Landscapes

When my mornin’ comes around, no one else will be there
so I won’t have to worry about what I’m supposed to say
and I alone will know that I’ve climbed the great big mountain
and that’s all that’ll matter when my mornin’ comes around

~ Iris Dement

My mother’s brother, my uncle Geoffrey, died last October. The cancer in his body from years of smoking metastasized quickly, and just as soon as he was admitted to a terminal care facility, he was gone.

I did not visit him before he died, as he would have not recognized me nor would he have cared that I was there. My sister visited him religiously, but my mother could not face the inevitability, so she kept her distance. However, once he was gone the sheer tsunami of mortality washed over her, leaving her to wander through the landscape of life’s uncertainties.

During his life my uncle was a fairly well-known local artist in San Jose. He created etchings, lithographs, and taught at the local university. His art is in several public permanent collections including the San Jose Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Art, Achenbach Foundation of Graphic Arts San Francisco, Lannan Foundation New York, and Crown Press Berkeley.

Just a week ago my sister invited me to his house to choose some of his prints for my own. He had this great studio in the back of his house in Willow Glen — a messy converted garage filled with his creative life. As I stood at the table flipping through his prints I felt like I was standing inside of him, that the walls of the studio was his body’s frame, his art his presence, and the thin layer of dust on the floor his heart. I don’t know any other way to describe it.

One liked one piece in particular very much. It was a print called “Tapas” and he had made ten versions of this print. I think I chose 2/10 and 6/10.

This time I spent looking at this piece got me thinking about how little we know about the mind. I felt like what he put down on paper was his interpretation of his mind’s landscape. I sensed that his prints were a rendering of how life’s wind, rain, sun, death, fruits, and flowers leave their marks on our brain, and this output was my uncle trying to make sense of it all.

Tapas

Let it be

“The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction” – William Blake

Today I tore a bunch of lilac flowers from my tree in the side yard. After I did it, I felt bad for the tree. How could I know how it felt when I did that? What a thoughtless person I can be, I surmised.

That’s the crux of being a sensitive person, things are thought through but impulses aren’t necessarily kept in check. Passion, or the tigers, retain a tight grip and unleash when teased.

As I thought about the Lilac tree I also thought about Julia Butterfly Hill, the woman who, back in 1997, lived in a 180-foot tall, 600-year-old tree for 738 days between December 10, 1997 to December 18, 1999. She lived in the tree, affectionately known as Luna, to prevent loggers of the Pacific Lumber Company from cutting it down.

She succeeded. What courage. What discipline. What anger.

What does it take to be such a disciplined person? Where can one find those traits? However, when I think about it, I am very disciplined. Every morning and evening I care for my birds in the same way I care for them every morning – clean food, water, clean grates, shower, attention. I’ve been doing this same thing most every day for the last 8 years. Some days I tire of it, but it’s really my charge, to be forever responsible for that which I have tamed. When I’m not caring for an animal I feel strange, like something is missing. Don’t get me wrong, I do things for myself; the occasional vacation, time with friends, exercise — but I’ve always put my responsibility above all else. I laugh at things that to me feel like a waste of time – obtaining goods, endless diatribes on the way things work, competition. I feel like there’s so much unnecessary information out there, so many people that are pushing around 1s and 0s that in the end just turn out to be 1s and 0s. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been walking, outside, behind someone, only to hear several birds above in beautiful song, and the people in front of me don’t even raise their heads. No presence, no connection to nature around them – no idea such beauty is just above them.

But then I get so angry with myself, like there’s another side of me that I haven’t explored. This person who wants to be free of marriage, free to explore, free to live in a tree. I wish for myself that I could also be more self-righteous and hold fast to my convictions. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to be a vegan, tried not to care about people who suck, or just try in general to make it through another day.

But the good news is that I’ve learned something about trying too hard. You shouldn’t. Grasping onto something outside of yourself is not a good idea. Blocking the flow, not letting it be, is counterproductive to things working out the way you want them to. I have found that when I just sit back and let things be things tend to go my way.

I guess that’s how it goes with the Lilac tree, too. It just does its thing and produces these wonderfully beautiful and fragrant flowers, without comparing itself to the Camellia bush just inside the fence or the rose bush to its left. It does not tear the leaves or petals from other trees in an effort to make itself or another more happy, it just gives its loveliness to the world by just being.