Out Of The Ashes
For Vaughn Humboldt:
When fire burns across a pasture it blackens the earth but with any added moisture there are soon green shoots of grass in its place, even if the remainder is still brown. So it is with my life and it seems as if I burned myself down just to replenish the richness of my spirit. I have done this repeatedly if unintentionally but having reduced myself to bare ashes of late, so I have begun to rejuvenate also. There was a visit with old friend and a long conversation to remind me of all the wonders just out of my reach and perhaps as with the pastures I also needed the deluge of this most recent storm to refresh my spirit. Add to that a day off and then a few hours of respite today before I returned to work and I am all but restored. My life has been a joyful experience for the most part and there is truly no reason for it to be anything less, even if I forget that at times!
What is it that allows even the strongest of us to get distracted at times? Necessity seems to rule over our lives and if we are committed to our self-imposed responsibilities we can force ourselves to undertake things we would otherwise avoid. In my case there is also the added factor of substitution, of seeking a remedy for the things I lack in other pursuits, even if they be less than I really want. I have failed at this before, so I have failed again, burning myself down in the process. So I rise from the ashes also, dusting myself off even as the latest storm has cleansed the earth and I will grow from this moment on.
Not so long ago the moon rose over the foundation of the ancient adobe house which sits so close to my own small dwelling. I say ancient but the woman I pay my rent to used to live in that room and others I know once played there also. They recall those days clearly and it puts a perspective on my life and theirs which might otherwise be lost. Theirs was a simple life in which there was a great appreciation for every aspect of their survival, as mine is also. When I perused my dwelling this morning, nothing more than a renovated school bus, I came away with an added appreciation for the warmth I have found therein. It was 11 degrees last night but only a fraction of the chill touched my life as I kept a good fire going through the night. So it would have been in that adobe room and they would have slept close to each other also. The value of such simple things can be so easily lost when we fail to reflect on them and in our rush for bigger and better things we so often lose that perspective. I was so glad to be reminded of that!
Even as I so recently burned myself down, plunging my spirit into my frustration and discouragement so I waken to a new perspective with the ground covered with fresh fallen snow and my spirit renewed by my musings. My future is my own to decide on and at no time have I ceased to move forward, I simply sent myself adrift by failing to be mindful of myself. I have often questioned why it is so easy to be taken away by the negative things and how easy it is to dwell on them while the positives stand patiently in waiting. Why can’t we keep our eyes focused on the light rather than letting the darkness shadow our thoughts? Certainly we are influenced by outside sources as well, the turning of the earth and the pull of the planets weighing in on our moods but we still have free will also. I may be empowered by the rich fullness of the moon but I have my own resources as well and I need to remember to draw on those in my time of need, it is the very reason I have honed those strengths.
The sky twinkles with clear blue and cold today and the sun reflects off of every frozen crystal of ice and snow which lies upon the earth. I might have been cold last night but I was not and I have so much that I can be grateful for, a year ago I might have frozen! Snow capped that old adobe wall and the snow crunched beneath my feet but the tender shoots of the weeds remained green through the storm. I woke refreshed and found a bed of hot coals still glowing in my wood stove, its warmth still holding back the chill of the dawn. I added a few slivers of wood and it soon burst back to flames, life is good. It is those subtle reminders which fire my spirit and restore the balance that has too often eluded me of late. I need to remember that and as the ashes replenish the fire scorched earth so I need to grow again also! I am off to a good start.
I stepped out my door this morning into one of those Zen filled moments that I would have missed if there had been even a moment’s hesitation. As is my habit I looked to the east for that first vestige of the sunrise and was greeted instead by one of those moments of pure beauty such as the early morn and sunset seem to offer more than any other part of the day. A small grey cloud hung in the sky, framing the fine sliver of the waning moon, itself aligned with Venus, the final glimmer of the night. In perfect harmony was a raven, hanging still for that rare instance when his wing force was equal with the wind as if he too was destined to be part of the moment. What, I must wonder, made me so worthy as to be the witness?
So I begin my day, the soft clouds of moisture, such a pleasure to view in our arid clime, make me think of springtime, for the day has far more of that quality than it does for mid winter. The temperature is already above forty degrees and feels balmy, the wood stove is too hot and even the buds on the trees are straining to grow even as the wind threatens of storm. How can this be winter? I watch the small birds that I so selfishly feed for my enjoyment and wonder if they are fooled as well, just a week ago they were huddled in the cold, their fine feathers fluffed to stay warm; what do they know? My eye is drawn to the bright magenta that paints the heads of a few of the birds and wonder how I can be so pleased by such a simple thing; it is enough to watch them flitter and fight.
I have once again regained the simplicity of my life; I have returned home; though I find this in other places as well. What that it has once more become an integral part of my life; there is no way that I can disrupt this! I want for so little else that it is difficult to even consider any sort of change that would alter this element of my existence; for a moment I can be still. I can also see, as I realized just last night, that I have once more successfully reached a goal; one that I set myself on not so long ago. It was an attainable one which I started on as soon as I decided on it and see it now in full motion. I can thank Antonio for this one and if this is all that ever comes of our alliance it is more than enough.
I can remember gazing on the utter simplicity of his home, as well as the overwhelming desire to make it my own, and thinking that there was something there to be learned and incorporated into my life. Not just the simplicity but for the need to be free of all that is not necessary to my immediate existence, excepting the true keepsakes of course. I returned here ready to ‘clean house’ and have, since then, accomplished that! Certainly there are still a few superfluous items but for the most part the clutter is gone! I not only sold off the vehicles I no longer needed I also emptied the silver trailer and sold it; most of what it contained is gone as well. I shall repeat the process once more and be quite pleased with the outcome. Then there is another element of that goal, my book and all that it entails. This has been a long term goal and I find myself perched before my laptop for the hours that are required and realize that I am in that process as well, devotedly so!
Goals. We set our direction early on and then do our best, or not, to navigate in that direction. As I held the compass when we were on the White Sands, that we might pull our cable as straight as possible, I have of late set my direction in much the same way. The reward has been heartening; I am moving towards all that I wish to accomplish and the affirmations of this last week are more than I could ask for. Focus, the element of life that is so critical for success seems within reach. I must learn to manage that carefully for I do not wish to wander from this track and unlike my work I haven’t the compass there to direct me; I must be my own!
Zen. There are some things that one must capture with the eye and save within their mind as no camera can replicate them. They occur in such fleeting moments as I found outside my door just before the dawn. It repeats itself in the brilliance of the sparrow, perched for but an instant amongst the bright red branches of the peach tree and the new growth is as brilliant a red as the magenta feathers on the birds head and breast. I want to save that view for eternity. I must embed it in spirit for to do so, you cannot take of picture of true beauty for it exists only in the minds’ eye. It is this that I shall carry with me.
Every well and homestead we came to also brought to us a new respect for the people who had settled this broad plain. Each cabin, corral and water tank reflected the absolute necessity they were faced with and the resulting creativity required to assure their survival. First one must consider the utter scarcity of water and the effort it must have taken to establish a source of it. A man would lay claim to his 160 acres homestead or in some cases even more as the reality of the struggle to survive became apparent to the government officials and led them to grant larger claims. Then he had to decide where to dig his well, the first of which were hand dug and cased with rocks which themselves had to be gathered and carried from someplace else, the plains being covered with nothing but soil and grass. Once they had a well they constructed a windmill and then either dug or built tanks to contain the precious bounty. More than one cluster of trees on the flat grass plain revealed such an effort at its center.
Some of the places we came to had but a dug well and perhaps a metal casing nearby among a barely discernible litter of logs or the foundation of some crumbled cabin, evidence of a failed or abandoned effort. Others reflected success and might boast a wooden windmill tower anchored to hand hewn posts which had been axe cut and then hauled the many miles from the distant forest. These structures were set deep in the soil to support the tower and withstood years of wind and storm. Ponds and tanks were built to hold the water, some but a depression in the dirt, hollowed out by wind and rain and then bermed up with rocks to hold more water. Then there were others, which made me marvel at the men who built them and pause to wonder who their ancestors were for these were strong industrious men, such as are so hard to find. One tank in particular comes to mind, a rise of dirt and timber above an otherwise flat expanse. Axe cut logs, each eight or ten inches in circumference, were all bound together with old wire and set deep in soil which had to be dug and moved to support them. They surrounded a tank every bit of fifteen feet across and twice that in length, ten feet deep at least, filled with rushes to prove even now it held water. An old platform extended out into it also, likely to allow someone to dip fresh water from the center but surely also serving as a diving platform on a warm summers’ day.
When one considers the manual effort it took to build such a tank their admiration grows for these people. Every scoop of dirt was raised with a shovel and piled so high it remains there today. The tank walls stood fifteen feet above the flat, all of the work done by hand! There were others tanks also, more highly engineered and equally as admirable, several of which we found as we made our rounds, this builder ambitious and having surely gained some admiration from his fellow men. Here we found rough sawn boards from a mill, each a true two inches thick and twelve wide, set in concrete and bound by a thick cable in the same way a barrel is built but comprising a tank twenty feet across, still full of water! When were these built I wondered and I should return to ask for it is notable as well, the water soaked wood still filling the cracks even as the cable has worn grooves in the wood over the years from the simple natural shift of the earth. Too the cattle have polished the boards by rubbing against them as they provided the only place to scratch their hides on the otherwise barren plain. The very presence of these structures makes such a clear statement, “We are here to stay, we have survived and we shall prosper, no matter how humble our lives appear!”
Near these tanks we sometimes found cabins also and once again the axe cut trees hauled from the forest, hand planed and notched to seat firmly to one another, chinked with mud or cement, or not, dirt floors and low doorways, brittle tin still clinging to their roofs. I step inside as often as not to pause for a moment and wonder how these women lived and raised their children! I reflected on the cold winter we braved from the shelter of our truck and envision their children huddled near the fire as their men struggle with the elements to provide their sustenance, romantic, NOT! When there are clusters of cabins at least one has the comfort of knowing there were others there for some companionship and assistance, most often there were not.
Clear Blue Sky
I am greeted today by a clear blue sky, the suns light reflecting off of crystalline snow and the slate of my life as clean and clear as my surroundings. There will be no New Year’s resolution but rather a resolve to begin anew with my journey through my life. Here are lessons I will carry with me and a new found realization that life does not pause and wait for us to make our choices but simply continues on its merry way regardless of what we do. Although I have been cognizant of that and concerned with my progress I have neglected the obvious and failed to be mindful of my priorities and instead allowed myself to become a victim of circumstance. By allowing the outside influences to direct my actions I wandered from the path, only to awaken to the awareness it is still well within my reach, I have simply drifted into the rough in my distraction!
In this sense the New Year serves its purpose as it opens the door to change. Having always made a practice of reflecting on the previous year’s challenges and accomplishments I find myself with no desire to make a repeat performance of this past one, in spite of the accomplishments! It may not have been all bad but neither was it good and the passage of the years escalates as I grow older, time becomes all the more precious! So it is I have lifted a weight which I brought upon myself and I have already taken a step forward in the right direction. In keeping with a lesson I learned from a dear friend and lover years ago, perhaps the best gift he gave me, I will make this ‘My Year’ and do everything I can to honor that promise. As another dear friend taught me also, we cannot do anything for others unless we take care of ourselves first. This is not a selfish act but rather a means toward being unselfish. If our glass is full we have enough to share, if it is empty we may well be looking for another source to provide for ourselves!
This is the year to honor myself and all of the goals I have set before me. There is a note on my wall which says, “If not now, when? “ and it is a reminder that nothing happens until we make it happen and waiting is not always the best option. There are others who live the opposite and in a simpler existence that might be appropriate but until my life is in such a place I must be the catalyst. There may well come a day when my efforts are focused solely on the changes of the seasons and the demands thereof but until I get there I will make the choices myself. My aim is that simple also, that I may come to a place where the gathering of wood and the planting of the garden be my primary focus, but sadly that is an elusive goal and requires a degree of independence our society prohibits in so many ways. There would still be bills to be paid and one must have a place to live first!
The clearest lesson I carry with me from this past year is to never again allow myself to become so entangled in necessity as to forget the alternatives. I have never been materialistic but the desire to attain financial freedom has been a driving force for the last several years. Sadly, as quickly as I neared that goal I also sunk myself again for no apparent reason or justification, except that perhaps the pending sense of freedom was like the open door of a cage and the breadth of opportunity was too great? Regardless of the reason I realize now that I can make that same step no matter the circumstances and I have attained a much needed freedom in simply accepting that. I also gained enlightenment from another source. An avid reader and ever curious I picked up a book on sale and read a few pages, finding the words so candid, so honest and so in tune with my own heart I had to purchase it even though it was not my usual. Jennifer Lopez’s “True Love” touched my heart as she bared her own soul and affirmed the very lesson we all need to remember, we need to love ourselves before we can accomplish anything else, and she reminded me of the importance of that. She shared her repeated efforts to find fulfillment by pleasing everyone else while neglecting her own person in the process. Celebrity or not she took a leap of faith which I have also done and shared her life for others to peruse and learn from, something we don’t do often enough. She set herself free and decided to “Dance Again,” and I have decided to do the same. It shed a new light on things for me, right out of the clear blue sky.
Happy New Year and many thanks to all of you who have followed and shared my thoughts!