Tag Archives: dirt

how interesting it all is

There is comfort to be found in the mountains, in the open air, in the away.

There’s something to it; maybe it’s the stillness. Maybe the fresh air alters our chemistry. Maybe there’s a spiritual component, whatever that means.

Years ago, before I knew how frayed the edges of my religion were, I noticed this comfort. Sometimes on Sunday mornings the thought of church was enough to make me cry, and the mountains provided a specific kind of escape, one that called to me. I didn’t know why I was so upset–even if you couldn’t name thirst you would drink water when you came to it–now I think my brain and body were rebelling against situational anxiety that I couldn’t identify as such, and wouldn’t be able to for years to come. That particular stage and script, for which I was so ill-suited, was making me sick. These things will out, somehow.

I confess I cried recently while watching Pete’s Dragon in the theater with my kids. I’ve written about wildness here before–how it’s a gift I was granted in childhood. I have a deep gratitude for it, and often wonder if I’m giving it to my own children, and how exactly to do it. Parents know this matrix of examination all too well, this thing where I think we’re okay on this front, but what about xyz thoughts make you stare at the ceiling at night. The movie, with all its beauty and wildness, abandonment and new starts, its understanding of home and companionship, has stayed in my thoughts since.

In German, I understand, there is a word for the feeling you get when you’re alone in a forest. I’m spending a lot of words to try to name the feeling of being comforted and filled by wild things. This is not nearly so elegant, and yet I learned to name the thirst over time. I’m learning to name the water.

This summer we spent two weeks in national parks, which is a curious experience because you’re right there in the wildness, with hundreds of other people. This was no backcountry camping trip. It can be pretty comical, really, but you know what was beautiful? The shared, earnest, childlike excitement over the sight of a bear, or an eagle, or the first of many bison. Adults, standing in clusters, huddled around specialized lenses that they set up before dawn, just waiting for a glimpse of the wildness. And when you catch it, it’s spectacular. You exclaim and sigh and point and smile and ask your neighbor if they see it.

You ask them if they see it, and they say yes, and you share that moment of communion.

So we followed the paved roads, hungry for sight. We walked along dirt trails; we respected and preserved. We didn’t pick the flowers, but we took three pictures of the same flower, or four. We gaped at boiling hot thermal pools–deadly, agate-like marvels. We took in the beauty of a red-rocked desert that is more harsh than the desert we live in.

And when we left, we were beauty-saturated. I scribbled memories in a moose-adorned journal: we saw a marmot frantically eating on the tundra. I read Island of the Blue Dolphins to the kids each night, in the tent. We sipped wine by the fire, or whiskey, after they went to sleep, listening to the night sounds. Silas drew the solar system in the dirt with a stick. There are purple lupines everywhere. Ricky braved the mosquitoes to take a bath in the river.

Life is now schedules and routines, and fresh back to school energy. What does it mean to commune with wildness? Is that even the thing I’m trying to name here? I only know this: when my children stop to examine the snails that emerge after a summer monsoon, or when we spent a Saturday gleefully wading in a shallow river and they caught their first tadpole, when I notice them examining the growing pecans in the backyard, or finding mama toad and papa toad in the leaves, and in all of these things see their complete engagement, I feel a type of hope that I’m seeking. I think that this is how I pray, now, if prayer can be simply slowing down enough to notice how interesting everything really is, and to feed yourself with that.

There is so much to see, to learn, to appreciate. It truly is the work of a lifetime.

I need to teach them all kinds of things, but this learning, theirs and mine, is particularly sweet.

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The Contrast Of It All: My June Confession

June was a month of oddness and simple wonderful ordinary: mulling over a big decision while counting down the last days of the school year, walks to the pool, firefly catching success and long conversations about the future. Heavy, light, heavy, light. Summer eased in while a deadline loomed. Knowing, not knowing, feeling sure, feeling no particular sense of direction.

This new place has been about growing up in some ways, which sounds funny when I’ve been an adult for some time. The thing about fundamentalism is this: it tries to keep you a child your whole life. Putting space between my physical body and all those memories turned out to be quite helpful. I did some growing up, out, in.

We decided to move back home. I hope it will be home.

I am glad to return to dear friends with whom I share deep roots, glad to have grandparents merely hours away than days away. I am glad to return to the big wide-open sky and spaces, to the feeling of getting into a sun-baked car, to the smell after a desert rain, to the mountains, to the contrast of it all. Blue and brown and subtle color everywhere.

I will miss this place with its walls of trees and abundance of water. I will miss the ease of growing things. The effortless flowers. The heavy, loud air in the summer, thick with cicada and bee and humidity. The smell of honeysuckle. Our little neighborhood with a circle that the kids ride around and the trails to the lake. Canada snow geese. A flash of cardinal against snow.

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I’m achy inside about it. But I ache, in a different way, thinking about the possibilities that await us in the desert, with its wide open spaces and availability. Mountains that help a person know where she is, standing blue at twilight. Watercolor skies. I wish I could have both, but this is the way of adulthood, I suppose.

One thing we discuss, over and over, is the history of the place. For me, religion (I mean this broadly) was in the sky, the mountains, the rain-smell. It was in the East that I learned to whisper my thanks to the trees and the water and the very air that wrapped around me, as I used to whisper my thanks to God. Maybe I was talking to God in both cases, but I cannot seem to know this now. In the East, I found a way to live in the in-between space and honor it somehow. I rid my chest of the heaviness and searing pangs of religious angst, and was left with an ache for beauty. Beauty, I seek out. Beauty, I worship. Many of the writers I adore would say that this beauty is God, there is no difference. And I hear them, and consider their words, and simply go back to not knowing.

I may know someday, or I may never know.

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Expansion: My May Confession

Possibility is oh-so-surprising, isn’t it? The thing you silently swore to yourself you wouldn’t do is now the thing you consider with caution, then reserve, then openness, a smile slowly forming on your lips. You think about your family as a whole, about having a big wide open space to invite others into. You remember the sky, the softness of the dirt sifting up around your ankles, the warmth of the rocks, the mountains rising up at the end of the horizon. And the place is beautiful again.

Of course, it always was.

It holds pain. Home always does. You get just about as far away as you can, and you breathe for awhile. You take in some new things; join your tributary with others and wind into the larger body. It’s easier to see, from a distance, how we’re all really the same. We all want, we all disappoint, we all find ways to get back up, we all hope.

So you align your hope with an old place that may become new. Maybe.

****

You’re getting better at considering. Consider the potential of Sundays outside of the world you knew. Consider parenting differently. Consider–imagine–a world for yourself that looks different, better.

Life is for creating.

Pause, heal, reflect, consider,

create.

****

When you were dating, there was a book that suggested adventures were for men, and women supported those adventures. A good number of people raved about it, thought it profound. It sent shivers down your spine and thankfully, down his spine too. You threw it on the proverbial fire and said nope. We will both have our adventures. We will be support beams for each other. We will be open to dreams.

You didn’t know then, but more and more and more things would make you uneasy. You would them on the fire too, sighing with relief. You didn’t think you’d ever want to go back to the space that held all of that, associating the two so closely.

But now, you see that there is more.

In this new life, there always seems to be more. It makes you swell like a cloud about to burst in July, puffing out into the azure width of sky, unapologetically dramatic against cliff against spine against rushing water, defying the dry. There is so much more.

You let go, and it all gets bigger.

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I come from women

I come from women who have found themselves with child

and carried on, surprised and terrified,

waiting for the feeling of delight.

I come from women who dig into the dirt

for comfort and make things grow

perennially.

I come from women who know a darkness

who speak of it in shadowed ways,

or not at all.

I come from them, I am them.

We who walk away from crowds and conversations,

we who talk about sunsets with charisma, we who return from

time spent on big warm rocks, skygazing,

with a new strength.

We who must learn, again and again

just how much we need other people.

I come from a religion of planting flowers.

Always, there were tangled vines with purple-blue

buds opening into a burst, climbing up the

criss-cross of wire fence,

beautifying, complicating, every spring and summer.

I come from places I cannot name well,

but I know them well.

I will plant my seeds too, and revere

the beauty

at the end of the tangles.

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something to know

I sat in it for the rest of the afternoon, staring at the lake. I still had 334 miles to hike before I reached the Bridge of the Gods, but something made me feel as if I’d arrived. Like that blue water was telling me something I’d walked all this way to know.

This was once Mazama, I kept reminding myself. This was once a mountain that stood nearly 12,000 feet tall and then had its heart removed. This was once a wasteland of lava and pumice and ash. This was once an empty bowl that took hundreds of years to fill. But hard as I tried, I couldn’t see them in my mind’s eye. Not the mountain or the wasteland or the empty bowl. They simply were not there anymore. There was only the stillness and silence of that water, what a mountain and a wasteland and an empty bowl turned into after the healing began.”

-Cheryl Strayed, Wild

I watched this movie with my friend after a day luxuriously full of words–all the words we had saved up for each other. We spent a quick few days eating, and talking, and enjoying her family, and talking, and seeing beautiful things, walking through the drizzle of Seattle, and talking. We sat in a theater and watched this woman walk 1100 miles alone, holding an enormous weight on her back, making her way to somewhere she needed to be. We felt the same heaviness and the same lightness, I think, about our shared history and our shared letting go.

We both used to have this big, complicated, form-giving understanding of the world and we both know now that it’s possible for that to fall away. We know the chaotic swirl of possibilities left in its wake. We know a simple stillness, too.

I went home to my life and slowly made my way through the book (breaking the sacred rule of read the book first) and took my time with Strayed’s journey. Many times, I’ve instinctively known that I need time alone in the forest or the mountains or the desert, whatever is available to me, to heal what is broken. I know this. I always return home filled with what I needed.

Sometimes you need to walk alone and carry heavy things, only so you can reach a place of beauty and set the heavy things down.

And then, you will know forever that you did it and could do it again. It will always belong to you.

for my dear friend E.

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all the good

There are things that drift away
Like our endless numbered days
Autumn blew the quilt right off the perfect bed she made
And she’s chosen to believe
In the hymns her mother sings
Sunday pulls its children from their piles of fallen leaves

-Iron & Wine, Passing Afternoon

I was allowed wild. I spent days in the sunshine, gathering dirt into a big metal bucket, spraying water from the hose, mixing it into a consistency just right for my purposes. A rusty-but-solid metal table served as a perfect oven for the discs of earth I formed. I sat in the grass while they baked in the sun, caught garter snakes, picked at scabs, had big romantic thoughts about being a pioneer. Over and over.

Repetition and big open spaces of time. Sun-soaked skin. Dirt-perfumed hair. My soul was well-tended.

Messing around with dirt is a hopeful act–investing in beauty and nourishment together, trusting in the eventual delight of the senses. It implies not living day-to-day. It implies rootedness. It implies faith and looking forward to the future. When my precious cakes were ready, I’d gleefully break them apart, scrub off the metal table, stack my kitchen supplies and look forward to doing it all again the next day.

I learned something nameless in those hours, but left it outside the doors of church because it wouldn’t fit through. Two messages came to me in those days; two ideas planted way down deep.

One: this life matters in and of itself.
Two: this life only matters in the context of the next.

I hope what is true will root down and remain, and what is false will simply float away, like I used to think I would do someday.

//

Standing to have the ash smeared on my forehead felt like a reunion with what I used to know: it’s no waste of time to live here. I’m growing less afraid to salute the sun after knowing a dense cloud of gray days. My children instinctively flow out the door like a thawed creek, digging for worms and gathering sticks, oblivious to time. I spend time pulling off winter-soaked foliage to reveal richly dark soil underneath. My fingers bleed and my nails are black; they look honest to me.

I was given, in part, a religion of earth. I was given time. Baptized in a deep river, sun-grown during all those solitary days, with a seed planted that fearful, contained systems have kept dormant far too long. I choose to risk it now.

I’ll take the possibility of being wrong in exchange for not needing to make the up-springing of green things my enemy.

I will love it here. I will make a home here, dig down and let the cool soil soothe my burning hands, after so many years of snatching them out of hellfire. 

Oh, to see again what the little girl knew. All the good is God.

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April 3, 2014 · 11:12 am