Allowing Nature To Impress Its Gargantuan Self Upon My Tiny Mind

Keeping up with the on-goings of the news, the rubber bullets and bruises, the dead bodies and excuses, the anger and swirl of militarized states, the paranoia, seeping like poison, and here I am, taking a moment to speak from a place of ignorance and bliss, preoccupied with unknowing.

We were at a cafe and it happened to be Science Night. There was a lecture on “flat crystals” and it so totally lost me in a labyrinth of carbons and graphenes and the thickness of atoms…

Taking to the forest instead to learn from the trees, staring at the utter enormity of redwoods, the majesty, the trunks swaying, creaking in the wind, groaning with age and laughter. Hundreds of years old, one hundred plus feet in the sky. It wipes the mind clean. For a long, ecstatic moment I’m left questioning, What is politics? What is this election? Running and jumping and climbing, following a creek, a trickle, making our own paths, pushing back ferns, skunk cabbage, ducking under fallen trunks, stopping to appreciate tiny caves, discovering miniature waterfalls.

Why am I seeing dinosaurs in my mind’s eye?

The forest floor, soft and moist and alive. Banana slugs chugging along… Slowly… Mushrooms popping up in plain sight, forever a reminder of villages and families and the underlying connections we have but hardly see.

Taking time to sit on a fallen trunk for a moment’s breath. The sunlight shifting behind trees. Recalling earlier, when we read aloud from a hidden history of paganism and witchcraft. The ravens caw-cawing overhead, unseen, but heard, amidst the denseness of trees.

We were at a Halloween party the night prior and there was so much straight sexuality, it had me wishing for something other, transcending, an element of the spiritual, beyond the binary. A woman walked over holding a basket of thin branches woven into circles. “Look,” she said, “You can change your perception.” She held the woven branches in the air, peering through them as if into another world. She threw them in the fire and invited us to pick one and do the same. “This is Samhain. The new year. Let go of what’s burdening you.” She explained she had surgery on her neck to remove cancer cells, but we couldn’t see the scars because she drew a vine over them to give them new life. The vine covered her face too. “This is my pain,” she said. “And this is my medicine.”

She inspired me to feed the fire. I took scrap wood from the piles and walked around placing each piece on top of the already burning mass. It was piercingly hot. It kept me at bay, but slowly, I grew a rapport with the flames and made my way closer and closer until I felt inside the flicker and burn. It made me feel insignificant like ash, like I’ve been crumbling in transformation, blown indiscriminately by the wind, and returned to the earth. I don’t think I’m alone in this feeling, because currently the social climate of the country is experiencing breakdown and upheaval. Thousands have been taking to the streets, and now thousands are traveling to Standing Rock. To align oneself with the movements is to feel the structures shift beneath your feet, which is indeed returning folks to community action and protecting the earth.

As much as I get wrapped up in the mindset of the zeitgeist, I’m humbled by the world, how much there is to know, how many pathways there are to take, the grand totality of perspectives at play.

When I walk into bookstores, I’m swept away by the thousands of little worlds stacked on shelves, and the knowledge therein, held together by the thinness of pages. When I hop on the internet, I’m in awe of the way people string words together to create so many clashing realities. So many bubbles that build up and eventually burst. Communication is a wonder. And it goes beyond alphabets… Eye contact, art, the brushing of bodies, the touching of minds. When I walk in the woods, I’m dumbfounded by the number of species of flora and fauna I cannot identify. All I can do is stare at the mystery. And study. And study. No wonder the earth is said to be Goddess. She is both exhilarating and terrifying in sheer complexity.

It happens often when stepping out & into the world: To know so little, but to see so much.

When I was in Valparaiso, Chile a few years back, I had the chance to witness & participate in some of the protesting happening there. It was wonderfully rampant. It took over the streets like morning glories take over an empty lot. When I saw the huge numbers of people marching on a weekly basis, from professors to students to shopkeepers to your average citizen young & old, or walking around seeing chairs thrown in the doorways of schools to protest for free public education, or people creating beautiful graffiti murals midday or simply tagging the wall “policia sucia,” or the organized pillow fights in the middle of an empty square, I felt as though I was amidst a widespread culture of protest.

Yes, I was an outsider looking in, but the spirit swept me up. It was all so joyous & empowering.

On any given night I could hear people jamming, singing, clapping long into the sunrise, and when morning woke, the workers who drove through the winding, hilly streets to pick up empty propane tanks would bang a little rhythm that echoed pang pang pangity pang. It put a smile on my face. The liveliness was ripe. I couldn’t help but join in the marches &, of course, dig my hands into the dirt.

I find I am forever digging in the earth.

I started a couple plants from seed, and before we left, planted them on the side of a hill where people had occupied the abandoned land. (After we left, I had the chance to build a garden for a woman in Argentina. She owned a restaurant & fed us so much tasty food in exchange. Gardening has been a constant in my adult life, & for one reason or another, only now am I really starting to share that).

That was all 5 about years ago.

As I sit here now, reflecting, sitting in the community garden, taking in the growth of plants, thinking about the past few years living in & around Philadelphia, I can’t help but feel a similar coalescing of culture. Protesting has become so widespread, from the streets to the prisons to the sports arena to the sacred land of Native people, it’s difficult not to feel like we are living amidst a massive uprising.

People are congregating in so many ways.

I remember being at Occupy Oakland a few years back & someone gave me a pamphlet that read at the top in bold letters, THE JOY OF REVOLUTION. The theme of the pamphlet stuck with me. It was so simple. It read like this, “There are a number of righteous causes to take up, and we should give our time to that which our hearts are called, & never forget, the sheer happiness that exists alongside these troubling times. Rebellion in the face of oppression comes in many forms. When the spirit can rise up & laugh & dance & sing, remember that, remember you are alive.”

Travel Log: Day ??

We wound up in Pagosa Springs, a small city situated in the heights of the Rockies. 

When we first arrived, we wandered around and happened upon a group of bath houses and inns. Two women were coming out of one, walking down the steps & chatting briskly. “Well, that’s not really a hot spring.” “What do you mean? The water was warm enough.” “It wasn’t a spring, it was a bath house.” Meanwhile, standing at the entrance of one establishment, a man twirled his mustache, and with a sly grin, counted his money. It was feverish and maniacal… 

Honestly, I’m not sure if it happened exactly like that. I may be embellishing from the heat or the high. Maybe too many dusty roads.

“What are we doing here?” Paige and I asked ourselves. “Let’s get out of here.”

We found a place with live music, ate our meal, and on a whim, decided to stay at a motel instead of camping out. We welcomed a comfortable bed and the short walk to the springs in the morning.

We woke with the rising sun and sleepily made our way to the middle of town. Along the way, we crossed paths with a vagabond. He carried a hiking stick and laughed at a nearby dumpster overturned, of which, nothing fell out besides a crumpled piece of paper. Apparently, when no one is looking, curious bears wander the city and create all kinds of mischief. To avoid unnecessary cleanup, businesses strap their dumpsters shut. “Folks sure been talking a lot about bears!” exclaimed the vagabond.

We made it to the creek, scampering like little critters excited to jump in the water. A number of people fished, but other than that, no one occupied the pools. 

I’m not sure who constructed them, whether travelers or public works or groups of volunteers, but the pools were made of small rocks & big rocks arranged in circles along the creek. It felt like an oasis. It was hard to believe we didn’t have to pay a single dime for the experience, nor was a permit required. Because, America. It felt strangely real, like hyper-real; the creek was pure and natural yet very much influenced by humans. There was a tent pitched right on the banks too. 

We soaked for a while, dipping into the creek when the heat became too much, then back again when we became too cold. Although the water was incredibly clear and refreshing, it stunk to the high hells of sulphur. Without us noticing, the smell disappeared, replaced by the sweetness of dawn.

When Memories Supersede Landscapes

As we long haul it across the country, I’m reminded of a man I met on a bus maybe 3 years ago. We met in Atlanta.

He was an educated man. In his late 50s. He was interested in poetry and philosophy. I can’t remember if he was a lawyer, a real estate agent, or a psychologist. Regardless, we talked about everything from consciousness to entropy. The way the world is simultaneously falling apart and evolving. He told me about his passion for collecting tribal art and his interest in drum circles and spirit animals. He was a bear. He looked like one. He told me about his grandmother and the Native American blood running through his veins.

After chatting for a short time, he came around to telling me he had just gotten out of jail. He kind of slipped it in there. I guess he wasn’t sure how I would take it. On the one hand, I wasn’t surprised. It’s a strange thing that happens to me. I don’t know why, but it’s not the first, second, or third person I met on a bus or a train who had just been released from jail. Often times, the characters are rough, rambling, and unapologetic. One guy I talked with told me he was more or less a lifer. I asked him what he meant by that, and he said, pointing at his watch, earrings, and tattoos, “I like expensive things. I like to dress good and eat good. I love to party. I make easy money, and sooner or later, I get picked up, spend 3-5 in the pen, get out and live it up until I’m back in again.” He had a gleam in his eye, a kind of cackling madness. He lived side-by-side with danger and didn’t give a shit about death. It made me smile.

But the man I was riding with from Atlanta, he was different. He wasn’t a jailbird. He was completely broken. His skin was flaky and dry. His arms were full of sores. His eyes, heavy with bags. He described the terrible conditions he experienced- the hard plank of a bed, sleepless nights, the meager portions of fake, processed meals, the lack of sunlight & cramped space, “And to think, I was only there for two weeks! I’m just grateful to be out. The one guard felt bad for me and started slipping me some of his food.”

He split with his wife about a year prior. She was full of spite and bent on making his life a living hell. She took all his money, all his possessions, and remarried very soon after their official divorce. As a kicker, and because she had high-power friends, he was thrown behind bars. After all that, he was left with a duffle bag that he clutched close to his body, as if it was the only thing protecting him and his heart from final ruin.

I wanted to lean over and give him a hug, but didn’t. I imagined how awkward it would be reaching over to him in our cramped little seats on the bus. Instead, we continued to talk. He was still wearing the spare clothes he was given in jail: a raggedy white t-shirt and grey sweatpants. His eyes were bloodshot. They looked perpetually on the verge of tears.

He told me his plans. He was going to stay with his daughter in Texas. “She and her husband need help fixing things around the house. Fences, doors, a shed out back. And now I can spend time with my granddaughter. I have the chance to watch her grow, to tell her stories, and even teach her grandfatherly things…” He paused, and looked off for a moment, “You know, it’s odd. I feel light. Like there’s a new beginning. I have nothing really except my family.”

I didn’t know what to say right away, so I just looked at him. I could see weight slowly lift from his weary body. He came out of his self-reflection and asked me about my life. I told him I was a writer. I shared some of my work with him, and read for a while before returning to conversation.

“How old are you?” he asked. “25.” “So young. A rambling poet just wandering the country. Talking to people along the way and writing stories. Folks like you still exist, huh… Where are you going?” “To Dallas for a full moon celebration.” “Go on…” I related more of my story, how I traveled from South America to Philly to Central America to Oakland to Colorado, Chicago…

“I don’t how it happened. I just tapped into something. Got lucky. Struck gold. Met great people. And kept on creating. I feel like it’s happening to a lot of us. I mean, everyone’s experiencing it differently, you know, the zeitgeist. The apocalypse. This grand transformation of life is occurring, whether we’re forced into it by outside circumstances or maybe we accept it willingly and engage it.”

He looked at me with one of those questioning looks people give me when I slip into ideas like that. Then a kind of half smile breached his lips. “Yeah, I get it. Consciousness is evolving whether we like it or not.”