I pee in the backyard every chance I get. It grounds me, connects me, and re-aligns me. I figure it is saving the planet. Eventually, even in Kansas, there will be a water shortage. Why waste 2 gallons of water to flush away a pint or two of urine? That just does not seem responsible. I walk out the back sliding door (after I open it) towards the fence where I have landscaped with railroad ties. I balance on two ties and water the earth. I could be Lewis and Clark spanning the Missouri River way up in Montana at the headwaters. I could be on the Continental Divide, blessing both the Pacific and the Atlantic with my life water. I could be in the desert, helping a dormant seed flower at the advent of a spring rain.
I light fires now and then, too, for the same reason. Smoke, as from a fire, signals to my inner caveman that I am safe. Always in an appropriate fireplace – never in a hallway or living room. Remember James Michener’s story about the tribesmen who built a fire in the aisle of an airplane while flying to Mecca? Also, I bought an incense burner last spring in New Mexico. It is built like an oven, or horno (Spanish for oven, pronounced OR-no). We used a similarly shaped oven in the Peace Corps for bread baking (out of the very helpful “Appropriate Technology” government publication). This incense burner is only about 3 inches tall and I use small blocks of pressed sawdust as the incense. Bode’s in Abiquiu (http://www.bodes.com/ ) sells the burner and the blocks as a set. There is a tipi and a pueblo dwelling. They sell mesquite-, sage-, and juniper-scented blocks. They probably could ship one to you, but, as you may come to understand in reading, it will MEAN more if you go out there and get one.
There are many benefits to living in this modern age (there is even newer stuff than electricity and penicillin!) and in the comfort of the suburbs (almost guaranteed access to law enforcement and emergency services). We can go get food anytime (does Walgreen’s ever close?). We can go exercise almost any hour of the day (Anytime Fitness, after all, is for anytime). Our jobs are secure for the most part, easy to get to, safe from injury, and last only 8 to maybe 12 hours (thank you, firemen, for pulling 24 hour shifts!). New and used clothing is easily acquired inexpensively. Heck, the other day in the grocery store I realized I had to KNOW what kind of turkey I wanted for sandwiches. You can’t just go buy turkey; you have to get a particular seasoning. Like a wine pairing. That is a lot of pressure for just a sandwich.
Here’s the thing, though (One of my favorite people often leads with this phrase; I use it to pay homage to him).
Our brains and bodies were built to overcome adversity and to gain safety. We are made to conquer and tame and subdue and THEN live in harmony with others. (I know, it doesn’t make sense to me either. But that is how we are)
I do not believe it is always a healthy thing for us [for men, anyway (for ME, anyway)] to be able to solve our adversity with simply a checking account. There must be a need to strive against nature. My belief is that, at some point, we must set down our technology, remove ourselves from our cultural insulation, and face ourselves. We must face ourselves in such a way that we then know what we are made of. We do not have to be happy with what we see, but we have to KNOW. From that knowledge, we then proceed with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Witness Jack London’s character Humphrey Van Weyden. Humphrey is a pampered writer from San Francisco who falls overboard from a ferry in the course of his writer’s existence. Wolf Larsen, modeled after a real sea-captain that London knew about, and borne out of Nietzsche’s ‘super-man’ theory (which Hitler then twisted into his mania), plucks Hump out of the sea and forces him to stay on the schooner hunting seal. Weak and pale Hump is eventually transformed into a warrior who protects his woman, defeats the captain, and triumphs over shipwreck at sea. My apologies for giving away the plot of “The Sea Wolf” (honestly, though, you should have read this by now).
I do not presume to suggest to you that you go find yourself or go on a ‘vision quest’. I only tell you that when I, forced by circumstances, went on that same journey I came back stronger, re-aligned, re-focused, and clear of purpose. I travelled to Ghost Ranch (http://www.ghostranch.org/ ), in northern New Mexico, for a writing workshop which literally changed the course of my life. The pairing (juxtaposition) of the serene wild of the Ranch and the intellectual demands made by the workshop helped me strip away dead wood that had been inhibiting my spirit (Luke – ‘if this is what happens when the wood is green, what will happen when the wood is dry?’).
Think of a tree trunk – a mighty tree with firm roots but many branches that no longer serve the health of the tree. A tree itself cannot remove its dead or dying limbs. A tree must rely on external forces to renew itself – wind, fire, rain. Witness the Sequoia’s whose pinecones only turn to fertile seed after a forest fire heats them past a certain temperature. Only then are conditions right for new growth – more sun will reach the ground, fresh nutrients will be available from the ash of the burnt trees. If we continue in our comfortable, nestled, suburban, first-world, life we may not be exposed to forces that temper us into a keener weapon. Someone once said, ‘a ship is safe in a harbor, but a ship is not built for the harbor – it is built for the sea’.
I noticed, a few days ago, that when I went out to pee, it had snowed. Peeing in snow makes a visible mark. “But people will SEE that I have peed here”, fussed my inner Hump. I then added to my hypothesis – I must be willing to let the world see my transformation. No transformation can be totally healthy if it is totally hidden from view. I must claim my changes. Humphrey had to remove Wolf Larsen from captaincy and take command of the ship. I must be willing to stand for what I have changed into.
Stand. Survey. Know.