Tag Archives: Nature

Radical Amazement and Undermining the Patriarchy Every Chance I Get (and I Get a Lot of Chances)

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And, so, here we are: the final day of our liturgical year. The end of the end of Summer and the beginning of the beginning of Winter. And I thought that, for my final post of this year, I’d share with you a wonderful essay that Richard Louv recently wrote about religion, spirituality, nature, silence, and amazement.

His emphasis on amazement, especially at this time of year when we focus on death, reminds me, of course, of Mary Oliver‘s wonderful poem, When Death Comes. I particularly love this poem for the lines:

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

Mr. Louv recounts a conversation about fatherhood that he once had with a rabbi who said that:

to be spiritual is to be constantly amazed. To quote the words of Professor Abraham Joshua Heschel, a great teacher of our age, he said, “our goal should be to live life in radical amazement.” Heschel would encourage his students to get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted: Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.

G/Son is turning out to be something of a rather serious fisherman. And so maybe Mr. Louv’s story of his own amazement has a special resonance for me. He writes about waking up one morning to see a spectacular sunrise, trying to wake his sons to see it, and realizing that they needed to sleep. But, he writes:

Since I was a boy, fishing has been my special window to the spirit. It is not the only window, and not for everyone. But for some of us, it is good.

As the day moved from dawn to dusk, I waded into the calm water, lifted the rod[,] and let loose of the line. I watched my boys along the shore. The younger one, who had temporarily given up on fishing, joyfully hauled his catch of the day, an old bucket, across the mud flat. The older boy had taken his rod into a thicket where there was a secluded pool. Perhaps, in that place, he was immersed in that quietest, strongest of voices.

Sometimes the rhythm of the rod is like a chant or the swinging of incense. Sometimes I can almost feel the water bulge and know that a fish is rising beneath it. Now a trout lifted itself, caught the sunset on its orange flank, and[,] above the water[,] stopped in time, as did my children and the world.

And then life went on. In a few hours, the boys and I would begin to miss their mother, and we would head home more amazed by the sunrise and sunset, by light and dark, by small muddy shoes on the stairs or the sound of my wife’s hairbrush, by the smallest of moments.

Whether our window is fishing — or gardening, or dancing, or coding, or knitting, or yoga, or poetry, or music, or rock climbing, or swimming, or painting, or breast feeding, or making love, or weaving, or organizing, or the law — I think that having a “special window into spirit,” is one of the most “radical” things than anyone, and especially we Pagans, can do. It helps us to (to borrow a phrase from Ivo Dominguez) fight off the enchantment of Patriarchy, which tries to make us believe that we are separate from each other, from the world, from nature, from “spirit.” I love the phrase that Louv quotes from his rabbi friend, quoting Rabbi Herschel: radical amazement.

I’m going to practice more of that this coming year. I won’t be gone long. You come, too.

Photo copyright protected. Please do not reproduce or transmit.

Tuesday Poetry Blogging — Between My Body & the Body of This Land Edition

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Prayer

~ David Abram

May a good vision catch me

May a benevolent vision take hold of me, and move me

May a deep and full vision come over me, and burst open around me

May a luminous vision inform me, enfold me.

May I awaken into the story that surrounds,

May I awaken into the beautiful story.

May the wondrous story find me;

May the wildness that makes beauty arise between two lovers

arise beautifully between my body and the body of this land,

between my flesh and the flesh of this earth,

here and now,

on this day,

May I taste something sacred.

May it be so for you.

Picture by the blogger; if you copy, please link back.

Bending Sticks

Went tonight to the Corcoran with Landscape Guy to see this amazing film as part of the city’s Environmental Film Festival. If you ever get a chance to see it, go.

Saturday at the Movies

There’s a connection here. Can you articulate it?

/hat tips to The Green Man and @thehermitage

Clearing Leaves

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I imagine my mother watching me from the kitchen window as I headed off into the woods once more, a sturdy, slight kid, dressed in old clothes and rubber boots, striding all by herself into the trees.

. . .

I was gone, and she did not see me drawing away the previous fall’s clotted leaves from the thread of water that ran through the springtime oaks and hickories. It was a self-appointed task I took seriously, digging my numbed fingers into wads of leaves, watching the water rise and pearl and run.

. . .

A number of years later, when I no longer went into the woods to clean out the leaves from running water, I read Robert Frost’s poem “The Pasture,” which begins:

“I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away.”

I thought he had been watching me doing what I needed to do then and that perhaps I had not been entirely alone. Or, I thought, perhaps helping water run free is something many people long to make happen. I discovered, reading the poem, that I had been right all along: stories are about us.

. . .

What will happen to us when our children have no connection with what is wild in the land, its depth, danger, generosity? What will life be like for children who do not grow up paying close attention to it and testing themselves against it? And what will happen to those children who ache for it, as I did, but cannot find it anywhere?

We humans evolved along with other species. We became who we are by figuring out who they were: prey, predator, and the thousands of other important things in between. We weren’t just looking at something, we were participating in community. We were the soft clay. The wild world was the potter’s wheel and the potter’s hand.

Who will we become, when only witchgrass, gray squirrels, herring gulls, Norway rats, and others like them conduct their astonishingly adaptable lives outside our houses? Will we live as hostages to what we have made, stunned by loneliness and homesick for what we can no longer imagine?

~ Settled in the Wild: Notes from the Edge of Town by Susan Hand Shetterly

Picture found here.

Being Present


It was very hot and muggy this weekend, but G/Son and I got up early to go to the farmers’ market. On our way out the door, he spotted one of our neighborhood cottontails, breakfasting on my neighbors’ lawn. We spent a long time watching her, as G/Son crept closer and closer. Eventually, he got inside her circle of comfort and she took off for the next yard.

At the farmers’ market, we bought tomatoes, corn, peaches, and a bar of handmade soap that G/Son picked out for his mommy. I always give him some money to spend “on his own,” and he made a bee-line for the lady who sells donuts, fresh and hot from her little donut machine. She threw in an extra one and G/Son was delighted.

When we got home, we sat inside the car and watched a momma cardinal and a bright goldfinch hang upside down and pull sunflower seeds out of the now-drooping heavy heads of the sunflowers. G/Son pointed out the other goldfinch, eating seeds from the centers of the black-eyed susans that bloom so reliably and last even through the drought.

That evening, just before bed, I read G/Son a wonderful book called What Does It Mean to Be Present? I asked G/Son when, during the day, he’d been most present and he said, “Well, Nonna, of course it was watching the bunny and the birds because you can’t do that and think about any other kind of thing or want to be any other kind of place.”

I think that’s about right.

Picture found here.

Digging* Ditches


Here’s a wonderful article about how children develop an attachment to nature and a sense of place. The entire thing is very well worth a read.

Most environmentalists attributed their commitment to a combination of two sources, “many hours spent outdoors in a keenly remembered wild or semi-wild place in childhood or adolescence, and an adult who taught respect for nature.” Lots of time rambling in neighborhood woods and fields and a parent or teacher who cared about nature were frequently cited as causal forces in the development of their own environmental ethics. In his autobiography about growing up in Denver, lepidopterist Robert Michael Pyle describes the urban semi-wild place the inspired him.

“My own point of intimate contact with the land was a ditch. Growing up on the wrong side of Denver to reach the mountains easily and often, I resorted to the tattered edges of the Great Plains, on the back side of town. There I encountered a century-old irrigation channel known as the High Line Canal. Without a doubt, most of the elements of my life flowed from that canal.

From the time I was six, this weedy watercourse had been my sanctuary, playground and sulking walk. It was also my imaginary wilderness, escape hatch, and birthplace as a naturalist. Later, the canal served as lover’s lane, research site and holy ground of solace. Over the years, I studied its natural history, explored much of its length, watched its habitats shrink as the suburbs grew up around it, and tried to help save some of its best bits…Even when living in national parks, in exotic lands, in truly rural country side, I’ve hankered to get back to the old ditch whenever I could …

Even if they don’t know “my ditch,” most people I speak with seem to have a ditch somewhere—or a creek, meadow, wood lot or marsh—that they hold in similar regard. These are places of initiation, where the borders between ourselves and other creatures break down, where the earth gets under our nails and a sense of place gets under our skin…. It is through close and intimate contact with a particular patch of ground that we learn to respond to the earth, to see that it really matters… Everyone has a ditch, or ought to. For only the ditches—and the fields, the woods, the ravines—can teach us to care enough for the land.” (Pyle, 1993)

Did you have a ditch? I had a small creek that ran through an undeveloped area about a half a mile or so from our house. On weekends, after I finished my chores, I would walk down to the creek. It was, yes, a place for an INTJ to be alone, as I was almost never alone in my crowded home, but it was also where I developed a special relationship with nature and the first “place” with which I developed a strong relationship.

[A]nthropologist Edith Cobb reviewed the autobiographies of 300 European geniuses and found that many of them described similar kinds of experiences in childhood.

“My position is based upon the fact that the study of the child in nature, culture and society reveals that there is a special period, the little understood, pre pubertal, halcyon, middle age of childhood, approximately from five or six to eleven or twelve, between the strivings of animal infancy and the storms of adolescence—when the natural world is experienced in some highly evocative way, producing in the child a sense of some profound continuity with natural processes. . . .”

It is principally to this middle-age range in their early life that these writers say they return in memory in order to renew the power and impulse to create at its very source, a source which they describe as the experience of emerging not only into the light of consciousness but into a living sense of a dynamic relationship with the outer world. In these memories the child appears to experience a sense of discontinuity, an awareness of his own unique separateness and identity, and also a continuity, a renewal of relationship with nature as process.

As the linked article goes on to explain, such experiences aren’t limited to geniuses. Many children between the ages of 7 and 14 experience a relationship with the natural world — often with stones, trees, rivers, sunlight, etc. While children, many lack the vocabulary to describe what they experience and, to be honest, many adults struggle with this, as well.

One 40-year-old woman described her experience this way:

“When I was about eleven years old, I spent part of a summer holiday in the Wye Valley. Waking up very early one bring morning, before any of the household was about, I left my bed and went to kneel on the window-seat, to look out over the curve which the river took just below the house…The morning sunlight shimmered on the leaves of the trees and on the rippling surface of the river. The scene was very beautiful, and quite suddenly I felt myself on the verge of a great revelation. It was if I had stumbled unwittingly on a place where I was not expected, and was about to be initiated into some wonderful mystery, something of indescribable significance. Then, just as suddenly, the feeling faded. But for the brief seconds while it lasted, I had known that in some strange way I, the essential ‘me’, was a part of the trees, of the sunshine, and the river, that we all belonged to some great unity. I was left filled with exhilaration and exultation of spirit. This is one of the most memorable experiences of my life, of a quite different quality and greater intensity than the sudden lift of the spirit one may often feel when confronted with beauty in Nature.”

I’d be fascinated to see a study that compared how many Pagans had such experiences as children with members of other religions. I can’t help but think that, for many of us, the discovery of Paganism provided a language to describe what we knew to be true and a validation of experiences that, especially as they often go undiscussed or are even actively discouraged, we didn’t even know other people had.

*To dig: Understand, enjoy, really get into. It’s true, I’m old and no longer hip. But I’m happy to be in that company with Langston Hughes who wrote, “My motto, as I live and learn, is: Dig and Be Dug In Return.” I like to think that the creek dug that odd little girl as much as she dug the creek.

Picture found here.