Dragon’s Tooth: “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” HDT

 

The eagle’s aerie, a rock nest created by eons of wind and water, a bathing bowl for large birds, provided the perfect perch for meditating on the cragged mountaintop, Dragon’s Tooth.  This quartzite molar was not the actual tooth, which I could see from where I sat, but the aerie was flat enough, and spacious enough, to hold a human comfortably seated in a lotus position; thus, here I comfortably sat instead of balancing precariously on the jagged eye tooth of the dragon.  I planned to stay awhile

The view from the aerie looks out over the Appalachian Mountains, blue-green ridges running like long trains north to south or south to north, depending on your perspective

So much of life is about perspective, our singular vantage point from which we view the universe, dependent upon so many variables, person by person.  My perspective, the high wide-angle view felt definitely loftier, more hallowed, literally more insightful.  Good reasons for climbing, for spending three days and nights alone atop the tooth (and jaw) of the Dragon.  Me with my newly formed drum…seeking connections between earth’s offerings and its limitations, while exploring my limitless thoughts, in search of insight and a wider perspective: the whole reason I had climbed this mountain in mid-May.

On my way up, I passed several streams, healthy waters trickling, gathering, running down the valley cleft. The trail along Catawba Creek soon ascended higher, meandering away from the stream to follow a pine needle, leaf-littered path under a canopy of deciduous trees mingled with a community of conifers. 

Where the climb grew steeper, the mountain’s gently sloping hem gave way to crinkles of her ruffled skirt more steeply inclined. Because of recent rain, this section of the Appalachian Trail included slick stone slabs, narrow wet ledges, and even dripping iron rungs affixed to the rocks to aid with the ascent.  My forty pound pack weighed heavier on my back; determined still, I trudged up stone stairs, tripped over snaking roots, wiped the sweat from my forehead and neck.

A warning sign: CAUTION: the next mile of trail is rocky and steep.  Sheer cliff faces loomed ahead and I wondered if I wasn’t maybe just a little crazy to do this alone.  Rock edges provided a few inches of footing, toe holds, but I had to lean into the rock to keep my backpack, my weight, from shifting backwards.  If I didn’t, if I lost my balance, I was going over, way over.

Sweat ran in rivulets down my back. At one point on the trail, a white blaze arrow pointed straight up.  I took a deep breath, grabbed hold of an iron rung, and another, got beyond the rock face, squeezed between a pair of trees lining the path, too narrow to go forward with my pack, so sideways I inched through this challenging trail.  It was emotionally and physically exhausting, and I wanted to be done with it!

Reaching the top of the ridge did not put an end to the trek.  The trail Ts here… choose left or right.  

I had to fight the urge to de-pack then and there, but I knew if I let down my load, I might not ever heave it up, get it back on my back.  To reach the actual tooth, I turned on a side path winding around small and large boulders knowing that it would take me to an open flat area on the west side of the jaw.

Knowing the Dragon’s Tooth summit to be a popular destination for weekend hikers and campers, not to mention Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, I chose a Tuesday and planned to leave on Friday morning, hoping by chance or good fortune to spend all that time completely alone.  This woodland summit with its modicum of flat ground offered no shelter, no tables, no benches, no latrines.  Exactly what I wanted…as primitive a camping spot as you might find on the Appalachian Trail.  I quickly spread out the pack, set up my tent, and claimed as much space as possible in hopes of discouraging anyone else who might think to spend the night.

By the way, if you’ve never done this before, you should know there is a guarantee that travels with solo camping:  You will be tested. You will face trials. 

My camp-making complete, I went to refill my water bottle before climbing into the aerie, but the gallon water jug was missing.  WhatHow could that be?!  Frantic, I rifled through all of my gear again.  Where could I have left it?  No way I would survive three days and nights on the mountain with just bread…well, of course I would live, but those days would not be one bit fun.  My mind raced backwards down the trail, retracing my hike… Please, please universe I prayed looking up at the sky.  Please tell me I do not have to hike back down to the car and back up here again…five miles more before I rest.  I thought I heard a laugh.  I had!  My own. The idea of hiking the round trip right now seemed so absurd I laughed, and laughed harder.

Disbelief danced with clarity.  I had two choices.  I could either abort my quest completely, pack up and head home, OR I could see this as the first test…was I true to my quest?  How hard was I willing to push myself?  The good news: I could make the roundtrip without 40 pounds on my back.  It would feel almost like flying.  Ha!  Five miles of mountainous trekking was still five miles; even so, I chose the challenge.  Down, down I went, back and forth, and around.

I tried to gauge the number of switchbacks remaining, but had to let that go because then came the verticals. I’ll spare you the pain.  The round trip was a lot quicker; still, my body ached by the end of my second summit.  I was spent.  I grabbed my loaf of bread and jug of water and took a seat on a boulder in the cleft, the narrow viewpoint in the outcropping between the incisor and the molar, eating my bread and drinking my water while my body recovered.  

When I felt rested and whole once again it was time to climb to the aerie.  Most hikers head left of the cleft and climb up the official Dragon’s Tooth.  But most hikers do not know about the molar, that not only is it accessible, but it also has a rock nest, the aerie, from which to view the world below.  That’s probably because reaching the aerie is neither for the incurious, nor the faint of heart.  

I carried my rosewood recorder in my smaller knapsack with my drum rigged by a strap on my pack. To warm her soft wood, I played scales a few times, then blew some wistful tunes…I was after all, alone, on a mountaintop…alone.  Soon a squadron of sharp-winged swifts swooped in keen-edged diagonals all around.  I chose to see this as a gift, this exhilarating aerial dance of precision, a heralding.

Altogether, I had spent six weeks of Saturdays with a master drum maker (see All things are connected) during which time I sanded strips of oak wood, stretched and soaked hides, drilled and bound wood to wood, plus other drum making duties for drum master, Gentle John.  But also for myself because, finally, after years of thinking about it, I had created a drum, a thing of beauty (from my perspective), sounding the deepest, purest notes, ringing with accomplishment.

Returning from the recollection to the rock, my senses felt finely attuned. I grew contemplative and sat in wonder taking in the view.  What was this affinity I felt for the Native American spirit?  What urged me toward self-imposed vision quests?  Why search for deeper earthly connections, for divine/universal conversation, for enlightenment?  What compelled me to seek the ineffable?

The summer before the most recent May, in the apple orchard on the outside perimeter of our campfire circle, I built with the help of friends a tee-pee made with twelve freshly cut bamboo poles (leaves still on the stalk) measuring 20 feet in length. Together we raised it into place. I never covered the frame, preferring the synchronous sense of shelter and open-air.  One night while camping inside, tucked into my sleeping bag, looking up at the stars, I knew in my heart, I even vowed, I would make my own drum to play inside my own, this very teepee.

Fast forward to my seat in the aerie with day’s light fading, tapping my drum, thoughts of my good fortune dancing swiftly about my head.  Lost in the rhythm and the dance, I drummed until twilight when it was time to leave.  I stood and bowed, asking for grace during my way back down to level ground. Grace was granted. Pleasantly exhausted, I took a pee then ducked into my tent, snuggled deep in my bag and quickly fell asleep.  That evening and the morning made the first day.   

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Wednesday was exploration time.  I hiked a few miles north along the ridge, stopping often to play a tune, to drum a rhythm, to sit as just another lump on a rock outcropping, no more, no less a part of this beautiful earth; to end the second night the same as the first – in the aerie, on top of the world.  To be one…to be none…….

Still, imperfection is always just around the corner.  Mine. Theirs. Those annoying voices, those southern accents scraping across my spine like metal grinding metal, or metal grinding teeth, like the dentist’s office.  It was now Thursday afternoon.  I sat in the aerie hearing voices rise from the trail below.  Sadly they, the three of them it sounded like, were headed this way.  Curses!

After spending more than two days blissed out on nature, I was shown a different reality…my prejudices.  I reluctantly observed one of many imperfections. Though I was supposed to be on the path…giving, accepting, practicing equanimity…sadly, now that I had opened to a wider perspective, I could no longer ignore the truth: I deemed anyone with a southern accent… dense, dumb, or dim-witted.  And because of that prejudice, that preconception, I hoped the humans belonging to those grating voices did not plan to spend the night.

I listened carefully, alertly, as the hikers rose higher, climbed closer.  I could tell by the tone of their voices they were young.  You can tell a lot about people if you listen, really listen to them (you will see the irony in this soon). I guessed the loud talking guys were somewhere between fifteen and twenty, as their twangy teenage voices rose to torment me.  Well maybe, I hoped, they had hiked just to sit on the Dragon for a bit, maybe not to spend the night.  For sure, I had been lucky to camp two days and nights by myself in an elevated state, a true gift.  But I had come to camp three days and three nights.  I did not want to leave, nor would I feel comfortable camping so far removed from civilization with three strange guys…three strange guys with those irritating accents.  No peace there.

Well, I would sit here in the best and highest seat on my rock outcropping; I would try to let go of my unworthy thoughts, my judgments. The true strength of my practice would be to meditate in spite of the disturbance below and behind me, to be thankful for the landscape before me, a view of incredible beauty, so sublime each siting caused a kinesthetic response.  And then, because of practice, the internal voice went into choir mode, Hummmm easily lent itself to Ommmmm.  While I followed my breath with my inner ear, my optical eye followed the rock wall outline of forests and fields once fallow, now bursting with green growth, a patchwork quilt of corn, alfalfa, and more.

Continuing to breathe in deeply, to feel my infinite connection, the voices behind me quieted to mere whispers, then disappeared…nature prevailed…a profound sense of complete, perfect bliss…soon “I” disappeared…just the rocks, the mountains, the trees, the wind…whispering a favorite Emerson quote, I become a transparent eye-ball. I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of god.

Moments passed, or maybe I floated once around eternity….. eventually, I returned to the present and saw that afternoon had rotated to early evening.  The silence was palpable……no voices. My prayers had been answered: I would have my last night on the mountain alone. 

I climbed down from the aerie…slowly, carefully…one could so easily fall off the mountain’s face. Tense fingers gripped crags while my boots poked around for spaces big enough to hold my tiptoes.  Soon I was back on the ground, making my way to my tent by climbing over and squeezing around huge boulders.  Looking down, being sure not to stumble over roots or rocks, thinking about my bread and water dinner, I was stopped short.  Oh dear, those three teenage boys.

“Excuse me, m’am” the tallest and skinniest of the trio spoke in his southern, mountain born drawl.  I tried not to grimace.  At least he had manners, even if his speech sounded like his tongue was trying to talk over pebbles rolling in his mouth. “Would it be ok if we camped here tonight?”

Disappointment emptied my hope, a deflated balloon my heart, yet what could I say?  “I don’t own the mountain.  I had hoped to be alone tonight, but I guess it’s ok.”  I sighed. “You’re not gonna make a lot of noise, are you?”

Again, the tall one, “No m’am, we’re just gonna do a little rock face climbing up the Tooth, have a little dinner, then go to bed.  Wanna join us?” He motioned first to his friends, then to the ropes already dangling off the fifty foot high cliff.  The other boys looked up at him, looked at me, and smiled.  I could see now they were early high school age, harmless enough…still.

“Ah, no thank you,” I demurred.  “I’ve never climbed with ropes and gear.”

“Well, you were up there in the eagle’s nest, so fear’s not stopping you.”

He called it the eagle’s nest, like I do, I thought.

“No, not afraid, just that, ehhh, it’s going to be dark before long. You can’t climb in the dark.” I was hedging, still not convinced I should trust these dudes.

“No worries; we came prepared with a couple of floods to light up the top, and for the lower rocks,” I saw as he pointed, a small fire burning in a nicely constructed stone pit.  A cast iron skillet and kettle sat on a rock in the middle of the fire.  These guys appeared to be quite competent.

“There’s nuttin’ to it. C’mon, we’ll show you. Oh, yeh, I’m Jake, dude next me, brother Billy, and the short one we call “Short Pants.”

“Johnny,” Short Pants corrected with a heavy sigh. Then Johnny turned and leapt to the rock face, scrambling halfway up faster than a lizard.

“Wow, you’re good,” I shouted to him. I had climbed this giant boulder before, but never from the west facing vertical backside, always from the somewhat easier sloping south side, the side everyone climbed to “conquer the Dragon.”

“C’mon up,” he yelled back while dropping lines of rope to the ground.  “I’ll help you from the top.”

Jake held out the sit harness. “Put this on.  We’ll help you all the way.  Billy can free climb right alongside you while I stay grounded for the anchoring.” 

What the hell, I thought, if bold endeavors were good enough for Hellen Keller, “Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing,” they were good enough for me.  Besides, I intuited this was just another test in my quest.

Turned out I was a natural.  A lifetime of rock scrambling and high terrain hiking had called into necessity many free-climbing moves. After strapping on both harnesses, and following a speed course on rock climbing rigging, “belays, carabiners, daisy chains…”  I climbed.  Billy gave names to moves I had learned instinctually, chimney, bumping, nubs, crimping, bridges.  I felt I was in familiar territory, not just the climbing but the boys.  Maybe my kin had climbed with their kin a long, long time ago…some of these thoughts and feelings I’m only now understanding.

The point was, I made it and the guys hadn’t needed to use the ropes for me.  I made it to the top by free-climbing the sheer face of a fifty-foot high rock wall.  “Eeee—y-a-w-p!” I yelled with joy, though my legs wobbled from tension and exertion. Billy and Johnny hugged me, Jake cheered from the ground, and we all laughed together.  They were genuinely happy for me; their smiles filled me with a sense of camaraderie, my family, my sons?  Who would have thought?  I felt humbled and embarrassed for my original negativity.  An old adage whispered in my mind: Never judge a book by its cover.

After breathing in the moment, with the last light of day a silver sliver across the western mountains, I got to rappel down, happy now for the harness. A dream fulfilled, a test taken and passed. 

Once back on the ground, I headed for my tent, intent on sheltering for the rest of the evening where I would eat my bread and drink my water in solitude.  The smell of sizzling burgers filled the air. Billy called out, “Beverly, would you like to come eat with us?”  

“No thank you, guys, I’m fasting.  Just bread and water for me.”

“You don’t have to eat our food, but why don’t you sit with us and drink our tea?  Bobby suggested.

“Sassafras tea,” Billy chimed in.  “We picked the sassafras right here,” he said pointing to the forest edge.

“Really? What does sassafras taste like?” I wondered.

“You know, sassparillo, like root beer.”  Jake held up a fresh plant with the root still attached. “The root gives the strongest flavor… here taste.”

I chewed the root and smiled at the fresh root beer taste.  “Delish,” I chirped.

“Here, have some tea,” Johnny offered, holding out a blue and white speckled camping mug.

How could I refuse.  These young gentlemen had been so kind to me, teaching me new rock climbing skills.  Teaching me about local plants.  I accepted the mug and sat on a rock near the fire.  The burgers smelled divine but I stayed with my fast, my bread and now sassafras tea.  

We sat around the fire, watching shadows flicker on the sheer rock face.  It had been a five star day.

Jake was the first to speak, pointing to my drum.  “I’ve been looking at your drum.  It’s a beauty.  Where did you buy it?

“I made it,” I answered proudly.

“No way! Wow!  Can I drum?” 

Seeing this as a chance to return their kindness, I suggested, “Yes, play it!  By all means.  In fact, take it up to the aerie where you first saw me.  When you drum, it will echo through the valley.”

Jake held Her Brave Heart in his hands. His eyes grew larger, clearly marveling at the drum as if it were a precious gem, matching the reverence I felt. Billy and Johnny stood up.

Jake took the mallet out of the back of it and began to play.  The three of them toe-hopped around the camp fire for a few moments, whooping their joy, ativistic actions echoing ancient ancestors.  

Then they stopped! “Really, you don’t mind?”

“No, I don’t mind.  In fact, it would make me happy.”

Billy lit the way with his flashlight while Jake drummed and Johnny hummed.  I could tell by their risen voices when they had reached the aerie and smiled at their joyous, whooping and hollering.  While they drummed, I prepped my tent for night, getting my gear ready to head out in the morning.  When I had finished, I sat in the sand near the fire, watching the embers glow, filled with gratitude and a knowing I didn’t have three days ago.

Eventually my new friends returned, firelight flickering over the smiles on their faces.  “Your drum is amazing,” Jake said.  Johnny and Billy nodded in agreement.  

“You are, too, ma’am,” Billy blurted.  “I mean, you must be somewhere between 30 and 40 years old, and yet you’re up here, out here all alone. Plus! you made your own drum.  I don’t know if I could do any of that by myself.”  

I felt the knowing my journey had given me and made a prediction. “Actually, I believe each of you will do something like this not too far in the future.  In fact, I know you will, and I know each of you will do amazing things with your lives,” I said, gifting a blessing.

“It’s late guys.  I’m tired; I’m gonna hit the hay.  We’ll talk more in the morning before I push off.”  With that, I crawled into my tent, zipped the rain flap and soon fell asleep through dreams of rappelling off rocks and swopping through air.  

Sometime later, the wind began speaking, rising to a howl.  A fog gathered in the valley, drifted through the forest and shrouded Dragon’s Tooth in a heavy mist.  Unable to fall back into sleep, I waited until I had enough light to move about, took down my tent, and packed the last of my gear.  

Three hammocks hung from six thin-trunked maples that sheltered the site.  The wind continued it’s blustering while the hammocks swayed.  I could barely make out huddled bodies cacooning in sleeping bags.

Ready, but a little reluctant to go, I thought about waking them to say goodbye.  Then I had a better idea.  What if I just left?  The howling was so loud they wouldn’t notice.  They would wake in the morning and find me missing, or rather they would not find me, just an empty space…everything gone…only the wind to leave them wondering just a bit…was all that for real?  Had she really been here?  

A bit of mystery keeps the mind curious.

       

Offerings: “I am grateful for what I am and have.” HDT

I collect stones, driftwood, shells, etc. It’s not an easy thing for me to resist bringing them home. But I have discovered that if instead I make an offering with them, and record that act, I am less inclined to acquire and more inclined to “let it go.” After all, how much do we need? And of course, some of those rocks are quite heavy.

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I actually took all of the rocks you see on this ledge home with me. In the back of my mind I kept feeling gluttonous for that act. Finally, I went alone and gave them back from whence they came.

This second time, on my way return to the car, I spotted this boulder.  I held in my hand a lovely, palm-sized red stone I had picked up after replacing all the others.  I am a rock cleptomaniac. Should I take home my hand-held stone?  Should I leave it in this quiet place? 

” I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. It is surprising how contented one can be with nothing definite, only a sense of existence. Well, anything for variety. I am ready to try this for the next ten thousand years, and exhaust it. How sweet to think of ! my extremities well charred, and my intellectual part too, so that there is no danger of worm or rot for a long while. My breath is sweet to me. O how I laugh when I think of my vague, indefinite riches. No run on my bank can drain it, for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment. ” Henry David Thoreau

Vulcanized: Thrown into a Fire

“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.”    Henry David Thoreau

The path I tread over and over again these days is very narrow, very crooked, very jagged.  It leads me to that which I am in love: volcanoes.  Well, not just any volcano, and not so much the lava spewing caldera (though I have dawdled in awe near such a one) but rather the five or six volcanoes sitting in a southerly row on the west mesa of the Rio Grande rift valley.  

 

I do not visit as often as I would like.  I would live on one of these ancients if I were allowed.  JA, Black, Bond, Vulcan, Anam Cara (soul friend), all beckon, ...a tiny hut would do, a one-room cabin like Thoreau’s, or a simple cave from which to safely watch the weather unfold.

Power dwells here, along with peace and possibility, but also danger.  Tread nonchalantly at your peril.  This rattler is but one example of the many inhabitants: 

Startled on top of JA

But where you might find hell, you might also find heaven.  The noisy world of the city is replaced by silence…..the air sometimes so still, so serene…where solitude, ceremony, and insight sit side by side by side.  Come!  Walk with reverence. You will see (Carlos Cataneda-type ‘seeing”) not only visual wonder, you will see what wonder is and what can be.

What wonder is: the diversity of our planet.  These critters can all be found on one volcano…Anam Cara.  They are various bugs of the beetle variety.  Wonder-full.

What can be:  the image below begs you to imagine…

As the earth rotates counter-clockwise away from the sun, I give myself over to the swirl of the planet, orientate to the dance, and feel myself moving…a speck on the edge of this great sphere, grasping my proper place in the immensity of that which I am part.  Feeling, also, my connectedness to the universe and to infinity.  

Sometimes I climb seeking the full moon, and try to catch  the rising moon in my hands, 

 

 

 

 

 

then release the setting sun with breath.

If I stand on a volcano and wave my arms, I might produce the “butterfly effect” sending new winds, new events circling the earth.

If I stand atop a volcano and shout, “Take care of our planet!  Take care of our beautiful home,” I might change the course of fate.  It is right that I should consider these things both heavy and light, light as a beetle’s wings and as calamitous as human demise.  Vulcanized.

Stroke by Stroke (Life as Art)

sculptor
“He is the true artist whose life is his material; every stroke of the chisel must enter his own flesh and bone and not grate dully on marble.” Thoreau’s Journal: June 23, 1840

“She, too, is the true artist whose life is her material; every stroke of the chisel must enter her own flesh and bone and not grate dully on marble.”

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Stroke, n. — a mark made by drawing a pen, pencil, or paintbrush in one direction across paper or canvas.

Whether stroke of the chisel or strokes on canvas…the painter’s canvas…the canvas of life, we create what we choose to live, we live what we choose to create.  Creation: a beginning and an ending.  Alpha and Omega.

This time, perhaps, you choose a life uncommon.

If the muse smiles upon us, our efforts may look or feel divinely inspired.

Often our attempts at chiseling away at the marble, at the rose stone, at the life before us is a bungled lump of clay or dough.  That clay, that dough, we must fold in upon itself and simply let it be; let it rest.

DSCF0425Stroke of Dawn, n. — a time of day.

We think when young (not far beyond born, living our most recent dawn) we think we are gods and goddesses who will live forever. We are gods and goddesses falling upward* …born artist or activist, oligarch or musician, capitalist or clown, pauper, priest or penitent.

We will live forever.  We do live forever.  Matter cannot be destroyed (Law of Conservation of Mass Energy).  We cannot be destroyed, yet we disperse.  We come together and we come apart. ** Where do you think goes the slough of skin, the hair follicles, the detritus of your ever-changing body?

During these processes we will get wounded.  And OH how we may hurt!  It can’t be helped.  It may even devastate?

What do you wish for in your second, third, twenty-seventh apostasy?

canoe-paddle-2Stroke, v.an act of moving one’s hand or an object across a surface, applying gentle pressure, or constant pressure, [eternal pressure].

One stroke, then another, we paddle our swift, sometimes rickety, crafts through life.

Across the River Styx and back to first shore – ever vigilant.

Either we face our demons, or we may become one.

We are Warriors.  We are Angels.  We are Friends.

We live fiercely!  Let us not be Foes.

If we are fortunate, we stroke the skin of those we love and laugh with abandon.

Stroke, v. the act of hitting or striking someone or something a blow.

sculptor-3Art is an act of activism.  To make Art we must Act.  Art.  Activism.  Redundant?

Yes!  Strike the chisel over and over again.  Seek perfection.

I shall pierce my HEART and feel it bleed love and wonder, fear and frustration, sorrow and awe.

Sore feet, sore hands, sore heart and mind; I want to experience everything!

And having felt it all, decide what is good for me and what is bad. “…And not to feel when i have come to die I never really lived.”

I will write it; I will dance it; I will scream it from the mountaintops.

I will drum it; I will test it; I will inhale it from the canyon ravines.

Discernment marks my quest, Yet I trip so many times: over the stone and stumble, under the rock and rumble,

Schisms, and chasms, and stuck between.

I shall pierce my SOUL, leaking promise and potential, to know the truth of IT…to be true to myself this moment in the universe as honestly as I am able in the spiral dance of life.

Stroke of Genius, n. – a thought or an act of brilliance.

May we be so fortunate to follow in the footsteps of those we revere.  Oh, to experience even a single stroke of genius!

Stroke, v. – to caress.

I have felt the winter wind whisk mere wisps of hellish flailing; every living thing shuddering, trembling, quaking at once.  I have felt the whisper of love on my cheek, the breath of those I adore caressing my skin.

Stroke of Luck, n. –- something good that happens to you by chance.

Having your best friend nearby when you are struck down by circumstance.

Stroke, n. – a sudden disabling attack or loss of consciousness caused by an interruption in the flow of blood to (part of, all of) the brain, especially through seizure.

We cannot know when life’s circumstances may seize us and render us incapacitated.  It is terrifying to feel yourself lose control…wave-1as if out on a great, wild sea watching the water’s wide wave approach, lifting you up to dizzying heights of fatalism.  Yet, if you are fortunate (I cannot speak for always), a calm overtakes you at the beginning of the tempest.  You give yourself to the fates as willingly as you give yourself to a wise teacher.

We ride into the storm relinquishing ourselves to destiny, the ending of which even Fate is not certain…though sometimes, it seems, the outcome may be a matter of choice.

On November 12, 2016 I suffered a stroke.  I write now from the visual perspective of 120 degrees having lost partial sight, peripheral vision, in my right eye.  I write now from the philosophical perspective, the intuitive perspective of a great many degrees more.  I am a fortunate one.

Stroke, v. – an act of moving one’s hand or an object across a surface, applying gentle pressure.

Oh mother, father, lover, child, friend…sister, teacher, adversary: caress my fragile, fight-filled, sometimes frightened soul that I may know we live.  Soothe me with murmurs of eternity…

In my next apostasy:

img_0066Far below…I’m the shadow on the hill.

High above…I’m the ghost rain tendril.

Gaze across…the plains of Augustine.

I’m the cloud…living out my next dream…next dream…next dream.

Look at me, I’m flying!

Further Inquiry:

Music and Book Credits

  • A Life Uncommon, Jewel
  • Falling Upward, Richard Rohr
  • Ain’t Life a Brook, Ferron

Art and Photo Credits (in order of appearance):

Sculptor at work – stock photo

Weight Loss – Alexis, 2003

Self-Made Man – Bobbi Carlyle, 2000

Dawn & Vulcan Clouds – Beverly Salas, 2016


Chasing Water…Finding Flowers

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Rio Grande del Norte Taos, NM

Gradually, the village murmur subsided, and we seemed to be embarked on the placid current of our dreams, floating from past to future as silently as one awaked to fresh morning or evening thoughts. Henry David Thoreau

How blessed are we who can ride these currents, swim with the fish, dance in two mile high gardens?  Gratitude, humbled by the scope of nature, and the gift we have been given.

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Clarity on the East Fork, San Juan River, CO

You there! Mingle in the mountains, waltz with the wind, float the rivers big and small.  Give yourself over to the current…cooling your skin wetting your soul.

We went seeking relief from the heat.  North! Taos, Pagosa Springs, Durango.  We went seeking water; we are Pisces by nature, if not by birth.  We will ride most anything down a river, including our will.  Lacking flotation devices, we often take up a mask and snorkel.  64 degree water is difficult to swim, but still possible.  These things are not without risk; though most people shy from physical discomfort.

Why…why not bear witness to universal truths using all of your senses?

Time is but a stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. It’s thin current slides away,
but eternity remains…(hdt)

Inhale slowly, smell the rain-soaked mountains, truly see them.  Stick your finger in a sun-dappled columbine and taste.  Sh-h-h-h, listen to the breathless wind call out while birds and bees sing their rejoicing!

Feeling acutely aware…the rivers, the mountains, the air we breathe come from almost forever.  We live here but a moment.   Let’s be OK with that!

 

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The Unbearable Darkness of Seeing

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  The Unbearable Darkness of Seeing: Part I

“The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us.” HDT

I awoke to find myself falling down a deep, dark hole. How could this be happening when all the “omens” were aligned?

Yet now it seems I must agree with those who believe that people who see “signs” and Points of Convergence (see blog, Jan 14)) see nothing but a human construct born out of desperation: the need to ascribe meaning to it all.  But there is no meaning, there only “is” which is to say, our state of being.

Good god!  How many times must we have our world rocked before we give in…give up…realize coincidences are the children of chance?  Fate does not exist…merely odd coincidences we want to call fate because of our seemingly inherent need to understand at least some of the chaos.

There is no meaning!!!

Convergence is happenstance!  I have been running a fool’s errand lo these many years…always looking for the “connections” the universe has planned for me. Ha!  Such hubris!  The universe does not care. The universe does not contrive..the universe is but a molecular construct. Do not relegate events to unseen powers!  That is just more/different religious bullshit.

Searching for Thoreau…lost.  Where? I do not know!

Security…the word exists but the state of being secure does not.  Security = chimera = an illusion or fabrication of the mind; an unrealizable dream. a construct with no real foundation – a castle in the air.

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” HDT

I set in pounds upon pounds of solid foundation. I did my work, more than my share, yet in the end I looked the fool.  Do I now tell Thoreau to go to hell?  He wouldn’t hear me anyhow.

“There is no value in life except what you choose to place upon it and no happiness in any place except what you bring to it yourself.” HDT

Points of Convergence/The Circle Game

“The universe is wider than our view of it.” –Henry David Thoreau

Has this ever happened to you?  The answer, or that thing you’ve been searching for, was actually right there all along? You passed by it many times, but you did not “see”?  At least not immediately. DSCF1606But then, once you truly opened your eyes, once you zoomed in the lens and found your focal point, your vision became clear.  You had to laugh!  Laugh at yourself for being such a blunderhead. Laugh at the universe for playing games with you.

Do you see it?  The town’s name?  My blog: searchingforthoreau?   The town I have been passing through for weeks now.

DSCF1602Henry David Thoreau, one of my heroes, gave a great deal of his life over to communing with nature while transcending the material world.

I give as much as I can!   (Who hasn’t said that before?)  I could do with less.  I could give more.

Yet a man (or a woman) has to eat.

Plus, I love the classroom, a petri dish of human interaction where tremendous growth and change can take place  It’s always a grand adventure.

During my search for employment to get paid the bread, to buy the bread, it was necessary to travel to Crownpoint, NM a number of times.  To and fro my friend and I would go, across the vast landscape, in awe of the majestic scenery.DSCF1605 - Copy

Dreams and vows and lives converge…

One Dream: to live with Native Americans, to learn their ways. Many years ago my family immersed itself in the way by way of the of the cowboy and Indian genre on television shows.  We couldn’t get enough of them…shows that featured the wild west.  Who to root for? Simple for me. Who to pretend you were while playing with the neighborhood kids?  I played Tonto. I played Sacagawea.

I Vowed:

“Honor all with whom we share the Earth:
Four-leggeds, two-leggeds, winged ones,
Swimmers, crawlers, plant and rock…”DSCF1548

“Regard heaven as your father, earth as your mother, and all that lives as your brother and sister.” –Navajo Proverb–

I wanted to walk that path as closely as a white person is able. I found Henry David Thoreau when I was sixteen and understood: this nature-loving white man’s words and ways would help me hold the Navajo ethos close to my heart.

   Points of Convergence

100_7233 Destiny or Chance? Fate or Coincidence? What’s your take?

The desire to teach again, to live the Navajo way, to live like Thoreau: with nature while writing about nature (both human nature and nature nature) found me creating a blog, but also interviewing for a position on the faculty at the Navajo Technical University. The Humanities Dept Chair showed me around the campus.  We walked and talked and at one point we watched a huge bird, silhouetted against the sun’s own sky, swoop up and over an escarpment. Prof. Tallant confessed, “When I die, I want to come back as a bird, a raven to be exact; they have attitude and altitude.”  I quickly responded, “Me too! If I get to live again, I want to return flying, like a keen-eyed hawk.”

In the bookstore 2 hours later:  On a jacket and on a sweatshirt hanging on the racks, on the T-shirts folded neatly on shelves, I saw the NTU mascot, the university spirit animal.  One of the T-shirts proclaimed, “We are the flying hawks!”

I will be a flying hawk…reincarnation through teaching.  Very interesting, you must agree?

Not until I was back home in Albuquerque, recalling my wish for reincarnation and the flying hawks did it all connect…I have been passing through Thoreau twice a visit.  I will be teaching literature and writing to the flying hawks of NTU. I will continue driving every week through Thoreau on my way to Crownpoint, driving across (and soon exploring) some of the most magnificent expanses of nature a heart can hold.  Henry David would have much to say about that!

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“Not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.” –Henry David Thoreau

Thanksgiving Metamorphosis “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” -HDT

My mother died in mid-October on a blue-sky, Sunday morning. Devoutly religious, the timing of her passing—the Lord’s Day—was in and of itself somewhat mystical. Given a choice, Sunday would surely have been the day she would have chosen for her soul to rise up to her God. Knowing this gave me peace and a soft smile.

Yet ever since God slammed the life out of my nineteen year old sister, killed in a car crash where she was the only casualty, I have remained a skeptic, an agnostic regarding the Holy Spirit. Not my mother. In spite of that sorrow, she saw her eighty- eight year life as an on-going opportunity to reflect God’s glory by giving to all those around her.

Mom had a butterfly collection. Not real ones, but butterflies of all materials and sizes: metallic butterfly magnets, wooden butterfly wall hangings, plastic butterfly kitchen aides—yellow, orange, blue, and golden butterflies—half inch butterfly envelope stickers, along with two foot square butterfly paintings. The flight of more than seventy butterflies floating about her walls and gardens begged the question, Why such an affinity for butterflies?

My mother’s naming me the executrix of her will (my father had already passed) necessitated many trips between my home near Baltimore, MD and her home in northern Pennsylvania. The weeks went by and winter drew near; I sensed a pressing need to complete my duties distributing and dissolving her assets. These obligations required me to work in my childhood home for several days at a time, week after week, clearing out the detritus of fifty years.

I had traveled yet again to Pennsylvania on Thanksgiving, first to spend the day with my sister and her children, then to continue with the dissolution of Mom’s estate. On the Sunday following Thanksgiving, feeling both physically and emotionally exhausted, I took a break.

My car transported me 20 miles south to Wilkes-Barre, a small city bordered on the north by the Susquehanna River. Autumn’s leaves were long gone; winter weather had set in weeks before, yet the afternoon bloomed unseasonably warm, the air crisp and refreshing as I walked the river trail along its shore. The Susquehanna felt alive, a living breathing presence stretching its tendrils wide, lapping gently where water met land, gurgling as it passed over shoals and sand creating eddies and swirls. River grasses whispered with the wind. Sights and sounds, sun and air. I gave myself to the elements, breathing in a dreamy, hypnotic peace after weeks of sorrow.

Lost in memories, wondering about the meaning of life, the value of any one life, my heart posed several questions to the universe…questions as prayers. Is spirit real? Does the soul exist? Do we get to come back?

A fluttering about my face brought me back to the present where a brilliantly beautiful, blue and black butterfly floated by. In northern Pennsylvania! Near November’s end. Coincidence or response?
Metamorphosis…Mother….Mariposa…….Thanksgiving!  metamorphosis

Vision Quest 2014: Walking the Path…

“This world is but a canvas to our imagination.” -HDT

The Human Quandary: What path do I see my life traveling along? Where, or How, can I best be of service to the planet and to all of its beings? Questions need answering…the desert calls. The Salas ranch provides a haven, though neither a house nor a barn provide protection. A tent will serve as shelter.

The truck bounces along a dirt road passing through barbed-wire fences that divide many square miles of rock, sage, sand, and an occasion cedar. The Sierra Ladrones rise in the south, the Dough mountains in the west, the Sandias and the Manzano Mts to the east. At the campsite…at the base of three mesas, with scrub cedar, juniper and boulders for shade, I quickly set up my tent, open my camp chair, and head for the hills.

Evening of the first day: Returning from a good hike along arroyos and up foothills, I keep track of the sun moving beyond the high red mesa. I stop and try to sense the earth’s rotation 1,000 mph, 465 meters per second, away from the sun. The mesa’s shadow creeps along the adjacent mountain. If you watch too closely or think about it too much, you’ll feel light-headed. Revolution takes longer, yes; yet the years spin away with dizzying alacrity.

Twenty one years ago, almost to the day, I began my seven-day vision quest in the Valley of the Gods, Utah. Twenty one years ago! What did I learn? What was I “told?” What was I given? A poem:
I have been a sailor out on the sea. Where is my next discovery?
Where will I go? What will I see?
Who is this woman born from infinity?
Who is this woman I’m now trying to be?
Teacher, I became a teacher along the way…using art, literature, and philosophical wordplay.

But that was then… Presently, the sun disappears behind the red mesa, going…going…gone. Looking east, across the plain, the shadows continue their inexorable path to the Sandia Mts, forty miles farther. Another hour perhaps before they, too, wait in shadow for our next-day sun. Gnats and mosquitos descend quickly as the wind dies down. Sunset breezes leave these foothills…floating eastward.

DSCF0976A fire becomes necessary to keep the gnats at bay. When my meager fire burns out, I will retreat to my tent. Yet, it is so early! Not even six, perhaps…can’t be sure…I’ve left my phone behind.

I wonder how I will pass the time since I am NOT supposed to sleep (according to Sioux tradition). I am supposed to keep myself awake as long as I possibly can, pushing myself, not giving way to human inclination: the need to sleep. Finally, when the human condition can no longer be resisted…the quester sleeps and dreams a dream, interpreting the images through metaphors and symbolism, guiding the dreamer’s quest into the future. My dream will guide my path for years to come, as did the one I had in Utah. Thoreau counselled, “Live the life you have dreamed.”

Crazy Horse went out into the wilderness on a vision quest several years earlier than Sioux tradition. He told no one he was going, knowing he was considered too young. Sioux believed the vision gave a man his power. Without it, he was nothing. With a vision, the dreamer was in touch with his sacred powers. After fasting and staying awake for two days, Crazy Horse collapsed and dreamed of a warrior on horseback riding out of a lake. His horse kept changing colors. A man appeared before him, a spirit guide, and told him to wear plain clothes, never wear a warrior headdress, to wear only one feather. Crazy Horse’s father later interpreted his dream: Crazy Horse was to look after the helpless, provide food for the hungry. He must lead the people and never take anything for himself…he must seek a life of simplicity (Crazy Horse and Custer, Stephen E. Ambrose).

The ethos of simplicity. Thoreau would have liked Crazy Horse and his father. “As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.”

Fasting and Solitude: I, too, am on a fast here in the desert, but think it should be called a “slow” as one slowly starves. The pangs of hunger hurt, but I’ve done this before.  I am up to it!  Noticing some juniper berries on the bush behind my tent, I think that it will be alright to nibble just a couple in the morning.

Night Skies: The shadow’s veil overtakes a train running a parallel course with the shadow’s edge…how perfectly the shadow and the train are framed. The evening light renders everything exquisitely magical. All is salmon-colored with dots of green shrub from here to the Sandia’s, a glorious glow with a whisper, “Thank you.”

Quickly now the light fades: I turn my camp chair toward the northern night. Starkly silent, the air dances in darkness and surrounds me. The Big Dipper stands out above the horizon in the deep, dark universe directly in front me. Soon several shooting stars add to the celebration. The Milky Way shimmers beyond. I feel blessed…filled with humility and gratitude…thank you…thank you…so humbling to be this human shown this magnificent night sky display. I sit in wonder for I don’t know how long, lost in the space of possibility.

Reality draws me back to earth. It is freezing, yet I need warmth! To the tent to wrap myself in three sleeping bags, one jacket, two sweatshirts and a T. What time is it? Many, many hours before daylight; the late September night grows long. I feel incredibly alone, yet I have no fear this time (after years upon years of solo camping). Tonight I hear but one coyote far, far away. The Valley of the Gods drifts through memory…its stark beauty but also the rattlesnakes, the hunger, the thirst for human companionship.

Sometime in the middle of the night: The cold is visceral. I am trembling. A high-domed tent is not a good choice for a solo sleep out…not enough body heat nor warm breath. Can’t sleep though my body screams for it! Tossing, turning…hoping for, but finding no visions…just weird not-dreams, disjointed faces and images, and acute hunger calling for food.

The evening and morning were the 2nd Day: The air has warmed from 40 to 60 degrees. Where to climb? Hunger limits my capacity for distance, plus I have this bum foot that refuses to keep quiet. Right now, the foot doesn’t enjoy the hikes of many, many miles. I go for height instead. After a steep and difficult climb, I reach the promontory facing south toward the pyramid shaped mesa and the Sierra Ladrones..the mountain silhouette stunning in its solitude.DSCF0992

Rolling boulders down the sides of high mesas, always a treat! So is the shade in which I sit way up high, looking out across the white, red, and black mesas. I can see my tent and the uninhabitable trailer where several families of mice long ago took up residence (hanta virus central).

Back at my camp site: The afternoon wind, colder and stronger than yesterday, whiplashes my tent, collapsing a third of it. I wrestle wildly with the wind to put my shelter back together again, finally finish, collapse in my chair and ask out loud, “Was that a sign? Should I leave?” I ask myself, Do I want to put up with a night worse than last’s? Again I call out loud, “Was that a sign?” Immediately, a redbird lands on the cedar just two feet above my head, clearly singing to me. She has my attention. We converse a bit: she whistles; I talk. Suddenly she flies to my truck and lands on top of it, singing loudly; she flits two feet above the truck and lands on it again. Three times she lands on the truck all the while chirping to me. Then she flies down the dirt road the same way I came in.

A sign, clearly; yet I am reluctant to leave. I haven’t had my dream. I need to stay! One and a half days? 36 hours? What kind of warrior wants to run from the weather, a simple challenge? My friends will laugh at me. Now I understand why Crazy Horse told no one where he was going. If he didn’t succeed…

The wind roars louder and colder through the canyons. Who is a warrior, I wonder? It used to be important to be considered such, “A warrior on the path of knowledge,” as Castaneda put it. Am I still? Fuck it! I have nothing to prove. I proved my mettle twenty-one years ago…seven days and nights alone in the desert! Besides, we who live in the 21st Century with climate change, endless war, ubiquitous advertising, global-sized corporations, hegemony, disease, and dissembling…Aren’t we all warriors of one ilk or another? It’s just that not all of us choose to be (have the luxury to be?) on the path of knowledge.

In the truck, on the way home, my own spirit guide reminds me that I have been both teaching and writing since the 4th grade. I have fought for the planet, for justice, and for peace. I know the way.

“What lies behind us and what lies ahead are tiny matters to what lives within us.”

Henry David Thoreau

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