Let Despairing Be Dispelled

Friends of Our Wilderness Awareness School Community,

I have been thinking deeply and with a heaviness about this for some time, and I want to welcome to conversation anyone who might be silent and feeling the same way, or is interested in strengthening cross-political friendships in this time of grief and disconnect.

As some of you may or may not know, I have come to hold some different views than many of the good people at Wilderness Awareness School. I am a Conservative.

I say this outright because it is precisely the fear of saying it which I must challenge. It is this fear of social marginalization which I carry within myself, but a roar I must run to. We are all humanely prone to move in our small bubbles, not realizing that there is more intellectual diversity among our people than we realize. We are not a truly diverse organization if we welcome diversity that is only skin-deep.

Over the past couple years I have persistently worried that I am not welcome as a Conservative (even a Centrist or a Classical Liberal who is grateful for our Western Civilization) to be open with you whom I have called by beloved community. I come from a very, very Liberal background, and was still largely identifying in this way while I was an Anake of 2012-13. But we question and we grow; we challenge the unchallenged perspectives we are brought up with.

While I still empathize with and support a number of traditionally Liberal views, I also hold Conservative, mainline-Republican views which I worry are becoming increasingly demonized among well-meaning people who also want to protect what is sacred to them. We’re all carrying these sacred things we burn to protect, and I fear this growing divide. How easily we go to war with each other, and we make our neighbor our enemy. I do not carry hatred within me. I carry human anger and grief, like you. I have engaged with Intersectional Social Justice and have come away with the conclusion that it is not healthy or humane. This is my perspective. It is not the only perspective. Other good people do not share my perspective, but neither will I accept being thought of as “hateful” or a “supremacist” for not agreeing with this ideology. Furthermore, I am concerned that this ideology attempts to gather all People of Color and all gender-nonconforming people into a small political box of a perennially suffering identity which silences their independent dissenting voices, too.

We need to not be seeing each other as our enemies. A deep connection with Nature should belong to everyone, not just those we are politically in agreement with, not just the anointed ones. Insofar as issue has been taken with traditionally mainline-conservative approaches to nature, this should mean that welcoming Conservatives is all the more of a pressing need: would they not greatly benefit from what WAS has to teach?

Speaking to this almost entirely left-leaning community, we need to listen to Conservatives among us, because that is a part of this amazingly complex, diverse reality which we as a community are missing. And for the sake of real and serious peace, Conservatives must know that they, too, can safely come to communities like WAS to learn and grow as people without being told that all their views are wrong or hateful. Let them be welcomed to meet others not like them, to find delight and friendship in ancestries and gender identities unknown to them. If you want people to listen, they have to know they will be listened to, also. Let despairing be dispelled.

One of the areas we must examine is how, as a mostly-White group of people, we are rightfully eager to be sensitive to and deeply respectful of the experiences of People of Color, but at the same time we painfully and increasingly hate ourselves with such self-abuse, because we think that “whiteness” itself is some sort of inborn social evil we must spiritually atone for. Believe me, my beef is not and has never been with People of Color: it is with other White People. This grieves me heavily, that such a time as this is upon us. While I do not assert that every person reading this thinks in such a way in their attempt to extend generosity and inclusion to minority ancestries, I do maintain that I have witnessed this self-abusing trend and I am calling it out as unhealthy and lacking kindness and respect towards ourselves. Are we so frightened of some largeness within us? We are unremarkable, just another group of human beings with our own culture and history, our own deep beauty and wretched problems, with all the good and the bad that comes with any human heritage.

There is much more I could say about this, but I will end this invitation here. I have had somewhat more brief and heated conversations with a few of you before, in moments when I was admittedly feeling less gracious and more upset. That is the product of grief, and I know I am not the only one here to have wrestled that demon. Every one of us will fail to live up to our better angels on this darkened path through the Unknown World. I am shaking as I write this, because it’s damn scary to speak up to you all about this, but it must be done. I have had good dreams. I am not masterfully practiced in every moral responsibility I know I carry as one who lives in this liminal space –not unlike other cultural liminal spaces– but which is nonetheless one unseen at Wilderness Awareness School currently. It is unseen among The Left, the ones who made me who I am. That is not an intentional maliciousness on the part of our communities, I hope, but it is a cultural shortcoming which countless communities in our civilization are now dangerously contending with. I can’t be there for all of them, but I can show up for the ones that have mattered to me. I will do my imperfect best to be a good human creature, and I welcome you in your imperfect best to join me and break open what scares us. Please, speak to me. I will speak in response. Let us listen to each other.

In Courage,

Amber

Greatly Loved In Its Wildness

I’m an ex-cradle-born-Unitarian Universalist for good reasons. I’m politically moderate. I converted to sparkly Roman Catholicism at age 21. I am Jewish-curious, and am deeply attracted by their cohesive peoplehood and long, honorable struggle with a crazy God. When I was 22, I did something like animism and nature-based rites of passage in a community, but that community didn’t stick, even though the spirituality sure did. I don’t believe in fairies, I believe in birds. I don’t believe in unicorns, I believe in equines. I don’t believe in dragons, I believe in reptiles. The World is what’s real. Prayers and spells don’t save you; human research and evidence-based practices do, but a really grounded spirituality makes it all worth living through. Now I’m a scientific panentheist (is it really necessary to differentiate between pantheist and panentheist? Really?) who believes in a Creator that lives, breathes and moves in all created beings. I don’t claim that this Creator is always or ever going to do as we wish, or can even be trusted the conventional sense, though it can be greatly loved in its wildness. Nature is violent, insane and unjust, and we have every reason to think that any Creator who wrought it might be the same way. But Nature is also, simultaneously, beautiful, life-giving and deeply good. And so the same must be for this mysterious Creator. Such is life on earth. Sometimes I wish I were born in an Animist hunter-gatherer tribe of 30,000 years ago. Then again, I’m grateful for the gift of reason, evidence, vaccines, the internet and refrigerators. What I want most of all is a real tribe I can belong to. I wander, but I am not lost.

 

 

 

Photo by Ivana Cajina on Unsplash

Within Humanity: Toward a Healthier Ethnic Identity for Ancestrally European People

A little while ago, I was speaking with a friend about the racial tension issues surrounding the 2016 election in my country, the United States of America. He reacted strongly to the national tension by veering further “left” politically than me, whereas I have become more cautiously moderate. In this conversation I expressed my anguish about becoming separated from beloved friends over these divided politics, especially friends like him. We were talking about the issue of perceived “whiteness” in America, and he felt strongly that White people might be historically redeemed by wiping away this stain of self-identified “whiteness” by no longer identifying as “white”, but instead by reclaiming their roots as ethnically Dutch, Irish, Norwegian, French, Russian, Italian, and so forth. I told him why I take issue with this: “Tell me,” I said, “which am I? Am I French or German or Danish? Am I Scottish or Swedish or English? I do not know which section of my DNA is more worthy of my recognition, in order to be pardoned from a cultural guilt which I have no responsibility in creating.” By trying to uplift the cultural experiences of non-white Americans, he was ignoring and devaluing his own simultaneous reality that White people in America tend to identity as White for a very good reason. They do not belong to only one of these disparate ethnic European groups, but an ancestral admixture of many of them. The story of gradually becoming White in America was not some sinisterly ordained plot worked out in advance from the Mayflower. It was a multi-century, organically evolving experience of blending into a new cultural group of pan-European American people, which eventually resulted in us having only one box to check on the census: “White/ Caucasian”. This blending of ancestries was not some malicious conspiracy to make all ancestrally European people immediately the top of the social hierarchy, though this happened for a multi-generational period due to being the majority population with its own set of complicated values and age-old human problems. This is a story of a people’s multi-generational diaspora, and it isn’t very remarkably different from every other migration story in the history of humanity.

I want to participate in my own ethnic European-American “tribe” the same way other tribes are openly permitted to do so in my country without all the shame and blame to follow. At the same time, I do not accept any supremacist attitudes from anyone, regardless of their “race”. I put the word “race” in scare quotes because I follow the scientific conclusion that there is no biological evidence for the distinct categories we call “races”. There are varying genetics, haplogroups, phenotypes, and distinctive cultures, all of which result in the many ethnic groups of the world, but there is no evidence in reality for such a thing as “race”. Looking at this desire to wholly belong to and participate in the communal life of a human tribe, I view my own need for this cultural identity and cohesion through the same evolutionary and anthropological lens that applies to all in our Human species. I place my own pan-European and American ancestry within that global, million-year-old Hominid story.

Part of the ongoing problem of colonialism’s legacy is that the “privileged” groups tend to unconsciously feel that they will only ever have their privilege to identity with, or else their utter shame and self-hatred in response to it. They forget their own normal humanity that holds the same needs for a semblance of peaceful cohesion as does any other ethnic group. A healthy ancestrally European identity could begin as one which does not assume the blank slate of normalcy for all that is culturally “white”, while marginalizing all non-white people as the Other. Instead, it would claim the beauty and humanity of its Western ancestry, influenced by many peoples over many centuries, while acknowledging the parallel normalcy of everyone else’s accomplishments and subsequent centrism in their own ancestry.

One of the ironies of the politically “progressive” White-guilt complex is the blindness to it’s own ability to be so deeply self-critical as a group of self-identified White people. If White people were so hopelessly irredeemable for the sins of history, we wouldn’t be repenting on our knees through the desert in sackcloth and ashes like we are. The alarming part of this is not a peoples’ willingness to be self-critical, but rather a peoples’ willingness to eagerly self-destruct their own culture in hopes of redeeming itself through a sacrificial offering. The sick religious connotations I draw are intentional. The proclamations on the part of white people who wish to culturally beat themselves and their progeny into submission in reparations to people with more melanin in their skin is sadistic, unacceptably emotionally self-mutilating and will never change the past. It will only put a stain on the wellness and relationships of the generations of the future, whatever their skin colors.

Some contemporary people of European ancestry are trying to creatively re-envision an ethnic identity not automatically tied up in the colonial slaughter of the past five hundred years as their founding mythology. It is appropriate to acknowledge the pain of the victims of colonial history without relegating our own European ethnic heritage to the two worst options: either crippling, self-hating ancestral guilt or inexcusable White supremacist ideology. Neither of these can ever be healthy and I look forward to the future demise of each.

We do damage to upcoming generations when we give them only the consistently despairing accounts of history, without pairing them with the equally true and powerful stories of inter-ethnic friendship, cooperation and acculturation to each other. To only speak exclusively of historical despair –hoping to heal the wounds of history by emotionally flogging the children of the future– only perpetuates conflicts that do not belong to the future. Each of us are born to be the living recipients of history, and so we are the ones qualified to talk back to it. The greatest wisdom of the elders should be to let their warfare die with them.

 

 

The Names of Friends: Species I Have Known (in the San Joaquin Valley and Sierra Nevada Mountains of California)

Early in July of 2017 I visited my homeland region of the San Joaquin Valley and Sierra Nevada Mountains. It’s something gentle to my heart, a mystery why this place keeps calling out to me with such love over such distance, across time and space. The Sierra Nevada mountains of California, I have long held, are what a heaven shall be like when the great celestial places come to settle their love on our small and intimate Earth, it is told, in the life of the world to come. How I love this cathedral range, mountains of gentler snow and light and love.

I journeyed into these mountains of mine for two days, alone with my little car and a quietness in me, on July 6th and 7th. I stayed at extraordinary Mono Hot Springs, where I wish the likes of me could somehow live with my sweet husband, our two cats, and a sure chosen family-community for the rest of our lives. Of course, this magical little town of a dozen-or-so is seasonal, arising out of the glitter-snows of winter for half the year in hotter days of late spring through early autumn. There are real true springs, there: warm, lovely scented (a good smell of the washing and comforting earth!) sulfur springs welling up from the high meadow paradise grounds. It is said the Original Peoples ventured there, the Mono and Miwok and other ancestral, indigenous travelers from over the range. I speak prayers of thanks and friendship to them while I walk, barefoot and lightly clothed in rectangular fabric, the paths of the little mountain meadow hillsides where these springs of warm renewal rise.

Walking this land, this place I love likely more than any other I have tread or even seen depicted by the captured frames of light, my heart jumps in happy greeting at the sight of familiar specie-friends. What a happy revelation to find that the days of searching and studying the knowledge of these plant and animal species truly does create clearer eyes in humans who go walking int heir homelands. At various times in this visit to the Sierras I was, at turns, lovesick in my heart for feeling, at once, such a great love for this place yet missing my husband and our two little cats back in my current home of the Puget Sound. I wanted, with longing, that all my loves would be gathered together –as we hope for in heaven. No wonder that the images I have dreamt of my original family resurrected to life is of our meeting in these Sierra Nevada mountains.

And here, friends, I speak your names once more, a litany of love and homecoming, of belonging to the profound and sacred heart-comfort of this place. I recorded your good names in a notepad to remember you, that I should not forget I have seen you again. I shall see you again.

Western Juniper – Juniper occidentalis

Douglas Fir – Pseutotsuga menziesii

Ponderosa Pine – Pinus ponderosa

Jeffrey Pine – Pinus jeffreyi

Western White Pine – Pinus monticola

White Alder – Alnus incana

California Bay Laurel – Umbellularia californica

(Up and down the way through Oregon:) – Interior Live Oak – Quercus wislienii

Mountain Dogwood – Cornus nuttallii

Oregon Grape – Berberis aquifolium

Poison Oak – Toxicodendron diversilobum

White Stem Raspberry – Rubus leucodermis

Thimbleberry – Rubus parvifolus

A Gooseberry Unknown

Manzanita (Greenleaf, likely)

also Pinemat, Whiteleaf

Bracken Fern (whom I thought was Lady Fern, mistooken)

                    Pteridium aquilinum variation. pubescens. Rounded lobes.

Lady Ferm pattern: little tufts along her spine,

                                        Athyrium falpestre var. americanum

Lupine – type? Who, among so many names.

Miner’s Lettuce – Claytonia perfoliata

Paintbrush – Applegate’s, Indian? – Castilleja applegatei species.

Jepson’s Pea –a brilliant pink of hearts! – Lathyrus jepsonii

Prickly Pear

California Poppy

Gay Penstemon, happy, joyfulPenstemon laetus! –Laudete!

 

Animals, Animalia, Kingdom

the Ones through Whom God looks out through all eyes.

Golden Buprestid, a Beetle of Brilliance

Sierran Blue-winged Grasshopper

Marmot

“Northern & Boreal Bluet”, Common Blue Damselfly – Enallagma cyathigerum

and female var. E. boreale

Western Fence Lizard! Blue-Belly!

Sandpiper (almond orchard, down in the San Joaquin Valley)

Turkey Vultures (different from Condors, the greats)

Coyote, always!

Mourning Dove, whose song I love, who greets the hot day

and makes her mourning into singing.

Northern Mockingbird, the scout-flapper-flier.

  – Do not all these deserve the same love?

American Robin – Turdus migratorius – steady on laws to remind us, to cheer us

Saw somebody with a yellow belly, not sure of his name yet, fine feathers of turmeric.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Stellar’s Jay – his eyebrows stripes of vertical white are different here

                                                             than in the Puget Sound. Two light-blue

                                                             eyes stripes vertical!

Dark-eyed Junco – Junco hyemalis

Brewer’s Blackbird

European Starling

California Ground Squirrel (distinct white back)

Brown Creeper

Raven – Corvus corax

                                             harbinger unto the end

 

 

 

 

Into the Dark of the World

The seasons turn, and we go with the eternal turning. It will not be fought, nor resisted, nor contested. No plea is accepted; into the mouth of the great gaping earth we everyone of us softly go. Autumn, the sign of the unstoppable wheel, alighting in fire the humor of our petty resistance to old age and death –to the very vitality awaiting within the acceptance of old age and death! Here is a holy time of contemplation for facing beautiful harsh reality, Elder of the midnight hour, the silver lines as mountain rock of an ancient’s cold hair. Grandma, guide me. Home of memory, place of my hearth and birth, call me homeward once more. The living World is as it is. Acceptance of this absolute reality without a constant yearning to always change it points the way toward loving reality as a fully dynamic place of living, natural magic in its own right; not as a fallen, temporary or resented state of being.

I am petulantly weary of the dull platitude, “change the world”. The World doesn’t need to be changed. The World is alive and doesn’t need us to save it. It is our human behavior and attitudes that need to change. “Obviously,” you say, but it is not so clearly obvious to those who unthinkingly project the dimness of humanity’s notorious myopia unto the holy life of the The World itself. For even we, small hominid creatures of momentary candlelight, are a flame’ breath in the wind of The World, dying and undying, all our passing cultures themselves being also an homage to the world-wheel we swivel upon.

A long time ago there was a man named John Burroughs, and this is what he said,

It is good that fire should burn, even if it consumes your house; it is good that force should crush, even if it crushes you; it is good that rain should fall, even if it destroys your crops and floods your land. Plagues and pestilences attest to the constancy of natural law. They set us to cleaning our streets and houses and to readjusting our relations to outward nature. Only in a live universe could disease and death prevail. Death is a phase of life, a redistributing of the type. Decay is another kind of growth.

Grandpa, give me joy in my days, in my work, in the labors of my life. Watch over me with pride, where you now live in the shining mountains of the world-without-end. Let my efforts be for good and beautiful endeavors, that I may make our people proud, our land a country of the rightful-hearted, softened by the gentle wisdom of elders and children, and toughened by the versant endurance of ages. May I always run to the roar of the night that is frightful, knowing that within what we fear is the fortitude we most desire. May my existence be a light and a blessing unto the beautiful Dark where I tread. Do not forget me, my ancestors! Sustain me, flame of origin! Remember we who yet way-find through our days in these human shapes, and keep us always in your affectionate embrace. So may it be.

In Search of American Peoplehood and the Strangeness of Being Human

Hello, good people! I am new to this group. It’s a conspiracy: I seem to have entered some longer conservation already underway among you. Allow me to chime a new tune and introduce myself to you.
 
It is the same old strangeness, finding myself here, waking up in the garden of Eden past dark. The Gardener is hiding in shadows and the fruit of the tree of knowledge lies half-eaten at our feet. Even the snake is nowhere clearly seen, and we feel only our own hominid nakedness in the night. Where are the skins of the ancestors, thickened and fur-lined? How vulnerable is this humanity.
 
I see that the conversation I have entered is a passionate one. I do have a strong instinct myself to run headlong into a fight for the true and the beautiful. But I joined this group to find lovable centrist and conservative friends that I can engage with face to face, not on the darned internet! What a sorrowful fill I’ve had of that in my dumber days. I say, if we argue, let’s do it with laughter together, live in the body! I’m all for hashing things out, but my heart is tired of not trusting or even knowing my people. And who are my people? We Americans are, and now I shall not be moved from it. How I want to live in peoplehood together. How I have stupidly missed this before, looking everywhere for this providential identity I already have. This peoplehood of we Americans: I want to keep my eyes on this, look forward to this, carry this with me.
 
The older strangeness of being human never ceases to tug at me. It hangs bittersweetly on the heart, you know. It follows at the back of my neck, just there under the hairline where the stem of the reptile branches into the tenderness of mammalian affection. What to do with this strangeness, this knowledge we carry of our hearts’ own utter defenselessness?
 
I have set out to find this country of my birth. Where are you, my people? Where are you, my mountains? I am in search of the flowering of the spirit.