Life and Death in the Back Yard

Yesterday I was sitting in a recliner in our back yard, just soaking up the sun, and listening to the birds and other critters. Suddenly, a hawk flew to the ground about 20 feet away from me and landed awkwardly. Its wings seemed to be splayed over the ground, and it was facing away from me. I didn’t have a chance to get a good enough look to identify it, but got an impression of a light color. I was surprised it was so close to me. Then it flew away toward the back of the yard, and I saw it was carrying a chipmunk in its talons.

I was astonished and humbled to witness this moment of life and death in the world of nature.  Perhaps the hawk was taking food to its young.  Perhaps the chipmunk was the one who, earlier in the day, had been startled to see me in the screen tent, when it poked its head under the fabric at the bottom.  I thought it would run off, but then it scampered right under my foot on its way to the other side of the tent.

Two years ago, just a little later in May, I had seen four baby chipmunks in the yard, in about the same place.  I went outside and sat down near them and watched them play.  They were completely unafraid of me and didn’t mind my presence close by.  At one point, they heard an alarm call from their mother, and ran to the hole to their underground homes, and sat right nearby looking around and waiting to hear if they must go back inside.  But mother must have given the all clear, because they resumed their play.

I wonder if today there are babies underground waiting for a parent to return. The yard became utterly quiet after the hawk attack, except for an alarm cry from a bird or another chipmunk–I wasn’t sure. No birds at the feeder, so squirrels chasing each other up the trees, no chipmunks emerging from the rain spout. But later in the evening, life went on.  At least two other chipmunks were dashing back and forth, and gold finches lined up to get their turn at the feeder.

What a gift to sit outside each day, learning what the land wants to reveal of her secrets.  What secrets have you discovered, just sitting outside being quiet?

Chipmunk babies

Chipmunk babies

Linda Hogan’s Solar Storms

My favorite novel of all time is Chickasaw writer Linda Hogan’s Solar Storms.  Published in 1997, it is the story of Angel, a girl who was taken from her Native relatives as a tiny child and raised in foster care, after being abused by her mentally ill mother.  At 17, she comes back to find her grandmothers and learn about who she is.  During this time, people in her small village discover that hydroelectric dams are planned for their ancestral homeland in the north, so four women travel by canoe to help in the struggle against it.  I first read this book when I was working (with Massachusetts “Save James Bay”) against the hydroelectric dams that were being built in Quebec, and I learned later that Hogan had drawn from that situation in creating her fictional account.

But this brief description of the plot can’t do justice to the many layers of poetry and meaning that are woven into her narrative.  I learned about what it might mean to be deeply connected to a place–to be indigenous to a place.  I learned that loving the earth isn’t just about loving the planet, but rather about loving a particular island or river or peninsula or forest.  I learned that we can love the earth even if we are not indigenous, even if the earth keeps some secrets from us.  It helped me along my journey to find my own connection to the earth.  The elder Tulik tells Angel, “Here a person is only strong when they feel the land.  Until then a person is not a human being.”⁠ [p.235]

Linda Hogan tackles issues that face Native people–including the taking of children and the taking of land–and brings alive for all of us the heartbreak and courage that are born in this brokenness, and the beauty that may be created as people move toward healing.  As we face more and more destruction on our planet, we all so much need to learn to “feel the land.”

Broken Rock DSC00135

How Everything Changes

Since my last posting, so much has happened with the book that it is a new being.  Last summer I cut up my draft, and rearranged everything, cut many things, and shaped it into a new kind of flowing.  I also update the sub-title, and decided to use that for the blog as well.  I am on sabbatical now, and revising and editing, and trying to begin a book proposal to find a publisher.  The revising and editing is a joyful process, but the proposal is very hard.  It is a great challenge to the ego–who am I to share my words with the world?  Hard to describe the book in a few words, hard to describe myself in a few words, hard to imagine how to “market,” when what comes up in my heart is the desire to transform the world so that we rediscover our connection to all beings.  The process of writing has also brought me more deeply into the brokenness we live within.

I have been thinking I might come back to some occasional posting here, just to remind myself of the marvelous wisdom all around us.  Today I am excited about a book by Robin Wall Kimmerer which I just recently started reading, called Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants.  I felt such a great sense of kinship with the writing in this book, and inspired by the stories she tells, and the possibilities of learning from so many of our fellow beings on this earth.  I have read several chapters so far, and am savoring each one.  Get this book!

New Ferns

New Ferns

Pause for Consideration

Egrets MJ DSC02113_2I began this blog to share ideas that have been brewing in me for some time, which I had been gathering for a book about spirituality.  Each post was part of the third draft of the book.  The blog was structured based on the chapters of the book.  You can find out more about that on the about page of Finding Our Way Home.  

I have been thrilled to share these ideas in this format, and to connect with readers who have followed the blog, liked or commented on posts, and shared their own thoughts and feelings.  Thank you!  I have now posted everything in this draft of the book, and have come to a crossroads–what next?

Do I continue to blog on waking up to the earth, to each other, and to the mystery with new entries?  Or, do I take some time off to work on the book as book again, and see what I can do to turn this draft into the next draft?   Do I repost the original entries and share the book all over again in that way?  I have noticed that it is rare for someone to read a post, and then decide to read the rest of the blog.  It doesn’t really function like a book.  Yet it has its own appeal. There is a certain momentum that a blog creates, that is hard to let go of.

But in any case, I do need to pause, to have some space to listen to what the next steps will be.  And so I wanted to let you know what was brewing in me, and ask for your blessings on this writing journey.

We Are Already Connected

We have much farther to travel on this journey to renew our connection with the earth, with each other, and with the Mystery at the heart of life. There will be troubles to endure and beauty to behold. What we are becoming together is still to be revealed. This is a journey of our time, of our planet, of all the people and beings who live here together. Most importantly, we must remember that we are not facing these challenges alone. That is what I learn from the mushrooms. We are not alone. We are already connected to the earth, to Mystery, to each other. 

Because we are all connected, any small action that we take has the capacity to affect the wider network. When we begin to honor and celebrate our connection with even one other being on this planet, something reverberates through the whole web. When we express our gratitude for the water we drink, and do our part to preserve its cleanliness, we are nurturing the web of life. When we share our resources with those who have less, we are nurturing the web of life. When we listen, really listen to each other’s differences, we are nurturing the web of life. When we listen, really listen to the water, the wood, and the stone, we are nurturing the web of life.

We are trying to wake up to what already exists. We are learning to know the deep truth that we are already at home.

So I returned to the river, I returned to
the mountains. I asked for their hand in marriage again,
I begged—I begged to wed every object
and creature,
and when they accepted,
God was ever present in my arms.
                                           Meister Eckhart

Branches MJ DSC03740

Meister Eckhart quote is from “When I Was the Forest,” Love Poems From God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West.

Helpers for Finding Our Way Home

Cardinal

Margy Dowzer Photo

There are beings all around us who want to be called upon, who want to help us in this work of returning to wholeness, this work of finding our way home. I have shared stories of a few of the beings who have helped me. The bright red cardinal singing its beautiful song. The four directions beech tree. The waters of lakes and streams. The ground, the very ground we walk upon, that holds me when all around me everything is falling apart.

Now that I know about the mycelial network, the ground feels more alive to me. But it was always true that something happened when I sat down upon the ground. If I sleep on the ground for a longer period of days, there is a glow that surrounds my body. I remember this from my time at the Women’s Peace Camp, where I was living in a tent for four months. I felt alive in some new way that I began to miss when I went back inside an apartment in Chicago. I forget it easily, but I feel more alive when I am outside.

Jesus has been such a helping presence too. First in my childhood and youth, when he was the one who loved me and who called me to the path of love. But even later, when I was leaving Christianity to follow the path of the Goddess, Jesus was a guide and a friend. If we can experience the divine within every being around us, the theological questions about Jesus seem less of a quandary. People have been asking, over the centuries, Was Jesus a man or a God? I would answer, Aren’t all of us both human and divine?

When Winifred Gallagher wrote about her quest for a spiritual home, she described the essential spiritual practice of the Christian tradition as the practice of love for everyone. She commented that it seemed a lot easier to meditate for an hour every day, than to have to practice love for everyone—it was not an easy alternative. It has been a deep tragedy that Christianity has been used to foster hate and oppression. Jesus stays in my life as the teacher of love, the human example of what divine love looks like.

I want you to know that we are not alone. In this time of great challenges and transitions, there are a host of beings who love life and want to help us find another way to live. As we reach out to them, they are reaching out to us. I understand that every person will have their own ways of connecting to earth, to each other, to Mystery. The mycelial network might not be the thing that helps you to experience the connection between all beings. You might not resonate with Jesus or with trees. But I encourage you to find out what it is that does help you. In these times we need critical thinking and activism and also mysticism.

Just as we can now sit in front of a plastic and metal panel and communicate with people across the world, so there are technologies to communicate across species and across dimensions. The threads of life weave us together in ways we have barely begun to imagine. But I know this: we belong here together and we need each other now more than ever. Poet Barbara Deming wrote:

Our own pulse beats in every stranger’s throat,
and also there within the flowered ground beneath our feet.
Teach us to listen:
We can hear it in water, in wood, and even in stone.
We are earth of this earth, and we are bone of its bone.
This is the prayer I sing.

Green Back Yard DSC05265

A Bowl Full of the Universe

There are helpers and elders all around us; there is wisdom, if we open to it. There are animals and plants and fungal networks, and rivers and mountains and the wild winds. We can enter into relationship with all beings, and find help from them for the great struggles of our time. We have not been looking to our relatives and our ancestors for connection, and so we often are unaware of the powers that exist all around us. When Paula Gunn Allen speaks of consciousness as an attribute of being, it helps me to move beyond the narrow vision of my own culture, and claim my own experience of relationship with other beings.

Once, after the difficult ending to a relationship, I was rocking in a hammock on the back porch of the home I would soon have to leave. In that place of loneliness and unknown futures, I saw something like an image, felt a presence. Later I described it in a poem:

How can I trust my senses
in a moment full of loneliness
when the old dark woman appears
gray hair gathered in a bun in the back
squatting near a fire holding
a bowl full of the universe?

It was an ancient Innu grandmother, my ancient Innu grandmother from many generations ago, and in her hands she was holding a bowl. I could see the darkness and the stars swirling inside.

Image from the Hubble Telescope

Image from the Hubble Telescope

What is a bowl full of the universe? What did it mean? I am continuing to learn about that.

I know that a bowl is a container, a shape that can hold something. When we are facing the great mysteries of the universe, we need some sort of container. That might be the definition of a spiritual practice. We create a container to be able to connect with the earth, with each other, with Mystery. And even though the container is small, humble, it opens up to so much more―the whole universe is there, the oneness of everything, the larger whole of which we are a part, infinity.

The Innu grandmother says to me, “The universe is in your heart, and you are in the heart of the universe.”