November is a reminder of how intertwined we are in nature
November is always a dark and humid month, but it offers its own surprises, not the least of which is the good weather. There is something about the incongruity of the long shadows and the hot air that makes each day a personal gift.
In November, the sunlight peeks at a low angle through the dried grasses and the remnants of drying leaves that still cling to the willows and wildflowers. On steep forested slopes, the angle of the sun matches that of the slope, so the light creeps along the forest floor under the crowns of Douglas-fir and pine, igniting the bare branches of the spirea and bilberry, painting the luminosity in the soft pine and the curly dry leaves of fairy bells – a sun shelf tilted between the dark foliage of the conifers and the path where I stand.
In November, you can turn right at an intersection for free and follow a long stretch of empty road in front of you. The trails are not crowded and there is no problem finding a parking space at the trailhead. The land seems to breathe a sigh of relief, returning to itself rather than serving as the backdrop for countless selfies and picnics.
The thing I notice the most about this time of year is the calm that falls like a soft sleepy sigh. It has been raining and snowing now, so the fallen leaves no longer crackle underfoot. A head of fireweed seed stands in a tangle of empty coiled capsules, like a miniature wire sculpture. It bends instead of breaking like it would when dry. The streams and rivers are low. The ponds narrow into pools surrounded by tall grasses, willows and poplars.
Along with the silence is a relative absence of other creatures. Chisels and groundhogs are underground, American antelopes and songbirds retreat for shelter in winter. During daylight hours, when I walk around, even the tits are secret. After a spring of songbirds and a summer watching the chicks grow, after an early fall in which the aspens in my yard were full of warblers and wrens filling with aphids, it can be a bit lonely.
The house feels especially lonely during the long dark hours of the afternoon and evening. I turn to the books for the company. Lately, instead of the last natural history title, I read a subject that has eluded me for decades: early Christianity. Why? I guess it’s an addition to my collection of spiritual and psychological writings that range from Rumi’s poetry to Alan Watts, and it seems like something different. Something I missed or skipped during the required religious training of my youth.
From what I can understand, mainly thanks to scholars like Jacob Needleman and Elaine Pagels, no one was in charge of this subset of Judaism for its first two centuries, and various ideas vied for supremacy. As one school of thought gained ground, others were labeled as heresies.
This surprises me: I thought that heretics only appeared in the Middle Ages, to face horrific executions from those who supposedly followed the teachings of Christ. I thought the faith began directly with Christ, not decades after his death, with instructions on how it was supposed to be administered. It seems strange that the real history of such an important world religion has never been taught to its flock.
If I had existed in 100 CE, surely I would have been among the heretics. As it stands, several centuries later, I find a measure of comfort in those bare November days in one of the heterodox scriptures – heterodox for not having been included in the standard New Testament. It is called the Gospel of Mary, so I am not surprised that it was omitted. In any case, it encouraged me to come across an unknown dialogue which I paraphrase below.
One of the apostles questions the Risen Christ. Tell us about the material. Will he survive or not? (An interesting question, I think, given our estimates of when the sun will consume the earth, in a few billion years.) The Savior responds, “All of nature with its forms and creatures exist together and are interwoven into each other. others. They will be resolved back to their own origin, for the compositions of matter return to the original roots of their nature.
“One of the apostles questions the Risen Christ. Tell us about the material. Will he survive or not? (An interesting question, I think, given our estimates of when the sun will consume the earth, in a few billion years.) The Savior responds, “All of nature with its forms and creatures exist together and are interwoven into each other. others. They will be resolved back to their own origin, for the compositions of matter return to the original roots of their nature.
Wow, I was thinking. I had a hunch that the Creator did not create the world just for the exploitation of mankind, but to see these words attributed to Jesus – unbelievable. All of nature with its forms and creatures exist together and are intertwined with each other.
I have long regarded other forms of life as companions, their existence and nature being intimately linked to mine. Many religions teach a version of this concept, but not the one I grew up in: it was all about people, our sins, and our obligations. No mention of kinship with nature or care for beings other than ourselves. This omission created a hole in my faith big enough that I could go through it, which I basically did, right, and out.
It’s a shame that I wasn’t exposed to some of these heterodox writings a long time ago. The new gem for me from one of the Gnostic Gospels looks like a gold coin buried under a pile of coins. I don’t need to dig into other traditions to find something comforting about our true relationship to the land which is our home. I no longer have to jokingly call myself a “pagan.”
I took time off from college after my freshman year, having no idea what I wanted to study. I found friends and mentors among Catholic nuns who lived in a communal house instead of a nunnery (that was in the 1970s), aging Communists, and conservation-minded professionals.
As I was riding with one of these friends on Chemin des Cascades for a hiking trip, I mentioned how impressed I was with the dedication I saw among those defending the wilderness. They knew so much and shared their knowledge with newbies like me. They were prepared to travel long distances to attend public hearings. They persevere cared.
Karen laughed knowingly. “Good, what were you hoping for?” she asked. “They have religion. “
Somehow, I knew exactly what she meant. It was a belief that dawned in me as I moved away from the teachings I had grown up with.
In recent years, I have been encouraged by the growing movement of “ecological theology” (say one fastes three times). It is the creation of God, in a nutshell, and we must not defile it. Between this move and my recent discovery of a long lost piece of Egyptian papyrus, I can feel the divergent branches of my own life pulling together.
So I decided to challenge myself in November to write a poem of praise and gratitude every day. It’s the first thing I do every morning (after making coffee) and while the poems themselves aren’t the best, it’s the act of writing them that counts. Write down what I notice in the early morning stillness, what I’m grateful for, what I remember from yesterday’s hike or last night’s dream.
So I decided to challenge myself in November to write a poem of praise and gratitude every day. It’s the first thing I do every morning (after making coffee) and while the poems themselves aren’t the best, it’s the act of writing them that counts. Write down what I notice in the early morning stillness, what I’m grateful for, what I remember from yesterday’s hike or last night’s dream. Think of something new and different each day to contemplate with love.
It’s not the same as joining a spiritual community with its age-old rituals, but creating my own ritual is a start. It helps relieve loneliness and gives a sense of accomplishment: I wrote a poem today! It starts my day with hope instead of discouragement, and it reminds me of everything that matters most, from chickadees waiting for their shelled sunflower seeds to the care and education I have to learn to give myself.