Friday, September 23, 2011

Comfortable and Precarious

She caught her breath one day
and realized the life she had expected –
one of progress and accomplishment –
was not the one encircling her.

She moved gently forward,
hands outstretched
patting the uncertainties
like a woman moving into
a darkened bedroom.
The space felt, at once,
comfortable and precarious.

She made a promise then
to kindle a light if she could
or forgive herself  if she couldn't
and to explore her surroundings
    its soft soothings and
    its sharp surprises
until she recognized it
as her own.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Lessons from a Bur Cucumber Vine

I was delighted today (Delight of the Day, in fact) to rediscover the bur cucumbers along my walking path. I noticed them last fall but was afraid they had been uprooted over the summer. My path takes me along high-voltage wires and this summer the power company did a sweep, chopping down saplings and trees under the wires. Since their hosts are gone, I thought the bur cucumbers might not have survived. They've been there all along, of course, but I didn't recognize them until the pods emerged. ("The pod things are back!")

I confess I brought a sample home so I could identify and learn about them. Now, as I write, two cucumbers sit beside me, resting against their vine and leaves, tendrils curling like party streamers.

here is a photo of bur cucumbers in the wild, taken by Judy at Lilac Gate:

I love the plump spikiness of them and the tight spirals of their tendrils.

“These fascinating fruits go out with a bang, having an explosive dehiscence mechanism. Each fruit contains four seeds, which develop under increasing hydrostatic pressure. If birds or small mammals don’t interfere with the fruit before it fully ripens, the fruit will expel its seeds at a speed of 11.5 m/s!”
Later in the year, the vine will support cucumber skeletons, like the one captured by Marianne Friers at Northview Diary:
That is the state in which I first noticed them, hanging in the bush like pale yellow lanterns, speaking of beauty in structure.

I shouldn't have worried about the plant's survival. "The only way to remove it permanently," says a writer at Ramshackle Solid of the genus, "is to dig up the root which can weigh up to 100 lbs."

So what lessons am I learning/remembering today from the bur cucumber vine?

  •  It's fun to learn. After years of ignorance, I now know this plant's name (I decided not to go for scientific version) and more about it. Before I admired it from afar, but now we are friends.
  • Root well.  The luxuriant growth of the vine…all those leaves collecting sunlight…must be directing nutrients to the root. Strong roots mean the plant can endure much, even vigilant power company employees.
  • If a source of support disappears, find another. The saplings on which I first noticed the vine are gone. It has exuberantly climbed bushes, the power line metal structure and other trees.
  • Hang on tight.  Those tightly-spiraled tendrils make for a good grip.
  • Protect yourself.  The spikes don't bother me when I touch them with my hands, but they are sharp to my lips. The fruits are poisonous, so eating them is not a good idea anyway, but Native Americans use them for medicinal purposes.
  • Give with enthusiasm. 11.5 m/s? That's effusive!
  • Dare to be a nuisance; go wild! Once I noticed it, now I realize it's everywhere. One of the descriptions I read describes it as "a nuisance like kudzu." When you seek support and hang on tight, some people will consider you a nuisance. Fie on them.
  • Degrade gracefully. Having released their seeds, the pods open to the air and let light shine through their structure. The reason I'm noticing such things in the plant world is, of course, because it's my own next developmental stage.
 Thank you, teacher.
You didn't come into this world.  You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean. --Alan Watts

Friday, September 9, 2011

It's a Wonderful Life

I ended a recent newsletter with the declaration that "Adventure is moving into the unknown believing wonderful things will happen. I need to rediscover life as adventure."

I was immediately humbled by a post by John Ptacek on the Fight Like a Girl Club website that "Surrender meant discarding the idea that life is always supposed to be wonderful; it’s just supposed to be life."

"Is believing wonderful things a naïve and ridiculous approach?" I asked myself. Speaking of wonder to "cancer and disease warriors" might be unwelcome.

I thought about the word "wonderful" and its root:

verb (used without object)
  1. to think or speculate curiously: to wonder about the origin of the solar system.
  2. to be filled with admiration, amazement, or awe; marvel (often followed by at ): He wondered at her composure in such a crisis.
  3. to doubt: I wonder if she'll really get here.
Wonderful –Full of wonder: full of curiosity, admiration, amazement, awe, doubt.

A couple days after writing the newsletter I went to our local Renaissance Festival, a good place for an adventure. We enjoyed laughing at our favorite acts, watching the dancers, listening to music, admiring the people… It was wonderful. We did not enjoy the dust, the uneven ground, the crowds... It was wonderful.

Wonder is a word that encompasses bright and dark. Adventure is like that too. It doesn't force things to be positive or negative; it allows for ambiguity. It allows for life.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Life: there is no app for that…

My colleagues are excited because there is a new app for finding child care in Kentucky. A new item on my paid work to do list is to figure out how we would do something similar for Minnesota. It would be possible to build a mobile website with almost identical functionality, but that wouldn't have the newsworthiness…the packaging...the glamour of an app.

We look for others to simplify our choices, gather things together and give us step-by-step instructions. It's easier that way, but is it better?

About ten days ago I was ambushed by a head cold. My sweetly regulated life went out the window while I spent time with the Kleenex box. No work. No exercising. No grocery shopping. All my habits…good and bad…went out the window.

I could tell I was getting better when I started noticing how dirty the floors were, when I started feeling guilty about what wasn't getting done. Guilt as a sign of health...sheesh!

The experience was, however, a good reminder of how life works:
  • life is full of the unexpected
  • life is frequently messy
  • life includes complicated choices
  • life comes at us in little pieces…we can choose to find wholeness
  • instructions may be helpful, but are never complete or sufficiently customized
There is, in short, no app for living.  Using apps (or their old-fashioned equivalents: kits, how-to books, other people's advice)  may make specific tasks easier but may rob us of rich experience.

Making our own choices, finding our own way, living our own lives we move into deep, authentic being.