Sunday, October 23, 2022

Taking a Break


CC Jean Stimmell:  October 2022

  I went to the dump last Saturday, intending to hurry back to finish buttoning up for winter. But instead, overcome with inertia, I decided to play hooky by following a circuitous route home on back roads imprinted on my brain from a lifetime of travel. The past-peak foliage of muted, harmonious colors lured me on, distracting me from the ever-more-exposed tree trunks, stark skeletons of winter to come.

My father always accused me of getting a bad case of "spring fever" each year, that listless, lazy feeling caused by the first warm weather after the long winter's chill. I'm one of the few also prone to "fall fever," triggered by autumn's last warm Indian summer days. I could tell it was happening to me again today.

I stopped by an old familiar pond where Great Blue Herons previously nested in tall dead pines drowned long ago by the rising waters after the beavers built their first dam. I took photos of  cat-o'-nine-tails along the edge, no longer trim and tight-bodied in the prime of youth, now expanded in girth and wrinkled by old age like me – yet still beautiful in their own way, at least to my sympathetic eye.

Russet and I once explored these waters in our kayaks on an enchanted summer day without a breeze or cloud in the sky. We were blissfully gliding along in sublime silence when suddenly a thumping explosion drenched us with water as an enormous beaver torpedoed by, slapping his broad tail – a stern warning we were violating his territory. He was like an apparition from another world, arriving like a bolt out of the blue.

That explosion of water from the beaver's tail startled us like Mother Earth must have been shocked sixty-six million years ago when that massive asteroid struck, the one that wiped out the dinosaurs. Scientists now calculate the impact generated a monster tsunami with waves more than a mile high.”⁠1 

That’s what it felt like to us.




Sunday, October 16, 2022

Despair and Resurrection


CC Jean Stimmell

I know I haven’t written anything lately for the paper. I’ve been going through a gestation process. The changing of the seasons has been a melancholy time for me: chilly mornings and falling leaves, a precursor of wintery times ahead. On top of that, the aches and pains of growing old, coupled with disasters here and around the world, have weighed me down.

The threats we face today have been compared to the four horsemen of the apocalypse—a pandemic, climate catastrophe, nuclear destruction, and the impending destruction of what remains of American democracy.⁠1 Altogether, it’s been a test of my spiritual foundations, such as they are. 

Usually, my spirituality serves me well, putting my faith in Gaia, the Earth is our living mother,  Buddhism and Carl Jung. But lately, I’ve found myself wondering about the difference between faith and trust: Some say there is no difference between the two; others say faith is a spiritual concept, while trust places total confidence in another person.⁠2

I’m most impressed by the story about the famous tightrope walker, the Great Blondin, which is told both in bible classes and A.A. Blondin’s greatest stunt was walking across Niagara Falls on a tightrope pushing a wheelbarrow. “Before he began his wheelbarrow stunt, when he asked the assembled crowd if they believed he could do it, they all roared ‘Yes’. After the stunt when he asked them if anyone would sit in the wheelbarrow as he pushed it along the tightrope, nobody said a word.⁠3

That story says it all. We have to be able to act upon our faith, not just believe it in our heads. There was a time when I would have said ‘Yes’ to the invitation to ride in that wheelbarrow, providing Mother Nature was pushing it. I considered Her to be an unassailable supreme force back then. But now, as climate change is flailing Her flesh ever more deeply, I wonder how long She can last – in the same way I worry if our precious democracy can survive.

That being the case, I’ve retreated to my fallback position: the Buddhist core belief that “we just can’t know.” This exposes a dilemma expressed well in a recent Buddhist publication:“until we know the truth, we live by faith. .. after that we need faith, even more, because not knowing is truth itself.”⁠4 

I believe that’s the Truth. But it sure is scary.

We find ourselves huddled together, pushed along in a rusty old wheelbarrow on a rapidly unraveling tightrope overlooking a world we don’t recognize. All the old signposts that showed us the way are being washed away by thousand-year storms, rearranged by authoritarians,  or chopped down  by angry militants, indignant that their liberty has been infringed.

Who knows what will happen next?

We’ve endured other harrowing times in our history when things looked bleak. By happenstance, this is the hundredth anniversary of when “The Waste Land” by T. S. Elliot was published, perhaps the most influential poem of the 20th century. He wrote it during that distraught span between our first barbaric World War with the second, an even more horrific one, looming on the horizon; we were in the midst of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and the ascension of powerful dictators around the world.

Elliot’s words conveyed a hopelessness that I’m fighting against now:

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow

Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,

You cannot say, or guess, for you know only

A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,

And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,

And the dry stone no sound of water.⁠5

Yet back then, miraculously, despite the odds, we came together and triumphed. And we have it within us do it again if we can muster a common purpose, stop fighting each other, and honor humankind’s greatest asset: our imagination. As Michael Meade, scholar and mythologist, has written: “Although decidedly frail, perpetually foolish, and seemingly about to destroy the whole thing, humans are blessed with an imagination equal to the world and essential to its way  continuing.⁠6  


Setting our imagination free can create a future beyond anything in science fiction, as recently noted by the NYT, reporting on the "mind-blowing" implications of new research into black holes: It suggests we may all be holograms living in a three-dimensional universe. 

Carl Jung would applaud.

“In this version of the cosmos, there is no difference between here and there, cause and effect, inside and outside or perhaps even then and now; household cats can be conjured in empty space.”⁠7 We can all be Dr. Strange,” like the Marvel Comics superhero.

No doubt about it, life is more mysterious – and sacred – than we can ever know.








6 “The World Behind the World” by Michael Mead. 2008. Greenfire Press.   P. 64.