with ethical chaos. What is safe? How do I get food and other necessities? How to I prevent exposure and how do I make certain that I am not an unknown spreader? Every choice of staying in or going out or desperately wanting to see family, friends, and loved ones can be a life or death matter. 

We have arrived at a time of ethical and moral upheaval. Exhausted and drained by nearly a year of unknown onslaughts our greatest challenges are still ahead. How we handle every choice we make is up to us and it can and will make all the difference in the world.

Irruptions: See https://valleyforgeaudubon.org/2020/11/22/what-is-a-bird-irruption/#:~:text=Bird%20irruptions%20follow%20

# 126 Believing the Unbelievable

Believing the Unbelievable.

What if the United States military really was concealing hard evidence that UFO’s and aliens have visited our planet? This may not be such a stretch for many who already firmly hold this belief, but I am an agnostic on this particular subject so it seems reasonable to ask: “If this was proven how would the information change your life?” How does seemingly unbelievable belief alter our lives?

Human history is filled with examples of world wide pandemics or plagues, the last one in 1918, a time in which your grand or great-grandparents were likely to have been alive, yet we have faced the current coronavirus as if we have been singled out, as if all that came before and was written down didn’t exist, as if the rules for preventing a pandemic virus’s spread did not apply to us, even if most of this was known in 1918. What good is a history we do not know, or know and still think it is not applicable to us? Is this our ignorance of our past or another example of an unbelievable belief?

In trying to understand even in some small way the disconnect of current alternative realities, my first thought was to think of Mass Hysteria as a possible way of describing our disconnect. I first thought of the Salem Witch Trials  but even light searching of the subject proved my lack of historical depth. The massive hysteria of witch accusation involving the murder of mostly (but not entirely) women occurred in various European locations from the 1400’s into the 1600’s prior to the Salem trials (1692-93) in America. Mass hysteria, or mass psychogenic illness, or collective obsessional behavior, shows up repeatedly in various forms, places, and times and involve truly interesting behaviors, interesting enough for you to do some searching yourself. Plausible reasons for such behaviors continue to emerge, as do these oddly curious hysterias. Will Mass Hysteria someday be used as a tag for what has happened these past years in current American politics?

The questions loomed larger than my capacity fo research and understanding. My tired brain wanted escape so I began binge watching the TV series “Merlin” made originally by the BBC. Immersing myself in Arthurian legend felt like a sure way to bypass the ever present mind loops searching for reasonable explanations concerning our current political and pandemic situations. Instead of escape, I was gobsmacked by the concept of Enchantment, a magic spell cast upon the unknowing, creating behaviors that would never be probable under ordinary circumstance. Enchantment! A plausible explanation for our current reality divide even more applicable than Mass Hysteria? Is a large scale, modern, enchantment possible? What sorcerer could have conjured the spell? (Don’t confuse the deliverer with the conjurer).

We don’t know where behaviors and beliefs of Americans are headed. The divides seem profoundly bleak, the road to repair steep and long. Will answers, solutions, eventually emerge? Needed are varieties of ways of seeing, of expansion, of inclusion, ways to break out of defined and acceptable channels.

Fairy Tales seem more relevant now than ever. Morality tales are useful reminders of what drives the human spirit. If you aren’t already a fan, you might want to wander off to the fantasy section if you can find a bookstore or library still open. Use online sources if needed and go searching for fantasy films and books looking for a reminder of how such powerful, imaginative, stories illuminate what may seem beyond us.

Tales of the Dark Verses the Light are quite the eye opener.

#124 Prayer


Prayer.

In the shower this morning under the stream of hot water pouring over stiff places, I realized this is where I say my daily versions of what I call “Prayer”. I intend no irony or blasphemy in calling it such although I understand that for those with disciplined religious practice, my use of this term might offend. Mine is a highly individualized and (perhaps) quirky version of Spirituality. I have been terrible at discipline my entire life although that didn’t apply when it came to education, profession, or projects where I have been capable of  hard focus driven by love and directed purpose be it through knitting, homesteading, gardening, photography, or things connected to my love of books and the world of information sharing. For me work has often been a form of prayer.

I recognized my morning shower thoughts as “Prayer” first, because every shower brings gratitude that I live in a time where instant hot water streaming from a faucet is a great privilege. It’s almost as if I had traces of memories where hot water was never a given much less available so easily, so I consciously give Thanks for its daily presence. From there the movement into other forms of prayer, prayers for family and friends or for others in the midst of trouble of one kind or another Lately there are prayers for healing the divisions that have so plagued our nation and elsewhere. Much prayer seems needed.

Giving Thanks, a different form of prayer, goes on throughout the day as my eyes catch sight of critters, waves, clouds, light, horizon, or color. Each and every awareness is a gift. Nature is my framework for Spirituality. The small and the vast and all the ranges in between resonate with reminders of the consciousness of creation, the connected flow that runs through all. That’s about as specific as I can be.

In tough times both gratitude and prayer seem sorely needed, a way to stay alert to all that is precious in our lives. When being together physically is not possible I am even more thankful that this path I’ve taken seeking Spiritually was offbeat, divergent and personalized. My version of Church, Synagogue, Mosque, or Temple is without walls and not linked to others in sharing the experience, but I am deeply hopeful for all those in houses dedicated to Prayer, those who follow a much more straightforward path than my own.

#121 Creatures of Habit

 

Creatures of Habit.

As is the pattern of my life I woke around 4 a.m. Perched on the edge of the bed looking out towards the ocean at such a dark hour there were only faint traces of moon shadow on the porch. As I looked toward the water I realized I was seeing irregular flashes of white light. No thunderstorms were in the area which gave me a slight moment of panic thinking that something might be wrong with my eyes, except that the flashes of light were irregular and from different locations. After a few moments of watching (without my glasses) I realized that I was seeing flashes from a phone taking pictures of the ocean. Someone was out on the rocks in the wee hours of the night. Slowly I recognized pools of round yellow moving patches, a flashlight illuminating the rocks as the person moved along the water’s edge.

In the four years I have lived here I’ve never seen anyone out on those rocks after dark. Those with fishing poles usually push the limits of natural light but they retreat when true darkness falls. Of course it is highly probable that others have been on the rocks while I was sleeping. Only in cold winter when an icy coating slickens all surfaces have I truly not seen humans along the jagged shoreline. The pull to be as close to the power of the water is constant yet surprising when the tide is exceptionally high and waves are huge. Diligence has to be paid at all moments, the need of awareness of an escape route ever present because the rocks are daunting and access to patches of higher ground in front of the few houses out here are widely spaced. The rule holds: “Never turn your back on the ocean”.

The most interesting part of all of this has been my assumption that no one would want to be out among those rocks in the darkness. Long ago a Somali friend who grew up near the ocean in Mogadishu told me that in his country it was believed that bad spirits came out of the ocean at night so no one who lived nearby would go near the water after dark. Darkness to humans means fear of what might be lying in wait. Is darkness still fearful in modern life or has light pollution robbed us of our own powerful abilities to adjust? Living in places without street lights means being able to see planets and stars, means awareness of vast, and ever present wonder, means feeling like a tiny speck amongst the unfathomable.

We are creatures of habit long past the point where things have undergone radical alteration which we fail to recognize. We cannot adapt to what we fail to notice. Perhaps one of the reasons we global humans are having such a hard time during this pandemic is that we want what we know to return. We are resistant in so many ways but our lives have already changed forever.

What is most interesting is our challenge to turn and face the unknown trusting that modifications and entire new ways of being can come into being during this opportunity, for opportunity is truly what is happening. If we faced forward and not back perhaps we’d see this time as it really is, being able to glimpse the light beyond the darkness.

 

#119 Sun Porch

Sun Porch.

My childhood memory is the porch of my aunt’s house, the common long, narrow space that served as the house’s entrance filled with a variety of seating that had been around for a very long time. At the far end of that space there were a couple of chairs that had made it through the depression, the time when anything past fixing was saved regardless, so as a kid on visiting Sundays, when the porch filled up with family and friends, I was going to end plopped on angular, poking springs. Anything was worth it to get to listen in to the stories told and the laughter shared. My favorite seat was the swing settee piled with layers of my aunt’s multicolored, crocheted afgans,  a softer seat than the cold metal frame underneath. This Sun porch meant long, slow conversations as the afternoon sun’s light and warmth and my beloved aunt’s talk filled the space.

My second sun porch recall is sitting in the warmth of a sun porch in Holland, VT twenty years later. I was visiting an older friend and down-the-road neighbor, Mildred Goodall who was in her 90’s and still active, still driving, still doing for others in that strong, indomitable New England farm woman way. The truth of her driving was measurable by the wide berth town residents gave her recognizable car. Things like that seemed a naturally easy accommodation in such a tiny rural, community, especially for a woman who had earned her place through a  lifetime of good deeds through tough times. It was a February afternoon and her birthday, and the rural New England version of party where a succession of neighbors, family, and friends dropped by—long enough for a warm beverage and short enough so as not to be a nuisance .  Her sun porch was a plain, unadorned front of the house afterthought, a wind protective space  with those old time cheapish, aluminum framed, double hung windows,  a long, narrow, utilitarian space with sparsely straight backed chairs and no afgans but  being able to sit in the warmth of the winter’s sun in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont in the dead of winter to was a coveted experience, especially in the company of a woman who knew how to thread years of stories and knowledge in and out of her conversation.

In all the years since then I had not lived in a house with a sun porch, fancy or plain. Unheated sun porches no longer matched transitioning architectures or lifestyles. They were an unaffordable, unusable space, blocked off as soon as the cold days of late Fall moved in.

The house where I now live has a glorious sun porch but the house was built in the late 1970’s before radiant heat or zoned heating systems so it, too, is unheated, but the windows are big and face south-south east (the cardinal necessity of all sun porches) which allows the porch to zoom into balmy temperature ranges in the Fall and Spring. How lovely to bask in sun’s warmth after the first freeze, and by early afternoon I was setting up a jigsaw puzzle in a 78 degree space.  To be able to get back to working on that puzzle I will have to bide my time, holding out for other days with morning sun breaking early over the ocean without the wind that moves the cold in the porch’s direction. It will probably take a long time to finish the puzzle, but I’ll wait it out. Puzzles have a way of clearing thoughts, making a meditative space with only the awareness of colors and shapes filling the mind. I never understood how my mother could waste so much time on such a silly pursuit until I happened across a nice image on the box of a puzzle in the cheapo do-dad store.

My mother had kept quiet about the amazing sense of peace and solace that working on a puzzle brings. She also did not have sun porch warmth, the added blessing I now wish I could share.

#116 It’s Not All About Money

It’s Not All About Money.

Despite what we are led to believe, it’s not all about money.

The most obvious proof of this is how we come into this life naked and wailing and leave as our spirit departs our flesh, both the coming and going not involved with carrying anything but what our consciousness was able to absorb.

We all know this, in our intellect or in our heart yet we behave (all too often) as if money is the only part of our lives that matters.

How silly. Money, as the song goes, “can’t buy you love”. It can buy you objects, most all of which require even more money to keep or maintain, and then only until you lose interest, change your mind, or change your being.

Money now seems even more connected to a concept of power yet it baffles me why power is ever considered interesting. Why would you want to expend all of that energy directed outward when there is so much work to do attempting to understand our own psyche?

Why would wanting to control anything be remotely interesting, unless of course, it is insecurity which occupies your wheelhouse? Is it really power you feel if your wanting is to control someone else?

This lack of feeling solid within yourself will never be met by anything other than self exploration, deep introspection, conversing with others, or learning through the written words of those long past occupying the world of flesh.

Diving deep within ourselves does not require cash or bank accounts. It comes through silence, convening with nature, watching the creatures with whom we share the planet. It is found in meditative moments, accompanied by the great courage it takes to look within. It is found by searching your own heart and examining your soul, questioning your purpose.

 

#113 The Art of Concealment

The Art of Concealment.

I stepped outside my door to soak down the parched front yard plants, bone dry from a long stretch of July-August heat with almost no rain, now even into September. My movement flushed a hawk from it’s perch in the tree closest to the porch door. I have caught a glimpses of this hawk before, stealth in the small trees, lying in wait, hunting.  It’s initial presence was likely drawn by the small birds who gathered at the feeder before I took it down for the summer. The common sparrows and finches are still here but are now dining on the natural bounty of the seeds and plants of late summer. The hawk remembers this location as a ready source of food and I am grateful I’ve been spared witness to his or her success.

The hawk flew a short distance to another tree, close but yet still remaining difficult to spot among the dense leaves. I stepped farther out on the porch hoping for an identifying view but the only clear view I had was the tail-feather bars as it flew away–a young Cooper’s Hawk most likely. A short while later a fledgling catbird was on the porch trying to conceal itself among the garden tools leaning in the corner of the porch where, mostly unused, they’ve stood gathering rust all summer. I suspect this family of catbirds was the hawk’s intended food and I was happy the young one made it though. Concealment by both, the camouflaged hawk in the tree branches and the tiny young catbird  trying to save itself by hiding, demonstrate nature’s way of survival for both predator or prey with an outcome that can go either way.

This seems to have been a summer of concealment, maybe even a year of it,  both in our personal lives and in the outer world, as we humans struggle with how to remake life under new rules that affect everything. The political world, always harsh but now with newly sharpened edges on much more dangerous tools, seems awash in concealment. The  extremes of behaviors are  being stretched beyond our society’s capacity to stay whole. It’s hard to hold the lives in our community in safety and security as the rules and guidelines of pandemic caution are so varied and interpreted in understanding and in practice. My sense of what is safe may not be closely related to yours and the ultimate  proof is staying healthy or getting sick, a dicey proposition in every case. Leaders obfuscate with underlying motives. Precarious economics scare everyone. Outcomes are not clear for anyone on any level.

Is anyone playing it up front and honest any more? Still not willing to enter the fray of retail stores, I limit online ordering to basic supplies. I’ve been ripped off three times this summer. The latest was a package which arrived holding only one of the two identical items I ordered, bubble wrap filling the space where the other would have been. I notified the company and sent photos of the packaging (as requested by them) as it was received, only to be denied my claim because the shipping weight of the FedEx package stated the weight was for two items. What’s clear to me is “someone” removed the second item in the packing room or on route, then resealed the carton and I’m left paying double while feeling like I’ve been declared a liar by a fly-by-night company. At a time we need compassion more than ever the affront digs deeply.

This is a time of struggle. Personal past traumas bubble up as opportunities to examine the truths we tell ourselves. Whether or not we stay silent or attempt to work through what we carry, concealment happens within our own psyches. We dance to the music in our head and are driven by motives we don’t often recognize. Is it concealment if we have been unable to face something within ourselves? If we cannot or will not take hard looks at our motivations and actions, if we hold back information from ourselves or others, aren’t we lying by omission? How do we uncover our own truths much less the truths of others?

Here I am amongst my inward leaf cover, sitting on my internal branch, trying to fix things before I can move along. It is damn hard and miserable work. My sense is I am not alone  but are we hiding our struggles from one another and ourselves, making it even harder when it was already difficult enough?