Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Chapter Two: Blood in the Water

People have been clambering to find out what happened when I jumped into the ocean, after having my neck sliced open by the captain. Forgive me for not writing sooner. I was a bit traumatized by the event and had much gardening and Spring cleaning to do.

I remember a few more details now.  The captain's name was Captain Cutthroat. One very raggedy, slothful crew member realized I could be worth a fortune as a slave. As Captain Cutthroat turned away to straighten his golden locks of hair (He was vain about his appearance but especially his hair), the ragtag pirate capitalized on the moment to throw me a life preserver. Unfortunately, when he tossed it over, several coils of rope wrapped around his elephantine wrist. More unfortunately, he cried out in fear and Cutthroat spun around with speed of a barracuda. He allowed the pirate to fall overboard. The pirate created a massive wave. This caused the ship to toss and turn. Cutthroat beat the first mate with one glove, once elegant, sadly now filthy, stolen off a very wealthy man from England. It came with the man's hand inside. Now the captain wore the finger bones around his neck, and used the glove to insult his inferiors.

The first mate was hanging onto the wheel, as it spun out of control. He finally got the ship righted. He steered the ship into another of the waves, and the ship disappeared from sight. 

The pirate in the water was struggling with the ropes, trying to cling to the life preserver. Everyone knows pirates can't swim. I wasn't sure if I should rescue him, as I am very justice-oriented.

Finally, as he was bobbing up and down with every wave, I swam closer to him, yet out of reach. I asked him his name. Choking and sputtering, he coughed out "They call me Slimjim." I asked him where his knife was (mine was in my camera bag on board). I knew he would have one on his person. 

"Me knife is in the sock in my boot. Help me! Help me! I can't swim". 

I was bleeding from my wound. The salt water burned the slash severely. So I said to him, "I am going to cut you free with your knife." I swam closer to him and duck-dived the next wave. I propelled my body down into the cooler water. I could see him above. And then, I saw his boots. Beat-up, black leather boots that would probably go up to my thighs. Although I have many kinds of boots, I do not have boots from an honest-to-goodness pirate!

I decided they were found objects, and pulled them off his fungus-infected feet. I came up for air. Slimjim watched as I floated at the surface, putting on one then the other. He was infuriated. "Them is my boots. I had them since I was a lad. I will kill you"! I ignored him, and simply said, "You are drowning. You will have no need for these on the ocean floor". Slimjim remembered he was drowning, and went into histrionics. I have been know as an empathetic soul; I have none for drama queens. He was seriously annoying me. Again, I had a moral struggle with myself about his outcome.

"Slimjim, I called. "I am going back down for your knife. If you kick me, I will come for air, and you will need to make peace with your maker." He was a bit confused, because he replied, "How do I make peace with me dad? He's been dead twenty years".

I determined Slimjim had hit the rum bottle one too many times, and was not a great thinker at this point. I said no more, and dove underwater to retrieve his knife. Slimkim was right about the sock. I pulled a long, curved, bone-handled knife from his sock. Then I took his sock, somewhat stoically, as I presumed he would die. I popped back up in the water behind him, and pressed the knife into his fleshy back.

"Do you mean me harm?", I inquired. He burst out into sobbing. Gritty tears fell from his salt-burned, red eyes. Tears from a pirate are like fool's gold (Pyrite for enthusiasts.) I glared at him a few seconds. I knew he was weak, undisciplined, with less brain cells regenerating than there should have been. I moved my knife (finders keepers) away from his back, and told him to hold still. He was paralyzed with fright, and said nothing. I sawed the rope from his wrist. He immediately began sinking. At this point I realized he could have some value to me. A fatty pirate, alive and kicking, would be a fine meal for a shark. I made a huge slipknot, slid back under the water, and swam around him with the rope until I had the slipknot around his middle. I swam as hard as I could, and we were barely moving. I swam behind him and pinched him very hard. It scared him so much he suddenly was pulling himself up, and then I was able to guide us toward the life preserver. I pulled on the rope while he scrambled to climb on. Then I simply tied him to it. 

I hung to a rope on the life preserver, washing his sock for a long time. The waters around us were brackish when I finally decided the sock would be safe to use. I wrapped it around my cut throat (three times, as it was a huge sock).  The less blood in the water, the better off we would be. The waters around Somalia are warm, and since I am an ocean swimmer, I was not uncomfortable. I was already preparing for what might come. I knew one thing for sure. If push came to shove, Slimjim would be the first to go!

The afternoon was turning to dusk. I knew three things: sharks off Somalia are deadly, dusk is just about their feeding time, and I needed dusk to fall so I could find East and West.

Slimjim had fallen into a gurgling, sputtering sleep. I very carefully pulled myself up onto his stomach, which actually seemed to help with his breathing. I felt pretty confident I would come through this, but my major concern was drinking water.  Everyone who knows me understands because I am a water drinker, all day long, and into the night. The only thought on my mind was to get out of the ocean, and find the coldest jug of water to chug. I had to control my thought patterns. I could not think about drinking water. That would make me go mad. I had a moment of clarity. Slimjim's odor had not improved at all by being in the water. I wasn't going anywhere if I didn't put that rope over my shoulder, and start swimming.

With determination, I slid off Slimjim's belly, and back in the water. I was more comfortable there anyway! I knotted the rope again, and made a sling for my right shoulder. We began the swim toward the Horn of Africa. When my right shoulder was on fire from pulling, I switched the rope to my left hand. I refused to stop swimming. I was grateful for the hundreds of hours I'd spent bodyboarding at San Clemente, north of the pier. If a swell rose up, I swam harder, so I could catch waves that helped me stay on course. It was very dark now. The Milky Way was in full view, as were Jupiter, Mars, and, of course, the moon. Shooting stars were so vivid, and long-tailed. I prayed for one friend after another, until I was just plain prayed out. I decided to take a rest,  and wrapped my left hand on the life preserver rope. "This is really not that bad", I thought "I can take short breaks, keep on course by following the stars, and maintaining an exact routine." 

I breathed in the sea air, and almost gagged. Slimjim's time in the ocean had created a toxic brew emanating off his body. A sea rat (known to tourists as seagulls) found a respite from a long flight. It perched on Slimjim's nose. Broken so many times during sword play or from tripping on deck after drinking rum, he couldn't remember what the nose had looked like before he chose the life of a pirate. I laughed at our ludicrous plight. I bobbed up and down with the swells, became hypnotized by the ocean's rhythms, and began to nod off.

My eyes had just closed when a powerful force slammed into the life preserver, leaving a gigantic  explosion of water spreading out in all directions. Whatever it was flipped the life preserver over. Slimjim was helpless, face underwater, and no air to breathe. Overturning it had also spun me around, jerked me up and down, until I was disoriented. I struggled with the life preserver, but couldn't get the knife out of my pirate boot. I knew Slimjim would die. I actually felt a bit bad about that. There was not that much time to feel sorry. The moonshine stretched across the water. This time I knew what was coming in for the fatal blow.

I saw that fin, straight up in the water, barreling at us with just incredible speed. As a naturalist, I knew exactly what this was, and that we would not survive. No sane Somali surfs that part of the ocean. It is rife with Zambezi River Sharks (aka the bull shark.) It was not a good day to die, if there is such a thing.

I have to leave you here because my right hand goes numb and tingling because of the neck injury. So...more of this saga later. I actually feel a bit queasy just thinking about what comes next.
Slimjim in 'hot water.' Spelling correction: Illinois;)

Tattoos: Mama, Mom, Ma

Friday, February 20, 2015

Pirates Are A Nefarious Lot.

Chapter One

I was on the last leg of an ocean exploration. I had paid a pretty penny to find a captain who would let a girl on his fishing boat (bad luck and all that nonsense.) Captain Russell (an Englishman) took a well-travelled fishing route off the Somali coastline. I had been photographing him, the crew, and anything with rust. This trip was going to be my money-maker, and the captain eagerly pointed out views he thought would be a good picture. Although I did get some helpful fishing shots from Russell, he seemed to be posing in all of them. He had no idea I could still get amazing shots by pretending to be pointing at him, all the while taking the real picture I wanted instead.

I was exhausted. I insisted on using the winch to help pull nets up, learning how to gut huge fish with even bigger teeth. I swabbed the deck. Actually, nobody else seemed eager to clean blood and guts off the floor.  And I cooked.  A lot! No matter what you read, cooks on working ships are missing fingers, or haven't bathed for months, and their hands were blood-caked and flaking. I need to know I am eating from an immaculate kitchen up to food safety standards. So I took the job. What did I cook? Fish. I did make calamari once, but it was horrible...very rubbery. Captain Russell and the crew liked it very much. Most often, though, I cooked fish recipes.

This day, the ocean was remarkably calm. The men took breaks together when there were no fish to be found. Captain said there would be schools of fish later in the day. The crew relaxed, rolled cigarettes, and passed them around, muttering complaints about the captain, missing their wives, and I thought I heard one say something about bad cooking.

I stood at the edge of the boat, on a stool, leaning over the rail to take close-ups of the barnacle colonies on Captain Russell's boat. I had my Canon long lens on, and as I scanned the horizon, I saw the ship. It was far in the distance. I called out to the captain, and pointed. He picked up his binoculars, and looked where I was pointing. He immediately shouted out orders to the crew. "A pirate ship, coming fast. Get yourselves ready." The crew jumped up immediately, as they had never heard of such a thing, except in story books at school. "There ain't no pirates nowadays, captain," one crew member yelled. 

The ship was almost upon us. Captain Russell had one advantage, and that was the ability to maneuver quickly, as his boat was very small. He took one evasive counter-measure. I was thrown across the deck, and my forehead hit a barrel of beer, which was secured tightly with lots of square knots. I grabbed onto its ropes. I felt my survival instincts kick in immediately.

It was too late. The pirate ship was in perfect position, and cannons were at the ready. Our situation appeared to be quite grim. I cautiously used my long lens to observe the attackers. I counted twenty, all holding weapons (knives, guns, and very rusty swords.)

Captain Russell showed his true colors, when he realized the horrific danger we were all in. He handed his First Mate a crisp white flag, and quickly started hacking at the ropes holding the life boat. When the flag was raised, a cannon blew a hole right through it. Shreds of white fabric floated in the air around us. I guess that was our shot across the bow. Cannons were going off everywhere, guns were shredding the deck. Our small boat began listing. I knew it would be moments before we sank.

Russell , the First Mate,  and the four crewmen threw the life boat over the side. They jumped ship. I was to face the pirates alone.

The pirates came aboard. I curled up small, hoping to be undetected. It was a hopeless situation. A pirate snatched me right up, and bashed my head with the butt of his gun.

When I came to, I was on the pirates' ship. I tried not to move,  and carefully squinted my eyes open a crack. I assessed the crew members, and I had miscounted before. There were twenty-five, all armed to the teeth. Actually they had more weapons than teeth. Everyone knows pirates never brush their teeth. The pirates' teeth were beyond repair. Snaggle Tooth, Vampire Boy, and Rotten Mouth were just a few nicknames I used to identify them.

One pirate in particular stood out from the others. He was beyond infuriated, using salty language his parrot refused to repeat. (I tried to pick up a few words for later use, but forgot them due to stress.) I strained to hear the verbal bashing he was giving to his crew. After a minute, I realized he was ranting about his crew's failure to find anything of value on the overtaken boat that was sinking surprisingly fast. There were several wooden crates bobbing in the waves. When the boxes were hauled up and opened, they were filled with root vegetables: beets, rutabagas, and turnips.

The crew backed away from their captain. He had fire in his eyes. His mouth was clenched, partly open, his teeth were grinding, and it sounded as if he were growling. I stood up, using stealth techniques I taught myself as a child. One skinny, odorous pirate dropped his sword to the deck, not even knowing he had done so. I ran up and snatched it up. I loved it immediately. It was the perfect swashbuckler's weapon, very light, a thin, albeit rusty, blade, perfectly balanced, and sharp enough to run the captain through. What was there not to like?

The poor pirate carefully backed up, his head down, hoping to get away from his captain, who was out for blood. He knew the captain could kill a crew member on a whim. Unfortunately, I was whipping my sword, cutting through the air, and and practicing a few jabs I knew. I swear upon all things holy what happened next was not my fault. The smelly pirate, whom I had just nicknamed Odor Eater, moved backward right into the sword's path. I am sure you can imagine the consequences when he screamed, dropped to the deck, and bled out slowly from a gut wound. He was in a pool of his own black blood, (Oh! You didn't know all pirates have black blood because the blood pumped through their very evil hearts? True fact! Google it!)

The captain became still. He scrutinized each pirate, reading their visage. The pirates moved to make a path for him so he could see what I had done to Odor Eater for himself. He looked down at the dead pirate. Then he slowly lifted his head, and I glared at him. He wanted to give me the stink-eye, but I gave him my death ray eye stare. (My kids know what that looks like...) 

"I knew you was gonna be trouble as soon as we boarded that boat." I retorted, "Yeh? Let's see now. The boat is gone, thanks to your incompetent leadership. You will be eating cabbages for month. Oh, and this dead deckhand needs to be tossed overboard, or he will leave a stench even you can't imagine."

The tip of a sword was under my chin, with my throat exposed. I had antagonized him beyond the point of no return. With nothing to lose, I swiftly spun around, and my sword was swinging, as I began to fight.

A few of the pirates were too slow to get out of the way. One deckhand, sword in hand, felt nothing when I accidentally sliced off his leg at the knee as I ducked swords meant for me. From that point, I only recall snippets of what occurred. The injured pirate scrambled like a crab to his missing limb. No one came to his aid because, as I am sure you are aware, no pirate is altruistic.  He crawled into a corner, clutching his limb, and was sorry he had taken his legs for granted before. He clutched the cut-off leg to his chest, as if it were a precious jewel. He began screaming, "Captain! Captain! Me leg. Me Leg!"

The captain was now in a blind fury. He moved over to the poor pirate, "What are you blithering about, you baby. Give me that dead leg. Ain't a one of us here can put it back on." He leaned over, and pried the leg from the man's tight grip. He grabbed it as if it were a frisbee,  and flung it far out into the ocean. (I was actually impressed.) The captain slowly, very intentionally, turned around, his sword slightly loose in his hand.

"Ya get one chance to live, girly. Get down on that deck and clean up this blood. It is gonna stain me ship."

I knew pirates are never found to be trustworthy. He would kill me anyway.  So I did what was necessary. I used a few salty words of my own (some of which I had learned in my foreign language classes in high school.) I may have said something about his mom. I went a little too far. I confess my ethics are predicated on the situation at hand.

The captain came out swinging, but so did I. I went for his throat. I missed, and cut off the top of his hat, and maybe a bit of hair. I watched the wind snatch up that hat, and in less than a second I felt a very sharp point on my chest, right over my heart.

He backed me up, and applied more pressure with his sword. "I ain't done this in a good, long while," he said in a gravelly, intense voice. I knew then there was no point in fighting. He said, "Turn around. Drop the sword (which disappointed me a bit because I liked it.) "Get up on that there gang plank, and start walking', missy."

The other pirates looked stunned. Then they rushed to the rail and watched as the captain, his sword still pressed precisely over my heart. He had complete control. His sword was pushing me backward. He asked, "You ain't afraid of no sharks, is you?" I said, "Not really. They are very important to the entire ocean ecosystem." I was going to give him lots more facts about sharks but his sword was pushing even harder.

It seemed like a long march to the end of the gang plank. Suddenly, I knew I had the advantage.  As he drew closer and closer, I insulted him intentionally (something about dead brain cells possibly.) I stood on the end of the plank, and carefully tested it for bounce. The captain was mesmerized by testing. On my third bounce, I was high in the sky, setting my body in perfect position for the back dive (my favorite, yet scariest dive I can do.) On the way back down, as I corrected the arch in my spine, my neck was briefly exposed. Humiliated in front of his crew compelled him to grip his sword, and swing. He sliced my neck right open.

I was instantly petrified when I hit the water. I had blood gushing from the wound; blood, ocean, and sharks are not the best words you want to hear together.  I calmed my fear. If I wanted to stay alive, I needed to be in my special zone I had relied on many times before.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


Every single word of this story is true.


The Unintended Wildly Dangerous Adventure on the High Seas.

Dedicated to Some Amazing Children Who Have Touched My Soul:

To Josh: Explorer, Brother, Grandson, Friend to Many, and Son. I spent many nights under the stars praying for you to get well. You had such a gentle, sweet soul. You were not in this world long enough; in life, you changed lives for the better. In death, we learned what sudden loss of a beautiful soul felt like. You are not physically here any more; your impact is. I am grateful for that.

To my oldest grandson, Brady: For nine years, we have been companions in curiosity. We have learned about tide pools by studying them first-hand for so long. You are my favorite kid to take to the ocean. Your risk-taking (and mine) has taught both of us there are some boundaries we should not cross. Your understanding of creating habitats, and being blessed with many delightful creatures because of it was a gift from me to you. You gifted me back when you showed such compassion for stranded starfish. Remember the mourning dove fledgling you took away from some kids who were going to kill it? You tended it at our house until it flew away. We have had some amazing adventures. I will never forget having to slide down a cacti-filled dirt rut because you just had to pick the hardest mountain trail at Hart park. And perhaps the coolest thing about you is all the 'found objects" you bring to my house to save because your mom calls them "junk."

To my very favorite second grandson, Callum: I wish I could write down every word you have said. Your naughtiness is ten times worse than your mom's. I am so glad for that. You have such a delightful perspective on life. Your heart is filled with such love for your family and friends. You keep papa and me entertained almost every day, because we quote something you said. And then we burst into laughter. I hope you and I will have some adventures of our own. I want to teach you to build a dam that really makes a deep pool for swimming. I want your hands in the tide pools. I love that you pick up almost every rock you see! Take care of that collection I started for you. Not many kids have a squid fossil!

To my new granddaughter, Calliope: Too soon. You are growing too soon. But that is good. I have lots of plans for you as well. We will walk every day, and Amos will come too. We will make up stories with my art blocks, Hot Wheels, and painted rocks. You will be an explorer, and have a curious mind. I just can't wait for our journey together to begin.

Brady and Amos meet for the first time.
Callum in his Minecraft gear.

Callie: My little diva!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Meditation Day at Cayucos, CA
Fossilized Barnacle on Meditation Day

Prayers through two tides. My camera finally jammed.

I didn't think I could. I was overwhelmed by losses of two very important people in my past. I did not know how to cry. And I had no concept of grieving. I did not know that it was slowly killing me joy, my hope, my loss of self, my will to live.

I shut down, and numbed out. I learned to do that a long time ago...when I was a small child. And it is my "go to" electric pathway that has been etched into my brain circuitry. 

In utter brokenness, in a place so dark, and vast, it might as well have been called a 'black hole', people reached out bravely. One at a time. I rebuffed them, I'm sure. Or maybe gave them another chance. I have no memory of those connections.

These were women, and a few men who were not afraid of hatred, destruction, insanity, and the blackest nights. They were with me. No matter what. For a very long time. 

One in particular became my mentor. There was absolutely no judgment, no pushing me to "hurry up and get my shit together!"; just a lot of coffee, listening, unbelievable patience, and prayer for me even when I did not want that at all. She did it behind my back, and I knew she was, because I could feel it!

She led by example. She taught me how to live in the present one second at a time. I did not know that was possible. Of course, I was working very hard with a therapist too, and applying Cognitive-Behavioral Therapeutic knowledge as much as I was able. I took that very seriously. But my mentor was now my "go to" person in a crisis. I let her down a couple of times, but I never lied to her.

Whatever she suggested, I tried. But she asked me to visit a dying acquaintance by myself at a local hospital. I do NOT do hospitals. Obviously, I immediately said, "Yes." Because she was my mentor, and following her suggestions was helping me. So I went. I wept before I walked into her room. I sat with her, prayed with her, while she was maxed out on morphine, and held her hand. I sang, "Amazing Grace," which held special meaning to her. She squeezed my hand. I could see acute pain on her face. I kissed her, told her I loved her, walked out of the room, leaned against a wall, and cried.

And I walked with her, all the way...and learned from my mentor how to care for the dying. How to love them without having to say a word. A caress on the brow. A stroke on the hand. Brushing a strand of hair off the face. Being there for a partner, or child. All of it. 

And I've had to do it again. And I will have to repeat this process until someone does it to me. 

There are two things I have learned I think are very important for you to think about: Someone in the process of dying is in the tenuous balance of clinging to hope, yet not be willing to face the prospect they are dying. If you are able to gently help them keep their hope, but teach them to make sure they have said all the important things they want to say to loved ones, you are truly being an amazing friend. That is a difficult situation. It is true. A friend is born for adversity...and tells the truth, gently and with deep compassion.

Death is a part of life. Period. Sometimes a mother miscarries. That is a death. Or a homeless drunk freezes on the street. Death. A pile-up in fog on the freeway takes many lives. Death. Your kid is in the wrong place at the wrong time, and there is a drive-by shooting, or a shooting spree at his school. Death. Cancer takes your husband. Suicide takes your mother. War takes your children. We, none of us, are immune from accidents, incidents, evil intentions, or whatever it may be. We live and then we die. 

We each get one day. This day. Yes, you may make tentative plans for your future, and the future of your children. But do not hold on to them for dear life. Instead, hold on to this day as a miraculous treasure. What will you do with it? It is a gift. Truly. And it is a gift I believe you are meant to share. You can change the world in one day by touching one life, be it the life of your own child, or words of hope to a stranger on the street.

One day. This day. You have no control over this world. Nor do I. But I do get to choose how I will live on this day. I do get to say, "I can do death; I can do heartbreak." Someone loved me. Someone taught me. And I get to pass that on.


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Nature Is Sacred: Many Christians Misunderstand Genesis 1:28

So first, a little theology, because I want to be clear right up front, and also to get to some miracles I have experienced by interacting in nature, beginning in childhood.

In Genesis 1:28, some Biblical versions read: "God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the earth.'" The politician, Rick Santorum, recently said radical liberals placed "critters" above humans, and that we were to take dominion of the earth, and be stewards of it. 

He is only partially correct. The Random House Dictionary defines "Steward" as: 1. a person who manages another's property or financial affairs; one who administers anything as the agent of another or others (italics mine.)

The words "subdue", and "rule" seem very forceful; as if humankind is to grapple with nature and win a war! However, a closer look at these words in a contextual perspective helps us grasp the true meaning of the text. Nowhere in this text is there any suggestion that we are at war with the art, the creation of nature, God has gifted to us. Rather, we are to use what God has given us to our benefit, mindful we are cultivators, fishermen (women), farmers, miners, herders of animals, etc. (as would have been the Israelites at that time.)

You may disagree with me about this. I believe you would be wrong. If you read the whole of the Old Testament and New Testament, you will discover nature is celebrated! Notice! I did not say "worshiped." The Israelites worshiped God, and the Christians worshiped God (The Trinity). 

The Psalms are replete with cries of joy at the comfort and peace found in the provision in nature. One of the most famous, known by many different cultures, is Psalm 23
"The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul..."

And just one chapter in the New Testament, found in Luke 12, which talks about our intrinsic value, speaks about creation being of great value to God! Verse 6: Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? And yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Vs. 24: Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; and they have no storeroom nor barn; and yet God feeds them. how much more valuable you are than the birds! Vs. 27 (my favorite): Consider the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these.

And, although I will not give the references, Jesus himself escaped into nature, realizing that solitude there was essential, and that He needed refreshment with His father in such an environment...alone! (I challenge you to read the Bible yourself to find incredible experiences, such as ravens feeding starving prophets, donkeys speaking out loud, and fish spitting out taxes.)

Solitude. Sacred Day. Two activities I describe that are important to me, and why I spend them in nature. When I say these two things, people are bewildered. Some say, "I absolutely cannot "do" solitude." They are uncomfortable being with themselves. They need artificial background noise. They need to be needed by people, or need to be with people! 

I offer to take a few with me. Most decline. But one accepted (which really made it not a "solitude" day, but a teachable experience-so valuable.) We drove to my favorite end of a park. I showed her the peacocks. She had never seen them before. In fact, she had lived in this city her whole life, and had never even been to this park. I was talking about a skunk I had seen. She did not know what that was. Or a possum. Or a ground squirrel. Or...she didn't know anything about nature.

I took her straight down to the river. I told her I carried a cell phone, turned on "vibrate", and only answered it if my husband texted me about 6 times in a row. Usually the text response sent to him was "SACRED DAY!!" And he respects that. I took her to the water, and explained all about the water flow, the reasons for the rapids, the island in the middle, and how one could tell the depth by the flow, and color of the water. I told her to be silent. Asked her to just listen, and see if she could hear the differences in the river itself. She tried. I give kudos for that. She tried! I had her lean over the river bank, look in the sunny pools, and see the gold flecks. She wouldn't touch the mossy rocks. She was done.

I was not done. But I walked her back up. I showed her how to use my very expensive camera. I asked her to keep her cell phone off, and I put my long lens on. I said, "Listen carefully. There are some amazing birds here. You will be able to get pictures if you follow their calls." When I came back, and checked her photography, it was amazing. She captured a Woodpecker, Red-Tailed Hawk, and a few others I can't remember now. It was good for her. She was very quiet while we were there. But I doubt she has been back.

When I was about 7, I was out the door at 5:00 a.m. We lived by woods in Upstate N.Y. No matter what time of year, I was interacting with nature. Back then it was my safe haven, an escape from evil into absolute purity. I took pure delight as flocks of Red-Wing Blackbirds harassed Great Horned Owls. I climbed trees, and watched as the world awakened. 

Sometimes I would be in a thick fog. I was never afraid. I felt blessed. Once as I was very stealthily walking (as I always did), the fog lifted. I was on a rise. Down in the valley, a HUGE stag was watching me. At least ten does were with him. I stood there and felt a grace. I was being blessed by God. I was absolutely delighted when the stag shook his powerful rack just once, and then went back to grazing. I could be trusted. 

The newt...I know. Such a very simple, maybe boring? creature. My mother was distant. She gardened. We 6 kids at home, stair step babies, were left to our own devices. However, perhaps she knew I was different. When she found those lovely newts, buried under leaves to protect their delicate black skin, she would call me. I would immediate come, and gently hold one in my hands. Spotted on the side, with velvet skin gently going in and out, it was the loveliest of creatures to me. I would bring it right to my face. Newts have very happy smiles, and gentle eyes. And they simply look back at you. My heart was always filled to bursting.

Now we will fast-forward because I could go on and on. I was an intense athlete from my 20's to my 40's. Insane, actually. In Orange County, CA., there is an amazing, hard-core wilderness trail. I ran it for miles every day. One day, up in the canyon, a large bobcat was in the middle of trail. I slowed down to a walk. I was able to walk within three feet. It sat there. I did not breathe. Truly. Before my eyes, it disappeared into brush. I felt like it was a miracle just for me.

Once, in Laguna Hills, I was watering my roses with a hose. Suddenly, a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird landed on the end of my hose, and began drinking. I stood still for as long as he drank. It seemed like an hour because I did not want my hand to move. I'm sure it was a minute. It felt like it was a miracle just for me.

I sit outside early in the morning, and sometimes listen. I have a luscious, full garden. A kit fox was sneaking out of my roses last fall. I gently called. He turned his head. He sat. He looked at me. I baby talked to him. We were going to be friends. I met him there every day for several mornings. Our interaction was exactly the same every day. And then the neighbor cat beat him up. He hasn't been back. But, while he was there, I felt like it was a miracle just for me.

I am a steward. I am an environmentalist. There are many Christians and Christian action groups who are avid environmentalists. And then there are those who believe environmentalism is a "left-wing", liberal agenda. They are dead wrong. It is a call for every Christian to care for this earth. I don't care if you believe in Global Warming or not. My question is, "Why do you need to drive a big truck if a small car will do?" If this prevents oil spills in an ocean which is the most unexplored space for humans yet, or protects beloved open spaces created by God for unique animals who may only live there, why would you choose NOT to do this? That is not being a  good steward. Why not follow God's "suggestion?" Why not be like Jesus, and escape, and experience something that you probably really, really need?

Solitude. Sacred Day. I want these things. I want interaction in an unpolluted, pure, alive place. The river I go to is mostly dead. If I want to take a picture, I must move trash. It disgusts me. My grandchildren (age 3 and 7) completely understand they are to take care of this earth. Surely, if they can grasp this, Christian adults can too!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Critical Thinking...Don't Argue With Non-Thinkers!

Have you run up against this?

You are trying to have a reasonable discussion with someone who has an opposing view. You are a logical, analytical, critical thinker. You use empirical data, realizing at the same time, you are unable to escape your worldview, no matter how enlarged it is. However, you have a defined worldview, and the other person does not.

This is problematic. Critical thinking involves knowledge of scientific thinking, mathematical thinking, historical thinking, anthropological thinking, economic thinking, moral thinking, and philosophical thinking. If you have not been trained in school (and many schools do not teach this unless you take specific classes) to learn critical thinking across this entire arena of learning, then you have giant holes missing in your knowledge base.

Will we know all there is to know? Of course not! Are there many truths and unknowns still to be discovered? Wonderfully, yes! And, a very, very important there room for many different points of view and opinions on serious matters? I certainly hope so. The most brilliant minds in the world clash on everything from the Big Bang theory, to math problems, to BIG philosophical questions that will never be answered, and even who is the best painter of the 18th century, for God's sake! (Never listen to art critics; that's my position!)

I appreciate this brief summary of critical thinking (taken from "The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools", by Richard Paul and Linda Elder.)

"A well cultivated critical thinker:

  1. raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely;
  2. gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it, effectively comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;
  3. thinks open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and
  4. communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.
Critical thinking is, in short, self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem solving and a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism."

Now, let's consider what happens if you have a well-defined worldview. First, your worldview is shaped from the moment you are born. Your experiences in your home, your school, your relationships with friends (or lack thereof), your interaction with your community, your religious experiences (or lack thereof) as you are growing into an adult all shape your worldview.

What SHOULD happen is as we mature, grow in knowledge, experience, interact with others, travel, read, leave our homes, and meet other people, we begin to develop our own worldview. And it becomes larger. Does this always happen? NO! Some adult children may leave their town or city for awhile, but their worldview does not change; they take it with them, and bring right back home. Or they take it with them, and it stays small. So do they. 

Negative experiences, lack of acceptance for being different, being taught hatred toward others in the home or church, or dishonesty, or that there is only one way that is right, and that there is no middle ground on anything leads to a very small worldview, a closed mind, a mind that refuses to learn, and is utterly incapable of critical thinking. 

It is important to note that our worldview should continue to grow as we mature, assuming we are life-long learners, and follow the steps of critical thinking forward with us. It is easy to see what year someone's brain stem died, and they have given up on learning. Why is it we somehow get to the place where we think we know enough?

Think of this inquisitive thought: the most unexplored place known to mankind and scientists is the ocean. We know infinitely less about it than space. More species are discovered in a single day in the ocean, and yet scientists have only dipped their toe in the water. They readily admit how little they know. This thrills me! The less we know, the more we have to learn. The more we have to learn, the greater the possibility our worldview will expand, change, twist, turn, and all that. It's truly an exciting venture. 

Sad, isn't it, some choose to let past experiences, ignorance, a refusal to learn, and a tiny worldview keep them from interacting with kindness, having real discourse with humanity in a way that effects change, brings hope, brings intelligent, gentle interaction to the table?

Don't waste your time trying to discuss important matters with such people. They don't get it. They do not have rational thoughts. They have preconceived notions, and prejudices they are unable to let go of. Their egocentrism may tell them they are absolutely right; your critical thinking will tell you not to argue. Find someone with whom you may have an intelligent conversation.