Summer Ivy

Ah, the fresh green blankets and increased bird and beast activity in the woods:  always delightful as spring leaps into summer. With it, of course, comes that dark cousin to those winsome thoughts: poison ivy.

It’s thriving well running along the ground or starting to climb trees. It’s a familiar devil in my life, having had one (and grateful only one) encounter with it back in 2002. I got it so bad that after two rounds of steroids, which apparently the rash interpreted as an aphrodisiac, I had the nasty stuff over 70% of my body (thankfully, not on the face or on/around “other” delicate bits.

Enter the big guns:  a prescription for a gallon of goopy steroid cream and the instructions:  take an old bedsheet, rip into narrow strips, dunk strips into the goop, then wrap my rash areas up like an Egyptian mummy. Hang around doing nothing and not moving much for two hours or so, twice daily. Ugh.

While inconvenient to say the least, it did kick p.i.’s butt finally. Still, after a week of channeling a bad Hollywood film mummy dressed by an out-of-work costume tech who worked really cheaply, doc gave me a dose of strong-as-they-come steroid pills. I thought afterward that he must have gotten those from a vet since the dosage seemed more appropriate for a moose or  elephant. The one-two punch did the trick, but I was not a pleasant person to be around during that last week of those hormone-mugging steroids.

I do recall when I was removing the old, rotted wood deck behind the house how pretty those ivy vines with the purple flowers were climbing the trees deck wound around. Might as well pull them off while I’m at it. Not quite, but almost, a Darwin Award entry.

Media Off, Nature On

Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense. – Gertrude Stein


No stranger to the siren, healing call of a media blackout, I’ve used this technique countless times to regain my senses. While we practice social distancing (shouldn’t we be calling that “physical distancing” since we’re socially engaging so much online?), perhaps the time’s come for a little media detaching, too.

One’s motivation for shutting off the usual channels is easy to find. I cannot recall a moment in my history when the noise and levels of information and misinformation, of facts and blatantly false truths, of a federal government so intent and addicted to lying to us and following self interests over people’s lives than standing up and, well, leading us out of this nightmare, has screamed “turn it off” as much as now.

Truth is, once unplugged from traditional and most viral forms of news, you’re not really isolated from what’s happening. I used to struggle with the dichotomy of wanting to isolate from external noise and remain informed. Either through email or online research or word of mouth, you’ll hear about what’s important to know, even if the TVs unplugged, the newspaper’s cancelled, you’ve walked away from Facebook and Twitter, and you’re avoiding the Internet’s ground zero for a tug-of-war between good and evil, truth and lies:  Google. Some people can separate the noise from the essence and find the kernels of truth, but I’m not one of those it seems. Or not one who’s willing to invest enough time to dig that deep and prefer to spend my time on other pursuits.

I remember the first time I enacted a media blackout during the 2004 election. After the debacle and theft of the 2000 Presidency, the noise just became too much to endure. I stayed informed during Obama’s run, but in 2016 the nightmare of the election and constant barrage of reasons this candidate was unfit on so many levels to run our country, and a media that seemed to act more like a game show with an agenda to make money than tell it like it was, a media blackout saved my sanity. Sadly, as a long-term NPR listener to that staple of true reporting, I blacked them out too since they also seemed to have gone over to the “news as entertainment” agenda.

The antidote (for me at least) to reverse the impact of media noise where verbal diarrhea and fantasy masquerading as facts abound, is turning to nature. Long walks in nature help tether you to sanity if you stay plugged in, but become restorative in reconnecting to your thoughts and ideas, suffocated and unheard by the flood of news and information from every direction.

No matter what time you get out of bed, go for a walk. The demons hate it when you get out of bed. Demons hate fresh air. – Ingmar Bergman

The one regret in unplugging from media (but can be easily caught up on later) are on the fascinating research and learnings from the science of Covid-19 and the eye-opening reports of how quickly the Earth is reversing human’s damage since global human impact is a fraction of what it was mere months ago. From the clear water in the Venice canals, to the countless sunken wrecks now visible below the surface of Lake Michigan, to how quiet the Earth’s become as surface seismographic sensors are now reporting tremor levels once only gained from sensors buried deep beneath the planet’s surface, it’s an amazing thing to witness. The science is showing our efforts to reduce humanity’s burden on the planet can make an enormous difference. Whether we’ll learn the lesson and civilization adjusts its actions, or we’ll go overboard in returning to (and possibly exceeding) our bad and wasteful ways, only time will tell.

In the meantime, I’ll continue my media blackout (admittedly sometimes more of a grayout) to keep my perspective, sanity, and ability to live each day without fear, while focusing on doing my work. I can, and should, dwell on only things I can control, and listening or watching things I have no control over is not how I want to live each day.

Dream

Free stock photo; sketch filter applied

In my dream, I was walking the familiar wooded paths nearby on a crisp, bright, winter’s day. Yet, something was different.

Being the only one patiently walking these leave-covered trails winding through hardwood trees was nothing new. Not hearing any road noise from nearby highways, however, was new.

Soon I stopped to let my mind wander. I gazed out through the tall standing, hibernating trees, silently awaiting nature’s spring command to “leaf forward.” As I stood there in my thoughts, a large, black crow flew down and landed on a limb near me.

  1. Crow: “Caw. Caw. What are you doing out here, human?”
  2. Me: “I’m walking as I usually do on a beautiful winter morning. What are you doing out here? Hunting for food?”

The sleek, jet black feathered crow hesitated and picked at something in his feathery coat with his big, jet black beak.

  1. Crow: “I flew down to see if my eyes were true: it IS a human walking.”
  2. Me: “Why is that a surprise, crow?”
  3. Crow: “Because there’s none of you left on Earth. Now it’s just nature and natural things, as intended.”

As those words sank in, I was not fearful, but surprised. It explained the absence of the usual noises, plus why I saw no one as I walked through my housing complex on the way to the woods.

  1. Me: “I’m the only one left? How can this be? And how would you even know that?”
  2. Crow: “Caw! Caw! Caw! Because you humans finally did yourselves in for good. The pandemic, so poorly prepared for made even worse by letting people out of homes too soon. Then more got sick and died. Then you stayed inside, then you let more roam too soon. Death, stupidity, death, stupidity. It’s a cycle we nature citizens have watched from you humans for so many millennia. Caw!”

I pondered on the Crow’s wisdom and insight, not wanting to believe it was true. But I could not deny or defend humanity’s poor behavior throughout the centuries and our creative ways to self-destruct and ruin the Earth.

  1. Me: “You may well be right, Crow, but I still have hope. Maybe I’m not the only one left. Maybe others are out there and we can start again, this time knowing how to do things better?”
  2. Crow: “We’ve been watching and knowing it was only a matter of time. If not something like this virus, it would be humans killing humans in senseless, total annihilation war. We wondered which would come first, or if you’d finally destroy nature enough to make the Earth unsurvivable for your kind.
  3. We nature beings are not sad it happened this way. This time, while you tried to protect humans by staying in for long periods, the Earth healed quickly. We thank you for that and leaving us with a clean world to thrive in.”

We both remained silent and unmoving. Soon, with a final, loud “caw” the crow extended wings and slowly ascended into the sky.

Then I woke up.

Pandemic Perambulations

The trek to Trader Joe’s last week felt like going to Disneyland, but instead of Mickey Mouse and Goofy greeting me, gloved workers festooned with decorative face masks happily welcomed me in. Good to get out, drive, take in fresh scenery, and walk through the wonderland of newly stocked shelves loaded with that most privileged and appreciated commodity in these dark times: food.

Compared to daily walks around the complex or in the nearby woods, driving somewhere feels like I’m channeling Steve McQueen as he rides his motorcycle in his escape from the WWII prison camp. He eludes pursuers over hill and dale, but eventually gets caught trying to jump that final fence to freedom. Alas, like McQueen, I also have to return and continue the days ahead in semi-solitary confinement.

These periodic food runs and frequent walks outside the home remind me of things I miss doing and likely took for granted back then. The ability to go out on a whim, explore a museum, or think nothing of driving over an hour to Ohio for that pan of amazing coffee cake were delights I did not fully appreciate then. How could I, when they were anytime, anywhere options? Now it feels like a naughty pleasure to get out, triggering some religion-induced guilt for enjoying it so.

Once outside, I think I must be in a Twilight Zone episode, that one where everything looked normal and in place, except there were no people, anywhere. On some days, walks in the woods feel like I’m the last human on Earth. Except for the distant sound of highway traffic, it’s not a stretch to have those thoughts. But wait…up ahead, someone masked and gloved approaches. So I’m not the last. Soon those thoughts give way to the new, autonomic social distancing dance, once clumsy, but now just is.

My growing list of basic things now grateful for, perhaps not as much as before, finds walking at the top. Rewind back to 2004, my year of back surgery to correct a problem that evolved into being unable to walk without severe pain. After post-surgery recovery, there were still moments when I mentally wrestled with accepting I wouldn’t walk well again, but eventually those thoughts dissipated.

Since then, I’ve always been grateful for my recovered ability to walk freely, possibly that most precious of human abilities that opens doors to so many experiences and enables self-reliance. My love of hiking and walking, it seems, would not be denied and ever since, have been grateful for every step I could take.

“The geographical pilgrimage is the symbolic acting out of an inner journey. The inner journey is the interpolation of the meanings and signs of the outer pilgrimage. One can have one without the other. It is best to have both.” – Thomas Merton

The power to move from here to there, without mechanical conveyance, is a marvel and a lifelong art form. The fluidity of muscles moving in harmony with joints, driven by the lung’s unselfish in- and out-breaths in rhythm with the heart’s life-pump, are as mysterious and amazing as any modern technology.

As I walk and earn that magical moment, what those who jog call “runner’s high,” all cares slip away and only the moment is in focus. The sensory delights of surroundings combine with the meditative and therapeutic value of a good walk completes the experience. Having the capability and opportunity to walk freely during these dark times is my daily taste of freedom…for now.

“An Eskimo custom offers an angry person release by walking the emotion out of his or her system in a straight line across the landscape, the point at which anger is conquered is marked with a stick, bearing witness to the strength or length of the rage.” – Lucy Lippard, “Overlay”

“I stride along with calm, with eyes, with shoes,
with fury, with forgetfulness.”
– Pablo Neruda

Early Mornings in (My) Church

I believe in God, only I spell it nature. – Frank Lloyd Wright

I’ve often felt far more spiritual and connected to that essence each of us attributes to a higher power, or universal spirituality, while being in nature.

I find it nearly impossible not to relax or quiet the mind and break from the noise of the day if I’m immersed in nature. Whether it’s walking a woodland path, wandering along a seashore searching for sand dollars, or trekking up a mountainside and arrive at the top with that breathtaking view, those are my spiritual cathedrals.

This morning’s walk in the woods at dawn provided two delights for the eyes and my spirit: a jet’s orange streak contrail against the sky bursting from the rising sun, and a mist over the pond where geese go about their early morning rituals. Combine the early quietness with walking alone on leave-covered paths, and it’s little wonder this time of day is good for thinking and gratitude.

My most striking connection to the Earth and the spiritual within and without, undoubtedly came from exploring the multi-colored mesas and lands near Abiquiu, New Mexico (see travel post here Mystical New Mexico and here More Mystical New Mexico). I’ve long ago abandoned trying to understand the why of this. Instead, I let myself be quiet as I walk there and connect to and the spirits and generations of those who trod these paths long before me.

In our digital-everything world, it’s too easy to succumb to those digital paths for everything from entertainment to solace. Yet we have, and always have had, an easier, more soul-satisfying way via the woods and deserts of the land. Although with civilizations sprawl, it’s sometimes challenging to get there, even the smallest backyard, a green spot of nature is worthy of an imaginary steeple above it and a place beneath to ponder and reflect.