Artful Land Care

Posts Tagged ‘Relationship’

To Be Better Than We Are

In Landscape, Reflections, Theology on September 29, 2019 at 12:32 pm

“It is not from ourselves that we will learn to be better than we are.”
Wendell Berry

The canyon was tuff.  Sometime ago, long before my memory or that of my parents, a volcano erupted and spread ash across this New Mexican landscape.  When the hottest of ash returns to land it welds itself to one another and creates welded tuff rock.  Over time, the not so hot ash slowly compacts itself into consolidated tuff rock.

We walked the sand wash upstream to the mouth of the canyon.  Unlike the wide open sage canyons of our youth, this canyon is no more than forty or fifty feet wide at the mouth.  Unremarkable, Belinda and I walk past the mouth’s vegetative slopes.

A good stone’s throw up canyon it narrowed.  The slopes lost their laid-back lean in favor of a more vertical nature.  Favoring terminology of wall rather than slope the canyon walls narrowed as we walked.  When the wash was little more than two or three feet wide and the walls closed in overhead, the canyon had lost any feel of what I think of as canyon.  But then that feeling was of another land culture.  The people of this landscape, though, add a descriptor to this canyon ground: slot.  Slot canyon fits well for the walls become so steep, so vertical, few plants find even the smallest of a perch to settle upon and live.  And should a seed make its way to some mid-wall ledge, the chance of enough rain finding its way between the walls to afford the seed a chance toward bringing for the life within is small.

The canyon walls of ancient tuff are of consolidation type rather than weld.  It’s nature is similar to that of the sandstone outcroppings found in my youthful canyons.  Like that sandstone, the toughness of this tuff rock is that which can be whittled away by rubbing a good stick against it.

The wash swings to the right and as we come around the canyon widens, for a moment.  Off center the wash stands a fir tree.  Maybe sixty or seventy feet tall.  It had somehow been birthed in this canyon; somehow had tenaciously held its ground in its youth; somehow had thrown deep and meaningful roots into the tuff to become what was before us.  A feat of life?  A natural life?  Or little more than the nature of sacred existing between tree and tuff and the water who made this canyon—who evaporated and returned another day to nourish the seedling in times past.

In those past times rains collected on upstream slick rock.  Rushing downstream, the water, with a tenacity only water knows, encouraged tuff to loosen, break from its rock brethren, and settle in the wash bed who now mimics our boot soles. The tree who grabbed hold of this landscape, made it hers, grown and lived and birthed untold cones who were washed downstream to make their own attempt at creating tree-life, now stood tall with roots exposed where one with hardly a slouch could walk beneath and know something of care, grandeur, and the sacred.

To sit in this place is to sit within sacrament.  The blue sky eases its way into the canyon, blessing the tree, the walls, and the tuff sand wash.  The tuff walls accept the lightest of sounds as its own; hallowing a silence where the gift of breath itself is revered.  To sit still, moment upon moment, is to allow the place to become something of what it would be without our intrusion.

A lizard moves in stop and run spurts clinging to the canyon wall.  A small stone, no larger than a piece of sand dislodges and falls to the wash floor.  A bird arrives and settles into the tree.  Soundless at first it moves from branch to branch.  Then stops.  Chirps. The sound is sharp and clear. But the walls allow no feedback.  However, the sound moves down slot.  For moments later multiple chirps arrive from below.  Chirps are given up and down canyon, the place settles, knows their voices, and their hymn consecrates place.

Ditch Bank

In Landscape, Seasons on March 21, 2019 at 7:02 am

 

My experience of spring seldom has much to do with the vernal equinox.  Most years the landscape has warmed to spring well ahead of the equinox.  Others afterwards.  Seldom does the feel of landscape match the relationship between sun and earth.  Not so this year.

The snow melt-off has begun.  Spring grass may be long off but sinew of arms and legs feel the green lying in the ground.  I give thought to folk still residing in the clutches of sub-zero weather and snow, but it slips away as fast as I slip on ice hiding below the melting slush.  Unstable footing is life for the next few weeks as slush turns to the ground below to miserably cold mud.  Mud that clutches boot just long enough for either the foot to slip out or the body to lose balance.  Either way, mud becomes intimate sooner or later.  No reason to complain though.  Just a few days ago it seemed winter had a good mind to hang on through spring’s season—leave spring out in the cold—and meet summer for the first time.  Sun had a different opinion and I am happier for it.

East-west ditch banks know this lingering transition of winter and spring better than anyone. The sun and earths relation may be in equinox, but ditch banks in this landscape know the sun’s mid-day run lingers to the southern horizon.  The north ditch bank who faces the sun knows it well and welcomes its heat.  Soon a sliver of ground breaks through the snow. As that bit of dirt warms the sliver spreads and soon the north ditch bank is clear.  The southern bank who faces north tells a very different story. Sunlight leans over its back on its way to the northern bank without so much as a hello.  Lying in its own shadow the southern bank looks to the north with an icy stare.

A natural truth resides in the east and west ditch bank relationship.  They are sister and brother of their home ditch.  They are birthed of one dirt.  They have the same spring water running past their shoulders. Yet in this season they are treated differently.  They experience two different worlds.  Associated life is similar.  North bank worms know warming spring ground while southern worms continue to live in winters grasp.

A thing or two from east-west ditch banks.  We are birthed of one landscape, one valley, one continent, one earth, one creation.  We carry the same imagination, same inhibitions, same fears, same sanctity.  Contrary to what many of us would like to think, nothing sets one human apart from another, except the ditch-bank.  In our raising we find ourselves on two sides of one ridgeline, two sides of one track, different sides of one city, experiencing sun and shade, wet and dry and wet, hope and despair similarly but differently.  Little wonder our culture is different from our kin’s just across the way.

Ditch banks may be no more than dirt, but on this spring day they help us recognize folk who think and act differently than ourselves as kin. For after all, each of us are little more than walking dirt of the ditch-bank.

Standing Rock 2018

In YCM on June 17, 2018 at 11:37 am

A twenty-hour drive and I am back home on a sunny and clear Sunday morning.  Such a drive allows much time for reflection.  The last few weeks of visiting reservations of this ancient land, having many conversations, and living with young adults on the Standing Rock reservation gives one much to ponder.  Just the same, I spent as much of that driving time listening to TED Talk’s and music than I did pondering the past.  So, on this sunny Sunday morning, as I write this last piece on the Standing Rock trip, I settle upon one image of these last weeks.

Four mares stand in a temporary corral. They each descend from a particular time in the life of the Hunkpapa Lakota people.  Specifically under the leadership of Sitting Bull.  The story told is about Sitting Bull and a number of folk going to Canada after the Battle of Little Bighorn for safety.  They live there for a number of years.  During that time US representatives visited five times to negotiate their return to the US.  After the fifth time Sitting Bull and the people agree to return—under specific conditions and agreements.  When they returned their horses were taken from them and they confined to place—not the conditions and place agreed to.  The four mares standing in the corral before me are decedents of the Sitting Bull horses taken on that day. Read the rest of this entry »

Craned Neck

In Animals, Landscape on April 29, 2018 at 10:00 am

A warbling trumpet sound wanders across the valley.  Must be mid-March for the sound can only mean the Sandhill Crane has returned.  Having left the warmth of the south for northern places, the valley provides rest and food and thoughtfulness.

The arrival of the crane means it is time for spring tilling.  Scattered tractor engines belch black smoke after their winter idleness.  Then settle into smokeless back and forth movement across fields.  Few in number this early in the season means the sound of a single tractor working the hop field a mile to the north can be distinguished from one disking a cornfield half mile to the east.  Over the low growl of engines, a sound without equal encourages eyes to wander the sky.

Two factors work against your first glimpse of spring cranes.  Their trumpet sound is heard for miles and by the time you hear it they’ve traveled a good stone’s throw from where they spoke.  Then, the March sky is the gray of rain.  Delineating between their gray bodies and the undulating grays of clouds takes persistence.  However, the payoff is worth persistence and close listening.

A first spring sighting of a Sandhill Crane flock is a view one hopes will linger into that era after life is lived. Their over-reaching wingspans slipping across the sky is something of the ancient.  And as a flight of dozens glide through the valley as if they are floating upon unseen swales, one experiences a gift.  Of the ages.

Twenty-three settle upon the north end of the west pasture.  It’s the first week of April.  As soon as they land they point their bills south and begin feeding.  Guards with long necks, regally straight, walk with an eye toward the strange and predator.  Others feed. Soon there is a a changing of the guards.  Guarders drop necks to feed and feeders rise to guard.  The constant change from guard to feeder to guard is a communal act of safety, family survival, and natural relationship.

The eating Sandhill walk is as graceful as it is odd. Leaning forward over ridiculously long legs with backward knees seems it should come across as awkward.  However, the lean comes with the long neck bent into a double U, one U upward the other downward—not unlike the p-trap under the kitchen sink—which gives the observer a natural sense of balance.  This stance also places their bill perpendicular to the ground.  Ready for feeding.

Step by step they feed across the field.
Without sound.

A tractor a few miles to the west fires up.

Breakfast 19

In Reflections on March 11, 2018 at 10:00 am

 

Breakfast 19    1 single Pancake                       $1.69

Why the small s in single?  All the other words are capitalized.  Too many reasons come to mind.  The reservation adds a few more.  I wonder how many are racist thoughts of a white guy.  How are small s reservation victimization truths and genocidal realities?

Might small s speak of winter sunrise wonder and truth of red orange reflection off valley cloud belly’s?  Or the car I passed an hour ago whose morning driver weaved from lack of sleep or alcohol or meth?  Or rabbits who ran right, left, right, right in front of my pre-sunrise headlight glare?

I’m cheap.  I bought coffee an hour ago.  I’ve moseyed to the counter and asked for a refill three times.  The small s single pancake is the cheapest item on the menu—on the wall above the clerk’s head.  Does the small s receipt speak to too embarrassed to ask for another refill?  Or hunger.  Or the relishing of a sorta hot pancake with a smack in the middle non-melting hard butter square slathered in cold syrup as sun breaks the horizon on the other side of restaurant window?

I sit.  I wait.  On Breakfast 19.

 

The Dark of Being Them

In Peace & Justice on December 11, 2017 at 9:19 am

6:15 in the morning and it is winter dark.  The calendar say autumn, but autumn left the landscape weeks ago.  Was it summer “outside,” work would have commenced an hour ago. Visioning of lighted mornings is lost in this dark of near solstice.  Dark thinking replaces visioning on these unlighted mornings.  Thoughts of vindictiveness, “I told you so,” and the brutality—I try hard to hide—bubble up like the foul gasses of childhoods landlocked ponds.

The downfall of so many in so little time: Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Al Franken, Kevin Spacey.  The list goes on.  To place a name at the top of the list is impossible.  The tearing of women’s bodies, emotions, intellect, spirit has gone on so long no one remembers the first.  One might choose an ancient event, such as David and his rape of Bathsheba.  Or one go with modernity and the boastful recording of sexual violence of one, whom like David, so many preferred to lead a nation.  And in the midst of so much, who would be surprised—after having presidential support hung him like a medal of honor—if normal, everyday, Alabama folk elected Roy Moore to office tomorrow?

**** Read the rest of this entry »

Broken Egg

In Poetry on July 31, 2016 at 8:00 am

160731

stillness in morning hatch
and off-stage mother calls
audience not to notice

 

Tavern’s and Beer

In Reflections on July 10, 2016 at 5:38 pm

160710

July 10, 2016

I sat across the table from a social worker as she told her story.  She had been at a nursing home early that afternoon.

“I spoke to the sister of the woman who is living in the nursing home.  She told me her sister was a little agitated this day and wanted to get out of bed.”  (Her sister had dementia in addition to an illness she was no longer fighting.).

“As we talked her sister was trying to get out of bed again.  She turned to me and said, ‘would you watch her for a minute while I go get the nurse?’  Sure, I said.”

“As she walked out of the room I asked, ‘why do you want to get out of bed?  Where are you planning to go?’  She said, ‘to the Tavern.’  About that time her sister returned with the nurse.  ‘Why do you want to go to the Tavern?’ I asked.  ‘To get a drink.’”

“The nurse smiled and said, ‘no problem.’  I finished my conversation with them and left, oh, maybe twenty minutes later.  A few hours later, I called to see how things went after I left.  The patient’s sister said, ‘very well.  Not long after you left the nurse went to the store, bought a beer, brought it back, and give it to my sister.  She LOVED it!’  That was all she needed, to be heard and to have a beer!”

Paying close attention to the landscape speaks to the need to accept there is much to hear, even when socially developed sensibilities say there is nothing to hear. You might say the songbird’s song is often more than a song.

The same holds for our human kin whom seem to live on the other side of what society might think of as presence.  The other sided is seldom what it appears.  Often there is a fullness of life even when it seems not.  For the spirit of this existence is rich, even in the hardness of an individual not seeming to be who they were yesterday.  Knowing such richness is accepting the change of life from the cognizant to dementia is as valuable and meaningful as a toddler moving from single words to full sentences.  While it is certainly a struggle, at times, to be present with kin who live on the other side of what was yesterday’s normal, great joy is possible in the simple act of hearing and having a beer.

Sage Steppe Fence Post

In Poetry on June 26, 2016 at 8:00 am

160626

sentinel of sage and
cow, knows not fire
destruction, rather metamorphic wisdom

Red Insulator

In Chores, Landscape on June 19, 2016 at 8:57 am

160619

June 19, 2016 

Land identification does not change easily in rural landscapes.  When a farm, ranch, or corner store passes hands, folk continue to identify it in the name of the previous owner years beyond the exchange.

Ray’s place became part of the farm a few years ago.  The passing of land and its being used differently meant some fence lines would need to come down and other go up.  However, I found knowing my neighbor well, meant I felt out of place any time I was on soil that once was his.  Because of that, I’ve waited to remove and construct fences.  Eventually, however, the time came to get the work done.

H-braces hold fence lines taut and are the first features built.  Theses went up in the early spring.  A month later T-posts were driven and then wire stretched.  The fence is a five wire fence.  The top two wires are barbwire, the next is electric fence wire, the fourth barb, and the bottom electric.  The pattern works well for a cow and goat operation.  The barbwire keeps cows in place and the goats, who duck through the barbwire easily enough, are stopped by the electric wire.

Wire clips hold the barbwire to the fence posts.  Insulators hold the electric wire to the same posts.  I had a number of insulators on hand from pulling them off old posts; some from the farm and others from Ray’s place.

When working a neighbors place you are acutely aware they are never quite gone.  That has a lot to do with why locals call places by the last owner’s name—even if it has been decades since they last lived there, and why local folk know the land being fenced as the old Brown place.  Fair enough, the working sweat and blood of those people are embedded in the soil they lived and worked on all those years.  One does not need be the best listener in the world to hear those voices of work long after they have left the land. Read the rest of this entry »