For several weeks the depth of snow has limited my ability to walk on our 26 acres. Last week we had a couple of inches of rain that arrived with the scent of the sea and tropical warmth, followed by a hard, fast freeze. The rain melted a great deal of snow and we had flooding. The sudden freeze created a hard crust on the remaining few inches of snow, and as we returned to subzero winter temperatures I decided to see if I could get down to the river.
Photo by Vincent Foret on Unsplash
The crust supported my weight — sometimes! Other times I broke through and floundered up to my knees, the icy rind bruising and scraping my lower legs in spite of long underwear and heavy canvas pants. I saw tracks of deer and moose, rodents and birds in the snow. The river, ice encased, had thawed slightly and flooded during the rain, so the cracked ice was piled in slabs. In some fissures I could see open water. In other places thin new ice had formed and old, yellow ice lay flat but spiderwebbed with cracks.
As I stood next to the river catching my breath and marveling at the power of winter, I could hear the voice of the ice. It’s an odd sound, because it comes from beneath one’s feet rather than the sky or the world around. The ice pops and groans, sings and mutters and snaps. It’s a wild, unearthly voice, a chorus of cold water, cold air and cold crystals, the medley of flowing, living water and rigid winter armor. I wondered what it sounded like to the creatures hibernating in the river bed and the beavers in their dens.
The trees here have voices as well. When the wind blows they creak and groan as they sway, and their branches rub together, making a classic haunted house rusty hinges sound. In the deep winter when it’s very cold, sap freezes, expanding, and the trees explode with a sound like a gun going off. Sometimes they split right through the trunk.
So many voices in this world. Every place has its own special choir, every season its own song. The sound of a beetle chewing bark, the Barred owls calling to each other in the snow-bound January night, the agonized shriek of a vixen calling for a mate on a February midnight of crystal and moon, and the barely discernible high-pitched talk of the bats as they leave their roost at dusk are all familiar voices to me.
I’m a seeker of voice, a listener, partly because I’m a writer and partly because I know what it is to be silenced. Our world contains so much pain and suffering, such unimaginable horror and injustice that my compassion is frequently overwhelmed. I cannot staunch the wounds and wipe the tears of the world.
But I can listen. I can bear witness. I can stand and wonder and marvel at the wild ice, the mating owls, the hunting bats and also the handful of people in my life. For a few minutes, I can encircle another with my presence and attention, allowing their voice to speak freely, truly and fully. I can choose to have no agenda about the voices of others, no expectations or judgements.
I can also give that to myself. It’s only in the last three or four years that I’ve reclaimed my own voice. That, more than anything, is why I began writing this blog. Once a week I sit in front of a blank page and write in my true voice. Blogging, for me, is not about validation or statistics. It’s not about trying to please anyone, creating click bait or competing. It’s about contributing my voice because I am also here, not more important but as important as anyone else.
Using our voice does not require a listener.
Listening to the ice and the world around me has allowed me to realize, for the first time, how deeply I’m committed to appreciating and supporting authentic voice. My appreciation is a thing apart from agreement or disagreement with what I hear. Speaking our truth is not a matter for criticism. It’s an offering of self, and listening without judgement is an acceptance of that offering. I feel no need to annihilate those I disagree with.
Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash
The dark side of voice is the voice that deliberately drowns everyone else out, the voice that silences, controls and distorts our world and our sense of self. The voice that deliberately destroys is an evil thing, a thing afraid and threatened by the power of others. Dark voices throw words like a handful of gravel in our faces.
An essential part of self-care is learning to recognize, minimize and/or eliminate our exposure to voices we experience as destructive or silencing. This is boundary work. Note the difference between appropriate boundaries and dropping an atomic warhead. Healthy boundaries do not disrespect, invalidate or silence others.
I wonder what the world would be like if all criticism, jeering and contempt were replaced with “I hear you. I’m listening. I believe in the truth of your experience. You are not alone.” What would we be like if we gave that gift to ourselves?
Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash
And what of lost voices? I don’t mean unheard or unremarked, but those voices who spoke, faintly, for a moment, and then were silenced so brutally and completely no one but the silencer heard their last cry. Such a person lives, breathes, walks, eats and sleeps, but he or she is a shell mouthing superficial words. Attempts to draw close, to understand, to share authentically and elicit a true voice in return are all in vain. The phone is off the hook. Silence and deflection are the only response. No one is at home. Love and listening count for nothing and behind the mask is only emptiness. Connection is denied.
How many voices can we truly hear? The world is filled with a cacophony of sound made by billions of people. Even here in the heart of Maine the voice of the river is punctuated by traffic noise. We all seem intent on increasing our exposure to voices via social media, 100 TV channels, streaming, downloading and YouTube. Does all this clamor make us better at listening and honoring voices? Can we listen to our child, our mate, the TV, and read Facebook all at the same time?
Some people say they can, and perhaps it’s true. What I know is I can’t. I don’t want to. I don’t feel listened to when I’m competing with other voices. I can’t hear myself when my day is filled with racket and din. I can’t extend the gift of presence to 100 friends on Facebook. I can’t discern between an authentic voice and a dark voice in the middle of uproar.
Voice is precious. It’s sacred. No created character lives in our imagination without voice. Silencing voice is a horrific violation. I have promised myself I’ll never again abdicate my own voice.
Honoring voice, yours, mine, theirs, and the world’s.
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except where otherwise noted
My partner and I have hired a permaculture group called the Resilience Hub out of Portland, Maine, to collaborate with us in the development of a 30-year plan for our 26 acres.
Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash
Permaculture, for those of you who didn’t follow the above link, is “the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.” In other words, it’s a holistic management plan that includes plants, animals (insects, birds and reptiles), people, water and land. The land we live on consists of wetland, a river, a pond, a year-round daylight spring, streams, fields and woodland.
That’s what we tell people, anyway. I’m beginning to understand what permaculture really means to me, though, is a commitment to love.
I’m interested to discover I’ve achieved the ripe old age of 53 and discarded nearly my entire definition of love after two marriages, two long-term non-marriage relationships and raising two children. At this point I know a lot more about what love isn’t than what it is.
Here’s my current working definition: A relationship revolving around what we want others to be is not love. A relationship revolving around the question “Who are you?” is love. Notice sex is not part of the definition. I’m talking about love in the wide sense here, the act of loving another human being, independent of legal or blood ties. For me, this is also the root of self-love. Do we endlessly tell ourselves what we should, must, and have a responsibility to be, or do we allow ourselves to discover who we in fact are?
Creating a permaculture plan for this piece of land is a deliberate and intentional journey into what the land and the life it sustains is, as well as what we are as individuals and as partners. From our most private thoughts and beliefs to the boundary of the 26 acres we live on, we become note takers and observers. We practice surrender and acceptance. We listen and watch with curiosity and attention. We are present every day with ourselves, one another, and the land. We don’t think about imposing our will. We think about collaboration and cooperation, weaknesses and strengths, effectiveness and healing.
The consent to see and be seen is a profound and intimate expression of love rippling from the inside outward. We are not intruders here. We inhabit this land and want to protect and preserve it. The porcupine living in the barn cellar, the owls down by the river, the phoebes nesting in the barn, the passing bear who wiped out our suet feeder, are not intruders, either. The poison ivy, stinging nettle, ticks and mosquitos live here. The snapping turtles in the river and the leeches in the pond call this place home, just as we do. Permaculture is a peace treaty, the practice of appreciation for the variety and complexity of life around us, and the humility to admit much of its elegant mystery is beyond our knowledge or understanding.
Photo by Takahiro Sakamoto on Unsplash
As I walk these acres, alone, with my partner or in a group with the Resilience Hub, I’m learning the land as I would learn a beloved’s body. I’m noticing the animal trails wandering from field to forest to river, lines and wrinkles of use tracing their way along the land’s contours and folds, suggesting where we, too, might make a path, a place to pause, a spiritual resting place.
I map old stone walls like the delicate sculpture of a spine, huge mossy boulders and landmark trees, learning the texture and landscape of this place. I wander in the thin-skinned places where old bones of ancient glacial esker are revealed. I think about bird nesting boxes, bee and pollinator boxes and honeybee hives.
Over the years, my partner has discovered all the delicate veins of water, daylight and underground, seasonal and year round, the lifeblood of the land. Thick forest hides damp, humid hollows and shallow bowls where mosquitoes fill the leaf-dappled air and the turkey and grouse hide. The grassy hair on the open slopes and fields is twined, in this season, with black-eyed Susan, purple vetch, queen Anne’s lace, wild pinks, blooming milkweed, and red clover.
The land shows us where wildflowers thrive, and which type decorate which season. It demonstrates where water runs, so we know exactly where to position a well. The trees inform us of water availability, drought, crowding, disease and age. The raptors flying over us, hunting, help us know where raptor roosts would be welcome in order to protect the woody agriculture we think of introducing against rodent damage.
As we wander this terrain, we look for nothing and try to see everything. This is how the sun falls during each month of the year. This is where the field floods when the river ice dams thaw in the spring. This is where the doe that was hit on the road lay down and died. This is the special spot where I come, early in the morning, to sit by the river and be alive. This is where the wind strokes the exposed slope, and this is where the trees shelter a small clearing that catches the sun. This is the place where a bittern pounced like a cat on some small rodent by the pond one morning. Here the snow drifts, and here it lies late in the season as the bluets bloom in the boggy field. Here was the old fox den.
Trees topple, decay into humus where fungus thrives and new trees reach for the sun. The land stretches, sheds, sloughs away and reconfigures. Species populations rise and fall. We aspire to that resilience and sustainability. We aspire to the harmony and complexity innate in the landscape around us. We don’t want more than we need to eat, to live, to love. We don’t want to be well-groomed, civilized, obedient and sterilized. We want to root the rest of our lives in the color and scent and texture of the primordial wisdom of life and death as naturally and unapologetically as the raven, the fern or the tree.
Who am I? Who is my partner? What is this land? I believe these are questions that open the way to true love; to sustainability; to reciprocity, respect and surrender. As long as we ask and cherish these questions and receive and cherish the answers, hour by hour, day by day, season by season, cycle by cycle, love endures.
All content on this site ©2017
except where otherwise noted
I noticed last week’s post on authentic female power quickly became my most read post to date, perhaps confirming my suspicion about how hungry women are to reclaim real power.
This week, my partner shared a short video clip with me that talks about manufactured consent.
This morning, as we cooked breakfast together, My partner informed me about the new trend of buying dirty jeans at $425 a pair.
Photo by Andrew Loke on Unsplash
As usual, I feel painfully out of step with the culture. I feel angry. I feel lonely. I feel flawed in some deep, irrevocable way because of what I want. I grieve for the loss of connection with what I can touch, smell, taste, look at, hear and be held by.
Yet there was a significant response to last week’s post, which indicates to me I’m not as alone as I feel.
It seems to me we’re increasingly distanced from one another, increasingly divided. The culture says we’re more connected and have access to more information than ever, and in a manner of speaking that’s true. We’re more technologically connected than ever. We’re more connected with word and symbol than ever. In fact, our heightened connectivity is creating new languages of emojis, emoticons, like and dislike buttons, and shortcut language that accommodates the limitations of tweets and texts.
Yet we live in technological enclaves that are every bit as rigid as physical neighborhoods and districts in a city. If, like me, we don’t have a cell phone — well, we’re out of the texting conversation. We’re invisible. We don’t count. We’re silenced. Ditto if we don’t have access to Internet or aren’t on social media, or don’t have an email. If we don’t play on the technological playground, we’re depersonalized and disconnected — literally.
But words, pictures, profiles and emoticons can lie. Language includes communication that only occurs with physical presence. Without physical presence, we can’t discern lies from truth. Our power is so damaged we routinely swallow just about everything the culture, media, advertising and our “friends” tells us.
For example, professional women can’t succeed if they don’t adhere to social standards of businesslike attire, clothing and makeup. If you don’t believe me, look it up on any of your tech devices. It’s not hard to find this “fact,” both directly stated and implied. Let me just repeat that, to make sure you got it.
If we’re a woman who doesn’t buy and use makeup, we can’t succeed in the business world. Everybody says so. Everybody believes it. Everybody makes it true by enforcing it each and every day with words, buying choices, advertising, blogs and articles, all courtesy of technological connectivity and manufactured consent. In 2015, the United States was considered the most valuable beauty and personal care market in the world, with a market value of 80 billion dollars.
I’d say that’s pretty successful manufactured consent, wouldn’t you? Pat yourself on the back if you wear makeup, because your hard-earned money is somewhere in that 80 billion dollars. Well done. Do you feel successful and powerful now? Someone does.
If we’re on Facebook, we have friends, a community, a popular vote of “likes.” We don’t have to deal with morning breath, a wet spot on the mattress, different schedules and rhythms, dirty bathrooms, greasy stoves, or any of the small idiosyncrasies and habits real people have. We don’t have to reveal our physical bodies, our insecurities and our wounds. The worst rejection we risk is being blocked or unfriended. We don’t have to learn how to accept, live with and perhaps even appreciate (perish the thought!) different points of view or opinions. We don’t have to be challenged, stretched, or have our dearest beliefs threatened.
Pressing a button is so much easier than all the messy consequences of authentic connection.
Photo by Alessio Lin on Unsplash
We never have to risk being real at a technological remove. No one can blow our cover. We never have to face ourselves; take responsibility for our words, views or choices; or endure the difference between the way we wish to be and the way others actually experience us. Or, alternatively, we can come out of hiding, feel safe behind the screen, and finally allow all our hate and rage off the leash.
Our culture tells us power and success equal carefully constructed pseudo self profiles, the latest technological gadgets, social media accounts, likes, followers and “friends.”
The culture teaches that power and success are achieved by buying things and the possession of money. Now there’s a circular game of empty addiction we can never win and sellers never lose!
Power and success are ours if we participate fully in manufactured consent. Would anyone like to buy a pair of dirty jeans? Guaranteed power and success!
Yet how many of us truly feel powerful and successful? Are we there yet? If we’re not there, we will be after we buy just one more thing, right? Or perhaps we need to make just a little more money, or lose a little more weight, or finally find the “right” mate.
If we’re well connected technologically, our needs are all met, yes? We have a tribe, a community in which to laugh, cry, celebrate, mourn and share our authentic selves. We have physical reassurance and bonding. Our relationships are based on authenticity, reciprocity and respect. We feel seen, heard and known.
Photo by freddie marriage on Unsplash
I don’t think so. I don’t think tech meets all our needs for authentic connection. I think it more often swallows us up and absorbs us. It’s a toxic mimic for the real thing, more controllable and less risky, and we the sheeple have been groomed to buy every toy that’s put in front of us. We’ve forgotten to look up and notice there’s another human being in the room, in the bed or at the table. That’s the power of manufactured consent.
It doesn’t surprise me that Baba Yaga spoke to so many last week. We’ve sterilized what she represents right out of our modern culture. All her outrageous, provocative, profane, rebellious, insubordinate, irreverent, passionate, authentic attributes have been pushed underground, where her spirit lurks, watching, cackling, stirring her cauldron, sucking on bones and waiting for us to remember her and summon authentic power and connection again.
Authentic connection has a scent of living tissue and breath. It’s texture and heartbeat. It communicates with word, action, and the silent language of the body. It doesn’t allow us to shut our eyes, stop our ears or press a button and dismiss uncomfortable tension.
Authentic connection reveals us to ourselves and to others. It isn’t muffled, sterilized or distorted by keyboard or touchpad. It’s defined by visible action and choice. It demands priority and time. It requires real participation, with heart, body and presence. Authentic connection makes us weep. It makes us bleed. It makes us laugh. It awakens our rage. It heals us and makes us whole. It’s messy, unpredictable, confusing, demanding, imperfect, and reminds us at every turn of the limits of our power. It forces us to communicate and then holds us accountable for what we say — and what we don’t.
Most of all, authentic connection is not something we can buy — ever. No one and nothing can give it to us. Our only access to it is through ourselves. We’re a nation of prostitutes, viewing, clicking, scrolling, buying and surfing, but the only ones profiting are the pimps who cash in on our hunger for something real and our addiction to everything not-real.
Yet Baba Yaga is on the move, sowing seeds of divine rebellion into the cancer of manufactured consent and patriarchy, deprogramming one woman at a time. Even now she’s flying on the spring wind in her mortar, using a pestle as a rudder, searching for all those women who long for something real.
Searching for me.
My daily crime.
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except where otherwise noted