So How Crazy Is Nature Worship Anyway?

Less crazy than you think, I'll bet

The Follow the Woo podcast is an inquiry into the spiritual, so as an avowed atheist I made a perfectly sensible guest. Fen Alankus, the show’s host is charming, open, and interested. She gave me the impression she grew up in a kind of hippie mishmash of alt-religion, and we found a perfectly acceptable middle ground early: Try not to be mean. It’s easier for me than, say, “try to be nice,” which honestly sometimes is too much to ask. 

I spoke about my own spiritual experiences as I understood them coming down uncomfortably close to Zen Buddhism in what counted as a spiritual practice. “Uncomfortably close” for me is “nowhere near” for an actual Buddhist, though my ideas are not unrecognizable.

When I take the time to contemplate nature, it often has something to teach me, but “lesson” doesn’t imply “teacher” any more than “creation” implies “creator.” Instead, I think of nature as offering stories, or maybe context for stories, that help crystalize some of the more nebulous ideas about our inner lives. 

Beyond a latent psychic power that I’ll write about in the coming weeks, the only thing I ever had that could count as a spiritual experience happened almost two decades ago. I was driving on the backroads in late spring.

The corn and soy were in the ground and just sprouting, but I knew within another six weeks or so the narrow road through the corn could be claustrophobia-inducing, making me feel as if the road were squeezing me along. For now, everything was green and small and the horizon drew my eye.

What happened that day happend in fewer than five seconds but takes so much longer than that to tell. I noticed two robins fighting on the side of the road, flitting up in the air as they scrapped, talons and beaks parrying and thrusting they fought across the road, landing briefly on the centerline before tumbling onto the far shoulder where they took up their fight again. The pair flit up and into the path of a semi that had seemed much farther away when first I noticed it and were pulverized.

“Bicker all you want,” nature told me. “Death is inbound and doesn’t care what you’re fretting over when it shows up.”

The more I think about it, my takeaway was as much the story as the lesson. My greatest failing as a writer is to be all concepts and no facts. Life doesn’t happen in the abstract, no matter how much I think of it that way.

What I learned from those birds was that the abstract and the concrete in my mind are like Curly and Curly’s wife, running around in my head and nearly but never connecting. I spent years trying to get them together but have come to see that when they haven’t fallen into place it’s because the ideas and the stories haven’t properly aligned and to force them is to churn out trash. 

That’s pretty much as spiritual as I get, looking around waiting to notice an incident that will connect a concrete with an abstract. In the meantime I try and pay attention to the ground when I’m walking and to the birds when I’m staring into space by my beloved pond. I never wait for the universe to send me an idea, though. It has to be quasi-active, like a lucid dream.

I worry that once I start waiting for outside guidance it will be more about the waiting than the learning. You’re often going to get the answer you’re looking for once you learn to believe external forces are waiting to give you aid. It’s why scared and angry people seek out vicious churches and vitriolic online communities. People who already suspect that the deck is stacked against them just need to have that inkling confirmed. 

Since finishing Dragged Into the Light, I’ve been thinking about that more and more. I wonder where the satisfaction is in being mean, whether online or in person. I’m pretty sure some spiders gave me the answer last year, but it only just occurred to me.

 Speaking of My Pond Obsession

I’ve written about my fish dilemma. The short version is that the goldfish and koi started reproducing beyond the pond pump’s capacity and rather than gift or cull them I decided to let nature find its own balance. This week I had a deus ex machina experience when I disturbed a massive blue heron fishing at the pond.

Every time I get close to a heron, I’m shocked by its size and movement. It’s amazing to think it took us this long to realize they’re the descendants of dinosaurs because they move like Harryhausen monsters.

She startled me as much as I did here, her muted gray back making her all but invisible to me until I heard the flapping whoomp, almost like the second turn of a helicopter rotor, displacing the air outward at first as she activated her massive wings as my dog, Pepper, bolted for the pond.

Everything came together for me as I watched her head back toward the larger man-made ponds dotting a nearby HOA’s defunct golf course. 

Earlier in the week I found a goldfish carcass about a dozen feet from the pond and wondered whether it had been a cat victim. Judging from the way Pepper went after the heron, I feel as if that fish was a dropped meal. I’m completely OK with it. Before too long we’ll have water hyacinths providing extra cover for the fish, who already have ample cinderblock shelters.  

Shameless plugs

Please register to win a free digital copy of Dragged Into the Light.

My author page is all set up on GoodReads and, although there are already a bunch of people signed up, every little bit helps make the book more visible. I’m also going to start promoting the book for real in the coming weeks. Step number one is to announce my first reading.

I plan to read the book’s introduction (and maybe chapter one) on May 25, Tuesday night. I’ll use both Facebook Live and Twitter so follow me on those platforms if you’re interested and don’t already. I’ll have invitation links up starting next week.

Happy Hour Will Return

The wheels have come off a bit in my personal life over the last two weeks, but I think I’m on top of it, and Todd and I hope to bring you a new Day Drinking on Delmarva this week. We may be in for a timeshift if you’re one of the people who watch the live recording, but hopefully this time next week you’ll already have heard the new show.