what you have tamed

 

Texas morning

Foxes heading to their den at sunrise. Robin L. Chandler, 2018.

For the past week, I have slept little…my nights spent watching the family of Gray Foxes living underneath the old shed near my father’s house.  Sleepy days give way to frenzied nights, as the three kits turn acrobat and lovingly and relentlessly tease their doting parents. I will always remember this trip to Texas and my new friends.

In Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince the fox gives important advice to the Prince:

“One only understands the things that one tames….men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more… What is essential is invisible to the eye…It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important…[and] you become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”

Tamalpais

Mt. Tamalpais from Richmond

Mount Tamalpais from Rosie the Riveter National Park. Robin L. Chandler, 2018.

Living in the East Bay, our gaze draws westward, and this is not hard to understand. In the west looms San Francisco, our imperial city; our iconic bridges, the Golden Gate and the Bay Bridge; winter rainstorms are born there; and the sun, traversing the north-south longitude, sets in the west. And quietly, holding up the sky, Mount Tamalpais anchors my western horizon. Tamalpais is always there, grounding me; at times just in the corner of my eye, and other times commanding my full attention, whether near or far. My love for Mount Tamalpais has grown deep over the years – many chapters of my story feature this mountain. In the 19th century, the ukiyo-e artist Hokusai captured his love for a revered Japanese mountain with his famous series of woodblock prints Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji.

Inspired by two books, Opening the Mountain: Circumambulating Mount Tamalpais A Ritual Walk by Mathew Davis & Michael Farrell Scott and Tamalpais Walking: Poetry, History and Prints by Tom Killion and Gary Snyder, I persuaded my dear friends, to walk from Muir Woods to East Peak, the top of Mount Tamalpais. At the end of March, we covered a distance of approximately twelve miles, spanning a range of plant communities, including redwoods, mixed evergreen forests, grasslands and chaparral, as well as plants, such as ceanothus, endemic to the mountain adapted to the Serpentine soils. Our journey gave amazing views of the greater Bay Area and we saw Mount Tam’s sister mountains: Black Mountain (west), Mount St. Helena (north), Mount Diablo (east) and Mount Hamilton (south). The artist Tom Killion began his love affair with Tamalpais as a young man, and inspired by Hokusai, he created beautiful prints of the mountain from multiple viewpoints, many of them featured in Tamalpais Walking.

Last week, cycling from Oakland to Richmond on the Bay Trail, I travelled a diverse landscape featuring mudflats so alive with plants and animals coexisting with trucks and cars speeding by on asphalt and cement highways. This is nature – mankind a dominating part of a community of flora and fauna; this is not wilderness. Throughout the journey, there was my friend Mount Tamalpais, on the horizon, a guidepost measuring my progress, a signpost holding close my memories.

 

 

slough time

 

Edison Slough

Edison Slough. Robin L. Chandler, 2018.

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.”

What is our relation to the past?

 

Mt.Saint Helena Spring

Mt. Saint Helena Spring 2018 after a dry Winter. Robin L. Chandler

Yesterday I returned to Chalk Hill. It’s been a year since my artist residency at this glorious Sonoma County vineyard. Twelve months ago we were happily besieged by winter storms bringing the desperately needed rain ending our drought of many years. At that time, mountains and hillsides were deep green and the skies dark grays and blues. My painting Mount Saint Helena after the rain describes this past.  The storms replenished springs, and rivers and creeks fueled by the deluge, rushed powerfully to the sea. But the generous rain did not protect Napa and Sonoma County from the ravages of fire, indeed, the rain may have accelerated growth, fueling the devastation; it will be a long time before our memories of Atlas Peak and Tubbs firestorms dim.

And today’s Mt. Saint Helena watercolor captures Spring’s awakening, but my colors are pastels, the result of this season’s dry Winter. Last year’s oil paintings of the mountain tell a different story, intense dramatic Spring color born of a wet winter. The season cycle reminds us of our fragility, humbled by the earth’s beauty and power, aware of life’s precious gift.

“History is not what happened two hundred or two thousand years ago. It is a story about what happened two hundred or two thousand years ago…what survives the wreck of empires and the sack of cities is the sound of the human voice confronting it’s own mortality…the story painted on the old walls and printed in the old books is our own.”

Quote from Lewis H. Lapham, The Enchanted Loom, Lapham’s Quarterly, Winter 2018

awaken at the beach

Limantour Beach

Limantour Beach. Robin L. Chandler, 2018.

Winter is my favorite time of year; I love the journey to the year’s shortest day and the new pilgrimage for the year’s longest day. Precious the light of day and the warmth of the sun; most welcome is the night when blessed with a good book by the fire and my cat curled sleeping in my lap.

On Christmas Eve, I walked the landscape of Drakes Estero and Limantour Beach with my beloved wife and dear friend. Just a few days past the solstice the day remained short, and to commemorate the day, I made a watercolor sketch and reflected on darkness and light asking myself what can well-meaning souls do to make the world a better place?

And by a better place I mean: end the rapacious exploitation of the earth’s flora and fauna; take measures to resolve the increasing disparity between rich and poor; respect the diversity of global cultures; and stop the egregious use of violence. No small challenge. No simple answer. In fact, it sounds so impossible to resolve, I might as well give up and run away. Run as far away as possible from the suffering and the death, building tall strong walls to protect me from the pain.

It takes great courage to sit and listen to the suffering, the death, and the pain: within yourself and in others. Many of us feel compelled to fix the problems, and when we can’t we give up and salve our pain with whatever money can buy. Not knowing what to do or how to fix a problem is impossibly hard. But through my Buddhist studies, I have learned that there is a place to begin: listen, stay open minded and be generous. This is how the suffering ends and the healing starts. We are not born knowing all things, and will never learn all there is to know. Mitchell Thomashow writes in his essay Nature. Love. Medicine. Reciprocity. Generosity. “…we can cultivate generosity, open-mindedness, graciousness, and humility in the space of that glorious unknowing. I don’t have the capacity to love every species and every person, but I can develop the capacity to be more generous with those people and species that I do encounter.” Blessings on us all for this New Year!

Opening to vastness

sierracottonwood

Mt. Whitney. Robin L. Chandler, 2017.

inyomtsalabamahills

Inyo Mountains from the Alabama Hills. Robin L. Chandler, 2017

Recently, I visited the Owens Valley and gazed upon the vastness of the Sierra Nevada and the Inyo Mountains. Mountains and sky: in that infinite space, their beauty humbled me. In that quiet desert, I opened my soul to their medicine. For two solitary days, I painted Mt. Whitney and the Inyo Mountains from vantage points in the Alabama Hills becoming part of their story. And now, healed by their beauty, now part of their family, I understand how vast humans can be…..when we open our hearts.

Thomas Lowe Fleischner says it best in Nature, Love, Medicine: Essays on Wildness and Wellness, “but each day we start anew and walk out into a world that is full of sorrow and injustice, yes – but that is also heartbreakingly beautiful. Despair must not overrun our appreciation for this world – plant and animal, stone and sky, and human souls – that is immeasurably lovely, more beautiful than it needs to be, in spite of the grief that is embedded within it.”

Reveal in the darkness

Reveal

Revealed. Robin L. Chandler, 2017.

It is in the darkness that kindness is revealed.

Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem says it best:

Kindness
“Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
     purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.”