Buried Alive

Not unusual, this Tuesday. I hop on my bike and head downhill toward the vast indigo ocean with Maui shimmering across the channel, verdant rolling fields a parenthesis between me and the sea. I fondly regard the local dairy’s towering wooden silo alongside giant red and white windmills, revolving in rhythm to the crispy gust of tradewinds. On my ten mile cruise along Akoni Pule Highway, I try not to focus too much on the roadside garbage, but thoughts creep in unbidden. When was it we began to ignore this blatant insult to the landscape? When did we collectively decide that walking, cycling and driving amidst rubbish was an acceptable state of being? And more broadly now, when did we collude in the wholesale polluting of the planet?

I remember growing up in the 1950’s and ‘60’s; recall milk deliveries, ice cream trucks, the separate weekly groupings of glass, paper and household rubbish. Into present awareness jump newspaper drives in grammar school, mammoth bundles tied with string, awaiting collection. Competition for our scout troop, summer camp, church fundraisers blends with somatic recall of smog alerts, times we had to refrain from playing at recess because our lungs burned with acrid air.

I reminisce on struggling with President Kennedy’s fitness programs, for we were not conditioned before running long distances around a track, not encouraged to stretch before attempting records at the long jump. My lungs and muscles ached for days, not to mention incurring virtual heat stroke from the solar-saturated asphalt surrounding islands of sand and swings. A playground promising blessed relief from forced intellectual and behavioral incarceration could likewise conjure mirages on the most blistering of days. I remember square dancing, pergola lunches, endless spinning around monkey bars, tetherball and five cent lunch milk in paper cartons. Recall going steady with boys in the fifth grade, playing spin the bottle in the bushes at Hamilton Park. And yet try though I might, I cannot summon the existence of roadside trash. All the way through high school, I covered mile after mile to and from those halls of learning. I walked to school, Brownies, band, drill team and water polo practice, I walked to the store, to friends’ houses, I walked to avoid going home. And I am certain I would have remembered curbside litter, as I was raised in the suburbs yet educated in the natural world of canyons and mountains, of ocean, high and low desert, of fresh and salt water lakes.

It was somewhere between thirty years in the Maine woods and spending quality time with a dear friend in Boston that I ventured into that city for focused periods of time. And one of the most striking features of forays into these urban environs was the sheer volume of rubbish blowing about the streets. Strolling through Somerville with plastic, styrofoam and paper collecting around my ankles lent stark contrast to long stretches of trees, grasses and pristine shorelines of the north country. And yet this began a time, for me, of mentally recording the emergence of a refuse culture, either ignorant, ignominious or both, in breed. We had somehow, somewhere and at some point become overwhelmed with our non-biodegradable consumerist compost. We had somehow, somewhere, and at some time chosen to ignore it spilling out from our homes and into our roads, highways, and landscapes. We had mysteriously made the collective decision not to care if it did.

Today I took note of the following items tossed from car windows, blown from beds of trucks and moved mauka to makai – from mountain to ocean – by the ever-present trade winds of Kohala. Grasping for perspective, I could not help but wonder what if anything moves through the minds of those who discard these objects; I who swoon with guilt anytime I’ve cast banana or orange peels far out the car window and into the scrub of landscape. Part of me knows they are biodegradable while another part wonders what would happen if a thousand people performed this act at the same time. To wit: beer bottles, large and small – some smashed, others whole, a disposable diaper, wadded paper towels, a large black sock, clear plastic roofing scraps, an entire plate lunch wrapped first in styrofoam then tied securely in a white plastic bag, red plastic drawstring from a garbage bag, cds, a cardboard box, a full orange adopted highway plastic rubbish bag that somehow had been moved off the highway collection spot and into the bushes, a Gatorade bottle left over from the last Ironman race, a rubber marker for a baseball diamond, plastic drinking bottles of all sizes and colors, plastic and galvanized garbage can lids (some shredded by the county mower), innumerable plastic bags blowing around, stuck to barbed wire fences and caught on tree branches, assorted aluminum cans, a child’s large inflatable toy, balloon bodies, woven plastic covers to county sandbags, a child’s rubber slipper, cigarette boxes, a man’s XXL “Year of the Tiger” tee shirt covered in dirt but otherwise perfectly wearable, an automobile wheel cover, plastic floor mat and old garage sale signs, both plastic and cardboard.

This rubbish collects along Akoni Pule Highway, gateway to our lovely community as it winds through some of Hawaii’s most striking landscapes and terminates in the incomparable Pololu Valley overlook. I have cycled this highway since moving here a dozen years ago, and for all the cleanup that periodically transpires, there is ever a recurring impulse to junk it up again with the telltale signs of a culture gone made with consumerism, the same culture that ignores a middle aged woman in the cashier’s line in front of me two days ago carting no fewer than ten well boxed and styrofoamed lights, requesting that each be securely stowed in its own brown and orange plastic Home Depot bag.

 

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Composer

Communication is composition,
ideally orchestrated if fortuitous enough
to grasp one another by our carefully
chosen words;

Yet too often in bright headlamps
of passing thought trains, we stand
transfixed, unable to move forward
or back, confused and confounded,
misconstrued meaning having wrung us
flat through slight inflection, unintended
direction; our own mind grasping
that tempting baton and running directly
to the finish, team long forgotten,
striding solo in self imposed isolation,
owing sadly to misinformation.

Dance

Passion peaks and wanes, conflagrations
cannot burn forever, yet if tempered and fed,
a gentle glow is maintained, steady heat,
protracted afterglow;

If we could always remember this moment
now, just as we are, tensions resolved
in baptismal sweetness, life would be
a dream; but we do not, and for all I know,
humans lack the capacity for sustained
euphoria, always something, anything
to pull us into crisis, individually
or collectively;

The young will live forever, the old
hold tragedy too vividly, death
stalking at every turn, and if
the middle way seems ripe
for embracing at middle age,
those days are subsumed in children
leaving home or careers revealing
themselves untenable and we,
with empty hands shaking out
residual memories and thoughts
and habits not readily put aside,
do not easily welcome acceptance
as a viable alternative;

And so we begin again.
At any stage of life. We recommit
to living with each sunrise, and
as the day spreads its magic
and mayhem, we learn to dance.
And we learn to love the dance.
As we learn better how to love.
And that in itself unites us.

 

Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.
―Ursula K. Le Guin (October 21, 1929 – January 22, 2018)

Missive on Missiles

Yesterday we had a shakedown for residents of Hawaii. A false alarm popped up on cellphones warning us of an imminent ballistic missile attack. I didn’t have my warnings enabled, but my husband showed me his phone. Our reactions were much the same. Well, what are we going to do about it? If it happens, it happens. We live in a crazy world. A provocative lunatic sits in the Oval Office. We would be surprised at nothing.

When this nation elected its current President, I could barely lift my head for days. I had the most ominous feeling of doom, not a sentiment easily conjured. Here we had finally raised a beautiful black man to the highest office in the land, something the flower child in me rejoiced at heartily. We were moving toward a more equal society. ‘Different’ people were crawling out of the woodwork to glimpse the sun, some for the very first time. It was not perfect, but it was a reason to feel promise in the bones. Then the Shadow emerged and is still looming large, insulting our humanity at every turn.

Jungian psychology might posit the Shadow to be a necessary part of the soul’s maturation. As we recognize the dark parts of our own psyches, integration is possible. We become more fully human and compassionate, understanding if for the first time that we all possess the ability to kill and to heal. Once we are mindful of our least acceptable traits, we are capable of choosing right action more often than not. I just mourned that it had to happen on this kind of scale in order to more fully awaken the collective.

So here’s the thing: What were your feelings? Your first thoughts or impulses? When one looks Death in the eye, priorities get quickly shuffled. The cards that rise to the top of the deck are those most worth noting. Did you feel fear? Anger? Outrage? Terror? Did your head spin, searching social media for a kind of discharge and/or comfort? Or were your contemplative feet rooted to the earth and did She give you a sense that there was nothing to panic about, knowing life itself is transient, that if this is your time so be it, it’s been a good life, no regrets, gather those you love close, I am ready to face whatever comes and I have taught my children to accept the same?

Knowing one’s last thoughts and sensations in the face of the worst happening is to know oneself more fully. It is an opportunity to embrace our own shadowy elements of anger and fear and really see how powerful it is when many occupy similar head spaces. Now that we are granted another glorious Hawaiian dawn, in Mary Oliver’s words, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

 

Unsure who took the pic, but this is our tiny town. The Clintons arrived the day after the missile scare event. Unsure if any connection.

Thought Tinker

The headaches come and she weeps alone;
afraid or is it ashamed to let anyone know
the hurt inside, the eye-popping terror
of a heart in chains, distress kept private
in a world that yearns for performance art;

I myself get them rarely, though I am
familiar with pain, can locate it at will
should the need arise, summon it boldly
to my lips. Whether in service to some
particular end I had in mind or a means
unto itself, this kinship with my own
darkest nature can surprise, stirring
deep revulsion at the unsavory;

To what end is this constant shaving,
whittling away perceived rough edges
when those I love most in life maintain
their own feral nature?

[photo: One of the more reclusive, yet fully vocal Melodious Laughing Thrush youths who visits our birdbath to luxuriate. They are very vigorous bathers!]

Scraps

Do not torture yourself with what-if’s,
unknown to you now or in future times,
mind-blowing images the result
of imagination in overdrive, time to regroup,
redirect into something worthwhile;

Humans are creative beings who do not
do well when long sated, beacon-like rays
of mental anguish beaming fore and aft,
searchlights meant to discover what lurks
in the shadows of dissimulation;

We all go thence, mindfulness is telling,
indulging fantastical ruminations
in the lax moments of a perfect day;
Better to dwell upon beauty in unexpected
places, focus on wind and weather,
the wet noses of dogs and the crumbling
of fertile soil, bending palms in waning light
or perfectly veined golden birch leaves
dropping onto crystal-encrusted ground;

I will never cease asking questions
despite education to the contrariness
of Whys, neverending hamster wheel
of insanity yet still I query, Why this life?
To what purpose the suffering?
I have read abundant teachings,
there is merit in all wisdom,
little snippets meant for stitching, warp
and woofing into wonder meant to comfort
both our bodies on the coldest winter night.

Postponing Joy

Remember Wimpy from Popeye cartoons? I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today! That guy knew what he wanted and couldn’t wait to enjoy it, although I’m not entirely sure about the indebting part, but I digress …

Some truths are hard to swallow. Yet is it possible we court death in postponing joy? When you die, says the Koran, God will call upon you to account for all the permitted pleasures you did not enjoy while on earth. From the Talmud, A person will be called upon to account, on Judgment Day, for all the permitted pleasures he might have enjoyed but did not.

I possess a wicked work ethic, and don’t consider it a bad thing. No matter the pressures of daily living, no matter what sticky situation I find myself mired in, I can always source joy through creative expression and participating in nature. If I find myself making excuses or justifications (some indeed compelling), it is important to recognize them for what they are so that I do not delay any longer. If I sense the corners of my mouth are cranked down in frustration or too much concentration, I know it’s time to get out into the garden and/or with the dogs and start smiling again.

Deepening consciousness through whatever avenues requires that I open my eyes to what is around me, to awaken further to how thoughts and desires co-create my life, moment to moment. Perhaps if one were ever mindful of temporality, one would live that much more fully. We could prioritize like never before while dismissing grievances and getting on with engaging ‘best possible self’ more than occasionally.

 

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