Someone Should Do Something

A Bombay Sapphire gin bottle smashed next to a blue curb
Getting Smashed In Berkeley, CA.

Some of the things I do daily are so dead simple they’re almost stupid. Filling the xerox machine with paper when it’s empty. Picking up the chunks of (clean) toilet paper people throw on the bathroom floor. Picking up bits of glass and plastic on trails and sidewalks. None of this is my job–or is it? I see it. I am therefore responsible for it, in some way. I used to go barefoot a lot, and so a long time ago I began picking up the bits of glass that scared me. I’m embarrassed to see the public bathrooms at work in such a state. I wear a uniform, so I am easily identifiable as part of the place. It isn’t my job to clean up the whole world, it isn’t possible for me to do so. However, we can all make this world we are in a little better. At the very least, we can all take care of our own mess. If we all did so, think what this world would be like…

I don’t do this stuff as part of my application for sainthood, and I’m not suggesting that you all run out right now with a trash bag and a mission. I’m just asking you to think about the place you live in, how you make it your own, and what you leave behind. What difference does your presence make each day?

We’re all part of the land. We’re literally made of earth, the food we eat, the minerals in it that are part of us, and the less savory things that we give back to it. We don’t want them any more, but to some other being, they are life itself. Have you thought about what you eat lately, really thought about where it came from, what it was when it was alive? Everything we eat was once alive, and everything that dies is only in the process of becoming someone else. This isn’t cruel, or tragic, it’s the thing that makes us all one.

In my house, we say grace. We thank the beings that grace our table, from the fruiting bodies of mycelium that we call mushrooms to the chicken that gave its very life. Acknowledging this fact brings meaning to my meal, and puts me firmly in the web of life and death. It has put chickens in our backyard and herbs on our back porch. Calling “thank you” out the window when we eat eggs, and knowing that those birds are enjoying their lives is a gift. Cleaning the chicken coop becomes a means of connection as well as a chore. It’s part of the deal of domestication.

Not all animals want to make this deal with us. No one rides zebras, for example. No one keeps seagulls for eggs–though the nineteenth century inhabitants of San Francisco probably ate them. Chickens, however, not only lay for most of the year, they share nests and stay in roughly the same place. They are birds of habit and they don’t mind living with humans. It was actually a fairly good deal for them until quite recently. They allowed humans to take their eggs, and while they didn’t get to live out their entire lifespan, on the average they lived a lot longer than their wild relatives did. In return they got protection, housing, food, and instead of living exclusively in the jungles of Southeast Asia, they now can be found all over the world. Humans got eggs and tasty meat, and the tendency of chickens to scratch and defecate made them useful in the fields as well.

The next paragraph or so is not graphic per se, but if you don’t want to think any more deeply about this subject, you might want to skip past it.

This was a great deal, but as we humans have a tendency to skip out on our chores, we eventually found a way to get out of our end of it. The ways we treat our domestic animals these days are pretty horrific. Since most of us don’t have to watch, we can ignore this, but there are consequences for us as well. It can’t be good for us to be eating creatures that spent their lives in pain, mental and physical, and died horrible deaths. Having eaten animals that I’ve taken out of life quickly and cleanly, I can tell you that a well fed, happy animal just tastes better. Knowing the whole cycle of life is empowering as well. It was an initiation in the truest sense of the word. I felt that at last I could feed my family, and that I can take responsibility for how I live. I’m not planning on giving up eating meat, after all. I also came to realize that I, too, will in the end be eaten, and I don’t fear it. I don’t want to die, of course, but I want to lay a handsome table when I do. I want to give back what I have borrowed and continue the dance of life in some other form.

I started out with trash, and I’m going to end there as well. I’ve found that when a human begins to pick stuff up, we all get three benefits. The first, of course, is simple. There’s less garbage lying around. The second is related to that–a human who picks up trash is a human who doesn’t thoughtlessly throw things around when finished with them. The third is a growing awareness, for the individual human, and for the rest of us.

As I’ve begun to listen to the land, it has gotten downright talkative. I see the most interesting things on the ground.

A stick inscribed
Berkeley Gives Me Wood

The land hands me trash bags. A plastic bag dangles at eye level from a tree trunk in Golden Gate Park. You can’t get any clearer than that. Brightly colored balloons form a fan on the sand in Aquatic Park. What I took for brightly colored red plastic chips on the grass turn out to be rose petals, strewn at my feet. Never let it be said that the planet is not capable of making the grand gesture of appreciation on occasion. My chickens peck bits of glass and broken china from the dirt in the yard. Many of them are quite beautiful. I may get around to making a mosaic out of them someday, but for now I save them in a terra cotta pot in the yard.

We’re all responsible for what we see. But no, we can’t do all of it. I would spend my entire day picking up trash if I tried. So I set limits. I pick up plastic, mainly in the woods and on the beach. Plastic, particularly small bits of it, scares me. It’s on its way into the food web. Sea birds fight for food, and they will eat anything that looks like it might be edible without a second thought. Many of them die with their stomachs choked with the stuff. They’re not the only animals who do this. Plastic on the ground, exposed to sunlight, becomes brittle and falls apart. It remains plastic, but the bits get smaller and smaller, leaching toxins as they do. If plastic ends up in the ocean, it floats on the current or sinks. If there are future archaeologists, I’m betting that this century will be clearly visible as a layer of plastic–or its components. We will be remembered by what we leave behind.

So if you think that somebody ought to do something about it, maybe you, like me, are that someone.

Who says you can’t?

I’m on the other side of this one. I should have done this gap year business when I was young, before I had adult responsibilities. By now, I should be settled in my career and serve my time till retirement.

I have never been age appropriate. I’ll fly too close to the sun and taste the golden apples of the Otherworld, thank you. As I’ve often said, if you don’t ask, they can’t say yes.

Passing on the Right

smilecalm

“Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

contemplative forest spot ~d nelson contemplative forest spot ~d nelson

Slow down
don’t move so fast, dear one.
Saying she is in a hurry,
smiles while passing
on the left.

Enjoying this sacred moment
dear one, I asked?
He said nothing,
grinning as he passed
on the right.

slow for workers slow for workers

Imagine the patience
of a snail slowly wagging its tail.
Or patience of the sailor
without wind upon his sails.

But then
there’s the patience of a redwood forest
which is again healthy upon being burnt.
Biodiversity unfolding before
our open & closed eyes; look
wood-living bees and wasps pollinating
new shrubs and wildflowers that blossomed after the fire.
Fallen logs colonized with life forms from fungi to lichens
providing home & cover for small rodents, weasel, lynx other small mammals.

burnt healthy 2~d nelson burnt healthy 2~d nelson

Scars upon nature healing
sometimes in…

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Sacred Waters

A wonderful take on sacred waters in Albion–amazing the things you can run across by chance.

Singing Head

A recurrent theme in my explorations over the last few years is that of sacred waters. Waters rising from the ground in springs and wells carry a sense of the riches of the dark underworld coming into consciousness. Still waters in a lake or pond echo calm perception. The roaring, tumbling waters of the rivers and sea show irresistible strength.

I live in a watery place between the River Thames and River Mole. I’m surrounded by reservoirs, and all the land has been worked over the centuries to drain and channel the waters. I suspect that a few thousand years ago this would all have been marsh land, reedbeds and gravel banks threaded by streams and pools.

Rivers

A few years ago I was inspired to begin tracing the River Mole to its source, as much to learn its song as to see the sights. I haven’t got all that far yet, but I’m enjoying the…

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As Close As Your Next Breath

Clouds reflected In Bala Lake
Clouds reflected in Bala Lake, Gwynedd, Wales

Three minutes without air, and your brain begins to die. A first responder will check an unconscious person for breathing even before they look for bleeding. Our breath is our most direct connection to life. So I invite you to take a breath and hold it. How long can you do so? Unless you’re a trained free diver, it’s probably a lot less than three minutes. What does it feel like to hold your breath? How does this feeling change as you continue to do so? And how gooood does that first breath you take afterwards feel?

Our breath is shared with all beings. The proportion of plants to animals determines the ratio of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the atmosphere, and so the temperature of the biosphere and the range of life that can exist. We are directly dependent on all the living things on this planet for the air we breathe and the areas of the planet that we can inhabit. By changing that balance as we have by releasing such large volumes of carbon into the atmosphere, we are reshaping the only home we have. The atmosphere is the thinnest, most vulnerable organ the body of our planet has. We have grown so powerful that we are literally determining who lives, and who dies, and since we are doing it without awareness, or full knowledge of the consequences of our actions, we may well be killing ourselves, cutting the web of life out from under our own feet.

To the Celts, knowledge was carried on the breath. Their culture was an oral one, and for a long time, they believed that to write a thought down was to kill it as the vital spark of life in it was gone. The very word, inspiration, means “to breathe in.” To me, a song is carried on the breath. Music only truly exists in the moment it is being played. Even to remember it, you have to play the tune in your head. Yes, it can be written down, but that is cold storage. A page of sheet music does not sing. It takes a person to do that, to take those markings from the page and transform them into sound again. The invention of recorded music allows us all to hear the greatest performers whenever we please, and–truly amazing–to hear them long after their deaths, but the recording must be played in order to have its full existence.

Even this miracle is a double-edged sword. Most of us don’t sing any more, or at least not nearly as much as we used to. Many of us are literally afraid to open our mouths at all. We can hear virtuoso performances any time we want to, so learning to play an instrument or sing isn’t nearly as vital as it used to be, but the things we could be learning by being able to hear those performances over and over and learning in the process to duplicate them are lost to many of us. We can get some of the pleasure with no more effort than pushing a button but we are losing out on the greater pleasure of making the music ourselves. How many times have you heard someone say “I play the radio,” when asked whether they play an instrument? We’re allowing ourselves to be intimidated by the quality of those performances, instead of being inspired by them. How many times have you heard someone say “I can’t sing”? What was carried on the breath is now carried in the pocket. So maybe the Celts were onto something there. They adopted writing in order to save some of their knowledge because the living libraries known as fili, brehons, druids, were being slaughtered by invaders. While that innovation saved things that would otherwise have been lost, enriching our collective memory and making information that was in the hands of specialists available to a much wider audience, our individual memories are not the well trained muscles that they were. The linkages between knowledge that can only be made by people who have all the information in their minds, readily accessible, are no longer available to us.

Our planet, our lives, are a song being sung by all of us, carried on the collective breath we all share. Each of us has a part to play. Our every action is a note in the larger chorus. The knowledge within every being on the planet is the fabric of which we are all made. From the dance of photosynthesis, the knowledge of the plants of how to capture the energy of sunlight and make it available to all, the planet has built up to the knowledge that allows us to actually leave the surface of our planet, beyond the atmosphere to where we can finally see ourselves as the one living world that we are all part of.

Our knowledge is now the key. When the Celts adopted writing, they allowed us to hear the voices of the dead. They also expanded the range of time they could hold clearly in their collective consciousness, and the depth and breadth of the poetic meters that were available to them.  They had no idea that all this would happen, it was a result of their willingness to adapt and change. We have begun to change our world, true, but we have also targeted the part of it that is the fastest to react to change. What we have done happens at a rate that is slow for us, but within the span of time that we humans are capable of perceiving. We have already done a related experiment on the outermost part of our planet, the ozone layer. Back in the 1970s, we discovered we were “holing the spacesuit” with our indiscriminate use of chlorofluorocarbons, and at that time in our history, we were able to work together, to ban the use of these compounds and reduce their use far enough so that we are able to see the healing happening. If we can do that, we can also do the same with carbon. It will be harder, CFCs are fairly exotic and far more easily replaced than carbon, the basis of life itself, but we are are inventive creatures, never more so than when our lives depend on it.

All that we are is borrowed from the organism we are part of. All of it must be given back, and at the beginning of this post, you had the opportunity to learn just how impossible it is to hold onto the breath, and how vital it is to life. It also can determine the state of our consciousness. Three deep breaths are the quickest way I know to calm down, if they are taken with awareness, and allowed to have their own shape.

Breath is a great wheel. I invite you to breathe in, slowly. Take the air in all the way to your belly, until it stops by itself. There is a natural pause there, and if you just let it, your body will round that curve, and give back the breath it has just taken in. There is a similar pause at the bottom of the breath, and your body will, if you let it, round that curve and breathe in once again. Can you concentrate only on your breath long enough to do that three times? It can be hard at first, but with practice, you can follow your breath, and feel the effect it has on your body and your mind. Three breaths are available to you any time, any place. No one will notice if you do this on the bus, at a meeting, when you are feeling stressed. And it costs you nothing. This is a benefit of our connection to all beings.

If you have the time, and the inclination, can you follow nine of your breaths with complete concentration? Awareness is a muscle, and this is not as easy a task as it sounds. The benefits will only become apparent to you with time and practice, but they will be as close as your next breath, whenever you choose to take it.

70% of All of Us

Pardon me, do you have a minute to talk about water? I really think this conversation is long overdue. When you turn your tap, have you ever considered where the cool clean miracle that comes out of it came from? Go ahead. Get a glass. Fill it up and take a drink. Feel it slip down your throat and become part of you.

Thanks to the Safe Drinking Water Act, we in the United States have the right to know where our drinking water comes from, and what exactly is in it.

Tap water is a blessing. Water is a gift from the earth and the sky. Tap water in the United States is more rigorously tested than any bottled water, and it is available to all. It is subject to laws that are getting better and better at using it sustainably, for the good of all while bottled water is a product of profitmaking companies, who take without any thought for the amount, and the effect on the land they take it from. That pretty picture on the label is likely a lie. Major brands like Aquafina (Pepsi) and Dasani (Coca Cola) are basically tap water. Spring water is not required to come from a spring to bear that label. These companies are damaging the land I live in, and our already overstressed aquifers. They are doing this all over the world. There is a campaign in my state, as a matter of fact, to get people to trust and drink tap water. The idea that it isn’t safe is yet another set of lies by companies who want to sell us water filters and–you guessed it–bottled water. I won’t go into the waste and hype any further here because that isn’t my main point, and the information is readily available. I hope I’ve inspired you to go and seek it out for yourself because it is an illuminating exercise.

Where does your tap water come from? Mine comes from the Mokelumne river and is stored in Pardee Reservoir. From there, the trail back to the source leads to the Sierras, and the snowmelt that feeds the river. The water that runs from my tap is piped from the reservoir, and across the Central Valley to Oakland, where I live.

The story darkens from here. Pardee Dam was built in 1929 to supply the fast-growing East Bay with water. In the process, the salmon runs were forced downstream. The downstream Camanche Dam was added in 1963. The fish managed to make the adjustment at first, but now, between population growth, destructive water management practices and climate change, the salmon and steelhead runs are nearing extinction.

Mokelumne is a Plains Miwok word meaning “people of the fishnets.” Their connection to the river and their means of existence are encapsulated in that name that we don’t think about. The people were long gone before the dams were ever built, having been removed to the missions. There are few left today. The Ohlone, of which the Miwok are a part, are not federally recognized tribes, and live on meager allotments while they fight for recognition. Their ancestral waters have thus been appropriated for our use.

All this information flowed from one simple question: Where does the water I drink come from? Now my questions are many, and answers few. What can I do to help the salmon? To support the people who have lost their river and their way of life in their quest for recognition? The other Native Californians who deserve recognition, and respect? What are their land spirits, and how can I respect them as well? Scattering tobacco and saying thanks is nice, but it doesn’t change anything for the people and the land, it only means I have manners.

I don’t know any of this yet, and I do know that respect for water is only a beginning. I know that connection to this land that I live in is something that begins with simple things like knowing where my water comes from, using it with awareness of its scarcity, and not wasting it. Knowing the plants and animals that share this land with me, and respecting the people who took care of it before I was born is not only manners, it makes my own life more meaningful. I know that the more of us who do so, the richer our lives will be, and the more likely it is that we will find ways to make connections that will bring us together in truth. Together we can pass the land to the future in better condition than we received it.

I began this post with a simple way to appreciate and connect to water. Here’s a more challenging way to do it in my area. On a hot day go to the hills, where in my tradition, Lugh reigns right now. Walk in the heat and the dust, smell the dry, golden grass all around you. Touch the powdery dry bark of the live oaks and feel their waxy leaves. Listen to the hum of heat, and feel your own sweat run down your body as you hike in the heat and glorious sunshine. Feel yourself getting parched and overheated. At the top of a hill, where you can see the glorious Pacific, or San Francisco Bay spread out before you, open your pack. In it you have packed a water bottle, wrapped against the heat, beaded with condensation and filled with cool water. You won’t be able to resist running that bottle over your body, holding it against the back of your neck, feeling the beads of moisture on your skin, cool and wonderful. Hold it in your hand and open it, and when you drink, you will feel every molecule of coolness as it slips down your throat and becomes part of you. You will feel every cell in your body open to the giver of life, the gift of California’s rains and her living heart, depending on where this water you drink comes from.

When you go home, take a shower, wash yourself clean, and think about the miracle we all have installed in our homes; an ever flowing waterfall, that runs at any temperature we choose. What has it been? Seventy years or so since showers became a regular part of our lives? We are so wealthy. We would do well to appreciate what we have, and give thanks for it.

What is the story of water in your land?

Broken Chain

I saw the last of the steam schooners die. It wasn’t dignified. She was tucked away out of sight while the repair tab mounted until her collapse was only a matter of time. After the people who should have been her guardians took the bits and pieces of her deemed to be worth saving,  she was murdered, cut and pulled apart by people who only saw her as something to be disposed of, a pile of toxic waste, a hazard to be abated.

Ships are built and held together by love. Sailors understand that their survival is directly dependent on the state their vessel is in, and know that the sea will find the flaws in their work, the lapses in their devotion to her. Lloyd’s of London can say what they will, a ship will always be “She.” My employer may sign my check, but when I was a deckhand, I worked for the ships, not the organization. Being separated from them, set to recordkeeping and other tasks far removed from the vessels has turned what was a vocation into a mere job.

This song is the essence of what I’ve learned from ships and the work I did aboard them. I will always be a sailor, though I can’t say whether or not I will ever be able to live and work aboard ship again. The bond between ship and sailor, and the way life changes me when I’m at sea is something that will always be with me. I hope that this awareness is something that will grow to encompass the whole world because it isn’t a bond that is limited to ships and sailors.

I’ll bet you already have a taste of it. Your family, perhaps your home and the work that you do may well have this quality to it. We all can have that kind of bond with the land we live in if we choose to look for it. This kind of love can hold a nation together, and a species, if we can avoid falling into its toxic mimic of patriotism and xenophobia. A ship at sea is a whole world. Can we learn to love and care for our whole world? I think we can. And I think we will.