A friend included her list of books, which she is reading, in a letter at my request. In response, I provided a list of what captures me. Here is that excerpt, in case anything might please you too:
The way I read is perhaps odd; I tend to have a book pile and draw from it over many months. Much of it is non-fiction, so small bites work best. I usually read my fiction in gulps though. Often I hold onto them to look up bits I liked.
One, that I read years ago, came to mind: Nekropolis, by Mauren F. McHugh. This is a science fiction set in a future Morroco where people bond themselves with bio/chem tech which causes them to love and obey. Very disturbing and interesting.
I just read The Broken Earth series by a wonderful black woman author. She is found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N._K._Jemisin. Well worth looking at; she is a well-educated woman who also writes engagingly. I love her, she includes geology in an interesting way!
On my bookshelf/pile/kindle:
NON-FICTIONThe Fruitful Dakness - Joan Halifax ;auto-bio, buddhist/ tribal/ travel. wise, mythic, insightful
Art and Fear - Bayles & Orland: Observations on the perils and rewards of artmaking.
The World Without Us - Alan Weisman: scientific imagery of the word recovering when man is gone.
The Dream of the Earth - Thomas Berry: some marvelous insights into man vs earth on all levels; a Sierra Club book.
Molded in the Image of ‘changing woman’; Navaho views on the human body and personhood - Maureen Trudelle Schwartz: an anthropologist that was adopted into a home and tribe, she provides exact quotes which challenge the reader to understand a culture so close, yet so different. Really good.
From the Glittering World; A Navajo Story; Irvin Morris. This is mythology told by a contemporary Dine writer.
The Hidden Life of Trees: what they feel, how they communicate - Peter Wohlleben, great stories about tree life. Fun.
Becoming - Michelle Obama; revelations about herself and family. Just lovely.
Educated - Tara Westover. escaping via education. worthy concept.
POETRY/POETICDream Work by Mary Oliver: great poet, love her
On the Loose by Jerry and Renny Russell: a fantastic journey in 1969, by these two young men. every Pacificas Crest hiker or wilderness lover should read it. Sierra Club.
Nature - Emerson
Walking - Thoreau
Leaves of Grass- Whitman
Letters to a Young Poet - Rilke
View with a grain of sand - Wislawa Szymborska; great poems, nobel prize winner
SPIRITThe Authentic Life - Bayda: Zen, 'Skillful Means’ with the saving grace of staying with the real issue: enlightenment.
Emptiness - Guy Armstrong
Heartwood of the Bodhi Tree; Voidness - Buddhadasa Bhikku
I AM - Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person - M.C. Richards
FICTIONThe Overstory : Richard Powers. Coalescing short stories with a tree. Very nice. You would like it.
Terry Prachett, Neil Gaiman: basically anything they write. I like the humor and the view.
Hillerman: Leaphorn and Chee series: detectives in Navajo Land. Fun.
Any Medieval ‘who dunit’ (you can google this!)
The Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin: Science Fiction well done.
We tend to see Nature in a lovely pastoral landscape: pretty flowers, verdant meadows, things we might like to eat. There is the dark, the alien, the deeply frightening aspect of Nature though, and this is ours to love as well. Why do we like to shock ourselves with the dark, the surreal images? Perhaps it is the contrast which reminds us we are still alive, or more to the point, we are not yet dead.
One of the images of the Darkness is in the changing of the seasons. I see the tanning of grass, the shedding of layers of leaves, and the flocks of birds as they migrate. I remain, beneath clouds, considering the stillness and silence that has overtaken my world. Persephone has gone in to somewhere more warm, but I remain. Should I feel sorry for her?
My forest is simply waiting for snow and ice to cover its lost mantle. In this stillness I am content only for a while, but it is enough. When the cold finally drives me in, or away, I find that I have brought the silence with me.
“…one aspect of silence is emptiness, and yes, it is often lonely. In the presence of silence, the conditioned self rattles and scratches. It begins to crumble like old leaves or worn rock. If we have courage, we take silence as medicine to cure us from our social ills, the suffering of self-centered alienation. In silence, sacred silence, we stand naked like trees in winter, all our secrets visible under our skin. And like winter’s tree, we appear dead but are yet alive.”
The Fruitful Darkness, Joan Halifax
Come. Scrabble with me into this darkened place. I will keep you warm. I will keep you safe. I am not hungry at the moment, but perhaps you would like some soup?
“These Things are One. They are Unity. They are Ourselves.”
These are the words of Ramon Medina Silva: The Mara’akame of the Huichol people of Mexico. He describes seeing the world reflected in ourselves. Seeing ourselves in all things; the collective dream.
The landscapes of dream are often where my clearest images erupt; transforming, healing, and integrating what has lain on the surface of my conscious mind, too thinly scraped to call attention. This realm is a place of understanding that is so very difficult to form into words. Sometimes I wonder if the Earth may be dreaming us in her attempt to understand. May she understand.
In Joan Halifax’s book ‘The Fruitful Darkness’, she shares her own understanding of the Huichol people:
“The myth of the journey to Wirikuta is at once a sacred journey and a collective dream. The history recounts how the Ancient Ones, the gods of the Huichols, fell ill through forgetting, yet, returning to the traditional ways, were healed. The myth is also a collective dream reminding the people of the value of the continuity of traditions, particularly as they apply to place, to sacred and real locales.”
So far removed am I from my traditions in the waking world, that when they call my name in the dairy isle of the market, I hear only the blare of music and read those mythic labels with dulled uncomprehending eyes.
The wonder and the mystery are so easily lost.
So for the moment I will try to share that wonder, beneath the tree. I may be stricken, I may be wounded, but I still do dream. Small impoverished dreams perhaps, but even the smallest thing has its place in the grandeur.
Part Six: What May Enter Here
Culley sat waiting for his grandmother’s attention, cross-legged before the fire in her private rooms. He did not mind. Time between both worlds moved for Culley in a way that neither world seemed to notice. He would have been hard pressed to put it into words, had anyone asked. No one did.
He had noticed a shift in his mother after the thing that had happened to her. It was as if she were more still, rather than different. Her tone and her manor had not changed much, but the time between her words seemed to rest within a plane of its own. She now seemed, to Culley, to be nearer kin to the trees than to their surrounding human neighbors. He did not find this to be a bad thing, having been friends with the trees for a very long time, but any change in ones own mother seems to be a cause for deeper attention if only to reassess that all is still well.
Todd had become, if anything, a more vigilant and now insistent caretaker since that happening. He was soft spoken and humorous as always, but his word brooked no gainsaying when it came to the issues of safety. This had forced Todd to travel more openly in the world of man, since he would not leave Culley’s Mama to travel alone. At first Culley had been stunned to see such an unflinchingly courageous fellow change color and twitch when riding in the auto to the market, but Todd quickly adapted and even attempted to operate the hulking ancient Citroën his mother had kept from her fathers estate, long before Culley was even born. Considering the normal self-adjustment that takes place when a Citroën is ignited: a rising and shifting due to the hydro-pneumatic forces, which gives the impression of sentience, this was an act of true bravery.
Todd was only allowed to cruise the small road that bordered the fence of their property in the end. Culley’s Mama had to explain licensing requirements, and identification issues, to Todd in great detail, again and again, and how they prevented him from traveling farther afield. Todd seemed to think that there must be some sort of loophole that would allow an unremarkable fey fellow to trundle down the roads of man-kind. She eventually came close to losing her temper.
“You are not The Doctor waving psychic paper!”
“Sorry, what Ella? Not Who?”
Culley knew exactly what she meant and smiled ear to ear to hear Todd step unerringly into the ‘who’ joke. Season’s 1 and 2 of ‘Doctor Who’ were the only DVD’s that his mother had ever owned. The tiny flat screen TV, and the DVD player, along with the two best seasons, were a gift from a college friend from long ago; before she had met Culley’s father. The entire device lived beneath a colorful Costa Rican tapestry and Todd had thought it was an art installation; so much of the house was scattered with such things. Culley took him by the hand, sat him down, pulled the cover off with a magicians flair, and then pluged the device into an electrical socket. Todd was delighted.
“You have never seen a movie?”
“I had heard rumors, but who would believe such a thing existed.” Todd leaned into the picture so as to catch every word, while Culley watched him with a smile. Ella was talking softly to the groceries in the kitchen. Since she always had done this, neither of them paid much attention.
“Most of the neighbors have something like this. I think it is too noisy though.” Culley informed him.
Todd cast him a worried glance. “Where does this man live? Is such magic common place, if so many have seen these things?”
“Only the magic of the machine. This is merely a Bard’s tale, captured by the machine. Such magic is long gone from man’s world, if it ever were here at all.”
“But the machine itself is magic, so why not the magic it portrays?”
Culley paused, feeling an unusual sense of frustration. “Todd?” He tried at last. “When you encounter a sense a magic in yourself, can you say where it grew from?”
“No, not truly. I can remember the things that led to my knowing, but not the true path itself.” Todd was intensely curious about this and had pushed the system’s ‘off’ button on the block that Culley had shown him would control the device. “In other words, it seems unexplainable: true now, but hidden before,” he added.
Culley nodded, still unsure of what he could explain. “When a human understands something in mans ‘science’ or ‘magic’, and sees how it works, he might feel the same way as you; shifting from not-knowing to knowing. However, he captures each part of the process, so that he can hand it to another human, sharing it with them as a practice of opening. He understands the physical properties of this world so well that he can teach their use, by repeating the process in tiny events, each entirely under his control.
“So, there is no mystery?”
“There is always a mystery. In Fey the mystery is held differently. Most men fail to hear it, or smell it, because the other ways they ‘know’ are not only very loud, but considered proper. To use the methods normal to Fey is considered either weak or perhaps mad.”
Todd seemed to consider this deeply, silence resting with him for some moments, then he slide the remote over to Culley with a sheepish smile. “I believe I will help your mother prepare the dinner.”
That had been last night. Culley still felt some sense of guilt. He had destroyed Todd’s wonder with simple unadorned facts. Even now he was not completely sure that he understood the whole of it. After all, his own knowledge of science came only from books, not experience. Behind him, he heard his grandmother rustle her papers and cork her inkwell. She now cleared her throat; a long standing sign between them that he would be given attention now. Culley smiled to the fire and stood, turning to face his Queen and kin.
“Good evening Grandmother, are you well?”
“Yes, child. As well as might be at my age.” She winked at him and he smiled back, meeting her eyes for a moment. “What is it you wish to speak to me about?”
“I wonder if I might stay here in your home for some time to come?”
She crinkled her brow and spread her hands in inquiry, but held her peace.
“I have work to do of a nature that must be constantly attended to.” Culley looked down to gather his thoughts. “I believe it will benefit from the air of Fey.”
His grandmother nodded slowly and thoughtfully. “I will inform the household. Will your mother be pleased with your choice?”
Culley barely moved a shoulder in answer. “I will speak with her soon. She has always been my support.” Then he paused in a way that held his very heart in check for a moment before going on. “May you and I speak with ease in this room?”
She watched him with the same still care. “Yes.” she answered softly, none the less, and then turned to close the door. She indicated the chairs by the fire and lifted a cordial in its cut crystal decanter from the table set between, filling one glass, then after a pause, filling the other by half as well.
Culley smiled and tilted his head as he watched her. She returned the gesture as she handed him the full glass and seated herself to listen, taking a small sip. Culley also took a sip and set the glass aside as he curled his legs up onto the chair beneath him.
“Who are they Grandmother? I need to know.”
She looked seriously at him for a few moments, with a thoughtful frown. “I suppose you are planning to tell the trees?”
Culley lifted a shoulder a fraction, in answer, as his grandfather was wont to do now and then.
Much later, as the queen still sat, eyes resting on the fire, but not seeing its flicker, a rap on the door brought her back into the room.
“Enter!” she called a bit shortly, feeling startled and not liking it.
“Only me, my dear.” Her consort stood leaned with one arm against the carved wooden frame, his stick thrust under the other arm, un-needed. He tilted his head and looked so much the rascal, that it forced a laugh from her. “Dinner?” he asked, the epitome of casual disinterest.
“Have I kept you waiting?” Her eyes twinkled.
“Only this last hour. Your cook is displeased, I am merely curious.”
“Come in and shut the door. I have been talking with Culley.”
“You are concerned?” He asked this with a sudden serious turn of attitude.
“Not so much concerned as thoughtful, but yes, there may be cause for concern eventually. He is so much like his father.” Dain’s own father walked to the other chair and sat down facing her.
“What has he discussed with you?” He was brisk and serious.
“He wants to know who our enemy is and why.”
“You have told him?” “What I have told is true.” She looked down, the glass still in her hand catching firelight. Her face folded in anxiety as she spoke.
“What you must tell is all. He will suffer if he does not fully understand.”
“What do any of us understand?”
“Do not equivocate, my darling. We made a mistake in not fully warning Dain, in waiting. You must be blunt and clear.”
“You are right,” sorrow and worry flooded her eyes. “I will speak with him when he returns.”
Her heart’s love stood and bent to kiss her lips tenderly, before guiding her to dinner.
I hope that my voice will provide you with a gateway into the forest.
Your response is welcomed.
“Writing in landscapes, landscapes write in you.”
– Joan Halifax, The Fruitful Darkness
Some Years ago, while visiting Nepal, I had the good fortune to listen to the words of a Nepalese Archeologist. We were standing in front of an excavation in Lumbini, said to be the birthplace of Buddha. There the mother of Buddha was said to have given birth while holding onto the Sal tree. As he continued to speak, he referenced several other trees in the story of Buddha, and then paused to make an aside:
“It makes you wonder, really, if this is not actually all about the trees.”
He laughed and continued his discourse, but the words stayed with me as softly spoken ideas sometimes do. I remembered the impact of trees in my life and the subtle flavor of places, of landscapes that have moved me. Today, I have given a certain credence to this sensation and have concluded that whether it is a lower brain response to a safe and healthy landscape, or a higher brain desire for beauty, trees do hold a significant place in my relation to earth.
The expression of such things is understandably elusive. All aspects of our interconectedness can seem a challenge, at times, to express. We recognize them in flashes in our consciousness and then turn away to resume what we believe to be the important work of our lives. I have often felt helpless to express such thoughts on the world I have witnessed, in Europe, North America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Sometimes the human pain I saw, due to economic imbalances, or the compassionate sorrow that twisted my gut, when disrupted landscapes destroyed or displaced plants and animals, became unbearable.
I would try to speak of my experiences with friends and acquaintances, but such topics seem to slide away from peoples interest focus. Their eyes typically glaze and they make a perfunctory remark, returning to the issues they know, relegating your experience to some other world beyond their ken.
This apparent disinterest was a tipping point for me, one day. I identified with a world much larger than the one my associates knew. I also felt compassion, hope, and fear for that world. I began to wake in the night, while living in Africa, and tell myself fictional stories of people who saw and solved the worlds issues. I set aside two decades of filtered ramblings in a journal and opened up into poetry, fantasy, and science fiction. It was personal and it was private. It was also a healing place. This is what I hope to share in these pages.
Fallen Leaves, Fallen Trees
Words fall away from my mind in orange and yellow They litter the ground, leaving me silent The flavor of it sits in my mouth Bitter or sweet A nameless perfume rife with memory
I am at last Finally, That Tree Tall, still, I brace the landscape My leaves fallen about me as past glories to dissolve Food for saplings
I am that tree Shading the heads of pilgrims I stand as safe roost for eons of flocks Soundless, I shrug a shoulder Or fan my hands
I am post and lintel Cup, bowl, canoe I am fire hardened spear and arrow; slit for the stone Cradle, coffin, crucifix I take the hangman’s name in silence
I am that tree. Support for Maya in her birth throws Canopy for her son as he awoke Gathering place for the elders The sentinel in silence forgotten
Standing within the cycle eternal Fully aware and in silence I am falling, falling My essence dreams And wakes again