Saturday, July 24, 2010

There's No Place Like Home

From my perch in the writing room I can hear the gulls on the island out in the lake. They amass there every morning and evening with the cormorants, from a distance the small isolated land mass appears to be white rather than simply covered in living, screaming sea birds.

Che, Stella and I were down at the beach last night as the sun went down and the almost full moon hovered over the bay, lighting the ripples on the water, turning the waves from the passing boats into slivers of liquid silver. The gulls were loud then to and I closed my eyes, grounded in the pebbles on the shore, to listen.

Before the beach the pups and I had hit the Superior Hiking Trail for the second time that day for a post dinner walk. I had eaten an entire frozen pizza to myself, comfort food for a tired and blissed out body, and was not quite ready for a food coma. I was breathing in and out deeply as we walked the trail, feeling the full expansion of my abdomen and its cargo, remembering why I usually take better care not to stuff myself to over flowing.

Food baby or not, I was alive and the sun was setting over the tree tops. I could hear the water rushing over rock; the pups meandering on ahead, Stella stopping periodically to turn and make sure that I was still upright and following behind. It was a beautiful evening.

I found myself over flowing with gratitude on that trail, on the beach, on the road as I passed neighbors who waved and called to the dogs and this morning, when I woke up, the gratitude was present again.

The sky was overcast and a cool breeze was blowing in my window. Che and Stella were asleep on my legs not yet aware that I was stirring. There was a smell in the air, something between a rustic cabin and freshly laundered sheets that had been hung outside to dry and I inhaled one deep breath and then another.

Later as I put the kettle on for tea, I smiled as I stood in the warm embrace of the kitchen knowing that before too long there would be plentiful fires in the woodstove and flannel shirts, socks and hats.

I love this simple life. This simple life where there is an abundance of time and space to simply walk or simply listen. There is time to tinker with projects around the house, time to garden, time to be...time to be in which there is no time.

This morning I find myself feeling grateful that I often don't know the date or what day it is. I don't have to rise to an alarm clock but rather allow the birds or the dogs to rouse me from my slumber; the schedule I keep is by choice rather than something that is imposed on me from the outside, it has its own gentle rhythm.

I am settling into the patterns, bobbing in the waves, breathing in the lake breeze, surrendering to the process in the quiet, lovely, natural surroundings of the country; blissed out, full, expanding.

"Ironically, rural America has become viewed by a growing number of Americans as having a higher quality of life not because of what it has, but rather because of what it does not have!" ~Don A. Dillman

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow."
-Melody Beattie

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Death and Taxes or Why I Carry a Pocket Knife

Benjamin Franklin once said that there were two certainties: death and taxes. However, Death remains the lone contender on our carbon based, water covered planet when it comes to ecology and renewal. Surely, taxation is a certainty on this primate ship called Earth, but it will last only as long as our systems of order and control.

I was inspired to write about Death in India where it is something that is unhidden and natural. There is no hiding it, bodies are burned on the riverbanks, bodies are thrown into the river and dead dogs lay on the side of the road. Death, decay and putrification are everywhere. It smells, it assaults the senses and if you are not used to it, it can be terrifying and gross. The beautiful thing though, is that in India they understand something very deeply that we have forgotten; without Death, there is no Life.

When you are born you start on your journey to Death and in Eastern philosophy, when you die, you are on your way to being born; the big circle of being. Native philosophy also supports this idea, the Medicine Wheel used in ceremony and ritual is a physical manifestation of the circle of life that we all walk from cradle to grave; it is a journey that none can escape. It is a journey that not many pay attention to or have a relationship with, rendering Death unpalatable and spearheading a multi-billion dollar "scary" movie industry and a lone holiday where Death has become a commodity; a kitsch plastic skeleton sold at Wal-Mart for $1.

I came to know Death intimately over the last year and I now consider her an old friend. Preceding my father's death I spent a considerable amount of time connecting the dots between Death and fertility, Death and goddess worship, Death and the cycles of the biological world. Even during my under grad I studied genocide and at that time hoped to follow in the footsteps of Clea Koff, The Bone Woman, who worked on the mass graves in Kosovo and Rawanda as a forensic anthropologist.

I also have a secret inner science geek that loves fungus and mushrooms. Out of death comes life and as such my fascination and relationship with Death is two fold, it feeds my inner anthro science nerd and creates fertile soil for my sense of spirituality.

This is why I started carrying a pocket knife, you never know what little treasure you are going to stumble upon out in the great wide world.

Which brings me to the photo of Bree and I in woodland drag.

About a year ago we were in the process of fastidiously making those ostentatious costumes. I am also an avid fan of symbolic ritual; bringing something from the inside into the outside world or bringing something from the outside into the inner world. The costumes in question were meant to represent our understanding of and appreciation for the power of Death; most importantly it's symbolic ties to the changing seasons, the sacred feminine, menstruation, pregnancy, birth, life and subsequent decomposition...all things squashed, burned at the stake or relegated to the sanitary napkin aisle by the great European patriarchal boot stomp.

The costumes were meant to not only capture those larger meanings or larger "Deaths", but also infinite smaller ones; changes in jobs, relationships, families, changes in perspective, changes in habits or patterns...for all we all go through many mini-deaths throughout our days, weeks and years and how we recognize and celebrate those is often how we interpret and live out the BIG ones. Much of the symbolic rituals have died out in our culture a long with rights of passage and solstice and equinox ceremonies; leaving us drifting rudderless and unconnected from the world and the cyclical fleshy bodies that support us.

These particular costumes were a call to come back to life in ritual, a celebration of friendship and the variety of mini-deaths we had shared and in that there was tremendous meaning. There was also meaning in how the costumes were made, each piece painstakingly collected or extracted from nature or given by a friend over the course of a year; all animal skin, beach glass, feathers and bones.

I don't use the word "extracted" loosely. I made several elated phone calls from the end of the point to Bree happily telling her what kind of corpse I had stumbled upon, noting bone size and length as well as possible costume placement. After finding something, the options were to either bury it and wait or break out the ol' Swiss Army and take the parts I wanted and boil them at home.

Hey, its simply the time saving option when you need to remove fur and flesh from bone. I also now know why witches got such a bad rap; it is certainly fucking freaky if it is outside of your paradigm to be comfortable boiling a dead thing (other than meat that comes neatly wrapped in plastic and foam, of course).

I once got a phone call from a friend while boiling a skull on the stove top. He asked, "What are you up to?" I replied, " I'm not sure you really want to know."

And isn't it just that way with Death?

But look on the bright side, and yes, I believe there is a bright side to Death; make her a third party to your life and live in the present. Grieve the endings, accept the losses and use it all to fertilize the garden of your inner being. Learn what you will from her and live, truly live, and if you must boil a skull on your stove top be thankful that they no longer subject people to water boarding for engaging in nature related rituals, at least for now they save that for terrorists.

“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.” Norman Cousins