Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

Weather Metaphor

August 10, 2016

We’re having a heat wave, a tropical heat wave…
Higher temperatures than I remember since the early 1990s, harder to handle for being unexpected in our high mountain area where few people have air conditioning. My house is situated to benefit from any breeze, and we are grateful for clear skies that allow the nights to cool to a level where sleeping is comfortable. Early morning brings closed shades, and closing windows to keep the night’s coolness inside, only opening windows and shades again after the sun has moved in its course. The system works moderately well, with the most difficult period being from 3 until 8 when the afternoon heat builds and there is no corner of shade to provide relief.
I am reminded, in these heated hours, of my early years first in D.C. summers, then in Vietnam, where the heat was unremitting and – more daunting than my present circumstances – also humid. What amazes me in retrospect is that I played tennis in that weather. And rode horseback in that weather. My parents’ bedroom had an air conditioner unit, but I refused one for my own room, knowing that going out into the heat of my school room Quonset hut would be intolerable by contrast with the comfort of the cooled air. My reasoning was that I needed to adapt to the heat, and could best do so by being consistently in it. I was successful at the time – but seem to have burned out my ability to adjust to heat in the years since.
Are we given only a limited physical tolerance for extremes, and should be careful how we use that quality, if it must last a lifetime? Or am I just discovering another aspect of getting older – decline in physical adaptability? I’ve been told that older people are more sensitive to changes in temperature, but the intolerance is usually expressed as related to cold rather than heat. All the U.S. retirement communities are in the southern, warm weather states.
Living near one of the main migration routes between Arizona and the mid-west, I’m aware of the numbers of people – usually retired and referred to as snow birds – who transit between the two regions each spring and autumn, spending winter months in the moderate temperatures of the Arizona desert, and summer months in cooler northern communities. I could see myself as one of them, but don’t need to join the migration so long as the winters at my home remain as they have been. At their extremes, only every 4-5 years, we have a couple weeks of 30F below cold on starlit January nights. The clarity of the air allows daytime temperatures to rise, even in those coldest periods, to a tolerable 15-25F degrees. Yes, that’s a 50 degree difference, a common occurrence here in any season. Only on the rare occasions that we have cloud cover for several days at a time, do we have a lesser contrast between day and night temperatures.
Did you want to know all this about the weather? What am I doing prattling on about it?
Seeing the extremes of temperature as a metaphor for the political extremes we’re also facing now. And as a metaphor for much of what we encounter daily, just living our lives – overly burdensome workload for months on end, then suddenly not enough to keep from being bored, while still unable to be out of phone and email contact. No communication from friends until the day that the phone seems to ring non-stop and the invitations pour in. So many story or post ideas there’s no way to get them all written – followed by a dearth of ideas that suggests my brain has up and died.
In other words, the weather extremes are just one more example of the constant ebb and flow of every aspect of life experienced here in the mundane world. Enter the benefits of a contemplative spiritual practice, which teaches me how to stay focused on inner Truth, finding balance and constancy amid the yin/yang of the outer reality. Don’t like the weather? Or the politics? Escape to your inner realms for stability, cooling breezes and total freedom.

Photo Courtesy of Leaf and Twig

Photo Courtesy of Leaf and Twig

 

Downside, Upside

June 21, 2015

 

Nearly fifteen years of drought in my northeastern corner of NM have not come to an end – but this spring into summer we have had rain, almost daily, steady and hard at times, short and sharp at others. More days have been cloudy, foggy and cool than the dry, windy and sunny we’ve become accustomed to enduring since 2000. Forestry signs indicating level of fire danger are in the lower yellow – moderate – range instead of the screaming fire engine red of extreme.

Ranchers are running larger numbers of cattle, and those herds are lazing about in lush greenery up to their bellies. Horses are grazing fat, and antelope scattered among the domestic herds are too somnolent to come check out, as in their more normally inquisitive fashion, the curiosity of a person walking nearby and waving a hat. I give up waving, and continue my way, remembering the morning I woke from a sleep-out under the stars, a ring of antelope surrounding me. Not this bunch – too lazy.

The rainy dampness and chill have greatly delayed me in initiating my outdoor walking routine. A rural dirt lane a few miles from my house has become my normal exercise site – a mile and a half round trip the standard, easily extended to two miles or executed in every shorter times, according to my increasing stamina. By this time last year I was already well seasoned and doing two miles in half an hour. Today, it took me the half hour to just go a mile and a half.

The delay in getting up to speed is partly due to rain, and partly due to my own reluctance to switch to early morning walking. It’s been my habit to finish my work day and then walk – and that habit had years to become set, as the drought mandated waiting until the cooler temperatures of evening made walking a pleasure. I’ve become accustomed to the evening walk as a way to wind down from work, to quiet my mind and prepare for evening chores and rest.

Back in the 1990s, when last we had wet summers, I practiced a different routine. Then my exercise was riding my horses and I knew the activity had to be completed before midday, if at all. Our then typical summer pattern was bright sun and light breeze until about noon, when huge white cumulus clouds would build up and move in from the west, to collect and darken and dump rain in the afternoon, often lasting into the night.

That pattern has, this year, established itself once more. For several months now, by the time my work day is done, the sky is totally overcast, the air is thick and wet, the ground is sodden and more rain threatens/promises to fill the night. No way to walk outside and unwind from the stresses of the day.

Ronni Bennett, who blogs on elder issues at Time Goes By, Time Goes By recently posted about habits – in her case the habit of ordering her coffee from New York because that is easier than going through the process of trial and error to find a blend, where she now lives in Seattle, that satisfies her as much as her long-enjoyed standard.Ronni makes the important distinction between habit and addiction and reminds readers that, while addiction is a serious problem, habit most certainly is not. Indeed, we cannot survive without habits. How exhausting to have to go through a day thinking out each step of all the cleanliness routines, the household chores, the mechanical skills on which we rely! Habit only becomes a problem (still not as serious as addiction) when we become locked into patterns and resist change.

Like my recognized delay in adapting to the changed weather by switching my walks from evening to morning. I’ve started the process (today was my second morning outing) and expect that by week’s end I will have a new habit pattern in place. I will not, however, have made up for the month’s delay in building my endurance and speed over my usual trekking path.

Even in drought, walking in the evening meant wearing long sleeves and lots of bug repellant. Now, in the wet, walking at night is truly not safe (West Nile Virus is here). Fortunately, I do not seem to need excessive protection in the early morning. Perhaps the mosquitos, so very much more prevalent at night than they were last year, have also not made a change of habit to morning activity?

Walking in the early morning feels self-indulgent, like I’m doing something purely pleasurable BEFORE meeting my obligations to my family or to my employer. Why is it that I feel I’m only entitled to do something for myself after other responsibilities have been met? I work from home, am supposed to put in a “normal” work day/week but the demands of the job do not allow me to take lunch hours, the day never ends before 6 or 7 P.M. and only rarely do I have an entire weekend off. Why, then, am I still pushing myself to start promptly at 8 A.M., as though I were clocking into an office assignment?

Tomorrow, a Monday, I intend to walk as the start to my day. Probably that means I won’t turn on my work computer until 8:30. Almost certainly I’ll feel a bit guilty, but I’m counting on that habit, also, being changed by the end of the week. Morning walks, better energy and also, almost certainly, better concentration are my new habit priorities. This older dog IS learning new tricks.

Lifting a Veil of Ice

January 25, 2015

Driving toward Taos to see clients living high in the hills, in tiny villages tucked against mountain sides, I am mindful of the curious contrasts around me. I pass Sipapu Ski Resort, packed with families enjoying a weekend outing together, an influx of people to a sparsely populated valley that, if there is no snow, remains virtually deserted for weeks at a time. We had a substantial snow a few days ago, although nothing like the severe ones pummeling the East Coast. Immediately after the snow stopped our sunny days resumed, so that much of the moisture has turned from lovely white fluff to sticky, gooey mud.

Along the route I drive regularly to Taos, I pass through a valley with steep rocky walls crowding one side of the road, a grassy verge and a stream skirting the other. In a few places the grassy area widens out sufficiently to provide pasture for cows and horses. In others, it narrows to a cascade rushing along beside the road, daring drivers to race it to the next corner. In a few places, the remnants of a small spring trickle down the rock face if we have a moist winter season, or some summer rains. At most times, of late, there is no sign of wetness on the rocks – our long years of drought have virtually exterminated the spring.

Caught in Time

Caught in Time

This trip, as I round a corner near the ski resort, I am greeted with a glorious white flow of ice rippling down the rocks. An earlier snow has obviously fed the spring, which put forth its lovely flow just in time to be captured and held by the deep cold of our latest storm. It got down to something like 12 degrees below zero (Farenheit) last night and now it is more than 60 degrees warm, and sunny. The ice curtain will not last long. I am most fortunate to have come along while it is still showing itself so beautifully. What a pleasant reward for my diligence in working on a Saturday!

The rocks, adorned

The rocks, adorned

After fifteen months of working mostly 50-60 hour weeks, I am taking a week of vacation, to drive to California for a MasterPath seminar. As much as I’m looking forward to the change, and to showing my husband parts of the U.S. quite different from where we live, I have had to pass through a period of regretting arranging for the time off, because of how much additional work I must cram into the days before and the month after, if I am to meet expected deadlines. Ergo, I work on the weekend.

I vividly recall one of my teachers on the Path suggesting to us that work should not be allowed to overwhelm our lives to the detriment of other aspects, such as maintaining a daily spiritual practice. Given that the present demands of my work take as many hours as they do, I have been trying to integrate the spiritual into the practical, as a means of accomplishing what otherwise would require the impossible task of stretching my effective-functioning hours in a day to something more than fifteen.

What I’m finding is that, to the extent I can truly follow the dictum of living fully in the moment, time ceases to be a rigid restricter. It becomes elastic, and somehow everything gets done. Indeed, I can judge the extent to which I am fully present in each moment by my simultaneous experience of time as flexible and malleable.

Icefall and Snow

Icefall and Snow

The frozen waterfall symbolizes, for me, a successful blending of opposites, such as I also achieve when I know time to be elastic. My Teacher encourages us to seek for what opposites have in common, for therein one will find Truth. Freed from the constraints of time, the Truth of the now becomes known. Captured within my photo of a frozen moment of time, waters flow from a renewed spring.

During Saturday busyness I found an image of beauty and peace. On vacation, what will I learn about busyness and work? Something of value, I’m certain. I’ll know when the time comes.

Now is not yet that time.

Now it is time to fix supper. Practical end to a reflective period.

All is in balance, and as it should be.

Visitors

May 25, 2014

Why is human nature so perverse?

Praying for rain, hoping for rain, wishing for rain, deploring the drought, finally it rains.

Now on the third successive day of grey skies and autumn chilliness, instead of continued joy at the moisture, there’s a sliver of … what is it exactly?
Resentment?
Regret?
For the absence of sun, or for coolness when I’m ready to wear my light summer clothes?

I’m remembering the first summer I lived in Sapello, an historically wet period that hasn’t been matched in the quarter century since. I never did get into my light clothing that year. I wore long sleeves and often a cotton sweater the entire summer season. I have pictures – old fashioned print ones, not digital to be shared here – of the flooding sheets of water carving gullies in my driveway and turning the lower pasture into a lake.

It’s unlikely that this summer will prove to be anything like that one in 1990, which followed the coldest winter in decades and completed a most memorable weather year. My rational mind knows that several weeks of continued rainy weather will only just barely put a dent in our parched conditions. My spirit is delighted to see a return of the long-missing summer pattern of overcast nights, clearing mornings and afternoon thunderheads spilling precious rain. The little, irrational corner of being that feels chilly will just have to suck it up and put on a sweater.

I used to know that outdoor activities like riding my horse needed to be completed in the morning.
I used to ensure that rain boots rode in the trunk of my car (boots in the boot), and that I had an umbrella always on hand, from May to September.

Those days and those habits are long gone. Is it time to bring them out of the closet of memory, press them into freshness, and begin wearing them once more?

I’ve been seeing a different mid-sized bird at the feeder the past few weeks. Orange chest, tan belly, orange spot on the top of a head striped with deep brown and a bit of white, patterns of brown and white running head to tail on the back.

I am a ?

I am a ?

Can you tell I’m not a birder? I seem to remember having lent my bird identification book out and apparently not gotten it back. At least, it’s not on the shelf where I expected to find it.

Another view

Another view

I do wonder if these new visitors are indicative of a shift in weather (and wind) patterns that has broader meaning, perhaps an alert that we’re resuming the nearly forgotten routine of summer afternoon rains?

Cute, n'est-ce pas?

Cute, n’est-ce pas?

For now, I can only note that my day unfolded with repeated short downpours across a wide swath of northern and central New Mexico, perfectly timed. When I needed to load the car, it was clear. While I ate lunch in my favorite Chinese restaurant, it rained. Shopping in the big indoor mall in Albuquerque, it rained. During the two hour drive home, it drizzled, but when I needed to bring my purchases into the house, it was clear.
Who could ask for more?

Let It Rain

April 19, 2014

It’s the end of a long, productive but tiring day and I had no idea what to write about for this week’s post.
I opened email from a dear friend, to find a single word – “rain”.

Perhaps because my last email to him announced happily that it was raining outside? For all of five minutes, it actually did rain, hard enough to be heard from inside the house.

Rain – its long absence from our lives, the urgent need for it – is on many minds. An elderly client stated that damp weather – like cold – makes her bones ache but she’d welcome the ache if it brought water for our thirsty earth.

Driving into town (I live about 15 miles out) earlier this evening, I remarked on the dusty, silted, sadly brown fields and talked about the Depression Era dust bowl with my companion. In that area of our community, on a windy day, the air is almost unbreathable, thick with topsoil being scoured from the land. Ninety plus years along, and it seems we haven’t made any progress at all toward preventing another dust bowl.

Hmm… the saying is that you attract what you give your attention to. Perhaps the problem is that too many of us have been giving attention to the drought, when what we should be doing is meditating on rain, snow, lakes, springs, moisture in all its myriad and lively forms.

Like the pond I discovered beside the road back into the mountains, en route to do an assessment with a client who lives in a tiny camper trailer on a twelve acre parcel of wooded mountain land. Several ducks floated on its surface, undisturbed by a chorus of frogs loud enough to be heard over my car’s engine. More than twenty years of living not far away from the area, and I’d never heard that the pond existed. My client informed me that it’s not a year around water, that by June it will be dry.

So think about rain. Think about all the different types of rain I’ve experienced.

The first that comes to mind is in Saigon. My usual form of transport was a cyclo-pousse (French for the combination of bicycle and push, describing a bike with a seat in front, sitting on two wheels).

Cyclo Drivers, Saigon 1957

Cyclo Drivers, Saigon 1957

The faster, noisier variety were called cyclomoto, did not have a carriage cover, and so could not enclose the rider. They were better adapted to carrying large loads.

Motocyclo - Saigon 1957

Motocyclo – Saigon 1957

During the rainy season, the cyclo driver would deploy, from behind the seat, a sort of umbrella cover to which tarps could be attached, ostensibly to keep the rider dry. You can see the cover, minus its surrounding tarp, on the central cyclo. Being enclosed did help a bit, but one still got soaked from below, as furiously fast rains pounded the pavement and rebounded up to a height of two feet or more. There was really no way to be dry if one went outdoors during the downpour. Fortunately, the rains came on a predictable cycle, gradually working their way around the twenty-four hour clock as the season progressed. One could even safely plan to hold an outdoor party at night, during the part of the season when it rained in the morning.

Any wonder that I questioned a local station’s weatherman about his use of the term monsoon for the nearly non-existent rains of the  summer season in New Mexico? Turns out the term describes patterns of air movement which, in wet countries, produce rain and which – rarely – do the same here.

Think about rain.

The British have a wonderful word – mizzle – for the thick, misty, almost-rain conditions associated with foggy London nights. I remember walking across my college campus (Swarthmore, in Eastern Pennsylvania) in a mizzle, bundled against a wet that somehow penetrated all my layers and left me dampened and chilled. There was a beauty to the campus on those wet nights, lamplight haloed by mist showing my way through the rose garden and along winding, tree lined paths. It took several cups of hot cocoa to thaw me, when I reached the warmth of the student center.

The first summer – 1990 – that I lived in my present home in Sapello, I wondered what I had done, buying a home in what felt like a flood zone. My previous residence, on eleven acres southeast of Santa Fe in the Galisteo basin, was almost 1000 feet lower in altitude, and definitely in a more desert-appearing landscape. We received the blessing of summer thunder storms during the years I lived in Galisteo. Great arcs of lightening would leap across the sky, crash into the Ortiz Mountains, and unleash water onto the prairie at a rate that could be absorbed. An occasional gully washer would plow a furrow down my drive, but was always sufficiently short-lived not to do damage.

The summer of 1990 in Sapello was different. It started raining in May and seemed not to stop, not to show the sun, not to warm enough to wear lightweight summer clothing. It rained and rained and rained. My uphill neighbor’s catch pond overflowed and sheets of water poured down across my property, overflowing the culvert and – twice – washing out my driveway completely. I had to have another neighbor come in with his backhoe to rebuild the drive, installing a larger culvert in the process. My horses’ hooves softened and began to rot, as they were unable to escape standing in sopping mud. I scrambled to create a cement pad and shelter for them, before they suffered serious harm. Try laying concrete in a persistent downpour!

Meteorologists tell us that the 90’s were an exceptionally wet period for this area, not a standard against which to rate our current situation. There certainly has not been a summer like 1990 in the past 15 years. I’m gently teased by a friend (native of a tropically wet climate) about my attention to our weather, to the condition of the prairie, to what I see on the distant skyline. He has yet to live through a wildfire summer. He tells me that a member of his church regularly petitions the congregation to pray for rain.

Please join me in a collective focus on wetness falling from the sky onto the lands of the Southwest.

In reciprocation, I will join you – if you live in the Midwest – in a collective focus on calm air and balmy days of recovery from the storms and ice of this past winter.

Together, may we find a better balance and harmony in all aspects of our lives.

**************

PS: Between writing yesterday and posting tonight it rained, intermittently, for several twenty minute periods. The air is cool and damp, the ground moist and there are a few puddles glistening on the highway. I see no stars nor moon tonight – rain clouds hover overhead.

Dieu nous benisse. 🙂

 

When Life Gives You Lemons

April 13, 2014

Ah, the wonders of modern reliance on connectivity!

I had set aside an important three hours on Friday morning, to enter client assessments into the data base system on which my job relies. Guess what? Not only could I not connect, the entire system is down. The only way I can complete any aspect of my work is by telephone – calling into the IT number from time to time, to learn whether the massive problems have been solved. With several thousand employees disbursed across the large state of New Mexico, there is no way – apparently – to alert all of us to a change in status.

Disaster preparedness lessons are certainly now being scheduled.

One of my duties as a Care Coordinator is to educate the clients on my caseload about disaster preparations – to help them think through where they will go if they must evacuate, what they need to have ready to take with them, how they will have their needs met in a new location, etc. The area where I live – and across which my clients are scattered – has been in severe drought for close to ten years, with this past winter being one of the driest on record. Spring is showing in town as forsythia flowering, but looking out my window I see only the dry brown of parched end-of-summer. Driving into the nearby mountains yesterday, there was no hint of green on bare branches of scrub oak, which should already be leafed out.

Like most of my neighbors, I watched TV news of feet of snow being repeatedly dumped on the Midwest, and wondered why the prevailing winds could not let some of that moisture drop on us here, rather than sailing by, overhead. Surely the scientists who can put a man on the moon can figure out how to redirect moisture flows here on earth and distribute needed water more evenly!

When will those individuals supposedly concerned with the nation’s welfare stop bickering about the reality of climate change in the abstract, and focus instead on solving the very real problems of weather extremes being experienced right now? These extremes are causing disasters of varying sorts, every season. That is a fact, not an abstract.

Does it matter whether one believes or not that there are major, impending climate alterations for which mankind is responsible? Not at all, if the priority is to address the very real drought – and the equally real polar vortex – being experienced in different regions of our country.

Stop bickering, and just fix it, already.

Meanwhile, it’s an interesting experience to observe a huge non-profit brought virtually to a standstill for an entire day, because somehow its computer networks have failed. I don’t know as of this writing whether it’s the servers themselves, or access to the Internet, or some other issue that prevents us from emailing one another, or using any of our data base systems. I only know that it is obviously dangerous to build a service delivery system around an expectation that all information one needs to perform ones job can be accessed via the computer.

I’ve ranted here before on the limited vision of techies who build their systems in the midst of large cities with good Net access, and who then expect those of us living in the mountains and “on the frontier” to be able to use those systems. I have to admit I’m perversely glad that serious problems have arisen today right in the center of New Mexico’s largest city. Maybe now, the voices of those of us who are frontier people will be heard!

Maybe now, as well, local stores will consider making the ability to do simple arithmetic and to give change a job requirement once again. They’ve had to shut down serving customers when we’ve had power outages that turn off the cash drawer calculators. Oh, that’s right, the store’s inventory tracking is based within those calculators, and heaven forbid they make a sale that isn’t tracked. After all, doing business is about making money, not about serving customers – right?

Inability to distribute food or other essential goods because the power is off, or the computer is down – now that is a recognizably man-made disaster! No need to get into the debate about man’s contribution to the current climate extremes being experienced – just look at the many local mini-disasters we most certainly cause by ignoring the fallibility of our mechanical creations. Millions of vehicles recalled, dams that crack and flood, power grids that rupture… Haven’t we collectively figured out that if it can be built, it can fail?

No, I guess not. So today I don’t work as expected. Or rather, I will schedule extra clients to visit, collecting information in an old-fashioned, hand-written file folder. Whenever the technical problem is fixed, I’ll have a backlog of data to enter – as will many of my co-workers. I do hope the upsurge in computer usage doesn’t cause a new crash! Is that potential disaster being planned for, as the current repairs are undertaken? We’ll see.

Meanwhile, if the present computer problem isn’t fixed before Monday, I’ll actually have a whole weekend off, for the first time since January 1.
Make lemonade.
Drink lemonade.
Enjoy lemonade.
YES!

A Snowy Contemplation

February 9, 2014

Have you noticed the unique silence that accompanies a fall of snow? The white blanket covering the ground somehow muffles ordinary noises of a country stillness, so that the world is – for a short time – truly quiet. I see birds at the feeder, fluffing themselves to shake dampness off their feathers, but they are not noisily jostling as they were yesterday. Even my dogs lie in, enjoying their heated porch rather than running barking at the rising sun.

From my Window

From my Window

Not much snow fell, not much more than a promise of wetness to our parched land. But the sky is still grey, except where the rising sun has broken through a cloud bank to paint a few slashes of peach and gold. Perhaps a few more drops will bless the earth from the clouds in the west. That is the direction our winter wetness comes in from. In summer it is often the reverse – systems stretch up from the gulf off Texas to give us summer rains. This past year, Texas did not share, and after a good start in late fall, the weather gods have chosen to send all the moisture either north of us into Colorado, or farther east where the blizzards and cold have caused major havoc.

Have you noticed how people’s temperaments are affected by the climates in which they dwell? It is an almost universal truth that cultures in hot, wet environments become gregariously noisy, even in Asian regions that one tends to think of as possessing a pattern of restraint. The silence of traditional Japanese people passing each other in public (it snows in Japan you know) is vastly different from the voluble street harangues of Vietnamese pedestrians in a country where the difference between hottest and coldest weather is less one of temperature than of moisture – monsoon season, or “dry” season when the humidity is perhaps 60% rather than 85%.

I knitted my first sweater in Saigon, when I was fourteen, and wore it twice on “cold” dry season days. Not days really suited to wearing a sweater, but I did so want to show it off. By the time I arrived in a cold enough climate to need a sweater, I’d outgrown it. A pretty dark cherry red pullover, with cap sleeves and a mini-turtleneck, the sweater went with me on to college and to Boston and eventually here to the desert, where I finally gave it to the daughter of a friend to be worn during what used to be our very coldest weeks of January. Used to be – it got down to 30 below at night and not much more than 5 for a daily high over at least a couple of weeks each January, even as recently as 20 years ago when I moved to my present home. For the past ten years, the night time temperature here has not dropped below minus 10, and the sun has warmed us comfortably every day. Pleasanter living than the mid-west’s polar experiences, but dire for our drought.

A snowplow has been by, and the school bus’ flashing lights indicate it has picked up my neighbor’s boys. I see cars making their way down the road that curves toward town, heading into the start of another workday. But still it is silent here around me, in a way only snow produces. It won’t last, neither the silence nor the snow, so I cherish it.

Have you noticed how people’s expressions of temperament change with their circumstances? A man courting a woman asks cautiously will she do this, would she help him to do that. Having won her, he issues orders – we will do this now, you must do that. The woman still has choices. She can simply agree, or she can learn in what way to express her own preferences so that she is heard. It is not significantly different in non-traditional relationships – we learn each other’s ways of being and how to express ourselves to influence the nature of the relationship. We learn how to help one another grow, and sadly, we also often learn how to block or stifle one another in an expression of frustrated, never-outgrown teenage envy.

Have you noticed how, entering a new relationship, there is a tendency to ask oneself, “Should I trust this person? How far? With how much of the truth about myself?” Past personal history of support or betrayal, extent of confidence in one’s self, willingness to risk, curiosity about different life styles, what a friend of mine simply calls open-mindedness, can all blend together into a force that shapes how a relationship develops. That is the common way.

How differently the issues of trust, of exploration and communication and growth of understanding unfold, if one considers a new relationship from the perspective of why the Divine ( God, or Fate, one’s Master, one’s karma, one’s wise inner self, or a Higher Power) “has brought this person and this experience to me at this time.” All the ambiguities of trusting in another person are released to the trust that we are alive for a reason, and that we can understand that reason, learning and thriving in our understanding.

Like the rare silence of a snow-covered early morning landscape, achieving an understanding of ourselves in relationship is a blessing. The moments of silence are brief; I woke early to enjoy them. The opportunities to intuit “what we’re here for” are also brief. I wake early to contemplate them.

The line of cars I see driving to work has warmed the thin snow covering on the road, and it is already turning to splashing slush. My big dog is out and barking to let the world know he has started his new day alertly. His two little companions romp patterns into the snow of my long, curving driveway. Outside, and in, the world is no longer silent. A new day of life has begun. What will I learn? What will I hear? What will I come to understand? What will I teach? What will I give, and what will I receive? Soon enough, I’ll have answers. Soon enough, too, I’ll have another opportunity to practice trusting that what is, is so, for a reason I may or may not be able to fathom. In trusting, I live. To cease trusting would be death – and I’m a long way from ready to die!

Across the Pasture Gate

Across the Pasture Gate

Another wave of snow clouds is sweeping in, flecks of white are drifting across the window. I will delay, just briefly, starting my own work day. Because I can do so, I choose to savor for a few moments more the regained silence (dogs still, birds quiet, no cars passing on the road), the blessing of extra drops of precious water, and another opportunity to consider why I am where I am, and for what inner purpose my outer life has taken on its latest form. Thank Thee, Master, for these gifts!

An Appreciation of Habits

October 6, 2013

Interesting how many unthinking habits are revealed when the pressure tank in the well fails, and a household is without water! Over the years, we’ve been waterless several times, for different reasons. The most difficult was the winter it got down to 30F below and someone forgot to leave faucets dripping, resulting in a frozen water line. That time it took 4 days to restore water flow, fortunately without associated broken pipes. Four days of not being able to flush toilets, or easily wash hands. Of hauling water in three gallon bottles, doling it out in dribbles for washing with a cloth in the sink, “birding off” as a friend used to call it (another acquaintance used to refer to the same process, I know not why, as a whore bath).

This latest episode of being without running water lasted only a little over 24 hours, in warm enough weather to need to shower, not just dab and dry. I gained experience at showering without access to running water back in my early teens, when we lived in Saigon.

Our House, a Very Very Very Fine House - Saigon, 1956

Our House, a Very Very Very Fine House – Saigon, 1956

Water only flowed in our housing compound for about two hours a day. The live-in maid would fill large vats with a hose from a standpipe, then carry buckets up to the bathroom whenever someone needed to bathe. Showering became a matter of pouring a bucket over oneself, soaping, pouring another bucket to rinse, and drying off. In the steamy heat, two or even three showers a day were necessary. A five person household used a vat of water just for bathing. The second vat supplied water for cooking and mopping and hand washing.

In those days, I also learned how to throw a bucket of water (the third vat’s supply) with just the right force, at just the right angle, into a toilet to force it to flush. In recent days, I learned I am still able to shower by the bucket, but have lost the knack of the toilet flush. Or maybe modern toilets are less amenable to alternative flushing procedures? In any case, the knowledge of how to manage without running water rose up from depths, at the same time as I caught myself automatically reaching behind to flush the toilet that had no water in its tank. Knowing there was no water did not stop the unthinking hand gesture.

How many other actions of daily life, including much less mundane ones, do we unthinkingly perform? How many aspects of our routine do we take for granted? And what about people… how often do we take them for granted? Or respond to them out of habit? Or respond to a present situation with an inappropriate habit learned in childhood?

Regrettably, my mother was only able to experience disappointment with life. She had a unique knack for projecting that disappointment, ensuring by her actions that anything I looked forward to with happy anticipation would fit her world view, and therefore not materialize positively in my life. My childhood was one of fearing to express what I wanted, since to do so was to assure it would not happen. Put differently, I became ingrained with the behavior of waiting for the other shoe to drop. As I matured, left home and began living my own values, I gradually freed myself from maternal negativity, and experienced lots of positives. Life brings mostly what one looks to receive from it – and I look with curiosity for new opportunities, good friends, and spiritual growth. I’ve been blessed to receive an abundance of all these.

So – how surprising to discover, in recent days, that a corner of my being is busy defending itself against a shoe dropping, in relation to my upcoming new employment! Why am I suddenly hearing myself reason that I should delay certain purchases because one should never “count chickens before they are hatched?” In ten weeks of living and working on the Maine coast at a home without electricity, I ‘forgot’ the habit of reaching for a wall switch when I entered a dark room. So why do I, after 50 years of living away from my mother’s fearful negativity still subconsciously duck and cover in response to upcoming positive and desired changes?

The Habit of Following Along

The Habit of Following Along

Well, at least I recognize the old emotional habit and can now practice setting it aside. I hope I have more success breaking that pattern than I’ve had with the one that leads me to look up to the right as I leave my living room. For nearly 20 years I had a clock on that right-hand wall – it’s been gone for 2 years now but I still glance there to see the time. And then laugh at myself. I suspect that being able to laugh at practicing an outdated habit is a step in the direction of letting it go, so I will chuckle to myself if I fall back into emotional duck and cover. What better way to switch over to a positive attitude?

And I do intend to retain the habit of washing with minimal water, although not the bucket method needed so recently. Collecting the water that accumulates until a suitable temperature is reached, and turning off the shower while soaping up, have become common sense habits in our continuing drought-plagued environment. Hmmm… I wonder, if someday I move to a place where water is abundant, will my water-saving habits endure?

Sounds of Silence

October 1, 2013

First, I should explain that a different type of silence was imposed on me over the weekend, preventing me from putting up this post when I intended to do so, on Sunday afternoon. The internet link at the motel where I was staying was somehow incompatible with my computer, and the IT people weren’t able to reset it properly. I am back home, and once again connected – able to ‘speak’.

Thank you for patience, for reading, for following, for being there.

Niki
**************


Noise pollution is one of the issues not being adequately discussed in relation to my county’s examination of a proposed fracking ordinance. I brought the topic into the discussion, and I have to keep raising it as others focus insistently on water quality and scarcity, and contamination of the air and soil. By comparison I suppose noise can be considered a less significant negative – but not to me.

I live in the countryside – what most people would consider a truly rural area. My small 900 square foot house is set back from the road, on four acres, abutting a several-hundred-acre ranch. I have three neighbors – houses close to the road with entrance driveways off it, in a cluster with my own entryway. Across the road are two more homes. Most of the time, those neighbors are quiet – so much so that I wonder if they are at home. No loud parties, nor growling outdoor machinery.

I do hear traffic on the highway. My house is situated on a hill toward which the road heads before it veers off, resulting in the longish driveway that snakes from the road up over a hill to my front door. Sitting in my living room, looking out its floor to ceiling windows, I can see a section of the road, and all the vehicles that travel up and down it. I cannot see – but can hear clearly – the heavy trucks and the rattle of gravel excavation that is going on a further 2 miles away, on a section of land that “ought” not to be considered to be in my neighborhood. Something about the lay of the valley funnels that noise straight up to my house.

The gravel operation is new this summer. I don’t know yet if I’ll notice it when my windows are closed, but I am very aware now, with windows wide open, of the days it is running and those, like today, when it is not. Perhaps I’m more sensitive than other people to the ambient noise within which I live?

I do not like to have music playing “in the background” of my days. I work better, think better, live better in silence. I enjoy music, go to concerts, play records (there’s an oldie for you) or CDs with intention to listen to them – emphasis on the intention to listen. If my intention is to work, I prefer to do so in silence.

Undoubtedly, that preference has something to do with my enjoyment of Quaker Meeting, and Buddhist zazen sessions, as well as my own daily spiritual contemplative practice. Undoubtedly it also has something to do with my appreciation of the skill of the young musicians from Curtis Institute who performed Britten’s Quartet #3 for Strings at a recent Music From Angel Fire concert near my home. Two of the piece’s five movements, including the last one, end with a prolonged silence defined by the musicians holding their bows immobile above the strings of their instruments until, as one, they relaxed in their seats, signaling the end of the silence that was part of the movement, and the beginning of the silence into which the audience could inject its noises of appreciation.

Once before, many years ago in Boston, I attended a concert which featured a piano performance that included long silences as part of the piece, and then too I was able to ‘hear’ the difference in quality between the silence that was integral to the music, and the silence of the piece’s end. That time, as I recall, I had no visual cue. I was sitting too far back, in the cheap seats, to see the pianist’s hands. I could only rely on my ears, and the pianist’s flawless sense of timing, to distinguish when musical silence transitioned to an appreciative silence from the audience, which in turn transitioned into loud applause.

A few of my acquaintances seem to understand what I mean when I express my awareness of the difference between the silence of Quaker Meeting, and that in a Zendo. Even the famously silent Meetings (the oldest, historical ones in Philadelphia) which I have attended, have a busy-ness to them, a sense of minds occupied with focused reflection, that is distinctly different from the no-thought silence of a practiced group of Buddhists in meditation. And different again from the life in silence of the Benedictines (and their guests) living at Christ in the Desert Monastery. Different yet again from the experience of many hundreds of chelas (students), attending to the silent communication from our Beloved Teacher at a MasterPath gathering. Dare I say that there are many different sounds of silence?

(Yes I know the Simon and Garfunkle song The Sound of Silence. It doesn’t fit into my narrative because the song is about the negative aspect of silence – silence as a barrier to communication and a symptom of loneliness.)

We seem, in the modern urgency of tuned-in lives, to have forgotten the old adage that silence is golden. We settle for the silver, the copper, even the dross of noisy, busy “I’m somebody, doing something important” daily life and think we are fulfilling ourselves. Just yesterday, I had a Facebook ‘chat’ with a young friend who is torn between his desire to study the classical languages necessary to read ancient Buddhist texts in their original, and the supposedly practical necessity of getting a degree in a subject that can lead to a job. How practical is it, to go against one’s nature, to ignore the still, small, inner voice directing one toward a path of spiritual fulfillment, in favor of a loud, outer, boisterous demand to focus on earning a living?

Inside golden silence, there is much to hear and learn. Whole worlds of perception, of wisdom, exist within our inner silent spaces. Would that we all, individually and collectively, were more insistent on spending time in that beautiful silence within! Would that we all, individually and collectively, could share the golden wealth to be acquired from listening to the songs of the Divine played so beautifully within us. Listen…. and you will hear…

A Good Day

August 23, 2013

It seems to be perversely part of human nature to never be satisfied.

Through months becoming years of drought, we in the northeastern New Mexico high-mountain desert worried about the lack of rain. Our brown grasslands, swirling dust devils, raging fires and smoke-poisoned air were prominent in every conversation.

Until just a month ago, when suddenly, for some of us, things changed.

Water began to come out of the sky, in thick sheets, on almost a daily basis. Not everywhere, not for long periods of time, but enough where it did appear – including where I live – to turn the prairie green and yellow – green weeds shooting to chest height, yellow wildflowers making wide swaths of color especially where run-off water has pooled.

Rain Gate

Now I hear complaints of pollen-allergies, and worries about the burrs and needle-like seeds that will permeate everything – especially the fur of four-legged pets – as soon as the short-lived grasses and flowers dry out this autumn. People hustle to find mowers and weed eaters, to chop down the lush growth, the absence of which was so recently bewailed.

Today, the sun is shining, there’s a cooling breeze, hummingbirds are hovering over the purple thistle flowers, and a dove is pecking seed from beneath my bird feeder. A few puffs of cloud float in a dust-free postcard blue sky. I’ve had to use the snips designed for nipping small limbs from trees, to cut down the largest red-root weeds blocking the steps to my home. A friend has promised to come mow, before I have company over Labor Day weekend. Not all my acres, just the area immediately around the house, so I can get to the bird feeder and the outside water hydrant without wading through chest-high weeds. So my guests can get into the cottage door without scratches to their legs and prickers in their clothes.

Nothing I can do will prevent the forthcoming torment to dogs and cat. Daily brushing, sessions of picking out burrs, even a close shearing of coats (canine at least) can reduce but not eliminate the pending assault by things that stick and sting and burrow into skin and paws. It’s been so long since we’ve had rain, and weeds, in summer that none of the current crew of pets has experienced what is in store for them. They are all too young.

Green Pastures

I am not too young. I remember, ten years ago, the last time we had summer rains and weeds and wildflowers and enough grass for horse hay to be a reasonable price. I remember the quill-like needles that result from those pretty yellow wildflowers dropping their petals, drying and disseminating their seed. I remember the cockleburs, brown and clawing, so sharp they pierce the leather of my shoes as I walk by them; so sharp they even caused my horses to limp until the spines were picked out of their hooves.

I remember, but today I will not complain. Today I enjoy the sun and the cool breeze and the green vistas and the dancing yellow flowers. Today I am grateful that we have had rain, and a respite from dust and fire and smoke. Today is a good day to Be.


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