Frozen hail on the north facing porch

Well, forgive my lapse, but I’m back.

Things I’ve heard from locals: (during the Caldor and Mosquito Fires, 2021-2022: “this is the worst fire season I’ve ever lived through, and I’ve lived here 30 years!” In the garden: “We’ve never seen a gopher infestation like this! It’s terrible!” And now, in 2023: “There hasn’t been rain like this, ever. We need it, but this is ridiculous.” So I guess I arrived in time for some record-breaking nature events.

I’m hoping things will calm down; I’m hoping for a few boring years. But with the unraveling of social civility, public trust in government, and extreme weather brought on by climate changes…these hopes are likely naive.

My sister and I argued a little last night because the perfectly legitimate fears she holds about the future evoke a kind of helpless anxiety right in my solar plexus, and all the hope and happiness I feel about scientific breakthroughs in fungus research (for example), and public conversations we are having about genocide, slavery, misogyny, xenophobia — as painful as they are — I cling to them as a promise of better days. 

But a sucking fear creeps into my body, and before I’m even conscious about what is happening — well, I become a rude sister; I need to apologize today.

To be sure, there are things to worry about that are close-up and personal, worries that are local. Recently when Maddy was up for a visit and was filling up her truck, an unseen guy at the opposite pump (bemoaning gas prices, evidently) said, “If I ever meet anyone who voted for Biden, I’m going to slit their throat!” A mountain lion (who lost habitat in the Caldor Fire) killed two of my neighbor’s goats last year, right on our peaceful road. And plenty of folks here will vote for Trump in 2024 if they can, and even seem to think that, secretly, he still IS the president.

The great big nightmares of our time are loud and insistent; many have dogged us forever; some nightmares are getting worse — police violence against Black people and random mass shootings spring to mind.  Countless children die before they learn to bounce a ball; resource pressures are closing in on 8 billion of us. Illiterate children growing up now face stunted futures, millions in our own country… frankly, the nightmares are overwhelming.  

These nightmares situate the sucking fear lodged in my solar plexus into a broader context, and I realize (again, again, again) that my suffering is a piece of global suffering.  The pressure I feel in my human body is a pressure that blankets the world, a nightmare that stretches back into time, farther than recorded language. 

All of this sends me to the cushion. I’ve renewed a lifelong meditation practice that brings me into silence several times a day, where I face my life, its flow, its purpose and meaning. I am grateful to have the time and inclination to stop and look closely. I’ve been able to slow down, swim past all of those internal voices that ask, “shouldn’t you be doing something else…you know, something actually real?” and when I was a mother, a teacher, a communications worker, an activist, an adult student — a fast-moving woman fulfilling multiple roles — the answer was always, Yes. Yes, get up. There are 100 things to do. You can sit later.

Well, it is later; I don’t recommend that anyone wait until they retire for this inner work, (a little can go a long way; we can find vast silent spaces to inform us, in 15-second increments; Buddhists call this “small glimpses, many times a day). 

Eternity is not sitting out there on a timeline somewhere. It’s now. It is always right here, present and shimmering.

Living on a country road helps. Retirement helps. My advanced age helps.

Trees are events, not things

When I sit down to practice open awareness, or to engage in somatic practices that lead me into my own wise body, practices that show me who I actually am (nobody), and what I am (star stuff), and experience, quite literally, Whitman’s words, that every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you…it’s a little miracle, right out here on a country road.

Surrounded by these loving trees, and the clamoring fungi, (who thrive, who have thrived on this planet long, long before we arrived on the scene with our big fat brains and a tragic tendency toward amnesia), I am called back to simple, open awareness.

We constantly forget who we are, but silence, and the natural world can call us back. And from that silent space, I stand in my time, in this beautiful, suffering world.