The light and the dark of us

dark clouds
Orb from a stormy sky.  Photo by Emily A. Lee

In the dark before dawn today I arose, fed the dogs and went to watch the first glimmerings of the existence of a sun to the east.  That view is quite surrounded by three story, pillored, white Georgian style buildings with black mansard roofs.  The black and whites is what some locals call the buildings.

Indeed, the thought crossed my dozy mind, our lives can feel surrounded by dueling points of view as sharp as the colors of the buildings and the sunrise against the darkness.  Aiming straight into our psyches.

As individuals we have two natures, the material and the spiritual ones.  How we develop and turn out as life unfolds depends, as an old Native saying has it, on which nature we feed with our thoughts and deeds.

I couldn’t eat anything,  despite being a dedicated morning person who needs food to push aside grogginess, as my dear daughter was taking time out of her work day to get me into the doctor’s office for a routine blood test.  Overnight fast required.  This situation made me woozy, wobbly and weak in the knees.  Well — my knees would have been all those things if they weren’t paralyzed.

Perhaps this state enhanced my preoccupation with the divisions amongst us that even Pollyannas can no longer ignore.  Perhaps that is what brought out the memory of two prayers that I have found, for decades, to be both inspiring and terrifying.  Two prayers describing, in the world-embracing way of the Baha’i Faith, the two natures of humanity.  Just as we as individuals have two aspects, so does our collective.  The human race as entity.  The over arching realm of common thought and purpose that builds in around a civilization.

So I perused these two prayers.  It occurred to me to share them in this time when dissension and dwelling on human misfortune, misery, greed and the entitlement of the few contrasts with persistent and determined efforts of a significant number of people to work with and bring out the justice and brilliance that lie within people.  Individually and collectively.

These passages give insight, I think, into the  dark views we hear too much about — and into the light that we carry, that we quietly urge to grow.

The first is about the darkness of our days, the second is filled with hope.  Both are prayers of ‘Abdu’l-Baha (1844-1921), who was an important figure in the Baha’i Faith.

The first:

O my Lord, my Defender, my Help in Peril!  Lowly do I entreat Thee, ailing do I come unto Thee to be healed, humbly do I cry out to Thee with my tongue, my soul, my spirit:

O God, my God!  The gloom of night hath shrouded every region, and all the earth is shut away behind thick clouds.  The peoples of the world are sunk in the black depths of vain illusions, while their tyrants wallow in cruelty and hate.  I see nothing but the glare of searing fires that blaze upward from the nethermost abyss, I hear nothing save the thunderous roar that belloweth out from thousands upon thousands of fiery weapons of assault, while every land is crying aloud in its secret tongue: “My riches avail me nothing, and my sovereignty hath perished!”

O my Lord, the lamps of guidance have gone out.  The flames of passion are mounting high, and malevolence is ever gaining on the world.  Malice and hate have overspread the face of the whole earth, and I find no souls except Thine own oppressed small band who are raising up this cry:

Make haste to love!  Make haste to trust!  Make haste to give!  To guidance come!

Come ye for harmony!  To behold the Star of Day!  Come here for kindliness, for ease!  Come here for amity and peace!

Come and cast down your weapons of wrath, till unity is won!  Come and in the Lord’s true path each one help each one.

Verily, with exceeding joy, with heart and soul, do these oppressed of Thine offer themselves up for all mankind in every land.  Thou seest them, O my Lord, weeping over the tears Thy people shed, mourning the grief of Thy children, condoling with humankind, suffering because of the calamities that beset all the denizens of the earth.

O my Lord, wing them with victory that they may soar upward to salvation, strengthen their loins in service to Thy people, and their backs in servitude to Thy Threshold of Holiness.

Verily Thou art the Generous, verily Thou art the Merciful!  There is none other God save Thee, the Clement, the Pitiful, the Ancient of Days!

The second:

O Thou kind Lord!  Thou hast created all humanity from the same stock.  Thou hast decreed that all shall belong to the same household.  In Thy Holy Presence they are all Thy servants, and all mankind are sheltered beneath Thy Tabernacle; all have gathered together at Thy Table of Bounty; all are illumined through the light of Thy Providence. 

O God!  Thou art kind to all, Thou hast provided for all, dost shelter all, conferrest life upon all.  Thou hast endowed each and all with talents and faculties, and all are submerged in the Ocean of Thy Mercy.

O Thou kind Lord!  Unite all.  Let the religions agree and make the nations one, so that they may see each other as one family and the whole earth as one home.  May they all live together in perfect harmony.

O God!  Raise aloft the banner of the oneness of mankind.

O God!  Establish the Most Great Peace.

Cement Thou, O God, the hearts together.

O Thou kind Father, God!  Gladden our hearts through the fragrance of Thy love.  Brighten our eyes through the Light of Thy Guidance.  Delight our ears with the melody of Thy Word, and shelter us all in the Stronghold of Thy Providence.

Thou art the Mighty and Powerful, Thou art the Forgiving and Thou art the One Who overlooketh the shortcomings of all mankind.

I leave you with this recording by Smith & Dragoman of their instrumental, The Passing

Dove on the ark in the sun
Arc for a dove in the sun, from a photo by Emily A. Lee

 

On Paula Bidwell

At midnight between last Saturday and Sunday the warm hearted person, a friend to so many different kinds of people, Paula Bidwell, died of a heart attack in her Pocatello, Idaho home.  This after a period of failing health.  Hearing this only last night (Tuesday), I felt, with the rolling tears, alternating honor at having known Paula, and awe at the breadth of her impact on so many.

As I sit writing this, she is being laid to rest at the Fort Hall Mission.

A prayer, from Paula’s heart:

Tunkasila with courage I am coming toward you,

with honor I am coming toward you.

Tunkasila in my sacrifice I am coming toward you, 

in my forgiveness I am coming toward you,

in my silence and in my words I am coming toward you.

Tunkasila dry my tears and the tears of all who cry. 

Tunkasila guide us as we come toward you in this work. 

                                                     Mitakuye Oyasin

Mitakuye oyasin, in case you don’t know, means “all my relatives”.

Paula Bidwell, photo from her Many Hoops website

paula-bidwell

Paula Bidwell was  of mixed Native American blood, Shawnee, Lakota, Cherokee, Delaware and Seneca, plus Northern Italian from her mother’s ancestry.  Eventually that it was discovered her great grandfather Abeyah Young was a Lakota from the Rosebud Sioux reservation — for most of her life she had not known this.  She grew up on that reservation, identifying with Lakota ways.

She made it her business to share that life with the broader world of people who have no idea, really, of what it means to be Native in today’s world.  People who are unaware of the cultural genocide (and the physical genocide) that has been carrying out for three centuries against indigenous people in the Americas.  People who are still being taught in most American schools a history of this country that is largely lies, where Native Americans are concerned.  People who think Natives believe that something called The Great Spirit lives in rocks and trees — when it was and still is a common belief among many tribes that the Great Power (or whatever people call the Creator) is far beyond human understanding.

And yet…

The drive of her life was bringing together people from very different backgrounds, be they tribal or from any of the European, African, Asian and other contributors to the American gene pool.  To shine light on the fact that on this small planet all the inhabitants are family. Development of the world has now come that far.

Before we get really serious about setting foot on other planets we ought to get ourselves united in our own place.

Paula made it her business to keep on top of Native American affairs all her life.  As a member of the Baha’i Faith she discovered, a few years ago, the work of Baha’i scholar Christopher Buck, which uncovered the distinct possibility that for millennia in the Americas (and elsewhere) The People had been blessed with non-Adamic prophets.  Meaning prophets not part of the Adam, Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Jesus Christ, Mohammed, The Bab and Baha’u’llah cycle.  Messengers who taught indigenous people of the Americas ways of making peace, living in harmony with one another, governing themselves.

It was in an online course on that very subject at the Wilmette Institute two years ago that I first discovered the warm glow of Paula’s mind and her efforts to clear the air of long-standing misbeliefs about Native religions and practices.  We were studying the impact of the Peacemaker, also known as Deganawidah, on the warring, cannibalistic tribes that later came together as the great Iroquois League.  How his teachings turned the people away from destroying one another and into forming a government that was democratic in nature, that used consultation rather than warfare as a means of settling misunderstandings, of keeping people in harmony.  A form of governing that had its effect upon the US Constitution.

The Peacemaker walked the earth in what is now mainly upstate New York and eastern Canada in the early 1030s, scholars now believe.  In other words — around the time the Normans were getting ready to change merry old England forever.

My ancestors include some Normans, a lot of English, and, I had hoped, a dash on the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois).  A DNA test, sadly, did not turn up evidence of a tribal presence in my family.  Perhaps it was too far back, as such tests are accurate for only 100 to 200 years back.  My maternal grandfather’s family lived in the Finger Lakes region of New York for many generations.

Paula and I had crossed paths in New Mexico, as she lived in Belén, my last home there — but several years prior to my arrival in that small city way south of Albuquerque.  If that wasn’t enough, Paula had also been brought by my gregarious ex-husband, Yakov, to visit our three donkeys and mule.  We think we met briefly at that time, though neither of us was quite positive.  Yakov also brought along an Irishman named Brian O’Flanagan to meet the friendly donkeys.  Brian and Paula were married a while later.

Physical meeting didn’t much matter, in any event, because once we started emailing we had so much to say.  Paula suffered from diabetes, for one thing, had recently had a foot amputated and was trying to get around in a manual wheelchair.  That is a very awkward thing to do, living in a small apartment with too many rugs.  We shared experiences about living with handicaps, people we knew in New Mexico — but mostly our common desire to find harmony as descendants of the people who clashed so hard, starting in the 1600s.  Like Paula’s close friend, Lea Gerlach, who lives in the South and is a direct Pilgrim descendant.

Paula and Lea together created an inspiring website called Many Hoops, which delves into all manner of traditions — and recipes — surrounding Thanksgiving.  In their own words:

“We hope that each Thanksgiving, we become conscious that there is still the dilemma of race; red, black, white and yellow in the United States. That this Thanksgiving and future Thanksgivings we have the materials and tools necessary to focus on the fact that we are now a diverse people sharing a common land with the Indigenous population at the forefront. Whether that is by re-educating our families, friends and communities, helping our teachers and other educators to have access to responsible and authentic materials and activities, serving a native cultivated food using a Native recipe or if prayer is part of your Thanksgiving include a Native prayer, particularly one from the Wampanoag Nation. See Native American Prayers for Thanksgiving.    

Let us make a new thanksgiving that joins the sacred hoops of all Nations.”

Many Hoops can be found at http://manyhoops.com/main.html

 

I cannot quite believe, yet, that this dear one is gone.  The person I could rely on for answers, or at least direction, on questions regarding Native Americans, an eager advocate for her people who also reached out to others to learn their histories, finding the common ground.

As many, many people mourn your loss amongst us, your spirit soars with the eagles, Paula, my friend.

Bald_Eagle

 

The bottlebrush tree

Early fall south of San Francisco and the bottle brush trees burst out with their brilliant red fuzzy flowers.  Legions of bees, hummingbirds and other pollinators flock to them like so many bits of iron to magnets.

And here was I, a bit cooped up in my second floor condo, observing a few bottlebrush trees around the buildings, noting the build up of the hummer population, planning ways of getting a few nice photos of this familiar California tree that I once thought quite exotic.

Coming from sandy, rocky coastal area of New England with its deep winters and potent winter hurricanes known as Nor’easters, California took my senses by storm with its wild pallets of color in trees, gardens, rolling hills and craggy mountains.  Even its deserts — the Mojave with its Joshua Trees being the first one I encountered — are unique and colorful in their own timeframes.  It was here, while living in Santa Maria along the central coast from 1978 to 1981 that I seriously set to work on my bird carving hobby.  As it slowly moved into a living from a pastime, so did my understanding grow for the myriad connections between the birds I would observe and study for my work and the natural world.

The bottlebrush tree, native to Australia, forwarded my interest in keeping wild things well supplied with sources of sustenance because in my wanderings around home base there would be clouds of hummingbirds at their flowers, even more bees.  Unlike another cool tree I encountered in Hawaii, the autograph tree, bottlebrushes are not known as invasive trees that are destroying native peers.  Birds — of which Hawaii has a great many endangered species — eat the autograph tree’s pretty little red seeds from its neat star shaped flowers and spread them far and wide.  The autograph tree often grows high in ohia trees, sending air roots groundwards and even straight through its host, killing it slowly.

Nice to feed the birds, particularly endangered ones, bad to kill the trees the birds have long been accustomed to.  It is very hard to keep up with the score sheets in nature…

abeyta-pot-with-oahu-leaves
Leaves gathered beneath an autograph tree on Oahu.  The name comes from the fact that you can scratch words or elaborate drawings onto the top surface of the leaves.  The next layer is light in color. … The pot was given to me by my late Native American friend, Dolores Abeyta of Isleta Pueblo.

The bottlebrush has no dark side like that.

Earlier this week the bushes here were about at their zenith, a visual feast for the likes of me, a set-the-table kind of feast for the flying creatures.  A virtual friend was just becoming a friend-in-the-flesh as she was visiting me for the first time.  A fellow blogger from a couple of Facebook blogger communities, Barbara is a like-minded soul with a lively mind.  Another friend who spent many years in New Mexico.  Our visit — blessed  by the instantaneous acceptance of her by my two small, noisy dogs, Elf and Opus — we were deep in conversation when from below came the overwhelming decibels that are generated only by power garden tools, wielded by landscapers.

Eventually I made my way to the balcony door.  Horrifying is a mild word for the shock my system absorbed on seeing the red glories from every bottle brush tree wilting on the ground.  The man waving the trimmer high over his head to shave the top of the last tree off looked like a demon to me.  Barbara was right with me in chagrin:  “Think how much damage this does to the bees!” said she, who had just brought me a jar of honey from her own hives.

“And the hummers who are migrating,” noted I.  It is true that of late there had been more as-yet-unidentified hummer species at my feeder (and the bushes) than there were all summer.

bottlebrush-bloom
My quick sketch of a bottlebrush flower.  Note:  The leaves don’t really flow like that.  Frieda Kahlo was simply standing behind me while I drew on an iPad Pro.

Keep in mind that for most of my life I’ve lived in houses that my family, or I, owned.  Nobody trimmed a flowering bush or tree when we didn’t want them to.  The concept of renting a place may relieve me of loads of work but here is the dark side.

We two environmentally minded ones, however, had to acknowledge that the condo HOA (homeowner association) does what it does for its own reasons, and the Mexican men wielding the noisy pruners did not deserve my ire.

What sort of dimwitted thinking puts small flowering trees in places that need the kind of thing easily kept round or square?

In the days since the tree trimming hummingbird numbers had gone down to nearly nothing at my feeder.

Which all has put me to thinking about the way in which a sense of contentment, or acceptance, or comfort or even just acquiescence builds up in me about the big changes in life.  Slowly, steadily.  How, often, once the appropriate feeling settles over my psyche like a comfortable bubble of fresh air, the tree pruners of life come along and reshape the entire experience.

I guess that like the bottlebrush trees it is my challenge to aim my creative energies towards new growth, even as the inevitable future pinching back of that effusion is bound to come.

I just hope that my efforts will feed metaphorical bees and hummingbirds before the noisy blades do their chopping.

All of this gives me the opportunity to heave a big sigh and get on with squirrel watching.  This fluffy tailed rodents leap from balcony to balcony in this condo complex, shoot up the corners of buildings to the rooftops, twirl themselves around railings.

On with the show, you bottlebrush tailed varmints!

Elf and Opus go to the sea

Elf and Opus went to the sea, in a beautiful pea green Jaguar.

Really.  Here they are, cruising by Pebble Beach….

Elf and Opus in Jag

During a morning walk on a lovely holiday weekend in September the pair  observed a vintage auto parked right in front of their rose-covered front yard.  Slung temptingly low to the ground, it had no roof to bar canine entry.  Best of all the tan leather seat was open to the air with nothing to stop occupants from following their noses wherever they led, the flow of delicious air in their ears.

Both canine minds instantly awoke to possibilities when they further observed that keys dangled within.  Most astonishingly, the old machine was fitted with hand controls for the driver, who must have been challenged for leg mobility just like their own person.

Lightning struck.  Elf and Opus looked at each other, light of possibility blazing from their eyes. They knew exactly what to do.

Managing to keep their condo door from latching as their person brought them back inside, out they sneaked at the first opportunity. Lurking in the dark hallway, still as statues beneath a usually useless silk philodendron, they waited until an elderly German neighbor, burdened with bags, opened the elevator door.

Whoosh!  In the duo hurried, tight behind him.  He being tall and they being about eight inches at the shoulders, they were never noticed. Out they flew behind his heels in the basement garage.  A squeeze through the bars of the rolling door was simple for them.   From there making their way to the front of the building was simple.

Before they were missed upstairs those two were seated in the beautiful machine — Opus had to leap in first, then open the door for Elf.  With her sturdy but short little legs she lacked his jumping abilities.

Being bossier, and aware of her status as royalty on the British Isles, she promptly took over the driver’s seat and off they went.  One powerful paw on the wheel, the other moving the hand control.  How many times had this intelligent Pembroke Welsh Corgi watched her person operate such adaptations.  She knew perfectly how to manage.

Not wishing to attract attention she piloted sedately as she and Opus used their noses to aim for the ocean that they had never seen.  She remembered the hop and skip to the Highway Going to Everywhere.

And see the Pacific they did, rolling up and down the coastal highway with the wind in their ears, ruffling thick fur and filling keen noses with scintillating whiffs of salt water, fish, sea birds, heavenly hot dogs and steaks cooking.

As for the people who gasped, pointed and stared at two dogs out for a holiday cruise, Elf and Opus steadfastly pointed their noses ahead and ignored them.

Maybe they’d think this was a new kind of Google self driving car.

They stopped long enough to chase somebody’s abandoned purple beach ball across a sandy spot on the shore — where there was even a yellow brick road to lead them back to the Jag when their tongues hung out almost to the ground from all the exercise.

Elf and Opus with palms and beach 3

…And when they woke up, there they were in their own condo, Opus sprawled on his blue duvet, Elf curled up in her bed beneath her person’s computer table.

All the person ever knew of this adventure was how deeply her beloved companions were sleeping today, and yet how their noses kept sniffing and snuffling…  How fast Elf’s front paws moved occasionally, what joyous little yips she let out, just like when she chased her purple jolly ball around their old back yard.  And how fast they had emptied their water bowl the moment they awakened!

The vintage Jag has vanished.  The purple jolly ball, tucked away in our storage vault, seems to have been moved around.

So here sits the human, haunted by a waking vision of her canine cutups.  Into her head pops a sketch:

E_&_O_Jag_sketch

Uh oh, have they been up to something again?

Opus on duvet
Sleepy Opus on his duvet.  This boy, eleven years of age, is ready to take off on an adventure at the drop of a kibble bit.