Saturday, July 7, 2012

Of Copperheads and Butterflies

            I saw a copperhead on the trail yesterday. Not long, about eighteen inches, it raised its small head and watched me, I assume carefully, and I watched it back, then took a photo with my phone. If I can figure out how to send it to myself, I’ll post it.
            Missouri has been an orderly procession of flowering trees, shrubs, and woodland vegetation, each seeming to take a week or two, where it dominates, and then passes the baton onto the next bloomer. When I arrived in March, redbud was blooming everywhere, even as trees were slow to leaf out, and the simplicity of the bright pink branches against the grey made the woods look like Japanese paintings. There were violets about an inch tall, and then shortly the phlox, the bush honeysuckle, and then the sprays of white berry flowers, complemented briefly by more white sprays of tiny wood roses, less than an inch across, which bloomed briefly and were gone. 

     The dogwoods and the apple trees took their turn as well. In June, the traditional honeysuckle scent was everywhere, and wild strawberries decorated the edges of the trails. I tasted one, and it was gritty and tasteless, so must be a different kind than those everyone rhapsodizes about. The deer love them.

(I could really use a good butterfly book!)

            Insects, too, seem to have a specific season, a short period in the sun. For a while, there were butterflies everywhere on the paths, each kind being dominant for a couple of weeks, and then disappearing as the next group arrived. When I left for a brief sojourn at home, Eastern Commas and Fritillaries were everywhere. Those have disappeared, and now the beautiful ebony dragonflies helicoptering among the bushes near the creek signal the sticky hot summer, which has arrived (it was 105 today), curtailing all but the earliest hiking.

            I love these passages of season, although I could do without the heat. I think whether flowers or insects, each species has evolved into a specific niche as a time when fewer competitors are about, maximizing their chances.  
We humans don’t seem to do that – we’re everywhere, and at all times. Look at our mate-seeking rituals. What different opportunities abound for happiness when we have all these choices and not just the boy in the next valley who happens to be the only single man for miles, even if he is unsuitable as a mate! We don’t have to settle, although our evolution hasn’t caught up with that fact. Instead of “one for us,” maybe its ten or one hundred greatest choices, and yet we screw up, we make mistakes, for our biology is still wired for the eras when so few choices and chances existed. I’m glad I’m not stuck in those days. I’d rather have it this way.  Happiness and good relationships still take work, and are still worth it. That hasn't changed.
Composed during a retreat:

This, then, is my altar:  a butterfly on the path,
Its wings opening and closing gently,
Showering brilliance as it absorbs the sun
And waits for ladies.

This, then, is my altar: the four young pines
In front of me, and beyond, the lake,
Where osprey wheel, searching for lunch,
And the wind gentles.

This, then, is my altar, the Truth of who I am:
My Christ embraces all the stars.
God within, and God in nature are the same,
Whole, and One forever.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Of choices and wholeness

Three young ladies and their duennas prepare for the Sunrise ceremony that will usher them into adulthood.   

         I should know better than to read Robert Brumet’s Healing and Wholeness before going to bed at night. Waking me at five this morning, the lessons from the book run eagerly through my head, lessons about free will, choices, and the gifts in both joy and sadness. I find I’m still piecing together my own image of the Universe, and reading that very thoughtful book has my mind clicking along, whether or not the time is convenient. 
            And so I sit here in the pre-dawn darkness, lit intermittently by the cars inching their way along our icy little frontage road, parents dropping their kids off at the bus stop so they can get a better education than on the Reservation. Its not that the teaching is so bad on the Rez; it isn’t, there are gifts in both, but the environment in town is better. Part of education is what happens around and outside the classroom, and the experience of being in the world-oriented, competitive atmosphere of the local schools here prepares the Native American students better for life in the outside white man’s world.  Those that go to Reservation schools and  remain on the Rez in adulthood live in a world where unemployment runs 85%, and all of the miserable things about poverty become a way of life. It’s a different set of lessons.
            The young people of the Tribe are its treasure, and although those that do return are interested in improving things, they are kept out of tribal decision-making because they often don’t speak Apache – not taught in schools on or off the Reservation – and they don’t own land and/or cattle. But change is afoot, and there is great hope for a future where the government is more accessible and responsive to the needs of all of the people and not just a few. Involving the young people is critical to the future of the Tribe.
            And so the parents that are dropping off their children in the pre-dawn darkness hold the greatest treasure of all: the future. Even if the children don’t return to the Rez when they grow up, they will bring their own gifts from the Apache way of life to our world and challenge our thinking, too. They are beautiful. They are a blessing.