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There is only one Earth…

There is only one Earth….

I am re-reading Rethinking Nature an anthology of philosophical writings about seeing humans living inside nature and nature residing inside us. There is a co-inhabiting involved. Despite familiarity and intimacy, we cannot fully encounter and understand nature anymore than we fully encounter and understand our self. It is in mystery, that beauty lies.

The linked poem speaks to the objectifying nature has undergone at the hands of human belief that we are dominant in nature. In objectifying nature, we objectify ourselves. We cannot live in nature and see it as outside our living.

Wendell Berry, Gary Snyder, Mary Oliver, and many other poets write about nature as a place. Place does not equate to ownership. It is about something special that holds our spirit in place and grounds our living. There is an essence and spirit in place that cannot be quantified. It is seen in the early morning dew, the thundering storms, and a moose calmly eating a few feet away.

Axe Handles

I mentioned in The Wild Rose I am reading Gary Snyder and Wendell Berry. I read this poem several times over the last few months trying to make sense of it. At first, I thought it was a personal and it begins that way. Gary Snyder describes his work teaching his son to throw an axe and shaping the axe handle to fit the work.

As I reflected on the poem, I realized it is about important traditions passed from parents to children. We hone and polish what we wish to retain forming the axe handle. It is a handle for us and our children which provides security as we polish and remove the unwanted.

Most of the time, we are unaware of the work we do without taking time and reflecting. In those moments, we realize what changes, what remains, and what is added knowing each generation makes its own adjustments.

To do it well, we mindfully and attentively approach the work remaining fully present.

One afternoon the last week in April
Showing Kai how to throw a hatchet
One-half turn and it sticks in a stump.
He recalls the hatchet-head
Without a handle, in the shop
And go gets it, and wants it for his own.
A broken-off axe handle behind the door
Is long enough for a hatchet,
We cut it to length and take it
With the hatchet head
And working hatchet, to the wood block.
There I begin to shape the old handle
With the hatchet, and the phrase
First learned from Ezra Pound
Rings in my ears!
“When making an axe handle
the pattern is not far off.”
And I say this to Kai
“Look: We’ll shape the handle
By checking the handle
Of the axe we cut with-“
And he sees. And I hear it again:
It’s in Lu Ji’s Wen Fu, fourth century
A.D. “Essay on Literature”-in the
Preface: “In making the handle Of an axe
By cutting wood with an axe
The model is indeed near at hand.-
My teacher Shih-hsiang Chen
Translated that and taught it years ago
And I see: Pound was an axe,
Chen was an axe, I am an axe
And my son a handle, soon
To be shaping again, model
And tool, craft of culture,
How we go on.

The Wild Rose

I am reading poetry and prose written by Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder. What links the writers, is a shared belief humans live in the world. This fits with my dissertation about pedagogy. Humans are relational and social. When we live relationally and socially, our senses and heart open up to the world differently than living as passive observers.

Relationships are risky. Sometimes it is tempting to step back at times and be outside relationships. In the analytic mind, there is more risk than we want. Literally and metaphorically there are rewards. Literally, when we are present in the world we see wild roses and other natural manifestations bloom. Metaphorically, we see relationships with spouses, children, friends, students, etc. unfold and blossom like wild roses Wendell Berry mentions.

When we are in relationships, there is pleasure and pain mixed. Thomas Merton said we call it falling in love, because it is hard work. When I think of the most wonderful (wonder-filled) occurrences in my life, it is the ones I worked hard at. I found comfort in the hard work even when it hurt. Being mindful and attentive to the blooming in our lives is an essential part of relationships we enter.

Sometimes hidden from me

in daily custom and in trust,

so that I live by you unaware

as by the beating of my heart,

Suddenly you flare in my sight,

a wild rose blooming at the edge

of thicket, grace and light

where yesterday was only shade,

and once I am blessed, choosing

again what I chose before.

 

Riprap

Yesterday, I walked downtown and bought some books at Aunties Bookstore. It offers a combination of new and used. I wandered and found an eclectic riprap of books. There were poetry, philosophy, and spirituality books mixed in.

Gary Snyder wrote a poem using that word: riprap. I felt a little that way as I wrote today as I tried to fit new words in among the old words. The old words are somewhat concrete and the new ones found it challenging to fit into the spaces. Actually, some of the new words were old and were previously used by others who went before. Even those words were not always easily fitted into the seams I tried squeezing them into. But, I tried not to force too hard out of concern I might break the space wide open and let something else come flooding in.

We probably live that way at times. We fit the new among the old. It causes some perplexity this complexity.

Lay down these words

Before your mind like rocks.

placed solid, by hands

In choice of place, set

Before the body of the mind

in space and time:

Solidarity of bark, leaf, or wall

riprap of things:

Cobble of milky way,

straying planets,

These poems, people,

lost ponies with

Dragging saddles

and rocky sure-foot trails.

The worlds like an endless

four-dimensional

Game of Go.

ants and pebbles

In the thin loam, each rock a word

a creek-washed stone

Granite: ingrained

with torment of fire and weight

Crystal and sediment linked hot

all change, in thoughts,

As well as things.

What Have I Learned

I engaged in several virtual and face-to-face conversations over the past week about what learning and education should look like today. Gary Snyder summarized some of this in this thoughtful poem. I believe we need to focus more on the tools children need than the content. That is not to say content is not important.  It must stretch, challenge, and allow growth.

Curriculum has narrowed, become content, and the use of tools. It does not always focus on the proper use of tools and development of habits, skills, attitudes, practices, dispositions, etc. What role does discernment play in today’s schools? What eloquent questions, with no presumption of answers, are teachers and students alike asked? Content, in the form of knowledge and information, becomes the currency of the realm and wise application is often pushed aside. 21st Century education requires a mindful approach. An approach that recognizes the changing of the flowers in each moment.

What have I learned but

the proper use for several tools?

The moments

between hard pleasant tasks

To sit silent, drink wine,

and think my own kind

of crusty dry thoughts.

–the first Calochortus flowers

and in all the land,

it’s spring.

I point them out:

the yellow petals, the golden hairs,

to Gen.

Seeing in silence:

never the same twice,

but when you get it right,

you pass it on.

For the Children

I began reading Meg Wheatley’s book So Far From Home. Similar to Parker Palmer, she uses poetry to bring her message to life. She quoted Gary Snyder at one point and I recognized it from a retreat I attended. Her point is we live in a world of relationships and not just science. When I look at the sadness of our world, the constant conflict in it, and the violence, I can only wonder if it is a result of loneliness and separation we experience? I will ponder that during my Sabbath.

The rising hills, the slopes,
of statistics
lie before us.
the steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
go down.

In the next century
or the one beyond that,
they say,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.

To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

stay together
learn the flowers
go light

For All the Children

Learning, school, education, or life lived; whatever we choose to call the enterprise it is important we live the words of Gary Snyder.

The rising hills, the slopes,

of statistics

lie before us.

the steep climb

of everything, going up,

up, as we all

go down.

In the next century

or the one beyond that,

they say,

are valleys, pastures,

we can meet there in peace

if we make it.

To climb these coming crests

one word to you, to

you and your children:

stay together

learn the flowers

go light

The line which draws my eye and means so much to me, as a teacher and learner, is the one about statistics. Each year, I spend time with the Grade 9 class discussing the average student and the potential absurdity of the concept. Students realize there might, in fact, not be such a person. It might only be the ‘mean of the average.’ In our classroom, is a poster of Einstein. Several years ago, a student asked who the person in the poster was and I answered by saying it was my Dad. I do resemble him, or like to think I do, with the wild hair and idiosyncrasies. We refer to Einstein as Mr. P.’s Dad. His quotes are a marvel and the one I feel fits with the Gary Snyder poem is:

We must take care and insure the stories of each person who lives life is fully heard. We are not numbers. We are the stories come to life. We should always ask, “What makes the number relevant?”

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