i’ll tell you how the sun rose.

Emily Dickinson became my favorite poet when I turned 8.  I have read probably every one of her poems, but I’ve always felt sneaky reading them.  I knew she hadn’t necessarily intended on publishing them, she just kept locked up in her room, died young, and they were published posthumously when discovered.  But those things aside, the words, the hiatuses, the subjects of Emily’s poetry always fascinated me.  I suddenly would become acutely aware of what a young girl to middle aged woman in the late 1800s sees from her little, foggy window in a creaking, wooden house.  She was an eccentric lady dressed in all white who suddenly became a recluse and made most contact with people through correspondence until she died in her room.

When I was little, I remember her use of the word “amethyst” to describe the sunset on the mountains always fascinated me.  I would sit up on my hill and watch Chestnut Ridge light up in that exact amethyst, see the sun blaze off the steeples in the town across the valley, and try to write my own poems about it.  I also loved her frequent use of the bird bobolink and how she once, in a letter, referred to herself as being as “small” as a wren, her hair “bold” like a chestnut burr, and her eyes the color of “sherry that guests leave behind in their glasses”.  Because I love her sunsets, mountains, and birds so much, I’d say this poem is most likely my favorite:

318. I’ll tell you how the sun rose.

I’ll tell you how the Sun rose —
One Ribbon at a time —
The Steeples swam in Amethyst —
The news, like Squirrels, ran —
The Hills untied their Bonnets —
The Bobolinks — begun —
Then I said softly to myself —
“That must have been the Sun”!
But how he set — I know not —
There seemed a purple stile
That little Yellow boys and girls
Were climbing all the while —
Til when they reached the other side,
A Dominie in Gray —
Put gently up the evening Bars —
And led the flock away —

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happy birthday :)

And now for a bonus post…

Today is my friend Jacob’s birthday.  I met Jacob in 2012 in Anchorage, but he didn’t remember me.  Not really.  And I’ll hold that against him forever.  😉  But we caught up in Denver last year at a Conference and have been in contact since (and I think he remembers who I am, most days).  I remember he spontaneously agreed to meet up with a bunch of random people for drinks after a social event and then later agreed to go hiking with me and my friend Claire in Golden.  And for whatever reason, he decided to eventually follow my blogs.  And participate in conference calls to support my endeavors.  And to spend time talking to me, despite our difference in time zones.  (And despite the fact that I’m a total loser.)

Well, thank you, Jacob.  You’re a good person, you know how to have fun and appreciate nature, you’re invested in your heritage, and you put time into the things that matter to you.  I hope we can be friends for a very long time, and happy birthday 🙂 I’ll see you soon.

survival vs. hobby.

I have a list of books to read before I begin my volunteer teaching position.  My curriculum includes everything from self-esteem to ethics, considering that I will be teaching 8th grade.  One of the books that came in for my studies today is a book called Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv (ironically published by Algonquin Books).  I haven’t begun it yet, but I’ve been interested in reading in ever more than my other Rethinking Globalization and What Do You Stand For?, etc., titles.  I think I’m going to simultaneously enjoy the book while gawking at its blatant stupidity.  Just in reading the back cover, I get that the gist is: Louv has done a “cutting-edge” study to show how important the exposure to nature is to a child’s development.

Bahahahahahahaha….oh wait, this is a real American problem.  Kids seriously aren’t exposed to nature.  Me, I can’t imagine life without knowing nature…but there are kids who grew up in these concrete jungles who perhaps know shooting hoops after school outside, but then retreat to Huggies and fried chicken dinners from the fast food joint down the street, never even sharing a meal with their families.  I feel like this book is going to make a lot of valid, scientific points on why nature is important to the growth of a human, but the fact that anything else is even remotely considered upsets me.  It truly demonstrates how detached modern society is from nature, and makes me crave even more that I lived in a time 300 years prior so I could just walk off into the woods and neglect all these artificial expectations of my life.

Last Child in the Woods, which describes a generation so plugged into electronic diversion s that it has lost its connection to the natural world, is helping drive a movement quickly flourishing across the nation.” – The Nation’s Health

I’m sorry, but no.  There is no “movement”.  Maybe I would call it an “awakening”.  Like, so many things have become wrong to us that we even feel unhealthy, we are told we are unhealthy, and suddenly we have “discovered” this new lifestyle!  Nature!  Wowwww!!!  Like when Columbus “discovered” America!  Bahahaha don’t even get me started…

Suddenly, nature is a trend and no longer an ENORMOUS part of our existence.  We are so removed from the origin of our food and the realization that we are animals who live in family units that we can be shocked by such a layman study.  I feel like America is the biggest culprit for this blind sort of following and I associate it most closely with the “bread bowl” concept.  The Sioux author Vine Deloria, Jr. likes to advocate frequently in his writing that the “bread bowl” part of America is often a negativity, and that some form of separatism is actually healthy in maintaining cultural identity.  I think this is kind of true because I see America as that “melting point” where everyone kind of forgot what was important to their cultures enough to meld together, in the meantime losing the ability to thrive on their natural homelands.  Traditions are lost and the new, bland, boring “American lifestyle” forms.  The American “culture” soon, instead, becomes wealth and dog-eats-dog practice because everything is corporation and globalization over nationalism and humble life.  In fact, the “humble lifestyle” becomes so obsolete that it is romanticized in country songs.  That’s pathetic, though, isn’t it?

And with people forgetting what humans are, they are also forgetting what their food is.  Food is suddenly a pleasure rather than a sustenance.  It’s whatever it takes to get what you crave cheaply, quickly, and at no inconvenience to you.  Well, food used to be the motivation for society to work.  Now, I’m not so sure.  We call it “luxury”, but I think the real luxury is in understanding reality and respecting nature, not manipulating it for convenience’s sake.  Sure, pesticides and all those other chemicals grow bigger produce faster and easier, but at what expense?  Do we even know how it’s affecting us?  Do seriously so many people not consider this?  It wasn’t that long ago that Silent Spring and the DDT scare happened…what makes today any different?

I’m still not 100% the exact point at which this country went wrong, but sometimes I really hate that it doesn’t give me a choice.  My friends and I like to joke a lot about “I’m sorry because…” in group messages where we list ridiculous things we are “sorry” about.  I have a few favorites, like “I’m sorry because ankle socks fall down when I wear boots”, or “I’m sorry because traffic”, or “I’m sorry because I put deodorant on every day yet I don’t get where it goes because I have to put it on again the next day”… Well, one of my classics is “I’m sorry because I need money to legally live”.  But isn’t it true?  Hundreds of years ago, groups of people were living on this land and they didn’t have that kind of system.  They had one that looked after one another.  It was caring, sharing, and respecting both each other and the land they relied on.  Whatever happened to that?  At what point did we forget that “tinkering” outside in a garden is part of survival and not just some hobby?  That we are animals?  Why do we have to publish books that remind us our children should go outside every once in awhile instead of playing Xbox?  It seriously disturbs me…  Seriously.

my greatest fear.

I’m afraid of heights.  I’m not a fan of tight spaces.  Loud noises and bright lights horrify me, especially in the dark when I’m alone.  I don’t like walking in the woods at night.  People, in general, terrify me . These are simple fears.

Perhaps even bigger than those simple fears is my fear of vastness.  The kind of vastness that makes you feel small in a physically vulnerable sense.  Like being alone in a crowd, wondering if you’re surrounded by an army of enemies or just that one crazy guy with a knife and sticky fingers.  Like outer space, a frontier we pretend we know about but are really just fools for pretending like we can handle and explore it.  Like great spaces in the atmosphere, open stages for gravity and better evolved organisms who can fly.  Or like the depths plunging into the core of the earth, like a void opening and you have no say in where you’re falling.  But even worse, to me, is the ocean: you can drown in a puddle, but the ocean gives you that opportunity a thousand trillion times over.  A water that only makes you thirstier.  A depth so deep it would crush you.  An entire planet – the origin of life – still submersed and unknown and perfectly unaware of our feeble existence.  Waves with uncertain power and height.  The Loch Ness monster.

But no, I don’t fear those things at all.  I fear an underlying factor.  I fear: losing control.

I’m afraid of falling, of being crushed, of being overpowered.  I’m afraid of not having a say in what happens to me or how.  That’s my greatest fear, and truly my only fear.  When they say having one fear and it’s fear itself, I think it might be what they’re trying to say: fear of something overcoming you, out of your control, because that is, in a way, fear.

Fear is my own mind.  It’s my perception, my reception, my curiosity and consequent fulfillment.  Maybe that’s why I like Sylvia Plath so much – she, too, feared losing control, at least until she gained control by shutting her head in an oven.  (Her quotes in bold/italics.)

Is there no way out of the mind? 

I fear my own mind because it’s my greatest critic.  It’s never satisfied, always wanting to learn, analyze, and criticize.  Usually, I’m its only subject.  And as my most intimate judge, my mind pains me when it disapproves – as it does so often.  It’s never enough, I’m never enough, and its thoughts are impossible to escape because they are always there, silent but perpetually heard.  An unspoken speech that you already knew was coming because, well, you made it.

I’m afraid of being left to my own devices sometimes, despite always craving time for reflection – or feeling grounded.  But being alone so much can blur the lines between alone and lonely.  I start to compare myself and wonder if the life I’m living is a socially healthy one – or if being social is in actual human nature, not just the society-inflicted one.  I’m always trying to imagine a myriad of life scenarios, wondering which are the most rewarding.  Knowing I can’t control the outcome of anything.  Feeling that hopelessness and loss of control all over again.  Become evermore aware of my insanity.

And when at last you find someone to whom you feel you can pour out your soul, you stop in shock at the words you utter— they are so rusty, so ugly, so meaningless and feeble from being kept in the small cramped dark inside you so long.

But gaining control is this odd balance that actually requires letting go of it altogether.  It’s like investing a trust in something and someone else.  Not the kind of trust you hand over, but the kind that is inherently rooted there and which continues to blossom.  It’s being able to walk away from your house with all your doors unlocked and not thinking about it, your house of course being your soul.  And when you find that kind of freedom, and you’re able to carry it across all aspects of your life – well, I think that’s when you’ve finally conquered the fear of losing control, because you’ve embraced it.  You’ve gained control by losing it in the greatest sense of the irony.

I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted to lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty.
How free it is, you have no idea how free.

When you find a home in what you do and with whom you spend your time, and the only thing you can do in that place and presence is to go as you are, and couldn’t imagine not being yourself, and fear or want of something else is trivial and ridiculous… That’s how it is to be free.

the value of a moment.

13145a99f1db93827395b3771f6dec89The “value” of something these days is too often taken as monetary.  There is such a thing as becoming too sentimental about something, but I see too much of the opposite.  I hear kids whine about how “stupid” a learning activity is or how “lame” going to grandma’s is when they were just about to pass level 50 on their video game and were interrupted.  (Won’t they see the value in those moments when they’re gone?)  No one seems to enjoy “doing it by hand” anymore and, if they do, it’s because it’s trendy.  They don’t see a gain in putting their time in.  Time is money.  Everything’s about money, about attaining that “easy life”.  (Again, I think of Miranda Lambert’s song Automatic.)  And because everything is made automatically by machines and with cheaper, lighter materials, we see more affordable items of lesser quality more readily available to, well, everyone.

There’s not as much value in something just because everyone needs to have it, and so a cheap solution is made up so that everyone can.  Even iPhones and Instagram seem to make my photography less enjoyable when I feel like I could shoot a pretty good picture with just a phone, and everyone has an iPhone.  It’s kind of like sugar, once a rare thing of high demand that suddenly was cheapened so it was available to everyone – and now we can’t get away from the damned stuff.  I look back on the things stashed away in our barn that came from my grandparents’ house and I just see so many things that were actually authentic, metal, wood, not cheap plastic that just gets thrown out when it breaks.

Yesterday, I went to go look at a Starr upright piano that came with the house a lady bought and she doesn’t want it anymore.  She’s had offers to scrap it, but she didn’t think that was the right thing to do – and I’m glad.  The piano is absolutely beautiful, although it could use a little work – which I am definitely willing to do.  It’s about 110 years old, completely original, and only one key doesn’t work well.  I asked her why no one wants it.  She just doesn’t play piano; everyone else, well it’s way too heavy and it’s not a Steinway.  Starr only produced pianos between 1849 and 1949 out of Indianapolis.  At it’s best times, 18,000 pianos were being made per year.  Starr won some pretty prestigious awards in the 1890s which are displayed on painted decals across the piano.  In my research, I’ve found that this piano has the potential of a $70,000 value – or at least it should.  However, people struggle to get $10,000 for it considering how heavy it is.  I see most sold for even less than that.  This one?  Free.  But that’s because the cursed thing is made out of wood, wood, wood, metal, ropes, and wood.  Lots of good quality wood.  Much heavier than plastic and aluminum, and that’s why no one wants an old, not-Steinway, obsolete piano made of wood.

When I mentioned the piano to a friend, all he could see was the money value in it.  Well, I see more value in giving it a life and letting it age further.  It’s a piano, and I want it to be used as such – not scrapped for parts and fuel.  This thing has some serious character.  But so many people fail to appreciate character.  They just see money, trendy, glamorous,… and they turn their noses up at the idea of having to put time in to move something like this piano, especially when it’s not already in mint condition.  They don’t see the value and pride in time spent doing something with your hands.  But what will they say in 100 years, when the Starr pianos have all been chopped up and burned away??  They’ll lament the “good ole days”, probably the same way they would have lamented a nice slab of buffalo meat had they actually pushed the buffaloes into extinction.

Ironically, I had these thoughts on the same day that I watched a movie with a similar theme.  My friend had mentioned Creator, a 1985 film that I had never heard of but decided to check out anyway.  It’s about this research professor who can’t get over the loss of his wife 30 years prior, so he’s hired a student to help him regrow her through a cloning process.  During the course of the movie, the professor becomes transfixed with his project despite having a new woman around.  The student, hoping to understand “The Big Picture”, falls in love with a girl who nearly dies.  The professor sees this all play out and finally comes to term with the hard parts of life and how moments that are fleeting have value because they are fleeting, so sometimes you just have to let go of the ones that are gone.  The juxtaposition of his dead love, possible future love, and the student’s fragile love really makes you see how you must identify and indulge in good things when they’re there because they won’t be for nearly as long as you’d hope.

And finally, it also occurred to me how frightening it would be if we really kept cheapening and devaluing everything in life.  Machines are already replacing human labor.  In some aspects, I want to see this as efficient and effective.  In other aspects, it scares me.  What is the need of a workforce at all if it can just be replaced?  If, in the future, people are able to do what the professor tried to do and can grow whatever person they want…well then what is the value of a life anymore?  Oh, sorry, I accidentally shot your friend…we’ll just grow a new one.  ….It kind of reminds me of what I was saying before, when something breaks these days because it’s cheap and you can just replace it with another cheap thing.  Maybe the “good ole” days are already gone, and now I’m just starting to see the value because it’s all just memories…

I feel like this has been a classic scatterbrain entry, so I will attempt to redeem myself with some photos from my Pinterest feed of little thoughts and little things that make up a happy life if you’re little enough to see them – so enjoy:

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welfare and deloria.

I have always had a problem accepting that a day is only 24 hours long, and that my body legitimate needs to sleep a fair portion of those hours away.  I just don’t understand how one can seriously fit the utmost rewarding days in those many hours.  I wake up early to get a workout in for my own health, but I’m also expected to work an 8 hour work day and find time for meals the middle.  However, I hate being cooped up inside and I don’t like fast food, so I find myself craving to be outside as soon as I get home – and spending extra time getting adequate meals.  I also have a number of activities I enjoy doing like dance and sports and even just going to the beach or trying out a new place in town.  Well, how can I do all of these things and still find time to read books and write and draw and…play with my cats?  I’m thinking about starting a petition to make the days longer.

All of those things fall under the definition of welfare.  Welfare includes health, safety, happiness, and prosperity.  I looked up the definition when I finally got a minute to continue reading Custer Died for Your Sins by Vine Deloria, Jr.  He’s a humorous and rather crude writer who, in this particular chapter, takes time to blame Pilgrim society for our welfare problems and stereotypes.  Welfare, as in the government program.  And I got to thinking, wow – I can’t imagine what I would be doing with my time if I didn’t work…except, just kidding.  First of all, I’d be constantly looking for work.  Second, I never have nothing to do.  There’s always something!  Always a book to read, a movie to watch, or inspiration to draw or run or…yeah, you get the point.

But then Deloria makes a somewhat convicting point.  I definitely do think of people on welfare as being sloths.  I know I shouldn’t generalize, but when I think of welfare I just think of people trying to take advantage of the system and live reckless lives at others’ expenses.  I’m just going to share a couple paragraphs by Vine:

 

          There is basically nothing real about our economic system.  It is neither good nor bad, but neutral.  Only when we place connotations on it and use it to manipulate people does it become a thing in itself.
Our welfare system demonstrates better than anything else the means to which uncritical white economics can be used.  We have all types of welfare programs: old age, disability, aid to dependent children, orphanages, and unemployment.  There is continual controversy in the halls of Congress, state legislatures, and city halls over the welfare programs.
Conservatives insist that those receiving welfare are lazy and are getting a free ride at the expense of hard-working citizens.  Liberals insist that all citizens have a basic right to life and that it is the government’s responsibility to provide for those unable to provide for themselves.
What are we really saying?
Welfare is based upon the norm set up by the Puritans long ago.  A man is define as a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant, healthy, ambitious, earnest, and honest, a man whom the Lord smiles upon by increasing the fruits of his labor.  Welfare is designed to compensate people insofar as they deviate from that norm.  Insofar as a woman has an illegitimate child, she receives compensation.  Insofar as a man is disabled, he receives compensation.  Insofar as a person is too old to work, he receives compensation.
Welfare buys that portion of a person which does not match the stereotype of the real man.  Welfare payments are never sufficient, never adequate.  This is because each person bears some relation to the norm and in proportion to their resemblance, they receive less.

 

After reading this section, it struck me that old Christian ideals are really what we use to define “welfare”.  Even the government is giving handouts based on those same ideals and expectations.  Since these ideals and our democratic society define welfare and happiness, etc., as being able to afford a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear,…  We’re expected to fit into roles and family molds, so when a piece is broken and it doesn’t quite fit anymore, the government tries to patch it up.  We’re not really given a choice on how to live.  (Maybe the one exception to that is the guy that quit ordinary life to live in a cave in Moab, but I think even he has since been shut down by some loophole the government devised.)  And it’s not surprise to me that Vine is particularly aggressive against this concept of welfare.  I mean, he’s a Sioux writer and avidly denounces any and every remnant of American efforts for Indian assimilation and termination of the reservations.  He wrote this book at the end of the Termination Era and during the Civil Rights movement for blacks, so I’d say his candidness is highly justifiable.

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A famous quote by Vine Deloria, Jr.

That candidness is what causes me to love Deloria and what causes others (especially close-minded whites) to really hate him.  He has a knack for conviction and also for pounding accusatory points home.  When the points he make align with your beliefs or the ones you get from reading what he writes, then you can hardly refrain from putting your hands up and shouting

PREACH!  th (yes, that did just happen)

But he also has a tendency to totally call you out on things, like my outlook on welfare apparently aligning with a conservative mindset and his shedding light on my subconscious acceptance of the Christian perspective of welfare and success.

Ahh…and I’ve feel like I’ve done it yet again.  I tend to do this to myself, to branch out and read convicting things that sort of knock me flat and question everything I’ve come to know.  Then that leaves me trying to sort out what’s the right way to go.  I’ve already had a sense that “ordinary” life is contrived, and I’m sure that contributes to my running around like a fool trying to live it to its best and fullest, but now…now I can question my efforts all over again, from a refreshed base.  Which won’t be as hard to do if I can convince this Puritan government to accept my petition and tack on a few more hours to this ancient 24-hour-day concept.

a faltering symbiosis.

As we become more and more disconnected with our foods, we are also more and more disconnected with our world and our culture.

I can remember my storytelling grandma taking me for walks on trails through the woods where she would point out the native plants and the animals.  We would go home to her gardens that were full of native Pennsylvanian perennials.  We’d pick lovage and other vegetables from the salad garden, then rush outside after dinner with some sun tea to watch the 8-o’clock Bloom Primrose open from the gazebo.

Her favorite flower was the trillium, so each April the woods remind me of her more than usual.  Every time a bird flies hardly in sight overhead and I don’t recognize his flight pattern or song, I’m frustrated because I’m sure she’s told me his identity before and that she’d tell me again if she were here.  She’s been gone almost 8 years already and I wish I’d remembered things better when I was younger.  I often wonder how much wisdom is in 8 years, the ones I didn’t get.

Feeling that separation in time makes me really appreciate the 16 years I did get, even the ones I can’t remember at all.  It’s 16 more years than a lot of children ever get with their grandparents, learning from the wisest, being shown the same things that their great-great-grandparents had shown their grandparents.  I might feel inadequate and incomplete, but I’m a lot fuller than most – and that saddens me.

How many kids never really see their grandparents or their parents?  How many kids learn all of their lessons from Dora the Explorer and other TV shows?  While my grandma told me tales about the animals that taught me lessons about how to treat others, children are learning their lessons from cartoons and video games and not even going outside.  My only exception to not being outside was reading, but even then I would often climb into a tree with a bag of birdseed and sometimes fall asleep with a book on a limb.

I remember when grandma taught me how to plant a seed.  It went something like this: “First, dig a little hole.  Gently.  Enough for part of your finger.  Now, drop the seed to the bottom.  Give him a little drink, but not too much – just some encouragement.  Add a little love, maybe a kiss, and pat the dirt back on softly and water again.”  But she especially showed me how to find things that were already growing, and we would observe the patterns of the animals in the woods as they used their own techniques to harvest.  I particularly loved sitting in the woods during the winter for this reason; I could see through the bare trees so clearly, the red berries standing out against the snow, ruffled birds landing on dusted branches, and mouse tracks giving away all of their secret hideouts on the ground.

The Potawatomi and Chippewa used to watched these mouse tracks, too.  Rodent kinds store nuts in the ground where they remain when the weather has stripped most of the harvest from the woods.  The people knew this and, instead of spending exhausting hours harvesting for themselves, they would find the caches and take some of the nut reserves instead.  My favorite example of cache raiding is the Lakota-prairie vole thievery/symbiosis: Prairie voles (mice, as they called them) would hide hog nut (“mouse bean”) seeds in similar caches.  Before modern agricultural techniques and dams raped the Plains states and deterred biodiversity of the ecosystems, Lakota women used to take sticks to poke at these caches and steal from them.  But they didn’t just take, take, take.  This is one of my favorites — they would leave gifts of other things, like animal fat or berries in exchange for taking some of the seeds for their own uses…and they would sing a song.  (‘You have helped sustain my children during this coming winter, and we will not let your children go hungry.’)

And now we have McDonald’s.  And now we take as we need and don’t think about the future.  Now we have separated ourselves and forgotten that everything is a web.  We have forgotten that, although one practice may mean a big harvest this year and for ten years, in one hundred years it may not.  We have forgotten that bad omens aren’t just omens, that less trilliums blooming in April and more birds choosing to not overwinter in the snow are signs because they mean the world is sicker than it was the year before.  And this sickness is only continued when our next generation won’t have any way to relate to those stories about the raven not sharing his box of light with the world because all he cared about was himself, or about the whole world emerging from the earth – symbolic of the planet’s importance and the need for reemergence and rejuvenation every spring.  The more artificial this world becomes, the less biodiverse it will be, and there will no longer be prairie voles to sing songs to or cares and concerns about his children.