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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

back to camp ~

A room of more than 40 women, aged 18 – 75. Or more. Talking, laughing loudly, yelling in delight over a good hand of cards… This is Camp Waluhili, and the Becoming an Outdoor Woman weekend workshop. There are well over 100 women enrolled in canoeing, blacksmithing, archery, Dutch oven cooking, and arts & crafts from screen printing to letterboxing. It’s beyond amazing.

SaturdayI learned how to make food in a Dutch oven. GOOD food — BEAUTIFUL food (cranberry orange scones, I’m talking about you). Lunch was totally unnecessary afterwards: who wants okay tacos when you just feasted on apple tart and monkey bread and corned beef hash and…? :)

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After lunch, it was off to screenprinting. We still have to actually ink the shirts (the lights here don’t have UV, and there’s no sun during this rainy foggy weather), but I have a lovely raven & bee to go!

Sunday? Birding 101. Did you know that turkey buzzards fly w/ their wings vaguely in a V, while raptors (which most of us like to look at, compared to buzzards…) fly with wings held relatively straight? Yeah, me neither… That’s useful!

And here’s the clincher: it’s all women. There’s no way to explain just how free that makes the interactions. No one bothers about makeup (well, maybe a few…:)). Showers aren’t in the early morning unless you feel like it, and ball caps sub for blow-outs. It’s beyond comfortable & free.

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That’s my point: you need time to be as much yourself as you can be comfortable with. And given the current sexual axis in so much of contemporary culture, it’s nice — at least sometimes — to just chill w/ your buds. Your girlfriends. Whoever lets you have a hat day w/out giving you grief.

Plus, it’s outside. There’s something brain-clearing about being outdoors, even when it’s rainy, windy, and so overcast that the photo-sensitive emulsion on the screen printing doesn’t work. It’s also healing. Nowhere near the pretense I find in other groups, which while predominantly female, still have men present.

I’m already looking forward to next year. When I won’t be a raw beginner. Just my usual beginner’s heart…

 

 

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follow the Yellowstone road ~

At the Mammoth Hotel in Yellowstone Park, elk have forgotten that they are wild. They  graze on the tidy front lawn, sometimes causing traffic jams in the parking lot and the adjacent streets. Tourists have to be kept from walking up to these totally NOT domestic animals, and trying to pose with them. Bear in mind: the bull elk outside my window yesterday can get up to  800+ pounds, and 5 feet at the shoulder. BIG animals, in other words.

But Yellowstone is a magic place. Bear become not the fierce predator they can be, but Smokey’s cousin. And elk become a kind of native cattle, in this place where tourists crowd the highway to spot a single wolf through a scope. Remember wolves? Demonised by the early Catholic Church as the devil incarnate? Still hunted by many ranchers to this day? In Yellowstone, wolves are entertainment.

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In Yellowstone, ravens partner with wolves. Literally ‘train’ them — the wolves — from cubs. They will play games with the young cubs: holding a stick in beak, and laying it tantalisingly close to the cub. Then, when the cub comes to pick it up, the raven will snatch it from the cub’s reach, and move away, luring the cub with the stick-toy. Some ravens will even let the younger cubs tackle them, a dangerous game for wings that break easily…

I love this wolf lore, learned on my current trip to Yellowstone. This partnership — ravens will even point out injured animals to wolves, flying back & forth between the injured animal & the pack, to show the way — is so unexpected to me. But one way wolf naturalists find packs feeding is to look for a large (35+) number of ravens. What used to be called ‘a conspiracy of ravens.’

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I spent 11 hours yesterday touring Yellowstone. In a bus, on my feet, clambering over fallen logs beside Slough Creek, walking the meadows and hiking sagebrush hills. There is an infinite variety of landscapes — from the thermally baked white & ochre earthscapes to rolling hills that spread across the entire horizon, to mountains cutting through the sky — it’s all so hard to quantify w/ words. No wonder Thomas Moran spent so many days sketching Yellowstone, and his entire subsequent life painting it.

Today, coincidentally, I stumbled on a small Moran exhibit, at the Mammoth Visitor Centre. Field sketches, his chair & easel, a few paintings. Such a bonus — totally unexpected and great for a girl who grew up visiting his paintings at Tulsa’s Gilcrease Museum. Yellowstone Canyon (spelled in the Spanish fashion, cañon), falls, streams and rivulets and landscapes. All familiar from his style, now familiar from this visit.

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What is it about us — human beings — that responds so viscerally to the soar of mountains, the spill of water, the greens & greys & tawny golds of this landscape? This park? Since before Roosevelt…

And of course all the wildlife: a bald eagle eying us from a tall snag, ground squirrels flicking tails in the parking lot of Slough Creek, hawks against blue sky, and bison spread across the undulating hills. A red bison calf — so new s/he hasn’t darkened to brown; the three bears foraging for rose hips & pine nuts; the elk walking down the street across from the hotel grill; a coyote watching a gopher hole like a cat w/ a mouse; a pocket gopher’s head snaking in & out of its small hole, watching us watching him. Pronghorn in a meadow, a lone male herding his wandering females, echoing the colours of African gazelle cousins. Not to mention all the learning!

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Our guide John citing stats, quoting data, naming packs and individual wolves; so familiar with the park. E.g., I didn’t know that aspen grow (only?) in cleared areas. Or that 64% of the park’s forests are lodgepole pine.. No wonder they’re so concerned about the pine beetle… The new knowledge that marmot hibernate so early (already); that bear look for snow cover for their winter dens (more insulation); that wolves eat 20 or more pounds of meat at once. That ravens can eat enough to clean a carcass — that conspiracy of 35+ ravens, working in tandem with their wolves.

This kind of learning — outside, in the unfiltered Wyoming sunlight, saturated in the sharp fragrance of sagebrush — is the best possible school for awe. And humility. If ravens can play with rambunctious wolf cubs, and partner with their elders, surely I can navigate my own fears and weaknesses….

 

 

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the consequences of our actions ~

An old friend sent me a blog post from the Wall Street Journal today, noting that it was about the restriction of free speech. I’m not sure I agree that it is, or that what is discussed — the decision by several cities to not approve Chick-fil-a franchises — is an abridgement of freedom of speech.

Chick-fil-a may do whatever it likes with its money, obviously. And no one (to my knowledge) is trying to stop that. What is happening is a boycott, an old & honoured way to say “I don’t buy this.” Conservatives have used it to great effect, as well: in Disney boycotts, against various anti-gay TV shows, etc. It’s not a liberal ploy :).

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I don’t agree that the goal is to ‘buffalo voices into silence,’ as the post says, any more than I thought the mothers’ boycott of Penney’s for using Ellen de Generes as a spokesperson was a means of trying to silence Penney’s. The mothers didn’t want to support a company w/ a gay spokesperson. That is absolutely their right.

All we have, as consumers, is the power of our $$. That seems to be the only thing folks listen to these days: money. And the conclusions the blogger, McGurn, draws from the movement to protest various actions — even laws — disquiet me.

Unlike McGurn, I do believe that most (if not all) of the current voter ID laws are racist, designed to drop the numbers of black, brown, and mixed race voters. I’m not the only one to think this, either. As I used to tell my students: don’t believe me; look it up.

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As for attempting to influence laws and legislators? Since when did participatory democracy — trying to influence our representatives to make laws that truly represent our ethics & moral imperatives — become an effort to ‘limit debate’? I want my vote to count, and I don’t want to elect representatives who believe antithetically to me. Unlike capitalism, participatory democracy affects everyone. The laws you, as my duly elected representative, pass will have life-long consequences for all of us. And to pretend that the half of the American public who disagree w/ either presidential candidate don’t exist is, at best, blind. At worst? It’s willful exclusion.

But back to Chick-fil-a: if you want to support anti-gay legislation and spending, that is absolutely your right. As it is mine to take my business elsewhere. There are, however, consequences to your actions.

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It is not trying to change your opinion, or silence your voice, to boycott Chick-fil-a. It IS saying that I disagree strongly with their support of anti-gay groups, and will in no way support those actions. In other words? Your anti-gay actions will cost you. $$.

In addition? When you are part of the hegemony — the majority, the visibly empowered mainstream — your rights rarely (if ever) need protecting. NO ONE is going to profile you — so you don’t need protection from profiling, but my daughter-in-law’s family does, and my cousin Sally’s grandchildren do. And when your religion is the majority, you are free to worship as you like. You are not threatened with violence as a Christian in the US. Muslims & Sikhs? They are. Therefore they need protection, and laws that help maintain the very precious freedom to worship that helped ground the very beginnings of this country. So I will continue to advocate to my representatives for laws that protect my gay niece, my brown daughter-in-law and her family, my cousin Sally’s grandchildren. And all the people like them.

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As a stockholder, it is my RIGHT to protest a company’s policies, should I choose. It isn’t about silence: it’s about my right as an American, as a CAPITALIST, to question where my money goes, and how it’s being used. And as long as media is corporate owned — fewer than 5 companies own the vast majority of American media — I also want to know who’s backing what. ALEC isn’t being ‘dumped,’ in other words — despite McGurn’s protestations; it’s being outed. As the main force in pushing for for-profit charter schools, and trying to buy elections.

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‘Unfashionable views’ are not what’s at risk here. It is the ability to go unchallenged for your beliefs, whatever they are. I will always challenge beliefs — religious or otherwise — that disenfranchise my friends & family. I will always refuse to pay for products that support those beliefs. I don’t see this as politically correct, or silencing the opposition. I see it as a dialogue where all that seems to ‘talk’ is my pocket book.

Do I wish we could talk in a face-to-face, civil conversation? Of course. But right now, money seems my only recourse…

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take one poem & call me in the morning ~

I’ve written recently about how politics is personal for me. So is poetry, but it doesn’t come out the same way. And lately, as I become increasingly aware of the futility of trying to get people to see both sides of an issue, I wonder if I wasn’t right to stick with poetry for so long.

I went in to education not to ‘educate’ but because I love writing. I love poetry & language & books & the places they take me. It turns out I also love teaching, but I didn’t know that when I began. I thought loving literature & writing, and knowing a fair amount about both, was enough. It’s not, just FYI…:) There is so much more to teaching than content knowledge, despite what some ‘reformers’ would like us to believe… Experience, for instance. That’s a huge plus.

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So I’ve come almost full circle, but in that lovely Buddhist spiral that puts you next-to where you began, a kind of new chance… It sometimes is enough just to love poetry, especially if you’re working with older learners. Because enthusiasm is contagious. And perhaps (just a bit) because I write such crappy drafts. :)

When I share a draft w/ colleagues, friends, students (or all of the above!), I’m always well aware it’s beyond imperfect. And I have years of rejection letters, collegial disbelief, and even professorial disdain to recount: “Why would you write this? It’s crap.” And, “Well, this is pretty weird…

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But I still do it. Write, I mean (I also still write crappy first drafts…:)) Because writing saves me from going nuts, I tell anyone who will listen. And poetry more than most kinds of writing, although any will do — even an email! — in a pinch. The reading of poetry also works. Something there is, to invoke that master craftsman Frost, that heals in the form of a poem. When I’m ill, as I was recently, or tense, or grieving, or just bored, poetry is a way to work through it. The reading, the writing, both.

So my prescription for the rest of election cycle? A poem a day — preferably two: one to read for inspiration, and one to write for your beginner’s heart. Try it. I promise it will help…

 

 

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