We are traveling today for a visit to Ireland–a long planned adventure! I just discovered they do not have cardinals. I was looking at a listing of birds in Ireland, and when I saw how many birds I did not recognize at all, that was when I realized that we are going to a very different place. Yes, they have oak trees and beech trees, and so do we. And a few bird species will be familiar. But there will also be whole bunch of different birds. I wonder what the mornings will sound like?
As I was driving home yesterday, a few cars were stopped on the road, and three women were out of their cars standing close to the edge of the pavement. I slowed down and stopped too. Then I saw that they were encouraging a turtle to get across the road and out of the way of traffic. I love living in Maine! (Sorry, no photo.)
Wild blueberries plants don’t really photograph well–the plants are low to the ground and often in a large patch. The flowers are tiny and bell shaped. I have been trying to grow them in our yard for the last several years with minimal luck. But this May it seems they are bursting with life all along the the street we live on. They don’t really like the luscious bed I made for them… they seem to prefer the sand scrabble mess along the side of the road. There are blueberries flowers everywhere, along with wild strawberry, and I see volunteer raspberry plants greening out in many and diverse spots as well.
If we were gathering our food, we are living in the right place. One year I did gather a pint of wild strawberries. Most years we leave them for the chipmunks and birds to munch on…it is a lot of work to pick them and they are so tiny. Same with the wild blueberries. Now it is easier to buy the cultivated varieties at the store.
I think about how people used to give a lot of attention to finding their food, when they were gathering these little morsels in earnest. It might take a long time to get enough for a real dish. But here all around us is such abundance, and such a gift of nourishment, if we are willing to receive it in small bites. Could it be that life is like that in other ways? That there might be spiritual nourishment all around us, freely given, in small bites, to those who are willing to pay attention for a while?
Yesterday I was sitting in a recliner in our back yard, just soaking up the sun, and listening to the birds and other critters. Suddenly, a hawk flew to the ground about 20 feet away from me and landed awkwardly. Its wings seemed to be splayed over the ground, and it was facing away from me. I didn’t have a chance to get a good enough look to identify it, but got an impression of a light color. I was surprised it was so close to me. Then it flew away toward the back of the yard, and I saw it was carrying a chipmunk in its talons.
I was astonished and humbled to witness this moment of life and death in the world of nature. Perhaps the hawk was taking food to its young. Perhaps the chipmunk was the one who, earlier in the day, had been startled to see me in the screen tent, when it poked its head under the fabric at the bottom. I thought it would run off, but then it scampered right under my foot on its way to the other side of the tent.
Two years ago, just a little later in May, I had seen four baby chipmunks in the yard, in about the same place. I went outside and sat down near them and watched them play. They were completely unafraid of me and didn’t mind my presence close by. At one point, they heard an alarm call from their mother, and ran to the hole to their underground homes, and sat right nearby looking around and waiting to hear if they must go back inside. But mother must have given the all clear, because they resumed their play.
I wonder if today there are babies underground waiting for a parent to return. The yard became utterly quiet after the hawk attack, except for an alarm cry from a bird or another chipmunk–I wasn’t sure. No birds at the feeder, so squirrels chasing each other up the trees, no chipmunks emerging from the rain spout. But later in the evening, life went on. At least two other chipmunks were dashing back and forth, and gold finches lined up to get their turn at the feeder.
What a gift to sit outside each day, learning what the land wants to reveal of her secrets. What secrets have you discovered, just sitting outside being quiet?
My favorite novel of all time is Chickasaw writer Linda Hogan’s Solar Storms. Published in 1997, it is the story of Angel, a girl who was taken from her Native relatives as a tiny child and raised in foster care, after being abused by her mentally ill mother. At 17, she comes back to find her grandmothers and learn about who she is. During this time, people in her small village discover that hydroelectric dams are planned for their ancestral homeland in the north, so four women travel by canoe to help in the struggle against it. I first read this book when I was working (with Massachusetts “Save James Bay”) against the hydroelectric dams that were being built in Quebec, and I learned later that Hogan had drawn from that situation in creating her fictional account.
But this brief description of the plot can’t do justice to the many layers of poetry and meaning that are woven into her narrative. I learned about what it might mean to be deeply connected to a place–to be indigenous to a place. I learned that loving the earth isn’t just about loving the planet, but rather about loving a particular island or river or peninsula or forest. I learned that we can love the earth even if we are not indigenous, even if the earth keeps some secrets from us. It helped me along my journey to find my own connection to the earth. The elder Tulik tells Angel, “Here a person is only strong when they feel the land. Until then a person is not a human being.” [p.235]
Linda Hogan tackles issues that face Native people–including the taking of children and the taking of land–and brings alive for all of us the heartbreak and courage that are born in this brokenness, and the beauty that may be created as people move toward healing. As we face more and more destruction on our planet, we all so much need to learn to “feel the land.”
Since my last posting, so much has happened with the book that it is a new being. Last summer I cut up my draft, and rearranged everything, cut many things, and shaped it into a new kind of flowing. I also update the sub-title, and decided to use that for the blog as well. I am on sabbatical now, and revising and editing, and trying to begin a book proposal to find a publisher. The revising and editing is a joyful process, but the proposal is very hard. It is a great challenge to the ego–who am I to share my words with the world? Hard to describe the book in a few words, hard to describe myself in a few words, hard to imagine how to “market,” when what comes up in my heart is the desire to transform the world so that we rediscover our connection to all beings. The process of writing has also brought me more deeply into the brokenness we live within.
I have been thinking I might come back to some occasional posting here, just to remind myself of the marvelous wisdom all around us. Today I am excited about a book by Robin Wall Kimmerer which I just recently started reading, called Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. I felt such a great sense of kinship with the writing in this book, and inspired by the stories she tells, and the possibilities of learning from so many of our fellow beings on this earth. I have read several chapters so far, and am savoring each one. Get this book!