Spirits of the Mountains

Mt Humphreys at 12, 800 ft. in San Francisco Mts.

The spiritual nature of the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff was an awesome experience for me. The sight of these sacred mountains took me off guard when they first came into view, and indeed, were the focal point of the sky all the way to Holbook, Arizona. I can see why so many first nations hold these mountains in such reverence, when from anywhere for hundreds of miles the shimmering white peaks are a beacon of light and orientation. The Hopi believe the Kachina spirits live at the top of the peak. Looking at this forested hillside on the way up the mountain to Snowbowl, I can almost feel the spirits there.

Birches and Pines on Mt. Humphreys on the way up to Snowbowl.

Ways of Knowing

SUNSETI’ve lived in the coastal South since July 2008. That is exactly 7 years to the month—the periodicity that apparently rules over my whereabouts.

Seven is a number associated with the personal journey, the desire to refresh perspective, endeavor, and relationships. The mystery is figuring out what that means in the latest warp of one’s universe.

Over my lifetime, I have devoted time to reset my internal compass, appreciating that life is a fleeting experience and one to be taken seriously but also with alacrity.

Between 1985-89, living in Southern California, I studied shield-making with a Native American teacher. She was patient and methodical in helping me understand this ancient spiritual practice. I continued to make personal shields through 1999. I saved only two of many. Each time I find them, stored in my belongings, they usher back the time and emotions when I created them as a way of knowing.

Basic Idea: A circular shield contains four quadrants which are directional, representing distinct aspects of an individual’s or a group’s spiritual journey. Each quadrant is given a specific color. North: white for wisdom and peace; white buffalo. South: red or green for innocence and receptivity; mouse. West: black for sunset, introspection and exit at death; bear.  East: yellow for sunrise, inspiration and the divine; eagle.

The circular shield itself is symbolic of the Earth, the Universe, the tribe, the family, or the whole individual. The first shield I made used an embroidery hoop as the frame. I stretched canvas over it and painted the shield. But that was just to start learning the meaning of the elements.

A willow branch is traditional for making the hoop. But that varies by region. In true shield making the artist collects the materials from nature with prayers given and tobacco offered as the willow branch, animal skin, and objects are collected. My first teacher allowed me to intuitively choose objects which she provided: feathers, shells, ribbons, etc.

If you wish to study shields, a good place to start is the collection at the National Museum of the American Indian, in Washington, D.C. If you have not been there, you should plan to go. It is a magnificent place. Online travelers will also find great educational articles and webcasts. You can explore the collections online as well. The current exhibit on the Inka Civilization is an amazing opportunity to understand the great wisdom of indigenous people and how their knowledge and experience can inform modern society.

Links to Explore:

Live Web Casts from the Naitonal Museum of the American Indian

Shield Making Materials

Seven Arrows by Hyemeyohsts Storm

Good Company

I am continuing to read Round River—a meditation of immense wisdom in journal form.  What am I learning?

  • That land is different than country
  • That the hobbies of common people following their own curiosity can be more powerful than the most sophisticated science because these humans are puzzling-together the life story of a  plant or an animal, its natural history
  • That trying to change a person’s mind or behavior by threatening them with calamity does not work
  • That we are diminished in direct proportion to the incremental loss of wilderness

With Aldo Leopold I enjoy easy company with a man who understood what it means to be human.

Oil Spill Perspectives

Most of us have copious information about the oil spill (I think we can agree that GOBS MORE oil is spilling into the Gulf waters than we have been told by BP and by the EPA. Go to links on this blog for more accurate estimates).

The impacts are starting to show up in Louisiana and threatening Alabama and Florida. Things are not static this time of year with the tropical storm season and strong south easterly winds and thus currents. We can only guess what is happening to plankton and all the vulnerable life underneath the surface, out of site. It has to be devastating.

What has been growing in my mind is much greater than the stats on this spill, though important. What I am thinking about is how we make (or don’t get a chance to make) decisions about our technologies, even at the origin when inventors are “out there” thinking up stuff. Right now the values that underpin most of our biggest industries are based on providing a natural resource or product from it that has been evaluated to make a lot of money for its creators and sellers. Our principle is: if it can be made and make money, make it! Figure out later if it is harmful in which case the American citizen or the natural systems that support us will take the blows, and while down, have to wage a near impossible battle to bring the barons to court. Even then there is no certainty justice will be done.

What if there was much more thought on the front end of the process where we carefully consider the impacts on the health and well being of our people and all the wildlife and natural systems that produce health and wealth? And what if we did something revolutionary and base our decisions on a set of conditions that assures we don’t harm the Earth and thus ourselves since we are one community, interlinked?

Consider what Wendell Berry suggests are bad solutions to problems versus a good solution:

“A bad solution is bad because it acts destructively upon the larger patterns in which it is contained. It acts destructively upon those patterns most likely, because it is formed in ignorance or disregard of them.” ~ p. 137 The Gift of Good Land

“A good solution is good, on the contrary, “because it is in harmony with those larger patterns.”

Good solutions:

  1. Accept given limits
  2. Accept the limits of discipline (i.e. agricultural problems are solved by agriculture not technology, etc.
  3. Improve the balances, symmetries, or harmonies within a pattern
  4. Solve more than one problem
  5. Will satisfy a whole range of criteria
  6. Embody a clear distinction between the biological and the mechanical
  7. Have wide margins
  8. Answer the question, “how much is enough?”
  9. Should be cheap and should not enrich one person by the distress or impoverishment of another
  10. Exist in proof
  11. Imitate the structure of natural systems
  12. Are good for all parts of a system
  13. Preserve the integrity and pattern that contains it
  14. Are in harmony with good character, cultural value, and moral law~ pp 141-145 Ibid

In 1970 during the oil crisis of that day, President Carter was laughed at for his efforts to develop energy independence by switching to alternatives such as wind, solar, and geothermal sources. What stopped all that effort, removed the electric car from the road?

Simply, greed. Could that be why we have an incredible 3500 oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and 1500 miles of pipeline criss crossing the ocean floor in a hurricane prone zone. Follow the money and you will discover the reasons why we do most of what we do in America. Our bottom line is STILL profit. Preoccupation with the market and belief in it, which is a metaphysical movement unnamed as such, is driving us to the edge of environmental degradation after which no one can really predict outcomes – exactly where we are with this oil spill.

See the Lindbergh Foundation website. They support innovative research that establishes a healthy balance between technological development and preservation of the Earth’s ecosystems. Click on each of the funded scientists and educators whose work they are supporting to understand the concept that Wendall Berry was getting at. We need a lot more of this kind of thinking!

Read Barry Lopez to understand what it means to live connected to everything around us, our own nature knit tightly into the fabric of all the creation.

For a very thoughtful article by Joshua Reichert of PEW Environmental Group published in the Miami Herald, “The Future of Oil and Water.”