April 6th, 2013
Here in the high desert it feels like Mother Earth is trying hard to make it springtime. The sun crests higher each day and sets later each evening. The cottonwoods along the river are going green and the apricots are blooming. Lilacs and crabapples are getting ready for their brief glories. But it is so dry. The mountain snow pack is already thinning and rushing into the streams and rivers. Heavy grey clouds coast by above us but do not bestow any moisture. It is still a full three months until we can expect the monsoons of summer. When the winds blow I feel fear. When will the fires start?
It seems only natural to fear drought and fire. After all, droughts have caused people to migrate throughout human history. Dust storms and fires devastate formerly verdant landscapes and even empty towns and cities. At Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico you can see the devastation drought wrought on a huge population of pre-Puebloan people who thrived for hundreds of years from around 700 to 1200 CE before vanishing after many years of extremely dry conditions. Where did they go, these ancient refugees?
But even though I am afraid I have some concerns about dwelling on this fear. First of all, it gets the stress hormones flowing and takes me away from the present moment. But also it seems like nonacceptance. Perhaps I think that if I get upset enough I will figure out what to do to make it rain! There is nothing I can do to make it rain. Even as I make my little effort to mitigate against climate change I have to accept that what will be will be. Like the polar bear and the lions of the Kalahari, I have to accept my fate. What will save them? What will save me? Funny, I know something will be saved, something which is neither created nor destroyed. It won’t be me as an individual, of course, or even perhaps any of my precious grandchildren, though I hope they are saved. It might not be the tiger, or the spotted owl or even the Rio Embudo but something will be saved. That is just the nature of things. I can trust in that.
Now I’m going to go sit by the river while there is still water in it!
March 16th, 2013
Last night I saw a wonderful new film, Birth Story directed and produced by my friend Sara Lamm and her colleague Mary Wigmore. The film is about Ina May Gaskin and The Farm Midwives, women who, beginning in the 1970′s were in the forefront of the natural childbirth/home birth movement. I had my own two children at home in the 1970′s and became a lay midwife, delivering around 50 babies before giving up the work. Ina May’s book, Spiritual Midwifery came out right before my daughter was born in 1975 and made a huge impact on my community. The birth stories in her book rang true with my own experience of the powerful spiritual experience of birth, both for the women giving birth and for the partners, families and friends witnessing it.
The film references the 1970′s and the spiritual community that was The Farm. But it mostly focuses on Ina May’s work now, delivering health babies via natural childbirth. Ina May’s wise, knowledgeable and patient presence allows the women she attends to labor free from fear. Even though they were very vulnerable physically, experiencing intense sensations and uncertainty, they appeared very present in the moment and empowered by their experience. From a mother laboring hard to deliver a breech baby, actively attended by Ina May, to one who essentially delivered her own baby while midwives stood by, I saw the power of breath, mindful awareness and acceptance in allowing birth to unfold with its own natural grace. Without the support and guidance of a skilled midwife and the willingness and courage of the women themselves this could not happen. It reminded me of the importance of a teacher.
A touching subtext to the film was Ina May’s current relationship with her husband of 40+ years, Stephen Gaskin,the founder of The Farm. Once the spiritual leader for the over 1000 residents, Stephen is now an old man. There are fewer than 200 residents at The Farm today,and many are becoming elderly. Yet the love between Ina May and Stephen was palpable. They were both charismatic, but while he is frail she seems undiminished. There is one scene where she combs his long hair and shaves him before departing on her bicycle to go train a young midwife. I can’t help but think that the same accepting, fearless presence Ina May brings to attending births would be useful for anyone attempting to die naturally and mindfully. We could all use a spiritual midwife then too.
February 9th, 2013
As a blizzard shuts down New England, here in New Mexico the snow melt reveals my crocus coming up. I planted the bulbs in October. The gophers came and ate a few, but some escaped being rodent food and now they are preparing to do what they were made to do–give us a glimpse of spring when winter still has six weeks to go. To me they are better than a groundhog, whose predictions never seem believable. On Groundhog Day there will always be six weeks more of winter! But the crocus says, “Don’t worry, winter is here, but spring will come, and I will bloom before the trees show buds. I will bloom purple and white and blue and yellow, to delight and remind you. This is why you planted me!”
When I was a child I used to rejoice at the sight of the first crocus coming up. By that time I was so tired of winter, the dreary days at school, the heavy clothes and being indoors. Crocus poking through the newly thawed ground reminded me that before too long I’d see the big buckets of daffodils for sale on the street corners when I came home from school. It wouldn’t be too long before long I’d be playing barefoot in the grass.
In these times of climate change, we have strange hurricane blizzards and come spring we will have more fires and droughts. These events remind us of our poor stewardship of this planet. Perhaps we need to plant more crocus, more daffodils, more flowering trees and more native grasses to also remind us we can be in harmony with nature as well as at cross purposes with it. We need to see green things poking through bare ground to give us hope.
January 12th, 2013
Last night at dusk I walked down to the river to see if I could catch sight of the beavers. It was quite cold and ice lined both banks but the river was still flowing swift and dark. After awhile,I didn’t see any critters and was getting chilled so I headed back up the snowy bank. When I reached the back porch I stopped and looked out over the valley.That was when I noticed that an particularly bright sodium vapor light that I can see from our house was not lit. This light was so bright that it was impossible to miss. It lit up the yard of the neighbor it belonged to, but also shone in my bedroom window and bothered those of us who love the dark night sky. I wondered what had happened to it. Would it return?
Later, after full dark I went out again to check on the light but also to take in the brilliant stars of the new moon darkness. The constellations glittered in a black sky. The Milky Way splashed across the zenith. The annoying light was gone. At least for now. I noticed that as delighted as I was with the new dark, my delight in having an unsolvable problem solved was not as acute as my frustration with the problem itself had been. Why is that I wondered? Why are we rarely as mentally attentive to a problem solved as to a problem we cannot resolve? My teacher, Prem Rawat, would say it is because we are focusing on the wrong thing. We should neither focus on the problem nor on its resolution, but on what is without problems or solutions, which is that we are alive. Yes, the night sky is more beautiful without that light shining in my eyes. But the night sky is only beautiful for me because I am alive to see it.
December 30th, 2012
Over the holidays I got to spend a lot of time with my grandchildren, ages four months, one year and five years. Jude had a birthday on Christmas Day, his first. Of course, like any one year old, he was not yet aware of what having a birthday meant. His parents decorated the dining room with white balloons and streamers and provided a big vanilla cake and ice cream. Then, not long after we opened Christmas presents we were ushered into another party. The birthday boy sat in his high chair and looked bemused while the whole family sang the birthday song and then he got his first taste of cake and ice cream which he found quite delicious. He then received many gifts which his mother opened for him with lots of commentary. Jude was generally more interested in the wrapping paper and boxes than in the gifts themselves, at least at first. His younger cousin slept through the party in his daddy’s arms. One of these days those boys are likely to be close because they are only eight months apart. But for now that eight months makes a world of difference. Jude’s older brother managed to wrangle an extra piece of cake and enjoyed the balloons to the fullest. All the adults remembered his first birthday, which also involved balloons and included two great grandparents that have since died.
Little Jude, like his younger cousin, still lives completely in the present moment. He has no sustained sense of the past and no sense whatsoever of the future. He is pure experience, pure sensation, pure emotion, mediated by a few words and associations. He is never out of sight or earshot of mother or father, grandparent or other trusted adult. Already his brother has opinions and preferences, memories and expectations even judgments and self-critical thoughts. He needs some of these to negotiate the world he inhabits, a world where he is allowed to go to school, visit with friends, go to birthday parties, even watch TV and movies. Some of these formations just come naturally from interacting with his world. His personality is becoming so well-established that it would be hard to change. Jude, on the other hand, is still unfolding. His family speculates that he will be very smart and have a wicked sense of humor, be very determined, perhaps stubborn, and more of a risk-taker than his thoughtful, careful, highly verbal older brother. And as for Jude’s four month old cousin, it is hard to know just what surprises are in store for us beyond his beautiful big brown eyes. It will be delicious to see.
Spending time with babies I find myself getting in touch with my own simplicity. They want to be loved and I want to love them. They want to play and so do I. They need comfort, food, sleep and affection and so do I. They experience their lives unfolding in the present and so do I. They are not burdened by regret and worry and I can choose not to be. They are innocent at their core and so am I.
December 15th, 2012
It is snowing in the desert. The earth is drinking it up. Heavy clouds fold over the valley like a moist duvet. The river runs loud, the evergreens and canyon walls are frosted like sugar cookies. The mountain tops are glowing, the better at sunset to reflect the pinks and reds we call the blood of Christ, the Sangre de Christo. I can’t help thinking of how much little children love a snowy day.
Stay home from school and work. Make a pot of soup, sit by the wood stove, take a long bath in the clawfoot tub. Dream of how the snow now falling on the mountains will come down in spring through acequias to water peas and potatoes, lettuce and chard, and make the apple trees bloom all white and pink. Relish being alive…
Maybe God will forgive us all for our part in the killing of innocents, for not having the courage to stand up to ignorance and fear that have created a culture of violence. Today we have a snowy day, a brief reprieve, a chance to pray for redemption and for comfort for all who are suffering. May we sea in the snow and the mountains and the rivers the Face of Mercy we so desperately require.
November 25th, 2012
The morning of his funeral,
before daylight, I opened my door
and a little bird flew in.
It perched on a lampshade
and looked at me
as if to say, “I’m here for just a moment
to tell you, ‘Don’t be sad.’”
I opened the window wide
and put on my funeral clothes.
It flew from one corner to another
as if exploring the room.
The sound of it’s wings or feet on the floor
the occasional meeting of our eyes
made me smile.
It wasn’t lost on me what’s said
a bird in the house, an omen someone’s dead.
This transmigration felt more like a gift
And as the light outside began to rise
the little wren flew to the windowsill
looked back at me a moment, flicked his tail
and flew away into the morning.
I’ll see you again, my friend.
November 10th, 2012
Up and down the Embudo Valley the cottonwoods have shed their leaves. All October their leaves were turning, first from green to green-gold, then to glory-gold then to burnished copper. They blazed their colors against the perpetual cerulean New Mexico sky. Last night the winds blew hard out of the west and all the leaves are gone. The elegant, uplifted, twisted shapes of their bodies are exposed, showing silver and grey against the grey snow clouds of November. Until yesterday there was no snow on the bare rock peaks of the Sangre de Christo mountains. Now, as it rains in the valley it is surely snowing up there. When the sun penetrates the clouds, perhaps just before sunset, we will see the snow we’ve been longing for, the first of the snow that will fill our creeks and rivers come spring and flow into our acequias so we can be nourished another season. It is time to rest, turn inward and prepare for winter.
My dear friend and former father in law, Robert W. Koons, passed away on November 1st. He was at home, surrounded by his three children, and very peaceful. His life was dedicated to serving his Master, Jesus Christ, and he served him very well, as a Lutheran pastor, as a husband, father, grandfather and friend. He was the most Christian man I have ever known. His passing, on All Saints Day, reminds me of how little I can understand with my mind even as my heart knows so much that can’t be spoken. I can’t speak about death or resurrection. The heart’s knowledge is not conceptual, nor is it based on belief. Like manna from heaven the wisdom of the heart has to be gathered in the moment. Who knows where it comes from? But there it is, always, waiting to nourish me. And just as I know that after the snows of winter comes the buds of spring, I know that somehow Bob Koons has gone to God and sees him face to face.
October 21st, 2012
A picture in the New York Times
an aerial shot above a feed lot
a huge truck on a road between pens
cattle shoulder to shoulder
as far as the camera can see.
Descriptions of stench and inhumane
and polluting waste. Brought to mind
a small Jersey named Nuvie
her wet black nose and long pink tongue
her brown and white haunch
and white and pink udder
warm on a cold spring morning
the let down of her creamy milk
the sweet smell of her breath.
She licked up her grain and
ate the new grass and rested
on the hillside chewing her cud.
We drank her good milk
made butter and yogurt
and fed her two heifer calves
that we sold, wondering what would
become of them among the Holseins.
She got out of every fence
ran down the road to greener pastures
and got in with other cows.
When I went to get her she flung
her horns at me, but finally came.
Eventually we sold her too.
People say cows are stupid.
They are not. They know who
they are and who we are
but seem to hold out some sense
of the old contract between us.
Brahmins in garlands of marigolds
African beasts with improbable horns,
the little brown cow in the thatched shed
all ask, “Has it come to this, old friend?”