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Excerpted from the book

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by Jesse Wolf Hardin

acorn

 

 

The Canyon: Courting & Context

“The principles on which the universe functions are three: differentiation, increasing subjectivity, and communion. A truly human intimacy.... is needed. We are returning to our native place after a long absence, meeting once again.....”
-Thomas Berry

 

Looking out upon an astounding cosmos is one thing, but looking groundwards and inwards can be even more revealing.... and one of the most evocative of all photographic images is surely that of the Earth taken from outer space. One shot or another decorates the cover of the largest “alternative” consumer catalog, is featured on decals sent out with environmental fund-raisers, once topped the letterhead of a space-warfare agency and now brightens the nylon flags sold through magazines to promote world unity. It’s easy to see the Earth as finite and not nearly so immense as we once thought, and thus all the more vulnerable and in need of our care. And we see that it is unscarred by anything as artificial and temporal as national borders, a veritable lifeboat we have no choice but to share, pulling for the common good across an airless sea of stars.

 

The problem with this view from thousands of miles away is that the diverse range of colors from meadow to tundra appear blended into a solid shade, the songs of each distinct bioregion reduced to a single muffled roar as if each part were indistinguishable and interchangeable, as if one continent or watershed could serve us, fill us, define us in the same ways as the next. To truly know the Earth, to know life one needs to focus in on just one of those umber masses until the myriad hues of the mountains and swamps, the wildflowers and hummingbirds stand out one against the other. We need to zoom in on a particular section such as the Southwest section of the North American continent, a vast mountain range where Arizona and New Mexico meet, the Tularosa watershed, a special river like the San Francisco, a select grove, a specific meadow, an exact section of soft grass beneath a solitary majestic tree. We must then get down on our hands and knees in the native grasses or down in the water, cast our gaze on the details of vetch and clover jungle, stare into the universe of stars that sparkle in a single inch of river sand. We need to get so close that we not only see but hear and smell and taste the context we’re a part of, getting down and feeling the cool water as it flows over our exposed arms.

 

We have been taught to see the world at a distance, often from a moving vehicle, framing giant vistas in our minds-eye. While no dream can capture the view of an entire mountain range, we may wake up drenched in sweat from the visceral experience of a single cliff we could fall from. We’re relatively small creatures on a scale that includes not only bumblebees and grizzly bears but glacial summits, and our psyches/souls require also a more intimate view, a favorite saguaro covered draw rather than an image of an entire desert, the details of a well loved swimming hole over some abstract hydrological mapping. We need easier realized pictures, settings small enough to include a picture of ourselves within them.

 

Fully reinhabiting the land and restoring one’s “sense of place” calls for personal reimmersion in the tactile immediacy characteristic of our formative years, demands our unstudied reentry into the intimacy of complex childscapes. As with any reality there are likely distinct openings, portals through which we step like the mouths of caves, an arbor of roots, a tunnel through a thicket of trellising wild grape vines, a place where the river canyon narrows into a bottleneck before widening out again. They take us to limitless ways of seeing, all grounded in receptivity and being, realities easier entered once we’ve learned to be “little” again. Kids tend to feel comforted by an encircling branches of weeping willows, protected by the close-in wooden walls of a playhouse, cradled in miniature caves, touched on all sides by the circumference of hideouts and nests, drawn to those downscaled environments that evoke a sense of familiarity and safety. Take a child to any “scenic vista” and they’ll quickly turn their attention from the distant sunset to the ground at their feet, following scurrying stink-bugs on their hands and knees, collecting pieces of quartz-studded gravel or chalky animal bone, discovering any nearby places for exploration and concealment. Take your eyes off them for more than a minute and they’ll likely uncover an overgrown deer trail or hobbit run winding away from the lookout point and down into the bowels of a more intimately experienced reality.

 

Adults tend to seek out those postcard-perfect views of great heights and wide expanses, but a child will look instead to those things she can come to know up close. I love watching four year old Rhiannon as she reaches out to gather her universe closer to her, to bring it into touching distance, to climb on it, swim in it or put it into her mouth. Like the young of most species, she prefers that which is most immediately accessible and therefore able to be engaged and understood through more than just the eyes.... that which can be handled and hugged, arranged and arrayed, tossed and teased, rolled on the tongue or rolled about in like a coyote playing in a bed of leaves.

 

The kids got it right on this count. Place can be best understood up close, in microcosms nestled between hillocks, inside the hollows of lightning struck trees, in the overgrown corner of the school playground or between waving rows of sky-clad corn. What we call “place” is made up of little worlds inviting us to be little again within them, enlisting our patience and attention, enticing our sensual exploration, insisting that if we’re truly to experience it, we must first slow down. Slowing down to “smell the flowers,” and beholding the blooming present. Experiencing sacred presence, and being fully present for every challenge. Sampling again and again the unfolding miracle of life. The child’s-eye view is way of seeing that can make the world new for us again, make it obvious how much things matter, and make it harder to turn away from a life of noticing, intuiting, connecting, empathizing, delighting, healing, celebrating, praising and giving thanks. It’s not just a child’s unblemished innocence that wins them a ticket to their own manifest paradise.... but also their tendency to engage the world up close, their openness to looking at the world in new ways, their willingness to feel. We rediscover the full depths of self and place by being “small” enough to connect to the intimacy and immediacy of a child’s universe, and big enough to take some responsibility for the well being of that which we come to intimately know and connect to.

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“Wilderness... is premised on the assumption that enlarging the range of individual experience is as important as enlarging the number of individuals; that the environment of the American pioneers had values of its own.”
-Aldo Leopold

 

“Spirit howls and wildness endures— Anticipate resurrection.”
-Terry Tempest Williams

 

The American Southwest is famous for its ambiance and energy as well as its scenery, often described as “spiritual,” “other worldly” or “magical” in nature. The state of New Mexico in particular has a reputation as the Land Of Enchantment, attracting spiritual leaders and communities from the Sufis to the Dalai Lama, and host to its own still vibrant indigenous religious traditions. This is on top of its draw as a place of beautiful mountains and stunning deserts, of colorful cultures and relatively low human density. As I write this the entire population of New Mexico is considerably less than that of numerous “mid-size” cities including Denver, Phoenix, Charleston and St. Paul.

If you look at a map you’ll see that most of the lower left portion of New Mexico, bordered by the Rio Grande valley to the East and extending West into Arizona is one huge mountainous forest, encompassing the Black Range and the Mogollon, Tularosa and San Francisco mountains. At its center is the roadless Gila Wilderness (pronounced hee-la), the first national lands intentionally preserved in a native, wild state. The was largely due to the proddings of the visionary conservationist Aldo Leopold a full forty years before the passage of the U.S. Wilderness Act. The county is one of the largest at approximately 7,000 square miles, most of which is national forest and state lands.... and with only about two percent of the surface area being private property. The area is filled with a combination of history and legend, beauty and romance, the quiet space necessary for reflection, and the busyness of myriad active species each living out their own rendition of life, adventure and home. Thousands of elk, the most unobstructed view of the stars imaginable, and acres and acres of unmolested old growth forests. And it is defined not only by what it has, but what it has not: no stoplights or rush hour traffic, no polluting industries or midnight sirens, no gangs and scant crime. Thousands of miles from the intrigue of our nation’s capital. Three hundred miles from any nuclear reactor. Two hundred and fifty miles from the nearest “real” city or targetable military base. One hundred miles from the closest crowded discount store. And no cloud cover throughout most of the year.

 

Given the amount of sunshine it receives, it may come as a surprise to learn that temperatures in the Gila bioregion seldom exceed ninety degrees Fahrenheit. The hottest months are July and August, but even then the chill nights tend to ensure pleasant mornings, and just around the time the heat is getting uncomfortable along comes the relief of afternoon storms. The end of Summer is the monsoon season after all, when each day the wind dramatically picks up around two o’clock or so and thick black clouds rush in to dump their precious load. Thunder echoes as lightning cracks against rock outcroppings and treetop spires, and drops of rain the size of marbles gather into sheets blown nearly sidewise in their rampant race to the thirsting ground. Winters are mild with few nights that dip below the zero mark, and snows that melt fairly quickly from all but the highest of North facing slopes.

 

Mountains in the area rise up from primeval inland sea beds to around 12,000 feet in height, laced with streams and spotted with a handful of especially enticing hot springs. Created by the most recent and violent volcanic activity on this continent, the fire colored cliffs climb above pines and oaks where Geronimo and Victorio once undertook their own quests for vision, meaning and assignment. And snaking through these peaks and hills are the beds of the region’s life giving waters: the Tularosa, San Francisco and Gila rivers. Creeks with names like Palomas, Gilita, Iron and Indian. Turkey, Bear and Centerfire. Alamosa and Negrito. Oak and Willow. Mangas, Mineral, Deep and Devil’s Creeks. Waterways anywhere are a literal magnet for plant and animal species, and nowhere is that more true than in the arid Southwest where other sources of moisture are seasonal at best. Spilling out of artesian springs or draining the snow-saturated soils of the high country, trickles couple with seeps to become rivers that may be calf deep in late June or December, and thirty feet deep and seventy-five yards across during a big Spring runoff or following relatively rare Fall torrents. No lover is unmarked by love, and everywhere the flowing water touches there is a meander carved deep like memory. And where raging love or insistent waters cut deepest, the result is a canyon- bone deep, the bedrock of human or Earthen soul exposed and titillated by passion’s churning currents. It is from the very bottom of this glad wound, this sculpted gifting, that art and magic rise, lifted forever into a cliff-framed sky. One of these special canyons now hosts the Sweet Medicine Sanctuary, and was once a village of up to thirty families and It features the largest kiva site for many miles in either direction, evidence of its having been a ceremonial center for ritual gatherings and sacred rites.

 

The same precious flow coveted by those of root, feather and paw, drew early human kind close as well. At the same time as the Tevere of Roma and the Euphrates of Asia supported the growth of civilizations, rivers like the San Francisco watered the palettes, the crops, the imagination and spirit of its Earth-honoring residents. Climb up from the river to almost any flat spot above the flood plain, and we will likely find ourselves atop the erosion-filled pit houses of those who loved and revered these canyons long before we did. They migrated in mass down the Rio Grande Valley approximately a thousand years ago in response to raids by hostile tribes, a particularly long drought or a well received vision of some messianic shaman.... and at around the same time as the first boatloads of Norse Vikings were making landfall in Greenland.

 

Referred to as the Mogollon people by archaeologists, the Sweet Medicine people lived in underground “D” shaped structures, hunted, cultivated maize, and seem to have practiced a spiritual tradition that emphasized connection, reciprocity, interdependence and the necessity of honoring life through ritual and caretakership, song and dance, story and craft, intention and act. The painted pottery sherds scattered about on the ground are reminders of this lineage of celebration, responsibility and prayer. And many of the rock ledges feature obvious trails burnished smooth by the touch of countless sandal soles, the villagers making twice daily trips from their dwellings to tend their irrigation ditches and carry back to the houses pitch-lined juniper baskets filled with sweet river water.

 

If as Leopold suggests, this wild land does indeed come with its own intrinsic set of values, priorities and hopes- then they are ours to learn, following the river to what is not only roofless temple but experiential school. A journey into any canyon is a journey into history and not only due to a deepening of intimacy with an indigenous past, nor simply for the way in which the traveler is cast into a mental/emotional state that seems somehow outside the constraints of linear time.... but also, a descent from above traces an actual regression through the various geologic eras, down to the time and place of life’s beginnings. And there we too, may yet discover the beginnings of our own sacred/sensate story.... and thereby the root of our truths.

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“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
-John Muir

 

The capital of Catron County is Reserve- affectionately known as “Reverse”- a village housing something less than five hundred year-round residents as of this writing. A show of bumper stickers such as “No Wolves” or “Out of Work? Hungry? Eat An Environmentalist” betray a cultural prejudice amongst the mostly logger and rancher families, provoked more than anything else by what they see as the heavy handed influence of government and the courts. Just South of town lies the local ranger station where a visitor intent on getting to know the area is likely to stop to orient themselves and ask questions. Spreading out a Forest Service map of the Gila bioregion one sees a few peripheral sections coded in tan, marking them as being under the care of the Bureau of Land Management. Nearly all the rest of the surface will be colored green, denoting what is a vast preponderance of National Forest lands. A relatively small number of tiny white squares representing mostly 40, 80 and 160 acre inholdings lie scattered like islands of private property in a vast emerald sea of what are in actuality green clad mountains and windswept trees.

 

One of those “islands” is the Sweet Medicine Sanctuary proper, home to the Earthen Spirituality Project and the extended family that tends its land, mission and guests. Folks from all over world make the long trip to this ancient site of ceremony and seeking as part of their own quest for authentic self and sense of place, for a deepening of understanding and direction. Whatever their specific needs, intent and vision might be, they share in common having made a conscious choice at a pivotal point in their life and growth to search out a place of reflection as far removed from their everyday paradigm and predictable perceptions as humanly possible, to reenter the lap and womb of nature and thereby come to know themselves apart from a cultivated self image and pervasive self doubt. The inconvenience and isolation of wild places serve the process of engagement with self, Earth and purpose. Away from the rote and the habitual, from the superficial and the less than relevant as well as the too casually familiar: somewhere they can wholly “be,” unburdened by posturing and preconception disinterest and distraction. A place unbowed, free of the tyranny of clocks, pagers and “day planners”- where the cycles of light and dark, activity and rest can reassert their natural influence in our lives. Canyons are perfect for this kind of focused cleansing, connecting, reflecting and transforming, the way they seem to cradle us in caring earthen arms- simultaneously sheltered and exposed, contained and delivered, made content and moved to action..... held tight and propelled forward in the direction of our most meaningful service, artful and enlivened existence, insistent hopes and indefatigable dreams! And nowhere is this more true than the Sweet Medicine Canyon, nested ten miles from the nearest village and phone, and seven generally shallow river crossings from where folks park their cars. Seven is a number frequently associated with both spirituality and magic. There are usually seven tests for the mythic hero to undertake, and “seven bridges” that one must cross on the twisty road to paradise.

 

While it’s possible to get into the sanctuary in a four-wheel drive vehicle much of the year, we still suggest that guests leave their vehicles and walk in the last mile and a half. This is partly to satisfy sanctuary covenants mandating a minimal amount of mechanized traffic down the canyon, and partly to promote depth of experience from the moment they arrive here. The walk is just long enough to ensure a degree of presence, thoughts of other places- and anxieties over what might be next slowly giving way to the sounds of the river or the call of the eagle, the feel of the breeze on our face, the musky smell of beeplant and the arresting colors of volcanic cliffs in afternoon light. We’re thrust into our creature senses with every river crossing, stimulated by the rolling grains of sand beneath our bared feet, the cool water splashing playfully up our legs. Everywhere we look the land seems to be calling out like a child for our undivided attention, the gurgling of the river as it tumbles over rock, the scampering of leaves at our approach. The way the spines of cholla cactus glow like a halo when backlit by a setting canyon sun. The majesty of the mountains, prompting us to raise our heads to the sky. The perfect symmetry of riverside clover clusters. Red and black marbled rock that insists we pick it up and trace with our finger tips its crimson veins. Bizarre golden knots of strangler vine, grapes heavy with sugar and promise, and the greens of young cottonwood leaves in the Spring. A flapping of wings behind us. The impossibly red bear claw marks on the alder trees just ahead.

 

We might walk in by ourselves, but we are never alone here. We are, know it or not, part of an ongoing text, of the story of the land, of the cadre and coven of diverse life. We likely sense that the plants and animals are not only a resource, scenic or otherwise, but an alliance in which we partake: A coalition of bristling prickly-pear, cane cholla, barrel and cushion cactus, along with quaking aspen visible near the closest peaks. Pondersosa pines with their russet bark flaking off in the shapes of children’s puzzle pieces that reaching a hundred feet and more into New Mexico’s turquoise sky. Of nut-laden oaks and pinons. Junipers including the alligator-bark and the shaggy barked one the locals mistakenly call red or yellow cedar, ripe with vitamin-c rich berries on the sun soaked slopes. Wild roses laden with tart hips on the shadier, North facing side. Currant bushes loaded with sweet red fruits. Wild canyon grape, once scarce, and now thickly twisting through the branches of majestic black walnuts. Sumac, yucca, snakebrush and sagebrush. A couple of rare mulberry trees, and whole stands of alder and native olive gathered down in the canyon bottoms. The willow too thick to walk through, now lining the Frisco River thanks to a protective fence. The hundreds of sixty-foot tall cottonwoods that have grown back since we began to protect the fragile riparian area from grazing and a few giants still standing from “the old days,” including one big-hipped grandmother it would take more than a dozen people to encircle hand in hand. The conjointment and conviviality of innumerable varieties of grass. Chorus lines of morning glories and four o’clocks, Indian blanket and starflower, asters and daisies, prickly poppy and desert paintbrush, yarrow and wild mint, skyrocket and evening primrose blossoms, sunflowers and bee plants coupling with multicolored butterflies and at least four different types of wide-eyed bees. The lush patches of magical datura seducing the long tongued moths of the mystical Southwestern night. Rich associations of water plants like cattails, rushes, duck weed and watercress in league with crawdads, frogs and suckerfish, plus the occasional trout taking refuge in the deeper pools from the Summer’s heat. Ducks raising their young in the river’s shadow draped nooks and gentled eddies, while giant blue herons stand tall over middens of speckled crawdad shells. A deer darting for cover. Sharp toothed javalina grunting and rooting. Pounding swarms of gray jays and dive bombing hawks. Orange winged clown flickers and hard headed woodpeckers. Kingfishers, mourning doves and a bald eagle circling unhurriedly overhead. And everywhere the tracks of canyon bred raccoons and ringtail cats, bobcat and muskrat, coatamundi, lion and bear.... reminding us of the many other unseen beings who also make their homes there. We do more than observe. We engage and enjoin, submit and surrender to this wholeness, this belonging, this destined love.

 

“arch me back
tie my hair
with willows
and desert
wildflowers

make me
your own
make me
everything
I was born
to be”

-Kiva Rose, from “Prayer In Red”

 

And like an attentive lover, we lean closer and closer to that which we adore, learn from, give to and depend upon. In the course of such courting and knowing we may find ourselves bending ever lower, in order to see better the psychadelic patterns of river water coursing over our legs, or the complex arrangement of the pine needles and green acorns blanketing the forest floor- and then getting down on one knee to luxuriate in the many smells of wild mountain flowers. We may then ease onto our bellies to see the world the way one of the myriad canyon insects do, as infinitely immense and thoroughly irresistible. At the end of our walk, at the end of the day, we might find ourselves rolling onto our backs- right there in the middle of the feral Gila wildlands, in the center of the enchanted canyon, on a soft sandbar in the center of the San Francisco river, centered in our feelings of sensuousness, connectedness and caring. It’s then, grounded in this spinning globe of rock and flesh, we can feel most comfortable shifting our gaze for awhile.... from the living Earth we’re each an inseparable extension of, upwards to the fecund cosmos we and this planet lie forever bedded with and in.

acorn2

 Arrival: Finding Home Wherevner You

“To be enlightened he did not have to leap to someplace else; he only had to come hard against the ground where he already stood.”
-Scott Russell Sanders

 

It’s December as I finally finish this book, after four seasons of compiling the pictorial record, and exactly twenty-six years since first arriving in this wild and magical canyon. I’ve learned in that time not only the value of living close to nature but also the importance of identifying with and connecting to place, the necessity of each and every one of us somehow recovering the vital sense of security, responsibility and belonging that we call home.

 

Some of us may have to move from where we’re at, to a different town, state or country.... in order to find somewhere that truly speaks to our heart and soul. Some will have to leave the bioregion where they grew up before they can fully appreciate it for what it is, coming back years later not resigned but rerouted. Still others will deliberately avoid the pull of place at all costs, fleeing from any attachment that could slow us down, pursuing something that recedes as fast as it’s approached. But for such disassociation we can expect to pay a high price. For the good of humanity and life on this earth all of us, the detached and the planted, the wanderers and the settlers will have to learn to find meaning, connection and relationship with the living earth.... in the conscious now, at the exact point where we stand. To remain as members of the biotic community we will have to know how to feel and act at home, wherever we might happen to be.

In the south of Spain archaeologists have found evidence of what may have been the last refuge of the hominid we call the Neanderthal. The Rock of Gibraltar hosts over 140 caves, where some 35,000 years ago they worked hides with their simple tools, cracked open nutritious shellfish and stared out across the strait to the visible continent of Africa lying but a few miles away. By this time our competitive ancestors, the so-called “modern man,” were already crossing great distances of water.... and yet their cousins the Neanderthal seemed to have never ventured any further south than this jutting spit of beach and rock. Some experts suggest that they were bereft of curiosity, while others think they arrived at the edge of an ocean they were afraid to challenge. More likely, I believe, is that they were simply too satisfied where they lived, having suitable shelter, southern exposure, and an abundance of wild foods all year round. I can picture them in the moonlight roasting shore birds over an open fire, fulfilled by the present and grateful to be right where they were at.

 

Recorded history is partly a chronicle of the dispossessed and the ambitious, the product of movers more than settlers. And no more so than in America, where we inheritors of the pioneer legacy have long cultivated an image as self-directed, self-reliant individualists. Our predecessors considered a permanent home a prerequisite and hallmark of their freedom, the one condition making their other life options possible. Living as we do in an era of increasingly intrusive legislation, we’ve come to mistake consumer choice and career options for the freedom our kind has always sought, and confused mobility with liberty. And it’s not simply that we move on so quickly but that our contact with each situation, each place can be so insubstantial and superficial. Sightseers fly or drive hundreds of miles to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, then spend an average of five minutes at its edge before heading back to their car or hotel. These hurried days many of us barely engage our sequential partners, our adjustable belief systems, our current vocation or the place where we live in a deep way before shifting to the inevitable next phase.

 

The caves of Gibraltar seems to have grown dim in the collective and bodily memory of our kind, and contentment can sometimes seem like a thing of the past. There’s little in our lives that most of us dare think of as “long-term,” perhaps a wife and children or a favored activity. Everything else, from jobs to health to home seem tentative and conditional- those things we’re prepared to abandon as strategy requires, and those that could be taken away from us at any given moment by illness, government or accident. In addition, we’re influenced by a culture that places a premium on all things new so that we’re forever looking ahead to the lover or job or house that has yet to come. In the process it’s difficult to sufficiently appreciate that which we already have, who we’re already coupled with, what we’re already doing and where we already are. As a result we may find ourselves constantly transferring from one place to the next, making temporary accommodations at each stop, seldom committing ourselves for any length of time. We’ve suffered individually, culturally and environmentally due to this emphasis on the novel over the deep, the disposable over the relatively lasting. Due to promises never made, and promises made to be broken.

It’s time to feed the soil, and tend our fire.

 

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“....these are places of initiation, where the borders between ourselves and other creatures break down, where the earth gets under our nails and a sense of place gets under our skin.”
-Robert Michael Pyle

 

Commitments are an outgrowth of love.... and we can fall in love so easily, so sweetly, so quickly if only we allow ourselves. Turn to the mountains you may have driven by a thousand times, and find yourself still subject to the power of its affection. Turn to the sea you grew up on and allow it to do its timeless work on you. Float down the local river, walk the neighboring forests where you live or visit, climb the branches of trees you’ve never seen, explore the drainage ditches full of pollywogs like those that wooed you when you were young. When traveling afar look for the familiar in the strange, and allow the strange its peculiar attraction. Wherever you go, make yourself available to the appeal of locale, its character and style— the turn of a root like an exposed ankle, the entreaties of its choral birds, the earthen smells stimulating the brain like Gaian pheromones, the clouds fanning out like the hair of your lover floating in an aquamarine pool. Open up to the beauty found in any neighborhood where a child laughs and plays, and you may yet fall for place. Stop rushing down the sidewalk long enough to sense the stories of those many generations that walked there before you, and you may fall. Register the signature scents of the Spring blossoms, learn to mark the spot where the sun crosses the same friendly horizon, uncover the strains of wildness that still exist, strain to hear the music that floats in the breaks between man-made sounds. Look about the way a baby looks about, take your hands out of your pockets to touch the forms and bodies that surround you, sit on the bare ground long enough for it to speak its “sweet nothings” and relish being in love again!

 

When asked how to recover one’s sense of place I often recommend finding a special spot and staying, attentively, for a complete revolution of the seasons. But sometimes I simply suggest the following: 1) Stand still, 2) listen and feel, 3) repeat to your satisfaction the first two.

 

The land says “Please, by all means— make yourself at home.” The very expression indicates we have an active role in this vital process, and that we bear much of the responsibility for its successful realization. Take off your hat (set aside the hubris, the constant analysis, the topside dialogue) and stay awhile (take time to loiter and mingle, time to relate). Pull up a seat (rest in the arms of place, avail yourself of what it furnishes, experience it through contact as much as observation). Take a load off (leave the worrisome baggage outside the door; don’t bring the weight to the woods), and let me know if there’s anything I can do for you. We “make ourselves at home” by familiarizing ourselves with its truth and being, accepting its protective boundaries as our own, and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and open in its presence. By tending to its care, and accepting its succor in return. By emulating its characteristic authenticity, integrity, rhythms, balance, diversity, liveliness and strength. By co-operating, and co-celebrating.

 

After her mixed bag of adventures in fabled Oz, Dorothy arrives arrives back in Kansas with an exclamation of relief. “There’s no place like home!,” she tells us. Indeed. But we can forget the ruby slippers... for in fact, there’s no place but home. All there is between now and death is here and now: life temporally and physically placed. Not that getting here from there won’t still prove to be a long and arduous quest. It will culminate not so much in a final location as in a condition of wholeness, the fact of awakened sensate bodies reattached to the living Earth-body.

The setting sun sidelights the Mogollon petroglyph incised into the orange rocks below our cabin, a wondrous spiral directing the eye outwards to the universe, even as it pulls our heart inwards to the center. It serves as a reminder how our personal pilgrimage is inevitably a coming as much as it is a going away.... a journey back, full circle, to the deepest experience of self in place. Centered in eternal present time, on holy/wholly breathing ground.

 

Once we realize it’s the earth that we belong to, the quest to belong is at an end. Understanding that the land itself is our coveted home, we find ourselves at home wherever we land.

 

“And at the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

-T.S. Eliot

 

Through our hearts and through our actions, may we be worthy.

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