Opossum sighting

Opossum

The photo came out a little blurry, but I was delighted to catch a glimpse of this little opossum neighbor, while I was sitting in the screen tent a few mornings ago. When it saw me, it speeded up its walk near the underbrush at the back corner of our yard. I understand that opossums eat ticks, among many other things, so I was glad to see it our neighborhood.

Reading more about them, I learned that they can also eat food from bird feeders and fruit trees.  They are nocturnal.  It will be an interesting balancing act–we intend to grow food for ourselves, yet we also love the critters that show up in this space we share. But perhaps that is the heart of the question–how do we live as neighbors in this land, rather than colonizers/occupiers/dominators?  How do we care for our own needs, while also caring for the needs of other beings on this earth?

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Boundaries

Boundary

[The side boundary two weeks ago.]

Boundaries in land are something of a legal fiction.  The land can’t really be owned by anyone.  But they do matter, because we can only protect the land that is within the boundaries identified as “ours” by pieces of paper.

The other day, a neighbor who lives to the side of the back of our yard mentioned that they might want to put in a fence.  We were alarmed that they might cut some trees, but then they said they were not planning to do that.  But they got a little riled by our asking about the trees.

The thing is, we didn’t get a chance to say this, but we had thought that the trees between our properties were on water district land, because our deed identifies our boundary as bordering on water district land.  [You can see the line of trees and bushes behind our compost bins in this photo from two weeks ago.]  But today I did some research and discovered that their deed in fact includes at least some of the water district land, and perhaps might come right up to ours.

It is all both explicit and very vague on our deed, especially in reference to the back half–because it refers to the old Portland Gardens plan.  For example, where that part of our land begins is stated to be about 99 feet across, while the back line of our property is stated to be 161 feet across.  But it is unclear exactly how and where it is anchored or where it expands–it doesn’t correspond to what was mowed as lawn.  (And it would cost thousands to get a survey, we were told.)  And if you look on the current tax map, the water district land seems to be 53 feet across between the properties.  But I don’t see how there are that many feet between us, even if all the “hedge row” is included.

However, the deed for the neighbor’s yard cites an iron pipe at the corner boundary next to their road, and then “83.31 feet to an iron pipe and land now or formerly of the Portland Water District.”  The wording is odd–but I found an earlier deed that ceded some 56 feet of PWD land (on that side) to that parcel–and it makes sense, they couldn’t have built a house on the land without it.  Then it angles back to a narrow point further back.  Sometimes I wonder if it is all something of a fiction–maybe the plan for Portland Gardens didn’t really match the actual land, and nobody actually has the number of feet listed.

But all day today I have been worried about the trees.  The black cherry and the cedar.  The ones I haven’t learned the names of yet.  We love the trees for themselves, and also for the privacy they create in this place during the summer.  Margy has spent a lot of time cutting down bittersweet from these trees.  And I’ve been wondering where the boundary really is.  There is too much snow right now to hunt for that iron pipe.  But I surely will as soon as enough has melted.  It all feels so vulnerable.

Little Neighbor

Skunk

Look closely. Surprised to see her in the light of day, but I think this skunk was trying to make her way home, much to the chagrin of our neighbor’s dog.  I don’t know if this is my gardening friend from last summer, but if not, I would guess it is a family member. She (or he?) is following her own corridor–how important these small stands of trees and shrubs are for our animal neighbors. But as to where she was headed–strange–under a fence or under a deck? Right into our human neighbor’s yard.

There were also some strange tracks in the snow two days ago in our yard.  Bigger than the usual squirrel tracks–now I think that maybe they were hers as well.  Margy took this photo. I read that skunks are rather inactive in winter, though not true hibernators.  But they begin to be more active, looking for a mate in spring.

tracks

Tracks by Margy Dowzer

Creating the Beloved Community

When Jesus talked about the importance of loving our neighbor, someone asked him, “Who is my neighbor?” In response, Jesus told the story we now call the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

A traveler was walking on the road to Jericho, and was attacked by bandits who robbed him and beat him and left him on the side of the road. A priest was walking down the road, and saw the man and went over to the other side. A lawyer also ignored the wounded man. But a Samaritan traveling on the same road saw the man, and was moved to compassion. He bound his wounds, and brought the man to an inn, where he continued to care for him overnight, and then paid the innkeeper to care for him as he went on his travels. Then Jesus turned the question around—“Who do you think was neighbor to the man?” The one who showed him compassion.

This story is made compelling by its social context. In the time when Jesus told the story, Samaritans and Jews generally held each other in contempt. They were enemies. Maybe something like Republicans and Democrats these days, only worse. Jesus made the Samaritan the hero of the story, and that certainly must have ruffled feathers. The story was a challenge to the lawyers and priests and their narrow definition of the circle of compassion. The story was a challenge to be neighbors with the people we don’t like, the people on the other side. To treat those neighbors with compassion.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community.” In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.

I want to acknowledge that in our age, it is easy to feel hopeless about this vision. It is easy to think of it as an idealistic dream of the sixties. Cynicism has risen, the right wing has fought back against the hopes so hard fought for by Dr. King and others. More and more we see a new individualism and polarization, an abandonment of the poor and vulnerable by those in power. The opposition has become more crafty and deceptive.

But, on some level, that makes no difference at all. The vision of nonviolence is not based on winning, though a victory for good fills us with joy. The vision of nonviolence is based on faithfulness and hope. As Dr. King said,

When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

And so, in the midst of the conflict and trouble of our age, may we find the strength and courage to be practitioners of love. In the midst of selfishness and greed, may we find generosity and vision. In the midst of rancor and division, may we remember that we are all one people. May we behold and believe in the possibility of Beloved Community, and work steadfastly to open the doors that all may enter there in. May we always remember, as Dr. King reminded us,

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Heart Candle Flame DSC01573

Quotes from Dr. King from “Facing the Challenge of a New Age, December 1956, in A Testament of Hope, The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. and “Where Do We Go From Here,” a 1967 Speech.

Practicing the Power of Love

Sometimes we learn best by seeing someone else—to watch someone practice love in the face of hostility can create a light in us as we observe it. Once, when I was in my twenties, I saw a young woman named Nelia arrested in an act of civil disobedience. She refused to walk, refused to give answers to questions on any forms, refused to cooperate with the police who were arresting her. But she radiated such kindness and love to each person who interacted with her. She smiled, and reached out her hand to shake theirs, and told them her name, and asked about theirs. She spoke of why nuclear submarines were not useful for human beings, and invited conversation.

I don’t think I had ever been able to imagine this combination of non-cooperation and love, until I saw her doing it. Yet once I saw it, it seemed so simple. She was practicing the power of love, and it discomfited and engaged all of us around her. Her tenderness was compelling. Her vulnerability was profound, because the other thing about Nelia was that she is blind.

Make no mistake—it wasn’t about being nice to everyone or pretending not to notice the painful realities that cause suffering in our world. Nelia was practicing her simple acts of tender engagement right on the front lines of the conflicts that seem so hard to confront. She showed me what courageous, creative people can do in the face of violence, what the power of love can do.

Marianne Williamson, in A Return to Love, asserts that whenever we encounter another person, we always have the choice to see them through the lens of fear, or through the lens of love.1 Our lives are meant to be a school for learning to let go of our fear, and to choose more and more the power of love. This is not an easy thing to do. It may take a whole lifetime to let go of fear, to learn how to live in the power of love.

And perhaps there is not such a big difference between loving our enemy and loving our neighbor. Each demands the same respect for self, and respect for the other. Each requires seeing the utmost dignity in our selves and in the other.

Clergy Testify in Favor of Equal Marriage 2009

Clergy Testify in Favor of Equal Marriage 2009