My father was a fisherman. As girls on a boat and seasick in turbulent waters, our mother told my sisters and me to find the edge of the horizon and keep our eyes there. She explained to her pale chorus of daughters, gray cheeks and weepy eyes, that we’d find our stomachs again, once we locked eyes with that finite line where the sky and the lake met.
She was right. We felt better, one by one. Laughter returned. I have passed this knowledge on to my children, who have been on boats and planes and long car rides where motion makes them feel like throwing up and so often, the driver does not want to stop. Finding your horizon while still moving means you have to anchor your focus to that line, that mystical edge which befouled many a sailor who feared falling off the earth long ago.
The seas, these days, have been rolling. Many of us feel the verging quake of change.
Maybe your child is about to graduate from school–kindergarten or college? Shifts make us measure the days leading up to this moment and look ahead. We get queasy.
What happens to me, in moments like this is I miss the present. I don’t sense my feet on solid ground. I am so uncomfortable, so nauseous, in such a hurry to make this discomfort go away, that I miss being fully attentive to what is causing me anguish. Crashing waves on Lake Superior is a very tangible cause for seasickness. Shifting sands of family life is quite another and one that I often diminish as “no big deal.” The turbulent political state of the United States has legions of people looking for the horizon, hoping to claim solid footing for our nation’s future.
Where I found my horizon today
Today is the day that has been for a few years what my family calls “Mom’s art day,” when I am free from domestic responsibilities for the bulky daylight hours. But with both kids in college this year, suddenly every day is art day and I have hours to spend preparing for and teaching, hours to spend painting papers for books, plotting fund-raising to return to Armenia and please Spirit, may that be soon, and hours to focus solidly on writing, events, and book building, doing the work that has become my occupation.
Earlier this week I completed a revision of the manuscript that urged me to launch this website in 2009. It is the force that drove me forward to iterate what it is I do, want to do, dream of doing, and made me glue found feathers, make offerings, and gather my sisterhood together to create what is now my work. This manuscript will be delivered in to the hands of a colleague who will give it the first official review as I look towards publishing. I have had a few close friends read it and give me feedback, most recently by one friend, whose feedback caused a necessary rocking of my seas.
I sought the horizon and found my purchase on equilibrium by taking the manuscript apart. I have no way of measuring my success, but I do know my manuscript is better for the turmoil that difficult feedback brought in. I steadied myself in fuller time to meditate, solid time to write, a cleared off social calendar, and simplicity in as many things as I can control. My husband has been cooking dinner and bringing me treats mid-day and so far, I have worked in a way that feels like I have trained for it. No panic. No dramatics, at least not much. It has felt like a writing marathon for which I was well prepared.
With my manuscript cooling from this latest blast of work, and who the heck knows if it is good or not, but it is in a state of readiness to be reviewed, I think, I had time to move to other work. Yesterday I built the interior of a book. Today, I woke up knowing I needed to be in the woods. I fought this knowing for a few hours, I tried to be productive, but when I saw myself organizing bottles of paint on my teaching table, I had to get outside. I filled my thermos and headed out. Alone in the woods is what called me.
Alone is what I was for a solid hour.
I saw tree fungus growing off a downed tree. There were least 30 conks around the tree. As you can see, the tree tilts off at a forty-five degree angle to its mates. Even so, the fungi find our horizon. Looking up at them made me realize that even in calamity, seeking the horizon, seeking equilibrium, and seeking a sense of right relationship between my sources of light and me gives me enormous comfort. The swell of comfort where I sense the ground beneath me.
What feeds your wild soul?
I walked in the woods thinking about Terry Tempest Williams. I met her at the Cary Institute of Ecosystems Studies in Millbrook, NY last Saturday evening. My family traveled there to hear Terry present about her new book, The Hour of Land. The whole evening was a gift of being in the presence of my chosen teacher, who spoke movingly about advocacy for the environment, and the work we do for all species, including but not limited to humans.
Much of Terry’s talk centered on wild lands, stories of bison, and the National Park System in the United States.
How often, I wonder, are you in wild land? Can you easily get yourself to a place that is un-manicured? How often are your children on pine-needled paths in the woods or out in the blast of air at the beach? Do you let yourself get lost, ever, or at least to wander? Where does your wild soul find nourishment?
I needed the woods today like I need water and fresh air. I needed to listen to something more than my many thoughts about my many projects. I needed to let a waterfall fill my senses, the velvet wall of moss a green interior in the still brown spring woodland. I came to no conclusions. But I found my needed horizon line, even among trees, the meeting place of sky and earth obscured. The fungi kept me aligned, like a gimbal in the galley.
What serves as a horizon line for you? From where do you get your bearings? I don’t know if all tree fungus grow like that, but I’d be curious to know what it looks like from where you live, oh dear readers, from an island off the coast of Norway to the Pacific Coast Down Under, what quiets your bellies when change ripples the ground beneath you?
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