Nonhuman friends like the Coast Redwoods, Sequoia sempervirens, know how to drink the darkness of fog to make for us small creatures -a breath of amazement- dappled sunlight higher above us than any other creature’s making. They do not mind who walks below them, or what goes on in our human minds with such heaviness. Sequoia sempervirens does not mind, nor has care of mind, nor thinks in the worries of mammalian minds at all. No mind, doesn’t mind.
Looking through old notes I had saved from my time in Anake Outdoor School (September 2012-May 2013), I found a half-finished poem I scribbled at the campfire when our tribe stopped in Del Valle, California, in early February 2013 on our way further south to the Transverse Mountains and the Los Padres forest region of Quail Springs. Here’s the polished poem to better convey that sense of joy.
Night over the fire, coming down from
the Great North far now
from the land of Sitka and Birch
into Del Valle, hills green and brown
in the early spring evening.
Circle fire somewhere in the latitudes of
big open stars. Song of the clicking insects,
their language. Brother Coyote has arrived
and Sister Crow sets the table,
plates made for the ancestors,
communion of food chains all the way back.
Circle round for stories and songs.
Some are anointed with new names.
Others that were old are new-born.
Skin smells of bow-drill smoke, says
“I will tell you someday”.
Bright color is the work of the sun,
but everything is spilled into
shimmering darkness there
in the Milky Way overhead.
Knight of bows
Knight of arrows
9 of arrows
9 of foxes
A fox with 9 tails
A tale of 9 foxes
Ten of bows
Page of arrows
The Green man.
What do you call it when the starting number is 1? The way some people count “age 1” upon birth? Different cultural thoughts about math. Ethnomathematics.
How can zero be a number if it doesn’t exist? What is this thing of existence representing what is not in existence at all? By giving a name to what doesn’t exist, do we then make it exist is some way?
If zero represents nothing, how can it exist? Is it something that exists in and of itself, this nothingness? Zero is deceptive. It sure looks like a whole number, being all roundish and ovular wholesome, but in truth there is a sneaking black hole right through the middle of it. Is zero something that exists? The symbol 0 exists, but if it represents nothing, is that a something? How can a “nothing” have such a strong effect? Does nature abhor a zero? For being an ostensible nothing-at-all, Zero sure does cause a lot of trouble when you try to divide something by it.
“Any number divided by zero is undefined,” they say. If Johnny has 5 apples and he divides them by nothing at all, but instead keeps them united, (indivisible apples, undivided) then wouldn’t the result be, well, no different than what he started out with? Dividing by nothing should be the same as not dividing at all. Or perhaps Johny would have 1, meaning 1 group of apples, because they are undivided, because you can only divide something by a number other than 1, so diving by 0 would be, in fact, un-dividing. Johnny still has 5 undivided apples, or 1 group of them. That’s reality. Sounds pretty well-defined.
So to come along and say “it can’t be done! Meaningless! Undefined!” makes me think that zero is a hidden something after all, a renegade, just like pi, lurking in the middle portal to infinity. Expansively consuming the magic void between a 1 and a -1. It’s up to something, hiding out in the land between One and One’s Mirror (-1).
Difference is a word that you get when you subtract numbers from each other. Are we so different because something has been subtracted from us?
Are negative numbers a way to assign debt to nature where there really is none? Does the concept of a negative balance exist in the beautiful life-world? If integers to the left of zero on the number line are always in debt, does this make then feel negative?
Do early-learned “tricks” in math make it harder to visualize true math as students mature?
How much math goes into the making of paper? How much math goes into determining bias against children with un-mathematical gifts? Is math in our brains when we see the sunrise? What about beautiful words? How many maths? How many moments of beauty?
Where is math in the human mind?
Yesterday, for Easter, T and I drove to an enchanted Japanese Shinto shrine a half-hour’s travel from Seattle. It was the Great Spring Ceremony. We were invited as guests to celebrate the Kami, the personalities of the earth, waters and sky according to Japanese cosmology. The ceremony was a profoundly beautiful one: chanting meditations, taiko drums, a traditional dancer with the shamisen instrument, and a walk through the mossy gardens by the river where stone statues of frogs, foxes and cats bless the land and the people. There is a deeply pan-human, ancient and natural appeal of Shinto as a surviving route back into communion with Great Nature.
In my study of Shinto I maintain a grounding in the mystical tradition of Christianity, because I do not see hard-and-fast divisions between the sacred in its forms. I am fortunate in the ability to see a blending of ideas as a means to wholeness. Antagonism is not wholeness; the refusal to syncretize diverse ways of being has lead to useless suffering. We retain unique traditions: blue can still be blue and green can still be green, but see how beautiful they are when they blend, pigment by pigment. In my cosmology, all the personalities of the Creation are from the Creator. The souls of animals and plants are completely in relationship with the Creator in their own way. They are the ones who were with Jesus in the wilderness.
“He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.”
so tells the story according to Mark. In this way, a spiritual imagination is an act of maturity.
I have studied how spending time outside in nature, as well as nurturing the better parts of our “primitive” past (handicrafts, learning through action before books, etc) makes us more fulfilled as a species, including the spiritual realm. We will continue to integrate so many lifeways, for to be well is to be whole. To be spiritual is to be bodily.
Keep your eyes on the eternal beauty at the heart of the world. The following is a prayer from the book “Shinto Meditations for Revering the Earth” by Stuart D. B. Picken, said during Misogi, the ritual of cleansing your body and spirit in the river.
Although the impure and polluted appears before my eyes, I will not let it blind me.
Although it strikes my ears, I will not let it make me deaf.
Although my nose senses it, I will not let it deform my soul.
Although it enters my mouth, I will not let it destroy my taste for life.
Although it touches my body, I will not let it cling to me.
Although I may even desire it, I will not let that desire dwell within me.
Purified, we become free.
Purified, our eyes are opened to the beauty and glory of nature.
Purified, our ears can hear the harmony of the spheres even above the discord of life.
Purified, our sense of fragrance and spirituality is heightened.
Purified, our taste can savor the subtle riches of life.
Purified, our hands can touch the world in its strength and delicacy.
Purified, our eyes see and grasp the world as it is.
Through these means, we will magnify the purity of our spirits
and seek the divine within the human.
Picken, Stuart D. B. Shinto Meditations for Revering the Earth. Berkeley, CA: Stone Bridge, 2002. Print.
This is winter in Cascadia.
Oceans gather, lift and drop.
Trailing backward to stand on a rocky beach
with pebbles for eyes, waving cedar
while the pain of love
pounces your throat–
all rise now to the sea-jungle
rowing into the sound, the great waves
going long ways with singing canoes
by the ferns for a memory;
“Wood, stone, feather and bone,
roaring of the ocean, guide us home/
Wolf and raven, Wolf and raven,
in my soul, in my soul…”
Someone I love
has made a fire on the sand,
hand-drill and tinder-bundle
carried close to the heart
in mist-wool on the skin
of our people, our passage.
Dawn climbs rosy-cheeked and panting
home on wind-feathered faces–
on the shore.
I have several friends who are genderqueer. I have recently learned to use the pronoun they instead of she or he. There are a few hidden gems here, a few insights I’ve had about this.
The first insight is this: the words they, them and their typically refer to people in plural. Using they for an individual bridges the separation between the many and the one. We all contain multitudes within us. God has multitudes within God.
The second insight is this: that we welcome the stranger. They is used to speak of people, whether plural or singular, who we have not met yet, but who we know we are about to meet; “I heard there’s a new classmate in town and I don’t know who they are, but I will soon.” When we use they for an individual whom we know and love, we cannot speak of the stranger in completely alienating terms.
The third insight I like the most. They is the pronoun to speak of all collective groups of people who are both kin to us and those who we call outsiders. But if I call a my friend they, I must not alienate anyone, any tribe or any individual whom I once called a stranger. The Other becomes the Beloved.
I think it was Jesus’ ability to see marginalized people as the beloveds of God which made him the Child of God. Speaking of our friends who are genderqueer as they, –as they wish– may turn out to be a little track and sign of the Divine.
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” –Hebrews 13:2
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
Cooking alone on a hotplate,
sound of a Spanish guitar plucking notes
from some other time and place
in Mediterranea, over songs of gentle want
she boils cures for broken hearts
from Dandelion, Laurel and Nettle,
one with a sting and once with spice,
and another sweet to cure-all.
This is Spring and much is scarce but weeds,
though she knows their names and secret uses
with a smile, the way the leaves and flowers
soak slowly until steam rises
reminds her what determination
with a spritz of fragrance is required
to taste the feast beyond famine.
Hot jewels of blooming stars, fair Orion
and the Dippers lend their love overhead
while she brews Springtime satisfaction.
Summer’s almost here.
I believe in the believers who live
in earthly bodies; these are angelic
whose genesis is the Tree of Life.
A union of pomegranates, gazelles grazing
give image to our beating hearts.
Whereon a sidewalk the unknown beggar
turns to friend and sudden bard
we hear a story about
Christ in the faces of everybody,
Saint Francis walking out naked,
leaping from his horse, offering his cloak,
rejecting his father’s hoard
for the love of God. It’s courage that
our action does not hinge upon
the weekly bulletin or the ordinary office.
Calling our men home from the long war,
horn of peace sounding, we women up
in flocking colors, folding you into me,
I put away empire. I like you best.
Somebody begins a riotous laugh
in a circle, slapping thighs hard,
throwing necks back like Sophia
going down with her flame-tongue
licking foreheads, good news
breathing into translation.
Behold, two fingers and a thumb
unfurled in benediction.
Bring the fish, and the wine,
and the bread.
Now we’ll lie down in green pastures
of city parks with each other;
you turn over and whisper,
Sweet Lord of the salt earth,
this is my body.
I give it up to you.
image: Creative Commons CC0