I watched an incredible movie last night- truly such a piece of art in so many ways I thought I would try to spread the word. The movie is called “My Octopus Teacher,” available for streaming on Netflix.
“My Octopus Teacher takes viewers into a world few humans have ever seen. In 2010, debilitated by adrenal fatigue, Craig began free diving in a freezing underwater forest at the tip of Africa. As the icy water re-energised him, he started to film his experiences and in time, a curious young octopus captured his attention. By visiting her den and tracking her movements everyday for months, he won the animal’s trust and they developed an unlikely relationship.
As the little octopus shared the secrets of her world, Craig became first witness to the beauty and drama of a wild creature’s life and in the process, underwent an incredible mental and physical transformation.”
Everything about this movie was stunning, the cinematography, the story, the narration, the octopus. It was like watching poetry. It made me ask the question, are we humans smarter than an octopus?
If you want a break from the ugliness of the world right now, this is a great movie to watch.
We are among the lucky. Thus far we have only lost power and internet service. There is a fire a few miles away but it seems to be holding. My heart goes out to those who have lost everything and the 500,00 who have had to undergo the stress of evacuations.
As Oregon Burns
A dry wind howls from the east
We extinguish the candles
and do not sleep
As Oregon burns
A black cloud draws across the sky like a flat curtain
If you have country property here in my corner of Oregon, you have probably noticed an explosion of small mammals, including ground squirrels, rats but especially voles this year. Rodents have population cycles peaking every few years and then falling after the predator population catches up to them. This is a banner year for voles
Voles are rodents, bigger than mice with smaller ears and short tales. They are chiefly vegetarians munching on roots, nuts, young plants, and bulbs. They are proficient tunnelers. You don’t want them in your garden.
On the positive side, they aerate the soil and distribute nutrients in the soil layers. My inner biologist recognizes their role in the great circle of life but my outer gardener is extremely frustrated. I am perhaps the first person to write a poem about vole holes?. Adding a bit a humor has made the situation in my lawn more tolerable.
Just when I thought the world couldn’t get any crazier, it has. The issues confronting this country (and the world beyond) makes one tempted to roll over on ones back, legs up in defeat. I need not mention them. You all know- especially in the USA.
This enormity of disasters makes one wonder- is it all hopeless? What good can I do that will make a difference? I’ve been thinking all this week about this question “why bother?” This is what I came up with…
I did not have important business to attend to, a family emergency, or anything pressing that required me to get on an airplane and travel during this Covid 19 pandemic. That fact was, I was going nutty fruitcakes having been so restricted for so long. I NEEDED TO GETAWAY. I guess this would come under the mental health category. After venting to my sister outlaw (former sister inlaw), Jean, a couple of months back she said “why don’t you come up to Juneau for a visit?” A trip to Alaska and a lot of hiking in the wilds sounded like just the ticket. Before I knew it I had gone online, cashed in some frequent flyer miles, and then was to be on my way August 5th for a 6- day trip.
I have to say that before I departed I consulted my inner “riskometer.” I knew I would be forced to be closer than was recommended to strangers, but I also knew that Alaska Airlines had HEPA filtration and offered every other seating. All passengers and crew were required to wear masks. That combined with the N-95 masks and face shield I just purchased to wear would make my risk of acquiring the virus very low. Juneau, Alaska also had a very low infection rate.
When I left I was self-contained with my PPE, hand sanitizer, and enough food so I would not need to purchase anything to eat. The Portland, Oregon airport had maybe 20% of its normal traffic. I felt secure there. The first leg of the trip to Seattle I had an entire row to myself. Now Seatac airport, a major airline, hub was a different story. It seemed to be more like at 80% capacity. The gate of my departing flight was fairly crowded with its share of sloppy maskers. I waited outside of the gate area in a sparsely occupied alcove area and then waited to board last. As advertised the middle seat was empty. I did not accept the offered drinks from the flight attendant and avoided using the lavatory during the 2-hour flight to Juneau. On arriving I got a Covid test required from the State of Alaska. Then Jean and I were off for some adventures.
Every day we were out hiking rain or shine and there seemed to be way more than the former. It didn’t matter. It was so nice to be out in nature and such a beauty- not that the Willamette Valley in Oregon isn’t beautiful. This was a different beauty- a total change of scenery. We saw a beaver, 4 black bears, including a mama and baby, a beaver, porcupine, spawning salmon, bald eagles, ravens, and a plethora of wildflowers
Three days later my covid test came back negative which made socializing less stressful. There was no going out to eat nor shopping which was fine with me. Being outside was what I needed in cooler weather than what the Oregon summer was serving up.
I’ve been back home for over two weeks and no Covid. For me, this trip was worth the calculated risk I took. I’m in a better frame of mind and feel refreshed. This pandemic is going to be around for a while – probably at least another year or so. In my late 60s, I don’t want to lose two years of my life to this pandemic, but I don’t want to lose my life either. So it continues to be a dance with risk, being safe but not paralyzed with fear. I can hardly wait to look at this time and talk about it in the past tense- while being healthy.
“A good river is nature’s life work in song.” ― Mark Helprin
If there is one place that will give me a sense of peace, it is in the presence of a river. Besides being beautiful, rivers have an uncanny way of calming the spirit no matter what kind of dither you are in. In the infinite haiku of moving water, we can let go.
My favorite river in Oregon is the McKenzie. It is born from an underwater spring in Clear Lake high in the Cascade Mountains out of Eugene. From Clear Lake, it tumbles down a fantasy of waterfalls, disappears for a bit into the lava bedrock, and reappears in Blue Pool, a deep touramaline pool that gathers all kinds of visitors to admire its beauty. Eventually, the McKenzie becomes a big river. It tumbles down from the mountains in a sparkle of rapids, calming as it flows into farmland before it flows into the Willamette..
Every year we take a trip on the fourth of July to camp by the McKenzie. Part of that trip includes one or two runs down the river in our inflatable whitewater kayaks. We skipped last year as my spousal equivalent had a series of knee surgeries. We were both nervous about this year’s run down the river as our skills were rusty. In the end, we both agreed that if we didn’t buck up and get out on the water we would never forgive ourselves. There is the feeling of being by a river but being ON a river is the ultimate experience.
Off we went and in 50 yards hit a class 2.5 rapids, a rough way to warm up. We paddled through the waves as they roiled up around us. My adrenaline was buzzing until my mind and muscle memory kicked in and I thought to myself “oh yeah, I can do this!” The following rapids were pure fun. We had lunch on a gravel beach with wildflowers around us. It was a memorable run and probably will be the high spot of our summer. I’m so glad we got over our fears.
Rivers are great teachers, so full of metaphors. Here are a few lessons I have learned from my numerous rides on their liquid paths…
Pick a run that matches your ability but is still challenging.
Have at least one buddy that will watch your back.
Go with the flow- watch where the main current is. It takes less effort.
Keep your sights to where you want to go. If you fixate on a rock, you will hit it. Aim to the side.
Stay committed in tough water and paddle with intention.
Find a peaceful eddy and take a break now and again.
Enjoy the scenery.
You will fall out of your boat occasionally. It’s okay. Get back in and keep on going.
Take note…none of the great sages, prophets, and saviors ever became enlightened by being busy. They renounced their worldly possessions, headed out into the desert, sat under trees, and retreated to caves high up in the mountains. They fasted, prayed, and meditated- basically doing nothing for extended periods. In this solitary, inward experience they became one with themselves, nature, God, and ultimately fulfilled.
In contrast, our culture encourages productivity. The more we achieve, the more we are valued even to ourselves. We are always heading towards something -graduation, career, children, children leaving home, retirement, and acquiring more stuff. We were never encouraged to just BEand Be with our be-ness. Therefore a great deal of our society thinks happiness is always beyond the next bend. For example- “When I______________(fill in the blank), I will be happy.
Being a victim of this frame of mind, I started my sheltering in place journey with a “Super- think of all the things I can get DONE!- writing art, gardening, fitness, etc.”. Then I started to go crazy with all these added expectations.
I concluded that productivity is overrated. You get something accomplished and then 3 more things go in the queue. The carrot remains out of reach. What I needed to do was slow down and find a nice cave to curl up in with no paper to write a to do list on. Savoring the moment is where it’s at. It’s likely we won’t get this type of “opportunity” again.
Now I have granted myself a time to go “fallow.” I haven’t gone off the rails, nor am I enlightened, but I have lowered my expectations. Oddly, this takes a bit of mindfulness. Old habits die hard, but overall, I am happier and enjoying the ride alot more…
Once upon a time, everyone knew the names of the local birds. Then as humans migrated from rural areas to cities, that knowledge was lost in time. Now for most in modernized countries, nature is foreign territory. The birds are nameless, with the exceptions of crows, robins, sparrows, and a few others.
I was in that camp until my second year of college when I took Glenn Moffat’s “Natural History of California.” At the beginning of the birding unit, the binoculars in hand, our class headed up to the rolling green hills behind Foothill College for our first field trip. I was astonished that those little brown birds I had seen all my life now through binoculars were so distinctive in color, patterns (and song). By the time we spotted a lazuli bunting, shimmering iridescent blue in the sun, I was hooked. All those gulls on the coast- there were…
Start with a shape, a circle perhaps? Or maybe begin with a line, straight, zigzag, or a series of turns, twists and loop de loops? Add onto what you started with maybe a pattern…Circle, line, circle, line, dots. Punctuate with a triangle- just for fun. Take those lines for a walk and see where they take you, putting off any specific destination in mind. Work with in a small area like 2”x 2.”A calendar block, the back of a business card, or a post-it note is perfect. A small space provides comfort lest you prefer journeying in a vast wilderness of white space.
Work in pen so you won’t be tempted to erase. Fill in some shapes if desired. Put letters, numbers, keyboard symbols, and words in your tool box. Keep working until you feel an end point. Then leave it. Come back later and look at it with fresh eyes. Often you will be charmed by a doodle that you didn’t like initially.
The rules are simple- no erasing, no judgment, no starting over. Let your hand go where it wants to go. This is merely a creative exploration to see what comes up. As you progress with this practice, maybe add recognizable objects. I seem to be fond of birds, teapots and tea cups. Sometime my random shapes become objects without intention. Odd cars and animals have been known to appear and I delight in building on to them.
If you are a writer you can doodle with words and letters. Start with one word and through a stream of consciousness; add more words that might relate. Feel free to put them upside down, sideways, smaller, bigger, thick or thinner than the original word.
This exercise functions in some ways like Julie Cameron’s morning pages. Allow your pen to express what it needs to express. Doodling has freed me to examine myself, my fears and my willingness to explore. It allows me to have a little fun without worrying about outcome.
I started this practice because I no longer had time to do my visual art daily due to all my writing and home improvement projects I had undertaken. Inspired by the book, If You can Doodle, You Can Paint, by Diane Culhane; I knew I had the time to do at least a daily doodle! My day planner had an unused square. First thing in the morning after I planned my day, I started doodling in that square before I got out of bed.
After several months of this, I have fallen in love with these quirky expressions to the point doodling has become a favorite art form. As with any practice it has evolved. I have developed more of a style with reoccurring themes. Some of these have wound up as part of larger art pieces, and some I am going to expand into pieces in their own right. Some have inspired stories, but the vast majority remains “creation meditations.” This detachment from outcome can lead me to places I never would have gone. As a result, I am less inhibited in my creative process. My doodles have gone wild inhabiting my journal, notes, or wherever there is a fallow piece of white space.
I doodled all through high school and university courses to help keep me focused. Remembering this, when I taught a middle school, I allowed students my doodle during lectures when they did not have to take notes. For many people like me, lines provide an anchor. Now much later in life, I have again allowed myself the pleasure.
Try it! Buy yourself some special pens. I am especially fond of the fine line pens from Jet Pens if you don’t have a local art supply store you can visit.
PS- see more doodles on my new instagram feed @almostdailydoodle. I’m also blogging at One Sweet Earth.