"The sound of flowers dying
carry messages on the wind
about balance and your safety"
– John Trudell
In the hours before the Equinox dawn, I lay awake with John Trudell’s words echoing through my mind.
Outside, a pandemic rages.
Within my body, every slight sensation of tightness in my chest, every tickle in the back of my throat that might be from wood dust or might be from the dry heat of the radiator or might be inflammation trying to fight off a virus sends off alarms.
And in the same world, in this same moment, the Eagles are returning to the lake from their winter sojourn to the rocky Atlantic coast.
In Northern Italy, military vehicles carry dead bodies for cremation because the cemeteries have no room.
And in the same country, in the same moment, the canals of Venice run clear again.
In China, as reports come of the slowing of the pandemic in the Wuhan province, the air over the country has grown clearer, the shuttering of factories having cut the consumption of coal.
It is new to us. And it has always been this way.
No one alive has ever lived in a time without mass graves. We have, at best, lived in times and places when the mass graves were hidden from our sight. That we were blind to the suffering does not mean it was not unfolding.
And no one alive has ever lived in a time without songs and stories that spoke of other possibilities. None of us has ever lived without a heart that has a beat attuned to the flow of the iron at the heart of the Earth. And in every moment of our lives, the exhalations of Cedar and Spruce and Pine have called us into connection, into memory. That we forgot too often about the beauty did not mean that it wasn’t there.
Such is balance. We have mistaken balance for a static state, an absence of chaos, an imposed order, and so we have made our lives and our society rigid and precarious. But rigidity always gives way to flow. Every dam breaks in time – and when it does, after the deluge floods forests and fields, the soil left behind grows richer and seeds awaken. True balance is fluid in nature.
We are living in a time of rushing torrents and rising waters. Everything once held back by the dams we have tried in vain to maintain is rushing toward us. Not all of us will be able to get out of the way.
I don’t know what happens next. But this is not the end.
Some misanthropic part of me is tempted to believe this is Nature rejecting us. But misanthropy is just human chauvinism standing on its head. We have never been outside of Nature and we never will be.
Nor are we the first to live through cataclysm.
In a beautiful novel about trees and people, patterns and connection, Richard Powers writes:
“People have no idea what time is. They think it’s a line, spinning out from three seconds behind them, then vanishing just as fast into the three seconds of fog just ahead. They can’t see that time is one spreading ring wrapped around another, outward and outward until the thinnest skin of Now depends for its being on the enormous mass of everything that has already died.”
Our ancestors, our Beloved Dead, the human and wild kindred that preceded us live within us in our DNA, in bones whose minerals were other bones and were the bones of the Earth, in air and water that have dwelled in other bodies, in the life fires of the plants and animals whose bodies we eat that we might live.
We carry their knowledge and their memories too. Just as surely as the growth rings of a tree mark its history, and its wood carries not only the memory of its own life but also elements of trees before that died and became soil before becoming trees again, so too our bones and our DNA carry knowledge older than we are. That is the nature of time, of history, of inheritance, of evolution.
The cataclysms our forebearers survived seem like settled history. What emerged from every collapse humans have endured seems, to our eyes, to have been an obvious progression. But in those times, all people knew was that everything in their world was changing at once, and evolution was a growing edge laying down new wood, new structure, not knowing if that ring of memory would be the last anyone in their lineage would form.
Some had at least the peace that came from the awareness of kinship and connection and rootedness in the land. We can too.
Balance always returns. It is neither as brutal or as gentle as our imaginings.
Right now, all we can do is root and breathe. And flow.