Different souls, one world

I’m intrigued by how different the characteristic of integrity looks on different people.

My car’s detailing is being supervised by a very Catholic chaplain who really doesn’t lie, really does respect others, really does care about his world, and really does put his time, life and energy into working for the greater good. He’s pleasant and charming in a comfortable way, and his whole demeanor is slightly aglow. He’s a man on a mission, and it’s one that coheres with his best innermost self.

Obviously, what comes next is about the general perception of certain groups — not individual or local impressions, but the wider impression that history, actions/consequences, and the publicity about them, have left in the public mind…

The Catholic church isn’t known these days for turning out coherent, stable, disciplined characters, so it’s really good to meet one.

Lutheranism isn’t known for sweetness, and one of my uncles is both a devout Lutheran and one of the most kindly, gentle, nonjudgmental people I’ve ever met. It really works for him.

Atheism isn’t known for consideration, yet this culture of argument which so often defines itself in terms of opposition has turned out some of the most resolutely practical, inspiring and embracing activist-philosophers of any creed in this age.

It’s possible to go on for some time, but let’s take a moment to realize that all belief systems look a little odd from the outside, despite the fact that living a belief system is a seriously powerful thing to do. It’s one of the great ironies of humanity.

I suspect it’s a clue: it matters on the inside, but shouldn’t matter on the outside. Being responsible to our own internal structure (respecting our own uniqueness) makes sense, but trying to push our framework onto others (disrespecting the uniqueness of others) does not.

Decency and moral stature don’t belong to any one belief, but they do belong to the human race. Each of us is at least as different in our inmost selves as we are in our outward lives. When you think about it, it would be impossible — bizarre and irrational — for us all to believe the same way.

Anyone who finds a path — whether well-defined or idiosyncratic — that gives them, in their uniqueness, real strength and purpose holds a great gift and a powerful tool.

I no longer fear the differences of belief and it’s been a long time since I held any in contempt, but I’ve taken a step back to simply admire and appreciate them, filled with joy tinged with awe.

We are an astoundingly diverse species, inside and out. Such an abundance of different ways to be should make us fitter than ever to handle anything. When we enjoy and admire our variety, rather than fretting over it, I’ve noticed that that’s exactly what happens: together, we can handle anything.

After we had done the paperwork, this chaplain and I continued our conversation and I wound up telling him about the purpose of this trip, the reason I was dropping scarce money on prepping my car.

As I did so, I felt my own coherence of integrity coming into focus, the energetic union of innermost self and outer reality.

And I realized: I’m on a mission. Regardless of my own outcome, I’m certain now of leaving the world better for my feeble but determined efforts.

This radiant chaplain is going to pray for me and my work. The science shows that prayer and meditation correlate to better outcomes, regardless of the forms used. To bring the science back to life and into specifics, I know that the prayers of someone so coherently devout are powerful help.

I’m a handicapped woman on a mission which is technically impossible. But now, I do have a prayer ­čÖé

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Peripatetic Stealth Gimp

Last week, I was in California, doing good and necessary things.

This week, I’m in Massachusetts, doing different necessary things.

I have to find a doctor in LA (long story) and soon will have to be there.

Meanwhile, I’m tired of being this sick and am determined to interview some patients and practitioners, make the time to put together what I’ve learned, and see what progress I can make against an impossible illness; this will probably, though not certainly, put me back in northern California for a bit.

I have a cat waiting for me in LA, a friend waiting for me in San Antonio, a family waiting for me in Vancouver, and the home of my bones in the Berkshires.

It’s very quantum: I can be sure of where I am or where I’m going, but not both.

CRPS, though, I intend to sort out.

My lovely Henrietta is going to get a double coat of wax this week. It’s nearly the last thing to do before I can — carefully, slowly, gently, mindfully, in short bursts, with at least an hour each of meditation and exercise every day — begin the long drive.

I just hope the gas prices go down. I’m going to be traveling for awhile.

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Active learning

I’ve always been fidgety. When I get MRIs, I really annoy the techs because I think I’m holding perfectly still, but my body goes twitch-twitch-twitch. They think I’m doing it on purpose. I can’t even tell. Feels like stillness to me.

Aristotle was famous for walking with his students while having his teasing, maddening conversations with them. The old Greek word for walking back and forth (yes, they have a word for it) is peripat─ôtikos. Strolling back and forth while learning and teaching has come to be known as peripatesis, the adjective being peripatetic.

I learn best with intervals of activity. When I can control my obsessive focus, I do best when I take a break every hour or two and … take a walk.

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"Invisible disability" gets an upgrade

I was in a van with two friends of mine, a man and a woman, both of them using wheelchairs. We were looking for parking.

She said, “I hope I have my parking pass.”

He said, “Well, mine’s in my car, so if you don’t, we’re out of luck.”

I said, “What do you mean? I have one in my purse.”

She said, “Oh, yeah. You’re our Stealth Gimp.”

Best synonym for invisible disability EV-er.

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After the burn

JC said, “Let’s take a ride.” This always precedes eye candy, long silences punctuated by little “wow” sounds from me and gentle wafts of quiet satisfaction from him. So I said, “Sure, babe, wherever you want to go.”

We went up towards a ranger station I’ll redub Indian Richard, and the vulgar among you can go wild. (My very Ute friend says the correct name with a certain wry satisfaction.) The road goes through a national forest that had extensive fires. I’ve seen quite a few of those on TV in my California years, and I’ve seen smaller ones up close — the forest fires in the Santa Cruz mountains always get controlled pretty quickly, as these things go.

But with miles and miles, and none of it belonging to anyone, and access so hard — these huge forests are sometimes left to burn.

Caveat emptor: I might have to wax lyrical. There was no way a photograph could do any of this justice, especially from my elderly little iPhone, so I’m left with words alone to draw these pictures with.

Here’s what the California coastal ranges look like normally (except the redwoods; those are temperate rain forests. The inland highlands are much drier, almost arid.) Tawny pelts of grass stretch over the flanks of hills that roll, or sometimes tumble, over knuckles of exposed rock — mottled grey, often fractured in angular planes, puzzle pieces of multicolored lichen covering them, incredibly decorative in the wild and apparently pretty useless for anything commercial, so they’re left to mark turns in rivers and roads.

Those wide tawny pelts are speckled with live-oaks, dark acrobatic limbs twisted in double-jointed abandon, leathery little leaves shaped more like holly, so dark a green they look nearly black against the lion-colored hills.

Occasional stands of cottonwood soak their feet in little streams between the hills, such a bright lively green that they look fey and fresh, too tender for this terrain — but there they are, just the same.

Manzanita twists long dancer’s limbs in dark red tights against its own rich green foliage. It clutches clusters of indigo berries like little nosegays. I can’t get enough of the manzanita. It grows everywhere: in the chapparal, in the woodland, on the edge of the dry lands.

Up on the wooded slopes, jack-pine and maple grow side by side, the jack-pine in big fat perfect shapes, long swooping arms holding long swooping needles. The maples are petite by comparison, appearing to shrink shyly in the shadow of the large-gestured pine.

The woods are never as dense as the Eastern forests, so undergrowth is rife. Poison oak (my personal favorite, hah! ;-p) and scrubby whatnots are simply everywhere. You get breaks of sweeping grasses or areas buried in pine needles hiding roots and vines underfoot, but there’s always something to stumble over.

And that is what first penetrated the overall stunned feeling of seeing such huge forest fire remains up close. The ground was utterly clear. It was covered in a perfect layer of… nothing. There was nothing underfoot. Nature didn’t even bother with a broom. There was nothing but neutral surface, a sort of grey to greyish beige, a noncolor in a monochrome land. Oddly, there were huge astrocytes of white among the grey, straggling stars splashing the grimness with a weird dash of style.

Everything was shades of grey and beige. The trees that had burned the hardest, had been burned to their purest form: no decoration, no hiding, just pure form. More beautiful than the hardest freeze of winter for absolute pared-down revealment. Their trunks had the color and sheen of raw graphite. The stark black of their flayed branches against the cooling sky was absolute.

The jack-pines’ branches and surviving needles told a harrowing story of scorching wind and searing holocaust, limbs twisted against themselves and needles curled into cupped hands as they tried to escape. The live-oaks that still had leaves clenched them into little fists at the ends of thier branches.

But already there were signs of the future creeping up on the recent past. Deer paths and rabbit trails shot through the bleak perfection, loud fawn-colored ribbons laid across the grey velvet. Where maples and the occasional sumac had survived the first blast of heat, the leaves withered afterwards and dropped, golden, on the clean ground, a touch of warmth and — though I saw that they were really just dead — looking exactly like the promise of life.

And then there were the anomalies, those random moments of wildfire charm: a perfect green-and-red-and-indigo manzanita surrounded by total monochromatic devastation, radiant and queenly though no more than 5 feet high; a green maple gracing a stand of tortured jack-pines with unshattered elegance.

The maples consistently kept their heads; somehow, surrounded by much taller jack-pines totally scorched, it seemed they had lifted thier heads and one or two limbs out of the way, and somehow were likely to have kept a bit of green there.

At the last moment, just as we crossed from the last great burn into untouched woodland, a flash of silver — not grey, but sparkling, living silver — danced into view. A fat and sassy squirrel pirouetted on a twig too small to hold it, flirting and twitching in lively activity, a visual shout of life on the edge of the stillness.

I’m still digesting. Both my friend and I have been quite harrowed recently, and he might have chosen that road for a number of reasons. It’s an interesting lot to think about, and the images are burned, as it were,┬á into my mind. I only wish I could do it more justice. Nature at her most natural is far beyond this language, though.

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Regen at Black Butte

I came to CA for a leisurely camping trip with my sweetie. (One can have enough of the “long-distance” in a “relationship” until you have to cut some slack on one or the other. I chose the former.)

I landed in the fiery heart of an explosive crisis in his life, but one thing that nursing and 10 years of serious illness have taught me is, other people’s crises are not mine. It frees me up to have all the empathy in the world, without losing my own balance. (Much… :-))

Our idyllic excursion into nature with nothing much to do has turned into … an idyllic excursion into nature with nothing much to do, but a lot more to talk about.

We wound up at Black Butte Country Store and Camping, …

The store as you approach through the intersection.

…run by his old pals Tom and Margie, a charming and hospitable couple who came up from the East Bay – so they know damn well they’re onto a really good thing here. Margie’s smile just won’t quit, and that kind of says it all.

We’re at the juncture of Black Butte and the Middle Fork of the Eel River, a far corner of a protected and remote swathe of the simple life called Round Valley.

This phone is getting old, but it still shows how blue the sky is.

We’re in the shadow of the Mendocino National Forest, recently the site of a huge wildfire. You can see where the charring and scarring stop at the top of the hill right across the street. A huge sign in front of the store thanks the firefighters in letters over a foot high.

Everyone here is REALLY fond of the fire service now.

┬áThere’s very little cell signal (neither JC nor I get phone-joy), only a few radio stations come through at all, and the only wifi is at the store run by the campground owners, a 5 minute walk from the site. This is a huge bonus: the low levels of EM radiation are letting me cope with the stress and the dietary compromises perfectly well.┬á

Good for neurons and what they control.

I even drank half a soda yesterday, and hardly felt a thing… In other times and other places, I’d have paid for that for 3 days. At least.

The grill (closed on Wednesdays) serves fresh local natural beef and incredible salads. Really good greens with just enough dressing and the lovely smokey meat of your choice. The convenience store is pretty small, but the coolers are packed with everything from coconut water through Naked juice to conventional sodas all the way to the rankest beer you’d hate to find.

They’re perfectly happy to make me a gluten-free sandwich wrapped in that lovely lettuce.

You can’t see the sandwich, which covered the whole plate, cuz I ate it.

On our first night, the full moon rose directly over our feet, waking us both out of our first doze to stare at the radiant spot on the tent wall in bleary wonder for at least a minute, wondering who turned on such a damn great light at that hour.  JC finally stuck his head out and told me what it was, and we both had to laugh.

The air is absolutely pure. Each evening, the spotless sunset gets punctuated by exactly one contrail, a screaming streak of orange across a melting sky of peach, green and sixteen shades of blue.

Since the moon rises later and smaller every day (and as we get caught up on our rest, able to stay up past dark!), last night we got a full hour of gazing at the Milky Way and the million million stars I never get to see.

Photo collage: TwTunes at www.digitalsky.com

Casseiopea and the Big Dipper wheeled overhead with a-a-all their lovely autumn cohorts, as familiar and ever-present as old friends.

At the time of our visit, there was a breathtaking piece on show from local artist (and Santa┬á Cruz transplant) Lynn Zachreson. The link goes to her web page but, of course, online photos can’t do justice to her brush control, delicate textural discrimination, or authoritative use of color. Look her up; it’s worth it.

There’s a gorgeous swimming hole a few minutes’ walk up the pike, sinking deep around great boulders of white chalcedony. Healthy-sized fish nibble your legs if you hold still long enough, and the water is perfect on one of these bakingly hot afternoons.

The water is a lot bluer once you’re in.

JC says the weather can change in a minute here (this old New Englander reserves judgement) but we’ve had a glorious run of unseasonably hot, clear weather with deliciously cool, clear nights.

This illness is hugely responsive to nutrition, air quality, and man-made radiation. In most far-flung places, the produce is dodgy and tends to look (and taste) second-hand; you can’t get good food and good air waves without a lot of advance planning and a huge cooler.

This place was a total find, and for those of you who really care about things like air, food and EM smog, it doesn’t get much better than this. Especially at these prices.

It’s absolutely outstanding.

And you can bring your horses! There’s a black and a bay here who’ve kept us endlessly amused.

Being around JC has always knocked back my pain and increased my strength since we first met, before we ever thought of getting together. He’s obviously got his own electrical field or something. Between his company and the clear and deliciously benevolent environment here, I’m stronger after a few days than I’ve been in some weeks.

I’d thought of this as a side-trip to squeeze in, before I got on with my serious healing junket… but it’s looking like an ideal start, instead. I wound up landing on my feet, and I am grateful.

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