Monday, March 5, 2018

March 5, 2018 - Recede

Now the frozen steel hands that had a death grip on all of life begin to crack, slowly and imperceptibly at first.  The bands of cold, hard steel loosen, and the tears of the Earth well up and fill every impression in the woods.  The mists come more frequently now, too, and the army of the Lord of Winter disappears within, slowly escaping between the worlds, waiting for its chance to slip away.  Visible retreat is not an option.

The slow retreat.

The Banshees come again, washing their dirty shawls in the water, wailing in despair.  Even they had been frozen, immobile in the ice.  I ask, what good is a world that banishes even Death?  At least Death gives a hint of the Life that was, but in the frozen embrace of the Lord of Winter, that beauty was coveted and hidden away.  No more.  Now she cries on the shores.

A tiny pip of a bird can be heard in the forest as she searches for last year’s dead grass and carries it high into an old oak.  A great willing is felt, and it is time to change again.  The secret clock will soon strike the hour, passing over.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

February 18, 2018 - Permission

Almost everything in life is there because we allow it to be there, because we have given our permission for it to be there.  It often doesn’t seem that way, especially when we are in the thick of a problem.  If someone were to tell us that we chose it, we would angrily say, “I never wanted this!  I never would have agreed to this!”  But if we think about it, we do agree to almost everything.

We let certain people into our lives.  We choose a certain profession.  Most of us will choose what we eat at any given time.  We choose what we will believe, what faith we will have (if any) and how that faith will affect us.  We choose which news articles we will read and which we will ignore.  We choose what we will do, and we choose what we will not do.  We choose what we will wear, etc.

I can see clearly.
Sometimes it doesn’t seem like a choice.  “If I had the money, I would have chosen differently….”  “If I had known he was going to behave this way, I never would have married him (hindsight is 20/20)….”  “If someone had explained this would cause me problems, I would have listened….”  But really, we make the choice.

Here’s something interesting, though:  The mechanism of life requires our permission to do anything.  And unfortunately, that permission is all too easily given by us without us even knowing or thinking about it.  An advertiser can suggest something, but unless you give your permission for it to enter your life, it’s barred.  A society can heavily point you in a direction, but unless you accept that direction, it cannot come into your life.  A news article can tell you, “here’s what’s going on [according to our belief],” but you don’t have to live according to that belief.

Now, this is not about being in a state of denial.  When you make choices, when you knowingly give your permission, you’re not saying you refuse to see or acknowledge the existence of something.  You’re saying that you see it, but you are not going to live your life according to those standards, ideas, principles, products, etc.

Here are some things you can’t choose:  The weather.  Your genetics.  What someone else will do or say.  The fact that someday you will die.

But you can choose how you will react to those things, and you can permit or deny allowing those things to control you.  You can control yourself.  You can permit others to control you.  But you cannot control others (unless they give their permission).

Stop saying, “Oh, well.  This is just the way it is.”  No, it isn’t.  You get to say what is and is not in your life, what you will and will not allow to affect you.  You don’t get to choose what others do, but you do get to choose how you will react.

Here are some of the things I choose:  A life without too much technology.  I don’t allow many gadgets into my home, and the ones I do allow, I severely limit.  I choose to do a lot of work by hand that technology could do for me, and that means I choose exhaustion sometimes.  I choose to live in a state that is quite cold instead of one that is too hot.  I choose simple foods.  I choose pretty steep discipline.  I choose to continually monitor myself.  I choose silence.  I choose oil lamps over electric lights.  I choose herbal medicines over allopathic medicines.  I often choose hardships because I like to challenge myself…..

Notice that I acknowledge the existence of other paths, I simply do not choose them.  What is right for me might seem insane to you.  What do you choose?  What have you permitted into your life?  What could you toss out this very moment if you no longer wanted it?  What could you embrace?

The choices are endless, and save for a few, they are completely up to us.  Remember that without your permission, very few things can barge into your life and order you around.  The powers-that-be know this only too well, but they don’t want you to know it.  They want you to think you are powerless so you will give your permission without even realizing it.  A self-aware human being is formidable.

Monday, February 5, 2018

February 5, 2018 - Miracle

exploding across the sky
each and every morning
brilliant tendrils of exquisite light
that drive the forces of the night away
receding now into the inky blue
to try again tonight
in vain

Monday, January 15, 2018

January 15, 2018 - The Underside

A terrible ice and windstorm had torn through a small country community, leaving devastation in its wake.  Old roofs were damaged, old barns were devastated, and thick pockets of ice on the roads made travel very dangerous.  In this setting a young boy of about 13 years sat in the meeting house listening to the older people in the community as they discussed the damage and how long it would take to clear things up and make repairs when the warmer weather finally came again.

He was bored, so very, very bored as he sat listening to them.  Now and then his mother would give him a sharp jab when he yawned loudly or started aimlessly stomping his feet.  “Don’t be so rude!” she would whisper.  “We have a serious situation going on here!  Travel is dangerous, and that means supplies might be very late getting here.  This is important!”  To which he would slowly nod and then roll his eyes when she turned her head.

The underside of the old tree.
Who cares about the stupid rooves? he thought.  Who cares about the barns and the stupid animals?  Who cares about the dangerous roads or the ice or the supplies or the medicine that can’t get here?  Who cares??  This is so stupid!  I wish I were anywhere but here, listening to these stupid people.  But he did his best to at least look as if he were interested after each jab from his mother.  And oh, how he tried to stifle his yawns. 

His ears perked up a bit when he heard a bent and crooked old man mention the number of large trees that had fallen in the woods from the tremendous wind.  His father had always talked about how strong and brave and regal the old trees of the woods were and how the woods provided for much of their needs.  He never believed that, but it occurred to him now that he would get a chance to see a strong and brave and regal thing lying flat on the ground, its underside exposed.  Yes, he snickered to himself, I would like to see that!

And as if he knew what the boy was thinking, the bent and crooked old man pointed a crooked old finger at the boy and suggested that maybe he could go out and count the number of trees down in the woods near the path that led to the next village.  This way they would know how much work to expect and where the worst areas were.  Maybe they could at least get the path clear.  Well, the boy was only too happy to oblige as it meant getting away from all these stupid people and his jabbing mother who kept telling him not to be rude.

He eagerly volunteered, avoiding his mother’s eyes as she looked at him sharply.  She wasn’t fooled.  As he put on his sweater and coat and extra pants and good boots and thick gloves, the bent and crooked old man watched him keenly.  “Be quick boy as it’s already late, and mind your counting.  We need a total from you, and we need to know where the worst damage is,” he said.  The boy just nodded absentmindedly, avoiding the old man’s eyes.  He did not like the old man’s eyes.

Then he was free!  He was finally out of the meeting house, away from the mumbling of the stupid old people, and free from the constant boredom.  He stepped out into the freezing, late afternoon air.  As he walked toward the path by the woods, it didn’t take long for him to start complaining about the cold and feeling sorry for himself.  But then he thought of the venerable old trees lying flat and powerless on the ground, and this gave him a secret joy.

He was so busy in his thoughts, that he almost tripped when he realized he was actually upon a fallen soldier of the woods.  There the great tree lay on the cold ground, its underside exposed, helpless and weak.  The boy was delighted.  He laughed out loud and said, “King of the Woods, huh?  Not so big and brave now!”  He smirked at the old tree.

“Come closer,” said the old tree, “and have a good look.  You’re too far away.”  The voice was deep and raspy and dry.  The boy jumped back quickly but then remembered himself.  He did not want to appear frightened in front of the old tree.  After all, he was the one standing tall, not the tree.

“You’re missing the best part,” the raspy old tree said.  “Come closer.”  And so he did.  He walked closer to the tree.

“Have a good, long look,” said the dusty old voice.
“I will,” said the boy rudely.  “Not so high up in the clouds now, are you?”
“Not at all,” admitted the old tree.  “Not at all.  Have you seen the secret part of me?”
“What secret part?”
“The part that no one ever gets to see because it stays hidden.”
“Well, which part is it?” the boy demanded.  “I haven’t got all day!”
“Have a look in the back at the underside of me, the part I keep hidden in the dark ground.”

The boy headed toward the large bulbous part of the tree that had been exposed when it was ripped from the Earth and thrown to the ground.  He walked quicker than he wanted to, but he was determined to appear brave.  He would not let the tree know that he felt very frightened, indeed.  That raspy, scraping, desolate old voice rattled his nerves deeply.

And then he was at the underside.  He had always wondered what the underside, the dark side, of the trees looked like.  It was filled with large roots that had broken and small roots that had woven a thick and deep web.  It was dark and smelled strange.  There were frozen little dead things hanging off it, grubs and bugs that weren’t going to survive this winter after all.  The underside was dark.  It was black and torn and cold, and all around it a biting cold and thin mist swirled.

“Have you had a good look?” the scraping old voice asked.
“I have,” said the boy arrogantly, “and it’s ugly.”
“Oh, yes, yes it is, indeed!” said the old tree matter-of-factly.  “The hidden part is always ugly.  The dark part never gets to see the beauty of the sun, and it festers in its dank loneliness.  Do you like it?”

This was not what the boy had expected to hear.  He expected the old tree to be embarrassed or ashamed or afraid.  He expected it to cower.  He expected it to be hurt.  But he did not expect it to be inviting.

“I said, do you like it??” the raw old tree asked.
“It’s even uglier than I thought,” said the boy, feigning bravery.
“Thank you,” said the old tree.
“I have to go.”
“Of course you do.  But you’ll remember, right?”
“Remember what?” asked the boy, puzzled and still very much afraid, backing away slowly.

“You’ll remember the underside.  You’ll remember the deep, dark, dank, and hidden part.  The part with worms and grubs and fungus and secret members of the Underworld that relentlessly and slowly chew and dissolve all living things.  You’ll remember the decaying scent and the death and the webbing roots that reach out to greedily grasp everything in sight, to devour and gorge.  You’ll remember the stark ugliness and how you wanted it and how you stared at it right in the face.  You’ll remember the embrace,” said the dying old tree.

“I don’t know what you mean,” the boy said, backing away a bit further.  He did not sound nearly as convincing as he’d hoped he would.

“Yes, you do.  Because like attracts like.  Things join with other things that are similar.  They congregate.  They meld.  You wanted the underside of me because your own dark underside is just as cold and clawing and ugly.  You are dark and cruel.  Have a good look, boy.  Come and cover me with kisses,” the old tree laughed darkly.

With that, the boy took off running as fast as he could!  He was scared out of his wits.  It was getting dark fast.  How long had he been staring at the dark underside of that tree?  It was actually getting really dark now, but he kept running.  Then he tripped and fell, cutting his head on a sharp old tree stump.  But he got up quickly and kept running, fell and cut himself again, but got up yet again and kept going as fast as he could.

At last he saw a small light coming from a window at the old meeting house.  He ran as fast as his legs would carry him to the house, half frozen and half scared out of his wits.  He tore the door open and ran inside, shocking everyone into silence.  They all stared at him for a moment, and then his mother wailed and ran to him, helping him out of his heavy and frozen outer clothing.  She got a hot, wet cloth and cleaned the cuts on his head while he sat in a chair silently.

The others, having realized the boy was fine, had begun talking in groups again about the work that needed to be done.  All except one.  The bent and crooked old man sat in a dark corner looking at the boy thoughtfully.  The boy never looked up, but he knew the old man was watching.  When his mother had finished cleaning his cuts and had given him some tea, the old man slid over to boy’s side.

“So, how many trees are down?” he asked sharply.
“I don’t know.  A lot.  Many.  It was dark,” the boy said.
“Yes, it is dark.”
“It was very dark,” the boy whispered, now close to tears.
“It comes on quickly, doesn’t it?”
“The darkness.  It comes on quickly, doesn’t it?” the old man asked.
“Yes it does,” the boy said meekly.
“Be sure that you do not forget it.  Next time you might not find the light of the meeting house.”

The boy looked up at the old man.  For once he was not arrogant or sullen or rude.  He was just a young boy in a cold world, and the only thing that was keeping him from dying a tragic death in the frozen outdoors was the tiny meeting house and the people and the warm fire inside.  He drank his tea gratefully as he shivered by the fire, sitting closer than he should so that he almost burned his shins, and the darkness receded just a bit as he stared into the flames. 

The bent and crooked old man went back to the corner and sat hidden with his thoughts.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

December 5, 2017 - Secrets of the Mist

The days are cold and misty now.  Grey.  The winds are harsh and unforgiving.  They blow the steely rain into the faces of those brave enough to go into the forest.  There are no birds singing, and the insects have disappeared.  The woods have gone silent.  Occasionally a crashing and cracking sound is heard, signifying a deer somewhere close by.  But he will not show himself.  Sometimes it is a small rumbling sound, and somewhere a squirrel rushes quickly past to put one more thing in his secret stash.  But he cannot be seen either.

It is a world of sound and feeling now, and sight is useless.  The Lady walks alone along the shore and in the woods, seeking.  Her nine attendants are colorless and unseen, but there are ways to tell where they have passed.  There are no obvious signs, but the ground is somehow gentler.  A small bouquet of forgotten colored leaves lies here and there.  They are gifts from the good folk as they follow Her.  It is a long trail.

The Defender has yet to be born.  But soon, very soon.  Until then, She will tirelessly seek Him.  The Lord of Winter watches Her, waiting for His chance.  Soon the wall of snow will come and the land will be buried in thick ice and She will be trapped.  All heads will bow in defeat then, as ordained.  She can leave no footprints, though, and He will lose her track.  The merciless ice reveals no scent.  The trail grows cold, even for the King of Death.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

November 19, 2017 - I am an Oak

I am an oak, and that means I have time on my side.  All of the other trees are grey and bare now, but that is to be expected.  If you live fast and furiously, you die fast and furiously.  Every year.  But I take my time.  In the spring, when everyone else is green and bouncy, I stay bare.  Crouched in the forest like a panther, I bide my time.  But I can do that because I am an oak, and I have time on my side.

Oak leaf.
How they flaunt themselves in the spring, those other trees!  Such foolishness.  Each competes with the other.  “Look at me!  Look at me!”  They sway this way and that, painfully bursting forth in their enthusiasm, not caring about the threatening grey clouds that circle far above.  But me?  I stay silent and immobile, like a ghost on the attic stairs.  I remain invisible because I know the choice is up to me.  I have autonomy and integrity, but that is because I am an oak.  I do not expect them to understand.

And then as they sweat their heady fragrance into the forest (and while their backs are turned), I very silently awaken again.  No one is looking because they are self-absorbed in their own beauty (and admittedly, they are beautiful).  Except perhaps an old woman here and there.  She will look knowingly into the forest and say, “Ah, the oaks have returned.  It is time to prepare the soil beds for planting.”  But no one listens to an old woman or a mute old oak tree.  That is a good thing.  It allows for quiet, uninterrupted intentions to be sown.

Summer sees lushness and bounty for us all.  There is much joyous talk in the forest, often full of laughter and frivolity.  I enjoy the dulcet tones, but they sing is as if they think they will live forever.  Or perhaps they have forgotten the dark sleep.  It is just as well.  I send my roots far, far down into the Earth, much farther than my frivolous companions because they are too busy chatting.  Only I can pull up the rare and vital minerals so necessary to lush growth.  Only I can distribute them to the rest of the forest denizens through my gift of leaves at the end.

At the end.  It comes so quickly.  At first there is joyous revelry and ballroom gowns of stunning color, and it seems as if the band will play forever.  But the winds know differently.  They usher in the grey clouds, which have been silently waiting all this time, and then the screaming and tearing and wailing begins.  I close my ears to it.  When the last tear has been shed and the ground is littered with shredded rags of once-magnificent colors, I awake from a long nap.

All else is on its way to a monotone shade of grey.  Except for me.  I slowly shimmer into a red tone, and the wind—try though it may—cannot take my leaves away.  Those I shed at my own will in my own time, and not a moment sooner.  Nothing can be taken from me without my permission.  My leaves are a gift I give to the others, but they do not know it because now they are asleep.

Colorless, grey, and drab.  Now it is their turn to be the ghost.  My strong, unbreakable exterior looms in the forest now, and all others pale in comparison.  My arms reach outward sideways instead of straight upward as the others do.  All the animals instinctively know they can find shelter under my boughs.  While the others creak and moan and crack in the howling frozen winds, I stand tall and motionless.  I am not afraid.

But that is because I am an oak.  I am the King of the woods, and my dignity is unquestioned and unparalleled.  I will stand here for 1,000 years, watching the others come and go, and come and go again into the dust.  I will reach deep into the Earth for her hidden secrets, and I will pull power from the Sun in a way no other tree can do.  This is the job of the King.  It is a slow and imperceptible task I must do, which task I agreed to in the very beginning.  It is long, slow work, but I do not mind.  It is the way of the oak, and I have time on my side.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

October 11, 2017 - On Being a Seed, Part VII

[This is Part VII, the final part of “On Being a Seed.”  Click Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, and Part VI for the prior episodes.]

And now I knew who I was, and I laughed at the absurdity of it all.  How could I have forgotten?  All that time I had wasted, believing that I was all alone in my journey, believing in the destination instead of the process.

There we all were in the field, our eyes having been opened at last.  Like a painter who stands before a blank canvas, we knew we had much work to do and anything was possible.  But we were not alone in this journey.  We had never been alone, and so we were guided from within to reach our full potential.  We could never have ended up anywhere but where we were now.

Milkweed pods.
We used the liquid gold, knowing now with reverence its true purpose.  We joined our energies together in a vortex, and instead of the liquid gold dissipating and spinning away, it increased and funneled entirely through us.  Each of us were a conduit, a channel for the liquid gold, and we did not try to hold it within anymore.  Indeed, it would not have been possible to do so.  No, now we let it flow abundantly because we knew where it came from.

Off in the forest, dark creatures watched in seething jealousy.  We could not have known their emptiness and anger, so rapt we were with the heavy job of creation.  But they amassed on the border and watched.  At times the great King in the heavens would reach His hand out quickly to snatch the dark creatures up, but most of them disappeared into the coolness of the woods as soon as He approached.  Those He was able to take with Him came not forth into the world again.

Many, many days passed, and I was blissfully busy.  It was a long time before I looked up to find Him again, and I was shocked at His appearance.  He was suddenly tired and old and weak.  What had happened to the great King?  Now I was worried!  We must help him, I thought, but I remained as immobile as ever, locked in a green field. 

And then I noticed the dark creatures along the edge of the forest.  Sometimes they would come boldly out of hiding and stride into the field, and when they did, they would slay some of my brethren and take them away.  We stood there unable to stop the onslaught, prisoners in the daylight with no chains or walls around us.  I knew it was just a matter of time before they eventually came for me as well.

One night, we all made a secret pact.  We took most of our liquid gold and placed it into tiny spiky purses, which we believed to be impenetrable.  We knew instinctively these little purses would be safe and so would the liquid gold within.  Like feverish elves, we worked through that night and the next several nights, funneling our liquid gold into the safe little purses we had fashioned.

When at last we had finished our job, we looked up to a dreadful sight.  Most of the green-ribboned brethren were sickly and suffering, bent over with exhaustion and illness.  Many were openly grieving.  The dark creatures from the forest came into the field now during broad daylight, bold and arrogant!  One by one, they took us prisoner and brought us to a court they had fashioned from the skeletons of beings long since passed.

Now it was my turn.  They ripped and tore me from my place in the field.  For so long, I had wanted to move and leave that field, and now the only thing I wanted was to have my feet buried deeply and safely in the field.  But they had other plans, and I was roughly torn away and brought to their deadly court. 

I looked around wildly for the great King.  Surely, He would help me??  He was so strong and brave and mighty.  Surely, He would destroy this terrible foe and we could all go back to our warm and lovely field??  And then I saw him.  He was very old and weak and tired.  He bent His head downward into the field, one knee planted in the soft and cool Earth.  He was not so large and all-encompassing as I had thought.  He was exhausted, and His light was greatly diminished.  Even so, He was still beautiful, and His face was serene and still happy.

As they dragged me, I managed to catch His eye, just for a moment.  He smiled warmly at me, and I remembered the magnificent being who had put His hand under my chin so long ago and sweetly said, “Rise up, little one.”  Yes, He was still just as beautiful to behold now as He was then, perhaps even more so because He seemed so tired and in need.  I wanted to call to Him and ask for His help, but I simply smiled at Him and nodded.  He nodded back and then turned to the field again.

They dragged me to the cold court built from bones and dead things that somehow looked and smelled familiar to me, and they put me on trial for many crimes.  They said I had stolen the liquid gold, which rightfully belonged to them, and now I must pay the price for my thievery.  I tried to tell them that the King had willingly given me the liquid gold, but they would hear none of it.  In fact, that only seemed to enrage them more.  I realized He had never placed His hand under their chin and blessed them as He had me, and this was why they hated me so much. 

The trial was quick.  They found me guilty as charged.  The sentence was dismemberment.  They placed me in a cell before carrying out the execution, and there I sat, alone and terrified.  After crying incessantly for days, my tears suddenly dried up.  Even if I had wanted to cry more, I knew there was not one drop left.  Suddenly, I felt very lightheaded and dreamy.  I knew the end was near. 

Then they came for me.  They dragged me from the prison, and I willingly and easily went along with them, almost floating in a dreamlike state.  They loudly repeated my charges and sentencing, but I barely listened to them.  Somewhere I could hear the tiny bells of the dancer I knew so long ago, whom I had completely forgotten about when I had stood tall and proud in my field.  Now the tiny sound of bells rushed in, and I welcomed it.  I could not see her anywhere, but I knew she was there, and that was enough.

And now they carried out the sentence.  I was shredded into a thousand pieces, and all my tiny spiky purses fell to the ground.  Somewhere very, very far off, a butterfly’s wings were beating away in the sunshine of a field, and the tiny movement of air reverberated around the world and gently blew all of my pieces into the wind.

I saw a blinding, searing Light.  A terrible voice loudly demanded of me:  “Who are you??”  I laughed that it would even have to ask, and I simply responded, “I AM.”  This was the Third Blasphemy of the seed, and I knew it as soon as I spoke it.  I AM.  And that could not be taken away from me.

[Herein ends the tale of the seed, or perhaps it begins.]

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

September 20, 2017 - Oh, Honey!

The bounty continues . . . for now.  Sometimes dinner pops up unexpectedly.  These honey mushrooms weren’t here yesterday, and I know that for a fact because I stood on this very spot.  And yet here they are today.  How does something grow so quickly?  It’s a mystery to me.  The growth is far greater than that of a plant or an animal, but then we are not talking about a plant or an animal.  We are talking about a mushroom—a whole different kingdom altogether.

Honey Mushroom.

There’s a dark side, of course.  The honey mushroom is a tree killer.  It grows on wood of either dead trees or trees that are having a hard go of it and will soon be dead, thanks to a little push.  The honey mushroom is one of the many creatures that helps a tree to become an “un-tree.”  If there are honey mushrooms around, there are dead trees around.  You can be sure of that.  Really, it’s just their job.

This patch is destined for other things, though.  You win some; you lose some.  Today the honey mushrooms lost, and the tree becomes a part of me.  Tomorrow, it may be me who loses.  No one said the world was a safe place.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

September 19, 2017 - The Harbingers

Mushrooms grow almost all year long, but they are especially prolific in the Fall.  In fact, that is how I often know that Fall is on its way:  I smell the mushrooms.  I smell them long before I see them.  It is a deep, earthly, intoxicating kind of scent, and once you inhale that aroma, you will never forget it.  Ever.  That is how you know they have come.

Amanita muscaria - Yellow Fly Agaric.

They are sort of between the worlds, are they not?  We cannot call them plants and we cannot call them animals.  They have their own kingdom, and rightly so.  For who does not get that otherworldly feeling when looking at a mushroom?  “You are in my territory now,” says the mushroom, “And you must follow my rules if you want to find your way out of the woods.”  And if the mushroom be pretty, all the more entrancing.  Unless it is too pretty.  That can be dangerous.  But they know that.

When the scent of mushrooms is everywhere in the air, I begin scanning the ground and fallen trees because I know that soon they will poke their heads up.  They can be delicious or deadly, an ally or a vicious foe.  Some are small and inconspicuous, and others are a foot in diameter, just daring you to walk by without stopping.  You cannot do it, though.  You have to stop and look.  But they know that, too.

They also know a lot about the Fall, much more than we do.  They know when the decay has begun, and that is why they come.  They might tease with bright colors or pretty textures, but they are the harbingers of the end.  They are the bringers of summer’s doom.

The drums are beating again in the woods.  He is on his way.