A couple of weekends ago I was had the opportunity to open the windows to Spring, make some black coffee, and sit with a few books. I have stacks of them around my apartment. When I get into a mood I will let my interest wa/onder where it may, weaving from archetypal mythology to gender studies to psychology of trauma to philosophy to environmental literature and so on. After a few cups of this I had to get up and go on a hike. The sunshine was glorious, the Spring air was fresh, various birds were singing… it is a magical time in the Pacific Northwest. I donned one of my kilts, put a notebook and pen in my canvas bag, grabbed my worn hiking stick, put the top down on the Mustang, and headed out to a stretch of forest I had not yet visited, the McDonald-Dunn State Forest. On the drive over I put my Spotify app onto a music channel based on Sheila Chandra. Several of the songs that came up were drone songs, great for meditation. I took my Mustang in and out of curves with a leisurely, mindful attitude. I didn’t attack the curves, pushing my skill and the car, as I did in the past. Instead I just flowed through them.
I drove down a road, onto another road, and passed a gorgeous valley. The picture above doesn’t do it justice… it is a beautiful space. The valley walls were green with dots of white and pink from blooming trees.
Though it was only 63 degrees, the sun poking between clouds, my left hand was cold. After four decades, I still have only the most rudimentary understanding of my left arm and hand. I have a birthmark on it, specifically a large hemangioma where I have a higher density of blood capillaries than normal. Not only do I look different with a purple/red arm and 1/2 my chest, but it affects my physical performance somewhat. For example, I can pace myself on a 26 mile marathon, but if I go flat out for a 2 mile sprint… I lose circulation in it. I can’t hold my arm up and it turns into essentially dead meat. Once I finish running and rest for 10-20 seconds, it comes back. Same is true for push-ups, overhead presses, and other expercises that require chest and arms. To be honest, it frustrates the living hell ouf of me in CrossFit WODs when my strength fails and I transition to one-armed movements. But as soon as I start to feel pity for myself, I remember seeing videos of people doing CrossFit with no arms, or no hands, or no legs. So I shut down my self-pity and move on.
Still, my left hand was freezing cold. The rest of my body was fine. Sometimes it isn’t so much the temperature as something else that I am unaware of. Diet? Stress? I don’t know. When I reached the location where I was to park my car, my hand was positively ice cold. I had tried driving with it in my arm-pit and in my crotch for warmth. I know it looked funny, but I was seeking warmth. And no… it wasn’t because the top was down on the Mustang. I took a picture of it because it was a particularly brilliant shade of purple. As I get hot… it gets deep red, cold… deep purple (good band).
No matter, I parked the car, grabbed my thermos of hot Douglas-Fir tea, my walking stick, and headed out into a forest I’ve never visited before. I passed a couple of people, getting smiles from them, I assume because I am wearing a kilt. It gets a lot of attention. Honestly, I don’t know why I ever wear pants anymore. Kilts (essentially a skirt… admit it dude, deny it all you want… same damn thing) are so much more comfier. Hell, I might start wearing skirts. Why the hell not. What have I got to prove to anyone? Not a damn thing! It is an odd thing that the ultimate refutal to any argument, to the small-minded, is resorting to violence. It matters not how I would argue wearing a kilt/skirt to anyone… I would still have to beat someone up to prove myself. This is, it must be stated, utter bullshit and typifies misogynist beliefs. But I digress…
Walking down the road I enjoyed every little thing I saw. I stopped to watch a bumble bee buzz around for a few minutes. I stopped to watch a bird hunt for insects in the grass. I looked at water flowing on rocks and took note of the way the moss formed at the water’s edge. I noted the growing patterns of trees in an area that had been clearcut a decade earlier. I looked at new plants springing out of the dirt in the Spring air. I tried to walk as mindfully as I could, soaking up the forest into every breath that I took.
Still my left hand was freezing. The sun was warm, the air was perfect, and still my left hand was ice cold. It wasn’t painful, but it was irritating. I even poured scolding hot tea onto my hand and kept the hot water cupped, trying to take in the heat. Nothing worked. I lamented that I didn’t have a nice set of gloves I bought for running. Normally I kept this sleek pair in my bag, but a friend had borrowed them a few weeks earlier. I was really wishing that I had a glove, but I was determined to not let it ruin my day. I wasn’t going to end my hike, so no use lamenting about it too much. Perhaps with my hand in my armpit, and if I picked up my walking pace a bit, I could get the blood in that hand to move some. When it gets this way, whether from fast exercise or temperature, it feels like molasses or lead in the veins… heavy and slugglish.
Less than five minutes later I spied something off the side of the road. I knew what it was instantly. As often as I go hiking, it is not uncommon to see someone post a lost/found glove or hat onto a bush or sign in case the owner walks by again. Ahead of me, off the road a bit, was a funky glove posted in a small sapling.
As I got nearer to it, I could see that it looked like a kid’s glove. It was a delightfully wonky color, filled with exuberance.
I put it on. It was a hair too small, but not so that I would notice. The fuzzy fabric easily stretching over my hand. It was dry from the sunshine and it felt great. Within a few minutes my hand felt better wearing that glove than it did walking around with it in my armpit. Though there was also likely the effect of the faster pace. The crazy purple also matched my arm!
I found a stump that was situated on a switch-back. It provided a great seat for meditation. So I set my tea down, grabbed a seat, and just breathed. Being an amateur birdwatcher I know that this is one of the best means of seeing birds. Instead of stomping around looking for them, find a spot, get quiet, and wait.
Walking for another hour, I followed a crow through a stand of trees. There I found a horse trail, then another horse trail, then a game trail, then a regular hiking trail. I came into a small hollow and was immediately struck by how quiet it was. It was as though the rest of the world, with its distant lawnmowers, helicopters, diesel trucks, and airplanes had disappeared. I sat and revelled in the stillness of it. A nearby hornet, buzzing around the ground, was now prominent with its volume.
Further along a horse trail I came upon some old fallen trees. There were signs everywhere marking them as habitat trees. It is a sad state when we must resort to marking off habitat trees. We’ve lost nearly all of our ancient growth forest in Oregon. Timber companies lobby to get the definitions of an ancient growth forest defined by the diameters of trees. This is like measuring the wisdom of a person by how tall they are. An ancient forest, of which I’ve seen only 1 thus far in Oregon, itself a tiny strip along a highway, is a complexity of biological processes. It is an ecosystem. Do not be fooled for a moment that anyone getting a forestry degree is a biologist or an ecologist. The term forestry is a ploy. Forest is defined as a crop. Our forests are not treated as ecosystems, but instead as crops to harvest wood. Our State forests have long been sold off to timber companies at the expsense of habitat. Instead of investing in diversifying economies in the timber counties, such as Curry County, they have relied heavily upon timber in one way or another. And whenever we, the citizens of the state of Oregon, demand a stop to the wanton disregard for our public forests, whether state or federal, the counties that are dependant and working with/for Big Timber, cry foul. If anyone challenges this, they are met with ‘don’t you live in a wooden house?’, yet nobody talks about the timber we ship overseas. It isn’t about Big Timber providing for communities, it is about them making a buck. When they are done with an area, they’ll simply close up shop and move on. And while timber mills do close, not because of environmentalists but because efficiency (production has increased while demand for labor decreased… blame the machines), struggling communities that bet everything on the local timber economy, now abandoned and worried, wrongly point the finger of hate and distrust at those who are different than them… hippie environmentalists.
I’m not sure where I’ll end up. I’ve gone down some paths that were unknown to me. I’m not where I thought I would be when I originally moved to Oregon in 2000. But I still believe in people first, in the radical notion of clean air and clean water, of a healthy self-regulating ecosystem. We don’t need to regulate a forest; crops are a different matter.
Some people believe the world is evil… others that it is good. I believe that it is both and many shades in between. That the world one lives in is the world we seek, the world we perceive, the world we inhabit. I use inhabit in an active sense, not a passive one. On the many walks that I’ve taken into forests, I’ve seen a lot of gloves and hats left along the trail, some posted prominently so that the owner might see it upon a return. So I keep my eyes open for opportunity, whatever it may look like, to create a positive change in the world around me. I don’t know what it will look like, but I know it when I’ll see it. As always, my life in service to the Logos… or Beauty… or God/dess. I’ve offered this prayer many times in the past… I offer it still. May I be of service to a purpose greater than myself.