Last night I wanted to go to sleep and wake up as a happy five-year-old in this house of my grandparents, with both my Grandma and Grandpa alive, healthy and vital, the decay of the future far away or nonexistent; that present that is now the past, eternal again in a child’s unending summer day. And I found myself crying quietly in Grandpa’s study where I sleep when I come to Fresno, California to visit, because he is ten years still gone and Grandma is here in body but is barely and unrecognizably tenuously “alive” in her spirit.
I’m twenty-eight now and, for the great majority of my adult life under the rational light of the sun, I am accepting of and at peace with the situation that has come to be: our time is one of seeing more beloved elderly people slowly and pitifully die than ever before in society, proportionate to the numbers of the young who must witness it. Our grandparents and parents, once all medical cures are exhausted, languish in a half-life awaiting death, this rite of passage of which I have increasing faith in as a great liberation and the ultimate cure itself. People are living longer, but not necessarily better lives past a certain point. It became known to me in the past few years that Grandpa had considered seeking physician-assisted self-euthanasia, had his incurable physical pain become unbearable and death had not taken him in his sleep. The thought of it would have been too hard for me to handle when, at his death, I was eighteen and he was eighty, but now I have more and more serious respect for the natural and ancient dignity in such a choice. I had the freedom to euthanize my beloved cat of thirteen years when her veterinary ailments became unbearable for her, but we are in such stupid denial about the dignity of human beings in valid situations being able to choose the same for themselves. Instead, we force our beloved humans to have their butts wiped by somebody else, a humiliation that should never be forcibly born by a person because those around them are too chicken-shit to accept the reality of death in The World.
Sometimes, it’s the very resiliency of human beings that scares me so much: we can go through any hell and keep living. Other animals are not averse to the peace of death as a natural response to a suddenly severely maladaptive environment. But we humans are terrifying in our ruthless, pertinacious will to keep breathing through any plague, and now I wonder what this insect-like insistence has made of us. We have become titans of battle against everything, against our own brains and against Nature itself, and we have become unloving of Reality, at odds with The World, constantly unaccepting of the limits of the universe. Do I share in this same inclination to be at odds with The World in my childlike longing for a theoretical universe that could have (should have, would have, but only might have) been?
I was a child of the 1990s. I’ve long had a quietly uncanny feeling that something happened in the ’90s, and it was the end of the world. It was the end– or maybe the world spun off into different directions, dimensions, and this who I am in one of them is not who I am in another. And yet I do not feel divided within myself: through all my depression and the shit I went through as a kid with an insanely emotionally abusive mom with Borderline Personality Disorder, I have had the great luck of always feeling continuously whole within myself. Imaginatively, this uncanny sense of differing possible realities is more that I was pulled into one possible universe where things were not as whole all was meant to be, and something was off, only because, in contrast, I also glimpsed that deep Beauty of the Original World peeking through into this one. As a child, I saw this through the lens of my family. And who I am here have always been a little exorcist, who descended only deeply enough in time and in worlds within worlds to confront something, finish something, set something right. And any day now I will find my way back home to where I am supposed to be, waking up, relieved, from a dream.
Back in this world, I have lately been enjoying the lighter quality of trying not to feel so much all the time, for once in my life: my nature is to be so deeply feeling that it is frequently maladaptive to my environment, and I am weak and as yet unskilled in spinning this sensitivity into strands of gold. And now it suddenly and forbiddingly occurs to me that this ability to turn away from the tender heart is the necessary –and terrifyingly natural– shadow underlying my hominid ability to uncanny adaptation. How comfortable we are pressed to become among prolonged sickness and wrongful decay in our dogged search between a rock and a hard place for survival: the loss of tender feeling for that shimmering Original World, peeking through the slats of our weighted days, becomes an unbearable heartache for those with too much to carry. So much of an aging human life is full with the totalistic and unbending trial of coming to accept the absolute finality of death and loss, when still our persistent hearts in their deepest chambers yearn for life eternal. Among all of this, we must find a way to be happy– on pain of death. No wonder that those who find a path of absolute acceptable of reality while somehow keeping a tender heart are rightly called the saints of our species. And so I wonder if the Christians really have it right about something: humanity’s omnipresent longing for a semblance of eternal life, evident in all cultures, makes me wonder if there’s really something to it, in the way that hunger is an indicator that food exists somewhere.
But I am here now, born into this land of the vast old Earth, where my species is restless and beautiful and full of ancient and unknowable strangeness. Drifting into sleep last night I heard the night birds of this warm valley cooing their evening song from their perches and nests, calling steadily to their mates in their peaceful language, comforting their young in their downy breasts. I know their names, some of them, and the names and intimate formations of the trees that they love, that I love with a tender heart, that are bequeathed to me in an unending ancestry of natural lives in exchange. It was the Descent of Man, a going-down which Darwin spoke of, into the World to be among it completely, in totality. And in this moment of my brief human heart in the glorious life of the dark Earth I want nothing more than to be among the sounds of the night-songs forever, here in The World, so deeply is their avian comfort entwined with the blanketing world of the dusk, the old bones of the mother-sound of my animal life.
When I write, who will come to visit me in my words?
Rumi, I also wonder who says words with my mouth.
But when you, Friend, come to my door
I will know to open it for you, and your name
will be the name of all songs.
And by many names do you come!
And through countless faces
you look out at the world in love.
Let me be your abiding place
where you come to stay without worry.
And by the good words that come
from the core of the happy heart,
may your breathing be the life of all lands.
It might be the drive between sparkling, montane Quail Springs and comforting, familiar Fresno which is the most dismal, alienating four-hour drive in all of California. A ghastly expanse of oil rigs puncture godforsaken rock and ash where once were gentle Valley Oak and wildflower savannas roamed by Tule Elk and Bear. Nameless towns of nowhere on dusty highways appear from the no man’s land of big-box fast food stops, gas stations and sketchy motels with blinking neon lights. Any sight of human habitation in the form of neighborhoods are either monolithic tracts of identical mini McMansions, or lopsided old houses supported by tarps and barbed wire appearing to huddle together for dear life (assuming the inhabitants have found strength in community, as I hope). Just to make sure I got the message, I was pulled over by flashing blue and red lights and awarded a speeding ticket for doing a modest 68 in a mysteriously unmarked 55 mph zone, according to the cop, who was just doing his job. And when I, approaching Fresno from a distance still on the lower highway 41, saw that the air was so afflicted by a heavy carpet of smog so as to veil the mountains and the sun’s full shine in a brown haze, I almost no longer believed. At the edge of despair I thought the land was lost forever, when at once, something flashing, flame-shot with gold, caught the corner of my eye. From below the signposts and still grass of the roadside there arose in chorus a great congregation of birds from the earth like a fleet of angels in resurrection. I saw their beating wings catch the morning sun and reflect, in each perfectly synchronized turn of the flock, the red haze of the marred light in a new-made shimmer as if to give unshakable glory to the life eternal which still lives in this world, even in such a time as this. I saw more flocks gather around me as my car traveled on, and they flew overhead and resided there in the air in cadence with my own pace of flight. Their shadow was so dense above me that my sight became for a moment darkened, the outline of each feathered body becoming one. When having passed over me entirely, and, leaving the wake of my movement to myself once again, they seemed to take all darkness with them. And my eyes were wider, restored with light.
A recollection from my time at Quail Springs Permaculture Farm, Autumn 2013
I love it when my face smells like bow-drill smoke.
Synonyms for Bright
shining, glowing in appearance blazing, brilliant, dazzling, flashing, glistening, glittering, golden, intense, luminous, radiant, shimmering, shiny, silvery, sparkling, sunny, vivid, ablaze, aglow, alight, argent, auroral, beaming, burning, burnished, coruscating, effulgent, fulgent, fulgid, glaring, gleaming, glossy, illuminated, illumined, incandescent, irradiated, lambent, light, lighted, limpid, lustrous, mirrorlike, moonlit, phosphorescent, polished, relucent, resplendent, scintillating, sunlit, twinkling…
We have loved the light.
My friend J: Last night I dreamt of angels at play in the high mountain forests of the Sierra Nevadas, as you and I had spoke of them while we walked there in the groves of light. Now, I can’t think of angels as separate from birds. And the conversations between them and us are sustaining the whole world. May light pour into all of you, always.
I dreamt of a Japanese-style teahouse built of wood and stone jutting out from the side of a darkly enchanted mountain. A harmless old woman lived there, the Keeper of the Keys. I and two friends were greeted by her in the tea parlor where we were served fresh-brewed strengthening potions in ceremonial cups, to carry out a mission she needed us for. She clothed us in vivid turquoise for spiritual protection. “The ghouls of this mountain have grown unexpectedly restless,” she says. “I need you to help me clean house.”
Deep into the side of the mountain tunneled the caverns behind her teahouse home. Burrowed chambers of abandoned vaults gave way to spider’s webs and the remains of small, dead beings. We came to an empty well that was a hundred feet deep, and twenty feet wide. In the middle was a hanging rope –for swinging across to the other side?
Suddenly, there appeared a monstrous humanoid skeleton thirty feet tall, swinging on the rope over the well, slashing at us with its claws. It was a terrible sight with it’s big, hollow sockets for eyes and its sinister grin.
I drew out my candlestick from my sheath, the one I have dreamt of before. In these dreams I carry it with me when we need light. The monster swings at me, but my wax candle, as if it were diamond, meets his furor with solidity and he falters. Quickly, my friends lay down a plank of wood across the well and I run out to where the menace dangles, momentarily bewildered on his rope, and I cut him down. He falls back down the hole to be seen and heard no more.
Returning to the parlor, all the little dead beings whose bodies were trapped in the tunnels become alive again, and give a cheer for us. The old woman robes us in rainbow-quilted cloaks of rejoicing designs detailing our particular powers gifted to us on our quests. The balance was restored to the mountainside and the Keeper’s tea tasted better than it ever had before.