Swallowing Myself

Death has been much on my mind and the mind of others around me lately. The actual death of a friend, the continued wars and destruction that we are engaged in throughout the world (Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and on and on), and the planetary decline/collapse of our biosphere that we are both cause and at the mercy of.

I will share something from my journal that I wrote about death and life recently, from January 22, 2018

I see the birds first, some bald eagles perched in tall cottonwoods, and a quorum of ravens, black splotches of feathers against the pure white snow. I then notice the carcass, ribs poking up out of the pink snow. Two adult bald eagles and a dozen ravens or more are present also. One eagle has been there at the dinner plate for sometime now, as evidenced by the rose color of its head and neck feathers. The newcomer’s feather gleam white in the luminous morning light. Death begets life in a beginningless and endless way.

We are usually disgusted by death and abhor it, although fascinated by its seeming finality and lost in our inability to comprehend it. But what if we looked at it differently, seeing it as a Great Mystery and the great gift that it is? The ravens and eagles understand the giving aspect of it, even if they don’t have the words, although I suspect the ravens know when a meal is nigh.

As I look around I see cottonwoods and pines that we once alive, but that are now among the standing dead, and the telltale signs of woodpeckers, pecking for a meal. Without the thing that we call death, there would be no woodpeckers, no eagles, no ravens and none of the beauty that these creatures offer to the world. Without the deer carcass, that some larger predator likely killed, what would these ravens and eagles eat, especially with so few salmon in our rivers?

We call it death, but when I look at it, I see life or the offering of a life at the least. The great gift that we can give at the end of our life, is our life. In this beginningless and endless place, do we simply fold back into the great cycle of life and death? Is there some other journey that we begin at that time? If we are honest with ourselves, we do not know, so we call it something to ease our worry a bit – the Great Mystery, if nothing else. Our lives too, are mysterious and in reality unknowable. We tell stories and those stories become this “I” and this “we” and both stand in for and create what we think of as “truth” and “reality.” But what is this really?

If death is death and life isn’t life, what is this? Just this….

A Jim Harrison poem comes to mind in which he decides to “swallow himself in ceaseless flow.” I like that description because it could be either life or death and what really is the difference? Here is the poem, titled “Cabin Poem”:

I’ve decided to make

up my mind

about nothing, to

assume the water

mask,

to finish my life

disguised as a creek,

an eddy, joining at

night the full,

sweet flow, to absorb

the sky,

to swallow the heat

and cold, the moon

and the stars, to

swallow myself

in ceaseless flow.

 

One last glance at the scavengers and the carcass, and I head down the road in this glistening winter palace. I wonder at the world where lines are crossed and then recrossed and where distinctions are blurry at best. And I wonder at this species, which desperately and naturally makes distinctions, tells stories and tries to make sense of this senseless and sensuous world. Even things as seemingly solid and assured as life and death, upon closer inspection, ebb and flow, ceaselessly life the rivers and tides that I love so much. I become amazed at the possibility that lies before me, made possible only when I loosen my grip on categories, on my likes and dislikes.

As I continue on, I near the elementary school and downshift as I approach a stop sign. I pause a moment, taking in and letting go the wild winter scene, before turning right to head down river on East 20.


by David LaFever

 

Snow Falling on Pines

Here is a poem I wrote yesterday while it snowed steadily outside:

A long snowflake falls
from a gray-white sky.
I watch it float, lazily
to the snow-covered ground.
Snow clouds drape the ridgeline
across the valley.
Blue Buck, Pearrygin, and Tripod
Veiled by the gauze sky.
An hour later, the snow is coming down
All peaks and ridges are obscured, have disappeared.
Hidden behind a world of snow, cloud to ground
Illusory and temporary in nature.
I wonder about that one snowflake I saw
Falling hours ago, where is it now?
Somewhere, nowhere, lost in it all
Snow falling on pines.

By David LaFever

 

Swirling Delight

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Listen as she speaks to you
Hear the voices flutter through
The barriers arranged by you.
~Phish (“Water in the Sky”)

I sit in the glistening snow, sparkling in the first sunlight I can remember seeing in weeks. The warmth on my cheeks and hands, so comforting in the cold winter air, comes from so far away that it doesn’t seem possible. How could we be so perfectly situated from this everyday star? A bald eagle, wings outstretched, soars in tight circles, calls and alights in the top of a conifer as the last of its eerie echoes fade into the vastness of this place. I hear a hairy woodpecker, a nuthatch, and a raven, these friends of old from within the bare cottonwoods along the river. I hear the river too, singing its sweet song, fluid and serene. An ancient and endless voice.

As a raven’s voice croaks in the sunlight, I think about water and its importance in my life. It plays such a central part that I easily take it for granted – the food that I consume and all the products in my life, from wood to cotton to plastic, have their origin in water or close to it. As I sit in the snowy forest, I think about how much of my food is water. We are last weeks potatoes as Thoreau said, and potatoes are, amazingly, 99% water. If you have ever made latkes or potato pancakes, you will know that this is close to true.

I am water too, close to 70% and salty. Fresh and salt water mix and mingle in my body, mind and even my thoughts. I am a mass of walking, talking water. So too is the chickadee that calls from the nearby chokecherry, a bird that doubles its feathers each winter in order to stay warm and dry. I wonder how much water is in that little bird, in each of those thousands of feather. Water is life and it flows through us all, through it all.

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The river teaches me this with each bursting bubble, the sound that we call the babbling of the river. The snow too, although it seems stationary, is always moving and will soon melt and flow into rivulets, percolate into the ground and will swell the river into torrent.

As I sit in this wintry place, I write a few haiku:

The river flows on
On and on in endless sound
Taking me with it.
 
I think, who am I?
The ceaseless flow of nature
White snow all around.
 
Black specks soar above
Snow sparkles in winter light.
I sit and listen.
 
The river, the rocks
Sit talking to each other
Late into the night.

 

I stand up, stretch my stiff body and look upward into the sound of ravens, circling and swirling above in thermal delight. There are thirty or so ravens and a couple of eagles, turning together in a great gyre of feathers, bones and water eddying in the vague winter sky.


By David LaFever

A Cold Rain Starting

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A cold rain starting
And no hat –
So?
~ Matsuo Basho

 

Its thirty-four degrees outside and raining. The snow on the ground is both crusty and slushy. Not my ideal of winter weather and I wish it was both colder and snowing. Madeleine awakes, hears the rain on the bus roof, looks outside and exclaims, “It’s raining!” She is excited and thrilled and adds, “It’s really raining and hard,” although I don’t think it is raining very hard. I catch myself just before I say, “Yup and I wish it was colder and snowing.”

I am soon caught by her excitement and find myself hastily putting on my rain jacket in order to keep up with her as we head outside to play in the rain and slush. I am soon having fun and enjoying the sound of the rain as it falls to the earth. Plus warmer snow is much better for building a snowman.

 

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So why was I not simply and immediately excited by rain as she was? Seems that I, like all of us, exist too much in our heads and in the realm of “wishing for something else.” I find myself all too often wishing for something other than what is actually happening and searching for something just a little more perfect. Do you feel that same way?

Rain is okay, but wouldn’t snow be so much better? What then….

Plop! a large rain drop falls from far above and hits me right on the rim of my glasses, ricocheting into my right eye. Wow, that sure woke me up from my mental reverie! Instantly I am surprised out of my mind and into the body and mind that is larger than myself, namely the present. This exact moment and for a moment I am here. Right here! Now! Rain!


written by David LaFever