Some time back my friend Jane turned me on to Sharon Blackie’s If Women Rose Rooted. If you don’t know it (and especially if you’re of Celtic descent) you might want to get a hold of it. It’s full of stories, both personal and mythic, all on the theme of the importance of place and of connection to the land. It’s not surprising that I love this book – its theme is so similar to what I’ve been learning from Deena Metzger. Indigenous cultures not only know this, they live it. Think of those who have stood at and for Standing Rock. As Blackie explains, though, most of us come out of and live in a modern wasteland.
The book led me to the poem by Rilke that inspired its title (here translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows):
How surely gravity's law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of even the smallest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.
Each thing ---
each stone, blossom, child ---
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push out beyond what we each belong to
for some empty freedom.
If we surrendered
to earth's intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.
Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.
So, like children, we begin again
to learn from things,
because they are in God's heart;
they have never left him.
That is what the things can teach us:
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.
It’s curious how you can read a poem and gloss over it, and then some time later encounter it as if for the first time. I read The Book of Hours years ago, but this poem did not move me then. I guess now is the time I need it!
I am, of course, learning the poem for our next salon and for Rumi’s Caravan (July 8th here in Oakland). Like the book, the poem points me in the direction of where I want to belong, and how. Learning this poem is a gift I give myself; it works on me as I work on it.
The one area I felt Blackie short-changed a bit is how city dwellers can connect more deeply to the land. She doesn’t ignore it, but her discussion on it is pretty brief and perfunctory. We are not all so fortunate to live in the countryside. Most of us who do not walk outside of our houses directly into wild nature have to work a lot harder to feel and sustain the connection. We are certainly not supported by the wasteland culture to do so.
So here are some of the questions I am living with. How do I root myself to this bit of hillside in Oakland where I have chosen to live? How do we be faithful to the land? What does the earth have to teach us? How can we rise up rooted?
View from our deck