I love the quiet of the morning. I’m looking out on the blue gray snowy scene out my back door and feeling great appreciation for the quiet of this morning. Here at January 30th, we’re a ways out from Winter Solstice by now, and the days are clearly and markedly longer. It has already been light for a while. But, as it’s cloudy, “light” is a comparative thing.
There is something so calming about this familiar blue gray scene. In the distance, on the Eastern horizon, there is some sort of stack that emits a vapor of sorts. When it’s really cold out, like it is now with a windchill of 8 F, the opacity of whatever is rising from this stack increases and it looks like a billowing plume of smoke, a prayer offered up to the heavens. Once, when Rio (my beloved golden retriever, and companion of my heart, who passed this past Spring) was young, and he first saw the rising plume, clearly an ominous stranger on the horizon, he started growling at it. I’m sure it looked like a giant, looming, polar bear or something, but I couldn’t figure out what he was even talking about until I bent down to comfort him and saw the horizon from his perspective. At this point I started laughing out loud. It was the sweetest, most earnest, thing: to nobly sound the alarm that clear and apparent danger was approaching on the horizon.
Animals are so funny, distinct, perceptive, expressive, and a lot like us when we are the best versions of ourselves. I can’t see this plume without thinking of him. Today, I am feeling happy about that, as opposed to shaken by the loss, in part because I am feeling comforted by this place, by history and a sense of the familiar, the familial. I have history here, relationships here, and that changes things.
The plume, in its greater density, gathers in the light. In the time it has taken to write this, it has gone from a sort of beautiful crimson, to bright, pale, gold. The sun is hovering just over the horizon, still so low in the sky, even though it is just about eight a.m.. Soon, the sun will be veiled by the endless clouds already looming and this may be all the sun we get for the day. Not uncommon here in the Huron Valley, seemingly especially in the winter, but maybe I only notice it more in the winter. In the winter, when there is no sun, there is basically no clear distinction between earth and sky, it looks like one wintry expanse of soft gray/white. Unless you go outside, in which case the subtle distinctions of the up close winter landscape provide a magic all their own, like this beautiful black-eyed susan skeleton that often glitters with morning frost.
I am grateful for where I live. Even with all the current complications and persistent evidence of human error, idiocy, and unresolved wounding, it is beautiful here and it’s so important to stay connected to that, the peace that is, the peace that the natural world endlessly models for us. No matter where my path might take me, I will have always spent at least thirty one years here; with this horizon, this small hillside that nestles my backyard sanctuary just so, these elder oak and black walnut trees, these specific lineages of cardinal, jay, chickadee, crow, wren, squirrel, rabbit, and even some of the very same humans who have also aged here with me, in this multi racial, intergenerational, community.
My children grew up here. My youngest daughter was born in this modest “townhouse” (in one of very few affordable living options in Ann Arbor), and the huge conifer out my back door is planted on her placenta. Our family has roots here and that tree is now considerably taller than the building. It offers shelter and refuge to a whole host of songbirds, and small mammals, and it provides a sense of shelter for me, my friends, my family, and my home.
You don’t just walk away from love like that, it isn’t possible. Our hearts, mine and the heart of this place, this land, these wildly varied family members of all shapes, sizes, and species, are intertwined. No matter where life might take me as my path unfolds, this will remain so and it is powerful to love this deeply. It is among the marriages we don’t know how to talk about, the marriages we are missing language for in this culture. But it is a real marriage, perhaps the most real, the most archetypal.
In her book Celtic Oracles, in the passage on The Power of Place, Rosemarie Anderson talks about the way that “familiar places help us to situate ourselves in the passage of time and locale”, but the statement that touches me most deeply from this passage is a quote she offers up from an Irish poet, Cathal Osearcaigh; he says that when we are in such a place “all contradictions are cancelled on the spot.” It really gave me pause when I first read this. “All contradictions are cancelled on the spot.” It’s a concept that is so integral to our experience that it’s almost impossible to see, or articulate, but I think we all know this feeling at some point, when something, or someone, feels like home, feels right.
Like “true love”, perhaps there are times when such an affinity just is, or is recognized, immediately. In my experience, five and a half decades into this particular life, I tend to think that affinities this deep, even when inherent, require cultivation, through intention, and attention, over time. Like a marriage. Memories are built, and loyalty is deepened, in loves that stand the test of time.
I didn’t really know all of what I was choosing when I moved here, except perhaps reprieve for my children, but I knew that it felt right, or right enough, and it turned out to be a good choice. The land has held me, loved and supported me, listened to me, risen up to offer medicine to me, and welcomed the bones of my beloved beasts for decades now. I was a new mom and a new gardener when I came here, now I am a Grandmother twice over and have cultivated my mastery, what I have to offer the world, in this place. I cannot imagine my life without this relationship.
This morning, I am looking at the same horizon, the same elder trees, the same plume, the same partner(s) I entered into a covenant with all those decades ago; a covenant of mutual respect and mutual tending. As Robin Wall-Kimmerer talks about in Braiding Sweetgrass (one of my favorite books of all time), becoming indigenous is a responsibility we all face if we are to remember how to take proper care of this earth that we share with so many other beings. It’s obviously time that we remember and make a daily concerted effort to pull ourselves back from the brink of absolute disaster. This earth isn’t ours to ruin.
Over the course of three decades I have, as much as is possible in that time, become indigenous to this place. I have fallen in love and this love has passed the test of time. Like a sound marriage, it has brought out the best in me, it has awakened, and it continues to fuel, a fierce commitment to protect what is holy, our beloved Grandmother planet. It has called me outside to learn to love more deeply, to tread more gently, and to grow more wild, that I may live from a place of clear instinct and tender regard.
Now when I wake up in the morning, my body is a little slower, my garden is more beautiful than it has ever been, and I am possibly more aware than ever of how much there is, and will always be, to learn in this relationship with all my relations, and I am still in love.
In the end, I believe that, whether we are talking about human beings we perceive as “different” than ourselves, or the very planet we are all dependent upon, we will not protect what we do not love, and we will not love what we do not know. So please, please, my sisters, sibs, and bros, GO OUTSIDE, fall in love, with sycamore, or chickadee, or red fox and her kits, come to know and deeply notice where you are, who you are leaning into and what you are taking from them. Those of us toddling humans who are already smitten, we are here, waiting for you, and engaged in the precious party that life can be when we remember to honor the Spirit of Place, and protect what is holy.
Our lives depend on it, all of creation depends on it.