Tag Archives: paying attention

Yosemite in summer…

… is not something I’d really recommend.

It is the Disneyland of Nature, at least down in the valley, where it parodies itself (the Yosemite that once might have existed): You can go to the gift shops to buy postcards of the scenes you can’t see because you’re in your car, stuck in traffic, unable to park and get out and being yelled at by the park “ranger” who’s mad that she’s really a traffic cop.

When you do finally get out, there are fences with signs posted about how there’s restoration going on and ‘please don’t enter this area.’ The subtext of course is that there have been too many people entering the area and now it has to be “restored” to some “more natural” or “more pristine” state. My guess is that those areas will never be reopened. They would just get trampled and trashed.

I’m conflicted between a desire for experiencing that pristine state and recognizing that humans are part of New Yosemite’s ecosystem. We’ve essentially overrun it, but we’re part of it. As are our cars, our waste, our noise. THAT is Yosemite.

I tried to find a way to have a suitably reverent state of mind. It is awe-inspiring, those sheer cliffs rising above you and framing the sky or the vista encompassing massifs and vast horizon, forest and falls. I was selective about the photos I took – they’re distinctly NOT pictures of the crowds on the handrail-lined trail, of the milling about in the gift shop (or of the gift shops at all), of the heat shimmering off the lined-up roofs of cars. Those photos would have been more honest, though.

the honest picture

I think I have a very unpopular opinion – that maybe it’s inappropriate to make it accessible to all (from the comfort of an air-conditioned gas-guzzler). Maybe such grandeur deserves to be met after some amount of effort on our part (not just handed to us after purchase), after, even, some degree of struggle following which we are grateful for the beauty and the wonder instead of just expectant that it’ll appear around the road’s next bend.

Also, my opinion reveals my hypocrisy. I’m thinking of driving there in the fall, so that my limited-mobility dad, who, by the way, is obsessed with our driving culture (the irony does not escape me) can see it. So, I won’t be trekking in or through Yosemite, or backwoods camping or climbing Gary-Snyder-like into a fire lookout to end up formulating an environmental ethic or a novel or great works of poetry infused with the spirit of place. Instead I’ll be one-eye on the road, one on the hunt for the next bathroom  or picnic-lunch spot or vista.

I’ll be wishing for contact with something that’s just out of sight.

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and, as if the intrusion of automobiles and the extending of infrastructure into the region didn’t provide enough catalyst for change, there’s evidence that the forests themselves are changing and drastically. Drought, climate fluctuations, and concomitant stress and weakness leading to pest infestations are taking their toll. It’s a whole new world.

image credits: Wendy Smyer Yu

World Building: Ambassador to the Soil Magicians

Sometimes I think I want to do the impossible here on Wander-Bird: try to tie in all my disparate interests and reveal the common thread that I follow intuitively.

For example, I write stories and I’m a plant geek and apprentice permaculture designer. It seems it would be hard to write a post that would tie those things together, right? Unless I wanted to set a murder mystery in a botanical garden (hmm, maybe that’s a good idea!). I think I figured out from the following video, though, that both interests are fundamentally world building. I’ll be darned, I never saw that coming!

I’ve learned in writing (with the help of the How to Think Sideways course), that the answers to story problems are usually in plain sight and just require training the unconscious mind to actually SEE what’s been observed. As I work on becoming a better writer, I’m still learning to stick to the trail of the story. When I lose it, I find I have to “feel” around the work and let what I’ve observed about it settle in my awareness, letting it percolate at the edges and then -*pop*- up comes an idea for a solution.

The same kind of method is a fundamental part of permaculture design – long observation forms the basis of eventual understanding of the patterns nature uses to generate life in all sorts of situations. It ought to be self-apparent that learning from and emulating nature will always be a good strategy, but since we’re a kind of slow-to-learn-species, I’m glad there are “ambassadors” reaching out with the things they’ve learned (whether about writing or designing communities). I have a lot of respect for those who are willing to stand at the edges of disciplines or established ways of doing and understanding things and try something new. For example, Paul Stamets is a mycologist who, through deep respect for fungal life forms, has explored ways to partner with them to repair damaged land by promoting healthy soil biology.

That’s already pretty fabulous!

But he takes it to another level in his recent research. I don’t think he’s projecting a fantasy world, but it does rely on imagination. Without an observation-fueled imagination, he wouldn’t have figured out a possible way to keep bees healthy in this era of catastrophic collapse.

Check out the video, it’s pretty cool stuff – and he actually does refer to the fungi as soil magicians! :)

*all my links to Holly Lisle's classes and workshops are affiliate links meaning that I make a commission on purchases made through my links at no additional cost to you.

beauty is participatory

“People argue about beauty. Is it in the eye of the beholder or is it a property of the beholden? From a relational perspective, the question is clearly dualistic, cast in either/or terms. If there is an answer, it is clearly both. Beauty is in the thing seen, and we grant beauty, making that with which we identify, in some resonant way, beautiful. Beauty is the experience of a shared vibration resonating between the thing seen and the one who sees … Beauty, then, might best be named in terms of resonance, a vibration that moves us, that makes us see and do differently. We bow, cry, or give thanks. We want more and soften in order to get it. We participate. Beauty becomes a call for engagement.”

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*text from: Sewall, Laura. Sight and Sensibility: the Ecopsychology of Perception.

Earthlings

In case you need evidence that we’re inherently suited to being on this planet here are some videos to remind us of the beauty, grace, and strength a human on earth is capable of.

William Trubridge – Freediver from The Avant/Garde Diaries on Vimeo.

Some months ago I read this article on the New York Times Magazine website. Like nearly everyone else who comes across the details of Kilian Jornet’s accomplishments, I was astounded and wildly impressed. I’m not particularly athletic and have never been a runner so to hear about Jornet running up mountains was already amazing enough.

I read with some degree of detachment, though,  thinking that Jornet was another example of the kind of mindset that causes people to want to “conquer” mountains. Statements like, “Jornet has won dozens of mountain footraces up to 100 miles in length and six world titles in Skyrunning, a series of races of varying distances­ held on billy-goat terrain” and “ On summer mornings he will set off from his apartment door at the foot of Mont Blanc and run nearly two and a half vertical miles up to Europe’s roof — over cracked glaciers, past Gore-Tex’d climbers, into the thin air at 15,781 feet — and back home again in less than seven hours, a trip that mountaineers can spend days to complete,” seemed to reinforce that.

As I continued with the article, though, I found details that made Jornet more interesting to me, beyond what his physical accomplishments inspired. My initial suspicion was replaced with respect when I came across descriptions like this, “His parents tried to instill a sense of humility and a deep feeling for the landscape. “Por las noches we walk out to the wood, the forest, without lamp,” Burgada [Jornet’s mother] says, describing how she sometimes took Jornet and his sister, Naila, a year and a half younger (and today also a SkiMo racer), out barefoot into the night dressed only in pajamas. Listen to the forest, their mother told them. Feel the direction of the wind against your cheeks, the way the pebbles change underfoot. Then she made her children lead the way home in the darkness. “All this,” she says, “to feel the passion of the nature.”

The article continues,

And this gets to the heart of Jornet’s talent. Observers and competitors describe him as someone who draws endurance and vitality, Samson-like, from being among high peaks. Runners who have served as pacesetters for him have told me with amazement how, when he was midrace at Lake Tahoe, Jornet didn’t run with his head down in focused misery but instead brushed the hairgrass and corn lily that grew along the trail with his fingertips and brought the smell to his nose, as if he were feeding off the scenery. Sometimes in his all-day solitary runs, stopping only to eat berries, he can seem half-feral, more mountain goat than human. He likes to move fast and touch rock and feel wild, he told me; he feels most at ease and performs best when wrapped by the silence and beauty of the mountains. He can’t abide cities for more than a few hours. The sea — its unrelenting horizontality — scares him. Leading long races like Western States, he’s been known to stop and exclaim at a sunrise, or wait for friends to catch up so he can enjoy the mountains with them instead of furthering his lead. “It’s almost insulting,” Krupicka told me. But it’s just Kilian being Kilian, Krupicka said. “He’s not rubbing it in anyone’s face. He’s truly enjoying being out there in the mountains, and he’s expressing that.”

I would love to see/read/hear Jornet’s own take on his experience, but maybe that’s best exemplified by his physical presence. The list of accomplishments is secondary in a way (at least to me) except insofar as they give a clue to the kind of connection he’s learned to cultivate and nurture through physical relation to and being truly embodied in a place.

More than once during my visit, Jornet compared the mountains to a lover. To really know a deep love, you have to give yourself completely to another, he told me, which means making yourself vulnerable.

kilian-jornet

Wandering. Aimless or Inspired?

Superficial Dimensionality - by Dan Kuzmenka

As a tracker of my mind’s wanderings, I’ve long carried the assumption that I’m a flighty sort, easily distracted but harboring the idea that I ought to buckle down to something; that doing so would be better. Though better WHAT, I’ve not been able to answer. This thought has teased me incessantly – that in order to feel fulfilled I must accomplish something.

In part because we’re taught early on that we can grow up to be anything (translate: you must grow up to be something), I always thought there was something unmanageable about my utter disregard for following one path to its logical end.

The logical end, of course is The End, and as that’s the case, perhaps it’s better to make the most of the trip. If it’s going to include a lot of odd side-trips, then so be it. But this devil-may-care attitude about my tendency to be “distracted” isn’t my de facto state. In fact I waffle a lot on whether or not I’m just unfocused and kind of lost.

Usually I harbor a kind of worry at the back of my mind that I’m not paying the right attention to whatever it is I’m SUPPOSED to be paying attention to. That I’m diffused and aimless and won’t amount to “much.”

In an effort to sort out judgments from characteristics, excuses from attempts to be optimally functional, I spend far too much time obsessing about what exactly is going on in my head.

Part of the process involves some map making, finding out that there are certain landmarks to the terrain of paying attention.

For example, there are moment-to-moment “distractions,” the kinds of things that make my mind wander away from something  I’m doing right as I’m doing it – something Robert at The Solitary Walker talked about the other day. There are day-to-day ones, the kind that derail a day’s plans with other urgent matters – or that postpone dinner because the mail was delivered; and ones that force-quit the projects of months with a new direction that seems more relevant to the trajectory that has taken priority.

I’m learning to take this in stride, as something my mind might require for happy functioning, though I’m trying to balance that notion with an awareness that it’s also possible to be easily waylaid by stalling. Accepting that I am attentive to many things and require maintenance of a high degree of mental stimulation (which equates with a limited tolerance of self-defined boredom) has a benefit of simply removing “one more thing to stress about” from my mental space.

Is it better to accept one’s “flaky” nature and benefit by no longer stressing about it? Is it even flaky to be an explorer?

Consider Curtis Hillman’s take on it. “He once explained his penchant for reinventing himself in an interview. “I originally went to school for creative writing and film,” he said. “I then spent 10 years pursuing music, and, after failing at that, I did various random jobs. I got into design out of desperation — I didn’t want to wait tables or pound nails.””

Does trying new things, following one’s interests encourage unfinished business?  Isn’t that one of the fundamentals of trying to understand one’s life while engaged in the midst of it?  A lack of perspective makes it hard to view the trajectory.

One image that I thought was appropriate in this case is of an object in space that orbits more than one central point.

In similar fashion I tend to gravitate to subjects and projects that are within the pull of certain connected topics. This explains why I got caught up in the notion of an object with multiple orbits and tried to find a nice graphic to accompany the image, read up on the physics of orbits and browsed physics and astronomy sites to find one.

I didn’t have any luck and I’m not sure if that means I just didn’t look in the right places or if that’s an unrealistic metaphor. But it sent me off on a wild-image chase BECAUSE cosmology/astronomy is one of the central bodies I periodically swing past on my way to and from others. Anyway, the notion of strange orbits and the many models of orbit patterns I found are certainly tasty, and the irony that eccentricity is an orbital element isn’t lost on me.

Some orbits result in pretty things! 

How about you? Do you oscillate between topics and interests? Careen madly through space? Are you absolutely mentally loyal to your work-in-progress and incapable of straying? How do you manage when your preferred working method is challenged?

I’m relieved at having discovered in the last year or two that I fit comfortably in the spectrum of people with many interests who are sometimes called scanners (Barbara Sher’s term), polymaths, people with “too many aptitudes,” multi-potentialites, etc.  It’s liberating to know I’m not really a flake though the challenge is figuring out how to work with it.

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Image sources.  Fractal art (Superficial Dimensionality and The Fabric of Space) by Dan Kuzmenka who posts on DeviantArt where some of his work is available for download.  The GIF (or at least it’s supposed to be a GIF, I’m still tweaking) is from UC Santa Cruz professor emeritus, Michael Nauenberg.

tiny tweak, expansive meaning

I made a miniscule change to my blog yesterday. Nothing really newsworthy, but it had been something niggling at the back of my mind for a while which finally, today, demanded attention.

The tagline used to be “playing conceptual dress-up.”  All well and good for someone who, as I wrote in one of my first posts, likes ideas. I said, “I like to try on new ones and old ones and mix and match and play with them, to juxtapose them, to find comfortable ones and really sparkly strange ones too.  Maybe they sometimes even match.”

And then I went for a walk in the woods – something I recommend for helping sort out niggling details, and I tried my darndest to open up my perceptions, to really pay attention, to breathe deeply and notice where smells changed, where the sound of cricket song started (in the sun-warmed, flowering, pathside at the top of the rise) and where the woods were hushed. My skin thrilled at the brush and catch of spider silk and, my eyes softened to the spaces between trees and their shadows.

And I thought, “Ideas? Concepts? What was I thinking?” That’s only part of the picture. What I really want to include is all the ways it’s possible to pay attention, play with perspective, shift perceptions and that’s not just mental conceptualizing. So I changed the tagline to “playing perceptual dress-up.”

I am energized by the edges of territory, with using concepts as lenses and perceptions as doorways. doorways of percieving

The universe is vast and there are many ways to experience it.

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image source: Trey Ratcliff‘s flickr (via Compfight) where he kindly licenses his work through creative commons. Quality photos – really interesting person. Apparently I like his Angkor Wat photos because he was the source for this image, here, as well.