Awakening

For many years, most of my adult life in fact, I have been actively seeking a deeper connection with the earth.

Sometimes that has looked like studying the natural world in books. It has looked like pouring over field guides, and reading textbooks, drawing maps and reading about animal behavior, studying watersheds, and the life cycle, and the classification system, and plants. Sometimes that has looked like living outside, camping in all seasons, swimming in lakes, climbing up mountains, and drinking tea around campfires with dear friends at my side.
Sometimes it has looked like hours spent in the cold, and the hot summer sun, sitting very still, watching the birds build nests, or the squirrels feed their young. Sometimes it has looked like
activism, like attending marches and organizing community members and speaking up and speaking out.

Sometimes I have called the process rewilding. Sometimes I have called in
reconnection, reintegration. Sometimes I have resonated with the idea of undomestication.

Sometimes I have just called it love, born from a deep hunger for a life more meaningful than our civilization wishes to offer us.

With reconnection comes grief. The painful part of loving something deeply is coming to understand the dreadful reality of loss. That nothing here on earth is promised to last forever.
That the earth herself will one day cease to exist, and with her all of the magnificent beings that call this place their home.

More dreadful still is coming to understand that our civilization is not attuned to the planet and her rhythms. It is a hard truth to realize we are living in a way that causes suffering for other living beings, that renders whole regions of the planet unliveable, that strips whole ecosystems of any semblance of life. It is a painful and terrible thing to realize this, and worse
still is the feeling of helplessness that can come with it. Even if we know this and wish to change our present circumstances, it is hard to figure out exactly what to do to change things, and how.

I know from my experiences so far that it is possible to remember. We are capable of learning so much, of remembering the names of things, of learning the patterns of leaves, and
tracks in mud. But there is another piece of rewilding that is perhaps more difficult to practice, not found in any textbook, not something one can obviously see, sitting quietly on a cold day, or in the hot sun.

And that is the process of emotional awakening.

Our civilization is a fairly brutal one to exist in. To survive inside of it, it requires us to work against our natural inclinations to be highly empathetic, community oriented beings, and
requires instead that we compete with one another, and turn a blind eye to the suffering that takes place around us on a daily basis. We are not violent at our core. Smart? Yes. Cunning?
Perhaps. Able to adapt, and create, and invent at lightning speed? Yes. We are all of those things, and those things are what have made us so highly successful here on planet earth.

But we are also kind. We carry our babies in a gentle embrace. We make love, we tend to the forests and fields, we hunt, for food of course, and even there our predisposition is to be
gentle, quick, and humane. We are not brutal by nature. Our hands are made to hold, to clasp, to grab, to bring us together. We are successful because of our predisposition to be empathetic;
not in spite of it.

Our civilization does not nurture empathy, or sensitivity. It demands we move forward, always forward, in a desperate march of colonization and capitalism, turning living things into
dead ones and transforming life, the natural world, and our precious ecosystem into commodity.

When we are isolated, when we are faced with a lifetime filled with pain, as a survival mechanism so many of us find that we turn off emotionally. Like a snail in danger pulling itself into its shell, we withdraw into ourselves, drawing the most sensitive parts of our
emotional selves way down deep into the caves of our inner landscapes, where it is safe. We build walls around these emotional parts, and hide them away, and after awhile we grow
separated from them, can no longer access them or perhaps even forget that they ever existed at all.

But to be fully ourselves, to experience the world in a way that is both authentic, and profound, we must reawaken the emotional parts of ourselves that have been lying dormant.
Sometimes, often, this is an unconscious and unplanned process, frequently triggered by intense life experiences, like falling in love, or experiencing great loss. Moments of intense
feeling can awaken our sleeping emotional selves, and like a bear roused from hibernation before they are ready, the experience can feel disorienting, and painful. And also sometimes
intensely pleasant, depending on the circumstances.

As the dormant parts of ourselves awaken and start to function again, it can feel like limbs that were asleep tingling with pins and needles. As we start to experience the world more
fully in our senses, the process can be uncomfortable and overwhelming. Handling our emotions takes practice, and the parts of ourselves that have been sleeping need time to grow,
develop, to become full.

In the past year I lost my mother, whom I was very close to, and also my partner of 17 years and I separated. It’s a stunning amount of change and loss to comprehend, and I have struggled to find balance and a new sense of normal in my life that suddenly looks and feels
very different than it ever did before.
I feel like a newborn baby, not quite sure how to navigate life, and not quite in control of all my faculties. Or maybe the feeling is more like being an alien from the outer reaches of our universe, suddenly touched down on planet earth, and I am trying to learn the ways and customs in a space that is wholly unfamiliar to me.

Losing my mother has led to a seismic shift in my reality. My experience here without her is wildly different than the reality I lived in for the first 35 years of my life. The body that brought
me here, the breasts that fed me, the arms that held me, and the love that supported me have vanished, leaving behind a deep longing in me for something that no longer exists on this plane.

And what can I do about that? Nothing. Except remember her and hold my memories of her dear. I can whisper to her in quiet moments, and visit with her in my dreams, and otherwise I
can only sit with these difficult feelings, let them wash over me, cry an earth’s oceans full of tears, and seek life, and love, and goodness wherever it may live. But the loss has awakened me too. Even after all my years of rewilding work, there are so many parts of me that still sleep. Losing both my mother and my marriage has brought a new
perspective to my life. Parts of my emotional self long dormant have woken up. I am extremely vulnerable, and also probably stronger than I have ever been. When it became clear that my mother’s cancer, and my marriage’s prognosis were both most likely terminal, I thought I would surely die under the weight of all that loss. And honestly in some moments I wanted to cease to exist, the pain was so great. But I didn’t die. I didn’t disappear. I didn’t shatter into a million little bits and go blowing away in the wind. I’m sitting here breathing, my fingers tapping this
keyboard, and I am raw, and a little bit fragile, but also warm, and awake, and alive.

We can help one another through these difficult moments. We ARE empathetic, and we ARE kind. We can offer an outstretched hand to those in need, we can share our experiences, we can walk the roads of love and loss in community with others who are experiencing the
same things.

And, importantly, we move through these awakenings alone too. In the night, in the moments of solitude, we are kept company by the rhythm of our own heartbeat, by the blood
coursing through our veins, by the earth under our feet, and the clouds moving quickly across the sky. As the sleeping parts of us awaken we regain the ability to feel deeply, to sense the invisible, and to know some small bits of the unknowable. And our world shifts in turn, and as a result.

If civilization’s success counts on our ability to suppress our emotions, certainly one of the most rebellious, and powerful acts we can engage in is allowing ourselves simply just to
feel, without judgement, without guilt, without embarrassment, and with great, and thunderous, abandon.

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Wolves and sheep

By Phil Watts

We’ve all heard the claim
That our world is wolves and sheep
The weak are meat
And the strong do eat.

But we’ve been taught one part wrong,
That being fast, fierce and ferocious,
Having tearing claws and sharp teeth,
Is the same as being strong.

Those who prey on the weak,
Those who hunt those who can’t fight back,
They are not better, not to be envied
They have their place, but it’s not the only one.

They depend on the weak,
Their power is fleeting,
Stolen from those they feel superior to,
Barely their own.

Those who live with the earth,
Rely on each other for support,
Give freely to those in need,
Own their power.

Were there no sheep,
Wolves would make prey of themselves,
We’re there no wolves,
The sheep would sustain.

Which do you want to be.

 

 

 

 

Artificery

I often think about a particular sort of conflict or contradiction in the way I feel about the world. One feeling that has been core to my view of the world around us is how much damage has been done by the transactional nature of society, the economy of life. This manifests both in the common feelings about the exploitive nature of capitalism, as well as the harm we cause ourselves by measuring our interactions with others like an exchange of currency. Somewhere down this path, I inevitably touch on my feelings about materialism. Valuing things above people, their feelings, and the genuine execution of life has always felt like a source of great suffering, and a contradiction of the beautiful nature of people to be open, vulnerable, and generous.

The particular place where I feel conflicted with that belief comes in the joy I get from making things. Intentionally creating something, for yourself or for others, leads to an appreciation and attachment to an item that seems contrary to a resistance of materialism. Luckily, I’ve learned over time to acknowledge and observe thoughts like that without feeling an urgency and need to reconcile them into a perfect system of understanding.

Creating things, particularly for other people, brings me great joy. And sometimes those things in turn bring about joy in the recipient. There is a subtle magic in the act, and creating space for that is more valuable to me than adherence to the concept of opposing materialism. Ideas are great, but experience is always more important to me. Here’s a bit of a story about some recent creations that have made my world feel more rich and wonderful, regardless of their lack of practical value.

There are a number of projects that seems to be common in the pursuit of woodworking expertise. Things everyone seems to eventually try their hand at, almost like rites of passage. I’ve recently made 2 of these sort of projects, an end grain cutting board, and some wooden hammers.

Cutting boards have obvious use, and it’s nice to add some meaning to one of the random objects that collect in our lives. I felt an additional appreciation for this small project, because it amounted to collecting some scraps, offcuts and discarded pieces laying around my garage, and creating something useful from them. In a small way, it made me feel connected to the stories of indigenous peoples using all parts of a slain animal.

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This cutting board is the result of glueing together some scrap maple, cherry, walnut and acacia I had laying around.

The more interesting project has been making wooden hammers. While I’m sure many are created for a practical purpose, to aid in future woodworking, I was just screwing around. Using some cast aside pieces of walnut, cherry and wenge, and turning a piece of Lignum Vitae I had sitting around, I made myself a hammer. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a woodworking mallet, or a dead blow hammer. It’s unwieldy, too large, oddly shaped, and really just an ornamental piece. But it reminded me of the stories of Mjölnir, Thor’s hammer used to defend the gods of Asgard. What it lacked in practical use, it more than made up for in whimsey.

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My girls, with the great wisdom of childhood, had no thoughts about the impracticality of such a creation. They thought it was neat. That appreciation and acceptance gave me the freedom to let down my pragmatic judgements, and led to a side hobby is making something just for the sake of enjoying it.

The second hammer I made was a gift for Natasha’s son Revel. During a short visit to return some forgotten items, I was told of a game Revel has been playing for years. Jumping around the house, blasting things with his own magic. Originally, Revel used a particular favorite implement to channel his magic, and over time learned that he could channel his power with or without a magical implement. Again I was reminded of the mythology of the Norse, which has always been a particular favorite, and decided that Revel would probably love a magical hammer of his own.

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Rev’s hammer was the first to include some burnt in Norse Runes. It made me happy to think about giving a gift to a child that included some old magic, and the idea of laying down some intentional meaning to the object added something fun to the work. It was received very well, and predictably Olive and Nora asked for hammers of their own.

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My favorite part of this experience was the day I gave the girls the hammers I had made for them. They were so excited to have something of their own, and what could be better than a magical hammer. This also gave me the chance to tell the girls a piece of one of my favorite parts of Norse Mythology.

I explained to them, that like the great hammer of the gods Mjölnir, these magical hammers we alive themselves. The hammers themselves control their own magic. If you use them for good purposes, the hammer will lend all their magic to aid you. But if you use your hammer for cruel or bad means, such as hurting someone or to break things that belong to others, they will withhold their magic, and refuse to lend you their true strength. The girls beamed with happiness thinking that their new magical tools would help them if they were kind and good, and knew to be careful not to do harm with them.

Of course I am working on making Natasha a magical hammer of her own. It’s still a work in progress, but is coming along nicely.

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While these things aren’t going to solve any great problems in our day to day lives, I believe there’s something great about being given a magical implement. Unless of course any of our homes are invaded by Frost Giants, in which case we’ll all be thoroughly prepared.

(I’ve added descriptions of the materials, and the runes and meanings to these images over at Phil’s Woodworking)

The Buffalo People

A recent recurring theme in my life, dreams, and conversations lately has been the buffalo, or more accurately the American Bison. Obviously this project was spurred on by a story involving a buffalo (although this was the accurately named African Buffalo). But apart from that, I’ve had some memories and dreams come up featuring the buffalo as a key figure.

Most interestingly to me, was a memory of a concern I went to many years ago. I went to see possibly my favorite band, Built to Spill in concert. This wasn’t a terribly remarkable occurrence, as I tend to see them every time they tour within driving distance, and have on a number of occasions seen them two days in a row (at the Chameleon in Lancaster, and a venue in Philadelphia the next night). But one of those shows included an event that’s always stuck out in my mind.

I’ve played guitar off and on since I was around 13. And like most young musicians, soon reached the point where I could identify, and approximate the cost of any guitar and amp I happened across in the world. This isn’t a terribly entertaining hobby at a Built to Spill show, as Doug Martsch, the lead singer, has played the same guitar every time I’ve seen him, with the same reliable backup in the event of an issue. However, at this particular show I saw something interesting. One of the other guitarists, a man by the name of Brett Netson, was playing through a most peculiar amp.

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After the show was over, I did something pretty out of character for me at the time. I walked up to the stage as the band was breaking down their gear, and asked Brett about his amp. This was a little surprising, even in retrospect, as I had more than a little bit of social anxiety at that time in my life, however Brett was delightful to talk to. He and Jim Roth, the long time third guitarist in the band built the amp he was using together, from extra parts and tubes Jim had laying around. When they got it working, they realized that neither had any real plan for building the enclosure, so they found some random scrap wood, cut the upholstery off an old couch, and whipped something up. Once they were done, Brett decided to decorate the amp a bit with the name of a local charity he felt strongly about, The Buffalo Field Campaign.

This pattern lead to some research into the symbolism associated with buffalo. The first thing to note was the epic website I got the information from. Seriously, you owe it to yourself to look at this link. Anyway, the description of “Buffalo People” resonated with both Natasha and I. It was almost eerie to have an external source describe core parts of my behavior and personality so well.

An initial idea for this project was to write poetry with a common prompt. After talking about the idea of Buffalo people, and sharing stories of buffalo in our respective lives, we set forward to write our first prompted poems. Here they are, enjoy.

Buffalo

by Natasha

You rise at dawn. Your muscles are stiff. Your breath comes in puffs in the cold morning air; you shiver and stomp to wake up. You raise and lower your head, look around, scan the horizon, run your eyes along the thin line where land meets sky in the distance. The ground is frozen. It is hard as rock beneath your feet.

Beside you, your child is stirring. He nuzzles you with his cheek and presses against your warmth.

Above, the black vultures are circling, circling, always circling. You look up and blink against the sun. You worry. Something is not right.

Your people are moving around you, brushing against your shoulders and hips, bumping and pushing. You are shoved forward. Your child is beside you one moment; the next moment he is not.

There are bodies running, but you stand still. Steady as stone. You look for your son. You know his gait, the sound of his cry. You know you’ll spot him if you just stand still long enough.

And then you see them.

Shadows really, in the early morning light. Quick, dark shadows, moving unbelievably fast over the rough, uneven terrain. They move in a pack, but there’s one out in front, clearly in the lead. They’re in formation,  running, running, always running.

That’s it. A half dozen maybe. The one in the front, a few more to the sides, some to the rear. Close now, you can hear them pant. They’re circling, circling, always circling.

Time stops. Everything slows. You see your people, stumbling, tripping, madly and blindly, running for safety. Their eyes are wild, their movements hunted.

The sound of their feet on the earth is thunderous, explosive. You can hear your own heart beating in your ears. It’s the sound of fear, of terror. Of love. Because then you see him. Your baby. On the edge of the herd. He is silent. Unmoving. His eyes look this way and that, but he is frozen, still standing and standing still. He is looking for you.

And so you go to him. Of course. Your body bursts into motion. You run, head down, focused, alert. You see the vultures above, circling, circling. You see the panting shadows circling, circling. You carve right through, like a bullet, like an arrow.

You reach him. You smell him. Your bodies connect and ease with the touch, with the ease of the touch even in this terrible moment.

The shadows are panting. Their teeth are remarkably sharp, their eyes remarkably clear. You know you are alone, you and your baby. You make small circles around him, circling, always circling. Your eyes are trained on the wolves.

In this moment you know you are the same. Both are hunter, and hunted. It is not clear who will win. Who will live and who will die. The shadows have babies too, at home you know, tucked away safe in their den. This is your den, the endless sea of sky, of grass. You know you are the same, but different, but the same.

You nuzzle your baby. You lick his sweet fuzzy cheek. You move.

They move too.

There is muscle against muscle, flesh against flesh. You shout “run!” in your language to your boy, and he does. You watch until he reaches the herd.

There is struggle. There is fight. There is the clear blue sky of the morning and the cold ground beneath your feet. There is your heartbeat keeping time. There is predator, and prey. There is love, and there is life.

Circling, circling, always circling.

I Am The Buffalo Man

by Phil

Long ago, we walked the wide plains,
We drank from the rivers and lakes,
We foraged, and pressed our way through the woods,
And we died, and returned to the earth.

There were many others,
Creatures great and small,
Cunning and cruel,
Peaceful and soft.

There was even man,
He watched us like the birds,
He hunted us like the wolf,
He lived in our shared world.

In all things, there lives a song,
The song of their lives,
And in all their songs was a piece of love, just for us.
And in our song, they each had a piece of love as well.

Even the wolf,
Even the man.

Then came the great destroyer,
The plight that ravaged our world,
And silenced many songs,
Without a song of its own.

Civilization, it is called.
But it is not civil,
It makes much noise,
But sings no song

Many things died under its relentless march,
Many bodies left on the ground,
Stripped of their skins,
And of their songs.

Some survived, and walk the land still,
Some believe many more ran into the mountain,
Waiting for the world to be ready to hear,
Waiting to bring their song back.

Some have gone to where the blight can’t see them,
Into the realm of spirit,
Finding souls who hear, and sing for all they know.

You can see them if you know how to look,
Gentle and strong, Patient and kind,
They bow to help carry your burdens,
Pushing ever forward, head down and shoulders broad.

With those, the buffalo still walks the earth free,
And they still sing,
Some quiet, some loud,
A song that loves all things

A song that loves you.
I know this to be true,
For I am a buffalo man.

It begins with a story…

There once was a man who lived his whole life in the forest. And his parents lived their whole lives in the forest, and their parents before that, and their parents before that and their parents before that, as far back as anyone can remember. This forest was very thick with trees, and the man and his people lived amongst them, making tiny shelters between the trunks in the shade and protection of the great many leaves above them.

The man and his people acquired all they needed from the forest and each other. Food, shelter, weapons for hunting, protection, companionship, and community. The forest was so broad and wide that the man and his people never needed to leave it, and so they spent their whole lives surrounded by trees, in the tiniest clearings between the trunks and branches.

But the people knew there was a world outside the forest, and one day the man had to go to that other world on some important business.

He rode in a car and the car took him over many winding roads until they reached the edge of the great forest. Suddenly the man entered a vast clearing, a wide open space that stretched for many, many miles, the likes of which he had never seen before.

The light of the sun was nearly blinding after the dappled shade of the forest, and he felt a little dizzy with the vast expanse stretching out around him after the close quarters of trunks and canopy he had lived his whole life within.

Ahead he could see something moving. It was no bigger than his thumbnail, and appeared to be moving. He squinted his eyes to get a better look and couldn’t believe what he was seeing. “What is that tiny buffalo?!” He yelled, incredulous and a little frightened, for there before his eyes was a perfect, miniature, version of the humongous buffalo he had  seen winding amongst the trees of the forest out on hunting trips with his people. As he watched, the buffalo appeared to be growing larger.

“What is that tiny buffalo?!” He demanded again. “Why is it so small? And why does it appear to be growing?”

The man driving the car laughed and said “it’s not tiny, it’s just a regular sized buffalo. But it’s very far away so it just LOOKS very tiny. It appears to be growing because the closer we get to it, the larger it appears. That’s what distance does, that’s perspective.”

But the man, who had lived his whole life amongst the close and comforting press of trees, could not truly understand….

This story is the origin of a project, a collaboration in expression. You can find out more about The Project and Who We Are, as well as look over our other works in The Stacks.