What’s Next?

Fruit trees with painted trunks.

Today I felt filled with an enormous dread, watching the attempted coup by a president who won’t acknowledge the results of a valid election, watching the followers who enable him to keep undermining the vote. I had felt relieved after the votes were counted. Perhaps we were back to more ordinary times and struggles–certainly the struggles were not over, but some semblance of a social order were on track to be restored.

But then I read an account by someone who had lived through a coup in their own country, Sri Lanka, who said that America is already having one right now, and I sank into a kind of terror. I won’t repeat their story here–you can read it via the link. Just to say that undermining faith in the results of an election can disrupt the very fabric of a fragile democracy, and is an invitation to ongoing chaos.

In my dread, I went outside–into a cloudy warm day–perhaps the last of these summer-like days–where Margy was working in the yard. She got in the hammock with me and I could just feel all the feelings of terror, but with the comfort of love, the comfort of the earth and sky. I certainly don’t have the answers for what we can do, what anyone can do, about this coup. I hope someone who might have the power and the answers is talking about it somewhere.

The other thing that, ironically, has relieved my anxieties about the election and the coup is a novel I have been reading about climate change. It is the latest work by Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future. Set in the very near future, the title refers to an international agency that is formed to be a voice for future generations in the international arena. It’s a fragmented sort of novel, with each chapter a small piece in a larger fabric, and only a few on-going characters to help keep the thread going. Like in some of his other works, Robinson’s characters are trying out all sorts of ideas to turn around or mitigate the catastrophes of climate warming. Perhaps it will get more hopeful as I keep reading, but for now, it is sobering. So the terrors of a coup are replaced by the terrors of climate catastrophe–but those terrors are more familiar to me.

In the meantime, Margy and I seize the opportunity of our own strange weather to replenish the soil in our little part of the earth–another visit to the beach to get more seaweed, more sifting of compost (to get the roots and stones out) to put near the fruit trees, raspberries, bushes in the back of the yard. As much compost as I can sift, I put it somewhere. As much seaweed as we can collect, we put it somewhere.

For the fruit trees, also, a few weeks ago I painted their trunks white. There is a whole story to this. I had read about painting the trunks of trees white to protect them from sun damage in the winter, to protect from insects burrowing. But when I first read about it, people were talking about using latex paint, and that didn’t feel true to the spirit of organic permaculture.

Then, this fall, searching the web for another project–looking for food safe paints–I came across milk paint. This is the old-fashioned white wash that Tom Sawyer used, that most people used before the modern age. It’s made of natural ingredients: milk proteins, lime, and pigments. It has no VOCs to emit, no scents to be allergic to. It came in a powder that I mixed with water, in the amount I needed for the trees. The powder will last a long time, but the mixed paint only a couple weeks. So I painted the tree trunks. You can use it for lots of things, not just trees. Finding resources that cause no harm to the earth–that help the earth–these are like little miracles that never cease to delight me.

Cranky

I am feeling cranky today.  After some good beginnings with our carpenter and his crew, yesterday we went to the house, and were shocked by some very poor work on the wood floor being done to fill in where the doors were enlarged.  Cracks, a big cut joint between several boards right in the middle of the door.  I didn’t take a picture of that.  But the other day I had taken a picture of a few other un-finishings. Like this mark over the windows that were installed–a deep scratched groove in the drywall.  There are three such marks below and two above.

Scratch DSC02947We don’t have any touch up paint for this room’s color (the sellers left some paint cans from other rooms in the basement.)  So does this mean, really, that we’ll have to repaint the entire room?

There was also a mistake in the placement of a grab bar in the bathroom, and while it can be moved, the place from which it will be removed will now be marred, and the bathroom wall is either wallpaper or a sponge-spackled paint finish that we don’t have the ability to duplicate.

When I contract with someone to do work that we cannot do ourselves, it creates in me a sense of vulnerability.  When things come up, I ask myself all sorts of self-doubting questions: Am I being too picky?  Should I have said more? What can we reasonably expect? Can we assume they’ll finish up the work nicely, or do we have to raise the issues as we notice them? Should I have held up our second payment check to make sure these issues were dealt with? (We are doing the work in three stages, so it didn’t seem unreasonable to make a second installment before everything was totally done on this stage–But?)

I did call the carpenter shortly after we noticed the poor job on the flooring–this was being done by a member of his crew–and he interrupted the work and has said he will fix the issues we raised.

I hate to be in the mode of criticizing other people’s work. But I do expect people to do a good job. This is only a small “easy” job for them apparently, but it is the home we hope to live in for a very long time. I want to look at the improvements we made, and feel happy about how beautiful they look.

I was thinking about all of this this morning, and trying to figure out how to get into a better mood.  I remembered some advice that Sarah Susanka wrote:  “Every situation contains within it the food and fertilizer for our flourishing, but the only way we can find this out is by being obedient to each set of circumstances that present themselves–to fully engage whatever arises to the best of our ability and to process any reactions and judgments as they come up, without editing or suppressing anything.”

She went on to describe her discomfort with situations of confrontation, how she hesitated to share her direct feelings for fear of angering someone else.  How important it was for her to begin to notice that pattern and uncover what came up in her, so she could learn to be direct–to deal with the difficult and uncomfortable as it arose.  Yep.  That resonates.

So I blog to notice what comes up for me, to give it some attention–to be able to say, I am afraid to demand of others the level of perfection that I demand for myself. And I am afraid to confront others about their mistakes.  I don’t want to make anyone angry or uncomfortable.  But I do have it within me to confront–if I can get through the resistance to having to do it, the wish to avoid it. It wasn’t what I wanted to have on my plate yesterday or today, but there it was. Here it is.

Contradictions

Maple on BirchwoodIn our search for greener housing, we’ve come upon a paradoxical sad choice. There is a large tree next to our new house, whose branches stretch dangerously over the roof.  If the branches get covered in too much snow, they might break and fall on the roof.  Also, they will block morning sun to our future solar array which is so important for our ability to stop using fossil fuels.

It turns out that this tree–we believe it is a maple–is on Portland Water District land.   At first we thought we could just prune the branches that were over the roof, but this would be quite a severe pruning.  I did some research online and learned that mature trees do not handle severe pruning well: pruning it as needed would likely cause the tree to deteriorate and eventually die. I never knew that before. The PWD doesn’t like the idea of pruning because it would cost as much as cutting it down, and then they’d have to come back later and deal with it at some point in the future.  I had a chat with the PWD right-of-way person today, and we’ve decided reluctantly to let them cut the tree down.

I am someone who listens to trees, and earlier, when I asked the tree about what to do, the tree expressed a willingness to sacrifice itself for the purpose of our moving into greater harmony with the earth.  It seemed so easy and gentle about it all.  But I feel so sad about it all. I love old trees. I love that this tree has multiple trunks and I can squeeze in the middle of them–though I also learned that multiple trunks are not as healthy for a tree.

I am not asking for advice here–just expressing the contradictory feelings that come up for me as we try to navigate our way forward into greener living. We plan to plant many trees on this land–most likely fruit trees and nut trees.  So we will give back when the season arrives.  We may be able to keep the mulch that is created by the process, to use in future gardens. But today, I just want to honor this grandmother tree, and her kindness and serenity and openness to the sincere and contradictory journeys of human travelers.

Letting Go of Old Feelings

When we encounter old unfinished feelings within our hearts, we may be tempted to try to sweep them up and move them along, to push them out of the way. But unfortunately, this doesn’t really work. I have found two methods that do help me to let go of old feelings.

Creek DSC01248The first is a devotional practice. I turn over my troubles to the larger Mystery of which I am a part. Sometimes I imagine it with the image of a river—I place my feelings in the flowing river and let them float away. By turning them over, I am relinquishing my control over them. I place them in the hands of something larger, in whom I feel trust.

A second method that works for me is related to a form of meditation. I cultivate an awareness of what is going on within my mind and body, including whatever may be troubling me. I let myself breathe with it, and experience it in a state called mindfulness. I give it my attention, without attempting to change it in anyway. I just keep breathing into the feelings, as they are. I let go of my attachment to pushing the feelings away. Eventually, feelings will change and move of their own accord, if we give them this mindful attention.

There is no way to finish with emotions, just as there is no way to finish our house projects once and for all. As long as we are alive, new emotions keep happening. In the journey into emptiness, I am trying to move from doing something about emotions, to doing nothing, to merely being with the emotions. By the practice of being with my inner clutter, rather than doing something about it, I am getting closer to emptiness.