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.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

New Year, good ways

            Its so good to be home!  As I write this, the moonlight on the snow is soft, mesmerizing in its simple beauty, each tree gently rendered against the pale blue-grey of night snow. I am happily domestic these days, cleaning and restoring the house to its pre-bachelor days, but dreams of painting and writing haunt me at night, so soon I must pull out my brushes and get back to my writing before school engulfs me again. This means reorganizing where things have been “resorted” in my absence, so I can get a good space with light for the painting, and peace and quiet for the writing.  I am also catching up on sleep, and the pleasure of living without deadlines for a while.
            The past few days I’ve found myself thinking about the coming New Year, and rolling around the various thoughts that make up my annual review of What I Want My Life to Be.  This year is a bit different from the past. Oh, losing twenty pounds is still on the list, and probably will be permanently, but it seems to be the only carryover from the past.
            Instead of dwelling on all the things I should do, this year, I’ve surprised myself by looking at what I did accomplish – and there have been wonderful things, unexpected and challenging. Friends made, studies pursued (successfully), and a new, natural way of life that I am integrating into my being. Most of all, I’m happy, engaged in life, and better friends with myself.  Its not that 2011 was uneventful, for it was scary in spots, but it was also rich and fruitful, both personally and for those I love and cherish.
            What would happen if in general we chose to look what we DID do instead of what we didn’t?  What if we founded our desires for the New Year on the strengths within us instead of feeling like we have to correct weaknesses?  Oh, yes, we will still strive, but won’t our striving be more successful if based on love of ourselves and others instead of self-hatred and loathing?  Okay, I know that loving oneself is hard to do the first time one confronts the extra pounds in the bathroom mirror, but a diet based on guilt and self-hatred is going to be over quickly and without success. It works that way for the important things, too.
            There is nothing in this series of thoughts to suggest that we stop taking responsibility for our actions. We live with ourselves and with others. We need to act in a caring, loving manner, so that our love, our care, and our intent can frame a better world for everyone.
            The concept I’m talking about is loving-kindness, kindness towards ourselves and others. Pema Chodron, the American Buddhist nun, talks about how the desire to “fix” oneself is essentially a form of aggression against our inner being. It involves the basic premise that we are wrong, which is truly a lousy starting place for real growth. If instead we look at who and what we really are, and what we want to accomplish, if we bless ourselves onto our chosen path, then we can move forward with our strengths carrying us, and not our weaknesses. Our intent is stronger that way. So is our level of success.
            Besides, we’re worth all the love and care we can give to ourselves. We are the expression of God, bringing love to this earth. Our thoughts count, our hearts count, and our spirituality counts. Its going to be a splendid year!

Spirituality is love, and love never wars with the minute, the day,
one's self and others.

                                                                             St. Thomas Acquinas

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Of memories and old friends

            The woods around Unity Village are so different now!  Wind has taken down almost all the leaves, and the brownish-greys and tans and purples deepen against the copper colors of the forest floor. I surprised a large white-tailed buck yesterday, or should I say we surprised each other; the wind was strong, and I took the rustle of his careful steps to be just another squirrel scavenging in the leaves. We both jumped when we saw each other. He was the same grey-brown of the tree barks, and melted in perfectly.
            The big surprise to me, though, are the Daddy Long-legs, lots of them, picking their way along the gravel paths and among the leaves, their incredible two-inch front legs poking and feeling their way in front of them like a blind man’s cane. I wonder if they see at all, and what they are doing. They aren’t acting like they’re hunting; they just seem to be evaluating a trail amongst the litter, and a snail could outpace them. What happens when it snows? Do they hibernate, or are they simply using their last days to wander aimlessly amongst the woody debris, their internal clock slowly winding down?

                  This has been an exciting time for me. The volume of writing required for these classes is incredible – nine papers this semester, a total of 92 pages on various subjects. I’m not quite halfway through.
           And with this outpouring, welcome personal changes, too. For instance, I came to realize that I didn’t remember much about my childhood; a period of abuse in my young adulthood had sealed off my memories, particularly of my early years, which my abuser vilified. I had left him, even genuinely forgiven him, but had little idea of the extent of the damage that remained. So, thanks to this wonderful thing called the Internet, I was able to email my childhood friends and ask them what I was like back then. Their kind answers and support touched off a flood of memories, and more come each day. I feel more centered, more integrated than I have in the last forty years! There is real joy there. A lot is still a surprise, but I’m feeling very whole, very healthy.
            Among others, I connected with the image of my Godfather, a kind but stern man who was more my father than my biological one. I wish I could tell him I loved him, but he is long gone. I know he loved me, although he never said anything either. But in addition to church, he taught me the slide rule (I still use it), did science fair projects with me, engineered a couple of evenings showing us the stars through a friend’s telescope, and even had his lab assistant escort me to the Senior Prom when my boyfriend suddenly became unavailable. I married one man who looked just like him, and may be marrying another who shares the same fine-boned build – and is a scientist as well. The memories are precious, and they have now found their rightful place in my heart.

            This has been a wonderful few months. I have had the privacy I need to churn through both the changes and the work, and now I will return home to my beloved mountains to take the next quarter online, and be with Larry. Council has approved our sawmill site, but fortunately the snow will keep us from having to start immediately, since I’ll be glued to the computer and won't be able to do that much. The end of March will find me back in Missouri for Spring Term.
            Life is good!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

God's Hands and Feet

Jasper National Park

            Its amazing to me how the little events of life can reflect on the huge movement of Purpose through our lives. Last weekend was a case in point: I’m not known for being early anywhere, but this particular morning I left in plenty of time for my 9 am eye appointment…however, my GPS had been stolen out of my car a few days prior, and I didn’t know the area as well as I thought, so I was halfway to Wichita before I realized I had missed my exit. On top of that, I realized as I leapt out of the car that I had left my purse at home.
What was going on here? I’m usually not such a ditz. A bit late now and then, true, but not a ditz. This time, though, I realized I was never intended to make that 9am appointment.  Certainly, there was no way of talking the nurse into letting me have the exam anyway. Frustrated, I turned to leave. 
A young boy and his mother came out of the exam room. One of his eyes was red and slightly swollen. “I’m so glad you had time to see us,” said the mother. “Don’t worry, “ said the doctor. “He’s going to be just fine.”
            The relief in her voice brought me up short. There seemed to have been been purpose in this chain of events. It may have messed up my day, but my being late had made a space for the doctor to see her son and bring comfort to them both. 
            This isn’t the first time it appears God has used me as hands and feet. I will admit preferring to be asked first, preferably in full knowledge of the cost, and I would rather have a choice as to the answer, but it doesn't always work out that way.  We might think of how events seem to conspire to bring us what we need, but rarely do we notice when we are being an instrument of Spirit in someone else’s life. And is that what’s happening? How much is the random outworkings of the Universe and how much Divine Will? In this instance I choose Divine Plan, or Divine Intervention as the answer, but the question is still open.
            The kind of incident I’m talking about is not like giving comfort to a sick friend, or helping someone in time of need. It is a random happening that brings joy or relief to someone under circumstances outside our direct control.
            Another occasion happened when I was shopping in Safeway. As I stood in front of the whelter of choices at the spice shelf, my eye fell on pumpkin spice. It’s not a seasoning mix I use, but this time I took special note of it, turned, and went on with my search. An older woman came up to me. “Do you know where the pumpkin spice is?” she asked in a querulous voice. “I haven’t been able to find it anywhere.”
            Was I responding to her brain waves projecting need, or being God’s hands and feet to bring her what she wanted? Or was it simply random?  With a smile, I handed her the spice, happy I’d been able to help. Some days I’m not so sure, but that day I believed in the outworking of God’s Divine Intention.
            These are not significant events, but they illustrate the purpose we can find in the apparent randomness of life. The same kind of outworking can happen, for instance, in a love affair that ends in sorrow, but allows one partner to rejoin life after the death of a spouse. Was this part of God’s Plan?
            Whether or not we are part of God’s Plan, its appropriate for us to celebrate these occasions! We’re returning to the world some of the blessings we have received. Volunteering to be an angel for someone brings great joy to both the giver and the receiver, but sometimes the best  “angel moments” happen when we’re unawares. Yes, I would prefer to be asked first, but relish these opportunities as well. They are part of the richness of life.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Coming home yet again...

          The fields were bright yellow with huge drifts of goldeneye daisies against the green as I drove out with the UHaul.  They were happy to remind me I can never really leave the mountain.  They are right, of course. And Larry called yesterday just to tell me that it was snowing, too, the first snowfall of the season. I can see in my mind’s eye the beautiful, soft flakes floating down the way snow does, outlining every branch and leaf.  He and the snow remind me, too.  I can never truly leave.
I ache to be there, but this time I ache to be here, too. My fellow explorers on this path greeted me, not with “Welcome back,” but with “Welcome home,” and indeed it has become home as well. Fall is in full swing, with yellows and reds intertwined throughout the meadows. The trails are full of deer, and this evening I saw a huge toad, spotted like one of our Apache trout, scampering out of my way. Its very beautiful. I could do a full meditation just on the yellow tree outside the Inn where we take our meals.

Where did the summer go?  I arrived home in the mountains to a contract in full swing, with twenty young men falling trees in the Wallow burn area; and afterward not just the mop-up of all the back office stuff, but the decision to move forward on a small sawmill project as well, providing we can talk the Tribe into the land to do so. We found providing good employment for these guys a joy, and wanted to keep going.
And that is what I did, right up to the time to throw stuff and cats into the car and leave.  I’ll continue to work for Larry here, as there is so much to be done on the computer and internet, everything from payroll to business plans, and I have the skills to do it. Not always the time – I’m carrying a full load, have nine papers to write and a retreat to do before December 8. In addition, there are an incredible number of extra-curricular things we are supposed to participate in, but I’m finding I’m ducking as many of those as I can simply to get work and school done and get some sleep.

It’s the beginning of a long journey, happy and sad, joyous and melancholy, scholastically demanding and peacefully prayerful. God accompanies me, both from within and at my elbow. Life is good.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Coming home

Dragonfly Pond

A raccoon family marauded the pots on our porch at the Village last night, dumping them over and pulling the plants out. I rattled at them from my upper window, but they just looked up at me, little masked faces in the dim porch light, so this morning my roommate and I repotted and swept up debris. Little buggers are cute, but difficult.

Wildlife is so plentiful here! There’s the previously-mentioned family of woodchucks – curious critters – and a very numerous family of skunks. I enjoy watching them from a distance, as they flow up the steps, checking out every crack, every pebble, their tails held high. A herd of deer was feeding on the golf course a couple of evenings ago, with them a little fawn that still had its spots. Judy’s birdfeeder attracts flickers, sparrows, nuthatches, chickadees, cardinals, and a titmouse. Now a squirrel has climbed up to our second-floor window, his claws skittering on the glass. I think he is trying to figure out how to reach the bird feeder. He’ll succeed, they always do.

I’m in love with the dragonflies and ebony jeweled damselflies as well. The black damselflies flutter gently through the undergrowth near streams, one sex brilliantly jeweled green on black, the other a drabber black with white dots on his (her?) wings. The damselflies turn to face me if they notice I’m there, which doesn’t make for great photos, but I’ll keep trying. 

Dragonflies are very shy, too. I think this one’s a 12-Spot, but I’ve seen many others, including a Widow, and my favorite, something called a White Tail, which looks like its sporting semaphore signals when it flies. We have them at home, too. Gonna take a longer lens than mine to catch good shots of those!

I leave today for the White Mountains, a blessed week in cooler temperatures and lower humidity - and my partner, Larry. I’m eager to be home, be held. I want to touch base again with an essential part of me there. God is everywhere, but speaks to me loudest from the pines and the meadows, yet I don’t live just in them, but here as well. I have made the transition, and don’t feel pulled apart any more, at least for now. 

Thank you, God.