A note from Erin:
In the backyard, the elderberry, raspberry and blackberry canes are starting to sprout green leaves. Tiny leaves are emerging as well on the apple, peach, and cherry trees. The plum tree is beginning to turn white with blossoms – though snow is predicted overnight. Tiny yellow and purple crocuses shine their bright faces skyward. The garlic planted last fall has tall green shoots, and in the front yard, the pea shoots are nearing 4 inches tall. Tulips have arisen from the mulched ground like yellow, pink, and purple Easter eggs perched on elegant stems. While our seven older hens are scratching around their run in the backyard, 8 baby chicks are scratching around their heated box on the dining table, indoors until they grow large and feathered enough to brave the outdoor temperature fluctuations and join with their elders. There is a shelf full of seedlings in the living room in front of a sunny south-facing window. Dozens of tiny vibrant sprouts of tomato plants, squash, cucumbers, lettuces, eggplants, peppers, pumpkins, melons, tomatillos, several varieties of basil, medicinal herbs, and more. Life feels so richly abundant.
At the same time, I’ve noticed fewer robins than ever this year. They used to seem as common and resilient as the grass. Was it the wildfires all over the western US? Was it the abundant smoke that filled our skies all summer, though we were spared major local fires? Is it the changing climate? The drought? Have they skipped migration? Have their tiny blue eggs gone unhatched? Unfed? Whatever it is, I stand on the cool porch in the morning light, listening with a kind of fierce hope – and when I finally hear a robin’s unique call, I thrill and relax at the same time. Still here. Phew. The sound of their song carves a particular shape of love and longing inside my chest. I would be so much less without it. Paul Shepard wrote, “The grief and sense of loss that we often attribute to a failure in our personality, is actually a feeling of emptiness where a beautiful and strange otherness should have been encountered.” Can we tune ourselves with reverence to the beautiful and strange otherness around us – before it disappears? Might such reverence of approach heal our hearts as well as the world of these others whose habitats our lifestyles have so profoundly damaged?
A dear friend who lives in Northern California and has been awoken by spring birdsong for decades reports an eerie silence this year. Instead of song, he hears the silence of absence. I notice, again, the looming feeling that massive grief and loss are coming for us. The skills of grieving and praising well seem essential to practice now.
Wendell Berry writes in his beloved poem The Peace of Wild Things: I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. Reading this used to make me think that taxing myself with the forethought of grief was an unfortunate human quirk, and that perhaps I should be more like the birds. Now, I find those humans who are ignoring or denying the forethought of grief to be woefully ignorant. I confess, I also sometimes envy their bliss and their carefree choices. For myself, I want to honor this foreboding as a sacred companion and allow it to shape my heart and my days. I want it to shape me with more reverence for the wild things that are still here and for this precious chance to be alive among them. I welcome it to shape me with the harrowing recognition of the pain and struggles our highly consumptive human lives have caused and will cause the wild ones and – now we see it undeniably – ourselves and our children as well. Carrying this in my heart is not a problem. It’s a necessity.
I carry this grief right alongside immeasurable, oceanic love for my son and a fervent wish for him and all the children (of all the species) to have a chance for a beautiful life. He’s turning 12 this week!! I feel in my body a delighted resonance with these green sprouts, the blossoms, the baby chicks, and the robin’s song, as well as an ache at the absence of songbirds, the fear of another summer of fire and smoke, an ache at the collapsing of an Antarctic ice shelf and the many losses we know are yet to come. My heart lifts in delight at my son’s bright eyes as he connects with our bees and says “Mom, they are so amazing!” I feel a sensation like a split through my chest and throat – a achey geode, or an oozing split in a tree – made of both love and sorrow. It is honest. Keeping this grief-and-love ache company keeps me true.
How do we stay large enough in heart and mind to be with the bittersweet taste of our times? Not missing one iota of the sweetness nor apologizing for savoring it. Not bypassing the bitterness with false cheer, but honestly reckoning with the ache, allowing it to soften my heart with the vastness of compassion that is called for. How do we apprentice ourselves to the love and large-heartedness these times might be trying to call forth from us? How do we stay resilient to despair and permeable to beauty? How do we become upright, reality-based adults, willing to dance with the realities of our times? I ask myself these questions all the time. My work has grown to make room for them.
Every morning when we wake up, there are countless directions we can turn.
The smartphone? Social media? Talk radio? Humor? Reverence for the holy in nature? Friendships? Being right? Perfecting the shape of our eyebrows? Stylish home decor? Fitness? Comfort food? Poetry? Prayer? Blame? Money? Creative practice? Compassion?
I find I’m deeply interested in the perspective that perhaps love is what is being called for. Not romantic love, but open-your-eyes-and-look-around-at-these-miracles kind of love. Being willing to risk the ache of loss kind of love. Awe and reverence and fall-on-your-knees-at-the-beauty kind of love.
Profound repair seems to be called for in the relationship between humans and our places and the more-than-human kin with whom we share them.
I’m interested in stepping into this relationship and this repair not with guilt and shoulds weighing like a heavy yoke on my shoulders, but rather understanding it as an invitation to rekindle a wild love affair with the world – one we’ve somehow, sadly, managed to forget as we’ve fallen under the spell of concrete, malls, television, internet, busyness, buying, improving, and a profound disconnection from the more-than-human world. I want to step back into this love affair with passionate aplomb. I have a hunch there’s ancestral knowing of just how to do this right here in our hearts and bones and it only needs to be watered and warmed by our sustained attention.
A few weeks ago I shared with a dear friend my noticing of fewer robins this year. One showed up in her front yard birdbath last week and she reported to me, “I felt like god himself was visiting and splashing around in the water!” That is the reverence we need. That is the reverence we are missing.
What if we recognize earthworms, snails, fungi, bugs, birds, and the branches they perch on as the gods in visible form – and behave accordingly?
What if we offer such lavish praises to the trees and bees and blossoms and birds who are still here that they not only thrive, but blush at the profusion of our reverence?
What if we see the insects who haven’t yet vanished under the onslaught of pesticides and the destruction of their habitats as tiny angels or fairies literally blessing our lives, because that’s what they are and what they do?
Would we smash them with nonchalance? Spray them with chemicals? Or would we understand ourselves as guests in the realm of these small gods?
What if we imprint love and respect on the earth through our feet as we walk on the land in our neighborhood, even if it’s paved? Saying hello to the living earth beneath the concrete with each step?
What if we practice picking up trash with reverence, like we might do if we were caretaking a sacred temple?
What if we pause to sing praise to the rain when it comes – that amazing gift of water from the skies?? Joy Harjo says praising the rain brings more rain. In my drought-stricken land, I take this to heart. She also invites us to let the Earth stabilize our postcolonial insecure jitters. Maybe this is one way to do so: To come back into reverent relationship with Life on Earth, through our own bodies, our own attentive presence.
I have great faith in the healing power of our capacity for reverence, and in the ripples such reverent attention might have in our own hearts, in our relationships, and in our ecosystems simultaneously. As Rumi reminds us, there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
We don’t know whether we humans will be here on this beautiful earth for decades or thousands of centuries. While we are here for these brief and precious lives, let us try to take our place in the web of life as a caretaking species. An honoring species. A species standing in awe at the gifts that have been bestowed and too long taken for granted. Let us sing praises and love! Let’s make the trees and the birds blush! It doesn’t really matter if we sound good. It just matters that we make our love heard. It just matters that we begin.
And if we’re lucky enough to have a small god show up in our front yard, may we not for one moment take it for granted.
With great love and great reverence,