This morning, the first of the Rhododendron blossoms began to open in front of the Sanctuary. These are the most glorious flowers I know ~ deep hearty shrubbery extending to the second story of the house, and at least ten feet across. With regular winds over 50 mph blasting the open face of the mountain where we are living, and with fierce ice storms and snows and torrential rains, this strong plant withstands it all with grace. And every spring, sometime in May, the blossoms cover her boughs with the most glorious beauty. In fact, we even worked with our photographer one year to make sure we did our photo session while the bloom was in its peak. What joy!

We chose to move to this Mountain paradise in the fall of 2014. After living in the greater Baltimore – Washington DC area for over 20 years, my heart wanted nothing more than to live with the land, surrounded by deep peace and silence, and the songs of the forest. Though there are challenges of living in a more remote location ~ it’s 20 minutes by car to the grocery store, and there’s not a lot of community here ~ the opportunity to spend our days living in the Real World was a potent one, and we said YES to it wholeheartedly. Now, approaching five years here, we are much more attuned to the rhythms of the Mountain through the seasons. And it’s become a deep and transformative gift to be humans living in the Real World, instead of living in the human-constructed-artificial-world, with token nods to “nature” here and there, when convenient and attractive in the overall design plan.

I grew up in the Mountains of East Tennessee. Not in a rural or remote place like now, but a place that was filled with the beauty of nature. The yard of the house I grew up in was filled with trees, moss, gardens, flowering plants, and wild berries. I do fully believe that my nervous system was formed in connection with the environment there, and though I leapt at the chance to live in the city when I turned 18, there was a part of me that never fully acclimated to that environment. Socially and creatively, the city is amazing, but I have felt most at home in environments that were not urban, not overly developed, and not busy all the time. Moving to the Mountain returned me to a space even more magnificent than the quietude of my youth, and after the transitional months in which my nervous system was offloading a lot of accumulated energy, I felt myself settle in. In spite of having to drive further for practical and work needs, I have never been happier in any home. Most of the time, it feels like we live in a storybook world, surrounded by the forest and sky.

Since living in deep relationship with the Real World for nearly five years, I have come to know other-than-human neighbors in a much more intimate way. The other night, we heard foxes fighting in the woods late at night. Not the usual fox screams or the squeaky sound of the kits, but another more visceral, deep crying. To know the messages of Fox in this way is a gift. We see them here regularly, and they are not like the scrappy suburban foxes I used to see around Maryland. These are fluffy, amber foxes ~ the very foxes that Disney must have used as models for their animations! Last week, we began to see Luna Moths, who are a bit early this year. We found Luna wings on the deck the next day, and wondered if they came to our deck to die, not more than five inches from the place where their eggs were deposited last year. And last spring, a Raccoon came up onto the deck when Helene was on a call, helping himself to the contents of the compost bowl that hadn’t been taken out yet. Imagine his surprise to look up and see her there, just a few feet from him!

While these stories are wonderful, the bigger story that we are living into here on this Mountain is the story of the rhythm of life. The coming and going of all the creatures, the flow of the greening and falling away of the trees, the cycles of wind and rain and thunderstorms and the deep freeze. With eyes open and paying attention, I am blessed to witness the natural ways of the Real World living as it has since the beginning. The longer I live here, the more I know I am in Love.

And the more I am in Love, the more I feel protective, the Mama Bear. I love this Land. I love this Mountain. I love this Forest. I love every moth, every chipmunk, every snake, every stone, every lichen, every tree. There is a profound cleansing of perception that happens when we show up in the Real World, drop our human arrogance and presumed superiority, and start to listen deeply and pay attention with no agenda. The learning that happens here ~ while staying open to the Spirit of beings and things so different from what is human ~ is transformational because it expands the circle of kinship, care, and understanding in ways that are foreign to most humans.

Most modern, western-minded human beings don’t question or even notice their arrogance in connection to the rest of the natural world. The belief that “nature” is something separate from us ~ available for the taking by humans, who are the natural dominating force, the smartest and strongest and deserving ones ~ loses its traction when one approaches the forest day after day with a keen sense of watchfulness. Possibly the greatest tragedy of all is that those who could most benefit from such understanding are the least likely to ever have any direct experience of these things. The entitled belief that we can do whatever we want without a care in the world is certainly accelerating the decline of the Real World. Climate change, environmental poisoning, destruction of Mountains and Waters and Land, and massive extinction of Our Relations. These are the outcomes of such arrogance. It breaks my heart.

This morning, I awoke feeling deeply sad about the state of things in our world. Sad that human arrogance has allowed things to come to this point. Sad about the forgetting of the undeniable interdependence of all things. This sadness is heavy, a deep sense of grief for the devastation the humans are bringing to this beautiful world. And because I have come to love Pachamama so deeply, and through years and years of connection with sacred traditions of ritual and ceremony that honor Mother Earth, I mourn what is happening here while feeling utterly powerless to use my two hands and heart to bring any real, meaningful change in things. The momentum of this insanity feels so strong.

And as we destroy the forests and streams and oceans and mountains, we continue to destroy ourselves. In addition to all the diseases that we have created through poisoning our air, water, and food supply, humans are taking their own lives in increasingly alarming numbers, and at ever younger ages. I often wonder if the ones who choose to die (or consider it) are people feeling this same deep sadness at the state of things in our world. I wonder if the longing to die is actually a deep attunement to Pachamama, feeling the collapse of species and ecosystems in ways that are very intimate and personal. An attunement to the collective oversoul of the planet feeling the unbearable weight of things. And the more empathic, sensitive ones of us carry that the most heavily.

There are no clear answers in the world right now. Some countries ~ such as Bolivia and New Zealand ~ are finding greater sanity and creating movements rooted in intelligence, wisdom, and respect. And countries like my own are foolishly and carelessly accelerating the devastation without any concern for the impact of their choices. My heart aches most days, feeling the seriousness of these things. And so, I continue to make prayers and offerings, to listen deeply, to love and respect the Mountain land that has graciously offered me a home, and to keep paying attention for as long as there is Life.

All photos in this blog are the stunning work of Yulia Mikhalchuk
Grief and the Real World

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