Friday, June 26, 2020

Divinity for the Faithless

Conventional is not a word I use to describe myself. I've been more than happy to buck the status quo as often as possible, and if we're being honest, I've gleaned a staggering amount of smug satisfaction from being such an anti-mainstream non-traditionalist. For all the times I've joked about my lack of belongings and my desire to pick up and disappear in the middle of the night, I've felt in my bones that the tail lights of my midnight Uhaul peeling out were more reliable a future than anything else. 

"Why does freedom pull so tightly at our hearts? It is because freedom is tightly bound to the human desire for ascension- our natural drive to rise from our circumstances and actualize our goals, our potential, our highest self."
-Brendon Burchard

Lately though, as more and more of my friends cross huge life thresholds towards marriage, family, and big moves, or we grow otherwise farther apart in station & circumstance, I've experienced more persistent doubt than ever before. The quiet voice inside has become more urgent and less apathetic. It's actually difficult to admit how frequently I now wonder whether my years spent grasping too tightly to an unyielding idea of freedom may end up stranding me on an island of my own making (Wilson?!...are you there Wilson?!)

What is this unwelcome self-doubt about? I've always taken sincere pride in being an independent and free spirited human. I like those qualities, I revere them in myself and others! Is it quarantine, my age, or being single for toooo long? Or am I simply falling into the good old comparison trap?

"I wondered about this particular destiny, if it was really ours. Maybe there were others to be pursued. Maybe destiny was a limitless, open road."
-Linda Hogan

It has not been my way to assume or predict what the cosmos have in store for me. Not knowing has always been quite liberating. But now that I find myself in thought of the future more consistently and with more impatient consternation, I've been wondering: Can you believe in a divine plan for yourself without believing in God?

What divinity is there for the faith-lacking or Godless among us? Those who are comfortable with the idea of a great, swirling energy source in support of the Universe, but not much more. Who'd like to believe that they were born for a reason and with inherent gifts to offer, but who desperately need to exercise plenty of freedom along the way. Glorious room to experiment, screw up, and otherwise cast our own magic as we unfurl our unique road map. 

For me, faith equates to believing that the best is yet to come. And divinity as I see it, is really synchronicity, even serendipity, and joyful alignment with our highest self.

I suspect that the answers to my questions lie in the Middle Path. I'd like a dose of both destiny and free will, please and thank you, Universe. Seriously-can I get some direction here on the next phase of my life? Specifically where to live, or meet a good man? Can I tap in and out of a divine intervention to preserve my wild freedom yet seek assistance when trapped? What are the rules after all?!

Do things really have to fall apart to fall together, as Pema famously wrote? How close to a rock-bottom of total confusion do we have to hit before clarity and inspiration comes bounding in? It seems harder than ever to plan for the future in a world so overrun by extremism. Things feel less promised, certainly less secure.

Further, what if you miss the train to your destiny by only a moment, or make one wrong turn? How do you make peace with the paths not taken and near misses that feel like failures to launch? The distinction between an intuition to pause and fear holding you back can be hard to discern.

But as Wu-Tang scholar RZA wrote, "Confusion is a gift from God....The confusion is there to guide you. Seek detachment and become the producer of your life."

I know that no one else, be it angel, spirit, or partner, will magically appear in a shroud of mist to guide me. Support or inspire? Yes. And though I take RZA's words to heart, it feels like I've been sitting in confusion for a little too long, pretending that I'm not waiting for lightning to strike. My restless spirit and proclivity for longing are well documented on this blog, that's for sure. It's as if I've been on a Vipassana retreat for much, much longer than the standard ten days (though, with snack breaks).

Hey- I guess at some point you either give up or you give in. Faith seems to be mostly a matter of surrender. Believing in the mysterious timing of your life while also having some serious doubts seems very human and mostly okay. Sitting in confusion is certainly better than sitting in grief or anger.

Rest assured! I will continue to ponder the divine plan that may be working in silence around me. Through me? Luckily, I have an endless curiosity to lead me forward. I just need to stay aware so I don't make the mistake of blocking my own blessings. Keep my eyes open for signposts and signals along the way-and be willing to leap whenever the thrill feels expanding or sweetly serendipitous. I don't know about you, but I often have to reminder myself to just do it. Whatever I've been planning or drafting, even if it's farrrr from perfect, do it regardless. It's hard to produce results without earnest participation.

"We, ourselves, are capable of rewriting the play or changing our roles by applying intention, grasping the opportunities that arise from coincidence, and being true to the calling of our souls."
-Deepak Chopra

* Photos from a past hike at Mt. Rainier because I haven't been on an outdoor adventure since the Ladies Roadtrip three weeks ago. I can't wait for the road to Sunrise to open! As well as HWY 504 out to Mt. St. Helen's. Quite a few of our mountain passes are still burdened by snow. Claire secured a back country permit to camp in the Helen's blast zone at Mount Margaret mid-August, which I'm really excited about. *

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Ladies Roadtrip

Roadside attractions

Buffalo Eddy

Along the Snake River

The Blue Mountains in the distance

Blessings from Asotin, WA

Atop Steptoe Butte

Anna, Queen of the world/my heart

Reuben's Hazealicious IPA: 4/5 bottlecaps

Palouse Falls

Palouse River

Gingko Petrified Forest

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

In Pursuit of Intersectional Environmentalism

Last week I tripped and fell into a three-day work week, with hikes on Monday and Friday to bookend my shifts. I wrote recently of my summer goal to explore Mt. St. Helens, the Dark Divide, and the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. In that quest, Claire and I met early Friday morning at the Goat Creek Trail within the Cowlitz Wildlife Area and greater Pinchot Forest.

We hiked to Cathedral Falls, a 248 foot waterfall with an incredible rock alcove and cathedral ceiling (thus named). The alcove is deep enough to provide ample room not only to traverse behind the falls, but for multiple full size cedars to grow in the shadow of the overhanging cliff.

It's spectacular to stand behind, almost as if within, such a forceful source of vital energy. One that transmutes into a quiet creek, sustaining the plants and animals that surround. God, I love waterfalls. Without a doubt, my favorite natural feature to hike to (and you know...I love a lot of features...from alpine lakes to ridges and peaks, fire lookouts and geologic formations).

Claire is my nature muse and always inspires me with her incredible collection of information, maps, and books. After our hike, trolling the internet for good resources on the South Cascades, I came across a few biographies of Gifford Pinchot. Thus began my unsuspecting charge into his problematic history...

Gifford Pinchot is typically taught to Environmental and History students alike as the Father of Conservation. Aside from his notoriety as the first Chief of the US Forest Service, his polarizing disagreements with John Muir on conservation verses preservation are well documented and debated (a very simple introduction here). Not as infamous though, are both men's racist ideologies.

[Disclaimer: This blog will barely graze the surface of a wealth of white washed history regarding troublesome white men in positions of power within environmental policy. Many of the government officials involved in the creation of our National Parks and forest lands were proud racists. I do not name or cover them all.]

In the past few years, Twitter and Instagram have been abuzz with push back against the prodigious quantity of John Muir platitudes and quotes on social media. Lesser known phrases from Muir's published works began to circulate, including brutal ethnocentric diatribes on the "uncleaniness of the Indians." Disturbingly, Muir wrote of his preference of four legged animals over Indigenous peoples. 

Though Muir's racism has become more public, Pinchot was no better. In 1921, more than 300 influential academics from around the world attended the Second International Congress of Eugenics. Pinchot was joined there by other delusional white men including Alexander Graham Bell and Leonard Darwin, the son of Charles Darwin. Later, Pinchot's written commission would include reference to the supposed sexual immorality of Native and Hawaiian peoples as explanation for their plight in modern society.

Not to excuse these idiots, who didn't live long enough to potentially realize the error of their racist philosophies, but their bigotry was certainly indicative of the times. Leading universities and museums promoted and disseminated the study of eugenics, not just a pseudo-science but an absolute crock of shit, with African inferiority as one of the core tenets. In fact, it wasn't until 25 years later when Hitler began sickening experiments in the name of eugenics that main stream, academic anthropology began to actively separate itself from this field of inquiry. But, I digress...

As Jedediah Purdy astutely wrote for The New Yorker, "The time they lived in is part of an explanation, but not an excuse. For each of these environmentalist icons, the meaning of nature and wilderness was constrained, even produced, by an idea of civilization."

That's just it. There are no adequate excuses, then or now. What these environmentalists believed and promoted is absolutely inexcusable. More people should know about their disregard for human life. Instead, consumers continue to purchase Muir books and T-shirts and Pinchot has a National Forest named after him. 

We're not going to cherry pick how we remember and represent these characters. When you know better, you do better. I stand in total opposition to the philosophies of these "Fathers" of conservation and preservation, and I refuse to excuse the bigotry that permeated their work. It's not enough to acknowledge the racist writing and actions of historical figures. We need to undo the damage to any extent possible. We need to course correct. But, we also need the truth to be known in order to affect real change. Standing in solidarity with BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) requires being vocally and actively anti racist. Access to and safety in the outdoors is a human right. Inclusion is mandatory.

The Sierra Club posted some fantastic information this week about Intersectional Environmentalism. The term was coined and defined by a young black woman, Leah Thomas. She writes, "This is an inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for both the protection of people and the planet. It identifies the ways in which injustices happening to marginalized communities and the earth and interconnected. It brings injustices done to the most vulnerable communities, and the earth, to the forefront and does not minimize or silence social inequality. Intersectional Environmentalism advocates for justice for people and the planet."


Pinchot and Muir had major impacts on the creation of public lands but that didn't and doesn't exist in a vacuum. In rigorous pursuit of both inclusion and truth, we must tell the whole story of who they were. White privilege includes having the dominant view and voice representation in history. And as Erin Monahan of Terra Incognia Media writes, "Muir’s legacy is one of unearned glorification as is the case with any mediocre white man."

I urge you to share the (very beginner) list of resources below with your family member who loves hiking or backpacking but doesn't want to hear about the Black Lives Matter movement. Or your cousin who paints Muir quotes on pieces of driftwood for Etsy. If you consider yourself an outdoorist or environmentalist, it's your duty (and mine) to educate yourself on the troubled history of our public lands. I hope we can keep this goal in our hearts: to learn and do better, in order to advance racial justice in all spaces. Especially in that arena which matters most to us as outdoorists: nature.

"The Looting of America":

This hour-long podcast, an informative round table of indigenous voices, does an excellent job discussing the concept and media coverage of looting- especially on stolen and occupied land.

The 17 Principles of Environmental Justice:

Excellent Reading: