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.
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
“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.”
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.
Stroke 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?
Stroke, 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.
Art 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…as 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:
Far 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.
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.
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?
North of Pagosa Springs, CO
Rio Grande meets Red River, NM
East Fork, San Juan River, CO
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!
Engineer Mountain, Silverton, CO
Behind Mora, NM
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!
“What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.” Henry David Thoreau
Though I have posted a couple of photo collages, I have not written my blog since January 2015 when I was body slammed by circumstances beyond my control (see Unbearable Darkness…Part 1 and before that Points of Convergence). My belief system, my ego, my career all collapsed in a crumble of lost dreams and what I then felt were false “signs.” Life kicked the chair out from underneath me, and I found myself wondering how, where, or even IF I fit in. I was despondent.
Gratitude It took two weeks of mourning lost opportunities and employment before I could even begin to feel as though life were worth the effort. Soon, my friend Louisa invited me to participate in a 100 Day Project. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I decided to feel and express gratitude for all the good fortune I had received.
Augury Four days into my gratitude project (keeping a daily journal about the people, events, and things for which I give thanks), after he spoke at a UNM climate change rally, I met Dr. Bruce Milne: Director of the Sustainability Studies Program at the University of New Mexico. Many people had told me over the course of two years that I must meet Dr. Milne for he and I shared a goal of sustainable lifestyles as a way of life.
Ironically, following on the heels of my Unbearable Darkness and false signs, upon introducing myself and quickly outlining my skill set, Dr. Milne said our meeting was a “sign”… the answer to a prayer he had sent out to the universe. He described his prayer to me along with several other auspicious signs he had received just prior to my introduction. As he spoke, I saw the sparkle of a tiny, joyful tear in his eye, as if to say, “The universe does deliver what we pray for.” Turns out, he had wished for someone with exactly my skills (along with a minor in Sustainable Studies) to help him transform two of his dreams into reality.
Had his prayer changed the course of my life? When, exactly, had he sent out that prayer? Did the fate of my true path require the collapse of an alternate destiny?
Gratitude Dr. Milne had also been deeply engaged in expressing gratitude. To that end, he had developed and written “The Method: Mindfulness and Gratitude Practices to Achieve Personal and Collective Sustainability.” How’s that for Points of Convergence? He wanted his text transformed to a book. Thus, a month after my world collapsed, I was hired by UNM’s Sustainability Studies Program (an alternate dream of mine) to help create a book. Additionally, through our collaboration, we brought Indian scholar, environmental activist and anti-globalization author, Vandana Shiva to the University of New Mexico where she beautifully encouraged a sold out audience to believe, “We are all seeds of creativity.”
…the answer to someone’s prayer. Giving up on signs and no longer believing in fate, I had become someone else’s sign and fate. One has to laugh. By helping to bring gratitude, peace and most importantly, light, into my community, I had allowed light to shine in my heart again. Thus continues, the Circle Game.
More than ten years ago, in July of 2004, I still lived in a glen by a creek that runs through Mink Hollow, near Highland, Maryland. Mink Hollow was a magical place: a river ran through it, a forest surrounded it. We danced. Lovely, you say? Indeed! Sadly, familiarity breeds, for me at least, a bit of the wanderlust. Which is why on Wednesday, July 14th, 2004 I found myself solo camping in Taos, NM after my first year of teaching high school. I sought the southwest knowing I could easily find solace, knowing I could truly be alone; seeking, like Thoreau, to get “to the essential part of me.” I needed a salve for the knocks and bruises accumulated during ten months spent butting heads with 130, sixteen year old students. I had learned and felt so much!
Sitting on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Rio Grande Gorge in 2004, I wrote this in my journal:“Forgive meMink Hollow for wanting anything, any place, other than you. I do not understand this longing for the long view, but it feels so very palpable. Sitting at the edge, here at the gorge, or on a mountain top in Magdalena, seeing the gold and green overlapping mountain ranges before me, or the layers of earth revealed through infinity, I am filled with a lovely peace…the, I am truly “home” kind of peace. Here lies heaven: the smell of juniper and pinon; the rattle of snake and cicada, the whispering trees; the glorious blue sky yet more vivid juxtaposed against white clouds.
I am entranced…………..
To have access to mesas on the weekends, to be able to set out with regularity to the mountains…higher, and higher still…where silence has a sound… To call New Mexico home would be beyond my most imaginative dreams…the senses in perpetual, delightful overload.
I cannot paint a true picture using only words; regrettably: my poetic palette lacks the range. Hopefully, photos and words metaphorically wed to help you see. How does one with mere syllables exalt mesas? or mountain peaks? or high altitude streams? Instead…I return to breath, I bow. I praise. I listen to my soul’s longing.”
Seven years after that journal entry, I moved to New Mexico. I found my Walden. I call the wild places home. Some nights you may see me running with the wolves!
“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” –Henry David Thoreau
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?
“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.
A 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.
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.”
“It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” –Henry David Thoreau
The open page, like the long-view vista, invites dreaming. My goal: to look inward as well as reach outward and note the infinite connections we share. I hope my journey will inspire questions, dialogue, and collaboration. Walk with me in the wild. Listen to what the wind has to say. Talk to your neighbors. Keep your ears, eyes, and mind alert. Together we will create new meanings and new perspectives.