“TO go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me. But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars. The rays that come from those heavenly worlds, will separate between him and what he touches.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson – from Nature
Today a friend shared news of a New-Year’s Day airline commuter crash in Costa Rica. The Corazalito airstrip was near where I once lived, and there are many great memories of that unique little welcome center, complete with thatched-roof ‘reception shack’ with original art on its facade. I’ve experienced those turbulent winds that often announce the change of the seasons, winds that grasp a pilot’s attention as well as the passengers’ attentions. Although I did not know any of the 12 people who died this past week, the news makes me reflect on the shattered lives of the families and loved ones – while reminding us that we only have this moment.
That news put me in a deeper reflective mood than normal, one that prompted this poor attempt to explain what’s been percolating in my psyche over the past few months.
(You have the right to excuse yourself from this reading room; those who choose to hang with me, I hope that the following makes sense…)
Have you ever awakened with a vivid dream still swirling in your mind, yet when you try to recall the details, they slip just out of reach? There are mornings when I remember dreams of people and places I’ve never known, but they seem so very real. Then there are times when I can’t quite recall those details; I go into a deep silence in an attempt to reclaim those fleeting glimpses of the dream world – before merging with the outside world on a new day.
That same concept is now occupying a lot of my wakeful state, yet this time it’s knowing there’s something incubating in my psyche – maybe it’s a new direction for art or for writing – I’m sure it has to do with nature and our planet and our own roles and duties. Maybe it’s searching for the right combination of words or actions that might help stop the desecration of the planet – or maybe it’s a way to be a stronger and more visible activist for what I believe in. I feel like a long-distance runner poised at the starting line. With an out-of-focused gaze toward the future yet with attention to the present, I’m attentive to that not-yet-heard signal that will propel me out of the starting blocks….
The timing of one particular trip while moving was one of the triggers. For fifteen or more minutes of part of the drive, the smoke from random fires of cleared ‘dry forest’ and agriculture land was so thick that I feared that my cough would return. With each kilometer I did not get angry – but it made me sad and slightly hopeless – and I felt a great desire to stop and say to our planet, ‘I am so sorry they are doing this to you.’
Every so often were carcasses of felled trees, cut and roughly stacked by the edge of the road. It was a new icon in the landscape of a countryside I adore, and I pondered, ‘Why is it stacked there?’ About twenty minutes later, as the rural farming areas merged with a little city, I soberly reached clarity: Brick-making ‘factories’ – very rural and primitive methods, which now – after the earthquake – are now in very high demand. The next trip through the area I counted – fourteen in about a half-mile stretch, all burning chunks of what was once the landscape so that my fellow man can rebuild. How can one deny others the right to building materials? Where are the answers? I try not to put those questions in my mind, but hold it all in that neutral embryonic chamber and hope that they incubate into solutions.
Others are altering the landscape to make room for more agriculture, pastures for cattle, or plantations for teak or balsa. Some burn as the easiest solution for cleaning away the past harvest’s debris. Watching the changes, which seem to be accelerating, puts a kink in my gut, and I ponder, ‘Where are the answers/the solutions?’
These are the only times in my life when I have wished to have more money – lots more money – when the oh-so-delicate balance of natural forest is desecrated. I’d try to reclaim those scalped hillsides and replant them with wildlife-nurturing species. I’d buy other tracts to protect them from being destroyed; I’d welcome volunteers who wanted to help restore the balance. I’d bring in gifted teachers, naturalists, whose love for the land is infectious and share that knowledge with the communities. There are many people and organizations doing this, but we need more – lots more – to offset the damage.
A painter told me that nobody could draw a tree without in some sort becoming a tree; or draw a child by studying the outlines of its form merely… but by watching for a time his motions and plays, the painter enters into his nature and can then draw him at every attitude. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
So with a deep concern for our planet, for the rapidly-vanishing species – some in my own back yard, I spend a lot of time as if on a sick-bed vigil for a loved one. I often take my pencil and paper with me, as well as a simple little sharpener, yet the live performances in front of me always capture my interest, and the paper remains untouched. I am sure, however, that these deep interactions with nature are going to produce some powerful work – perhaps from the field or perhaps from studio conditions. Time will tell!
At other times I reach for my favorite books by Thoreau, Emerson, Wade Davis, Alexander Skutch – even technical information about the resident bird species – or I read sections of Journals by Audubon, Muir or other naturalists. I find myself in alignment as well as inspired and encouraged. After savoring their nuggets of wisdom, I allow my mind to go as silent as possible to allow this inner growth to resume.
The illustration below is the result of a previous period of incubation, inspired by Muir’s quote at the bottom.
I ponder writing something – anything – and then pull in my reins – ‘No. don’t get distracted with other things.’
Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
So I spend time in nature; I note the changes as patches of deforestation alter the landscape; I search for the endangered Slaty Becard – and wow, last week spotted a becard tending her nest! The female Slaty looks very much like the female One-colored as well as the Cinnamon Becard.
I laugh at the raucous Chachlacas when they sometimes chant for hours, and I also laugh at the kingfisher when it makes its aerial victory laps to announce that it captured a prize morsel.
And I incubate as more observations are branded in my soul until they arrange and align and prompt a birth of whatever it is that’s trying to find its voice.
Is this how a caterpillar feels just before its metamorphosis, or how a migratory species suddenly knows that it’s time to move – not one day longer?
Stay tuned, as am I.
(If you made it all the way to the end, thank you! And in case you’re wondering, yes, I’ve also been working on art!)
WordPress Challenge – Growth.