Sloughs are narrow, winding waterways where fresh and salt water mix with the rising and ebbing of the tides – a cycle of life, death and rebirth. When the tide recedes the muddy, marshy banks are exposed teeming with life; crabs, shrimps, worms, snails, clams make these flats their home. When the tide rises, these creatures feed on a nutrient rich “soup” created by decomposing plants and other small animals; when the tide ebbs, these shellfish and mollusks become a feast for birds and fishes that also call the slough home. In their time, these birds and fishes provide nourishment to yet other predators. Sloughs are a place measuring time by the absence and presence of water. It is a place for the soul to replenish and connect the tidal rhythm to the rhythm of sustaining our energy and our breath: give and take, in and out, give and take, in and out. Buddha was a gentle human seated amongst the world’s phenomena, contemplating life’s multiple rhythms.
Recently we visited Edison in Skagit County Washington. Walking along Edison’s slough, I was mindful of Gary Snyder’s words in The Practice of the Wild “walking is the great adventure, the first meditation, a practice of heartiness and soul primary to humankind…the exact balance of spirit and humanity. Out walking, one notices where there is food…there are firsthand true stories of ‘your ass is somebody else’s meal’ a blunt way of saying interdependence, interconnection…give-and-take…what a big potlatch we are all members of! To acknowledge that each of us at the table will eventually be part of the meal is not just being ‘realistic.’ It is allowing the sacred to enter and accepting the sacramental aspect of our shaky temporary personal being.”
Myths and fairy tales are replete with enchantment; tales of magic, witchcraft and sorcery abound. Spells are cast and masks or disguises adorned. Beauty loved her beloved Beast, and Baucis and Philemon opened their home to Jupiter and Mercury disguised as mortals. But what are these disguises but masks, some donned purposefully, others worn in punishment. My mother was a tiger; she donned her mask daily fighting with purpose. She fought to keep us safe, fought to keep us fed, and she fought to get her children all we deserved and more. She donned her mask to attend to her duties as a mother and wife, but sometimes she fought with those she loved. The mask protected the sensitive intelligent woman underneath. We must all don masks to survive. Writing about the Mesoamerican mask traditions, Octavio Paz states “while we are alive we cannot escape from masks or names. We are inseparable from our fictions – our features. We are condemned to invent a mask for ourselves and afterward to discover that the mask is our true face.”* With that insight, I understand why, unfortunately, after a while my mother forgot to remove her mask.
*from Alberto Ruz Lhuillier, quoted in Peter T. Markman and Roberta H. Markman, Masks of the Spirit: Image and Metaphor in Mesoamerica (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), xxi; Octavio Paz, Posdata (Mexico City: Siglo XXI, 1970), II.