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A Picture of Endurance

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“I’m not kidding. People die because of this. We have to go. Now.” Our guide wasn’t smiling.

Chastened, my friend CJ and I stopped giggling. Yes, it was ridiculous to have hiked halfway down the Grand Canyon in  August with just one bottle of water between us, but the time for laughing would come later . . . if we survived.

The night before, our guide JK had said, “We will have plenty of water.” CJ took this to mean we would have plenty of water without her contribution. Wrong.

CJ announced her lack of water when we reached Cedar Ridge , a lovely plateau on the South Kaibob Trail. Here we had been going to sit and rest and enjoy the view (for which no adjectives suffice) before hiking back up the steep, rocky trail. At first JK and I thought CJ was kidding, but quickly realized that was not the case.

That’s when JK turned deadly serious. “Put on your packs, we’ve got to get out NOW, before the heat gets any worse.” This was JK’s worst nightmare, hiking at noon on a summer day with neophytes who didn’t bring water. But there we all were.

I Could Just Fly and Meet You There

Blessedly, the grueling march out has somewhat faded from my memory. I remember being dizzy. I remember my thigh muscles burning. I remember arguing with JK several times — once when I kept trying to take off my hat because I was sweltering, and she scolded me, and once when I was trying to rest, and she wouldn’t let me. “We’ll rest in the shade up ahead, not here. I’m not stopping and I’m not leaving you here.”

The worst was when she tried to make me eat an energy bar. I remember that switchback in the trail vividly, the burning heat on my back, the acrid smell of dry rock mixed with the dank scent of manure from the pack horses we had just passed.

“You must eat this,” she said, when I told her I was so light-headed I felt like I could fly. She probably thought I was going to leap into the abyss.

“I will die if I eat,” I said. “I will throw up, I really will. I can’t.” She spoke calmly and insistently, as you would to a five-year-old, and somehow persuaded me to eat the dang thing. I did not throw up. I kept walking.

One  Step at a Time

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge is “Show us what endurance means to you.” For me, endurance means taking one step at a time, whether you are hiking, recovering from an addiction, or journeying through grief or fear or illness. Just one step.

So here you have it. Me, nearing the end of our hike up from Cedar Point:

Endurance

Endurance

 

The Six Life Lessons of Japanese Knotweed

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No, Japanese Knotweed is not some new Asian meditation technique where you sit on a hard floor with your legs knotted into uncomfortable positions and try to negate your being.

It’s nothing that pleasant.

Knotweed is an invasive plant that is severely disrupting the ecology in 26 European countries and 36 American states. Originally sent to the Kew Botanical Gardens in England by an unsuspecting German botanist in 1850, it appears now to have overrun approximately 75% of the state of New Hampshire, with ground zero being the perimeter of my lovely historic barn.

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I have spent considerable time meditating on this foliated menace as I hack it and burn it and smother it under black plastic. While most of my rumination involve dreams of destruction, I also think we can learn some important life lessons from Fallopia japonica

Here are six, because I’m told that people like numbered lists.

1. Don’t give up searching for light in the darkness: Japanese Knotweed can survive a very long time in total darkness. Always hopeful, it will creep along under impenetrable barriers as far as twenty feet, always reaching, always looking for the tiniest glimmer of light that will bring it new life and energy.

2. Plan on seasons of rest: Knotweed may lie dormant for five years during tough times, waiting out the bad conditions until a bit of rain or ray of sunshine urges it back to life. It knows that rest is important and that sometimes you need to save your energy for a different season.

3. The tough times can make you stronger: If a bit of Knotweed gets broken off, even if it’s battered and bruised, it will replant itself and the new growth will be even stronger for the breakage. It learns from it’s mishaps.

4. Mutual support makes for strong community: Japanese Knotweed grows in clumps as wide as 65 feet, with new shoots springing up from a dense ball of roots. These characters know that if you hang together and support each other, you can form an impressive community over time. The larger stalks crowd around young sprouts and provide a strong framework for the little ones to lean on.

5. It’s OK not to have kids: Knotweed does not produce viable seeds, though it has pretty white flowers. Because it’s roots go deep and it grows in community, this plant doesn’t need to reproduce in the traditional way to have a big impact in the world.

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6. Be near God: The rivers of New Hampshire are lined with Knotweed. The wise weed knows that if you plant yourself near “springs of living water” as the Jewish scriptures refer to God, you can catch a ride downstream and go places you’ve never even dreamed of before.

Related reading: Because people tend to like scary stories as well as numbered lists, check out this Knotweed story in Newsweek.

Shifting Reality – A Poem

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SHIFTING REALITY

They collide, a bear and a dogbone,

To become a giant mouse head.

I surrender to shifting reality.

◊  ◊  ◊

An angel’s cowlick elongates, circles to her chin

And forms an elephant’s trunk,

Lifting water to mouth.

◊  ◊  ◊

Continents morph as maps float by,

Mountains to peninsulas to islands;

Plate tectonics on amphetamines.

◊  ◊  ◊

A laughing alligator with a camel’s hump

Gallops towards the horizon, and . . .

Blue! All is blue!

◊  ◊  ◊

Airy wisps of white cotton candy coalesce

Shaping a tropical storm swirl,

And the shifting begins again.

◊  ◊  ◊

Shifting Reality

Shifting Reality

A Labor Day Tribute to a Flaming Liberal: Robin Williams

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One of the things I love about Labor Day is that liberals are allowed to say they are liberals. We don’t have to call ourselves “progressives” because that’s what the focus groups recommend, or mutter equivocal statements such as “Yes, I’m a liberal but I’m actually a moderate on this-or-that.”

On Labor Day, everyone remembers that weekends and sick leave are good things, and that we have liberal labor unions to thank for them.

Elected officials aren’t allowed to mention such things for fear of being labeled a socialist or a community organizer, but regular folks may still — only on Labor Day — refer to antiquated concepts like “looking out for each other” or even “lending a hand when someone’s in trouble.”

Last year, I blogged about the history of Labor Day in A Shout Out to America’s Labor Unions, which you can read here.

A Union Brother

This year, I want to honor a flaming liberal, Robin Williams. Robin was an active union member and won two Screen Actor’s Guild awards, the only awards that specifically recognize union members. He became a member of the Guild in 1977, just a year after he left Julliard acting school, and the same year that he had his television debut on Laugh-In. He was a strong union supporter for the rest of his life.

Robin Williams, R.I.P. photo credit: Joe's Union Review

Robin Williams, R.I.P.
photo credit: Joe’s Union Review

A Heart of Love and Compassion

According to national union organizer Stewart Acuff, Robin was “one of the entertainment industry’s most progressive performers. He financially and vocally and energetically supported progressive ideas and causes and Democratic political candidates time after time after time . . . Robin Williams was one of us progressives with a heart of love and compassion, a commitment to justice and to the human race, and a commitment to creating a more perfect union.”

That sounds like the definition of a liberal to me, except that unlike the stereotypical sour-faced liberal who takes everything just SOOO seriously, Robin was, of course, very funny. He did annual televised comedy fundraisers for homeless people with Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal, and he was masterful at delivering serious social messages with a huge dose of laughter, tackling issues like healthcare (Patch Adams) and the horrors of war (Good Morning, Vietnam).

Sometimes it’s the ones with the softest hearts who can’t survive in this world. We will march on in your memory, Robin.

This Labor Day, do justice, love kindness, and march humbly with your God. Like a good liberal. (Micah 6:8)

And please hug a union member!

An impromptu shrine to Robin in Keene, NH

An impromptu shrine to Robin in Keene, NH where he filmed scenes from the movie Jumanji.

Robin's Theological Reflection

Robin’s Theological Reflection

Amen

Amen

 

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