Archives for posts with tag: nature

‘A desert is a place without expectation.’
~ Nadine Gordimer

I am a mountain girl.

Not only does this mean that I find the beautiful in majestic snow-covered peaks,  monumental boulders and expansive woodlands but it also means that I find the common, the banal, the (dare I admit it?) the mundane.

I know!  Presented with such grandiose splendor how could I ever take it for granted?  How could it just fade into the backdrop?

But being a mountain girl is exactly the problem.   With such blatant glory as the setting for all of my days, all of my routine, all of my own ordinary… they can sometimes become ordinary too.

So you can imagine why I never gave any thought to the desert.  Promoted as being barren and desolate with little to no life, little to no color…  How could that be beautiful in comparison to the brilliant and luxurious mountains that are at times not enough to capture my attention?

And so I was in my thirties before I was startled aware by the the exceptional loveliness of the desert.  The delicacy of the microscopic life there, the subtlety of the many shades of orange and gold that exist in the world, the unexplored depth of the sky… or earth… or self…

And I learned that without expectation, I was greeted with wonder and novelty and delight.

I have been thinking about expectation and the fact that it doesn’t seem to offer me any benefit.

Either I have high and hopeful expectations…  As have been my expectations that my partner will do what he said and at least consult the medical professionals to determine his current state of health.

And these expectations,of something out of my control, seem to be directly tied to disappointment and frustration.  Like those I am experiencing nearly two weeks after that promise and two more canceled appointments later…

Or I have extremely low, nearly dismal expectations…  As I have been having with my on-going state of unemployment.  Bemoaning being a highly-skilled specialist in a very narrow field and becoming increasingly discouraged by not even being able to find work in a ‘menial, meaningless’ position.

The end result of this sort of expectation is typically that something unexpected and rewarding causes me to deride myself for my fear and lack of faith in the universe.  But then I am ridiculing myself and have already spent countless hours awake in anxiety…

No.  Neither one of these situations seems to be an advantageous use of my time or energy or spirit.

And so, I have decided to rid myself of expectation.

I am going to focus instead on the things I can control.  Who I am.  How I perceive the world and recognize all of its mystery and wonder.  What I have to offer right here and now.  How to welcome each moment as a new discovery.  How to remain open and faithful to the certainty that there are microcosms and macrocosms spinning around me whose splendor I will know when I need to .

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‘Mindful choosing of friends and lovers, not to mention teachers, is critical to remaining conscious, remaining intuitive, remaining in charge of the fiery light that sees and knows.’ 

~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés

On my 30th birthday, with my lover MIA, my family distracted by their own living, and my baby with his dad,  an extraordinary friend danced with me across the anomalous sand dunes of a high mountain valley under the lucid watch of a full moon.

On my 35th birthday, with my heart breaking, my certainty failing, and my questions compounding, a luminous friend bounded with me along a secluded back-packing trail in full view of the surf and stars, illuminated and elusive.

These are the kinds of women I know and love.  The sort that I stumble upon occasionally and who are so precious and rare that I cannot let them go.

They are brilliant, bold and brave.  They challenge me and themselves to greater being and so I collect them into my heart and life.

Being as exceptional as they are, they are an uncommon find, and so are scattered across continents and cultures.

This dispersion is the reverse of most collecting and it can be difficult to care for a collection like this.

I was reminded this week that I want to be more diligent and attentive to its care.

I recently ran into a lovely woman I know (my partner’s ex, mother to his step-daughter) in the grocery store.  She was clearly in a delicate state, one I have known well in recent months.

Fruits and juices and other edibles falling out of her overloaded arms, I went to help her and saw that she also clutched onto a large book, Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, a fantastic folklorist and seductive storyteller.

I commented that I was glad J (the partner) had given it to her.  (He had recently picked it up for me at a flea market, but as I already own a well-tattered and marked up copy, I suggested he give it to her.)

She responded by saying that actually, she had just now bought it at the thrift store next door and that he hadn’t yet mentioned it to her.

The synchronicity struck me.

I haven’t read the book in years, and here it was coming up twice in as many weeks, and just when I have been feeling isolated, disconnected and alone.

(For those who haven’t read it, it is an amazing read about female archetypes and the collective spirit that runs through and fortifies the feminine.)

I promptly suggested that we read it together and put together a discussion group.

I know of a couple other women right now who are moving through their days with heavy burdens and unknown futures.  Each time I see them, I hug them and suggest that we get together… but we never do.

Today, I am making the deliberate decision to pull out the duster and polish up the somewhat neglected collection of amazing women that I already have.  I am writing letters of love and appreciation and creating art to reflect the color they bring to my spirit.

I am also taking conscious actions to add to that collection, here, where I am now.

I am going to gather together my tribe that we may teach each other and strengthen each other and care for each other.  There are remarkable women out there and I am going to make them mine!

‘Sanctuary, on a personal level, is where we perform the job of taking care of our soul.’     

~ Christopher Forrest McDowell

I believe strongly in the sanctity of location.

That there are places or points on this earth where the spirit of the Divine resides unrestrained.  Where brilliance and peace and hope are present and waiting to touch and fill up any wandering souls.  Where a blessed wonder is accessible to all who pause a moment there.

Most of said places that I have encountered are natural spaces…

An apse-like alcove built of lavender stone and boulder where sunlight dappled through the trees and water’s laughter kept company; a shoreline where self was transported into the endless expanse of the sky and encompassing revelry of the thundering waves; a valley stippled with the vivid confetti of alpine flowers springing from the immaculate snow, just the opening act of a gala unfurling…

But I am fortunate to have also tumbled onto constructed spaces that have, either consciously or not, welcomed the Sacred and now offer refuge and safety to the weary soul…

An ancient cathedral in the Breton countryside where filtered sunbeams caressed the quiet hopes and apprehensions of those who’d left them there; the rock-cut tombs of a long-forsaken Byzantine city carved in celebration and honor of their much-loved inhabitants; a jungle-swathed Mayan temple wrapped in the celestial embrace of morning mist and mystical myth…

It is harder for me to find those spaces now, today, in my newly dressed metropolism…  And yet my need for this sort of refuge becomes more apparent and presses in on me.

My mountain-raised self is becoming more and more confined and crippled by the concrete and steel which now encase my days.  (I am remembering this feeling from my last city-spell…  Then, it sent me running for isolation, but that is not a tangible option right now.)

And so I am seeking the sacrosanct in urban edifices…  In which modern places (in a rather young, progressive western city) might someone have remembered to invite and leave room for the Sacred?  the Divine?

Where might I find the contemporary spaces which can replenish and sustain my dehydrated spirit?  Those filled with the grace, joy and tranquility upon which my real life is dependent?

Where do you find yours?

‘I am against nature. I don’t dig nature at all. I think nature is very unnatural. I think the truly natural things are dreams, which nature can’t touch with decay.’
~ Bob Dylan

After lasagna, there is little I can think of as being more typically American than the Twinkie.

Golden fluffiness, spongy delight, sugary sweetness…  made to survive a nuclear fallout.  What more could one want from an afternoon snack?

I was not allowed to have Twinkies as a child.  I was cursed/blessed? with a mother who felt that they weren’t good for me.  That they were unnatural, stuffed, not with creamy joy, but with  artificial flavors and artificial preservatives, and therefore should not be a part of my  body’s sustenance.

(She also sent me to school with sprout-stuffed pita-pocket sandwiches.  There’s  no kid who’s gonna trade their Twinkie for that!  So it was, indeed, a long time before I knew the true taste of the Twinkie…)

As it turns out, she was only partially right.  While it is true that there is very little that is natural about the Twinkie, only one of its 39 mostly-chemical ingredients is an actual preservative.  The rest simply replaced the milk and eggs and butter of the original recipe, in order to extend the shelf life.

Eventually, the Twinkie too shall pass.

As an adult, I don’t eat Twinkies either, and I am unsure whether or not my son has ever talked anyone into trading a part of his lunch for one…

No, I only think of them now as I contemplate life and death and the natural order of things…

Coroners and statisticians use the term ‘Unnatural Death’ to refer to death by something other than a natural cause.  And yet, it seems as if the rest of us feel that death itself  is the unnatural ingredient.

Unexpectedly dying in our sleep at the age of 87 with no prior pain or disease, we can accept as natural.  Any other scenario and we resist.   We agree to start swapping out our milk and eggs and butter for artificial replacements in the hope of extending our shelf life.

But what did those early Twinkies taste like?  When they might have just come out of your grandmother’s oven and the flavors of real butter and vanilla (rather than the petroleum-based artificial sort) spilled over your tongue?

(You could try making them at home, but I must warn you, that you will  have to consume them in a matter of days.)

In light of the Twinkie, I understand my partner’s opposition to treatment.  Who wants to exchange their own organic ingredients for chemo-therapies, irradiated tissues, artificial organs…?  And just to extend their life, not necessarily make it better…

Yet, he is nowhere near approaching 87 either, so the element of the unnatural lingers.

But is it dying that is not natural or is it our fight to avoid it?

Certainly, our instinct to survive is strong and I want my partner to survive.  But I also want him to enjoy quality of life.  Yummy and fluffy and sweet.

And when it comes time for the end, I’d rather it were peaceful.  At least in heart if it cannot be in body.

I don’t know of any other way to achieve that other than accepting that death is a natural process of life, and may just be a final opportunity for more holistic living.

‘I believe that my whole creative life stemmed from this magic hour under the stars on that hilltop.’

~ Ruth St. Denis

I love snow.  Big, huge, fluffy snowflakes that actually cover the ground, sticking to the leaves in the trees…  Muting  all artifice until you can’t help but hear the bird cry…

I love to be outside when it’s snowing — to feel it tickling my cheeks and eyelashes, to listen to its silence and all of the promises contained therein, to inhale that essence of transparency, purity…

I love first snows.  They may be among the most sacred experiences ever.  There is something amazing, magical; they overflow with anticipation, excitement, exhilaration…

To behold individual miracles dancing down with such abandon…  If you hold your breath, you have a sneak peek into the moment of creation’s transition — anything and everything can happen in that instant.

And the observer, also, is transformed by the encounter, in the opportunity to also be made different, new… all naïveté and curiosity, filled with wonder and joy and a million possibilities.

It is perhaps this quality of snow that always makes me think of fairy tales.

Do you know the story of Snow White and Rose Red?   A perfect story for any girl’s fantasies…  And the Little Match Girl; the Snow Queen; the Red Shoe; the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe… All of my favorite fairy tales taking place in the snow!

I think that, in my imagination, I even set other fairy tales in the snow, whether or not it’s mentioned… the Shoemaker, the Tinderbox, the Nightingale…  It is snow’s ability to usurp reality, to paint a whole new landscape – dreamscape – that makes it ideal for fancy, for caprice…

Much of my snow obsession is connected to my memory of course…Childhood hours, days, years spent in the snow, playing, laughing, dreaming…  But even my adult memories are filled with snow.  I can place most of the people I love in images of white…

Today, of course, I think of you.  The scene outside the window this morning the same as while I waited, thrilled, readied to see you on our first date.  A hike, an adventure, a piggy-back ride through teasing white expanses…

Actually, in my mind, I think of you as being nearly the same thing — you and snow.  I have the same sensations and reactions to both of you.

My sweetest, most treasured memories of you involve snow… hands touching for the first time, kissing you for the first time, hot-springing under the stars, skating in the dark, sleeping under ancient rafters, finding profound peace and tranquility with my head against your chest, seeing you in that mist sometimes left behind after the snow, talking of love and dreams, reading Proust while driving through a winter wonderland, savoring candlelit dinners and oatmeal breakfasts, loving, loving and so much love…

All a mingling of you, snow and lots of joy, wonder and delight.

Are you watching snow this morning?  Does it settle on the trees outside your window?  The eave above your door?

Do you hold memories of the same?  Music, candlelight, lavender… and the fairy tale ending we knew to be unfeigned?

‘If a man possesses a repentant spirit his sins will disappear, but if he has an unrepentant spirit his sins will continue and condemn him for their sake forever.’   ~ the Buddha

I have been pondering the experience of driftwood…  What kind of crime could a tree possibly commit to be condemned to such an eternity?

At first glance it seems an enviable fate, to spend all of your days seated on a beach, contemplating the sea in all of its beauty…

To have the sound of the surf and the birds as your daily music.  To watch the magnificent power of the waves as they lift all of that water toward the sky, higher and higher until the weight – or perhaps the anticipation – becomes too much and it is transformed into a jubilant crashing of spray, air, bubbles and play.  To memorize the varied ways in which the water returns to the sea…

First, the most impatient water takes no time to even graze the sand.  It rushes right back, confronting the incoming waves and creating a moment of chaos and confusion in which all directionality is lost…

But the water underneath is less impetuous.  It slides along the shore, feeling it, caressing it, until a communion has been achieved and, at peace, it can slide back, smooth and tranquil, like gliding on glass, to rejoin the ocean…

And finally, that water that has dawdled too long and gets left behind.  There is a realization, and it runs, bounces, unsure of whether or not it will catch up before the next wave tosses it carelessly back on the sand…  But it continues its trying anyway.  Beading and tripping over itself in its determinedly valiant – but vain – effort…

… Anyway… driftwood…  What a seemingly lovely life – or afterlife…  Being bathed daily by that same water, under the huge wide sky…

Until you look closer and realize that the sea doesn’t bathe anything.

It charges onto the sand, beats the rocks and rapes the shoreline.  It doesn’t caress the wood left sitting there, but steals from it, pillages it.  Wrenching from it all color, all softness, all texture… all life.

And in the end it is still not content to just leave it’s victim there, bared, empty and alone.  No, it walks slowly, confidently away, mocking, laughing and with a nonchalant air following behind…

Can you imagine what it must be like to be that driftwood?  Tortured by the very beauty of its predicament?  To sit there before all the glory and magnificence of the shore and sky and sea and know that all that splendor is just an endless punishment?

That the water is just biding its time with other diversions until it decides to return, drowning you again.  That you could only wait to be resurrected to the complete hopelessness of reliving the experience over and over and over again…

*                                                            *

I have known periods of both life and love that were a lot like being  driftwood.  So much promise of beauty and joy and delight and such endless heartbreak…

What wrong could a tree ever have done and what mistakes could I possibly have made?

‘This show is a roller coaster of emotions – there’s comedy, anticipation, tears of joy… and no-one can take an audience on a better ride than that.’   ~Andrea Wong

Sometimes I cry when I’m overwhelmingly happy.

This can be disconcerting to observers, especially when they are more than observers and are actual participants in my happiness.  This might be most disconcerting to unsuspecting lovers.

Sex can sometimes make me very happy.  Happy to the point of overflowing tears.

There is a moment – you know the one, when I no longer need air, when I am wrapped in the splendor of split light, when whatever I once was has dissolved into the stardust of the universe – when all that remains is a suffusion of joy and love…

And tears.

I have known this state of moist emotion at the vast love that I have for another, at the expansion that happens when all the seeds of creation are waiting to germinate and bloom in the warmth of the love radiating from within me.

I have known this state of damp sensation at the immense love that another has offered me, at the sanctuary that exists when they have draped my body, mind and soul with the verdant branches of loving me so well.

I have known this flowing phenomenon at the great sadness that follows the pressing recognition that both stimuli are not present, together.

Why does it seem as if the balance of loving and being loved is just too delicate to achieve?

Why would I experience such ardorous depths for one who will never comprehend them?  Who will never value them or me or us in the same way?

Why would the profound tenderness and delight I have for another not match the passion proffered?   The adoration so worthy of being returned?