Thursday, December 27, 2012

RECLAIM WONDER! – Some New Years Resolutions

I believe I'm surrounded by wonders great and small, all the time, wherever 
I am.

I understand that many of those miracles lie hidden to first glances.

I will open my spirit to wonder. My eyes, my ears, my heart will follow.

I will make time for awareness, curiosity and wonder.


I will turn off the television, put down the book and start looking, learning and living first-hand.

I will decide for myself what entertains me and, more importantly, what nourishes my soul.

I will notice and celebrate the power of presence.   

I will carefully examine the myth of certainty, and value learning more than knowing.

I will be more aware of the miracle of grace that resides around and within 
every person.

I will shine the light of my own spirit, and will give other people the chance to shine too.

I will try to experience everything as if it were for the first time.

I will approach each day with faith in Nature's instruction, and with gratitude for being Her lifelong pupil.

I will be patient, not just with Nature, but with myself, celebrating small steps in the right direction.

I will seize every opportunity to help a screen-bound child reconnect with Nature. 


WANT TO PRINT & FRAME THESE RESOLUTIONS?

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RECLAIMING WONDER PLEDGE DOCUMENT.
Print it out, frame it, or make it the background of your computer desktop.
Give a framed copy to someone you know who's also yearning to reclaim wonder in his/her life.

TO ORDER, JUST SEND JEFF AN E-MAIL: jeff@willius.com
Thanks for taking the Reclaiming Wonder Pledge! Have a wonder-full day!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

SEASON'S GREETINGS!

I wish all my visitors and loyal followers from all over the world—72 countries so far—the very best of this season. For us Christians, that means MERRY CHRISTMAS! (para mis hispanohablantes amigos, ¡FELIZ NAVIDAD!) For my Jewish friends, it's HAPPY HANUKKAH! For all of us here in the northern hemisphere, it's HAPPY WINTER SOLSTICE! 

Whatever your celebration, may these days be kind to you, your families and your loved ones. May they bring you new awareness, wonder and gratitude!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

BEAUTY LOST AND FOUND – The Legacy of Tragedy

To my dear friends around the world. I so appreciate your expressions of support—both spoken and unspoken—as we in the USA struggle to make sense
of the unspeakable cruelty in our midst.


Many of us are in mourning, and, coming as it has, during this colder, darker, season when many of us already struggle to embrace the purported joy of the winter holidays, it has hit us all pretty hard.

For me, spontaneous tears well up when I fully sense my oneness with those who’ve lost so much. Most of us are sad; some are angry; others, afraid. Some
just feel a dark malaise. But we all feel something. It hurts.

The world is no less beautiful
a place than it was before Newtown.


A DARK ROOM
While, of course, we all must mourn this in our own ways, I encourage you to let this fact seep in through the cracks in your grief: the world is no less beautiful a place than it was before Newtown.

Seeing that, knowing that, is hard when we feel stuck in a small room where ugliness seems to have sucked out all the air and light.

Certainly, we cannot deny the monster, but we can and must open the windows
and let the fresh air and light of beauty come back in where it ultimately, inevitably belongs…everywhere.


Their wondrous ways of seeing and sensing 
the world are a gift they’ve helped us 
to open, to delight in, to use every day.

Our normal, natural emotions conspire to weigh those windows shut. As we struggle to reclaim our spirits, we must remember that there is only one way to open those windows. Anger, fear, sorrow and despair won't do it; they’re all stuck with us inside that dark room.

The gradual relief of our pain is awfully hard to grasp at a time like this, because the lesson lies in exactly the same place where our grief is focused: in the sweet, innocent eyes of those young children.

THE EYES OF A CHILD
One is never too old to see the world like a five- or six-year-old. But it is hard for us because, as adults, we bear the burdens of knowledge, experience and responsibility.

Nonetheless, wouldn’t the greatest honor we could possibly bring to the memory of those beautiful children be to understand that their wondrous ways of seeing and sensing the world are a gift that they’ve helped us to open, to delight in, to use every day?

We must not forget that we all still have those eyes, those eyes of a child. For it is that gift that will not only give us comfort, but ultimately lend us the clarity, the wisdom, the loving spirit and the resolve to make our country a safer, happier, more humane place.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

SPARKS, SPECKS AND SPIRITS – Wonder Moves Indoors

Winter Cabin – Vilhelm von Gegerfelt von Gegerfelt 1844-1920

For four or five months a year, snow, ice, slush and some of the most extreme cold endured by anyone in the continental U.S. conspire to keep us Minnesotans indoors. But if you’re like me, just because you’re confined doesn’t mean your curiosity, your sense of wonder, your appreciation of beauty can just be turned off like the water supply to a frozen pipe.

From summer’s wide-angle view of Nature, winter has us dialing down to a tighter, more selective framing of things. Instead of the near overload your senses might experience at summer’s explosion of life and light, you’re challenged to find and cherish smaller, dearer things. You learn to appreciate—and appreciate learning—things that might not even make the cut on summer’s infinite to-do list.

Inside that dark little chamber a miniature 
electrical storm kicks up as the Orlon interacts 
with your dry hair.

SOMETHING IN THE AIR
If there’s one thing that loves a Minnesota winter, it’s static electricity. Arctic air, stabbing down from Canada, is already bone dry by the time it gets here. (Witness our chapped lips and the Styrofoam-like crunch of fresh snow delivered by one of our “Alberta clipper” storms.) But indoors, desiccated still further by furnace heat, the air shrivels to desert-like, single-digit relative humidities, cracking hair and skin, parching houseplants, separating furniture and floor joints.

Add to this perfectly conducive medium the tinder of friction between things fluffy and synthetic (like slippers or socks) and natural fibers (like woolen carpet), and you’ll discover one way we northerners stay awake through all those long, housebound evenings.


The sparks are even more fun when observed in the dark or, better still, when released, with their satisfying little snap, on the tender ear lobe of an unsuspecting sibling. Or try turning off all the lights and then peeling off your Orlon pullover. Inside that dark little chamber a miniature electrical storm, complete with high-pitched zaps of thunder, kicks up as the Orlon interacts with your dry hair.

Have you noticed how outdoor summer air teems with particulate matter: dust, pollen, mold spores and who knows what else? Indoor winter air, barring expensive filters, is every bit as richly seasoned, albeit with different “spices.” What it lacks in pollen it makes up for in dander from humans and pets. The dust and mold are there too, just different kinds.

To see for yourself how much solid material lurks in household air just study a shaft of sunlight, a flashlight beam or the glow of your bedside reading lamp. (This works especially well when the rest of the room’s dark.) If what you see doesn’t alarm you, it will, at least, make you appreciate how well the nose and the rest of the respiratory system manages to filter out all this junk.

For our animal fix, we turn to the certainty 
of specimens we shape to our convenience.


DISCOVERY, DOMESTICATED
Could there be a more elegant artistic expression than the crystalline masterpieces Nature renders with water?

Outdoors, of course, it’s snow. Whether you perceive it as flake or drift, it’s the most sublime of sculptures. Indoors, relegated to the two-dimensional “canvas” of frozen glass, she once again outdoes herself. One appreciates the brushwork of strokes and patterns; marvels at the feathered crystalline detail; imagines how the artist determined where each element would go.

        

Perhaps the one thing that changes most when our world moves indoors is our appreciation of things that live and grow. Instead of marveling at a tree, shrub or flower in its natural, wild setting, we devise ways to shrink it, capture it and confine it in pots that clamber close to windows.

For our animal fix, we turn from the chancy thrill of spotting critters in their own realm and on their own terms, to the certainty of specimens we shape to our convenience, bred to need no more than our care and attention.

Instead of discovering a strange new fruit or nut on a wild plant somewhere in the woods, we learn to explore things closer at hand, perhaps things so common we never thought to look at them with care. For example, have you stopped to appreciate the elegance of line, color, form and texture in a freshly sliced strawberry?

INSIDE OF INSIDE
Within our own minds—and those of people we care about—lie at least as many layers, twists and turns of discovery as there are in Nature’s outer realm. Our winter proximity to other human beings, whether it’s being sealed inside a vehicle or huddled around a hearth, encourages conversation, rewards patience and understanding.

        

It rewards self-discovery too, for turning our attention inward, in reflection, reverie or meditation, can show us the way toward becoming more loving—of others and ourselves.

Our taste for transcendent thought, that yearning for chances to glimpse the unfathomable, knows no season. But in winter, when we’re stuck inside so much of the time, often in close quarters, finding a quiet space and some time of our own can be challenging.

When we can find a way, though, the benefits will likely outweigh those of all the breezy tips I’ve noted above. For once you’ve found your spiritual wings, not even the cruelest Minnesota winter can confine you.

WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, ESCAPE
When your interest in firsthand observation has run its course, what better time than a long, bone-chilling winter evening to turn to vicarious discovery. Turn on the tube. Try to avoid stepping in TV’s notion of “reality,” and find one of the many excellent nature and outdoor adventure programs.

Fly off around the cyber-world on the Internet, or, better yet, turn off everything but your mind and journey into the boundless world of imagination and wonder to be found in a good book. Get lost in a gardening catalog or website; build a model; collect something; plan a party. Or, if none of these virtual escapes quite satisfies your itch, book your dream vacation…and get out of there for real!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

SNOW ON CRAB


How does snow do this—pile five inches deep on a quarter inch branch?

Snowflakes settle so gently down—can you imagine sprinkling anything so softly?

Then they hook their fine, crystalline arms, defying gravity and a nudge of breeze. 

It all reminds me why we northerners put up with winter.

Monday, December 3, 2012

BUBBLES – As If For the First Time

(This is the latest in my series of reflections, As If For the First Time,
describing the most commonplace of experiences through a fresh lens,
one of innocence and wonder.)


When I was a kid, I loved to play with the Prell shampoo. The clear, emerald-green stuff came in a transparent tube. I adored the depth of that color. More than that, I loved the pocket of air. When I turned the tube upside down it would start rising slowly through the honey-thick goo, taking on the typical globular shape of a bubble—but with one difference: because the medium was so thick, its trailing edge was drawn out into a point, like a water drop just before it breaks free, only inverted.

How amazing, I thought, that Prell could make not just the wispy, ephemeral bubbles we expect from soap, but these thick, plodding, ponderable
ones too.

I also remember staring into my dad's beer glass, transfixed by those little strings of bubbles that appeared out of nowhere and danced around through the amber. I'm still fascinated.

www.derekgulden.com - Used with permission

Is there any one of Nature's little wonders more sublime than a bubble? Think of the soapy kind kids blow with those little plastic wands. Like sheer 3-D kaleidoscopes, their colors shimmer and flow. And have you ever made a really big bubble hoop out of rope or a coat hanger? Once you figure out how to get the right amount and rate of air to balloon the soapy film without breaking it, you can produce bubbles so big they undulate as they drift away, writhing to find their roundness.

...you can produce bubbles so big they undulate as they drift away, writhing to find their roundness. 

Not all bubbles are so whimsical; just ask divers. If they ascend too fast, the nitrogen dissolved in their blood can bubble up just like the carbon dioxide in a quickly uncapped bottle of soda.

I'm visited by an uncomfortable little bubble every once in a while. I don't know where it comes from, but it feels like a tiny holdout from a burp, a bubble that finds its way into some little nook in my chest, where it presses on something that doesn't appreciate it. It used to scare me—I thought I was having a heart attack—but now I just wait until it eventually finds its way out the way it was headed in the first place.



Bubbles have a sneaky side too. Nestle knew it 
back in 1938...

Think of all the bubbles we just take for granted. Bread—yes, how do you think it gets that texture? Foam rubber. A wine glass. Rice Crispies. There are even bubbles so small we can't see them. Paints and plastics, as well as lots of other materials, contain millions of microscopic glass bubbles added to extend volume, reduce weight, add strength, resist abrasion and improve flow quality. Bubbles are used in inkjet printing, mining, environmental engineering, medicine, oil production, food science and any number of other industries.

Bubbles have a sneaky side too. Nestle knew it back in 1938 when they figured out a way to provide less actual chocolate in their bars than it appeared by adding puffed crisps—essentially bubbles—to the mix. And now, alas, Hershey has pulled an even more devious trick with their Air Delight chocolate bar, somehow making it sound like you're getting more, not less.

Hombre Viendo al Cielo - Fernando Garrido 2005

My friend, the fine contemporary Mexican painter, Fernando Garrido, uses bubbles as a sort of signature element in his eccentric, magical-realist portrayals of warriors, sages, alchemists, oracles and mystics. The bubbles emerge, in astounding, dripping detail, from the characters’ mouths, through vents in their outlandish headdresses, and sometimes, like those little beer bubbles, from no apparent source. Catching reflections of neon lights or an always-unseen sun, they float through Garrido's scenes, reminding us of the tenuous balance between life's shimmering fullness and its utter impermanence.

How and where do you see bubbles?

"A soap bubble is the most beautiful, most exquisite thing in nature. I wonder how much it would cost to buy a soap bubble, if there were only one in the world?"
MARK TWAIN

Monday, November 19, 2012

WONDERS GREAT AND SMALL – A Thanksgiving Blessing

Here's a Thanksgiving blessing I'd like to share. I happen to pray to God, but if your reverence for the incredible is directed to a force of a different name, feel free to plug it in as you like.

 Oh God, you appear to all of us in different ways. Ways so vast and powerful that we cannot grasp them, so minute that we fail to notice them. Lord, hear our thoughts and prayers of thanksgiving and help each of us be more fully aware of your blessings large and small:

Thank you for the vast expanse, the limitless wonder, of your creation,
And for the cold, wet, honeycomb pattern of the skin on a dog’s nose.

Thank you for Nature’s great ebbs and flows—her awesome power;
her transcendent beauty; her inexorable rhythms,
And for our lover’s heartbeat.

Thank you for the fascinating family of man—in all its colors, shades and textures—and the values and aspirations we share.
Thank you too for our family—those sitting at this table and those present in our hearts.

Thank you for the good, the pure, the true that resides at the core
of every human being,
And the chance to share a smile and a kind word with a stranger.

Thank you for your infinite bounty—the abundance with which you
nourish us in body, mind and spirit.
And thank you for this glorious meal we’re about to share.


Thank you for your promise of eternity,
And for this moment—this one...precious...moment of life.

Amen

Thursday, November 15, 2012

HOW TO BE IN THE MOMENT – 101 Tips

 TIP #50
Ghostly Geese


These late fall nights, keep your ears open for what may sound like a crowd of people chattering in the distance. If you look up, you might see the hundred-strong "V" of migrating geese, two thousand feet up, dimly lit against the blackness by ambient earthlight.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

BEYOND REACH – The Power of Touch

The sense of touch is underrated. Sure, it gets credit as a way of discovering and exploring—that is to say, as a receiver of sensation. What we may not appreciate, though, is that, of all our senses, only touch is always a conversation. You can usually see, hear or smell something pretty much anonymously—without its being involved in any way. But when you touch something, it touches you.


For this reason, touch may indeed be the most powerful of all our basic senses, one that can, all by itself, communicate. Cultivating touch as both receiver and giver of information not only allows us to explore, communicate and express emotion, it also helps us better appreciate Nature and our place in it. There are countless opportunities to put this into practice—if we just learn to recognize them.

Of all our senses, only touch is always a conversation; when you touch something, 
it touches you.

HANDS OFF!

The problem is that, for some of us—I’ll presume to speak for those of us of northern European descent who grew up during the late 20th century—touch was seen as a sort of taboo. I remember well the dilemma of being a child—whose every instinct calls for touching—and constantly being admonished, “Don’t touch!” We grew up terrified that we’d break something, spill something or leave a mark.

And it wasn’t just curious touch; touching as a way of expressing affection also seemed to be frowned upon. I seldom witnessed my parents touching each other, and, while I’m sure they must have held me as a baby, taken my hand while crossing the street and certainly kissed me good night, it was otherwise a pretty hands-off existence. So, with few role models, I’ve had to learn the value of touch for myself.

LIFE AND LIMB
In our neighborhood there’s a stately old cottonwood tree. At first glance, you wouldn’t say there’s anything exceptional about it. But I noticed one day that, as cottonwoods often do, this tree actually has more than one trunk. In fact, there are five distinct trunks, each about the same size—probably ten or twelve feet in circumference—evenly spaced in a circle.


The massive columns, just a few inches apart at the ground, lean slightly outward, leaving just enough room for me to step into their midst. I like to stand in that living enclosure and touch the coarse bark. Then I lean back against one of the trunks and focus my awareness on just that place, that moment. When I do that, I feel something extraordinary.

I imagine its five trunks as fingers, gently holding me in their knowing grasp.

Maybe it’s just a sense of peace, of being in the moment, but I believe there’s something more. I think what I feel is the spirit of that tree, its acknowledgment, its welcome. It’s as if, through my touch, by my deep awareness of its venerable “being,” it too can sense my presence, my spirit. I imagine its five trunks as gnarly, wrinkled fingers, gently holding me in their knowing grasp.

Does the idea of communicating by touch with an inanimate object seem illogical? I certainly can’t prove that my overtures to that cottonwood were reciprocated. But don’t let that stop you from trying. The trick is, first of all, to be open to the dialog. You have to believe that a tree just might have something to say to you.

Second—and this is even harder for most people—you have to believe it is saying something to you. Now let’s be reasonable; a tree can’t talk. But it does have being and thus, I believe, a spirit. And spirits have no trouble at all communicating. I know this.

TOUCHED BY WHALES
Now if you just can’t see yourself communing with a tree, maybe you’ll find it easier to grasp this example of the power of touch. A few years ago Sally and I took an incredible natural history cruise. The 95-foot Searcher sails from San Diego down the Pacific Coast of Mexico to Cabo San Lucas and then up into the Sea of Cortez.

On the way, we anchored for a full day in Laguna San Ignacio, a secluded bay in which Pacific gray whale cows give birth to their calves and nurture them until they’re strong enough for the epic 6,000-mile annual migration to their arctic feeding grounds.


For some reason—no one knows for sure why—the mother whales in San Ignacio (and nowhere else that’s been observed) regularly approach small rowboat-sized pangas full of people, nudging their babies toward their awestruck human visitors’ outstretched hands. This scene repeated itself many times while we were there, the 50-foot cows sometimes actually swimming under their 20-foot calves, lifting them up and “presenting” them to us so we could touch them.

A mother swam under our one-ton panga and 
lifted it gently out of the water as if to remind us 
who was in charge.

One of the calves Sally was petting opened its fishy-smelling mouth and seemed to love it when she rubbed its baleen, the hairy, boney plates this type of whale uses to filter krill out of seawater.

The mother would usually back up a few yards and wait, watching intently, sometimes even lifting an eye out of the water for the best view. Once, a mother swam under our one-ton panga and lifted it gently out of the water a few inches as if to remind us who was in charge of the meeting.

If you've never believed in communication by touch between creatures that might seem to have nothing to say to each other, you’d believe in it after visiting Laguna San Ignacio.

A TOUCH OF RESTRAINT
As with so many other aspects of our presence on earth, the power of touch can be used for good or for ill. And too often we’re unaware of which it is. For example, when we see an interesting flower, a bird’s egg or a brilliant coral, our immediate impulse is to touch it. (That exploring impulse is at the heart of my work here on One Man’s Wonder and in my new book, Under the Wild Ginger)

Without those rules, naturalists found, we were loving Nature to death.


But as innocent as that childlike instinct is, a room full of children can cause a lot of damage. That’s why, in a Costa Rican cloud forest, a Mexican coral reef or a Minnesota state park, there have to be strict rules against our touching the stars of the show. Without those rules, naturalists found, we were loving Nature to death.

So I encourage you to touch. Touch your friends and loved ones. Touch your pets. Oh, and don’t forget trees. Think of it not just as receiving sensation, but giving it as well. And by all means be aware of the effects of your actions.

Depending on where you are, realize that your ill-placed touch may be repeated by thousands of other people. In those places that are easily accessible to lots of humans, better let your eyes and your heart do the touching.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

HOW TO BE IN THE MOMENT – 101 Tips

TIP #25 
Adopt a fresh perspective.

Sculpture and photo by Trevor Shannon

Put something you’ve seen a hundred times on a virtual lazy Susan. Spin it and look at it from all sides. What new aspects do you see?

Once you can do this with things, maybe you can put a new spin on matters of more consequence: feelings, beliefs, attitudes.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

BATS OUT OF HELL – Digging for Spirits

Discovery generally requires one to look behind, beneath or beyond something. Most often that’s more of a mental challenge than a physical one; once you have the motivation, all it takes is the movement of one hand. But there are times when the surface layers are just so thick, so heavy that removing them exceeds the abilities of one person—or even one lifetime. Such was the case with the discoveries once shared with me by an old Mexican opal miner.

                                           = /=         = /=          =/=

My friend Silverio and I were headed for La Trinidad, a small village near Tequisquiapan, Querétaro, in central Mexico. We wanted to see if we could find one of the opal mines for which this region is—and was even more so in the past—well known.


Apparently, Silverio had no plan but to show up and see what would happen. Luckily, the attendant of a gas station along the way had told us to head up into the foothills, find the village and ask around for Héctor Montes, who, he suggested, would “take care of us.” I wondered if there was any way he could have misinterpreted our inquiry about opals as something less innocent.

We found the village and asked several more people where we might find Señor Montes. Reconciling their widely divergent directions, we finally arrived at a rather nice home for these parts. Héctor's wife met us at the wrought iron gate, listened to our request and then welcomed us inside where she introduced her son, Fernando.

The plink, plink of hammering on  
rock poured out of the void.

They sat us down at their dining room table and began showing us what we thought was everything one would ever want to know about opals, including a display showing the progression of steps needed to process opal from raw ore to finished, mounted stones.

Then Fernando piled us all into his 4x4 camioneta (pickup) and drove us—on a barely navigable road made mostly from the rock talus of old opal mines—up the side of the mountain. On the way, we had a nice conversation with him in Spanish, learning that his dad has been mining opals here for 40 years.

We passed several dirty, exhausted-looking miners walking home after their shifts. After a gut-tumbling couple of miles, we arrived at the end of the road. The fabulous view of the surrounding hills was splashed here and there with the golden rock debris of old, tapped-out claims.


After climbing on foot another 200 or so vertical feet, we arrived at a big hole sunk vertically into the side of the mountain—about 25 feet deep and 10 feet across. The plink, plink of hammering on rock poured out of the void. I peered over the rim and there at the bottom was a wiry man with skin that matched his well-worn boots.

Suddenly there appeared two red beams of light which came together on a fist-sized opal.

Like so many Mexicans, Héctor looked at least ten years older than the sixty I figured he really was. Leaving the picking and digging to his young hired hand, he came up the ladder with a half-full bucket of rocks, welcomed us very warmly and started right in on what was to become a full afternoon’s "education" about opals and opal mining.

Héctor showed us the different types and colors of veins he'd found that day, took us down to other mines, and explained how—since good veins near the surface are pretty well tapped out—they now have to dig ever deeper to find them.


The highlight of the day was our visit to a large and very deep former mine. Once we'd clambered our way well into the cave, beyond the reach of daylight, Héctor pulled several gnarly candle stumps out of his pocket, handed us each one, and lit them. A few minutes later, we reached the terminus of the mine, where he pointed out one of many old fissures in the rock where the opal veins tended to form.

There, playing with the candlelight as opals do, winked small remnants of the gemstone considered too small to yield marketable stones.

Before we started back out, Héctor asked us to blow out our candles. There, in cool, damp, total darkness, he started to tell us one of the legends of the local mines:

Too long ago for anyone to remember exactly when, two miners were working in a cavernous mine just like this one, when suddenly there appeared two red beams of light which came together on a fist-sized opal—by far the biggest either miner had ever seen. Following the rays back to their source, the two terrified men laid eyes on los ojos del diablo (eyes of the devil), who promised them the opal could be theirs if…



Suddenly, one of the men turned and ran, terrified, out of the mine. The other, his fear dissuaded by greed, failed to notice the slight rumble presaging the collapse of the mine entrance. Neither he nor the great opal was ever seen again.

Hundreds of huge bats sliced silently through the damp air just inches from our heads. 

As Héctor was talking—in clear, mercifully-slow Spanish—I found it hard to concentrate, because odd little puffs of breeze kept ruffling my hair. I didn’t dare put my hand up, already guessing their source. When Héctor finally struck a match to relight our candles, the flickering glow caught the wings of hundreds of huge bats slicing silently through the damp air just inches from our heads.

       

On the ride back down the mountain, it was my turn to sit back in the box of
the pickup where I had time to reflect on the experience. Even through Héctor’s and the other miners’ discoveries weren’t my own, I was grateful for his making me feel like they were, as if I’d just encountered, for myself, the spirits of those two long-since-departed miners, their very breath touching me through the
wings of bats.

Friday, October 19, 2012

WHISPERS OF LEAVES – Heeding the Wisdom of Autumn

How one defines the seasons of one's life is pretty arbitrary. Take fall for example.
I know some 50-somethings who act like they’re already anticipating the end, fading and molding away. And I know a few 80-somethings who still wake up every day expecting change and growth, celebrating life by donning their brightest colors. (I like that quote by baseball icon Satchel Paige, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”)

Nonetheless, each of us reaches a certain age where it’s hard not to realize that there’s more of your life behind you than ahead.

 
I may not be as fresh and flashy as I was in my spring…but my roots have grown deep. I know 
who and where I am.

DIVERGING PARALLELS
Just the other day, as I shuffled through some whispering leaves, I was musing on these parallels between this stage of life and this season of the year, and how many of them really apply to me.

Clearly, at least by the measure of years, I’m well into the autumn of my life. And, sure enough, a few of my leaves are withering and dropping.

I may not be as fresh and flashy as I was in my spring, as cocksure as in summer, but a few fires, droughts and storms have sent my roots deep, made me strong. I know who and where I am. You could say I'm just starting to show my best and truest colors.

As autumn comes, at least up here in the North Country, life heads indoors. Sap slows, animals settle into cozy burrows and dens; people, into their homes.


Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen in life too? Like they say, don’t our creative juices, our vitality and engagement with the world around us start retreating in our autumn? More and more, as our physical reach diminishes, shouldn’t our lives
turn inward?

This is where the parallels start to diverge for me.

I want my experience, my knowledge, to be like blocks of granite…spread out before me, a row of 
stepping stones to more and deeper truths.

STEPPING STONES
No one doubts that the autumn of the year will yield to winter and then, inevitably, to yet another spring. The autumn of one’s life, by most accounts, will not. I’m not sure I can accept that as graciously as a tree, a bear—or a snowbound Minnesotan—accepts its annual four- or five-month dormancy.

I want my experience, my knowledge, to be like blocks of granite, not simply piled up as the foundation of my awareness and ego—or perhaps as a monument to them—but spread out before me, a row of stepping stones to more and deeper truths—about myself and about the cosmos.


If there’s a tendency to think of the fall season as an ending, a winding down,
isn’t it also a beginning? Isn’t it the start of a process of storing, building, putting by the provisions for the long cold winter, and collecting fuel for the inexorable engine of spring?

That’s the way I’d like to see the autumn of my life too. Not giving up, not letting go, but building toward something new, something deliciously unexpected. I don’t know what that might be, but I’ll look forward to it nonetheless.

Do we really get just one of each life season?

I guess that’s where faith comes in. Of course, no one can prove that some level
of consciousness carries on after the human body’s demise…but neither can
they prove that it doesn’t. That’s the beauty of it; we can choose which reality
to embrace.

So, what do you think? Does the human life / seasons of the year metaphor work for you, comparing one’s lifetime with just one astronomical year? Do we really get just one of each life season? Can’t someone like me, in the fall of his life, embrace that season for all its melancholy reality and still look forward to another spring?

Can’t we always believe in the promise of spring, if not in body, at least in spirit; if not within the power of Nature, perhaps within some inscrutable power of our own?

I don’t know about you, but I live for that promise.

Friday, October 12, 2012

HOW TO BE IN THE MOMENT – 101 Tips

TIP #50 
Take a gander at ghostly geese.


Some late-fall night when you’re outside, keep your ears open for what may sound like a crowd of people jabbering in the distance.

Look up and find the stringy "V" of geese slicing south two thousand feet up, dimly lit against the black by ambient earthlight.
 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

TWO AND GROWING – Thank you!

How time flies when you’re having fun!

Two years ago I started One Man’s Wonder with several goals. First, I wanted to share with others the bits & pieces about Nature and life I’d been writing. Secondly—and this motivation is one I’ve realized only in hindsight—a few thoughts about retirement had begun finding their way in through chinks in my notion of agelessness, and I realized, no matter what my age, I’d be lost without a regular creative outlet.

Finally, at a time when some older folks are furling their wings, drawing in their horizons, I was still wanting to soar, to open up new vistas, meet new friends and discover new and deeper connections with the earth.


While I’ve met every one of those goals, they’re all pretty subjective, which
means that, unlike numeric ends, they can grow and evolve with me. And that’s a
good thing.

To all those who’ve visited One Man’s Wonder— even once—thank you!

ONE TO GROW ON
In my first year of blogging, I met many new friends, both followers and fellow bloggers. My most popular post was about bubbles. And I recorded 14,000 page views. I thought that was amazing.

In my second year, besides building on those subjective goals, I thought it would
be nice if I could add a nice, round 25,000 page views. It’s turned out to be well
over 30,000.

So, to all those who’ve visited One Man’s Wonder—even once—thank you! To those who’ve signed up to be notified of each new post, I’m grateful for your constancy. And to those who’ve stuck their necks out to comment now and then, you’ve helped me realize one more goal: to make One Man’s Wonder less a lectern and more a round-table.

I’m just one of many...who try every day to illuminate the simple, the good, the kind, the wondrous.

I WROTE THE BOOK ON IT
Perhaps the most monumental development of this second year has been the gestation and birth of my  “baby,” my new book, Under the Wild Ginger – A Simple Guide to the Wisdom of Wonder. Seeing it all happen—much of it serendipitously—has been incredibly fulfilling and affirming for me.

But I walk a fine line between giggly excitement at the opportunity to further share my take on seeing life more generously, and my inbred modesty. After all, how self-promoting can one be and still claim to see the world like an innocent, wide-eyed kid?

But I keep coming back to the wonderful words of author and lecturer Marianne Williamson:
Our deepest fear isn't that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world.

There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT
So that’s what I’ll do; I’ll keep shining my light the best I can, and reminding myself that I’m just one of many. If I do it right my light will join yours and that of so many other thoughtful, talented, generous souls who try every day to illuminate the simple, the good, the kind, the wondrous that dwells in and around us every single day—if only we can see it.

Friday, October 5, 2012

AUTUMN LEAVES – As If For the First Time

(This is the latest in my series of reflections, As If For the First Time,
describing the most commonplace of experiences through a fresh lens,
one of innocence and wonder.)


One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, 'What if I had
never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?'
RACHEL CARSON

Imagine you live in a place where the trees either don't shed their leaves or lose them continuously, a few at a time. Or maybe your trees drop all their leaves annually, but the leaves just turn brown.

And let's also say it's a third-world country, you're poor, or you live under a controlling government, so it would never dawn on you that things might be different in
other places.


Okay, now someone new arrives on the scene—a visitor, let's say, from northern climes in North America, Europe or Asia. First, they tell you that where they live rain crystallizes and blankets everything in pure, sparkling white. Yeah, right!

Then they say that, before that magic fairy dust comes, the trees all turn from green to resplendent red, gold and orange—even purple. C'mon! Tell me another one.

Can you imagine fall foliage, snow—or any of a thousand other wonders—as if you were seeing it for the first time? If that doesn't cut through your apathy and stoke your sense of joy and wonder, then try seeing it as if it were for the last time. Hm-m-m... See how wonder turns to gratitude?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

IN THE GUTTER – Lessons From My Grandchildren

My daughter sent me this photo this morning. She said, “Hey dad, the kids were delighted that raindrops falling into a puddle could create bubbles.”

                

This delights me too—at so many levels: that my daughter thinks of me at such moments of discovery and wonder; that she and her husband show my grandchildren not just the joys of being outdoors—in any kind of weather, I should add—but encourage them to look carefully, inquisitively, creatively; that the kids have learned to not just welcome wonder, but expect it;

WONDER OF WONDERS
Wonder exists at many levels, and they’re not always the most obvious. To get beyond the commonplace and see the real miracle, one often has to invest an extra measure of curiosity, creativity or just plain old patience.

And that’s what I find most interesting about my grandchildren’s experience with the puddle. They could have been drawn in by those golden, glowing leaves. It could have been the water and its unique properties—the reflections, the clarity, and certainly those amazing ripples.

Perhaps they did notice all that, but what they were especially drawn to were the bubbles, a wonder even more ephemeral.

I so appreciate my daughter today for those lessons she so thoughtfully mediates between generations.

Kids are naturally good at wonder; they’re hard-wired for it. Getting them outdoors, letting them stop, look and play, allows those circuits to fire, powering their health and happiness in many ways.

They learn the most basic—and some would say most sophisticated—lessons about themselves and their relationship with the spaces around them, about beauty, about humility and a concern for things beyond themselves.

WHAT GOES AROUND
Sometimes, as I get carried away with my writing and the work entailed in bringing it to a growing readership, I lose track of that inevitable question about teachers and students: who’s teaching whom?

I forget that, as much as I may have taught my children and grandchildren about curiosity and wonder, they continue to teach me at least as much—about perspective, spontaneity, joy and, ultimately, love.

I so appreciate my daughter today for those lessons she so thoughtfully mediates between generations. And this, perhaps, is what those fleeting bubbles have to say to those who stop and listen: life and love, like wonder, are fragile. No matter what the distractions, we must keep our ears open or we may not hear it.



Friday, September 28, 2012

AT LAST – Jeff's Reflections Distilled in a Book!

UNDER THE WILD GINGER
A Simple Guide to the Wisdom of Wonder

 


A GIFT THAT 
WILL BE KEPT 
& REVISITED

Order one for 
yourself and a
few to give! 
A lovely meditation on what makes life worth living.
RICHARD LOUV, author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle 
 
A welcome invitation to see the world through new eyes.
MARTI ERICKSON, cofounder, Children & Nature Network; cohost, MomEnough.com
 
Warmhearted, wise, uplifting—simply enchanting!
ROBIN EASTON, author of Naked in Eden: My Adventures and Awakening in the Australian Rainforest
 
Inspires us to keep our childlike wonder alive.
ANN BANCROFT, polar explorer, teacher and author
 
Nourishes the soul. 
MEG PIER, travel writer, photographer, ViewfromthePier.com
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
RECLAIM THE MAGICAL!
Do you remember how it felt when, as a child,
you first discovered some little creature or flower
you’d never seen before and when, moved beyond
speech, all you could manage was a breathless wow?

That little whisper, that crystalline moment of pure
wonder, is what Under the Wild Ginger is about.

You can reclaim the magical in your hectic life. You’ll learn how to open both your senses and your spirit to your surroundings, how to notice and celebrate the countless small miracles that await, often right under your nose.

(CLICK HERE TO ORDER) 

A guidebook to journeys of wonder 
with children and grandchildren

SEE GENEROUSLY!
The book introduces the concept of seeing generously. It suggests that, while sensing may seem a kind of acquisition, it’s really as much about giving as taking—letting go agendas and schedules; surrendering cell phones and computers; committing your time; applying your imagination; and, above all, simply paying attention.

Giving something of yourself to the process of perception restores the curiosity and joie de vivre each of us possessed naturally as a child but which got buried in layer upon layer of adult structure, stress, and cynicism.

Under the Wild Ginger is a book to enjoy in quiet moments by yourself, to give to kindred spirits, and, perhaps most importantly, to share with your children and grandchildren as a guidebook to journeys of wonder you’ll undertake together.

(CLICK HERE TO ORDER)