Soft Wild

The other day on my hike I started taking pictures of wildflowers. Most of them had tiny blooms. I love how beauty can range from miniscule to cosmic. 

But I really started thinking about the word “wild”. Wild and wildlife conjure images of tigers, hyenas, coyotes and bears. Roaming, hungry, savage and untamed.  

Wildflowers? They don’t reflect any of those adjectives. This side of the wild is delicate, beautiful, intricate and small. 

Yet they are wild. They grow in meadows and along woodland paths.  Yet they also grow on highway verges, rocky cliffsides, even cracks in the sidewalk. 

The soft side of wild is defined by beauty, peace and persistence. The same strength and resilience that an animal needs to survive in the wild is represented by these fragile, lovely flowers.  

Simplicity, patience, compassion

One of my favorite passages from Tao te Ching is: 

I have just three things to teach: 
simplicity, patience, compassion. 
These three are your greatest treasures. 
Simple in actions and in thoughts, 
you return to the source of being. 
Patient with both friends and enemies, 
you accord with the way things are. 
Compassionate toward yourself, 
you reconcile all beings in the world

(Translation by Stephen Mitchell, 1995) 

This passage is such an incredible guide, as is the whole of that remarkable, ancient book. These words constantly return me to the lessons they teach, which are both straightforward and difficult to practice continuously.  

Simplicity is something I do attempt to practice, and it has helped me control my desires and work on my dreams without being let down when they don’t work out exactly the way I want them to. 

Patience is probably my strongest attribute: after all, I am a 7th grade teacher! I have learned to be more patient with my dreams, understanding that I must continue to put in the work as they grow and come true.  

I have worked on being compassionate with myself. I used to have a lot of negative self-talk. This came from a period when I was unreliable and irresponsible. It has been a long time since I was like that, but the negative thoughts were powerful, because they were once necessary. Since I have changed, I have worked on replacing them with positive words, and it has helped me to stay on track and learn lessons without beating myself up.  

Simplicity, patience, compassion: three powerful words that taken together form a path for a healthy life.

Anna! For #sundaystills

The photo challenge this week is pets and playgrounds. So here is a picture of my little love Anna.

She is chilling on the back deck living her best dog life! Anna is a nearly perfect dog in my opinion. She his not too big, has a very sweet nature, loves to hike, but is totally chill when we are relaxing. She has done maybe two “bad” things in her 13 years. We love her so much, and of course she returns the favor.

Check out the photo challenge here and post your pet!

Playing Crows

A few years ago, I was sitting in my backyard. It was summertime, and I noticed the four neighborhood crows wheeling around in the sky. Then the largest one cawed, and they all flew into a single tree.  

Crows aren’t usually that interesting, so I was about to turn away when one launched from a high branch. It flew straight toward a powerline pole. It dove, then banked an extreme turn around the pole. Churning its wings, it flew back up to the branch, greeted by a cacophony from its fellows. 

Then, one by one, each did the same. They continued this for a while, and I was enraptured. Their cawing, usually grating, became the sounds of encouragement and enthusiasm.  

They must be playing, I thought at first. And I think they were. But I also think that they were doing drills, practicing difficult maneuvers that would be useful in tight forest spaces.  

I gained a great respect for crows that day, and the experience stripped away the biases often associated with these sophisticated carrion birds.  

Happy, not sad, Mother’s Day

I didn’t submit a pitch for a Mother’s Day storytelling show because too many memories of my mom are from near the end of her life, and I thought that they were all sad. I didn’t want to tell a sad story. 

But when we went to the show yesterday, one of the stories really touched me. The teller related how he had read to his mother in the last months of her life, and how they were able to connect through the stories.  

It brought me back to when my mother was recovering from strokes. Her ability to come back was astounding; her will to get out of assisted living and back home profoundly impacted my family and I. It still inspires me. 

When she got back home, she needed help with her reading and writing. I would visit after school, and for a while Mom was my student. We worked on reading brief passages, and I would have her answer questions about them. Learning to write again was arduous for her, but she was committed and showed great improvement.  

For fun, we would play cards. We had played Rummy here and there throughout the years, so that’s the game we chose. We had to play with the cards face up; Mom couldn’t consistently remember how to group the cards to score points. Over time she got better at this. Finally, one day she beat me without my help! I was so proud of her, and it was even fun to lose! 

I guess what I learned is that even within the often difficult and painful times of those years, there were also meaningful and happy moments of connection between mother and son.  I hope that those types of memories will continue to emerge as the years go on. 

Nature’s POWer

The emphasis on “POW” in the title is a bit of a joke, but also reveals what I want to say about Nature’s profound strength.

This picture shows that so effectively. Yes, this sprout did not shoot up with a comic book “POW!!!” Instead, what is revealed is the slow, implacable ability for this single green plant to break through a layer of asphalt. What a profound example of how persistently following the path of growth makes a being nearly irresistible.

Thoreau and the Taoists both talk about this strength. Thoreau wanted “to travel the only path I can, and that on which no power can resist me.” Asphalt is poured so its elements melt together and harden. They should stop a mere plant from sprouting. But that plant is doing what it must, what Nature demands of it, and no mere human concoction is going to stop its growth.

Today I am going to think with my sprout mind, and I am going to find the barriers that are stopping my growth. Then I’m going to find the natural path to overcome them.

Rude to be Kind

I have a colleague who is one of the kindest people I know. She puts other people first all the time, and, as a teacher, puts her heart and soul into teaching and supporting students. Due to her incredibly positive nature, I feel like a monster criticizing her. 

But it was due to her that I developed my philosophy about how politeness becomes rudeness. It came about when she held the door for me at the entrance of the school. Of course, this is a polite thing to do. UNLESS the person is very far away. This induces the person to feel like they need to speed up, perhaps even run. Even if the person says, “You don’t need to run,” it’s hard not to feel like you are inconveniencing the person holding the door.  

A similar thing happens at four-way stop signs. Now, sometimes who should go next can be confusing: two or more people may get to the signs at almost the same moment. What I’m talking about is when someone clearly gets there first but starts to wave people through. I don’t think this is helpful. There is a clear pattern that works and should be followed. Breaking that pattern just confuses everyone, and cars buck forward and stop as each person tries to go. It looks like a bunch of wildebeest pretending to charge each other, and no one knows which one is dominant.  

I believe in kindness, and I am a polite person. I am so polite, indeed, that I know when kindness warps into rudeness.  

The Laughers

Giggling begins. It starts with one student, but it spreads like a yawn. The laughers lose control, their bodies shaking and the sound taking on the edge of mania. Some put their heads down on their arms, shoulders pulsing even as they muffle the sound.  

I remember teenage emotions. The laughter, the heartache, the love, the tears. How much emotional intensity is due to newness, the personal inexperience with life, with feelings?  

Experience is a wonderful teacher, but it also wears down the extremes. Though I’m glad I no longer feel the intensity of hurt that came with the disappointments and tragedies of youth, experience also takes away some of that perfect joy.  

I still feel the edges of it sometimes. The laughter will linger, approaching that barrier, but there is too much control now. Is it about learning to let go, or remembering how to? 

Teaching young people does keep you young, partly because it reminds you of what being young is like. But while most experiences build our capacities, observing youth reminds you of how much is taken away by the years.  

We follow nature

Last weekend we got about 4 inches of rain overnight. When I went on a hike, and saw what’s in this video, I thought “Funny how the water followed the path.”

Who follows who?

My mind immediately alerted me to a potential fallacy. A “which came first” idea presented itself. Isn’t it more likely that water made this path? Rain overflow creates little streams, especially in the spring. Some are freshets, have a relatively deep bed, and can run for months if its a wet season. Not great for a path.

But a lot of time there are washes for when a big storm overflows the system of ponds and streams and rivulets, and more water runs off. As water always does, it tends to gather and find a way to flow down. I’m thinking these are the path makers: yes they get wet, but only briefly, and dry fairly quickly, which means we can walk on them most of the time.

Humans are smart, and you can also say we’re either thrifty or a bit lazy. It is far easier to follow a path given to us by nature than to have to hack a new path through its bushes, trees and tangles.

So my new thought is: “Look how we follow that path of water.”