Learning to Love Rain

18 04 2013
“She enjoys rain for its wetness, winter for its cold, summer for its heat. She loves rainbows as much for fading as for their brilliance. It is easy for her, she opens her heart and accepts everything.”
                          –Morgan Llewelyn

I used to be very selective about which seasons I enjoyed. Spring was too wet and muddy, summer too hot and humid. Fall was perfect and Winter was endurable. When I got active and lost weight, suddenly my experience of the seasons opened up. I began to love summer and winter, as well as autumn. I discovered that I love being outside, that my body can do a lot to regulate its internal temperature so I don’t need to be inside a climate controlled environment to feel comfortable anymore. Turns out, I don’t mind sweating that much, and braving the cold presents a challenge and a gift.

But Spring is still a difficult season, primarily because of that pesky weather condition known as RAIN. Springs in Iowa are characterized by one of two possibilities: no rain or too much rain. Last year was a spring with no rain. We moved from winter almost directly to summer, skipping the renewing season of spring. Springs with no rain are characterized by anxiety about crops (or gardens and lawns, if you live in town). And drought weighs heavily on the psyche of a state known primarily for its corn and soybean production. I remember feeling a dismay akin to loss when, on RAGBRAI last year, we rode on highways bordered on both sides by dead or stunted fields, parched and thirsty.

The dry weather continued, right through most of this winter, leading to drought forecasts for another year, with cities and counties rolling out their drought plans – water conservation being a less common concern in Iowa than in California or New Mexico, where my family have routinely practiced water austerity measures. In Iowa we are, sometimes shamefully, profligate with water.

And then the rain started. And now, instead of drought forecasts, we are listening to flood warnings (and believe me, since 2008, flood is the “F” word in these parts). In the past 24 hours, rain totals have been high, 3-5″ throughout eastern Iowa. Many people love thunderstorms, but last night when I calculated that it had been thundering and lightening for the better part of 18 hours, I was pretty much over it. As I listened to my house, dripping water from a leaky roof and down the chimney onto the hardwood floor in my living room, I couldn’t bring myself to have cheerful thoughts about the rain. I’m tired of gray skies, tired of the hemmed-in feeling of fog and clouds.

I share all of the above to make the point that, like most people, I experience weather at the practical (if selfish) level of “How does it affect me today?” I like days when the weather doesn’t adversely affect my plans. It has been a lovely gift that, in recent years, the number of days when weather doesn’t adversely affect my plans has been broadened because my tolerance has broadened. But in regard to this earth we inhabit, it is my goal to become like the woman described in the quote opening this post: “It is easy for her, she opens her heart and accepts everything.”

As another Earth Day approaches, I am taking stock of my openness to the natural world and finding pockets of resistance, like my aversion to spring and intolerance for more than incidental rain. This is important, because our cultural movement away from direct experience of the natural world, away from stewardship, has led us to a place which is dangerous for the earth itself. It is also dangerous for our spiritual survival, as well. When I set out to lose weight, I didn’t realize that what it would take was healing the emotional separations I had fostered – between my head and heart, between my body and my soul, between myself and others. And as I reflect on what it will take from me, personally, to participate in the healing of our planet, I realize that I have to heal this unnatural separation between myself and the planet we all call home.

I often go out and troll the internet for information or quotes to support the theme I’m writing about in a post. This morning, I thought I’d look for a Joanna Macy quote to end this post. Macy, an environmental activist and scholar, has been thinking deeply about these issues for a very long time. Serendipitously, I came across the paragraphs below on the first Macy-related page I clicked on. She says what I mean in a much more eloquent and complete way, and I’d like to close with her words (apologies to my friend, Martin, who hates it when I use long quotations):

“In the first movement, our infancy as a species, we felt no separation from the natural world around us. Trees, rocks, and plants surrounded us with a living presence as intimate and pulsing as our own bodies. In that primal intimacy, which anthropologists call “participation mystique,” we were as one with our world as a child in the mother’s womb.Then self-consciousness arose and gave us distance on our world. We needed that distance in order to make decisions and strategies, in order to measure, judge and to monitor our judgments. With the emergence of free-will, the fall out of the Garden of Eden, the second movement began — the lonely and heroic journey of the ego. Nowadays, yearning to reclaim a sense of wholeness, some of us tend to disparage that movement of separation from nature, but it brought us great gains for which we can be grateful. The distanced and observing eye brought us tools of science, and a priceless view of the vast, orderly intricacy of our world. The recognition of our individuality brought us trial by jury and the Bill of Rights.Now, harvesting these gains, we are ready to return. The third movement begins. Having gained distance and sophistication of perception, we can turn and recognize who we have been all along. Now it can dawn on us: we are our world knowing itself. We can relinquish our separateness. We can come home again — and participate in our world in a richer, more responsible and poignantly beautiful way than before, in our infancy.”





Walking in the Dark

11 10 2012

Almost the first thing I notice: nothing looks the same. Though, normally, I have a strong internal compass, suddenly I lose my bearings easily and often. Shadows and pools of light transform even the most familiar streets into alien territory. At corners, I move up close to the street signs, shining my little key-fob light at the words, verifying that I’m someplace familiar, in spite of appearances.

Walking in my neighborhood at night, I notice little things like the discarded banana peel I almost stepped on (imagine what a story that would have made!), or that a surprising number of motion-activated flood lights pick up movement in the street. And I notice big things: the dearth of sidewalks; streetlights shining up into the orange leaves of the sugar maples. I notice clouds scuttling across the bright white harvest moon, blown by the freshening winds of autumn.

Recently, I have been grappling with issues and transitions in my life. Mostly, I have been unable to share them in this blog for two reasons. First, some stories are not mine alone to tell. Second, there are practical considerations which prevent me talking about some of these processes for now. But this blog has become my way of inviting others to share my journey, and your companionship on the road has truly motivated and inspired me to keep moving forward. To be bound to silence for the time being – this has truly been difficult.

Add to that the discomfort we all feel at the thresholds of new places, when we know we want to enter but are unsure of what awaits us – and I am all verklempt. Inside, I roil. Emotion threatens to overwhelm me. An impetus to speak, to act, to move pushes outward from my core – yet I am in a moment of stasis before the rapid acceleration I am certain is to come.

When I must do something, I head out into the night to walk. Up and down streets I’ve taken for granted for years. Past houses full of neighbors I’ve never met, past dogs in yards begging for attention, past fallen leaves and trash cans set out for the morning collection.

As I walk, I talk to myself. Admonitions. To-do lists. Corrections to my faulty thinking. Snippets of poetry. Half conversations – some real, some my lines in imaginary dialogues. Occasionally, I check that this running-at-the-mouth is truly internal, that I haven’t started actually speaking out loud like the mentally-ill homeless woman who alternately breaks my heart and frightens me.

The parallels between the metaphorical road I am walking in my life and these actual night walks are not lost on me. In both cases, I am treading familiar/not familiar territory. Change is surrounding me, from the physical changes of autumn to the emotional and psychological changes required by liminal moments. I have to move forward, with determination and without fear (hello, since when have I not been afraid of the dark?). Focus is required to avoid tripping and to keep from psyching myself out. I am treading both paths alone.

I walk until my shoulders start to ache, usually the first sign of fatigue, which slows the mental synapses and causes my internal voice to grow quiet. My mind is finally free to notice the big and little things I mentioned earlier. I begin to hear the sounds occurring outside my own head: the scuttle of a squirrel chase, the frantic tinkle of windchimes, a distant siren’s wail. I lean into the wind and breathe deeply. Finally…finally…I relax. Finally, I can stop trying to force things. I can let go of the need for specific outcomes, and just lean into the now. Lean into the perfect red-orange of a fallen leaf on the black asphalt at my feet.





Preparing for Winter

8 09 2011

In the epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, which begins with Game of Thrones, the northern Stark clan has a saying: winter is coming. In the series, summers can be short or decades-long. But the Starks know that winter will surely follow, no matter the duration of milder weather. Their mantra, “Winter is coming”, serves as a sobering reminder to be prepared.

Here in the midwest, a rash of perfect weather has brought the happy realization that fall is almost upon us. Deep blue skies, fresh apples, pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks…early autumn is celebrated for many reasons. But this year, and not only because I have just started reading the George R.R. Martin series, I can’t help but say softly to myself, “Winter is coming.”  And I am feeling ambivalent about it.

Last Thanksgiving, I spent the long weekend in Minneapolis with my friend Mike. An ice storm was coming, so I left earlier than anticipated and arrived in the city only 30 minutes before the storm. Mike’s studio apartment, in an old home in a neighborhood that has seen better days, was without heat. We kept warm wearing layers and blankets, leaving the gas oven lit with the door open. And I cooked, the first night making a pot of chicken noodle soup.

On Friday, Mike worked. I prepared dinner in the crockpot, then I wrapped myself up in a soft, knit infinity scarf (a beautiful shade of teal). I put on my new winter activity boots, and hiked a couple of blocks to the nearest coffeeshop. It was packed with Somali men, and I only stood out a little as I sat in the back reading a book of essays about winter. The cold, the snow, the steamy coffeeshop resounding with animated discussions in a language I didn’t speak- these all converged into a sensory experience I can’t describe. That moment, though, planted a romantic’s view of winter in my psyche which held on for most of the season. I couldn’t get enough of ice crystals and deep cold and shoveling.

That was then. This is now. Perhaps my current ambivalence about winter comes from having just had the second almost-perfect summer of my adult life. I used to think that summer in Iowa was the best recruitment tool other states could use to lure people away from here. Now, I’ve discovered that weighing less and doing more actually counteracts the effects of corn-sweat-induced humidity. Summer in Iowa isn’t so bad.

Maybe I am on the fence about winter because I can’t even remember what I own in the line of closed-toe shoes. Or is it that secretly, I am afraid I’ve lost that romanticism that carried me through last winter? The sense that each day contained an incipience, that things were on the cusp of happening. That the cold and hard wind were scouring away extraneous stuff in order to give me a clear path to the life and person I was becoming. I liked feeling that way.

But years and moods pass. If I am unable to recreate the epic fantasy tale in my head and heart that carried me through last winter, how will I keep moving forward? By preparing. I need to use this time to winterize myself – not just my car and my house. Get back into the routine of morning workouts now, before it is so cold I give in to that as an excuse not to leave my bed. Stock up on reading material full of interesting ideas to engage myself on cold, dark December nights. Plan and execute the annual clearing of my craft room, so I can access the materials to create. Reacquaint myself with the many delicious, hearty soup recipes I’ve collected over the years. And remind myself of this simple truth: a life fully lived requires more than hunkering down in a warm corner and hoping the season passes over. It requires choosing to act, to laugh, to love and to seize the moment we’re given – rather than pine for the one we’re not.

Recently, I have learned to love summer. All my life, I’ve eagerly awaited fall. I have (and I will) enjoy them as fully as possible each year. But winter is coming, and I plan to be ready for it.





These Remain

20 02 2011

I am a person who sees synchronicities and connections. (As the narrator in one of George MacDonald’s fantasies says, “I was constantly seeing, and on the outlook to see, strange analogies…between physical and metaphysical facts…between physical hypotheses and suggestions glimmering out of the metaphysical dreams into which I was in the habit of falling…Of my mental peculiarities there is no occasion to say more.”)  Sometimes, these strange connections are only in my own mind, but at other times they are quite apparent to others. I once asked a friend if these odd coincidences happened to her. She replied, “Sometimes. But not as often as they do to you.”

Anyway, all of that is a rambling introduction to a coincidence which occurred today. Saturday morning, and I was doing anything to delay heading to the gym. So I engaged in my favorite tactic: I checked out my Gmail inbox. There was a new post from a blog I follow (and have mentioned before) Spiritual Travels. Today’s post describes her thoughts about the apostle Paul, while visiting Ephesus. She concludes the post imagining Paul in his modest home in Ephesus, writing his first letter to the Corinthians, which contains his oft-quoted verses on love. (See them here)  Like many, I have always loved these verses. I like hearing them read at weddings, though I believe what Paul referred to was so much bigger than the love between two people — that everything we do must be animated by love to be worthwhile, that love is more than an emotion, it is a high standard to which we should aspire.

Being reminded of that high standard – love which is faithful and kind, doesn’t boast, never fails – was a wonderful beginning to the day. When I did leave for the gym, I appreciated the beauty of the day, and found myself remembering to be authentic as I interacted with those around me. After a challenging workout, followed by a much-needed shower, I headed out for coffee and lunch. (Yes, the need for caffeine outpaced my need for food by that point in the day!)

Sitting at a table, bathed in warm sunshine pouring through the window, I enjoyed my coffee while reading A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life by Parker Palmer (I know, I quote him a lot. But he speaks to me in a way few writers have.)  In this section, he is talking about metaphor as a way of inviting diverse people into deep conversation, using the seasons as a metaphor to bring forth spiritual insight.  He says (emphasis mine):

“…As spring’s wonders arise from winter’s hardships, we are invited to reflect on the many “both – ands” we must hold to live life fully and well — and to become more confident that as creatures embedded in nature, we know in our bones how to hold them.

The deeper our faith, the more doubt we must endure; the deeper our hope, the more prone we are to despair; the deeper our love, the more pain its loss will bring: these are a few of the paradoxes we must hold as human beings. If we refuse to hold them in hopes of living without doubt, despair, and pain, we also find ourselves living without faith, hope and love. But in the spring we are reminded that human nature, like nature herself, can hold opposites together as paradoxes, resulting in a more capacious and generous life.”

I sat at my table, the sun warming my back, and looked around at all the people enjoying a Saturday afternoon break at Panera Bread. Undoubtedly, each of them privately struggles, whether with doubt, despair or pain. And yet, in that moment, most were talking and laughing with friends and loved ones. And that is when the synchronicity of the day came around, full circle. As I thought to myself:  “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”





Winter Night

9 02 2011

“…That’s how little I understand winter, how it can bewitch its inhabitants (for it is more like a country than a season, a thing to which one belongs), so they cannot say and don’t know whether they love the winter or hate it.”

— Patricia Hampl, from “A Romantic Education”

Do not ask me tonight whether I love it or hate it. Tonight, Winter may be a country or a hostile season — whichever, it has me fully in its frigid grasp and I cannot get warm. So I have been browsing through Winter: A Spiritual Biography of the Season to see what a wide variety of writers have to say about winter, spirit, imagination. I definitely recommend this collection!

As I skimmed through the book, thinking about winter and writers, the idea of cold never far from the surface of my thoughts, I was reminded of a poem by William Stafford, which I think is worth sharing (thought it is NOT included in the book).

Ask Me

Some time when the river is ice ask me

mistakes I have made. Ask me whether

what I have done is my life. Others

have come in their slow way into

my thought, and some have tried to help

or to hurt: ask me what difference

their strongest love or hate has made.

.

I will listen to what you say.

You and I can turn and look

at the silent river and wait. We know

the current is there, hidden; and there

are comings and goings from miles away

that hold the stillness exactly before us.

What the river says, that is what I say.





Anti-Rage Road

21 10 2010

My alarm went off at 5:50 this morning, and I only hit snooze once.  I quickly dressed for the gym, grabbed my water bottle and bag, and headed out the door.  It was crisp and cold, very dark with a barely orange line on the eastern horizon.  Inside my car, heat blasting and radio up, I heard several hateful and factually incorrect campaign ads (from both ends of the political spectrum) within minutes.  I drove as if my speedy arrival would save a life, when in reality it merely ensured I would arrive on time for my morning fitness class, “Whole Body Torture”.  Other drivers kept getting in my way, moving slow, braking when the wind picked up.  I caught myself thinking the most terrible things about them — name calling in my head in a way I never do unless driving.  I mean, really vicious thoughts about people I would never voice under any circumstance…except when they piss me off while I’m driving.  The environment in my silver Saturn was toxic with the invisible smoke gushing out my ears like an old Yosemite Sam cartoon, a telltale sign that my head was about to explode.

Now, some might say this was an inauspicious start to the day.  Others that I need to exercise better self-control. Still others might just consider this normal, workweek angst.  I took it as a sign that today would be one of those days: the kind where external messages coming toward me from the world get magnified, and reflected back.  Vile and hateful messages on the radio, viler and more hateful messages in my head.

Today many people chose to wear purple as a statement against anti-gay bullying and the recent suicides of youth who couldn’t live with the bullying any longer.  Though I was heartened by the number of people I saw sporting purple attire, I was discouraged by the need for such a gesture.  I couldn’t shake the many images that came to mind of young people I have cared for who have lived with these experiences.  I couldn’t shake the anger that flared inside me — nor could I stop myself from resorting again and again to violent thoughts and name calling toward the bullies.

As I was leaving work for the day, my friend Sarah mentioned her intention to go for a bike ride and I weaseled my way into her plans.  I ran home, changed, and within minutes our bikes were in the back of Big Red, Sarah’s truck, headed for the Boyson Road trail access.  The trail was sparsely populated with a mixture of runners and cyclists.  The first four miles are paved, winding through suburban back yards and crossing streets busy with families returning home after work and school.  Once we flew through the tunnel beneath County Home Road, we hit the unpaved section of the path, otherwise known – tonight at least – as Nirvana.  If I could have gotten the camcorder on my phone to function, I would have taped the road ahead of me.  Sun trickled through orange, red and yellow leaves still on the trees and scattered on the trail.  Suddenly, the view would open to rolling fields still being harvested and a sky first blue, then pink and blue, then pink and gold.  Sarah rode on ahead as I fumbled with my phone/camera, leaving me alone and surrounded by beauty.  I rode in silence, soaking up the sights and smells and quiet sounds of the woods and fields.  Geese honked overhead, my tires hummed below me.  When I turned around, heading back only because of impending darkness, I marvelled at the sunset on my right hand, the moonrise on my left.

In his treatise on beauty, John O’Donohue writes, “The wonder of the Beautiful is its ability to surprise us.  With swift, sheer grace, it is like a divine breath that blows the heart open.”  And that is what happened, beauty cracked me wide open.  All day I had been like a balloon, filled with gas almost to the breaking point, impermeable mylar skin causing me to be buffeted about.  Whenever I entered a space containing some external emotional currents I would float in that element and become part of it.  At last, the stale air inside me escaped and dissipated in the cooling breeze.  Any lingering morning rage, any purple haze remaining from the day, disappeared.  And I became permeable, no longer reflective like a mirror.  I could feel gratitude, and hope, and love.  I could feel the beauty surrounding me, and knew that I could take it inside myself and use it to learn the art of thought control — because violence done inside my head is still violence, still adds to the measure of rage and unrest in this world.  And I don’t want to be part of that anymore.  I prefer to add to the beauty of this world, and am making that my path through the woods of this life.





Autumn Dinner

3 10 2010

My parents, who are visiting from New Mexico, joined me in picking up this week’s fresh produce from Abbe Hills Farm (near Mt. Vernon, IA).  My friend Sara and I have split a share in this Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm this summer, and we are in the final month of weekly treasure troves.  Today’s haul included a watermelon, 5 winter squash (acorn, butternut and another kind I don’t know), 8 hot peppers, bell peppers, tomatoes, bok choy, a stir fry kit, eggplant, parsley, arugula, collard greens, kale, okra, onions.

After a brief wander in Mt. Vernon, we ate lunch at arguably the most famous restaurant in eastern Iowa: The Lincoln Cafe.  Fresh, organic, local cuisine, a concept imported to Iowa via New York by a talented chef.

Later, while my folks took a late afternoon nap, I walked around my neighborhood and the university campus, enjoying the brisk fall afternoon.  Inspired by the incredibly delicious menu at the Lincoln Cafe, I was determined to make a dinner primarily with items fresh from Abbe Hills Farm.  The result was a meatless menu of truly fresh ingredients:

  • Salad of fresh spinach, arugula, leaf lettuce, red bell pepper and toasted pecans.
  • Roasted spiced acorn squash
  • Baked eggs in tomatoes
  • Garlic bread

I had not tried the squash or egg recipes, but had torn them from the most recent issue of Everyday Foods because they looked delicious to me.  As it turns out, they ARE!  The dinner was warming, filling, and bursting with flavor (my entire meal also came in under 500 calories) – perfect for the cool, crisp evening.

We loaded our food up on plastic cafeteria-style trays (I couldn’t resist them when I saw them on the sale shelf at Target) and ate while watching the Hawkeyes take on the Nittany Lions.  Believe me when I say life rarely gets more comfortable or comforting than that!  Please check the recipes page if you are interested in trying these dishes.

Right now, still pleasantly sated from the meal, I have a pie pumpkin baking in the oven for tomorrow morning’s baked pumpkin oatmeal (another new recipe).  Who knows, if breakfast passes muster, you may find that recipe here as well!

Happy fall eating.