The Babushkas of Chernobyl

A few days ago, in a local cafe, a friend posed a question about the environment and morality.  Do we have a moral responsibility to protect the environment, not only for humans but for the other species with whom we share the planet?

He also asked “How did we arrive at this place of direness on the planet?”  “What is the source of our disconnect from the earth?”  And, “Is it too late?”  Good questions.

I have no answers.  I also sit with these questions and wonder what we can do to alter a course that seems bent on its way facilitated by humans who don’t seem to realize that
earth is our host planet, home.  And, that we have a responsibility to live in a reciprocal relationship to the earth.  Sustainability.  Why aren’t we awake to the facts that we are doing irreparable damage by the way we live?

Within his questions, was a sense of helplessness.  However, he was proposing that we discuss these things and other topics relevant to survival on planet earth.  Not to depress everyone but to wake ourselves up to the facts.  We can’t know what might arise from such discussions.  Growing awareness, brainstorming and potential answers.  No one really lives in isolation.  Everything is affected by everything.

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I watched this documentary film, The Babushkas of Chernobyl, at another friend’s recommendation.  Afterwards, my initial feeling was that everyone should see this film.  I watched it through Amazon Prime.  It impacted me deeply for many reasons.

Fake It Until You Make It?

Have you experienced anything like this?

A couple of months ago, I attended an art opening.  I wasn’t feeling great.  Regardless, I wanted to attend this opening of two Native American artists, brothers.  One is a painter, the other a sculptor of animals.  I had been studying the mythologies of wise women archetypes, the energies that they represent.  This evening, I asked myself how did I want to presence myself.  I decided to stand taller than I felt.  I envisioned embodying the archetypes of the guardian, the alchemist and the priestess.

When I entered the gallery, one of the brothers approached me immediately and said “Haven’t we met before?” I answered, “No, I don’t think so.” A little while later, his sister approached me and asked the same question, “Haven’t we met before?” Again, “No, I don’t think so.” I told her that her brother had asked the same thing…somehow, I seemed  familiar to them.  Then, a third woman came up to me and repeated the same exact words!

This experience caused me to wonder about how we occupy ourselves.  I am timid.  I didn’t feel good.  Yet, when I called on the archetypes within, I was recognizable to others.  It was interesting to observe this and powerful too.  Yes, I did feel better by having invoked these archetypes which are within me…and you.  And it was reflected back to me by the responses from others.  

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An Aside
This art show was about caretaking the earth. The Native American culture has an ethic of earth preservation. This is illustrated in their art and stories. And in their ceremony, dance and song. The show was called “Reverence.”  I had an interesting conversation with the sister of the artists.  She collects rocks that reveal messages to her. One night she was instructed to go and find a stone. It was dark, mountain lions could be around. She followed the instructions, drove to a certain spot.  Even with her flashlight, she couldn’t find anything.  She got back in the car and was going to go home.  She was instructed to get out of the car once again. She obeyed and realized she was standing on a stone that was partially embedded in the earth. She pulled it free and brought it home. The next morning, she discovered three images in the stone.

Her story makes me wonder how well I listen to the instructions that come to me.

The Stone’s Story

I do not for a second believe it when someone says to me: “I don’t have a creative bone in my body.”  Or, “I didn’t get that gene.”

Like anything that one values, your own brand of creativity needs attention.  If you show up and pay attention, inspiration is everywhere and the point where you and inspiration intersect is a creative opportunity.  Creativity isn’t about perfection or making a painting or drawing like someone else.  It’s about tapping into your own unique expression.  And it takes DARING.  Especially in the beginning.  Below is an invitation to you to dare to be creative in a way that is unique to you.  Yes, you get to foster your own creativity!  Have fun.

In her book, Freeing the Creative Spirit, artist/author Adriana Diaz, offers a guided meditation, drawing and writing exercise with a stone or river rock that you select
as your object and subject.  She calls it “The Counsel of Stone.”  Have you ever journeyed with a stone?  Have you considered the stories it holds, the messages it conveys?  I have.  You are invited to follow suit, if you choose.

Stone Consciousness
© by Christine O’Brien

I know loneliness
a stone separated
from it’s streambed
My particular glamour
is less appealing here
Or, residing here for nine years,
have I become part of the wallpaper
unseen, too familiar
Like this displaced stone
am I commonplace
or too old
This stone a misshapen buddha
solitary bodhisattva
witness to its own cleaving
remembering the whole
What dissension shattered humankind
into this separation
Lonely and separate as this scarred stone
praised for its cool detachment
who cares to hear
the untold encrypted story

A star has fallen
to the bottom of the sea
fossilized
while a starfish rises into
the darkening sky
alternating realities
God is in us
is all right with the world
Has the stone learned compassion
Is that the panacea for such loneliness

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Go ahead and find your  stone and seek its counsel.  Study it from every side, notice its angles and curves, any markings, hold it in your palm, draw it, meditate with it, write about what is revealed to you in a poem or prose.  Just do it!

Share here under comments if you like.

Bear with me…

Having lived in Mount Shasta for three years, I continued to feel like a stranger in a strange land.  As if I had fallen into a life and world that were so foreign to me.  Following is an excerpt from a journal written in 2002…

Tonight after dark, I walked the loop road around my wild new neighborhood.  Tree spectres, star navigators, I felt like an orphan returned to her original home, finally and afraid.  I didn’t know this terrain.  I knew huddled box houses, concrete, asphalt-paved city streets, skyscrapers,  city lights and the sound of foghorns.  Now, living in the mountains, I walked along snow-berm lined roads and felt out of place in the deep quiet that is induced by snow.  I looked to the stars for guidance, but didn’t grow up reading them.  Foggy nights and shuttered windows allowed neither awareness of the stars nor the sun’s rising and retreating.  Is it too late for me to become familiar with nature in her rawness?  Aren’t I the daughter of this more truly than anything…or anyone?

Though the road was partially lit by a slightly waning moon, I carried a flashlight.  I had chosen to move here, to be so displaced.   Even with this yearning to connect with nature, I was surprised by a lurking fear.  What strange stalking beats might be watching me?  Yes, there are bears, mountain lions and bobcats here.  A few barking dogs raced down paths to announce themselves…and me.

A few days ago, at Castle Lake, there were about ten fish, trout I think, about 12″ long, each one laid neatly at the base of a pine tree around which a circumference of snow had melted.  The fish lay dead, intertwined, resembling a celtic knot.  A single fish laid a few trees away.  Where do fish go in winter when this mountain lake freezes over to a depth of several feet?  How did this neat pile of preserved fish get here?  Away from the water on a higher plane–the water hadn’t risen that high.  A mystery.

Were the fish, a bear’s bounty abandoned perhaps when s/he was unexpectedly intruded upon?  A bear who fished the lake before it froze, laid them in a neat design beneath the tree and then was driven off by a hunter, perhaps?  Or his suspicions of one?  Or was it an offering of some sort?  Or perhaps a bear scared a fisherman off…but then why did he leave the fish?  The cluster of fish frozen beneath all of that snow for weeks and now a temporary melting and no bear to claim this defrosted bounty.

I’d written a mini-writing workshop to share with a circle of friends about winter–exploring their feelings–about this one in particular.  This winter had lavishly dumped 90-inches of snow over our town in less than one month!  That’s a lot of snow to move around to clear pathways, driveways and streets.  Berms grew and city streets were narrowed, slushy and hard to navigate.  A precarious and often impossible situation.  Some days, I stayed  home and checked the weather reports regularly, looking towards a break.  Emerging into January, a new year, temperatures rose to the 40’s and rain fell for two weeks dissolving some of the berms.  And then, a dry spell, a few visible sunsets causing a body to halt in her routine to witness the translucent alpenglow on the mountain.  The beauty, ah yes, I remember why I moved here.  Such breathtaking beauty and nature pounding down the door.

Really, though, what does any of this rambling have to do with bear?  Or abandoned fish?  Or my winter themed writing workshop?  Only everything!  Terry Tempest Williams and other writers of our times, have likened the hibernating bear to the in-dwelling hidden deep feminine!  The introspective cave dweller.  The female bear who births her young in the spring.  Winter gestations, hibernations, cave dwelling–not to be feared but appreciated for allowing one the time and space it takes to gestate, find her voice and create.  Isn’t that what I’m doing here?  In Mount Shasta?  According to Williams…if you should meet this bear in the wild, open your blouse and show that you’re a woman and you will be allowed to pass unharmed, so the story goes.  And where has my cat wandered to after hours?  It’s well past closing time.  I hope she hasn’t encountered a bear.

And tonight, when I told my lover let’s lay in silence for awhile, “Let’s not talk,” he pinned my hands and I growled like a bear in captivity.  Then he left.  I felt angry because no man could contain me any longer.  Now I have a voice and sometimes I displease a man.

 

Nowhere to Go...Dec. 2001.jpg

“Nature Includes Us”

Years ago, watching a documentary on the life of John Muir, I was struck by this one sentence “Nature Includes Us.”  Growing up in San Francisco, although we lived blocks from the ocean, we didn’t have a sense of our connection to nature.  Our lives were conducted within the four walls of a house that was bursting at the seams with nine children.  The thrust was to get an education and then get a job in downtown San Francisco with its concrete and high rises.  Nature was the sky between the buildings and we seldom looked up.  As a young woman, I moved a block-and-a-half from the ocean.  That is when my interrelationship with nature became more conscious.

Moving to Mount Shasta twenty years ago, there was a sense of rebirth.  Discovering the hiking trails, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, forests–not to mention our mountain rising above it all at 14, 179 feet–opened me to the wonder and beauty of nature.  I could be in a an abiding state of awe over this beauty which includes me and you.  In San Francisco, there was little or no sense of the four seasons.  There was fog…sun in the Mission District and Noe Valley perhaps–those banana belts–however, fog in the Sunset District was the summer norm. In the mountains, we have the four seasons!  Each season with its distinct flavor and rarely fog…not ocean fog anyway.  There might be a mist that seeps between the trees after a heavy rain.  The type of mist in which magic lurks.

And bears.  In some Native American Traditions, bear medicine has to do with “introspection.”  It is associated with the season of Winter.  Bear goes inside a cave and hibernates when winter is at its most intense.  Bear has eaten a fair share of grasses, roots, berries, fruit, insects, fish and small animals and any garbage left outdoors and accessible.  Living in the mountains you hear bear tales and you cultivate your own.
There was the story of a man who camped way up on Old McCloud Road.  He had a nightly bear visitor.  To deter the bear, he would bang pots and pans, a little symphony, to scare the bear away.  There is definitely an etiquette of what to do when you encounter a bear.  It’s good to inform yourself about this if you enter bear country!

Of course, you don’t want to leave food or garbage lying around either at home or if you’re camping.  Bears don’t read “private property” or care about the campsite delineation.  The back of the property where I live is open to an alley.  In the late summer when the apple and pear trees are laden with their fruit, I have a bear visitor.  He’s very low profile as he comes in the night.  The only calling cards are broken tree branches and a pile of scat!  The neighbor’s barking dogs sometimes alert us to his presence, but he’s pretty elusive.

Hiking in the Castle Crags alone isn’t the most brilliant idea.  I have done it a few times.  Once, I thought I’d walk in the upper Castle Crags, the Root Creek Trail.  A couple came running from the direction I planned to hike.  They told me there was a big black bear and it was running towards them, not away.  I immediately turned around and changed my mind about hiking there.  Bears deserve respect especially in their habitat.  And the stories about mama bears, don’t mess with them, are real.  However cute the cubs might be, they are best observed at a safe distance or on TV.

I walk frequently by Lake Siskiyou, five minutes from where I live.  One summer, I took my binoculars as I was following a certain eagle who perched on the opposite shore.  The cry of an eagle is distinct even to the non-educated ear.  Staring in the direction of “my eagle,” I heard a bird cry behind me.  I turned just in time to see a black bear running a terraced part of the terrain twenty feet above me.  Both of us paused in our tracks and stared at one another for a brief moment.  Then the bear continued on its journey.  A jogger came along shortly.  He asked if I had seen a bear and which direction it had gone in.  I said yes.  And we both stopped to consider how close we were to this bear.  There had been no reason for fear to be triggered.  The only true feelings were of awe and gratitude.

“That is why we live here,” he said.  And two strangers gave one another a quick hug and continued our separate ways.

I doubt the bear was in awe of us.  There was a moment though in which I felt included in something very special.  To be given a glimpse of the wild in nature was to glimpse the wild in me.