Tag Archives: Nature

Cows Come Home

Kids and cows are subject to the charms of soft summer days, the seduction of lush green pastures, the hypnosis of eternal rhythms, and the freedom of room to roam. It grieves me to know that few men remember this and fewer boys ever learn it; and it grieves me that we eat cheese from cows never privileged to share the experiences with barefoot boys.

NOTE: This blog series is dedicated to the quest for understanding who I am and how I came to be me.

Cows are creatures of herd habit, products of millions of years of evolution that cannot be erased by thousands of years of genetic modification of domestication. But, domesticated they are, and milking cows have the need to be milked routinely, which means that by late afternoon, it is time for the cows to come home.

On hot, dry summer days, they may come home early for water. Cows cannot make milk without lots of water. Our pasture was the part of the farm unsuitable to plow, the hill too steep and the marsh too soft, but it contained no stream or pond of water, so they had to come home to the barnyard tank.

On the soft summer days, though, when the grass was lush with moisture, the sun not too hot, and the air not too dry, time slipped away from us. The rhythms of the day were conducted by the buzzing of working bees, the frequency of butterfly wings, and the stirring of leaves in gentle breezes. Only the fences kept us from getting lost in time. Funny how fences can grant us the mental freedom to roam within reason.

And so it was that one of my earliest responsibilities as a boy was to go get the cows on days such as this, on days when the herd got lost in the natural rhythms. I miss the feel of bare feet on soft dust of well trod cow paths passing flat cow pies raisining in the sun. I miss the adventure of stalking a Tiger Swallowtail or evading bad guys hiding behind rocks and trees. I miss the freedom of time and space within protective fences. I miss the relevance of having an important job, a job I understood even at the age of four years.

It wasn’t that hard. Rawhide and Rowdy Yates notwithstanding, all that is necessary to get cows to head to a barn is to circle around behind them. A lead cow will head for home and the others will follow. Then I really had the freedom to wander in my mind because all I had to do was follow them and we all knew where we were going.

Most days it was even easier than that. When the lead cows saw me coming, they knew what to do and started for the barn. I didn’t even have to work my way behind them. My very presence commanded the herd to move as one. What a palpable feeling of power for a small boy. Yes, I looked forward to the days when the cows failed to come home in time for milking.

Sometimes adventure came my way when the cows came home on their own. We let them into the barn for milking and one was missing, one that had not been milking for a couple of months. Dad would say, go find her. I loved it, perhaps because of the uncertainty and element of danger—but mostly because it meant there was a new calf and another of my jobs as I got a bit older was to teach the calves how to drink from a pail.

When cows had their calves in the summer pasture, they often went a bit feral and stayed with them at the far reaches of the domain where the calf could be hidden. It was a hunt, and I have always loved a good hunt.

I learned early not to crowd a cow with a new calf. They can get very protective, even mean, so the method was to get behind them, talk to them, and persuade movement. Sometimes I failed and had to get my big brother with more persuasive skills.

I also loved finding the new calves. There is something about the miracle of birth, of new life where there had not been life, that still fascinates me. I wouldn’t doubt but this kind of experience contributed to my interest in Biology.

And I loved teaching them to drink by allowing them to suck milk off my fingers, gently lowering their noses into the pail of milk and slowly removing my fingers. There is great accomplishment in teaching and I still thrill at my hand in the learning. We can lead the calf to water but we can’t make her drink. Ah, but I can entice her to learn. Yes, some learn much quicker than others, some are more stubborn than others, but sooner or later they all learn to drink.

Sometimes there was a medical reason a cow was missing. On one occasion, I found the new mother lying flat on her side, holding her head up as though looking back at her udder. The veterinarian came and gave her a bottle of intravenous calcium solution after which she stood up and walked home as though nothing was wrong. “Milk Fever” he called it, a sudden drain of calcium from the body to make milk which resulted in a life threatening condition. I saved her life by finding her. Yay for me.

The University of Wisconsin did not have a Veterinary School in my time or I very likely would have gone. Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like. Mostly, now, I am comfortable with my place in time and the life I have experienced. I guess I am glad UW did not get the vet school in time for me or I might not have been a teacher. I was a lucky boy.

Be Longing

Life is the brief experience of separation from God, the durable discrimination of moments into experiences, the simultaneous celebration and lament for what we almost remember and fear we have lost. We spend our lives longing to belong. Relax. This is neither reality nor illusion; it is choice.

NOTE: This blog series addresses twelve attributes I see conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stress. June embraces Love.

Erotic (eros) love is both fear and celebration of separation. Really? Without separation there is neither union nor reunion.

Yes, there are times when two lovers feel so close they lose sentience of the boundary between them–when they touch the mysterious oneness, when all desire has matured. But, alas, there are other times.

Brotherly love (philos) is a sharing of time or treasure beyond individuality that dimly reflects the oneness we almost remember. It is a real expansion of self to others we like and trust, those within some group we perceive as like us. But, alas, there are others.

Godly love (Agape) is a grace of charity for others like our children. “Our” children. But, alas, there are “other” children.

For Biology students I give this definition: “Life is self-controlled chemistry.” Define “self”. Tell me, if you will, precisely where you end and the rest of the universe begins.

Bullets and bombs help one define the boundary. Enemies are not brothers, not lovers, and certainly neither our children nor parents.

We enlarge our definition of self and other. We trust less, share less, love less.

Relax. Trauma is an experience, a durable, discriminate, momentous experience. It is not the loss of choice, although it does challenge it.

It is primal biological drive to maintain this separation of self. It is survival.

There is another drive within us, perhaps even more primal, to go home to the oneness we almost remember.

I am grateful for the experience of lovers’ oneness. I am grateful for the experience of love for brothers and sisters. I am grateful for the experience of something approaching Agape for my children and grandchildren. These are all gifts, I know; but they are gifts I requested.

Today, I would like to gaze upon a fourth kind of love I have also experienced, a love of oneness sometimes referred to as Henosis.

“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” (Black Elk)

I have sat in the forest and known that I belong. I belong to the forest and it belongs to me. I have sat in the desert and known that I belong. I do not need to be longing for something I almost remember because I feel it in this moment of belonging.

I am grateful for the experience of oneness I have found within the forest, within the desert, and within myself. This is the greatest gift of my life for it allows me to be grateful for all the other gifts. I know it is a gift, but it is a gift I requested.

Have you asked for gifts? Have you sought them? Have you prayed and Quested for them?

Deep down inside you, where you almost remember oneness with God, is there a tiny prayer for experiences of love? Have you sung that prayer, danced that prayer, or even whispered it to yourself?

Happy Tracking!

Philanthropy Lost

“I can walk in those hills and no one is going to try to kill me, and I won’t have to try to kill anyone else,” I thought as I looked about Fort Lewis on my way home from Vietnam. Then, reality set in. Yes, part of me thought that, the conscious part, but another part clings to the belief that somebody out there is still trying to kill me, and I may have to kill, again.

I am compelled to judge. We all are, we sentient beings. It is programmed into our DNA.

Labrador Retrievers are programmed to believe that everybody loves them. Well, almost everybody. They still judge actions but are amazingly tolerant.

They also believe they can walk on water and almost do.

Are we born trusting our fellow humans? More or less, yes. We are born trusting smiling faces.

Then we learn to judge.

Note: On our journey to consider twelve attributes I see conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stress, June embraces four kinds of Love.

Philanthropy is the love of mankind. We do that. Every one of us is willing to risk life and limb for another person in danger under certain conditions. Combat is such a condition. We risk our lives to defend and protect others. We willingly sacrifice our safety to help a brother or sister under threat. That is one example of a second form of love, a brotherly love called philos in Greek.

I have always known this. As the youngest of a family of six, I have always experienced it firsthand.

My sisters took care of me, fed me, clothed me, taught me colors, numbers, and letters, and loved me. They still do. They even gave me a perm fifty years ago. What hair I have left is wavy yet.

My brothers took care of me, too, in more ways than I can recount. They gave me jobs, lessons, and hope. I have always known that if I needed something, I mean really needed help, somebody would be there.

In the Army, I learned to trust some guys like brothers. I know of no bond as strong as the common experience of facing fire, of seeing the mettle of a friend in battle. It is philanthropy with the currency of self, of time and life rather than money. It is real brotherly love.

Who are my brothers? Who is worthy of such love, such sacrifice of safety?

We judge the other. We all do, based upon our education and experience. Some of us do it consciously. Most of us do it subconsciously.

Many of my Vietnam Veteran friends do not like the smell of nuoc mam, the sauce of fermented fish which is used like mustard on Coney Island, or the sound of tonal Asian languages.

I love Nature in part because it does not judge me. I am more secure with lions, tigers and bears in the north woods than with humans who would judge me, even kill me, because of the language I speak, the clothes I wear, the color of my skin, or the name of my god. It is my goal to be as civilized as my wild brothers.

But I am prejudiced.

Deep inside, we can all find tracks of prejudice that are consequences of experience. May we also find tracks of philanthropy that allow sentient management of our prejudices so that we may genuinely love one another, for philos is another doorway to greater love.

Happy Tracking!

Perfect World

We live in prisons of our own creation, trapped between two contrasting worlds of our imagination. The first is our utopia, the way we come to believe the world should be. The second is our dystopia, the way we come to believe the world might be. Both are false.

NOTE: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past trauma. May aspires to Hope.

We spend our days and nights drowning in the cold dark sea of reality, desperately trying to climb the icebergs of our imagination, alternately trying to climb the iceberg of our fantasies where everything works out just right for us and trying to climb back on that iceberg of our past trauma just to, you know, fix things and make them right.

Like the icebergs, these worlds lie mostly below the surface of our awareness, in our subconscious. The rules we choose to govern our lives are those we accept without judgment, for judgment requires acknowledgement of their existence. We pretend these worlds are reality. We deny that they are our own creations.

We hold the visions in our heads, the dreams of our perfect world and the nightmare of our fears and traumas. We do not rule them for they rule us.

Now, that is depressing.

In a perfect world, our childish fantasies are cherished memories replaced in governance by the beautiful schema of reality. We come to know the way the world really works. We learn to negotiate reality, to manage our lives, to accept the way things are.

Many of us do not live in a perfect world. We fail to accept the rules of the universe, clinging to our fantasies. Things never seem to work out the way we believe they should. We live with high expectations and dashed hopes simply because we cling to the iceberg we created rather than to swim the reality we come to know through experience. We live in denial.

Some of us live in the darkness of dread, fears of terrible nightmares and repeated trauma. Our experiences have been too terrible to reconcile with our world views, especially if our world views are dream world fantasies.

Maybe I should get to the Hope, already.

The world is not falling apart. The world works perfectly according to immutable laws, principles we can discern with careful observation and honest reflection. Well, WE can as a community. Any one of us is unlikely to figure out very much on our own, but together we can understand reality. We can explain and predict, we can negotiate and manage, and we can appreciate and accept.

I am in da Nort’ Woods this day. My body is sharing time and space with my heart, that is, my passion.

I cannot cheat the woods. There are mosquitoes and ticks and bears here, and poison ivy, too. I cannot deny that, and I cannot change that. I wouldn’t if I could.

Who am I to disapprove of the woods? The woods does not disapprove of me. I am accepted here the same as the mosquitoes and ticks and bears. Nobody gets special treatment of favor or discrimination. There is a blessed egality in the woods, in all of Nature. I appreciate that. I accept that.

I cannot find egality at the mall, on cable news, or anywhere in manmade worlds. Here, in Nature, I cannot escape it.

So, why am I alone, here? No, I am not lonely. I just marvel that most people spend so little time in Nature. I surmise that most of us prefer to keep climbing the icebergs of our childhood fantasies or our traumas.

Do you want freedom from dread and depression? Do you want Hope?

Well, you are going to have to melt those icebergs, and that begins with acceptance. In my case, time in Nature always helps me to accept the way things are in reality, and that allows me to perceive and accept my imaginary worlds as that, imaginary. That helps me to see my dream as childish folly and my trauma as a reason to need Nature even more.

Yes, there is Hope if you will have it, and all you really have to do is put your childhood fantasies in the toy box, turn the light on the closet of your fears, and accept the world the way it is.

This is a Perfect World. Go wonder in Nature.

Happy Tracking!

Let It Rain

Acceptance is the key that unlocks Faith.

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. April aspires to Faith.

Recovery is a grieving process, for we have lost something of ourselves in the traumas of our experiences. We have left something of our youthful exuberance, even innocence, and joy for living. The person we were no longer exists. The world we knew before our trauma no longer exists, and that is the hard truth of it.

The wife I lost because of that truth told me she always thought I had lost my soul in Vietnam. There is an irritating grain of truth in that observation.

It was not my soul that was lost in combat. It was Faith. I no longer had the faith that the world works the way I had thought, the way I had believed it should.

The subconscious response to that faith-shattering conclusion is to fix it. Change it. Change the world.

So, we go through some stages of grief. We continue to negotiate the past in the sub consciousness of our nightmares, in our feelings, in the part of our minds (yes, brains, too) that process information irrationally.

This time it will turn out different. This time they won’t die. This time I will see it coming. This time, this time, this time….

I am a problem solver. It is what I do. Drives my wife crazy. Whenever she tells me about something she finds unacceptable, I fix it—or, I try. No, that is not a consequence of combat trauma, but it is an exaggerated development of a pre-trauma tendency. I had studied science because it is a problem solving enterprise.

I cannot fix Vietnam. I cannot save the two million Cambodians lost in the “Killing Fields.” And, I cannot regain my zeal for Cytogenetics that I had in 1968. Not ever.

But, I can accept it.

Yes, I know that feels, somehow, as abandoning those who were lost. Yes, I know that sounds like surrender. I know. I know.

When I feel myself sinking into despair deep in the chasm between the grief stages of anger and acceptance, when I forget acceptance is on the other side of that rift of depression, I find myself wandering to the arms of Nature. There I find acceptance, and Faith begins to grow, again.
During my first Vision Quest on our land in northern Wisconsin, it rained. It rained all night (8 inches), washing out roads, flooding my stream valley, sinking boats. It was wonderful.

“For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain.” (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

Some of my thinking will never change. That is real as rain. My thinker is broken. Now, what?

The moment I accept the reality of my condition, it ceases to be an active addiction. I can learn ways of compensating. I can learn new ways of thinking. I can remember that Faith is free, over there on the other side of depression, holding hands with Acceptance.

From Vision Quests I have learned that I can gain acceptance in four days.

Of course, I can lose it in four seconds. My answer is to make life one Great Vision Quest.

Recovery is a quest for Vision. It is a process of seeing the tracks of our pre-trauma selves, deep down inside, in places we have thought dead.

Happy Tracking!

Together, We

“When through the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur,
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze:” (How Great Thou Art)

I sat alone in the woods for four days and nights without human contact—only, I was not alone. The woods was there, all one of it.

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. March seeks serenity.

I have done it more than once. On one occasion, it was a wandering Quest. I found a deer fawn, a floating frog, and a whippoorwill that found me, hovering in the dark right above my face. There were no other people, but I was never alone.

I am part of the woods. We are one.

Have you ever been lost in the woods? The desert? The mountains?

Tom Brown, Jr. tells us we are never lost unless we have someplace to go and some time to get there. Lost is a state of mind. It is a fear of being alone.

The first question I was asked at my dissertation defense was, “What is data?” The professor went on to ask, “If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there, does it make a sound?” The point is that data is defined by the observation of it.

I didn’t think fast enough on that day, but I have pondered the question since. The answer is, “Yes.” The tree makes a sound and the forest hears it. In the woods are thousands of living beings that hear that tree fall. There are thousands more that sense it in other ways—light now reaching the forest floor, for example. The smell of wilting leaves. The vibrations of Earth generated by the crash to the ground. The feel of sunshine warming the Earth. The woods knows.

I know the woods knows because the woods responds with new growth, with decay of the tree, and with curious critters who come to investigate. I know the woods knows because the crashing tree leaves tracks, which are also data, so we can infer the reality of the event. I know the woods knows because the woods tells me.

From the womb we travel in fear of separation. In Vietnam, nothing was more frightening than the thought of being isolated from our unit in the jungle, just one against the rest.

But, the combat experience has taught us that people are more dangerous than lions, tigers, or bears. We are trapped between a rational fear of being alone and a rational fear of people.

I do not fear the woods. On one of those nights, eight inches of rain fell upon my head. A review of data informs me that less than 100 yards from my spot in the rain was a den in an old beaver bank lodge where a female cougar had her young. Certainly, she had to vacate that den in the rain. Certainly, she knew where I was. Certainly, I was not alone.

We are never alone. We are never separated from the rest of Creation—except as we choose to separate ourselves from Nature. If you doubt me, spend some time in the woods, the desert, or the mountains and just breathe. When you have no other people around you, Nature will communicate with you. It will leave data as tracks.

Happy Tracking!

Comfort and Joy

Life is a trip, so enjoy the journey.

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. February is a meditation on harmony.

No matter what else we may learn about Post Traumatic Stress, it is a disruption of harmony, a discordant cacophony, a disturbance of The Force, or “noise” in a quest for peace. When the disruption is great enough, behaviors follow that define “Disorder” in APA terms. Such behaviors not only define PTSD, but they also disrupt or destroy families, damage work relationships, and threaten social stability. On a personal level, disturbed behaviors leave the individual with feelings of anxiety, guilt, remorse, and oppressive confusion that demand relief.

Some combat Veterans seek comfort if not joy in arousal states induced by gambling, intoxicants, high risk behaviors, pornography, or even returning to combat. We seek the relative comfort of adrenaline rushes to the depressive muting of life without meaning. What we find is addiction, disease, and death.

“But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads?” (Albert Camus)

So, just how do we find happiness? How do we learn to celebrate this journey of life?

One day at a time. A journey is one day’s travel. All we must do is navigate this day and enjoy the journey for a few hours.

Meditation helps.

I have learned four basic requirements for successful meditation. The first is relative comfort. Relative comfort.

“The moment will arrive when you are comfortable with who you are, and what you are– bald or old or fat or poor, successful or struggling- when you don’t feel the need to apologize for anything or to deny anything. To be comfortable in your own skin is the beginning of strength.” (Charles B. Handy)

I have meditated in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey in deep darkness of a winter night cold front rain that turned to ice, but I was comfortable. I wore raingear with warm clothes underneath, and I was with a group of students with a shared intention. And, we were led by very experienced people with a loud drum.

Sometimes the required comfort is not physical. Sometimes the distraction is the discomfort of one’s mind or soul. Since we are meditating to achieve harmony of mind, body, and soul, how do we first achieve the comfort necessary to meditate?

Practice.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, comforts me like walking and sitting in the woods. I am comfortable there, in the woods. Actually, I find comfort in many natural places, but I seem to need some camouflage and concealment, some trees, hills, cacti, or shrubs protecting me from the intrusion of thoughts of being observed. In a strange way, I am never less lonely than when I am alone in Nature.

I am blessed. My prayer for you is that you, too, can find your place of comfort—if only in your own mind. Sometimes in a crowd, I find my place of safety and power in my mind where my soul is comfortable. If you learn to meditate, you will find your clear space, also.

There is harmony in that place in your mind. You only need to seek.

Happy Tracking!