My friend Stephanie Seibel encountered a fox on her driveway and wrote a beautiful poem about it. Visit her Fil Rouge website for the story and the poem.
An excerpt from the story:
"In the nakedness of the moment that followed, the space between us disappeared. We were nothing. Shrinking away from each other, we were of the same kin."
NOTE: This post should not be read as a recommendation to use poison oak for healing. It is purely speculative. Poison oak is a dangerously toxic plant...stay away!
For the first time in 40 years I've had a serious, full-body case of poison oak. I got it while on a weekend retreat with my men's group, the Raven Moon clan of initiates. The most painful part was on the palm of my hands where the skin was too thick to allow the blisters to open up. The rash stayed subsurface and burned intensely.
At the height of the ordeal I was laying awake in bed at night meditating. This gave me a chance to just be present with the rash and the effects of the amazingly potent oil, urishiol, that creates the rash. It came to me that in some way this ordeal might be medicine, that the reason I got poison oak now is that it was facilitating some kind of healing or transformation. I thought of the many stories I have read where people learned of their medicine and how to use it by undergoing an ordeal, typically much more serious than the one I was suffering.
So, I decided to not make up my mind but to be open to the possibility that poison oak had a positive message for me. Perhaps it is supporting my initiation process.
The rash has been gone for about two weeks now, and I'm feeling fine...but the skin on my palms is still shedding. Perhaps when this part is finished poison oak will have done its job of supporting some transformative process.
It's certainly a more appealing story than thinking of poison oak as merely treacherous. Some medicine is costly, some healing is demanding, and the gifts of spirit come often in forms we do not anticipate.
I wrote a few days back that the local nesting pair of kites had apparently moved on. I was mistaken. They are still here, and on a walk today with Michele and Kirsten they treated us to some acrobatic flying including a lot of midair tumbling with each other. Courting behavior? Mating? Maybe they lost a brood and are trying for a new one? We walked a bit further, nearer to their nesting area. There we distinctly heard chirping of at least one hatchling.
Here are few observations of things happening in my neighborhood at the end of may.
The Hazelnuts are forming up, not ripe yet but getting there. There are a lot of these in Cooper's Grove, and not a lot of squirrels. This combination means that some of these may be available to humans when they are fully ripe. The competition with squirrels is often intense, but I'm hoping to gather a small harvest in a few weeks.
The nesting pair of Kites that has appeared near the house each of the past three springs have apparently moved on. They showed up in late February and hunted from the same perches they used last year in a pair of Oaks, about 100 feet from each other, in a field that I believe is on the Yoffi Farm property and that is rarely visited by humans.
I took this photo from at least 200 yards away, just before the Kite dropped onto some prey. I am awestruck by the amazing beauty of these birds.
I took a bit of a walkabout on the North Slope of Sonoma Mountain yesterday, covering about 7 miles of trail and not-quite-trail and not-trail-at-all. Part of my motivation was to try out the Vibram shoes pictured here. I'm not sure what they call them; they fit like a glove. I wasn't sure if I would feel enough support for longish walks like this. As it turned out, they worked well.
On the plus side, I feel very much more connected to the ground with these than I do with boots. It's much easier to walk along logs at stream crossings. They do an amazing job of keeping foxtails and other seeds out...I walked about mile in tall dry grass along a ridge and had nary a foxtail problem. My feet were well-supported, and no sign of my recent bout of plantar fasciitis appeared. I found I walked with more awareness of the ground, often more quietly than I would with boots and also more slowly.
On the slightly negative side, after 5 miles or so my knees were aching, probably from lack of cushioning when walking downhill. They were a bit slippery when off-trail on sidehill traverses, where I was glad to have a walking stick along. They did not perform as well as I hoped for boulder-hopping up creeks; the soles on this model are not very sticky. I was a bit more worried than usual about poison oak and ticks around my ankles.
There was a section of trail where many small rocks were scattered and these were a bit bruising through the thin soles. I had the idea of getting some oversized flip flops to wear with these for rocky trail sections, just for more padding...I had my regular flip flops in my pack and I tried them to test my theory but they were too small and slipped off. Nevertheless, I could tell from even this test that the idea was sound. I prefer the Spenco flip flops because of their solid construction and much better than average arch support.
Overall I'm very happy with these shoes. I see their niche as a combination of creek crawling, exploration of favorable terrains such as open desert and forest, and walking meditation where attention and quiet are important.
Is there anything cuter than a duckling?
I know that there will be many advocates for kittens in this debate, and not a few who will claim baby pandas (known by biologists as "pandettes") or baby porcupines (aka "Pokies"). Heck, there are entire blogs devoted to presenting evidence. Not that you would want to leave my blog, but if you did you might look here.
Ultimately, it's a question for philosophers.... or the next child you happen to meet. Why not ask?
If you're in SF this week stop by the Palace of Fine Arts and check the pond for turtles, ducklings, and (it is rumored) cygnets.
Yesterday Maria Owl and I held council for a large group of adults at Harvey Milk School in San Francisco. The school has a social justice emphasis. One of the things I noticed was this pledge posted on the wall.
I am so happy to see that kid are learning this pledge! Even as far back as when I was in elementary school I detested our national pledge of allegiance, with its emphasis on "the flag" and its nationalistic focus. The pledge of allegiance is an artifact of an outdated consciousness, one that is focused on national pride and self-interest in which there is a total absence of concern for the other peoples and species and landscapes with whom we are connected and with whom our fates are inextricably interwoven.
This new, more hopeful, wiser pledge encompasses all species; it speaks to the the landscapes that sustain life; and is explicit about the values of peace and freedom.
I arrived a bit early for circles at an elementary school campus, which gave me a chance to hang out with the kids on the playground. Some girls came to me and said they were concerned about the boys trying to kill a gopher that was digging around on the edge of the field where they play football.
"Do you want to have a circle?" I asked, and they did. We walked across the field to where the gopher activity was. A couple of boys were pushing rocks into the gopher hole and stomping around it. The girls yelled at them to stop, which had little effect. I asked them if they wanted to sit in a circle to discuss the gophers. These were boys I don't know; their class has not been doing circles with me this year. They declined. The girls and I sat in a circle by the gopher hole. The boys wandered off.
As the talking piece went around they shared their sorrow about the gophers. They also touched on sorrow about other ways in which humans are insensitive to animals and the oceans and trees. We brainstormed solutions to the immediate problem of protecting this particular gopher. The settled on the idea of marking the hole with a little fence to protect it. Then they abandoned that idea, recognizing that it would be futile.
"Do you want to talk to the gopher?" I asked. Yes, they did. So, playing simple tune on the Kalimba which I carry in my circle basket, I guided them on a journey: "Imagine you are getting smaller... the size of a small dog...of a cat... small enough now to travel into the gopher hole.... and that you are travelling in the tunnel the gopher made, feeling its damp earth and the roots of the grass as they tickle your head... and you come to a large room, and there you meet the gopher family. Now you can tell the gopher family what you would like for them to know..... and then you realize you can ask the gopher family a question... what they would like people to know.... and they give you an answer... and after the answer has come, you thank the gophers and return back along the tunnel, feeling the damp earth and the roots tickle your head, and come up into the light where you grow to the size of a cat, then a dog, then to the size of girl and you are back here in the circle with your eyes open.... "
They were very excited to tell their stories about their visit with the gopher family. Three of them found that we were all there, everyone in our little circle holding council with the gophers.
In case you are wondering, the gophers want us to know that they are doing something important down there and wish we would leave them alone.
I recently had the opportunity to study highlights from the life of King Bartholomew, ruler of a not-very-significant small kingdom somewhere in the British Isles in olden times.
Bartholomew was a promising young prince who married a beautiful commoner and relied upon the advice of one of his closest friends. These two characters were often dishonest with Bartholomew. But he wanted to believe the best of them. So when manipulation and dissembling was afoot, rather than trusting that quiet inner voice that alerted him to the mischief, Bartholomew fell into the trap of pretending. He pretended to himself that things were the way he hoped they would be.
This proved very costly; the psychological dissonance created by his own denial of the reality--a reality that his inner voice was fully aware of--drove him to a nervous breakdown in midlife. He had a son, and his son died, supposedly as the result of an accidental fall but, his inner voice whispered (the voice he could not and would not hear) that his son had been murdered by its mother. A great darkness descended upon him. He was confined within his castle for a period of 8 years, crazed with grief and confusion, while his queen and close advisor ruled, often in ways that were harmful to the people, ways that were motivated by greed and selfishness.
It took eight long years for Bartholomew to regain sanity. There seemed to be nothing he could depend upon, no roots to what was real and true. He wandered around his quarters, mumbling over and over his question: "what can be trusted?" Answers eluded him, and finally he despaired of ever knowing.
Then a day came when he was staring listlessly out an open window at the shifting clouds beyond. A sparrow came and landed on the window sill. King Bartholomew thought, "How lovely is the sparrow!" And he realized that this realization was true, something that could be trusted. Where did it come from, this knowing the loveliness of the sparrow? Finally, as he watched the sparrow he had the breakthrough insight that his inner voice was the source of recognition of the simple fact of the beauty of a sparrow. And in the next moment he realized he had found that which he had been seeking, that which he could trust. It was his own inner knowing; a voice that seemed to come from a source greater than himself, a source that the clergy called God. Bartholomew thought of this voice as coming from "the Mystery" or "The Source." He took up the practice of listening to this source and basing his decisions upon the knowing that it brought. It was a kind of surrender, a bit frightening. But he found that he could trust it. And over the next seven years he ruled competently and wisely, and undid many of the harms that had been done in his name during his time of confinement.
Bartholomew became beloved of the people. He was known as Bartholomew the Restorer, because he engaged the everyone who agreed in dialogues aimed a building understanding, at recognizing wounds, at bringing forth the medicine of the people and of the natural world, and of restoring right relationships. He had a new crown forged, a simple design of woven branches with a single sparrow, and he endeavored to teach the people the lesson he had learned, that he called "the way of the sparrow," which is to follow your heart and to trust beauty.
He was murdered when he was 58 years old. The evidence points to his wife, the Queen, and his advisor, although it is believed neither of them wielded the knife with which a hired assassin took his life. He had no heir, and his Kingdom did not long survive his death before it was absorbed under the rule of a neighboring king.
Seers of that time reported that Bartholomew met after death with a council of spiritual guides, who asked him what he had learned during his recent tenure on Earth.
"I have learned," he is said to have answered, "that the Source that Intends All Things Into Being is present everywhere and always. Its voice is present in the heart of every living thing, and it is revealed in silence and the works of nature. The work of the King is to listen to that voice and to be guided by it; the true work of the ruler is to serve The Source: with humility, surrender, and devotion."
Amos Clifford, Guide and Restorative Council Mentor; trainer in restorative justice, restorative dialogue with nature, and circle-keeping and the way of council; mentor.