Tuesday, October 30, 2012


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 are?”)

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.

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.

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


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!

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.

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.
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?'

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 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.

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.