Familiar Landscapes

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“We are a landscape of all we have seen.”
– Isamu Noguchi

There are particular landscapes that stand out in the recesses of memory. Driving down the I17 for the first time and seeing the Sonoran desert come into view…the saguaros, the palo verdes, and brittlebush, and realizing I would live there some day. The wide fields and hollows of soybeans, horses, and oaks are the places of my youth. The steep granite cliffs lining river gorges and pine bring to mind my days in the north woods. And now, I walk among volcanic rock, crumbling welded tuff and ash, a blaze of sunlight lining the cliffs at first light.

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Place is the indicator of safety, and that familiarity of place soothes the fearful animal.

I’ve always felt the flora and geology to be family, places I could gather and listen to ancient stories about how to live in a manner this culture contradicts. To this day, I take my knowledge from the elder trees and the mentor species. There is never a moment I feel isolated from being a part of, because I am so intricately a part of them.

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Friends, too, share this passion for landscape. Their backyards consist not just of green grass to mow or a small garden plot to tend but the unruly weeds and beetles. Many have the privilege of living in a wilder terrain where they can hike at will and never see the same path. Fellow explorers spend their time wandering the Southwest, uncovering their unknown history, writing up bones of forgotten days.

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When I walk a new landscape, I prefer to walk it alone. Like meeting a new friend, I must respect this space and listen intently. The phainopepla reminds me to honor the new day. A quick “qui-qui” shout from a familiar friend, the thrasher, tells me to watch my footing. It’s nearing spring, and after heavy rains the wildflowers abound – the most obvious call to renew, readjust, and most importantly, stop being so serious.

The most meaningful lesson is that the earth is not here to provide lessons, or to owe me a thing. It is not an object of worship, a peak to “bag”, my mother, or my playground.

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While I may glean from place deep lessons and gifts, it is my duty to know my place as an animal among animals, and to live life as not to disrupt this reality. I am called to be a fierce daughter of one loyalty. It is to the saguaro I bow, the lion, the rock, the soil. I am called to be a protector of place, when called, but not the instigator of outcome.

To know one’s place in the most meaningful sense is to be humble. My nameless journey, I am here to serve.

 

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Becoming Impatient, A Virtue

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Morrigan

I woke up angry again. The feeling of it scratched at my sheets and gnawed my arms, so that I had to leap out of the bed to get away from it. That feeling like steal wool against flesh.

Anger is not my normal state. My normal state is somewhere between here and Tijuana. My normal state is anxiety, the way you feel when you fall asleep behind the wheel for a few seconds and are on a hairpin curve. I can be cat-like, prone to scamper. But anger is something else for me.

Someone told me after I got sober that I have a lot of anger; that he has seen that side of me very few people know about. Repressed anger is something most alcoholics carry—especially women. In truth, all women. Our anger turns to sadness—overripe fruit set to pop its pulp and sicken the air.

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Demeter Mourning

I am not an angry person in that belligerent, obvious sort of way…Male anger. I think I am just impatient, knowing that everyone around me agrees that I need to be patient, but I am not in agreement. That’s the thing.

“If you are not angry, you’re not paying attention.” << My mantra when I was a twenty-something. “If you are angry, you are not living in gratitude,” I am reminded. As if gratitude is on the shelf all alone, as an urn with special cremains from angels.

No, I say. Anger and joy can co-inhabit. Gratitude and disdain, equally so. Gratitude MUST know the contents of my grief for me to even recognize the grace of being alive, the love that still remains. Gratitude respects a good sorrow.

We live in a world that is not set to stop for us to exhibit one thing or another in perfect order. Feeling states are not art exhibits, and rarely are they exclusive.

I’m waking up in anger because the world is not slowing down for me. Or for you.

It can be trite. I know I am growing older into middle-age womanhood. “You can still have kids?” “Why don’t you just focus on your career?” “Ever think about getting a job?” <<<Countless questions about being a 45 year old, childless, in recovery, poor woman writer.

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Durga

It pays to have women friends. I’m sure I’d be a lot angrier if I didn’t.

Holding this breath like a wish for desire only exasperates, and then the pace of one day to the next just doesn’t stop for anyone. How many things have happened over the past few months? Years? Did you expect them? Were you patient for them?

I am impatient. I don’t care for the scheme of things, and if I could raise the wild places out of their peril, the wild beings away from what is certain apocalypse, why would I choose patience?

If I could find that place I envision, the kindred partner, the freedom to roam, would I jump? Yes, I would.

There is the very real now versus the prospective future of waiting games and being patient. I choose to embody the now. And, maybe, just maybe that anger upon waking won’t make its appearance.

The Romantic’s Triad: Hope, Faith & Love

 “I have died every day waiting for you
Darling, don’t be afraid I have loved you
For a thousand years…”

These are some of the lines from a song currently on the radio. The theme is by no means unique to contemporary songwriting.  Most films, books, and songs now seem to revolve around unrequited love, jealousy, self-perpetuating misery, or conquest. Underneath these themes lies hope.

Over the past few weeks, I have done quite a bit of reflecting on the subject of love and contemporary romance. I am an Enneagram 4: the Tragic Romantic. Tragic. Throughout my life, most –  if not all – of my romances seemed to circle around the motifs of the damned: loss and high drama. I absorbed them; they absorbed me.  The relationships I have experienced (and witnessed) have been deeply rooted in some level of intense need and inaccessibility. I was a seeker of the wounded. I recognized wounds. I didn’t recognize health.

“I go to your door shivering…
You ask me to come in

Still
you don’t know it’s me
Still you don’t know”

~Nancy Mitchell

My worth as a human became entangled in how much  I could bear or how much I gave. I was not alone in this. Many of the relationships I have witnessed contained the dynamic of hope and dishonesty. Dishonesty cannot exist in a relationship without denial, and greater than denial: hope. Hope that the other will come around and be what is needed: more loving, more communicative, more sexual/sensual, more reliable, more more more. We live on this misplaced hope, thinking if we wait long enough, or do XYZ enough, then everything will work out.

Life goes by in the meantime. Rarely have I ever seen a person relying upon hope receive their desired outcome. Perhaps one of the most wasted energies, aside from guilt, is hope. Hope implies an anticipated outcome that will somehow externally align with an internal wish. Faith, on the other hand, is rather focused on the outcome that IS and WILL BE, that has no sense of expectation or outcome. Faith implies acceptance in Life on Life’s terms (or God, or Allah, or Self, or whomever one relies upon).

“Hope is a bird with wings
That sits on a branch
And sings and sings”

I think what most of us missed in these lines from perhaps one of the most tragic of romantics, Emily Dickinson, is the idea that hope has wings, yet sits on a branch. Hope is not active. Hope stays on the branch singing of its desires, but does not fly to meet them.

Now I appreciate this poem so much more.

Like many, I spent ample time throughout my life hoping. First, as a teenager dreaming of escape – I wanted more than anything to leave the confines of the rural Midwest. I had grandiose ideas about my life then, and I don’t think I ever outgrew these ideas. Settling down never appealed to me. Accepting my reality appealed even less. Hope for something new did.

When I quickly realized that hope would only take me as far as the front porch, I learned to dislike hope and its false promises. Rather, I grew to love action, decisions, bold risks. And so… this is how my life unfolded. In energy. In a tornado. I traveled. I changed jobs. I moved out of love, not once but twice… infatuation even more.

I grew hungry for movement. Movement made me feel alive.

Alive in every way, except in love.

Oh, you see, hope never left me. It remained inconspicuously there, reciting lines from all of the romantic classics I read as a child, whispering the promise of belonging in my ear, a promise for which I was living, unknowingly.

You see, belonging chained me to hope. Being loved, I became its slave as the air in my body tightened, my health declined, my natural curiosity fell from the branches of my being. I wanted, more than anything that child-starved love I was denied, and it was my bird on a branch. It caused my Self to sink into a space I am only now beginning to find.

Hope. I loved and I paid dearly. I lived in hope and denial like a starved animal waiting for the buzzards and wolves to leave.

“What
we know: we are more
than blood – we are more
than our hunger and yet
we belong”

~ Mary Oliver

Looking back, I was dying. My spirit was dimming. I lost faith in something larger than love, a love that only the sense of belonging can bring. I made the mistake of believing belonging came through the experience we have in shared communion with another. My sense of being was tied to humanity, when I was always held to something else – something vastly intimate, something so true no human needs to complicate it. I belonged to the living world, the breath of the mother, and the pulse of life. I not only have faith in this, I regard it as the greatest form of wisdom: we always belong, and love is our domain.

I have not reached this place of knowing, but I strive for it every day. When you know, viscerally, intimately, that you belong, hope wanes and faith steps in. The struggle ends. The bird flies with her song.