Stepping Outside Myself

That moment when the door
opens, over the threshold
I go
stepping outside
into the cool mountain air
instantly refreshed
enlivened
face meeting face
lung breathing into lung
oh sweet, beautiful rarefied air!

And the sound
of quiet 
not silence
deep
stillness
flowing
relaxing my mind
and every muscle
in my face.
I smile.

Sounds so true
as to hold silence within
and aliveness too
voices within voice
river-bird and wind-horse

Voices come 
all around
sparrow and sparrow-
hawk
kiik kiik kikkikki!
flicker and eagle
boink boink 
of raven.

An aliveness that
moments ago
while inside
I could not detect
did not notice
did not know existed.

But now
oh sweet NOW!
Now I know
I am flush 
with knowing
standing with
leaning into
listening intently
to this.

What is it about this moment?
Yes, yes I mean this moment
this exact moment
when I step across
feeling the ineffable
lightness of 
being outside.

Cold winter air
river cry 
eagle call
deep stillness
poised on the brink
of wonder and mirth.

Simply 
stepping 
outside
myself
into the brilliance of another day.

by David LaFever

Hai, hai, hai – kooo!

Since the first of the year, for some reason, I have been writing poetry, especially haiku, every single day. I wonder if it is just part of my seasonality with subtle cues and responses of my internal landscape to the external rhythms of energy. For whatever reason I have been really enjoying writing again and have been practicing writing haiku both within prose and as a stand-alone journal entry. I hope that you enjoy the haiku below and that they give you some sense as to my life – both the inner and outer geographies and where they meet.

Six from Portland

Inside and outside
Neither true nor false
A warm cup in my hands
Pacific lamprey
450 million years and counting
no bones about it
Rain slanting sideways
Misty masses of movement
Blows me inside
A restless spirit
Moves in all things unsatisfied
Or is it the coffee?
Cold, gray Portland streets
Harder than the hardest rock
Cardboard for a bed
What is it I feel?
The power of Multnomah
Misty eyeglasses

From Home (the Methow Valley)

Cold sparkling night sky
A full moon illumines all
Shadows pass quietly
Snowed lightly all day
Where does it all come from?
Kids tracks everywhere
Sledding party fun
Joy echoing through the woods
Snowflakes lightly falling
A bitter cold wind
Blows from the north, then the south
The snow squeaks underfoot
That which I call pain
Takes all my concentration
And then dissipates
Snow started mid-morn
Cold air crystals floating down
like cottonwood seeds
Earlier today
A rodent met its demise
Where talon met snow
Sweat lodge on the rez
Coyote tracks in the snow
Where to go from here?
Stepping outside, night
Looking skyward from earth, stars
Standing on my head
Quiet evening at home
Lights are low, kids are asleep
A great horned owl hoots
Wet snow falling down
Up and down we go, up
and down the slopes once more
A kind of fun, a
distracted fun. They said,
"You're a good skier."
Around the fields, I
skied. Goat Creek, Coyote and
back to Mazama
Gray and cloudy days
Slushy streets and dripping roofs
Where has the cold gone?
My girl all curled up
on my chest, weighing me down
Lifting me up too!

Delight Me

If you are anything like me, you have a daily, if not constant struggle with expectation. Expectations are a total set up. As adults we seem to be incapable of functioning without expectations and at the same time incapable of regularly fulfilling them. On the positive side, when I ask you to meet me for coffee at 10:00am, I expect you to be there and lo and behold there you are. Right on time. Thank you very much.

But hidden within expectations is another seed that must sprout, that comes with the package. Herein lies the set up: my expectations are regularly unsatisfied and if I am truly honest, unsatisfiable. Why is that? I think it is because they are inherently wrong. When it comes right down to it, how can I expect the world to behave exactly as I think it should. That is absurd and incredibly self-centered and yet, that is precisely how I go about my day. And I bet you might do this too. So expectations have an inborn self-destruct button and there is another pesky problem with them.

Again, if you are anything like me, you are constantly changing your expectations. I raise them, I lower them, I drop them (almost) altogether, and I add a new one with such regularity as to be as autonomic as breathing. We expect things to go well, we expect them to go poorly. We expect things to be smooth, we expect them to be rough. On and on.

As the saying goes, “we can’t live with ’em and we can’t live without ’em,” so what do we do with them?

I suggest that we each try returning to something that we once knew but seemed to have forgotten. As Courtney Martin learned from her daughter, approach the world with “only one giant, indiscriminate expectation: delight me.”

It isn’t about getting something or being greedy and grabby. Rather it is about opening up to what’s actually happening, not what we want or expect to be happening. It is about being open to the possibility of delight and being delighted by what’s right here with you.

As a practice I encourage you to keep this phrase in mind, again in an open-hearted way. Think of it as a reminder of what’s possible rather than a goal to achieve. When walking from your house to the car or your car to work, simply keep saying “delight me.” When out hiking or sitting in a quiet place, keep saying “delight me.” Like a mantra see how it affects how you feel, see, perceive and relate to the world. As a form of focus or mindfulness or meditation, simply keep this in your mind and see what happens. I bet you will be delighted by the results!

Graves Matter

Doing things right means living as though your grandchildren would also be alive, in this land, carrying on the work we’re doing right now, with deepening delight.

Gary Snyder (from the essay “Reinhabitation”)

Walking out the side gat, into the south hayfield to move irrigation around this morning, I passed by a gravestone. In simple letters it said, “white-crowned sparrow,” which were accompanied by a child’s drawing of a bird. Found the songbird a few months back, dead and lying in the grass. We got to it before the ants did and buried it. Two days ago we buried five baby bunnies and a young rattlesnake, in two separate graves, now marked with rocks upon which flowers have been placed.

The practice and act of living-in-place may not begin with death but it certain deepens there. You know that you have settled in a bit when during your daily chores you pass by gravestones on your land. Been here long enough and care deep enough to have burial spots.

These become places to pause and reflect on the life-and-death nature of this thing we call existence. Places to stop and bow or say a prayer or whatever feels like an appropriate acknowledgement. And these are places to remember loved ones and to “remember to remember” that lives come and go, come and go, that living isn’t separate from dying. They are also places where we all, daughter and parent alike, learn to say hello and perhaps most importantly, good bye.

Rattled

I just killed a rattlesnake. It is the first time I have ever done that and likely the first time that I have killed any snake period, except for the few that I have inadvertently run over with a car. That didn’t feel good, and it doesn’t feel good today.

I found it in one of our rabbit’s cages. The doe, who we call Misty, was up on top of her nest box and nine kits (baby bunnies) were inside. The rattlesnake’s head was inches away from them. I had hoped in the moment, as my heart raced and I got a snake noose (length of pvc pipe with rope going through the middle and tied in a loop) from the shed that I had gotten there early enough to avert major heartache.

We just buried five bunnies, eyes not yet open but furred and getting cuter by the day. My older daughter cried, hard, and so did I, softly. Even though we were raising these rabbits for meat, this still hurt. Still does hurt. I am surprised by my feelings. Very sad and also pissed off. I am also thinking of how many times my kids hang out in the rabbit area and I am so thankful that it was bunnies that got bit. Emotions swirl and an ache sits deep in my chest. A gravestone and flowers mark the place where our bunnies lie and where our tears fell, moistening the dirt.

We buried the snake too. Near a tree so that its body and energy can nurture new growth. I regret killing the snake. I easily could have just put it in a bucket and taken it someplace far enough away to ensure it would not return. That would have felt better. The girls put flowers on top of the burial spot. That felt good.

I am surprised that the snake killed so many kits when it really could only eat one or two I would think. It was not a big rattlesnake – four rattle segments only – and how could it have thought to eat so many? It seems so wasteful, so gluttonous.

Then again, I think of how much I take from the earth, and how wasteful I am. Five little bunnies doesn’t seem so bad when compared with all the death and destruction that our people have wrought on this sweet, dear earth – to the earth itself, to other people and cultures, and to all the other beings that live here with us. Gluttony seems to be our way of life.

So why does this piss me off so much? Why am I so sad right now? Can’t I share this planet with others even if they seem so different from me? Don’t I have room in my heart for all beings even if it feels full to the bursting with sorrow? Why am I so rattled?

I don’t have any answers to these questions right now, and maybe I never will. I think I just need to ask them.


by David LaFever

Remembering to Remember

Snow douglasia (Douglasia nivalis)

Annual rituals are a wonderful thing. Whether we consciously plan them or not, we all have them. For some it is an annual family trip or a reunion like my family has every July in upstate New York. For others it is a writing or meditation retreat, a sporting event or a car race like it is for my father. Whatever form it takes, we all have them and they give shape to our lives and shape the way we think and behave. How many look forward to that summer trip to the cabin by the lake? We count the days and make sure we have enough vacation time to be able to take it off. We say no to other opportunities in order to make this one thing happen, and we anticipate it. There is something comforting about returning to the same place or activity year after year. It allows us to see how we have changed, if nothing else.

Robin Wall Kimmerer, an Indigenous scientist that teaches at the School for Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, wrote in her delightful book “Braiding Sweetgrass” that “ceremony focuses attention so that attention becomes intention.” Ceremony, ritual, and pilgrimage all have this flavor to them. This is a powerful reminder that the rituals and ceremonies that we engage with have a power to shape our we see and engage with the world.

Having moved to a new place a couple of years ago, I began focusing attention on annual rituals, ceremonies, and pilgrimages. It is the latter that I want to share today. For me a pilgrimage comes into being at the intersection of intention and travel, and may or may not involve ceremony. If it is repeated then it is very much a ritual also. Here in the Methow Valley there are several annual or seasonal ceremonies that we have plugged into and some that we have created ourselves – Summer and Winter Solstices, Autumn and Vernal Equinoxes, Ancestors’ Feast, Coyote Camp, and Native American First Foods ceremonies, to name just a few.

Upper Eagle Lake.

For decades now a friend has been trekking into the mountains to visit a diminutive alpine plant, called the alpine forget-me-not. There is only one place in Washington where it is found and we are lucky to have that place in our backyard, albeit high atop a rocky mountain massif. Last year, I joined this annual botanical pilgrimage and had such a good time that I wanted to do it again this year.

And so we did. He used to visit the plant around July 4th but this year we went in on June 17. Something is changing and the plants are well aware of it. Three of us, two botanists/farmers and myself, spent one night out in the mountains and countless hours exalting at the beauty of the world around us, especially the plants. It was delightful for me to be around such knowledgeable and joyful plant folks.

Alpine forget-me-not (Myosotis alpestris)

These alpine plants are hardy folks. They live in a rocky, thin world, where snow lingers long, winds blow fierce, and the growing season is all-too short. In a sense, the pilgrimage is about paying attention to the changes in the world around us, but it is also about honoring the tenacity of life in the high mountains, and to check our own fortitude against theirs.

Annual rituals, ceremonies and pilgrimages are also about “remembering to remember” as Robin Wall Kimmerer said. The forget-me-not pilgrimage then is a perfect way to do this. There is something different about remembering rather than “not forgetting” and I am not quite sure what it is. Perhaps it is that remembering feels more active. And remembering to remember brings attention, intention, and ceremony into being in a way that simply not forgetting does not.

We remember to observe the changes in the world around us and by doing so to notice the changes in ourselves. And we remember that there is a whole world “out there” beyond our own little world and that it is beautiful, vibrant and resilient beyond our imagination. We remember this tiny alpine plant and the beauty it shares with the world and are grateful to be here.

Star Peak.

by David LaFever

Right Out Back

Setting forth, out the back gate.

The girls and I slung our heavy packs onto our backs and headed out the back gate. How can it be that I live someplace where I can literally head out my back door and hike and hunt and backpack? My what privilege I have stuffed into the pack along with my tent and sleeping pad. No wonder it feels particularly heavy.

There is an ease and a freedom in heading out back to an unknown destination. No trail, no destination, no problem. We know that we would be called to the right place and that our feet would not lead us astray. I love not having to drive to a trailhead. Hell there ain’t even a trail here. We follow our own path out back and that is a beautiful thing.

We started out by hiking across an old alfalfa field, which had been part of a large ranch, when such things were the norm around here. Weedy, scratchy and annoying could be an appropriate description of it, but soon we reached what we call the “shrub-steppe,” that is the beginning of mostly native plants and natural habitat. At this point, the land rises at a 30 degree angle up to a flat, glacial terrace. Our little side valley of the Methow Valley, is called Booth Canyon and gets more “canyony” farther up. Booth canyon is hemmed in by two nearly identical terraces created by huge continental glaciers that were several miles thick in this area. We paused at our the up on top of the terrace, where we often gather during Friday homeschool days and just sit and pay attention to the world around us. We call this our “Sit Spot.”

Gazing down the Methow valley from our Sit Spot.

After a short snack break, we continued up canyon, winding our way through sagebrush and bitterbrush. Not much was flowering except for some lovely little daisies and buckwheat. This is rattlesnake country so we paid attention, listening and looking as we stepped.

A bit farther on, we encountered an old two-track road that led back down to the valley bottom. It got weedier again as we neared the old ranch houses and areas where cattle grazed most heavily. Our dog was alert to something, which turned out to be a dead western racer, a bit stinky and already covered with flies. We named this road “Dead Racer Road.”

A bit farther on we neared the creek and found the campsite that we were looking for. An open grassy glade right down to the creek with nearby apple trees that provided a perfectly cozy spot, which my daughters immediately loved. We shared flowers from the shrub-steppe with this spot as a way to thank it for welcoming us in and then quickly set to trimming back dead apple branches so that we could set up the tent underneath their boughs. Before I even had the tent out of my backpack, the girls were climbing the tree and the dog was exploring the creek, lapping up its cold water happily.

Creek Camp

A small campfire, tended by the girls crackled away as I cooked a simple dinner. The fire provided the right amount of heat to make ‘smores and, more importantly, gave the girls a chance to learn about fires and how to take care of them. We cut marshmallow sticks from an apple tree, which the girls mostly did themselves. It brought up childhood memories of doing this very same thing with my dad on one of our many camping trips. Before bedtime we made sure we put out the fire completely. They learned to check for hot spots by holding their hands over the coals.

This past winter, Maddie and I camped beneath a ponderosa pine in the snow. We called it the Sheltering Tree and that campsite, “Winter Camp.” This new spot, right on the creek, was given the name “Creek Camp.” Naming things is powerful and should not be done lightly. I feel the connecting power of getting to know places so well that we have our own intimate names for them. Our Sit Spots, the Sheltering Tree, Winter Camp, Eagle Rocks, Dead Racer Road, and now Creek Camp. These are our names for the places that have meaning to us. Come on out and visit and we’d be happy to take you to these places. They’re just right out back!


By David LaFever