At midlife a threshold...

The Deep Ecology Platform:
 
(Source: Foundation for Deep Ecology)

“The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: inherent worth; intrinsic value; inherent value). These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes.

Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves.

Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs.

Present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening.

The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease.

Policies must therefore be changed. The changes in policies affect basic economic, technological, and ideological structures. The resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.

The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent worth) rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between big and great.

Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation directly or indirectly to participate in the attempt to implement the necessary changes.

I think it is a good time to begin here with this platform again. These are troubled, desperate times. Leaves are falling from the trees in ochre, umber, and yellow tones. This morning the first fingers of frost’s tips arrived from dawn down below on the river. The sun lumbered lowly in the ever-southerly kingdoms of the empyrean. The light is of course slant and cold adumbrate. Its brightness is the spent runner’s lunge across the finish line heaving. No need to mow the grasses anymore. Time to rake and pile. Time to cover the compost bins and let them to their alchemical slumber, bring in the sensitive, thin-skinned beings, batten the twice used air conditioner, and prepare to inure oneself to these northern dark climates with wool, oil heat, and liquor. We’re here now, let’s make the best of it.

If you think that your life will outrun the coming disasters you are already among the dead. If you think that your life will go on like it has, well, there’s probably no getting to you in time. This blog and this kind of thinking aren’t very good at the missionary conversion side of things. I have no wish to convince you if you don’t think anything is wrong. I have no wish to convert you, for there is nothing to convert you to. This ain’t no ideology nor is it a system of beliefs. This is just one man’s groping in the dark for some safe places to grieve. These places are always temporary and never the same for two people. This clearly isn’t the news of the monotheistic religions, it’s indiscriminate and not redemptive and there is absolutely nothing to do. There are not prescriptions or solutions. In fact, there are no business words at all. This is the hardest part I think for many. That there is nothing to do. This is tantamount to suicide for many in our civilization. Even folks who I admire will admonish me to reconsider this. But what about all the actions that have brought significant benefit to poor people, to persons of color, to nonhuman lives? What, indeed. To you I say, I seek not to convince you either. If you’re out there on the edge of things pushing against the system and its monstrous, cannibalistic grin, please keep going out there. No need to give up on my account. Nor anyone else’s. I’ll say it again, if you come to this on your own, or via my writing or someone else’s, and there are many others out there who have wonderful voices which iterate in their own way what I am writing about, that is fine. There is no requirement that you do though, nor any requirement that you stay. These are troubled, desperate times. This way that I speak of is not depressing nor is it hopeful. It has no particular claim to be anything. And that, of itself, maybe a reason for someone out there to take it up and go find what they may.

I urge you however, if you want to engage with me on this material, to try to suspend the idea of one or the other. Try to understand what I mean when I write, “there’s not light and there’s not dark, nor is there good and bad. It doesn’t really matter if you’ve sinned and repented, or not sinned or not repented of your sins, we’re all in this now.” Whether you want to be or not, if you’re reading these words you’re alive for a moment on this planet, same as me as I write them now. That is incredible. Take a moment to lean into the warm wind of that sentiment. Lean into what it feels like to not belong to anything. You don’t have to stay there for long, it is extraordinarily scary. But for a moment pretend you do not belong to anyone but to yourself.

I, for one, have always refused to be told what to do if it didn’t suit me. This has been my allotment. I refuse to be told that I should work for a living, though I have and very hard at times. I refuse to be told I should be educated, though I have and intensely. I refuse to be told I should save money and plan for retirement. I have not done those things. I refuse to be told I should invest in the markets. I think it is morally untenable to do so. I’ve reached an age where, despite my hatred of bromide, one must put up or shut up. This is the age of realization, or perhaps of individuation if you prefer to fly toward the Jungian heavens. I’m turning 40 soon. This midpoint reached in these latter days without the help of earlier ceremonies to kill off the adolescence can seem simultaneously momentous and totally inconsequential. There are days when I am sure I will go out and wash homeless persons’ feet and tend to the dying. There are days when I am pissed that I can’t make it up to the pizza joint for a beer and a few slices. There are days when I drive a gas guzzling Tacoma truck that my wife and I intensely craved and then rue that the tofu from the co-op isn’t make from locally grown soy. I imagine this approximates many lives out there. I walk around dragging my childhood selves around with me. I constantly apply childhood solutions to present problems and the results are consistently absurd just as they would be if a child were actually doing the dailies I do. Does this person like me? If I manipulate this situation, maybe they’ll love me. As my wife’s therapist once told her, they didn’t even know you then. These poor people in my life now, those whom I foist my fucked up childhood survival strategies upon did not know me when back then. They cannot be expected to respond in ways the solutions expect. I suspect, in your quiet moments, you can see this about yourself too unless you were lucky enough to have been through a process to kill your childhood as any culture worthy of that word would do.

So, the problem is this: how the hell do you cross the threshold of your midlife in the midst of the surest news that your life has been entirely lived far outside the bounds of what was appropriate for the earth? Your life has consumed far, far more resources (another business word) of the earth than any other human in the history of the species. If you are from a country in North America or Western Europe, your life is the result of a cannibalistic action of the “civilized” world’s to destroy the planet in the name of comfort and status. How much fossil fuel do you use per day? If you are an average person in the United States this can be expressed as about 500 human slaves working for you twenty-four hours per day. How is this anything other than cannibalism? Your life is literally consuming the finite flesh of the world so that you may sleep in comfort and order shit from Amazon. Of course, you must work for it. You must sell your body to the system in order for the system to provide these comforts and statuses in return. If you decide to stop selling yourself to others you will be punished and ostracized though various means. We are infected with a virus that has made us all crazy. More reason than ever to step through a threshold in midlife into something saner and slower and less cannibalistic. But where? And how?

Despite a little while back telling you there’s nothing to do, I am going to tell you now about old time ways to help when you stop to look into this abyss. And if you don’t see an abyss, if you aren’t gripped by hatred, disgust, fear, and grief you aren’t really looking in the right place. I’m going to myself now going to go back up and read the words of the Deep Ecology Platform again, take a moment and do so too and I’ll meet you back here when you’re ready. It’s getting dark, the frost is again settling, the path is winding but you already know it. Don’t forget to eat to keep up your strength.

….”an obligation…to participate.” The etymology of obligation is instructive. It comes to us out of the vast ululating wordhoard from Latin meaning, among other things, a binding in duty or law. From where comes the law or duty? And what gives it the power to bind? These are subjects for future writings but enough of where I am going will suffice here. The Law exists. It cannot be separated from the universe. In a way of thinking, the Law is the universe. All cultures who create mature humans know about the Great Law. It is the Great Law which binds you and binds me together and to flow and duty of “to participate.“ So then, after reading the previous seven statements you are gifted an obligation to participate. How can you read the seven litanies before the eighth and not be bound by them? How could you turn back? Well, many do and other will after first allowing themselves to be bound. That’s okay. But my point is, if you work through this list (I will in detail in coming writings), you will find something that is the fullest kind of despair, a despair that binds but in doing so does something else. Now, in English, there comes down to us a word that seems a lot like to bind. To bind can mean to hold. If we add this little word onto another old welter of a word that means “to trample”we get something like…threshold. Ah. Now we’re getting somewhere…

Wetiko and a pushing off into the waters of grief

I have been put to mind recently of why I asked my family to trudge across the country to a dark place for school. And not just school, but law school. At age 40. Shouldn’t I be putting money away instead? Shouldn’t I be rising to the top of my industry by this age? Shouldn’t I be seeking more and more and more? I admit, there have been times I’ve deeply questioned my decision. The move has been incredibly challenging on my wife and our dogs. I’m almost daily unsure whether the course of study I’m pursuing is correct, or even has any relevance. The idea of changing the world or making a difference, two notions tossed about as if they were gravestone-worthy seem to me to be absurd. Absurd because they seem to originate from the egoist, solution-oriented, Cartesian thinking that got us out onto this promontory in the first place. What promontory? This one. In order to get anywhere, we must first come to a self-realization. Not just any kind of realization, but a highly specific one that many humans never achieve. I don’t mean to make this sound too esoteric. It’s not. But it does deserve its own post later on. For now though, it suffices to say that our species is certainly bringing about the collapse of much of the life on the planet, including our own. That the IPCC report tells us there is hope if we can stop doing basically everything in the next twelve years should be laughable. Not because the IPCC is wrong, but because we all know the reality to that recommendation. But for this post I want to focus on our shared disease which is the source of our reckoning, even of the deepest most personal kind. The disease of Wetiko.

Coming to law school, I had some inchoate ideas about how school might help me to help the Earth. Most of my ideas were ego-driven, as can be inferred from the previous sentence. This is, as far as I can tell, one of the real fucked up symptoms of the virus of the dominant culture in North America - called Wetiko by the Algonquins - an unacknowledged, pre-thinking kind of collapsing of the world into binaries. The subject and the object. I and you. Or, us and them. The Palestinians. The Navajo. Poor People. The One Percent. White People. And on and on. There is some credence to the idea that we are biologically predisposed to see the world at least to some degree under the aegis of tribes. But this evolutionary bequeath is not, like so many other of our inherited gifts, analogous to dense population centers, centralized thought control, industrial production, etc.

What I’m saying is this: the accepted majority (I would say the totally dominant, far beyond questioning) view in this country is flesh-eating. It preys on the consumption of flesh human and inhuman. It preys on the consumption of the flesh of the world. How else to account for the near total disregard of persons who are labeled “poor” or “black” or “Native American” or “the illegals” or those who by no fault of their own happen to come into the world via wombs in “Third World Countries”? Or the near unanimous acceptance of this statement: the United States is and has been a beacon of liberal democracy around the world. Really? Where would we start? How about the idea that that’s never once - never once - been true even here on our own continent. We are even now engaging in several systemic crimes against humanity within our borders. But we’ll go ahead and pull out of UNSECO. We’ll go ahead and pull out of the ICC. You’ll blame Trump and Bolton for that. They’re hideous. Back in 2002, in the cannibalistic frenzy of war, Congress passed a bill which was enthusiastically signed by great Trump resistance fighter George W., known colloquially as the “Hague Invasion Act”. It authorized the use of force to rescue American citizens from the ICC in The Netherlands. Take a very close look at who voted for it. Hillary Clinton. Joe Biden. Patrick Leahy. Diane Feinstein. Trump resistance fighters all. We are not, nor never have been a beacon of liberal democracy. If you think otherwise, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you that’s delusional and you’ve been duped by propaganda (which most certainly includes the NY Times, Washington Post for those of you who count yourselves as left-leaning). Trump is uncomfortable to us because he doesn’t allow us to compartmentalize all the shit. We are forced to see our shadows dance along the fire-lit cave. Projection is such a bitch.

From where did this pernicious notion enter our thoughts that recites something along the lines of “I worked hard for what I got, I did it all by myself, and so should everyone else”. If the everyone else’s cannot for some reason “get”, it is their fault. They are stupid, lazy, ugly, unable, or genetically disadvantaged. It is their fault, not ours. They might as well be dead. They might as well be sent someplace else, except that they serve important purposes for us. They die and suffer so that we may prey upon their flesh in the medical complex. They eat the shit food from our food complex so that they may go to the medical complex to die. They live among the wastes of our industrial complexes so that they may eat the shit food and then go repeatedly unto the medical complex until they are dead. We poison them until they are dead and we profit all the while. Well, some do. Most do not. If you’re reading this almost certainly you do not, although many of you will have financial interests in the continuance of this system. Your personal wealth is predicated on the destruction of the world and the consumption of human flesh. If you own stock in any way in any company that profits from this system, you support it. If you think this is overly apocalyptic, I urge you to, in the course of your own discernment, disprove me. We will not be whole until we replace “growth” in absolutely all of its manifestations (personal growth, financial growth, weekend workshops touting professional “growth” and on and on) with…with nothing. That’s right. We replace growth with nothing. We must stop. What does this look like? It looks like figuring out who your neighbors are. It looks like cooperation and humor. It looks like trust. It looks like humility. It looks like grief. It looks like taking care of all the little lives among us who are not human. It looks like preparing to die, but not in the stupid linear way this culture thinks about that. Learning to die is a central aspect of the Great Law. So is elderhood, which in terms of geography, otta come sometime before the dying. But we’ll get to that.

 What has begun to dawn on me is that perhaps it is the Great Law that has brought me here to Vermont and to Law School, the Law of verbs and not nouns, the Law of relationships, the Law of Love, the Law of Dying and Grief, the Law, therefore, of all Life. In future posts I’ll describe what I mean.

A Breakthrough in Late March

This is your in breath. 

             This is your out breath.

If you're doing this, you're not doing something else. 

15 days now and, really just now, the first peas are coming to the surface.

There's still snow on the coppice. There's still snow on the eve's of the old LDS church with the Russian onion spire.

But it's all receding. The wild rose in the corner of the yard is budded out, fuchsia and ochre and yellow billowing and turning under the thinning sheaths. There's red too, in places. 

The old scraggly pear needs trimming, but it too loves life and loves this sun. 

Red-tailed hawks have made a nest high up in a non-native sitka spruce across the street. The black-capped chickadees and house sparrows are not happy about this development. They stay low and close to their junipers, complain loudly. Sleep quietly.

This is my in breath.

            This is my out breath. 

If I'm doing this, I'm not doing something else. 

The lettuces have survived the recent cold spell, safe in clodded sphagnum and leaf litter. 

Their world is blue and motherly. And, if we pay attention, we're not so different. Rooted, connected, splaying always toward the sun. We don't make our food from it directly, but no matter. We eat lavishly underneath its empyrean. 

A honey bee staggers along the fence post, is emboldened, jumps, and does not land.

If she does this, she does not do anything else -

Guns and biodiversity.

This scene is playing out in dining rooms across the United States; the Winter Olympics are on in the background, as television so often is the background to Americans' lives, because even when they're not engaging with it directly it does  not occur to them to turn it off, ever. It is surely the shibboleth of being in a family nowadays, the plangent voices calling out from the thin thing lovingly mounted on the wall or on some rolling cart that wheels just perfectly into place in some well decorated part of the house. Have you seen the latest well-funded serial on Netflix? How about that commercial during the Super Bowl? And yet, while it goes full blast through the ice dancing short routine (the French had a wardrobe malfunction), we are in the dining room eating American made curry lovingly, and emphasis on love, by folks who have learned to cook in retirement from Mark Bittman, and, yes, conversing about the latest gun massacre, this time in Florida. I notice how high-falutin language gets used to describe schools as "sacred spaces" as if schools can actually ever be a sacred space in the full-fledged meaning of Latin's sacer wherein the school is dedicated to the gods and their purview. Or, if we want to be perverse and run this the other way ad infinitum here we can perhaps say that the schools in this country are consecrated for capital, its accumulation, and of course to the gods of spectacles, which are the gods, of course, also, of fear. I notice the unique kind of hope which emanates from good people in terrible situations, a hope that things will change, that humans are good, or at least capable of it. This kind of essentialism is what we fall back on for perhaps as long as I've been an adult, a knee jerk notion straight out of the Renaissance that is sure to gather approving nods from across the paneer and cilantro. Humans are good, right? We of course will make paeans to the degrading shadow of individual and collective persons. Yes, that young man was disturbed. Who wouldn't have given him a pass in a mental health evaluation? If you don't then when do we stop sliding toward a police state in which the diagnosis of a mental health professional would be enough to take you out of buying a gun, or perhaps committed indefinitely?

I beg to differ. While I would march, and have, along those who want change, I do not think it wise to hope that there will be change. Those who are brave enough to look this rough beast in the eye, can find the eye, can see that it sloucheth straight for its inevitable shredding in Jerusalem (the Jerusalem of our soul) and the shredding of all habitable life in this planet. Many see these shootings as isolates, despite of course being outraged at their frequency. Their connection, while tangible, lures us away from the much more painful truth. These senseless (death is senseless!) shootings committed by persons who are surely in the midst of a psychotic break while they shoot, are a symptom of an incomparably larger problem which infects our foundation irrevocably. Students of history will know that this country, a carbuncle on the larger edifice of so-called "Western Civilization" which is really a late form of Christendom, is showing literally all the signs of collapse of those that went before and a few more to boot. We've long outstripped the supply of natural resources, and the shiny viscous potion that's allowed us to explode and hubristically claim that we are the most powerful thing in the history of humanity, will be gone soon, or, at least soon enough in historical terms. Less than a century out for sure. But not, to be sure, before we overturn every rock to get at it. That curry on the table? Fossil fuels. The lights and heat? Fossil fuels. The soap with which we wash our hands after urinating in the fossil fuel made toilet and bidet? Fossil fuels. Method of travel to dinner? Methods of travel to far-flung places on the planet? Our clothes? Our glasses? Our hair? Our health? Our birth? All of it, really all of it is fossil fuelled. 

And yet a sign of maturity is the holding of simultaneously divergent opinions and the living out of them both. Of course, we want sane gun laws. It is beyond question that the access to guns in the this country is by a wide margin the primary cause of the pervasiveness of the school shootings and mass shootings generally. To argue otherwise is to engage in flawed reasoning and that can be the subject of a different post perhaps. However, while we march for sane gun laws we lose sight of the loss everywhere of biodiversity which is a much more lethal killer of human lives and all life in general. From macro to micro, from continents to microfages, we are destroying what makes the world live - biodiversity. In the words of someone I now forget, if you're doing one thing, you're not doing another.

The Peace of Wild Things, Wendell Berry

"When despair for the world grows in me
 and I wake in the night at the least sound
 in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
 I go and lie down where the wood drake
 rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
 I come into the peace of wild things
 who do not tax their lives with forethought
 of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
 And I feel above me the day-blind stars
 waiting with their light. For a time
 I rest in the grace of the world, and am free." W. Berry 

 

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from what great height

did the towering cipher come wheeling out of the white unexpectedly -

of course, always like this the threshold between here and not here

(do you wait quietly after knocking a few times gently on the unmarked door?)

 

this agitated dark hammer, screaming, anxiously gripping the wind

mottled against the snow, or ash, as if at the end of the world perhaps

 

but what of ends? in this end is this beginning and in both are the right now.

she dives, finally, punctuation against the angle of the salient, turning the world upside -

down to rest; unsated, pissed off, on the wire.

 

the windhover

 

Unusually warm today - more than 60 degrees F - with the sun tilting toward the Oquirrhs. No sign of the kestrel in now two weeks. I miss her. I miss that careening stillness that somehow gathers whole landscapes in skywide sheets of shook foil as between the thumb and index finger of some demiurge or djinn, all the while flicking out glistening dark parabolas that go on much longer than the eye knows; that then transmute, by night, into a mountain range pulsing in a dream much later like a single, somehow, beating heart (thanks, Hopkins). The days pass quickly in her absence, as if they don’t really exist but in the way that one drags oneself out into the world of men and metal in order to survive. How far out to go? How far out to the edge do I allow myself to go before I can’t come back? When does this become hyperbole and not the state of affairs. I can barely write I’m so distracted. I can’t find her. I dreamed three or four nights ago someone slit my throat and I walked around with my chin pulled down in order to not bleed so much, walked around in my dream with my neck slack, cut from ear to ear, larynx hanging out. I dreamed I was in a cold house in the dark doing laundry. All was moist, lonely. Solitude. My dreams are dank and desperate. I feel like I’m on the precipice of something. Must pay attention to the details, to the snakes, to the clouds, to the subtle motions at the corners of my visual field. To the way the bare oak shakes in the gloaming.

What changes, everything

There are hardly words to describe what's happened to our lands in the last eighteen months in the Columbus Hillside Preserve in Salt Lake City. A network of ridiculous and overbuilt trails have been stamped into this liminal landscape in addition to the existing and extensive trail network long in place. And now, this morning, I was walking out to the area where I have seen literally countless animals and in two years have never not seen at least one raptor on a visit, which have been daily for long stretches, and came upon one of those moments that toggle between the literal and the metaphoric. Too much shock for the body to adjust.

There was a change in the air this morning the moment I got on the trail. A lifelessness that I hadn't before experienced here. It was so overwhelming I put my binoculars in my pack because I had the feeling the wouldn't be needed. A road now has been plowed right through the middle of this little arm of wilderness that swings down out of the high Wasatch range into the city. It provided me with countless lessons. Seeing a ten foot wide road dug into the hillside was probably the single most breathtaking moment I've had since I heard that my grandfather had passed a couple years ago.

The turned up mud stuck to my shoes. There were no birds. The fox I'd seen last week of course is long gone. When will we stop? The answer of course is that we can't until we're forced to. And we will be forced to. The question I ask is this then, if history is a manifold of intertwining stories, and civilizations are subject to growth and decay just as any other adaptive complex system is, will some of us be able to survive? And how? I tend toward the pessimistic side of this spectrum. I see only this modern industrial civilization toeing too far out into the growth phase, becoming too specialized, become too intertwined so that the merest shock to the thing will collapse it. And that shock will come. It won't be a road plowed through this author's favorite bird watching territory. It won't be a ridiculous excuse for a president. It will be the last dying breath of the last predator on the earth. It will be the last flap of the last Monarch butterfly's wings as it struggles to make it up a Mexican volcano. It will be a glitch in the financial system. A mix of a one and a zero. Meaningless usually. We cannot continue like this. It can be different. We can slow down. We can not think nature can be managed any more than we can. We can stop growing. We can stop the cult of growth. There are many places in which to mount a defense against this shared insanity. Where will yours be? Where will mine be?

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What once was

I set out to write here about the writing of a book consisting of a series of walks last winter in which I went deep looking for kestrels and found, instead, my soul. What kestrelheart has become though, is an account of my experiences in the Bonneville Basin through several different interactions with it. A history. A geography. A notebook. A story, or, a manifold of collapsing stories that intertwine with all the others. kestrelheart is developing into a much larger book about the history of the Basin and of Salt Lake Valley most particularly. How did it come to be here, look like this, get to be disfigured so heavily by us. A season following non-migrating kestrels has become another winter, this one in the company of the incredibly powerful Falco mexicanus, the selfsame bird I saw last winter a few times out in the far west desert of Utah. Different winter, different lessons, different kinds of staying around, same home. We live into knowledge only after the experience, or I do anyway. Holy is the transfiguration of the moment into self - memory. What emerges from my fingers when I set down to write about it is liturgy. To wit, the first words of kestrelheart as I imagined them this morning:

"What is history but someone else’s story. Rather, an innumerable threading of myriad stories twining endlessly round others. History is an empty word, a misleading too-tended path on which it’s easy to convince oneself that one is not, in fact, on an entirely arbitrary trail burnished by countless others. There are different ways to tell the story. Once, I’m convinced, one steps off these trails into the pathless wilderness, goes after whim and deep attention to things, forgets the trails, in fact is distrustful of them, spits on them and scorns those who follow them only, only then does a history begin to emerge from the work, but only then, and only really then, does a history begin to limn itself somehow from the miasma of the ten thousand things. And then it really is there. A Gambel’s oak is really just another oak until we pay attention to it perhaps for ten years in all different kinds of days and then it might become a family member. Patience is history, then. Looking is history too. And then a consonant ringing is history which will be slightly different to each feeler and experiencer. Getting out then into history is getting off the trail and going into the wilderness for a while and not just once but really over and over again and really letting go of the going back into town to safety. History is trope and literal at the same time. Turning and facing like every wild thing. Then that fox just tailing around the corner, that’s history. It’s history too, the godly swoops and arcs and traces of birds through the sky. It’s history how men dig out mountains for their flesh and then abandon the wound when there is no more flesh. It’s history what lingers there when the men are gone. I live next to one such place and this book is a history of all the things I’ve felt and seen and heard and smelled and tasted there. I live in a diminutive time. All things are receding and getting smaller. History gets distended, weirder, more bleak the less threads we can discern, make sense of. There aren’t any big stories later on here. But there is evidence of god and of eternal recurrence. In fact, these very words, this one itself in fact, have been written the same way and in precisely the same order, endlessly before. But welcome anyway, because I also know this is your first time through. You’ll understand what I mean eventually."

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Gratitude

I'm nearing one year of this project, a completely personal endeavor meant to make some of my daily writing and pictures available for later perusal in a digital environment. One of the gifts I've received, and which I cannot hope to adequately repay, is the vocal support from a blessed few people who visit kestrel heart to read my words. Whimsy is a wonderful thing and I've constructed this little enclave after Emerson's inimitable quote I first read in 2000 around the time of the Y2K scare as an undergraduate in south Mississippi, "I would write on the lintels of the door-post, Whim. I hope it is somewhat better than whim at last, but we cannot spend the day in explanation." I did write on the lintels of my doorways much to the chagrin of my mother who helped scrub them off when I moved out after graduating.

On Anima/Soul this week (ps://www.animasoul.org/2017/12/11/work-and-jobs/) there has been some great writing about the intersection of work and jobs and what each means for a healthy life. The question, at root, I think is the same 2500 years after it was first asked in the West (how young is the Western tradition!), how shall we live? kestrel heart is my humble example of work, the work that must be done if it feels as if it must be done. There isn't any money to made from it, it's a sustaining enterprise in other ways, in much more richly rewarding ways than money, in fact. Of course I wish I could trade some of it for food or living expenses or whatever. Perhaps that economy is not so far off. For now though in order to pay my bills I work what amounts to Jody Tishmack's excellent exegesis of drudge, though most people around me would assume what I do is anything but drudgery. kestrel heart itself, my forthcoming work on Utah landscapes, walking, thinking about birds, recognizing deep shamanic impulses within myself, these are the inscrutable vectors of a secret life, my working life. I wish all who read these words find their own satiating working lives and that perhaps, if they're really lucky, that they also someday "pay the bills". 

I wrote this yesterday and it somehow seems appropriate: But now in fading light, the tremolo days come to a close, the night moltens toward its final apogee, the constriction of the hours of seeing, reaching into even the western aspected nooks of held-out hope against the drawing down. The flick of wings whose glint carries off. Even today, in Hell Canyon, with the fog close in and bulging, the tiercel kestrel flushes from his perch on the mute cliffrose above me as if I were somehow an annoyance, enough of a hulking dark shape to want to get deeper into the evening. His long darkly wings fling through space, tail flashes umber, the executioner's cap noticeable even in this white light. 

hoar frost

            shape 

     anvil

                           now      swooping

             high     arc

                        feather explosion

                                                                  eye does 

           not blink

                                      moment 

A stoop, a gift, a reliquary

I saw it first from too far away to know precisely what it was - a whitish boomerang of a bird some one thousand feet up the hillside that was once under water during the highest point of the archaic pluvial Lake Bonneville. I stand below on the shoreline that the lake created after it broke through its moorings in Idaho and drained itself with the equivalent force of all the world's rivers for a year. The top of the hillside is burst with tufa outcroppings, a feature everywhere in the basin that I have come to love. I often see birds flitting in and out of the porous rock.

And then, with a casual grace, this white bird unzipped the air and flushed little birds up in wild murmurations, as if a mouth were mutely screaming. Falcon. Slender, pointed wings. Effortless transcriptions of power. It flowed out over the panicked songbirds gaining a hundred feet under its own sheer will in a second or two, flapped its wings deeply a few times and disappeared over the hill. I waited. It did not return. 

I called to my dogs and we turned back home. Content to have seen for a moment the great killer of birds. I looked back over the hillside looking for a sign of its return, and still it did not appear. Magpies flitted nervously out in front of me, the air still. Below us the refineries whined. Air Force 1 had just departed carrying the lunatic back to the east. One last glance over my shoulder.

A bird, canting along the top of the crest of the tufa face, too small at first, I thought, to be the selfsame falcon, continuing now through the crags and bending down, now, now, still no wings outstretched, down the runnels of the hill filled with damp light, the bird becomes still, somehow, and my mind makes it for a moment a floating cottonwood seed suspended somehow in the air eight months too late, somehow, but I suddenly realize that it is still this bird who has modified its flight directly toward me so the sense of forward movement is stopped only it's getting bigger until THERE it passes no more than fifteen feet in front of me not much more than that off the ground plunging - I can hear the air drawing together in its lee - jackhammer beautiful, perfect silhouette of falcon without twitching so much as a muscle plunges ever more down to the valley floor, sicles out, and there at the bottom flair a squadron of starlings wildly torquing and I bring up my binoculars to no avail, it is happening too fast and it is too far away, but with my naked eye I can see the falcon swooping through the birds wantonly on bright narrow wings, playing?,  flashing in the sun. I realize now what I have just seen. My heart stops and I do not touch the ground. The falcon has stooped along the hillside covering 800 meters in something like eight or nine seconds. 

Somewhere behind me the lunatic has no idea what he just missed. 

god's grandeur

Yesterday was the year's first rough-legged hawk above Columbus Hillside Preserve. Its wings were thicker, stouter and smaller compared to the red-tailed hawk soaring into the wind above it some distance. It had flown no less than three months to get here, its wintering grounds. Both birds reefed on the breaking wind, modulating postures as if living heiratic ciphers of some lost language as the west desert bellowed out its contents in advance of a particularly sharp low pressure system. To the south east, a foreboding darkening nimbus of sky gathered around the Wasatch. Virga limned the sky to the north over Antelope Island, smeared white, as if skywide hammers were held aloft over the earth, held in abeyance by who knows what mercy, or, for that matter, psychopathic force. 

The president is in town today and, after the snow last night, I'm going up to look at birds again while he signs away monument protections less than half a mile away at the State Capital Building. It is not really the president who must be resisted, I think. That seems to be the first lesson. I must resist mindlessness. Unflinching participation in systems whose teleologies all lead to the same cul-de-sac - our mutually assured destruction. But how? How do I keep mindful when public lands that I love more than anything, that matter to our survival more than anything are to be gutted? My mind restlessly wanders over anxious places, what to do, how to be, where to go, with whom to align? I leave my body and flit nervously in the sepia hedges of my own design. But there is no peace there. There is not heart out of light in the blasted garden. There's just suffering. Solutions that I cling to that still have not worked. 

And I realize as I put together my pack and stuff it with my two identification books, my small black notebook and pen, some water, and binoculars that this is resistance. To pay attention. I try to learn the names of the flying things and the grounded things and go out to greet them as often as possible. While the president can take away protections of sacred lands, of public lands, this is not "winning", it occurs to me. There is, I realize suddenly and lately, no winning. There is only the paying attention and the struggle of living or there is the mindless participation in it, or there is the actively trying to harm. So, I'll go on trying to protect what's left, and failing mostly, and understanding that this asynchronous way of living - of carrying on while knowing simultaneously that there isn't any point because I won't be able to actually change the downward slide of this civilization - is against all reason, a joyous way of living. I'm briefly filled with joy and the light not of my own memory but of this present moment in a snow covered fold with darkness just there, at the bottom of the hill. Both fold into each. Each is each. Light and Dark. Inside and Outside. I laugh as I remind myself that. Just one being. Just one world and then, ah, then the folding of wings for the last time and....

 

"And for all this, nature is never spent; 

    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; 

And though the last lights off the black West went 

    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs — 

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent 

    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings."    G.M. Hopkins "God's Grandeur" 1877

 

IMG_0340.JPG

the underworld

 

where do the lupine go this time of year,

tumble around somewhere beneath us?

wheel south with the Swainson’s to bloom on the pampas for a few months?

the dead do still glisten.

some lessons of late autumn

1.

And the tiny blue moths go down to the globemallow each night.

Under the sodium street lights even they are achroous strangely,

“Is that where the soul of this is,” she asked, “here at the terminus of this dream?”

The mallow stretched out, its peach-turbulent flowers molting.

"Run your fingers into the dirt. You’ll know what I mean."

2.

Where is peace so close to the heart?

3. 

dried out balsamroot sing hollow polyphonies across the salient, gathering whispers of the dead

a late warm south wind

trembles old weathered sages in the instant before the ice returns,

and on the low rim of the sky a nighthawk careens toward Mexico too late

4. 

a she kestrel flits whitely along the edge of the escarpment in the diminished light far above us

as if swaying on impossible cordage, as if the mouldering sky were a just-unfurled sail

lone.jpg
dragonfly.jpg

Connecting dots

Snow the texture of confectioner’s sugar.

Where is she? Connecting the dots. The dots are indicative of magical consciousness, one-dimensional (Gebser). The world, everything that is, can be connected by a line between two points. All is interconnected within the mode of this consciousness which is always already present in us. Synchronicity is this phenomenon rising to the surface – it is the magical come corporeal. These dreams of snakes writhing on and in the ground this past year prefigure my stumbling upon this bird – the bird, the chasing after the bird becoming by map of the world falling apart. The points are connected by the caduceus of my own individuation. I do follow her in the glowering winter mornings to find my dormant spirit. I dream of snakes at night. In the day I follow her upward to the heights. Years ago, I repeat myself, watching the massive golden eagle arcing on an invisible slinky skyward. I recognized the form of my Self even then but did not know it. Point to point. This goes further. This goes further. This goes to the yurt and to the golden eagle we saw there in the flowering of our relationship, to the wedding day when we saw golden eagle careening down from the highlands without twitching a muscle, and now to Columbus preserve where we see two daily who have taken up residence at the far end of the trail. Having not seen the kestrel in a few days it is possible one of the eagles has killed it. This goes further. Where I write these words, in the blink of an eye, geologically speaking, roughly 500 generations ago I was under 100 meters of water. Point to point. I am still under that water. It has not gone anywhere. The kestrel she sleeps up there hidden from the great horned owl in a Scotch broom or Gambel's oak. Perhaps she sleeps above the old waterline. I think she does.

Untitled, composed on the road in Wyoming in late 2014

the last of

the dying 

breath. think of that.

i think douglas fir is the shadow of god espaliered.

perfect stillness

and the rising and falling

and how good things multiply of themselves, bonum diffusivum est

 

i wake each night under Ursa Major

and each night too Lyrid meteors arc thru it

and the firs frame the dream - mandala -

as if gnarled fingers of the old earth cupped.

 

every night i rise to meet it one or more parts or the more of the whole of me

 

o lord i jumble myself before you

i am a solitary daisy cleaved to your chest.

you, love, are not god.

but an eddy, a form constantly      wondrously

          easily

         

overcome me         swirl away

  changing                                 

                                           changing

 

changing

 

Giants

A few nights ago I experienced a dream that will perhaps always elude my interpretation. I believe every so often the soul cries out in extravagance for itself to hear, perhaps to recognize, as a symptom recognizes its cause somewhere in the subcutaneous realms. Dreams are symptoms in gorgeous color. They are perfect alone, with nothing extraneous, nothing frivolous. A feeling or fear or a shame becomes a diaphanous corporeality, a fast-fading memory that lives forever in the gut, but is annoyingly fleeting to consciousness. It becomes a god, an all-powerful entity to which the dreamer is subject. And then it vanishes, seemingly. And so it becomes the frustrating task of waking life to decipher the tangle of wild metaphor, a wilderness of turning away from the literal, as if a wild animal on the scent of able-bodied  prey, in order to track down a semblance of what the message was. At best.

And so it went that I dreamed I was walking along a brilliant property of endless lawns with widespead perfect trees that was on the shore of the most wonderful lake. In the distance, on a little rise and to my right was an unassuming but perfectly lovely mansion. A female figure accompanied me. To our left a giant approached. An amazingly large man, sweating, with a kerchief around his neck, he stood apart from us with a shovel in his right hand. He seemed to know my companion. We agreed to follow him to the mansion. Except, of course, we did not. We turned left toward the direction from which he'd come. We followed his footsteps until we'd come to a small pond at the shore of the lake. On the far side of the pond, to the left, there was a bench and a blue statue of a man with long outspread arms who I understood to be Carl Jung. But our attention lay before us, in the silt beneath the shallow water along the shoreline. There, in perfect detail we saw the giant's footsteps going in our direction along with the much smaller footsteps of a girl. We saw the giant's footsteps going in the opposite direction too, back toward the mansion, but without the girl's. And then there, just on the other side of the pond there was freshly turned earth with some terrible linoleum laid on top. We dug frantically. A few feet down, covered in lime, was a young girl wrapped like a mummy. We turned and ran back toward the mansion and toward the giant who'd just seemed to realize we weren't behind him. He was furious, and the shovel in his right hand became an ax and he swung at us with a kind of cinematic ferocity. 

And then, it was over. I was awake. In my bed. Turned toward the wall. Something had shifted for me. I don't know what to make of the dream, but I did feel as if it were my soul crying out to me. Me, the symptom? What have I become?

I had this word in my head reverberating, as if it was dew, as if it were engrained in me somewhere suddenly- Küsnacht. 

Rattlesnake Ridge, 2010

From Rattlesnake Ridge

 

I think of Cumbria, of my origins, of the

sight of this valley in the Holocene (were we

here together, before these slow-made moraines?) of

the tawny pele tower bedaubed in May

with marigold and lilac,

heirloom splendors strangely achroous at

certain times of day. He is distant, difficult.

Fits uneasily on the rough-hewn cross

Robert de Cliburn must have had made. Did he

face this same charry brink alone? Or

the dance of a red-tailed hawk on flumes of warm air,

in full pivot-tilt on a wing of his own making,

the fabled arcs it's traced since learning to fly?

  
From where I am you are redemptive,

untouchable. Pushing stillness before

you, lifting even the wind from the

Earth, while:

Dawn picks through the dark thicket

through which I've just come -

smudges of bloom persist like just-

poured champagne, high-scents of wild sage

and sprucetips are in the air. Manes of hyssop and

lupine glitter in the sun.

Mt. Si the profile of a spent lover.

Who and where are you?

Loping unoriginally, you pass by unaware.

Deep Creek Range pt.1

“If you free yourself from the conventional reaction to a quantity like a million years, you free yourself a bit from the boundaries of human time. And then in a way you do not live at all, but in another way you live forever.” 
― John McPhee, Basin and Range

While traveling in Utah's West Desert one often has the feeling of simultaneously living forever and, therefore, strangely, not at all. The longer I remain in Utah the more I understand, and appreciate, the complexity of the geography; a complexity, it should be said, that is rivaled by the cultural and political matrices laid upon the earth in this most unusual state. There are vast swaths of the earth called "Utah" that seem to have been purged unexpurgated from some Dantean dream, and it seems a great volume of that violent and atrorubent land is found west of Salt Lake City, thus the "West Desert", in and around the massive dried out Pleistocene lake bed named after the Indian killer Benjamin Louie Eulalie de Bonneville. It is here in this lake bed that one finds the strip of dead flat earth on which men drive beyond the speed of sound from time to time, foolishly believing that this act means anything but the end of days (where does one go after traveling faster than the sound of the traveling?).  It is here that one finds carved into every range tall enough the scars of ancient shorelines. It is here that one finds, under rapt unrelenting blue skies, abandoned communities of cutthroat trout who go about spawning each spring in headwaters that lead to nowhere but salt plains and rabbit brush. It is here that desert big horn sheep, the animal that fired Ellen Meloy's massive imagination, hang on by a sliver against not so much the swarms of mountain lions which feed off them, but against the humans that do not stay away (including me) from the great ranges that rise unaccountably from the salt flats more than 7000'. Big horns do not like to be looked at. 

One such crumpled agglomeration of rock is the Deep Creek Range which straddles the latter day Nevada and Utah border south of Wendover. The Deep Creeks have more relief than the Teton Range in Wyoming and at their apex, on Ibapah Peak, rise higher than the famed Wahsatch Mountains one hundred miles to the east. It is, even now, a remote place to travel. Of the two main routes from Salt Lake City, the Eisenhower legacy highway is perhaps the easier one punching, as it does, straight across the Bonneville Salt Flats toward Wendover. Interstate 80, as it's called, like it's sister to the south Interstate 70, is a paean to American "know-how" which should not be, in any way, confused with "knowing" or "thinking". For the first 150 years of our Republic, if Mother Nature stood in the way Americans just blew it up and laid down asphalt or rails. If ever you've driven west from Green River toward the San Rafael Swell on I-70, the gigantic hole in the shark fin-shaped rocks called The Reef through which you drive was not done naturally. 

The second way, which is the one I recommend, is the much slower Pony Express Trail. Though it is no different in the manner in which it was conceived, which was to cut across at any cost the vast "wasteland" of the desert between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains, because the men were on horseback, they couldn't simply ride over the mountains in a straight line without committing suicide. Therefore the road, unpaved, meanders like a sine wave through the desert on its way to Sacramento. It's beautiful and ironic to travel this way passing Pony Express Stations every ten or fifteen miles that seem perversely huddled against the howling winds and overwhelming sun. Though it lasted for less than two years, the Pony Express system was, like Moby Dick and the poems of Walt Whitman and the coruscating intricacies of Miles Davis's trumpet, a supreme manifestation of a peculiar American psychosis - a violent kind of loneliness. Willful in the face of failure, unable to see shades of gray, Americanism has a certain crumpling suicidal tendency at its core. What is plangently called Individualism is actually a kind of emotional self-flagellation, a brutal binary of good and evil warped, like iron, around the soul. And thus, the Deep Creeks arise above the adiabiatic plains of violent salt toward the empyrean. From here, the sun sets behind Ibapah Peak, a glacier scoured half-dome of granite as out of place here as the little town of Callao (pronounced Call-ee-oo). 

Whatever those men thought of themselves against the world, running their horses into the ground carrying $1000 per ounce mail through the wastes of White People's dreams, they had to have looked toward the Deep Creek Range with an awe reserved for things like seeing the Pacific for the first time or seeing one's betrothed after a year in the West. These things aren't repeatable. Here, if there ever was a nowhere, is a somewhere, a throne for high altitude Bristlecone pine, a seat at the table for humans to commune with what remained once the Pleistocene drained away an American state's worth of 500' deep water in a few months. The Deep Creeks are an island. We'll explore more of what that means in coming posts.