I am a freelance, nonfiction writer who cares about the environment, individuality, creative expression, and simplicity. I'm glad you've found my blog, and I hope you'll join in the conversation by leaving a comment. Disagreements are allowed, even encouraged, but cruelty, vulgarity, and slander is not.
When the nature lover John Muir worked together with hunting enthusiast Theodore Roosevelt, great things happened. For example, President Roosevelt expanded the protection of Yosemite National Park after spending time there with Muir. Muir inspired Roosevelt to act on his personal convictions and to use his elected power for the benefit of future generations. Roosevelt delivered to Muir the permanent protection of (at least a portion of) a wilderness to which Muir was profoundly devoted. It's a darn shame environmentalists and hunters don't get together more often.
Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir on Glacier Point, Yosemite Valley, California, c.1906, via The Evolution of the Conservation Movement/Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs Division.
Sadly, the two groups are usually at odds. Their reasons are complicated and many. At the heart lies differences of passionate opinion about Nature. But like Muir and Roosevelt, as far as I can tell, both the environmentalist and the hunter want the same thing.
They both want Nature to be protected from the wants of industry and over consumption. Both want the right to live in a way that fits Nature's design. Both spend time sitting quietly outdoors, and so both are aware of what goes on there. These are the people who best understand the need to reserve some of Nature's spaces so that life on earth can continue.
Tomorrow marks the opening day of archery season here in Pennsylvania. That means I must begin to be very careful about where I hike. During this gorgeous season, before I answer the forest's loud and brilliant call...
...I must distinguish myself from the species on which the hunter preys.
Meanwhile, the hunter must follow the regulations set forth to keep humans safe and animals abundant. These are compromises we must make. This land shall be shared. And I can think of no one better to share it with than a person who is connected to the source of his or her sustenance and appreciates the ecology of the mammalian existence. We both understand the connection between clean water and diversified habitat, between diversified habitat and abundance, and between abundance and well-being. Why then should we not be friends?
"During his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt signed into existence 5 national parks, 18 national monuments, 55 national bird sanctuaries and wildlife refuges, and 150 national forests," according to the Sierra Club, of which Muir was a founding member.
Muir spent his adult life confronting the differences of opinions between men, both foes and adversaries. “This forest battle," he wrote, "is part of the eternal conflict between right and wrong. . . . sooner it is stirred up and debated before the people the better, for thus the light will be let into it."* Discussion is what transformed Muir's love of a thing into Roosevelt's protection of it. Together they achieved more than they either could have done alone. May we continue the conversation they started long, long ago.
It's natural to want the many qualities of a good life. But quite often one desire is in direct conflict with another, and that can make the intended happiness elusive.
Below is a short list of such contradictions. Pause briefly on each word to best understand how the next is opposite.
Awareness and Bliss
Love and Independence
Vigor and Serenity
Wealth and Humility
Structure and Freedom
Community and Individualism
Order and Boundlessness
Safety and Adventure
Speed and Mindfulness
We find ourselves at odds with ourselves and thus at odds with those around us. There is no cure; it is part of the human condition. We all require flexibility, compassion, and understanding in order to find the contentment that exists in the in-betweens, in the diversity of life. Offer this to yourself, and you will have offered it to the world.
What contradictions do you struggle with today?
How many times have you been told to reach beyond your comfort zone? It's popular advice that I hear often. It echos in my mind whenever I am challenged to try something new. I know opportunity awaits in the shadows of the unknown, and a journey there rarely turns out to be as scary or difficult as it seemed when I first started out.
But despite all this, I cannot forget the occasions when success requires a different approach. Sometimes it's better to simply stay where I am -- to remain in the zone -- until I achieved that pleasurable comfort.
Years ago I posted a series called, "What I've Learned From Playing the Piano." Like the posts then, an example of a life lesson revealed itself while I was practicing. I was learning (or rather relearning) a challenging, big-band inspired song from 1941 called the Chattanooga Choo Choo. I'd been able to play it before, but "play it" was more of a "get through it" experience than an enjoyable one.
The song steamrolls along, like a train. Even at a moderate pace, spitting out the lyrics ("is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?") can be as tough as hitting the right chords. Determined to play it properly, while no one else was in the house, I practiced the tricky passages over and over again. "I'm going to repeat this until accuracy is comfortable," I said out loud in frustration after I kept hitting the same old wrong notes. I was training my brain through repetition, and I was doing it because the previous method of scrambling to find the next note wasn't working any more.
I remained on some measures for twenty or more passes. Since I hate repetition, that was not a pleasant experience for me. But it was needed if I wanted to get it right. I had to think like the virtuoso who repeats and repeats and repeats until the entire piece can be played in his or her sleep. It doesn't matter if the goal is to play a masterpiece or an old pop song like the Choo Choo. The process is the same: get so good at or so accustomed to doing something you don't second-guess yourself. Thus, success requires comfort.
So yes, kudos to the quest for uncomfortable-yet-fulfilling experiences, but don't believe that should be your only endeavor. Like many catch phrases, we tend to dwell on things, as if life were a one-sided coin. Like me, only you know when it's necessary to pause and pay attention, when it's time to stop pushing yourself to catch the next train. Give yourself permission to listen to YOU first, before you act on another's advice. The result could be music to the ears.
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It's been a few weeks since you've heard from me. That's because I've been busy with two things:
1.) Music festivals and summertime vacations.
2.) Preparation to launch a new, online writing project.
Though it may feel like it, I haven't been neglecting you. In fact, you've been on my mind quite a lot. With thoughts of you, I have created a reader survey. It is intended to solicit your feedback, which will be useful to me as I develop my next project.
Did you know that I've been writing this blog for more than six years? At the end of the survey, you'll find out how to receive a free copy of my eBook, Looking Back. It's a compilation of the most popular posts from the last six years. But don't wait; the survey closes on September 24, 2014.
Click here to begin the survey.
It seems the news just keeps getting worse. The battle in Israel continues. Three hundred Malaysian airplane passengers were assassinated in the sky after a few hundred more had simply disappeared altogether. More than 100 schoolgirls were kidnapped while tens of thousands make up an immigration crisis. Newly discovered holes may have formed in Siberia after more ice has melted on this warming earth.
It seems too much to bear. The headlines are always shouting bad news. We try to live in the moment without regret for the past or worry for the future, but painfully, history keeps repeating itself.
I've written about dealing with bad news in past posts. I'm back at it again because we must all be reminded from time to time to stop and regain perspective. We must remember this reality: hopeless as we may feel, we each play a role in creating the kind of world in which we want to live.
We can't get there though without first being thankful for what is good. For all the serious problems we DO have, there are many, many more we DON'T. For all the pain and suffering we are experiencing, there is a great measure of comfort in our lives today when compared to the past. No longer must we bite down on a stick to endure the pain from an amputation. No longer does war mean hand-to-hand combat with shields and knives and leftover fields of blood. No longer do the rich climb bleachers to get the best view to see who will die first, the poor peasant or the ruthless gladiator.
Yes, these things past and present are horrible. Heinous wrongdoing is everywhere and always. And even the prescriptions that numb our nerves for weeks after surgery cannot change the fact that every body hurts.
Yes, it is in our compassionate nature to stand up and demand something be done, someone be held accountable, measures be taken to ensure this never happens again. Yes, we want to correct the imbalances in our ecosystem, especially the ones that have resulted from human impact. But when bad things happen or when the environment does not heal, it will not be my fault or your fault or your neighbor's fault ... unless I, you, and he throw up our hands and quit.
Maybe we can stop the devastating and invasive Asian Carp from reaching the Great Lakes and destroying that marine ecosystem, but we cannot change the fact that, sometimes, the bigger fish wins. We may even bring peace to Gaza and the Ukraine and Afghanistan, but we cannot change the fact that, often, different people cannot live together.
I'm writing this as much to convince me as you. I'm reminding myself that the world will spin with or without me. I'm returning my attention to the path on which I am walking -- the one that winds through peace, kindness, compassion, and good health -- so that I can maintain my footing and avoid slipping down a cliff into despair, anger, worry, and guilt.
I am putting into perspective the nature of our times by comparing them to the nature of all times. Where 200 years ago we felt great pain in our frontier shacks located far from a doctor, today we feel sympathetic pain from remote shacks located on the opposite side of the globe, transmitted to us through the same network of wires and satellites that were built to reduce isolated suffering.
Breath. Relax. Be grateful. Don't become so fearful and frustrated about the stranger in a foreign land that you are unable to be kind to your neighbor, for such kindness is the link in a chain, one that (if unbroken) will eventually lead to that stranger. Don't become so filled with despair about the condition of a changing earth that you forget to notice the astounding scene -- the canyon, the mountain, the cliff -- that was formed as a result of earth's changes, for such awareness leads to appreciation which leads to a willingness to adapt which leads to harmony.
There is only so much you can do, but there is one you thing you must: live your life as a model of that which is in your heart, and then you will have done your part.