Friday, July 1, 2011

I've shifted my blogging activities once again back to the WordPress version of Into the West ~ you'll be able to keep up with my thoughts and activities there. WordPress allows me more flexibility for my future writing ~ I'm really looking forward to returning to more frequent and indepth writing.

I will keep a link on the WordPress site to this blog ~ there's some writing here that I still enjoy reading ~ maybe you do to?!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Between the sea foam and the sea sand

Of all the 'things' that I left behind in Massachusetts (this does not include people!) I miss nothing except my books. All 30 boxes of them. While there is a distinct pleasure in being able to go to the Google homepage and type in 'feral' and find out all sorts of interesting things, it is nothing like the pleasure of following a wave of synchronicity.

I had bookcases in every room of my home in Sheffield except the two bathrooms. I had a series of semi-circles scattered over the floors of living and bedroom that would begin, innocently enough, with one book that reminded me of something in another book which reminded me of something in another book and suddenly there were many many books scattered about as I dove in and out of them as a dolphin leaping from wave to wave.

I've tried to put that particular loss out of my mind - I don't know when/if I'll be able to return to the green hills of the Berkshires to load up a truck and bring them 'home'. I don't yet know where home lies for me. But recently I've been re-minded of the experience. I sit now with piles and half-circles of books and journal articles behind my chair. I turn my head to the right and I see actor network theory and nature writers and writer's manuals ... I turn my head to the left and I see wolves and myths, semiotics and research design, and book after book on the philosophy of nature. As if. As if we really need a philosophy of nature. As we needed more than to walk with respect and attention through this world. But, we funny little sapiens ... we think and ponder and wonder and we become lost in the maze of our thoughts rather than found on the paths of woodland or desert or prairie.

The past few days I've been caught up in a wave of synchronicity. It began with the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan like Thor's hammer. The images of the waters moving so powerfully over the land, like a giant, still asleep, shrugging and shifting in a dream. No clear intention but oh, so indomitable. And we, frightened little sapiens rushing around with a sudden knowledge and cold fear of our complete inability to control ... anything.

The drowned number in the thousands ... too many for us to truly comprehend, and too many for us to want to. The drowned trouble my sleep. Not the thousands of anonymous that were swept away last Friday, but the two who I knew.

One, a stranger ... a young girl who was walking home in a snowstorm with her brother. We chatted a moment and then they went off to play along the banks of the sleepy Housatonic River. The boy was dragged into the water, the younger sister pulled him back to shore and then was lost herself. They found her days later, downriver. I think of her from time to time, and the brother as well. Both lost in different ways.

One, my husband. Diving with friends in Gloucester Harbor. They disobeyed the cardinal rule of diving: never lose sight of your partner. But when you're too stoned to think clearly all kinds of accidents can occur that would be entirely avoidable otherwise. I never told his parents that it was easy to explain the 'unexplainable' accident. They were more comfortable blaming a mysterious god who had his reasons than they would have been blaming the victim of his own, regrettable foolhardiness. He and I were also both lost ... in different ways. His, perhaps the easier path.

And so I sleep and my dreams are filled with waves. I am caught, I am tumbled, I am surrounded by the untamed and untameable power of water. This is a visceral experience for me ... I spent much time in the ocean as a child and a teen. I know the joy of riding wave on wave, I know the fear of being tugged and pulled into the undertow, and I know the relief of being tossed out onto the sandy shore. Safe. For another moment.

Earlier today, I was reading Wendell Berry's collected essays for my thesis. I'm trying to find words ... mine, anyone's ... to explain the damage done by humans as we have taken the natural continuum between 'wild' and 'domesticated' and twisted it into a continuum between sterile and feral. I'm trying to explain the hubris of our attitudes as we attempt to pull away from the web of life and only end up distorting it. Here is what Berry had to say to me this morning, as he wrote about a canoe trip on the rising Kentucky River:
There is something deeply horrifying about [the river] roused. Not, I think, because it is inhuman, alien to us; some of us at least must feel a kinship with it, or we would not loiter around it for pleasure. The horror must come from our sense that, so long as it remains what it is, it is not subject. To say that it is indifferent would be wrong. That would imply a malevolence, as if it could be aware of us, if only it wanted to. It is more remote from our concerns than indifference. It is serenely and silently not subject--to us or to anything else except the other natural forces that are also beyond our control. And it is apt to stand for and represent to us all in nature and in the universe that is not subject. That is its horror. We can make use of it. We can ride on its back in boats. But it won't stop to let us get on and off. It is not a passenger train. And if we make a mistake, or risk ourselves too far to it, why then it will suffer a little wrinkle on its surface and go on as before.
I think that it is this horror (to tremble or shudder) that many of us disconnected little sapiens feel when we extirpate a species because it is competing with our financial well-being, when we shave off the top of a mountain so we can heat our homes, when we clear-cut a forest so we can print out a ream of marketing mailers that everyone will throw away.

I am wandering the land between the sea foam and the sea sand of the old folk song, negotiating my way between horror and beauty and companionship. It is, like all ecotones, rich and dangerous.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

My Thesis is a Matzoh

I'm heading 'round the final curve, now, and into the homestretch of my thesis.

Some days I feel like the driver, encouraging my writing forward with a light touch, other days I'm holding on for dear life with the sulky careening from side to side, and less often I feel like the horse being driven forward by the limits of time, understanding, knowledge, skill.

In the next few hours I'll send out the already-written chapters to my committee. I think I have about 40 pages so far. Maybe that many more left to write. I was visiting yesterday with Chad - he's on my committee, the head of our department, a professor, but mostly I think of him as a friend. I told him that I hoped the committee would be the yeast in my thesis - helping me to increase the size in a nourishing way. He laughed and asked if I was offering an unleavened thesis. Yes! My thesis is a matzoh - it might be a little slim right now -flat, as Chad suggested. It might crumble and break easily - but if that was good enough for the ancient tribes of Israel to sustain them as they left Egypt for the desert, it will have to be good enough for me, right now, in this first draft.

I've had to come to terms and accept ... this will not be the best thesis I can write. It will, however, be the best thesis I can write under the circumstances; within the limits of time, skill, and understanding. Each semester, I've added a little bit here, a little bit there. Each conversation has aided me in integrating information and turning it into my personal treasure house of knowledge. Each class I teach has opened the door to increased proficiency in how I think, how I write, and what I know. For all of this, I'm grateful.

Do I feel pressured? Of course, this is comparable to giving birth. I'm not the first person to point out the similarity of the two labors. I feel excited and proud - as when I first learned to tie my shoes - look! I can do this! I feel sorrow - the success of my thesis also marks the final moments of my time in Butte. I've accomplished much, I've grown into my self in ways I had never anticipated, but I've also failed in the endeavor that was most dear to my heart.

Joy. Sorrow. Celebration. Loss. Each experience a tile in the mosaic of the flowering of Life. My life, your life, our lives.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Medical Performance

Today I was treated to an excellent performance art piece at my healthcare provider's office. Some of you may know my distaste for people who live their lives as performers ... but this is a different story.

I'll start, though, with a note of gratitude and appreciation. For the most part, the individuals--the actual people who I interact with--they are doing their best in a situation where they are overwhelmed with too many patients, too much paperwork, too many potentials for lawsuits. I believe the people are good-hearted people who got into the healthcare field because they care. Or, they did when they began and it was worn away by the daily trafficking with and through the system.

Today was the end of a long week of out-of-control blood glucose levels--after almost a year of stability. Readings ranged from a low of 107 to a high of over 350 (the normal range is 90-120 ... my normal is 110 - 160). The jumps and drops throughout the day made pretty graphs, but were alarming in their intensity. The physical symptoms are frightening: compromised eyesight, lightheadedness, and heart palpitations.

I called the doctor's office and explained the symptoms and the numbers. "Oh dear, says the receptionist, that doesn't sound good - the first appointment we have is the end of March". The doctor: away until Monday. The nurse: may or may not be around this week. My options: wait til someone gets back to me. I called the next day: sorry, no one is available to talk with you. You'll have to wait til the doctor gets back next week.

This morning I explained, with some little anger, that I would be coming to the office today at 2pm and would wait until someone would see me. "Our doctors are too busy, I was told, we might find a nurse who can see you". Health. Care. Not very caring.

I got to the office at 2pm and was told that the diabetes counselor was available today and would be able to see me. "Just have a seat and the nurse will see you soon". Over an hour later, I was called in to be chastised by Nurse #1. She looked at me sadly and explained that there was really no point in my showing up today--the doctor was the only one who could help me. I explained my symptoms, my concerns, and the fact that I was told the diabetes counselor would see me. "Oh no! the nurse explained, that counselor had other duties today and couldn't possibly..."

The nurse left and came back accompanied by another nurse. Instead of good cop/bad cop - I got sweet nurse and stern nurse. They twittered at me without really listening at all. They explained away all my symptoms: not that serious, nothing to worry about, there won't be long term damage, this really isn't a problem.

My experience was entirely dismissed. My fears were glossed over. I was praised, the way one might praise a dog doing a clever trick, for bringing in a record of my blood sugars over the past week. But ... I was also told to stop the testing. "Pick three time during the day that you will test .. and then only test at those times ... now promise that you'll do that" I was told by stern nurse. When I asked about testing when I felt highs or lows, she shook her head and said: no.

I think that the best part of the performance today was when I offered the record of my blood readings. They leafed through the medical files with helpless looks on their faces and refused to take it. There was no 'official' place to put information from the patient. None. The patient, essentially, does not exist. Only the approved tests and results that describe the patient exist. The patient doesn't really exist without the presence of the doctor or the 'official' nurse. I was a ghost in their machine... and I was speaking and acting out of turn ... as if my experience was meaningful. To the performers in this system, it was not meaningful at all.

They didn't have the authority to make an appointment with the doctor. Only the 'official' nurse was allowed to do that. So, I departed with an appointment to see the mysterious diabetes counselor next week. On Tuesday. Because that's what the system allows. And I was trying to jam the system in order to find answers to what has gone wrong and how to correct it.

Meanwhile, I am blessed with the kindness of my friends who call to check on me, who offer rides if necessary, who keep track of my health records on line ... just in case an emergency does arise.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


I've just begun reading David Abram's The Spell of the Sensuous. I was ready to be judgmental ... just some fly-by-night new-ager trying to appear to be scholarly while stealing from the traditions of indigenous peoples. I was (or at least, so far) entirely wrong. Even in the first few chapters he's offered me a way to look at the world from a different perspective.

I'm not going to get into the book itself here, but I do want to write briefly about what has been stirred up in the soup pot of my skull.

It's about relationship ... discovering and renewing an intimate relationship with the world we live in. Not the earth as a whole, not the ecosystem as some concept, but with the streets we drive on, the sidewalks we walk on, the paths that carry our feet further than we imagined. I'ts about listening to bird calls and the songs of insects and the rustling of leaves in a strong wind or sweet breeze and to listen in a way that isn't about us. To know the world that we intimately live is each and every day, to respect it (respect ... to look again, perhaps with a new way of seeing), to enJoy it, to attempt to understand it on it's own terms, not ours.

To participate in this intimate relationship with the non-human world (foxes, hummingbirds, fireflies, pebbles, rivers, and clouds) takes the same kind of attention and time that we give to intimate relationships with our human companions. That's difficult for most of us. Certainly it has been for me.

I spent (like money? spent?) a winter afternoon when I lived in Sheffield, Massachusetts watching a fox in the field that spread outwards from my home. It was a sunny afternoon and the fox came out from the cover of a small copse of trees and began to play. Perhaps chasing a mouse, perhaps chasing sunbeams - it was a joyful expression of Life. And then, after it had finished with play, it rested ... curled up into a small bundle and napped in that winter sunshine. As I watched I could feel the silent clock of expectations: tick tick tick ... what are you doing ... tick tick tick ... what are you doing? It was difficult to justify to that part of self that had expectations of achievement that I was simply witnessing the Other. And that it was a worthy use of my time.

Another afternoon in the late summer I sat on the front stoop and watched the clouds sail overhead. One after another, forming and reforming, shifting forms and loosing pieces of themselves. I was fascinated as I witnessed a small and temporary inhabitant of my intimate world. Later, I wrote a small piece and had it published in some magazine ... both the piece and the name of the magazine are now lost to multiple moves and memory.

These experiences, Abrams' book, the articles and comments that I've been analyzing for my thesis, all these were on my mind this afternoon when I took a short stroll on 'my' path before heading up to campus to spend a few more hours on that thesis.

I silenced myself, I became attentive to the inhabitants of this piece of the world that I inhabit also. I became aware of the differences in the scattered trees, the snow-covered grasses how each of them moved differently in the winds shifting out of the west. I listened for what birdcalls there might be in the noticeable absence of ravens. I wondered about the experiences of snow, melting icewater, rocks glittering in sun. I did not try to 'become' them ... I tried to understand the momentary and emerging relationships between all of us in that moment. Complexity.

These are all important thoughts. I believe this because of the work of my thesis ... because of the words and thoughts and beliefs exposed by humans to humans about the non-human world ... because of what is not considered when choosing to destroy a pristine landscape in the search for gold and copper or when choosing which product to purchase in the supermarket or when choosing to have a(nother) child.

* * *
 I'm still contemplating, considering, allowing myself to be open to new perspectives, allowing myself to become intimate with the human and non-human entities that inhabit my little world. I know that I'll be leaving Butte sometime in the next six months or so. I look for ways to allow Butte and southwest Montana to inhabit me also, so that I can carry that particular intimacy always.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Yom Kippur

In a few minutes the annual celebration of Yom Kippur will end. Across the street in the lovely old synagogue, the small Jewish community of Butte has gathered to pray and sing, to ask forgiveness for the sins they have committed in past years against themselves, others, and God. After the final prayer, the Ne'ilah, the gates of prayer will close and God will have made the final inscription for the past year regarding our worth.

I've moved away from these practices over the years--the prayers and songs are full of mourning and self-blame. I find my own spiritual practice to be full of joy and empowerment--so much that I can't go back to dragging that old sorrow any longer.

I stand at my window, the breeze is chill with autumn, the leaves of the tree outside my window and those up on the East Ridge turn yellow, the clouds hang heavy and gray. I am listening to Joanne Shenandoah, an Iroquois musician--her music is deep and slow, celebrating the cycles of seasons and change. She inspires me into loosening my own voice.

And somehow I can feel the gates of prayer. I stand before them and they remain open wide. My prayers are not a duty, they do not flow begging forgiveness--instead they rise gently and fall into place--like leaves loosened by the autumn winds. My prayers are wordless, but no less sincere, and they flow in joy and appreciation for all that is--the challenges as well as the smooth paths.

Have I sinned? Yes, if you see sin in the old Aramaic way--actions that have missed the mark based on thoughts that have not fully ripened. I know that I have hurt myself and others in my words and actions that are sometimes less than skillful. In fact, sometimes they are purposeful. I am, as I have read in the Egyptian Book of the Dead "a human becoming" and in the process I do my best.

Have I sinned against God? No, if you see God as I do--the Essence of All that is. Not a Being ... like me, a Becoming. Does a tree sin if it is planted in the shade of a building and does not flourish as it could have if planted in the full sun? I am sometimes planted in the shade ... sometimes in the sun ... I have experienced "years that the locust has eaten" and others where I have been repaid in full and more.

My Jewish ancestors believed that the gates of prayer/forgiveness are closed and locked each year--that they had to wait until the following Rosh Hashanah for those gates to swing open again. I honor them for their devotion, sacrifices, and their survival. I honor myself as I choose not to stand outside, a beggar at the gates. Instead, I claim my home and stroll inside the heart of that Essence that has no name but holds all.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Fragments of Eternity

When I was traveling from Massachusetts to Montana I passed through South Dakota. I remembered from my cross country travels in 1985 how much I loved the Black Hills, but before I got that far, I passed through the grasslands and they were beautiful to me. I pulled over at one point, got out of my car, and began walking through the grasses into the north. My logical mind told me that I would eventually reach something human-made … but I felt another truth alongside that one … I had entered into a fragment of eternity. I seriously thought about stopping right then and there and finding a place to settle somewhere in that ocean of grass.

This weekend I am staying at a cabin of some rancher friends. It’s south of Butte and north of Dillon. I can hear ‘my’ river just to the east of this lovely little home. I’m writing this on Friday night and will post it when I return to Butte sometime on Sunday … though I must admit – if there was a chance that I might stay here … for a very very long time … I would jump at it.

Just before sunset I decided that I would  head out back of the cabin and walk up the dirt road into the eastern hills. (Even though I was warned about the rattlesnakes warming their bellies before the dark set in!) I walked past rusted pickups and antique haying equipment … I passed up the road watching the almost-full moon rise above a new set of mountains. I opened … and politely re-locked the gate … and continued as far as I could, passing off the main road onto a little path that led up a small rise.

I stood there in the twilight that rushed down from the Pioneer Mountains just across the valley and I was again placed into another fragment of eternity … similar and different from they way I felt in the grasslands of South Dakota. Here there are no grasses waving in the strong breeze … just sage and cactus, stones and rocky hills. I turned to the south and to my left the moon was rising higher into the night sky and to my right Venus fell toward the western mountain peaks. This felt like home.

I’m writing this in the loft bedroom of the cabin … it’s 10:30 pm, but there is still enough light so that I can see the sillhouettes of the bare peaks against the darkening sky as I glance out the windows. The ceiling fans above in this loft and below in the main room create a gentle breeze and hum and outside… ah, outside I hear crickets, the river, an occasional car as it  passes by on the distant highway. It is a blessing to be here.

I’ve always said that when I move (and I’ve moved many times from home to home to home) I want to move someplace I find to be  “this or something better” than wherever I am at the moment. And as I mature and gain perspective and discover what it is I love out in the world and in myself “better” changes its definition. Or I change.

My move from Egremont in Massachusetts to Dillon in Montana was better for me for so many reasons. And my move from Dillon to Butte – even better than before. I know that this particular little cabin is not my home … and … I feel that I’m being given a taste of possibility for my next ‘better’. Maybe here … maybe someplace very much like here – with the faint scent of eternity waiting behind the leaves of the cottonwoods in the breeze and the broad splash of stars across the night sky.