Emerson, I am trying to live, as you said we must, the examined life. But there are days I wish there was less in my head to examine, not to speak of the busy heart. -Mary Oliver
And what happens when the examination becomes scrutinization? Soul stripping diminishment? Lost at sea dismemberment? Inner criticism disguised as wisdom? Carefully cultivated Matriarchy suddenly expelled by old stories from Patriarchy?
What happens is you go feral. Again and again, as often as it takes. And you listen to the birds.
Fern and I drove north, to Dawn Falls and Baltimore Canyon, on the Northeast side of Mt. Tam.
Tired of listening to my own voices of spinout, instead I trained my ear to really listen to the birds, paying constant attention to what they were saying they could see from the tree tops and understory. And I listened to my daughter’s need for play, for making homes in the tight circles of trees, making beds where the nursery stump used to be. We ate breakfast cookies and climbed up a very questionable slidey hill, our hearts racing, finally running ahead of thoughts.
Suddenly we are looking for preschool in the city, something that was never part of the plan. Supposedly I can’t afford the type of school I know is best, supposedly time is running out and maybe we missed the boat and wouldn’t this all be easier if we had been able to move like we had planned?
But maybe, just maybe, I can remember that I am her teacher too. That she is missing out on nothing. That I don’t have to kowtow to a life I have never wanted just because we feel stuck and trapped. After all, this is my three year old babe, who already knows how to lay a fire, just from watching us.
I feel the tides of mainstream societal expectation, about what my child is supposed to be doing, how she is even defined by this age. Preschooler.
Nothing is decided. But as we wander the forest, I remember the importance of trust, of letting go. Of flow. And of how it feels when I am following my own inner guide. I remember I know how to track, and that the world around me is in response, alerting me with a web of sound, all members of the forest community sounding off. That I am a member too.
I re-member that those societal voices chattering about what is right for me and my child, about who I might be, about what my life and history says about me, are the same voices that talk so much they don’t know how to listen to the birds.
People go jogging by, talking about he said she said. A dog walker baby talks to her pet, her four-legged pet that is wearing shoes.
Oblivious to what is right above their heads.
We have been hiking for over a mile. Still she wants to keep on. She wants to see the waterfall.
I am still looking and listening for birds.
(The problem with having a fancy camera is that it expects me to be more particular. For instance, when I want to quickly take a low light shot, it absolutely does not cooperate, but rather wants me to take the extra five minutes to change the shutter speed, during which time to subject is long gone.
And so…blurry birds.)
You can imagine my frustration with this particular picture.
Finally, we arrive at the humble little waterfall, and it is more than grand enough for her.
And the little trickle was more than grand enough for its resident protector.
We rested with more cookies. And then my miraculous daughter hiked all the way back with hardly a complaint.
On the way back, we stopped only to listen to an owl and to collect a few Turkey Tails.
Turkey Tails are one of the best studied of the medicinal mushrooms. I highly recommend listening to this extraordinary talk by Paul Stamets, about how his mother’s life was saved by Turkey Tails. Also, grab a tissue.
Folks like Paul Stamets and Jon Young inspire me because they look forward by looking back, by listening to what has been said for centuries, by other deep souls who had an ear trained on nature. By looking down, to the Earth and noticing their feet upon the ground. By looking within, and recognizing the beat of their heart and the way it reverberates through the rock beneath us. And by listening. By listening to those with quiet voices, those with voices unlike their own species, voices of the under-privileged, to the voice of their own heart…that softest voice of all.
We drove back to the city, Fern falling asleep almost instantly. We made soup that night, a Turkey Tail thrown in for essence. Finally, instead of urban clamor bouncing off cement buildings in my head, I smelled the forest floor, I heard my blood slooshing through my veins, I knew the goodness of my own body and I felt the love between my daughter and I.
All the rest will work itself out, and I will guide it with how I live…by following my own inner compass, and remembering what my Dad has always said…
Don’t let the bastards grind you down.