Desert Hill At Night

20170917_073855

Behind their voices I hear the sky. It moves patiently but briskly, the way a deep river flows but is glass. I feel the depth of the soil; I feel its color waiting in the darkness. I follow it to the hill, weaving between the gray-night grasses, the rabbitbrush, the sage. At the top, the clouds have moved over the stars. The wind carries something empty. It is a good emptiness; the emptiness of oceans and redwood trees, of wide, old, ancient places where silence still exists. I can imagine myself alone here, standing among the sagebrush, their roundness, their whispered company. I can imagine the sky bending around me, the heat of fear and stillness in my chest.

Advertisements

Cathartes aura

20170409_071731

I wait at the bus stop, in the grass, as the cars scuff by. There is a hint of sunset behind the road, behind the skyscrapers, and the houses feel empty as dawn. In this moment I look up. Three turkey vultures circle each other; they dance like kites, smooth, their shadows lengthening, their features charcoal-dark, existing only in silhouette.

Lupine

20170809_140607

Lupine smell like nothing at all. Their hooded flowers feel like paper and like rain.

Tiny ants climb their stems, up and down on the small hairs. A bee lands on a purple bud, makes its way in, and then leaves to find the lupine’s brethren.

In their roots, lupine fix nitrogen, and I imagine the bacterial lives being lived there, just beneath my feet. Lupine are technically a kind of legume, a member of the fabaceae family, and so they have been given the gift of taking nitrogen from the air and bringing it to the soil.

Their name is wolflike, from the same root as Canis lupus. But they, themselves, are delicate, and pastel, the color-makers of many meadows. They are far from elusive–how could one mistake their round whirl of leaves, and their plump bunches of pale pea-flowers? How could anyone overlook the beauty of the lupine?

The Summer Sky

I wander away from the lights. I look for the darkened air, where the bats are felt but not seen. Wildfire smoke smudges the horizon. I crunch over the grass and the gravel until, finally, I am far from the cabin. I look up. Past the smoke, in the clear zenith, vega hangs emptily, spaciously, blue-and-white, on the shoulders of cygnus, the swan. There is bootes and corona borealis. Then there is hercules and ursa major, cassiopeia and aquila. These are the marks of summer.

The wind blows through my flannel shirt. Something screeches–a great-horned owl, perched in a Douglas fir, high up there, on the edge of things. I stare through the gray fields ahead of me. I can sense the openness. It’s like standing in front of the ocean. You can feel it, the movement of air and the bending of grass. You feel that you should speak to it; ask for its forgiveness and its advice. You feel that your ancestors once crept through tall grass and followed the stars like seafarers. Coyotes sing, somewhere out there. A flash of lightning illuminates half the sky. It is silver, and cold, and it makes no sound. Is this why the coyotes are singing? The wind blows faster. Clouds sail in thin tufts across the zenith. I spin around and say good-night to them all, the summer constellations, before they are gone, before I am gone, before I turn the light on again.

My Plastic Free July Journey

This month I decided to participate in Plastic Free July, a worldwide initiative to encourage the reduction of everyday plastic usage.

Aside from being made from fossil-fuels, plastic takes millennia to biodegrade, polluting our rivers and oceans–and their animal inhabitants–in the meantime. Many plastic products are designed to only be used once, which makes their long life-span even more ridiculous. Plastic also wastes our money; though its particles last basically forever, plastic is designed to lose its usefulness quickly. Plastic bags, plastic water bottles, plastic razers, and plastic food containers soon become crumpled and ripped, and can also leach toxins into your home. They’re not designed for longevity; they’re designed to keep you coming back for more.

Thankfully, there are many re-usable, durable replacements for throw-away plastic (and paper!) items:

🐳 Swap cloth towels and napkins for paper.

🐳 Use a glass or stainless steel water bottle.

🐳 Pack your lunch in glass, cloth, or stainless steel containers.

🐳 Bring your own cloth bags to the grocery store (including produce bags!).

🐳 Buy loose produce instead of the pre-chopped packaged kind (this will save you money, too). A great place for this is your local farmers market.

🐳 Get what you can from bulk bins and fill your own jars/cloth bags with nuts, seeds, beans, dried fruit, grains, etc.

🐳 Stop using a straw, or keep a re-usable one in your bag.

🐳 Likewise, keep a wooden or metal fork/spoon/knife kit in your bag for restaurants with plastic silverware.

These things were easy and money-saving, and I had already been doing most of them. That being said, there were still some areas where I struggled:

🐳 Ziploc bags while traveling:

What should I put my toiletries in? I use sweet almond oil as a body moisturizer and it always leaks, so I’d be afraid to pack it in a reusable bag in case it were to bleed through and stain my clothes. And I use a new one each time because re-using an oily Ziploc is pretty messy. Also, I still put my shoes and dirty clothes in plastic bags because, again, I don’t want my clothes to get dirty.

🐳 Shampoo, conditioner, leave-in conditioner, detergents, etc.:

I’ve yet to find a good homemade haircare recipe so I’m still buying natural, albeit plastic-entombed, hair stuff. Same goes for dish and laundry detergent, and other random beauty products like witch hazel or aloe vera.

🐳 Plastic bags for meat:

Sometimes the butcher doesn’t have the cut I want and I need to buy some pre-packaged (or frozen) chicken thighs or ground beef. Meats can be sticky and prone to leakage, so, unfortunately, I put them in horrible thin plastic produce bags.

🐳 Snacks:

Sometimes I want store-bought kale chips, or just one slice of gluten-free dairy-free cake, or some other snack wrapped in plastic, and it’s easier to buy things like this than to make them from scratch.

It’s okay to not be perfect; a snack now and again or a few Ziplock bags a year for traveling won’t do too much damage in the long run.

Plastic Free July has been a good exercise in mindfulness. I’m way more aware now of what I’m doing right and what needs improvement. I’ve decided I’m going to turn Plastic Free July into a Plastic Free Journey, and continue to reduce my plastic usage long after this month had ended.

River

We walk in the time before sunset. “River,” we ask. “River,” we call. The air smells of sagebrush, that fresh after-rain perfume. We don’t see the rain but the wind speaks of it– the warmth it holds, the velvet-soil fragrance, the red paintbrush and wild peas. “River,” we sing above the wind-flow and the slow-moving clouds. Look, river stones, smoothly tumbled, the same red-pink and green-blue of the horizon. The water runs fast. It is the color of dandelion pith. If we stand still enough we begin to drift. The river untangles into a placid stream, slowing, slowing, until it is the stillest place on Earth. It is us–we are moving, faster than the curve of the Earth, faster than the sky. “River,” we say, but he can’t hear us anymore.

20170409_072207

Concrete Fields 

Every time I return to the town where I grew up, another field has died.

I think, “They can’t build anymore houses. There isn’t any room.”

And then they find room. The grassy lot, once rich with goldenrod and dandelions. The meadow, once overrun with blackberries but open, muddy in the rain, perched over by finches with their talons between thorns. The old field, where the deer bent their heads at dusk.

They call these places unused. Vacant. Potential real estate. They build clone houses with beige plastic siding and windows that look straight into the neighbor’s bedroom. 

Why do we need more houses? Who would want to live here when the open spaces are gone?

Take A Stone From The Desert

 

Take a stone from the desert. Carry it home with you; keep it safe in the inner pouch of your backpack. Unwrap it carefully. Feel how it has cooled. Turn it over in your hands. Feel the softness of your fingers, exfoliated by wind and stone, and how the rock, too, is smoother than you remember. Flip the lights on so you can see, without a doubt, how the colors have changed. What was once red is now brown-maroon. What was once tea-green is now gray. This is not the same rock you pulled from that ledge of sandstone, but a memory of it.

 

We go to the desert to renew ourselves. This is a land of sky and distance, incredibly ancient but wearing away before our eyes. We are tangled in the elements. Night rushes in. Sweat turns to chills. When the sun rises you are bundled in fleece, but, just as your hands thaw, the day suddenly blooms into warmth, and the sweat returns.

 

Look, there, the ravens circle wordlessly. By the river, Canadian geese honk their morning songs. Wild turkeys roam the sagebrush, laughing. Any sound here is startling and abrupt. When the birds are not calling, it is completely silent. If you stand for a moment, and hold your breath, you hear the buzzing of stillness, the buzzing, perhaps, of time, that very strange quiet that we do not hear in the city.

 

We often think of the desert as a place for escape. All wilderness is seen this way; as a refuge from the evils of society. Perhaps we need not to escape those evils, but to face them. Perhaps the desert should be the place we go to breathe, to listen; to lay with our backs curved against sandstone, to watch the stars turn, and wander carefully through the bleached moonlit landscape, its shapes contorted, its shadows moving like clouds. It is in these moments that the best thoughts form. There is no better place to see the relationship between us and time. Our smallness is evident, here, but it is a magnificent smallness. How beautiful it is to see that there is more than us, more than our mistakes and our self-imposed distance from the non-human world. And once we have seen this, we can return to the city and apply what we have learned.

 

We need to see ourselves in the context of the larger world in order to understand who we are and how we want things to change. This is why, in the dry desert air, things start to make more sense. Out here, we learn to rejoice in the things we have no control over. We learn to love harsh extremes and to find solace in our connection to vastness.  We form new ideas in the openness and carry them with us, like desert stones, changed by landscape. Each stone is a different color when we arrive to our city homes, inseparable from its surroundings. We hold the rocks themselves and the memory of their brightness, and both help us understand what needs to be done.

From Rain to Red Rock

Making the transition from the rain forests of Oregon to the second driest state in the country has been quite the adventure. Utah is beautiful in a completely different way from the Pacific Northwest. There are the red deserts with ravens high above them; the aspen forests that flutter like wings; the long chains of mountains that catch the sun on their faces. Everywhere you look, in Salt Lake City, there are mountains, much gentler than the great peak of Mt. Hood, but still magnificent. I am still getting to know them, but that will come with time. I’m almost halfway through my two-year Environmental Humanities graduate program (hence the lack of blog posts the past few months!); another year to go, and another year to get to know this beautiful landscape!