Pointillism, Pixels….and Poison

The newly sprung leaves far above me spread across the blue sky like part of a pointillistic painting. They float, as if detached from each other and the earth, small etches of chartreuse, this early in the season.

Did you know the color “chartreuse” is named after a French elixir that exhibits this in-between-yellow-and-green color? The liqueur is an infusion of special herbs, naturally that color.  The formula has remained a carefully guarded secret by a monastic order for more than 400 years.

(This is what happens when you start down rabbit holes on the internet…)

Back to the leaves. They also remind me more prosaically of digital imaging pixels, an acronym for “picture element” (thank you, Wikipedia). The more pixels used in representing an image, the more information available to you.

In the case of these leaves, increasing the density will probably not tell me much more. But if I allow my eyes to simply drop down to the trunk of the tree, I receive additional information: the smooth gray bark tells me it is an American Beech. So the beech leaves dancing against the sky are the hopeful successors of the ones flattened under my feet, now decomposing in the soil into an elixir of water, minerals and other nutrients which will feed subsequent generations of leaves above.

Cycles:  composed of myriad pixels of lives and deaths, lives and deaths.

I think of all of us now, across the world, pixelated into six-foot-apart lives, the amalgamation of which creates a wonderful picture of caring and concern, if we choose to see it that way.  There is this strange contradiction: many of us are separated from those closest to us – unable to hug for goodness sake! At the same time, we feel ourselves connected to complete strangers in Japan and New Zealand and Germany and Kenya, when we see them in news reports, masked just as we are, all of us dealing with the incertitude of our individual and collective daily lives. Yes, though the threats and the challenges on a local basis may be vastly different, there remains a shared experience, not to mention a shared gratitude for the people who are essentially saving all our lives: the medical personnel, the trash collectors, the grocery clerks.

But the full picture is far from wonderful. The cycle includes too many deaths, exceeding 100,000 in the US as I write.  The New York Times devoted an entire front page to the names of 1,000 individuals, only one hundredth of the total. These names on the page are persons. Unless we have lost someone, and my heart goes out to those who have, we so easily fall into a contemplation of numbers. Names of strangers. Not people.

Recently there have been news reports of people flooding public spaces without masks and without distancing, others actually fighting with store employees trying to enforce a “mask required” order. These scenes way heavy on my mind and my mood. How can people not get this?  In a sense, the unmasked are living off the health of the collective, ignoring the possible contagion of others, and giving nothing in return.

There are t-shirts you can buy on Amazon that say “SELFISH And Proud of it.

What have we come to?

In Field with a view I explored the dangers of human exceptionalism, the metaphysical and theological implications of the vanity of self-importance on a species level. There is the possibility that we are only a passing phase in the overall history of the planet. And that was before Covid-19, which has demonstrated how the human animal is susceptible to the “whims” of another small being. “Being” might be too charitable, as it cannot replicate itself. It is just a bundle of genetic material that needs the duplicative ability of cells of a host species to reproduce a “pseudo-living” being.  I suppose from the point of view of the virus, the human animal is indeed delightfully exceptional. Easy pickings. We have no antibodies to defend ourselves.

When I think about it, humans are like a virus upon the planet, in the sense that we rely more and more upon scarce resources that have never been exclusively our own: the essential services of air, water, soil, other living beings. We so rarely recognize them, pay them the respect they deserve, or thank them, acknowledging our reliance.

Humans are pixels in complicated ecosystems, alongside other animate and inanimate pixels, from soil to sloths, granite to grouse, boreal forests to bacterium, volcanoes to viruses.

Many points of being.  I so desperately want the full pointillistic picture to be one of beauty.

*****

This blog was started a couple of weeks ago, when the leaves were still chartreuse and small against the sky. The leaves are bigger and darker now and the deaths in the US from Covid-19 have surpassed 100,000. But the enumeration of thousands of names on the front page of a newspaper has been eclipsed by one name – George Floyd – whose death was not in a hospital bed surrounded by medical personnel dedicated to helping him breath, but by police officers cutting off his breath.  (Please note the “s” on officers.)

I am a white woman of privilege and I do not pretend to understand the poison of racism that seems to flow in the blood of all human beings. Like the virus, it affects us all differently, both in how we treat others and in how we see ourselves. I am not sure if there will ever be a vaccine. I do know that many good people over many, many years are trying very hard to discover treatments that help minimize the effects.

I also know that fire destroying businesses already gravely stressed by the Covid-19 lockdown, like the only local grocery store available in a food desert, will do nothing to help the mindset of officers like those that killed George Floyd. Sadly, the violence has overshadowed the death of the person known as George Floyd. His pixel of light is being subsumed in the flames.  I find that part very sad.

The black man most revered by this nation was so very clear: violence begets violence. He knew that the poison of racism could only be countered by the antidote of love and compassion. Yes, I know, easy for white me to say, from my secure home in the middle of fields, looking toward mountain tops. But that is what my faith has taught me. And my faith tells me that, just as God accompanies me in her most enveloping form, a Spirit of truth and love, she has imbued the world with compassion over the past few months.  As always, we are in the midst of becoming.  Always becoming an image of beauty, as pixels of love combine in new understandings, new connections, building better, to nourish subsequent generations to come.

Liver Lobes and Earth Day

The white snow covering has given way to hues of burnt umber/ beige of crushed, flattened leaves, still with ample moisture underneath evidenced by the gentle squish as my boots tramp on the woods trail. To one side, a middle-aged maple hugs the ground, the large exposed roots creating small sheltered gaps between them.   I gently push aside the leaves, and find our first serious harbinger of spring: hepatica.

This year, the search tasook on a greater urgency.  I needed this sign of spring to counter the images of 18-wheeler freezer storage containers lined up for corpses, and the faces of exhausted medical personnel, tears brimming in their eyes.

At times, I feel overwhelmed by guilt – that I have these options to look for signs of spring in the woods behind our farm.  That I do not want for food, for money, for a strong supportive community. But I recall a sentence in a recent reflection by a priest friend, that “love doesn’t keep a score of grief and hardship, so much as it assumes that all hardship is held in Creator Spirit’s embrace.”

Is that too pat a thought, I wonder, too easy for a person of faith to take off the shelf to appease a heart grieving at the inequities that this damn pandemic has blasted with neon lights across the world? Perhaps. But without it, I know I would just melt into tears of utter frustration and anger and sadness.

So, knowing that Love is alongside, embracing me and others, I go looking for signs of spring.

What a strong feeling of security there is, knowing that I will find hepatica every spring. Somewhere – underneath this tree or that, eventually – the little curled up buds will be pushing upward alongside the lobed leaves. Hepatica: from the Greek for liver referring to the lobed leaves. Ancients hoped the shape of that leaf signified its power to cure liver ailments. Since the 15th century the “Doctrine of Signatures” held that the shape of a plant indicated its curative use for humans, sort of a hint from a deity that perhaps regretted the diseases that pervaded the world.

Wafhat mind-blowing anthropocentrism. Still, the reliable appearance of hepatica cures me, at least for the moment, of the overwhelming insecurity of not knowing what the crisis will bring next week. Or next month, or a year from now.

On my walk, I searched for something that I knew from previous years would be there. And it was.

The reassurance was palpable to my soul.

Not all predictably recurring events sooth the soul.  Last week was the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. I shake my head. There is no such palpable reassurance when the human species concentrates just one day a year to foster harmony with the planet on which it lives. School children and elected officials planting trees, pronouncements from politicians and pulpits, editorials about how Earth Is Important.  As far as I am concerned, as long as there is an Earth Day – we are in deep trouble. Notwithstanding the laudable, revolutionary and largely successful protections passed in the early years of our caring for the earth, we are in deep trouble as a species.  Many of last week’s dozens upon dozens of recollections and commentaries and lamentations on the state of the planet concluded, rightly in my opinion, that the only way to save the world from this pandemic is to double-down on addressing the climate crisis. As Swedish activist Greta Thunberg remarked on a recent Zoom call with fellow activists and supporters… “every crisis needs to be treated like a crisis.”

I have this outrageous hope that after Covid-19 we will not need another celebration of Earth Day.  Because during this in limbo time, this pandemic spring of 2020, people will make it a habit to live differently, love differently, share differently for the sake of us all, and for the sake of the earth that needs more than an anniversary.

They say hope springs eternal.

Yes.

ah

 

Tree sprouts and hockey sticks

Where do I start?

My first blog post arrives on my brand-new website right in the middle of a pandemic. How can I possibly say anything significant in this time? And do my readers-to-be really need something else to read online? 

Probably not.  But I am going to post anyway. I am 71, and have learned that Elder Time shines out a different facet of life.  And the connections between the climate crisis and the coronavirus are legion.

I will try hard to trend toward hope… 

Blessed with abundant space in which to roam, we are on one of our daily walks in our self-isolation…

Passing through the too-often-ignored field at the far end of our property, this:

I am instantly reminded of orderly social distancing (although the spacing of the sprouting trees is considerably less than six feet and reflects competition for resources, not threat of contagion). I chuckle to myself.

Like a laser, this coronavirus has pierced our consciousness, forcing us to pay attention to it, all the time!

It is a blunt, predicted reality, reflecting yet another facet of what we are learning – all too slowly – about how the human/planet interaction works when stressed. Reductions in habitat due to outright destruction, and climatic seasonal changes, combined with poverty, brought wild animals harboring viruses into the stomachs of hungry humans. One virus among billions crossed the species barrier into brand new territory, a human body without immunity, most likely with lungs compromised by air pollution due to the burning of fossil fuels.  

The rest is history – being written as I write. And we have no idea how it will all end.

It seems different, but there is no new reality here. Cause, effect. Just life playing out as usual as far as the planet’s systems are concerned.

Tragically, “business” also continues as usual in a political system that values profits over people. Scorning the medical science-based recommendations, saving the economy becomes more important than saving people.

I think about time passing:. Does it seem to move more slowly? Or frighteningly fast?

I am struck by the similarities of two “hockey stick” graphs.

On one, depicting the climate crisis, the time axis on the bottom is measured in years or decades.  On the other, depicting the spread of the coronavirus, the axis is in days or weeks.  The steepness of both graphs has one message: Do not be lulled into thinking that life is a steady state transaction.

“Everything must change!” climate activists have been shouting for decades.

And then, everything did change.  In just a couple of weeks.  (This is not what we had in mind.)

But here is where the hope comes in, fellow sojourners on planet earth:

The planet-wide response is jaw-dropping. In some cases, government officials (especially at the state level)are taking bold action at least as radical as any previously suggested by climate change activists. And then, regular people, from your neighbors to citizens of distant countries, are implored to take individual action to make a difference, and they do it!  Right away!

And despite our forced physical isolation, because of the huge virtual community (basically the whole world!), I feel more in community than ever. News reports (maybe too many), family and friends checking in, sharing of things to do while at home.  Lots of very funny videos going viral (!)  to help us through.

Yesterday I took a virtual tour of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and then watched a magnificent production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, shot in the Globe Theater in London. Even more inspiring, I can watch Italians, Spaniards, and Bostonians cheering for their health care workers, bus drivers delivering lunches to kids at home from school, children’s authors reading their books out loud to children on YouTube.

I can even go to church on Sunday.

There are also terrible things happening around the globe: health care workers without protection, older people dying alone, refugee camps just waiting for the virus to ransack their ranks. The inequalities and the social injustices are being intensified beyond what we thought possible.

There is anger, grief, fear.  How long? we wonder…..

But there is also an element of wonderful Spirit-led grace alongside that makes me smile and love the whole world despite my trembling soul. The mindful caring of others tempers my fear.

The global virus infection is symptomatic of the close relationship between the climate crisis and potential origins of pandemics. This one is unprecedently contagious. Which begs the question for me:  Is the together-in-the-world response contagious?  Can everything, from the realization of the severity of the problem to each doing our part, right now, be transmitted to addressing the global climate crisis?

I am a person of faith. I pray that this symptom of God alongside, forgiving our terrible transgressions on creation, spreading grace, comfort and love, stays with us.

For some of you, my new readers, it may simply be the wonderful human response in itself that will be, in effect, a sacred element that sustains you. 

Whatever.

Just stay safe.  Do your part. The earth rises tomorrow.