The Webster dictionary definition really hits the nail on the head when it defines “Intelligence” as successfully learning through experience and adaptation. The naturalist in me respects how this brings learning back to it’s animal roots: intelligence stems from an ecosystem which demands keen awareness and sensitivity to one’s environment to survive and thrive. Our environment isn’t what it used to be, but our instinct to adaptive learning is now more crucial than ever. Though the contemporary of cognitively acquisition of knowledge through books and words (compared to skills learned physically, in immediate circumstances) has tremendous value, a return is needed to the experiential, physical, responsive learning of our instincts. This will be necessary to ameliorating many of the ills of our modern educational system.
In the discipline of “book-learning” is the elitist attitude of ridiculing “street-smarts” as a somehow lesser form of “smarts”. This experience-based learning is assumed to only be relevant to the roughest city streets of disenfranchised youths. It is not respected as a way of learning so essential for survival as complete humans. Comfortable Americans maintain this misunderstanding because this instinctual way of acquiring knowledge arises naturally in people who must remain aware of their immediate physical environment to survive, such as in inner-city neighborhoods, unlike the privileged who are accustomed to living in their heads (or tuned-out in their head-phones) all the time.
I want to acknowledge, however, that the stresses of living in embattled environments should not be romanticized. A hostile environment can compel those on the edge of survival to use their energy for more immediate demands, such as escaping a physical threat, thereby leaving less room for softer sensory awareness. Yet this can also, paradoxically, be a direct link into greater environmental sensitivity.
To grow up with intelligence and awareness, of any useful kind, is to come to terms with the world. To face adulthood is to leave the teenage time of endless battles and accept which struggles are worth your morning coffee. If I ever get the great honor and privilege of mentoring teenagers, I will try to put this understanding into their minds without overpowering them, but encouraging them to discover these truths. A good teacher or mentor is to lead them in reverence for the path, with wisdom to alarm them of unseen snakes in tall grass, as was the way of all ancestors for their young initiates. But a good teacher accepts that these young ones must necessarily be wounded –the old primal wound of the psyche coming to terms with the harsh and beautiful way of the world– to “die” to their childhoods. Elders must protect and defend the young while yet getting out of their way. The young people are to be put in charge for a change, which too many adults live in fear of acknowledging, and so put their children in trouble on the road ahead. But if the young are taught well, and learn intelligence by experiencing and witnessing the living, active wisdom of the old, we who are older should have nothing to fear when it comes time to hand them the wheel (the driving wheel, or the wheel of life!).
It was always unclear to me, as a child, what was “clockwise” and what was “counterclockwise”. What did kitchen counters have to do with clocks? And what made them so wise? Was the face of the clock looking at us looking at it? Watching a movie about tornadoes once, my dad said that the twister was chasing the storm-chasers. Was the twister alive? Was it thinking and moving with a spirit of its own? Was it spinning clockwise or counterclockwise? What happened to linear clock-time inside a circular tornado? If you are looking down on a circle from above, like God, the clock-hands move clockwise. But what if you were just a tiny being like a child, an ant on the face of earth, flat to the ground, looking up through the surface of the clock? The whole sky above. The sky grows dark with tornadoes as the clock spins in the opposite direction. Widdershins. Counter-clockwise.
Time was always doing these things; it was “up” –up where? “Running out” –out where? “Of the essence” –the scent of time. I lay beneath that clock of mystery, not understanding how adults could not understand that if you stand under the clock, looking up, the hands of time move the other way. The perception of time was literally dependent on how you were looking at it. Where you stand. When you are very small you are not sure where you stand. You may find yourself standing underneath a great circle, looking up through a hole in the heavens out of which opens great storms of tornadoes, rescued only by God’s hands moving in both directions at once. They were trying to teach me how to tell time. I wanted to tell time what I thought of it.
It is strange that I edited and completed this poem today, on August 1st, 2017. A while ago when I was inspired to begin writing this poem, I wondered what actual date it was that Anne made her final diary entry. Then I discovered it was exactly this day, August 1st, 1944. …wow. That’s some coincidence.
“Anne’s diary ends here”
–when I read the words I wondered
where you had gone:
into a cloud, through a dark place
where I could not follow.
I try not to think
of the prison camps,
not the pit where your body lay.
Nor were you to be found now
in the house of safety,
the small window of childhood.
You live beyond that now.
I listen backwards
to your life.
Anne, born the same year
as my own grandmother,
Anne, a young girl like me,
I imagine you grown old
in the happiness of humanity
with grandchildren around you.
And now we who have loved you
will be your grandchildren,
we the progeny of your faith.
Anne, give us strength.
When I was a child I told my spiritual father
that I had moments of insight,
fashes of understanding, like the wings of swallows
swooping into a city with a message to tell
that humankind must remember.
It was beyond explaining to grown-ups,
though I knew I had to help save them.
My spiritual father said,
“Remember these moments that come to you.
Remember, write them down,
Or they will slip away like birds.”
And I watch the way my thoughts fly
like they do not want to be captured,
cannot be told once and for all time
in the tradition of writing.
I follow the swallows out to the fields,
a pair of lovebirds chasing each other,
friends of the light.
How carefully close they come to the dark earth,
the tall grass brushing their scintillant feathers
like breath, one word of beauty before leaving,
a reminder to humankind
who is forgetful.
From 3,700 feet in the sky I write of the world below, a patchwork of gravel-brown and winding blue-green beneath patchy blankets of white. I love to be on the ground, and feel unexpected gratitude that gravity hugs me always downward. What would it be like to walk the whole way north along the undulating edge of the coast-line, heading north between the great continent and the waters.
When I was five years old and took my first plane flight, I looked out the window and saw an unfathomably large grey brick wall in the sky. It does not matter if I was awake or asleep. It was there in the clouds, to my eyes.
Chalk is the story of neighborhoods.
The children point the way in the roads.
Histories hover over these sidewalks
where the mothers stood in the doors
while we buried our wars
at the end of the cul-de-sac,
the shrine of the pack.
Old land in your infamous summer.
You were paradise and continue to be
in your wrinkled oaks of the valley,
yellow stone hills thirsty.
On paper it rains ten inches a year,
desert magic washes boneyards in creek-beds.
I was a child on the roof, in the clouds,
small ears alert to industrial thunder
that would dare take the soul
with the earth.
Favorite summer camp moment: the kids in my group at St. Ed’s Art of Nature find a tiny dead vole (a meadow mouse), and after examining it’s feet for tracking curiosities, we decide it needs a proper funeral. I plant the idea of a Viking funeral at sea and tell them to fetch a piece of bark for a boat. They then spend an hour cooperatively decorating this elaborate little boat of curled bark the size of my forearm. They gingerly cover the vole with Hemlock needles and a yellow leaf, and surround the corpse with blue pebbles, cones and “blackberries to feed it’s spirit in the next life” (!) with a great golden Big Leaf Maple leaf as a rudder and sail. The “pyre” is set. We ship it out to sea on Lake Washington: it floats a stone’s throw from us, and slowly sinks. I say, “Oh, look, he’s going to the Underworld!” and we all sing the Canoe Song in unison. Which was so cute I could hardly bear it. Made my week.
With leaves in my hair and dirt between my toes I concluded, last Friday, a successful week of Wilderness Awareness School summer camps with the adorable wide-eyed 4-and-5-year-olds. By 4:30 the last kid had been picked up from after-care, and I expected to also promptly jet. But something in the forest called me, and I went back to the green, wooded place where we gathered and wondered. Everything was quiet now, but I could still hear the kids’ laughter. I laid down under the “fort” they built –a cute, haphazard mishmash of big sticks they propped against a Western Red Cedar tree to pretend they were building a real secret hideout. Little nature trinkets they had been enthralled with lay about: a piece of wood that looked like a giant’s tooth, a rock, a pile of fir cones to awe the imagination. I wrapped up in my cloak and realized I already sorely miss those kids, after only one-and-the-final week of being their mentor. I thought about how their lives might be, what they will be like when they’re all grown up, what the world will be like if and when they have their own kids and generations on generations have come to pass down the shadowed ages of history… and will I ever see them again? Will they remember our one magical week in the woods together, all those years ago in 2013 when they were only 4 and 5 years old? Did I make any real difference? And some tears leaked out of me because I don’t know, and I may never know. Under the eaves of that tree I thought about my own mentors and teachers from my earliest childhood memories up through my adulthood initiation at Anake, and how much they all meant to me. Maybe I care too much, but I can’t help it. I imagine that this mentor’s love must be only a small fraction of the immense love that parents feel for their children. And I think that this unfabricated familial love, when also freely felt for one’s peers and elders, is the love that bonds a community. So this is what it is like, to love as a mentor loves. It’s damn bittersweet to let them go.
Journal entry from August 6th 2013
photo by Pezibear. Public Domain. Pixabay.com
This dream, excavated from an old dream journal, I dreamt sometime in 2005, when I was aged 14 or 15.
A hoard of angry people shove into a shopping center late at night, pushing their way under sickly false, flickering lights. I know I must bring the good words to help save them.
“I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield
down by the river side!”
By singing these words I coax the people outside with my song, where the dawn washes over their faces, at last, curing their minds of much sickness.
Image © the family of Gentle J. Pine. All rights reserved.