Monday, December 28, 2009

Writing Cheerfully on the Web

We're number six! We're number six!

The anthology of Quaker bloggers, Writing Cheerfully on the Web (featuring, among others, yours truly!) made the top ten best-sellers this year at Quaker Books!

OK. Technically, that's way too many exclamation points. I would never let one of my writing students get away with that many exclamation points in a row.

But we're excited around here, and we don't care who knows it! And, if you haven't done so already, how about celebrating the New Year with us by picking up a copy of this (Extreme Bias Alert!) massively magnificent book?

"Topical and thought provoking writing from all the best Quaker Bloggers." (And I quote.)

We're number six! w00t!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Fire in the Webs

It's still quite difficult to blog; I'm used to sitting down for two or three hours when the writing fit is on me, and my spine objects to anything over ten minutes. So I'll keep this short and sweet...

I celebrated my Solstice with a day off from my job--and I'm so glad I am openly requesting religious holidays at last. On my day off, I watched the sun come up through the line of white pines at the edge of the former pasture (now woodlot) behind our house. Then I put on hiking boots with cleats, and using a ski pole in lieu of my cane, I made the rounds of our quince and apple trees, with a libation of hard cider.

That afternoon, I wandered three miles along woods roads and the ridge path, out to the pine tree with the bee hive in it. I didn't offer the bees anything--as far as I could see or hear, they were all asleep--but as I turned to hike home again, I noticed the oddest thing:


It was perhaps twenty degrees outside, with brilliant sun, warm against the trunks of the oaks and hemlocks. I noticed small birds, chickadees and other nimble things, hopping up and down the ridges of bark, and even hanging from the undersides of branches, pecking at invisible somethings. Insects? Spiders?

In any case, there they were, improbably enough: glinting in hair-thin lines of fire, dozens upon dozens of fine threads of spiderweb, running through the branches of the understory. If I turned my head even a fraction of a degree to the right or left, they were so fine they disappeared entirely. Only with the help of the blazing sunlight could I see them at all.

Spiders, alert, awake, and spinning their webs on the shortest day of the year.

When I returned home, I did some research online, and learned that, indeed, there are several species of spider that do awaken and even clamber about on the surface of the snow in the dead of winter. And some web spinning species, unthinkably, hatch out in early winter, living on what little they can find until the spring returns.

One site claimed that to find a spiderweb on Christmas Day is good luck. I have decided that finding the webs of infinitesimally small spiders at midwinter is more than good luck: it is a sign of the stubbornness and persistence of life. As much as the return of the sun, the inventiveness and intrepidity of even the smallest of lives is something to admire, and try to find in ourselves.

Bright blessings, all.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Season of the Deer

The nearness of Yule has a different feel to it this year, our first year living by the woods again.

Since my back injury, I have spent a lot of time walking in those woods, alone, or with Peter and our dogs. Pain pills help; the heating pad and orthopedic chair help more; however, the only thing that really banishes the pain for any length of time is walking, particularly outdoors. I love the woods and walking in any case, but I've really been putting on the miles this year.

One thing I figured out a couple of weeks ago, when I found a spent shell along the trail, is that I'm not alone in these woods even when I am unaccompanied. It's hunting season, and these woods are wild enough and deep enough that they are in regular use by hunters.

On a practical level, that means that I'm back to wearing special Pagan garb again: in this case, a blaze orange women's hunting vest. (It has marvelous pockets, intended for game birds, which are waterproof and easy to clean: perfect for whatever trash I may find along the trail. Very 21st Century Druid.)

On a spiritual level, that means I am more aware of the season of the god than ever.

Last weekend, I set out early on Saturday morning for a "proper walk"--a long one, on the wilder trails. I had just reached the limit of the old farm's land, when I heard the sharp, barking report of a gun. A few minutes later, I heard two more shots echo off the hillsides.

They made me catch my breath. "Did you kill the god today?" I heard an inner voice asking.

The horned god is the god who rejoices in the strength and potency of the young stag in summer, and who embraces the lust, both for breeding and for life, in the autumn rut.

And he is also the meat in the pot, the life that dies to feed the people--and the new life, silent and half-formed, hidden in the womb.

At Christmas time, Christians celebrate the birth of their god who dies for the love of his people. At Yuletide, I can hear the crack of the guns, as our god, the Lord of the Animals, dies for love, too. Every hunter, Pagan or cowan, who kills the deer and eats his flesh participates in that oldest of mysteries: life that dies so that life can live.

I've known that for a very long time. But I haven't connected it with Yule before. I haven't needed to take personal precautions against a stray bullet myself before. This time of year, the danger in the woods is quite real--more so for the antlered deer than for me, but I can feel it, like a chill wind blowing through the bare branches of the trees.

It's an old mystery, made sharp, fresh, and real, by the echoing sound of the guns.

In a few days, the main deer season will end, though muzzle-loaders will be permitted to hunt until the end of December. And in a less than two weeks, the waning of the year will end, and the sun will begin its long journey back to us. As the sun returns, the new life in the bellies of the pregnant does will also grow, and the wise old stags whose antlers have been shed will bed down with the herd as the Old Man of the Woods, watching over the new life to come.

The god dies and the god is reborn, over and over and over again.
Photo Credit: Jerry Segraves
The tragedy is how easily we forget what is given to us. The tragedy is that we forget that each life, of deer or fellow human, is at one and the same time a vessel of the god, and a poor fellow-mortal, like ourselves, longing to live, longing to feel the returning sun on our faces.
It's the season of sacrifice, of the sacrifice that comes before the return of the light.

The least we can do is be grateful, and be aware. Try not to forget what you owe to the Lord of Life. (That would be... everything, boys and girls. All we have, all we are, is on loan to us. Nothing more.)

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Waylaid by a Dragon

Illustration credit: Mikael Häggström
Have you ever noticed how much the shape of a human spine resembles a dragon, with the head at the base of the spine, and the tail at the neck?

I have. I have had reason to.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may be wondering: what happened to it?

The Dragon happened to it, in the form of a post-influenza inflammation of either the sacroiliac joint or the L5 S1 disc, depending on which doctor you prefer to ask. And while I have had my share of back pain in the past, this is really my first encounter with chronic and serious pain.

I have not been able to sit for more than a few minutes at a time for about a month now.

When I sit still, or try to sleep more than a few hours, The Dragon gets me, with fiery breath and claws, and sharp electric teeth, up and down my leg from ankle to hip. I have come to dread my inner Dragon, my spine that will not tolerate stillness or rest.

I have been back at work for a little more than a week, but the 25-minute commute is often a real test of endurance. Once there (or, for that matter, at home, once out of bed) I have been forced to stay on my feet continuously. I can stand still for a limited amount of time--say, ten or fifteen minutes--before the pain becomes serious.

And I can walk.

Thank goodness, I can walk. Up at 4:30 AM, up at 4:00 AM, up at 3:00 AM, I can walk off the pain of lying still for too long. During the day, I can walk off the pain of standing at my desk, trying to work. At school, I pace endless circles in my classroom, like a caged lion.

But the best times are in the woods.

I don't know why, but the time I have spent walking through the woods, cane in hand, have been the best times of all for pain control. I've walked the woods in moonlight, in rain, and in sleet. I've walked my woods on sunny afternoons and on nights almost too dark to see the path at all, at sunset and at moonrise. The woods have been my good, good friends. Even more than my NSAIDs and my heating pad, walking in the woods has eased my pain; sometimes The Dragon drowses, and sometimes she is actually lulled entirely asleep when I walk my woods.

But walking in the woods or lying on my couch, one thing I have not been able to do is write. Not write properly, developing an idea and letting it run. Peter has made me a standing desk, and I greatly appreciate it. I've been able to get at least most of the grading and planning I need to do for school done at that desk. But it isn't truly comfortable, and it doesn't encourage letting ideas wash up, one upon the other, like waves on a beach.

Or like a long, reflective blog post.

But here I am again. Though it looks as though real recovery is going to take a while, I was blessed this week by the arrival of something called a Lafuma Zero Gravity chair. It's ugly--like a long, drawn out beach chair in its looks--but it's amazing: a chair that reclines with a gentle nudge, and is upright with a gentle tug.

I am typing these words on my laptop computer, on a lap desk, on a lap that has been tilted back far enough that The Dragon that gnaws my bones when I attempt to sit is still asleep.

For the first time in almost a month, I can sit--because the moment I feel discomfort, with a motion, I can lie down.

The first time I sat in this chair, I wept. Tears of sweet, sweet relief.

Kircher: Flying Dragon
I am sure that, as my friend Mike suggests, The Dragon will wind up having things to teach me. Asking for help has never been my forte, for instance--and I'm certainly getting practice at it. Meanwhile, however, I'm grateful to be able to take some parts of this experience sitting down, at least from time to time.

And, for the next little while, I'm going to play it by ear when it comes to this blog. I may wind up
blogging less often than normal, or perhaps microblogging while I'm standing up. Or maybe I'll wind up able to make enough use of this chair to continue to think out loud here, for the readers of QPR.

For the moment, I'm satisfied to have arrived at at least a momentary truce with The Dragon that Eats my Bones.
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