letters

Thanksgiving day, the table littered with plates still warm from hands and hot food a debate began about the worth of letter writing in a modern world.

“It’s outdated and overrated.”  One man exclaimed, “Send me an email.  It’s quicker and easier–doesn’t waste paper.”

“I never check my mail.  Only junk.  Bills, correspondence–I do it all online.  There isn’t ever anything good in my mail box so why would I bother checking it?”  Another chimed in.

I love letters.  For many reasons, but mostly because they are a way of sharing an experience with someone whom you are not with physically.  The act of writing and receiving a letter is sensual.  You hold it in your hands, paper that has been touched, and your skin absorbs the words.  When you tear open the envelope there is often a waft of smell, paper, ink, grease from the food they were eating as they wrote, sometimes–if you are very lucky–your nose will even pick up the special smell that identifies your loved one, the unnamed scent that reminds you of them.  And then there are the words, the press against paper, ink that bleeds through, ballpoint pen that leaves bumpy imprints on both sides of the page, pencil that smears when you accidentally touch it with wet hands.  In the moment that you open and read a letter you hold something that has been held, created, sent to you alone.

Letters are slow, they are a measured way of sharing your thoughts and feelings.  Over the phone or in an email it is easy to blurt things out, to quickly say or send what you do not mean.  A letter however, for which you must find a pen, paper, envelope, and stamp, that you must write, address, stamp, and place in a mailbox is a declaration of truth and commitment in many ways.   These words are sent with care and intention, an output of time was required to get them to you.  A letter is a tangible sign of commitment and caring.  It takes work to send a letter, it takes work to hold a friend, it takes work to tend a relationship, it takes work to save a space for distant love in your heart– and a letter?  A letter is one of the surest ways I know of demonstrating the willingness to do this work, the work of loving, living, and sharing life another person.

The mythology of my existence is in part built around letters.  Shortly after my parents met my mother boarded an airplane bound for distance.  Once she told that me that she sang Peter Paul and Mary’s ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’ to my father before she left.  This was the first song I learned to play on the guitar and whenever I play or hear it I think of the love and life my parents have built together.  During that year that my mother studied abroad my parents wrote and sent letters from Spain to Texas.  The mythology that I carry is that this is how they fell in love, how they began the work of becoming partners, that the letters that sailed like ships across the ocean had wings covered in the words that would eventually lead to my life.  The mythology of my life is that letters are important, that they allow us to speak when we might otherwise be silent.

Under my bed in Texas there is a box full of letters.  They are in zip lock bags, dated and grouped by the time when I received them:  Summer 2010, Hendrix College: Fall/Spring 2011, Outward Bound Summer 2012.  From the dusty recesses under the bed pages whisper with feelings, confessions, secrets, prayers, and laughter.  They remind me of the people who have loved me, who have worked and written and been a part of my journey.  Sometimes I like to imagine where my letters end up, tucked into a book, stained with the ring of a coffee cup on a kitchen table, postcards tucked into windows, pages read once or twice or sent to the wrong address, stories thrown away or treasured or forgotten.  All across the world my words have been read.  They are birds I send out to tell my story, far flung and flying they are a moving, breathing act of prayer.

Last week I received a heavy stack of letters.  Falling asleep they whispered from my bedside table, words weaving their way into my sleep.

…maybe, just maybe, if we put enough love, good works, and positive energy out there we can take two steps forward while our petroleum addiction takes one step back.  I’ve got to see it that way, anyway.  Because I have this little baby and I have to believe we can help her Mama earth out of this mess. 

I am currently laying in a golden wash of sunshine streaming through my window.  I love the sun’s warmth and greeting on this day. 

It is good to realize you are our teacher in many ways.

Above another thunder clap tears at the sky’s fabric wringing out the excess water from heavy denim clouds onto East Texas February as if to say… YES!

I want to plant a garden this spring with my roommate.

As I fell asleep the pieces of these letters buzzed like a lullaby.  These words bear weight in my hands.  I can hold them.  They might disappear in a blaze of fire or be pressed between pages for a century.  Letters may be outdated by I will continue to send them, because I don’t know how else to demonstrate my dedication to the work of relationship and because in the mythology of my life letters are important. 

the beast

I am from this place.  Grew up with feet stained orange from walking barefoot through red mud, have snuck up on armadillos to watch them jump, laid on my back in a bed of needles to watch the tallest tops of pine trees sway.  I am from this place.

I have heard Texas called the belly of the beast.  The pine trees, well pads, the curving snake of the KXL pipeline, the refineries along the gulf, freedom fries, Bar-B-Q.  I have heard it called the belly of the beast.  At times it seems to house, to hold many of things that need to change.  There have been times that I have felt this way.  Times I have been proud of my ability to meld the traces of my Texas accent with the speech of the locale around me, glad to tell stories of trips to far away places with exotic languages and juicy fruit, relieved that, although I am from the buckle of the bible belt, my parents raised me in a way that I never felt I fully ‘fit in’ with steak dinners, 4-wheelers, or pasture parties.  I intentionally went away for college, found work in northern states, settled my feet in places that felt far away–I intentionally did not look back.

Today 48 activists were arrested in Washington DC for protesting the KXL pipeline and Tar Sands it will carry and I am looking back.  And I am proud to be from Texas.  Among those arrested were prominent members of the Sierra Club–individuals who today chose to participate in direct action as members of the Sierra Club for the first time in the organizations 120 year history.  They were arrested alongside members of groups such as 350.org, Friends of the Earth, Tar Sands Blockade, and others.  They were also joined farmers, concerned citizens, students, people of faith, educators, conservationists, and Texans–all are visionaries.

I am looking back and I am proud to be from Texas because almost nine months ago a group of people came to Texas.  They came ready to fight, to lock themselves to machines, climb trees, raise and reach out hands and voices–they came to say ‘no, no actually oil cannot flow through this pipeline.’  They came to Texas and this has made all the difference.  They have shown that a group of people who are sometimes disorganized, always passionate, frequently in need a shower, and constantly willing to step out into the fray with hands raised to speak their piece can inspire action, discussion, and change.  They came to Texas and that has made all the difference.  Because when they came to Texas, Tar Sands Blockade shook their hands, stomped the feet, and when their voices were raised they began to wake the beast.  I am proud to be from Texas because the stirring that have happened here over the last nine months are of significance.

I have heard Texas called the belly of the beast but I think this is wrong.  I think that we are the beast.  Each one of us that finds a voice, reaches out a hand, rises to our feet ready to walk and climb and dance–we are the beast.  Raised on fairy tales, Tolkien, and my own imagination I know that at some point every beast wakes and that when it does everything changes.  We are taught by the powers that be to fear the beast.  Those who hold privilege know that beasts are unknown, that they spout fire, anger, and change the world and so we are taught to fear them.  It seems foolish, however, to fear yourself–especially since it seems that waking the beast in each of us is necessary.

On Sunday the beast will storm the White House, demanding audience, requesting voice, shaking the ground in what promises to be a major mass action.  Watch out.  We’re awake.

I no longer think that Texas is the belly of the beast.  I do think, however, that this is one important place where the beast began to stir.  I am from that place.  I was asked last week why the soles of my feet are orange.  I replied it is from years of walking barefoot through red mud, from dodging snakes, and slapping mosquitoes.  I said that my feet are orange because I am from a place where pine trees scrape the sky and rivers crawl through thickets.  I am from this place.  I am part of the beast and I am awake.

Watch out.

For more information on the 48 activists arrested in DC today (Feb 13th, 2013) please visit http://www.tarsandsaction.org/participants/.  For more information or to join the Forward on Climate Rally go to http://action.sierraclub.org/site/PageServer?pagename=forwardonclimate.  And finally–as ever–to learn more about the work of Tar Sands Blockade visit http://www.tarsandsblockade.org/

This is your life

‘This is your life’ is a phrase that has defined the past three years of my life.  The first time I thought of it was during my junior year of college when, biking home, peering into the windows of nighttime house, these words floated into my mind.  I remember saying this phrase over and over to myself as I pumped faster and faster, the pavement humming as fall air rushed past me.  Images of cooking dinner with friends, settling down to study in my tiny bedroom, feeling happy and sad and full as I wondered in and out of classrooms filled my head.  This was my life, this bike ride home, this house, this story, this life.

Since then this phrase has been a means of measuring and evaluating myself.  This is your life, in moments that I am happy it is a celebration.  This is your life, in moments that I am unhappy it is a kick in the pants that tells me to make a change and take charge of creating what I want.

This is your life.

This is my life.

Today my life was eating blood oranges with red centers that stained my hands, Lee mandarin oranges so sweet they tasted sugar coated, and pink oranges whose flavor reminded me of pink lemonade.

Yesterday my life was walking through the hills of Malibu, scrambling over rocks to a waterfall where delicate strings of algae and moss hung like hair.

Last week my life was learning the names and favorite colors of five pure, sweet sixth grade girls, giggling at their jokes, braiding their hair, telling stories, and passing out hugs at night.

Two weeks ago my life was a long hike down hill to a natural hot spring and then a long hike back up, my body tight and hot from the climb, scrubbed clean by the sand and the water.

My life is also a restless feeling of dissatisfaction, a frustration with the lack of personal time available to me, a wonder of where I should be devoting my time.

This is your life.

This is my life.

I think that as long as I remember this phrase, as long as I celebrate the good and kick myself in the pants to change the not so good, that I’ll be ok.

Image

why

I think about the earth every hour I am awake.  She is like a lover whose face creeps into the corners of my thoughts, poking her head out around the people and places that make up my moments.

When I left Texas my heart hurt.  I’d been thinking about the Tar Sands pipeline and what it would do to my community, our world, and I had been thinking about the feeling that I often call ‘God’, a word that seems wildly inadequate at expressing my experience with a higher power.  The natural world is the surest place that I have experienced this feeling of ‘God’ and there is therefore something foundationally unnerving about the damage being done to the earth.  This damage prevents me from thinking of God as immutable and requires care and relationship instead of thoughtless worship and surrender.  Watching wells dug, pipelines trenched, and factories constructed on my sacred earth is like watching a McDonald’s being constructed in Mecca or Rome or Jerusalem.  These events are surely happening today but that does not prevent a feeling of sacrilege.  The way that I understand and experience something bigger than myself is being chipped at with the same carelessness in which a woman scrapes away nail polish in line at the grocery store.  For these reasons and more, when I left Texas my heart was heavy, heavy, hurting.

It was a grey rainy winter day, the sky the color of slate.  As I neared a place where the Keystone pipeline crosses the highway I pulled the car over and got out.  Pipelines are visually jarring in East Texas because the ground is red like flesh when the skin is scraped away.  And when it rains, which is was, the water flows red too.  Carved into by machine and the print of boot the earth stretched before me with a long, lean red wound.  A couple of hundred yards away a bulldozer hummed, clearing a pile of trees from one side of the pipeline to the other.

“Hey.”  I said, planting my feet wide apart underneath me and gazing out along the pipeline.  “I see you.  I see this and I am sorry.  I’m heading out to California for a while but I will not forget this.  I will see this.  Every day I will see this.  I will see you.”

And I have.  Every morning since leaving Texas I have consciously thought of that long lean scar, of the water flowing like blood onto the road as I stood in the East Texas rain and made a promise.  The earth is the surest way I understand and experience something bigger than me.  There are days that I go to church and days I choose instead to dance but regardless of my where I choose to notice, the feeling of God persists.  I am unnerved that we would chip away at this feeling without thought of consequence.

There are many reasons I am opposed to the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline but I think we’ve all mostly heard those reasons and truthfully they aren’t the most important ones for me.  The most true reason I oppose this pipeline is that I believe in something bigger than me and I experience this feeling most completely in the natural world and I will not stand by and watch my ‘God’ be chipped away.  This is the reason I cannot forget, the reason I write, the reason I’ll go back to Texas eventually.  This is the reason I cannot be silent.

I think about the earth every hour I am awake.  I’m believing in a miracle.

For information on resistance against the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline visit http://www.tarsandsblockade.org/ and http://gptarsandsresistance.org/

the desert

The desert is silent in a way that deafens the ears and heightens the senses.  Sky so big you taste blue on your tongue, a landscape that from a distance appears solid grey and brown breaks apart into a million different hues.  I go to the desert to feel small.  It is a place where I am profoundly aware of my own insignificance, of my smallness in the face of the vastness. 

I am from the desert, deep parts of my identity and story blend into the washes and rises of this open landscape.  Raised on the story of my mother finding my father, finding my foster brother, finding family, finding themselves, finding escape, finding detox, finding space, finding water, finding the a way out—a way in—to the stillness, the desert mythology of place and people coming together will be passed down.  I have spent most of my life living in places rich with trees and water but depend on time spent in the desert to remind me of rooted origins.

Pollution hangs heavy in many of the United States’ most beautiful deserts, yellow and thick it fades vistas and dulls the horizon.  Like the ocean, which sloshes with remembered waste, the desert cups and cradles refuse we have created but cannot dispose.  As it’s inverse the desert mirrors the ocean in opposites—dry, quiet, still, and steady.  Yet the vastness of both these places invokes a similar feeling being in the presence of age and wisdom.  Both bear the brunt of our carelessness, colors which once shone bright are now faded, micro trash, city smog, and the hum of generators and boat motors break the silence. 

I go to the desert and the ocean to feel small.  I do not love these places any less for the ways that they are weathered.  Instead I love them enough to acknowledge their need.  I love them enough to notice, to note, to bare witness to the ways that human impact extends fingers into deep wild desert and ocean.

The desert is the inverse of the ocean and it is a place I am from.  I recognize it as home by the smell of creosote on my fingers and the hum of wide-open silence in my ears.   I recognize it as in need of care.  I go there to feel small.

ImageJoshua Tree National Park