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  • Writer's pictureChica Jo

Mothers' Day: The Exorcism

For Hong

My Saguaro & Longfin Eel painting. The day I left Tucson for my longfin eel social art project in New Zealand we got an incredibly hard freeze in the desert. When I returned many Saguaro friends had rust-colored frost damage and were dying. This piece represents both my struggle of having my heart in two disparate places as well as the oddly aligned evolution and life cycle of this giant, long-lived, iconic freshwater eel of Aoteora and the giant, iconic cactus of the Sonoran Desert.

So. When you were last with me I was on my Virginia-back-to-Baja flight feeling more whole after an old friend helped me discover that I had been believing and thus acting out an untrue story about myself; that I was bad and inherently harmful to those I love. But directly behind me was a kicking and screaming toddler whose parents were one of the confounding 80% of window-seated passengers with their shade down, trying to cram a plastic pacifier in their child’s mouth instead of simply revealing to them the wonder of our planet from the clouds. I sat there, trying not to yell at the kid to hush up and shove her fearful emotions down like the culture I grew up in often did to me. I sat there smugly sipping lukewarm water from my reusable water bottle (as though that could make up for all the fossil fuel burned for my flight) while my cabin mates sipped cold, fizzy beverages from single-use, plastic cups. I was steeping in hot judgement of the human race, thinking like I always have as an environmentalist - that we’re just a cancer on this planet.

Just one of the gazillion I've picked up. Paul pic.

So. This sequel post was “supposed” to be about the gang of local kids who joined us on Triplefin soon after I landed. They each arrived with several single-use plastic bottles (a particular brand of energy drink that I find washed up and then pick up off beaches all around the Sea of Cortez) and paid no mind as to how to dispose of them at sea.

I was so judgmental of those kids it kept me from being as skillful and effective a teacher as I could have been. My still-lagging Spanish didn’t help either. (I swear . . . this is going to be the year I get fluent!) I was sure my deep longing to share with kids my love for this planet would help me work through my detrimental big-J-Judgement of our species.

So. This post was “supposed” to be about how that four day youth trip caused me to confront my big-J-Judgement of Homo sapiens. I actually wrote the first draft with funny, run-on rants about fossil fuel dependency, mass extinction, and plastic. Here’s the thing, though: My mind knew our environmental crisis isn’t the fault of any one human or group of humans but my heart just wasn’t feeling it. My heart was stuck in big-J-Judgement. My well laid plan (Hear that? That’s the gods laughing!) was to spend time on deck meditating while observing the near-to-shore giant cactuses beginning to blossom under the early-summer stars. Surely that would help me figure out a way to forgive Homo sapiens . . . especially the evil, western, white man. That was my plan, but life had another one. Some things so discombobulating happened in Vietnam and back in Tucson around Mother’s Day that I could feel nothing but my friends’ pain and suffering and do nothing but ruminate about my own powerlessness and complicity in it. Coulda, Woulda & Shoulda were my regretful deck hands.

A cast fossil of a typical peace-loving animal (Dickinsonia) from the Ediacaran. Verisimilus at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Figuring out how to forgive the entire human species from the time our creepy ancestors crawled out of the peaceful Garden of the Ediacaran (an era when we were all simple vegan critters . . . blindly scooting around, munching on uncomplaining, happenstance algal mats) and into the tooth-and-claw, predator –vs- prey, Cambrian eras had to be put on hold. So, I’m just going to give you the messy, uncomfortable truth of what happened and how it changed me.

Note: My prior, near escape from a very agitated and hungry top predator becomes an important flashback in this story. If you’re new to this blog or missed that wild post from over two years ago, I suggest going back and reading it first so that this one is more meaningful. Plus, it’s got cool pictures! But, no worries if you don’t have time.

Flashback #1: Before I get to my friends I should tell you about the first time I remember being painfully hyper-empathetic. (Actually, while writing this piece I learned that I’m an HSP . . . Highly Sensitive Person . . . and heightened empathy is part of the genetic package. Holy cow! I’m a thing, with an acronym, even! I mean, I’m not alone out here and it explains so much! Check it out 1* . . . you might be too!) This is tough to read but necessary here. I promise you a music video at the end of this post to make up for it! I was around ten years old, hanging out with one of my Timberville besties, half-watching some new nature show on PBS. (Yes, kids, this was back in the day when there were only three channels to choose from and two were snowy.) Suddenly, without warning, on the screen there was a huge, industrial, steel-grey boat harpooning and dragging a horrendously panicked whale to the boat’s side while a tiny Greenpeace dingy clung to the harpoon lines with people risking their lives to try to cut the poor whale free as her calf struggled to still swim by their brutalized, dying mother’s side. I can still see the image of the terrified calf gasping for air through their mother’s blood. I suddenly felt both the stabbing pain of that mother whale as well as the deep emotional pain she and her calf were clearly both experiencing. I was in anguish. I remember screaming and bawling in rage, so disillusioned that this sort of thing, like slavery and genocide, was something humans still did to fellow sentient beings. Meanwhile my friend looked at me as if I were having some sort of attack. Which I was. She agreed that what we witnessed was awful but couldn’t understand why it affected me to such a degree and I couldn’t understand how she could watch it from such an emotional distance. The other thing I recall about that day was deciding I wanted to grow up to join Greenpeace. (Hmmm… 40 years later and I’ve landed amazingly close to the mark!) (Interestingly, I’m struggling now to write and edit this paragraph because just reading it causes me to feel the anguish of that whale mother and her baby again.) I’m sorry you had to read that to get what’s coming.

I’ve since learned that such hyper-empathy can be damaging to one’s health, particularly the heart and vascular system. My dad, who almost died of his first heart attack when I was four, was so hyper-empathetic that he couldn’t even come to my high school’s theater productions because he’d feel so overwhelmingly anxious for the kids on stage – worried they might forget their lines. (Interestingly, I never bloomed as an actor myself because I was too afraid of forgetting lines, so kept my thespian self snugly closed in the bud, toiling half-heartedly backstage with props and spotlights.) My youngest older sister (Henri) and another mom to me was 13 when I was created by mistake. (Here’s a tip kids: The rhythm method doesn’t work!). Also a hyper-empath, she recently died young (the same age and way as our mom) of sudden, cardiac arrest right when Covid hit. At the time she was neck-deep in fighting a proposed natural gas pipeline 2* across our fragile stretch of salamander-strewn Appalachia. Was it a coincidence she died while in pandemic-sentenced solitary confinement and just days after the horrendous killing of George Floyd? I believe now that just watching that brutal video in which he cried out for his dead mother may have killed my sister, forever damming the flow of her white-woman tears. I know better than to watch it. It would be like the harpooned whale all over again.

Me and Hong in HCM. She's the cute one. Paul pic.

Vietnam: So, what happened around Mother’s Day in Ho Chi Minh? An inspiring, dynamic, and vocal friend with no fear of center stage, Hong Hoang, a mother, wife, and climate advocate in Vietnam (the first Vietnamese to go to Antarctica!) was abruptly yanked from her family and community, arrested, and (still to this agonizing day as I type) locked in prison with no contact at all with the outside world. The patriarchal, Communist government generated a ridiculously fake story of tax evasion. The truth is that she was imprisoned for using her voice for change in her newly Capitalist country. You can imagine my worry about her as we have heard nothing since she was taken away. 3* (I know Hong would get a laugh at my yelling out loud toward Vietnam to “Go ahead and take our fucking Barbie™! Just give us Hong!)

Tucson: So, what went down with our gang of friends in Tucson whose pain I was experiencing vicariously on the sea? I betrayed a dear friend who, over the years, opened her hesitant petals to the warm light of our friendship. Just after Mothers’ Day I learned that she found out an awful truth, one that I had been uncomfortably shouldering and keeping from her for three years. When I got the disturbing info I wasn’t sure what to do with it so I decided to “first do no harm”. But in this case, doing nothing was still something - something that kept me up many nights. Now, with good-old-hindsight, I see that I couldn’t bear the empathetic pain of her knowing. But telling her could have spared her and our whole small tribe a lot of needless suffering if I had gone to her then with the truth instead of protectively hiding my over-empathic self away. Instead I opened my mouth to her at the wrong time and in an unskillful way. (Oh, Irony, after a lifetime of swallowing my emotions and words I finally spoke up and it was all wrong!) What came out of my face hole were the sounds of a friend on a boat, desperate to help from far away, flinging various shapes of “do-something-different-to solve-this-problem-NOW” verbal pasta at her in case something might stick.

The spikey top of a young Saguaro we rescued from the dump. My pic.

Those sounds, however, went into her head holes sounding instead like harsh, judgmental cactus spines - not cooked noodles. We were going to talk on the phone to clear things up but that’s when she learned I was complicit, with my silence, in the more deeply wounding deceit.

Unexpected scene change: Instantly, I was the character needing to be big-F-Forgiven but she and our two other friends (one of whom is pregnant now and I oh so hope to be part of that child’s life) were not responding to my messages of concern and pleadings to express regret. I figured my friend must have felt so betrayed that her mind was auto-generating and maybe spreading awful stories about me. I know because that’s what humans do. I had to work hard to keep my mind from telling incorrect, monster stories about her when I felt hurt at her refusal to acknowledge my existence and remorse. I don’t fault her for it since making a monster to throw anger at sure feels safer than experiencing the pain of an unexpected harpoon from a believed-friend. You see what’s coming, right? That old and oh-so tempting narrative of personal, original sin was crouching in the dark of those many, lonely, desert-sea nights with welcoming-home arms. I could feel its comfortably familiar tug on me to believe once again that I truly am inherently bad and harmful to anyone I love. My friend’s suffering proved my monstrousness. Big-G-Guilt was back, red in fang and fingernail, scratching and pounding on my fragile heart’s door.

Paul leading a group of younger explorer friends (Ariana Patron Avala in pink) in Ecuador. My pic.

Tucson: Now let’s shine the white-hot spotlight on the self I was when we finally managed to get back to July’s 110+ degree oven and our now tenuous friendships. First, you need to understand just how important these friends have been to me (and Paul). They’ve been, over the past decade and a half, the gang I finally found with shared values (Yep, environmentalists, biologists, and various-artists all) and who seemed to accept me “as-is”. These were the friends with whom I’ve shared pants-pooping sickness in Ecuador’s Amazon, the friends with whom I’ve spent all night climbing vertical waterfalls in the remote jungles of Vietnam searching for deadly-venomous snakes, the friends with whom afterwards I engaged in exhausted, sweaty debate on whether it’s worse to remove the bloody land leeches from a tit or testicle (testicle won), the friends who sat in the emotional hole with us while we mourned the untimely loss of another mother, the friends who all moved from out-of-state to make homes in our neighborhood, and the friends Paul and I miss deeply while far away at sea and so look forward to rejoining each summer. They’ve been my core desert tribe, my moral mirror.

Ripe Saguaro fruits with heaps of seeds! My pic.

Question: Would you rather be met with anger or indifference by those you love? Think about it for real. If someone is upset with you at least it means you matter to them. By and large, after Mother’s Day, our friends stopped communicating with us and so we floated in isolation and worry for months.

Even my message asking to be given the opportunity to apologize for my mistake was agonizingly unanswered. I felt like a giant cactus opening her pollen-rich flower but, unlike the cacti I was observing near shore, no birds, bats, or moths visited. I felt lonely, rejected, and punished like after a childhood thrashing. So, it was with relief in sight that we returned to No Pants Ranch 4* on the edge of Saguaro National Park, knowing that soon we’d get to sit down with our friends and commune and better understand the mistakes that were made and, at long last, to apologize for them. Maybe, I thought, there’d still be some ripe Saguaro fruits that we could gather and bring to the discussion table as a peace offering. YummmmHmmm.

Matriarch Saguaro with nesting Roadrunner. Paul pic.

Enter unexpectedly from Stage Left: Saguaro. First, ya gotta say it correctly: Sa-wa-row. These elegantly tapered, giant cactuses are not only the iconic species of our Sonoran Desert ecosystem but also the great Mother of our desert. They’re a keystone species who - from tiny seed to graceful behemoth to decaying windfall - provide food, moisture, and shelter for an incredible number of other Sonoran Desert species who simultaneously help the Saguaro survive and thrive.

A Saguaro bouquet held by a swooping down arm. My pic.

Their subtly melon-scented, waxy-white flowers open safely after the Sun’s white-hot spotlight sets and close up before the glaring, bare bulb of our mid-day star burns overhead. While open, these flowers set the stage for a diverse cast of pollenating characters from birds to bats to bees. Once pollenated, the sweet, custardy fruits each become pregnant with several thousand crunchy, chia-like seeds. When the fruits are abundant (and they sure were this year!) our neighbors, the thriving Tohono O’odham American Indian Nation, craft long, hook-tipped poles from the woody ribs of dead Saguaro for their traditional harvest of these protein-packed gifts. Of special relevance to this story are the Saguaro’s cactus boots. One of my favorite things Saguaro do (Yes, plants DO things too!) happens after a Gila Woodpecker or Flicker makes a big nest cavity in the trunk or arm. The cactus grows a woody callus to cover their wound. Then, when the Saguaro dies and all the flesh rots away, one can find, nestled among her woody ribs, these each-unique, scar-tissue, boot-like bowls or cups.

Three Saguaro boots with sun-dried fruits. My pic.

Even a Virginia hillbilly like me knew to expect these living cathedrals when I moved here almost 25 years ago since Saguaro are western-movie-star famous for their many, heaven-reaching arms. The ancient ones can easily grow over 50 arms and weigh almost 5000 water-laden pounds! These arms’ sole (nay - soul!) purpose is to provide extra cactus real estate for the production of more flowers, which bloom only at the arm tips, and thus more potential baby Saguaro in the form of seeds. (We half joke that after you eat Saguaro fruit you have a duty to the desert to do your dootie outside under a frost-protective, nurse tree.) These patient giants live up to 200 years but don’t get their first reproductive arm until they reach middle age like me. (Paul's time lapse video here shows how much they're appreciated.)

One of our home Saguaro who just started growing their first arm last year! Be warned, soon they'll be armed and dangerous! My pic.

Saguaro grow slowly and slower still with more risk of early death when the heat is unrelentingly ON and the expected seasonal rains the cactuses evolved to expect don’t come and the cold snaps get snappier (all changes the Tohono O’Odham are scientifically studying with urgency). Now, you have to understand that if you live here in the Sonoran Desert you can fly your own flag, be it Tohono O’odham Nation, TRUMP 2024 (like our nearest and dearest old cowboy neighbor), Co-Existence, or Rainbow and you will still agree that our Saguaro are sacred. All of us Sonoran’s mourn the loss of any Saguaro we know personally and all of us want to see punished the evil person who would harm one. For example, I doubt I’m alone in taking vengeful joy in the memory of the guy from 1982 who was in his vehicle shooting an old mother Saguaro when one of her spiny, 500 lb arms fell on him and his car and crushed him dead like a blood-sucking bug. 5*

My pic of a less-rare-than-they-used-to-be, Saguaro National Park snowstorm.

At No Pants Ranch we share 5 acres of desert reclaimed from cattle ranching with 63 Saguaro friends/family (three of them miraculous rescues from being dumped – ripped up and abandoned without water). If it seems childishly anthropomorphic to think of a cactus this way, well, open your mind and heart. I assure you each Saguaro is an individual to be appreciated and loved on their own terms. (Try hugging one.) Indeed, each one’s evolving form is just like each human’s mutable personality. We both grow differently and protectively in response to our community and climate – our culture.

The a'hole who shot this one down left their calling card. Paul pic.

For a Saguaro, trauma in the forms of lightening, frost, drought and gunshots cause each one to respond protectively with scars and scabs, twists and turns. For a human, our learned responses to past trauma (insecurity, neglect, and physical or emotional abuse) result in our individual personalities. The big Human and Saguaro picture is this: We both need to live in communion with our friends/neighbors and we both suffer terribly when isolated from them. We were thinking of selling No Pants Ranch to afford living and working on Triplefin, but we could not bear the thought of leaving our Saguaro kin and their community of interdependent plants and animals vulnerable to careless unconcern or rapacious extraction.

This happens. Forget cattle rustling and think cactus rustling. As a matter of fact, I see now that my big-J-Judgement of my fellow Man grew into a big-P-Problem right when we got Triplefin six years ago. A chunk of the pristine desert ecosystem just across from us was bought by someone with no connection to, no understanding of, no love for the land and its interconnectedness. He bulldozed almost EVERY LIVING THING except for a few Palo Verde and Ironwood trees, the largest saguaros, and the just-the-right-size-for-transplanting saguaros. Imagine my empathic hurt as we bore witness to all the lizards, rabbits, ground squirrels, birds, snakes and more who lived there, frantically exiled, searching for new, sheltering communities. One day as I was walking by red-hot-angry there the man was, loading all the me-sized/me-aged Saguaros into a huge truck with Nevada tags. I stopped and asked with tears leaking, what he was doing and he said something along the lines of, “Oh, don’t you worry your pretty little head. These cactuses are getting sold to a casino in Las Vegas where they’ll be happy.” Oh, how this little lady longed to pierce that evil white man’s cold heart with just a single, steel-like, Saguaro spine . . . s-l-o-w-l-y. It’s rare that a transplanted Saguaro will survive even within their native Sonoran Desert. All of those Saguaro in Las Vegas certainly died a slow and biologically lonely death these past six years. No wonder it was easy for me to decide to try living on the sea while renting out our home. My raw, pulpy heart just could not take seeing that heartless destruction every time I took a walk (and walking is my pressure release!). I could feel my big-J-Judgment and capitol-A-Anger building day by day here.

Paul's pic of the land near us in a monsoon storm before it was raped.

Ominous orchestral music builds: I think I’ve been expounding about our Saguaro mothers partly as a way of avoiding this next, electrifying scene but I need to re-enact it for you. (I actually typed that sentence and then went outside in the 112 degree heat to water some plants as avoidance.) After months in zero-communication purgatory, I was eager to see our friends here once we returned. One was almost 8 months, first-time pregnant and I hadn’t seen her or the Dad-to-be since she conceived and the other friend was the one with whom a conversation was hugely overdue. We needed to heal misunderstandings that developed due to my unskillful words as well as the lack of them and her countering with absolute-zero communication. What happened that unforgettable reunion night from my perspective was so intensely experienced by me that I think some of it was due to my extremely sleep deprived and injured state. (Among other things our engine died on our unexpected-return-to-Tucson sail and we spent three days and nights tacking back and forth into unexpectedly high waves and strong winds and I fell and cracked a rib. [Hmmm . . . Did I add that detail to garner your sympathy and/or am I still stalling?])

The curtain opens: After a bit of awkward small talk around the GINORMOUS white elephant pirouetting on the table between us all my trial began. No, actually, not “trial”. I was already tried and convicted in absentia. What went down felt to me exactly like a sentencing where banishment from the garden of friendship was the ultimate punishment. Suddenly, my friends at the opposite end of their table all sat up straight, leaned forward in unison and fixed their eyes on me, the guilty one. The bare bulb above the middle of the table transformed into a nuclear spotlight of punitive interrogation. I felt my skin prickle at the base of my spine and as the hackles crawled up my back I knew if I had fur it would be standing on end. Some talking began that I don’t even recall but it was becoming very clear to me that the invitation to come over for a quick reunion before my-much-needed-bedtime was a ruse. Indeed, it seemed from my seat at the table, that my friends may have truly believed a story in which I was a beast needing to be trapped, cornered, and forced to give the apology for my mistakes. An apology that I had actually been begging for but had repeatedly ignored. (I literally feel sick typing this. Being so misunderstood sucks.)

Flashback(s) #2: Then, at the table and all at once, I had some vague emotional flashbacks of being bound and laughed at as a child, of the only dentist Mom could afford slapping my face, of being in pain and fear but ignored, of learning that I had grand-uncles in Hitler’s SS, of being verbally attacked and thus exiled from our family’s beach rental the first summer after Mom died just because I surprisingly managed to make the 9-hour drive and showed up with my boyfriend and ate a sandwich my dad offered, of being made to feel dirty for having natural sexuality, of not being allowed to use the family rocking chair to nurse my baby after my parents died because my feelings weren’t “supposed” to matter, of believing I was possessed by a demon 6* and shamefully wetting the bed every single night until I first bled as a woman. Then, I absorbed Hong’s real, yet-fabricated interrogation - her inevitable imprisonment, and forced silence in Ho Chi Minh. I felt her absolute uncertainty and isolation. It was too much. Suddenly I needed to fucking RUN, baby. I was just one nerve ending’s firing away from bolting out of that chair and house and into the relative safety of the rattle-snaky black.

My negative alteration of my dive buddy's (Frida Lara's) photo of THE Tiger Shark with her lateral line pumped out, literally sensing our heartbeats.

That’s when I saw the remembered image of the pregnant and angry Tiger Shark superimposed on my betrayed friend’s face and my other two friends instantly took on the guise of the two Galapagos Sharks who were tacking back and forth behind me, getting closer and closer with each turn, ready for bloody scraps. There she was again, La Patrona – Tiger Shark Momma-to-Be - a couple meters away with pectoral fins down - ready to attack if I lost my cool, panicked and bolted to the surface – a move that would have confirmed to her on that dive that I was prey. It hit me then. If I bolted up from that table it would be as good as saying “Yep. I refuse to apologize for my mistakes and I am GUILTY GUILTY GUILTY as charged.” So, like I did on that transformative dive, I took a deep breath of what little air I had left in my tank, let it out slowly, and reminded myself that I wanted to be there at that table so I could better understand and be understood. No flight for me that night but, with my literal hackles still up and adrenaline surging through me again, all my neurons were back-against-the-wall defensive and ready to fight. Ugly words of anger were frothing up in my throat. That’s when the big white elephant on the table visually dissolved and in her place faded in the dancing and singing Humpback Whale from that same, epic dive. (I’ve since learned the whale was very likely trying to warn me and my friends of a very dangerous presence!) There he was again, a leviathan levitating above the table, gyrating, pectoral fins swinging, and singing a song that resonated throughout every water molecule of my body, simultaneously calming me and waking me up to the real reality of the present moment. I was actually safe and sound and where I wanted to be, after months in suspension. I just needed to express myself in a way that would pierce the superimposed, phantom, monster image of me that had been created in my wounded friends’ minds.

My negative image alteration of my dive buddy's (Frida Lara's) photo of THE gyrating and singing humpback whale.

I don’t recall most of what was said around that table. It took all I had to just to breathe and stay there . . . . just like on that almost-got-eaten dive. My heart was having some disturbingly sharp pains and my uterus was twisting and squeezing with contractions. But I did get to acknowledge my mistakes to my friend and she acknowledged that she knew deep-down that my intentions were well meaning. (The road to Hell . . . .) I gave a straightforward, unconditional apology and observed objectively, as if from above and behind my own head, my friends at that key moment. When the sound waves of my apology flooded their ears all three of them slightly but visibly jaw-dropped and leaned a bit back as though from an unexpectedly gentle blow. At the same instant cartoon thought-bubbles appeared above their heads with the words: “I can’t believe it! She’s actually, FINALLY apologizing.” My thought bubble must've been, "WTflippin'F?"

Just think about that all for a bit. If I hadn’t had the lesson and test that the Humpback Whale and Tiger Shark gave me on that once-upon-a-time-dive I would have been unable to see objectively and correctly that my three friends were just innocently caught in an untrue story about me that their minds couldn’t help but create. I wasn’t a threatening monster 7* in their territory nor was I guilty prey. But, if I had bolted to the surface and run or stayed but fought defensively I would have not only confirmed my monstrousness to them but, critically, to myself. I was that close to falling back into the familiar, red claws of real sin: believing that I was born a Mistake who can’t help but hurt those she loves. And I know now: If I believe it I will become it. And I here-by, whole-heartedly and forever reject that. I am just like you and every other human being on this planet – neither good nor bad just, like an old mother Saguaro, injured by our past environment and trying our best to work with our scars and twists so as to love and be loved.

Negative Self Portrait on Saguaro - Pic by Jo

Woah! . . . Maybe I did have a demon inside me after all! That night, around my friends’ table, I felt the deeply rooted and very wrong, damaging story about myself take dark-winged flight and become exorcised from my mind and heart (forever, I hope).

Not a Saint, I was hurt by that night and, to cover it, raging-angry at my friends for days afterwards for their (I believe) unskillful handling of the situation. But, my friends who thought I needed to be forced to the communion table were not at fault. They also were just seeing me incorrectly, caught in the old trope of Good –vs- Evil and needing the bandage of justice (and perhaps punishment/revenge) to cover their hurt. I am now so grateful for the lessons they provided me that night at that table. Among others already mentioned, my old desert friends, with the overlaid help of the Tiger Shark and Humpback Whale, inadvertently showed me that I am stronger and calmer under pressure than another worn-out, old story had me believing about myself: that I was naturally weak and a run-away-panicker.

Actors take a bow: The people who unwittinglyly caused me trauma as a child and young woman do not deserve my resentment. They were also just creatures damaged by our culture. People with personalities formed by their scars who were trying their best to stay safe and part of their family or tribe. Every human mother surely must look at her newborn and recognize in quiet horror that she and her culture will damage them, no matter how hard she tries to protect them. Even protecting someone you love can ultimately be traumatizing, as I just learned the hard way.

How about the guy who I agonizingly watched yank all those Saguaro mothers from their land, like Hong was yanked from her life, only to have them die slowly without their wild Sonoran Desert family? Nope. He did not deserve my judgmental anger either. Just as the guy who was shooting at the Saguaro matriarch and her arm killed him didn’t deserve his fate. What they both deserved and didn’t get was a culture that taught them to love the land as they would another Mother. They were robbed by our modern society from the deep-heart knowing that they, as Homo sapiens, are a species who is an integral part of all life on Earth, not deserving exile from its garden because they were born bad. The poor fellows. They were only acting out the part in a script from a play that was written for them well before they were even tiny Saguaro-like seeds in their mothers’ wombs.

What that cactus-crushed man (let’s recognize him now by name), David Grundman, needed was help to recognize his old, emotional wounds so, like the Saguaro, he could grow a useful scar to serve as a unique container for his personal healing. We all need help healing. But we’ve got to trust each other to do it together without judgement and not hide ourselves away without communion even if that makes us uncomfortable. No matter what horrendous treatment my friend Hong is getting at the hands of her authoritarian and greedy government (that no individual can be blamed for either) the worst atrocity is cutting her off completely from her family, her friends, her life’s work, and her singular voice of Truth. (Use the arrows below to see some of our best friends.)

We need each other to remind us that we are, individually and collectively as a species, like Saguaro. We cannot erase the suffering our ancestors caused any more than Saguaro can change the fact that they evolved from an ancient, thorny rose. We cannot alter the past cultural experiences that shaped our current personalities any more than Saguaro can willfully shed their spines or erase their scars and scabs, twists and turns. However, unlike Saguaro, there is something possibly unique to Homo sapiens. Something that may actually best define us as a species. We can change what we will become in the future – the next moment, day, year, century, millennium and era because we possess Imagination. With these big brains that mothers still risk and often give their lives to bring out of the world we can envision a future that is wildly different and more whole from what is now. But only if we begin to tell different stories about ourselves.

Maybe we Homo sapiens are, in that well-worn, origin story, the Snake in the Garden? Perhaps with knowledge consumed via experience and in communion with all life - from fellow human beings to whales, sharks, limpets, and cactuses - we grow and can be re-born by shedding our too-tight, old, original s(k)in: that damning story of ourselves as inherently bad. Our selfish and damaging acts do NOT define us as a species unless we think they do and then act them out in the spotlight. Our thinking of ourselves as a scourge on this planet is a self-fulfilling prophecy that we, especially we environmentalists, have been caught in and that we can change.

Imagine what could happen if we human mothers and fathers prepared our children by changing the stories we tell about what we are and who we can be. What if we began now to pass down stories that show the profound beauty and selflessness we are inherently capable of as a species? We could start by taking the hand of a child and leading them out into the dark tonight. We could look up and UN-see the old, worn-out, warring constellations and replace them with some new, relevant, empowering stories of all sorts of humans doing good to change the world where we are, with what we have. Here, I’ll get you started!

So, instead of simply forgiving some kids for their mindless use of plastics, I accidentally discovered that Big-F-Forgiveness is an illusion, or at least a construct, that we can transcend via Understanding and Acceptance. So, now what?

A Mother’s Encore with Music Video Following:

My son did call me on Mothers’ Day to make me belly-laugh and to share with me his getting in trouble with higher-ups for using his voice to speak out about particular incidences of racism and sexism in and by the Air Force. (Ah, Mother’s Pride, you temptress.) Unfortunately, he also informed me that my three very personal, love letters to him were evidently lost in the mail. So in addition to simply missing him (plus worrying about Hong and the Tucson tribe) I felt an extra separateness. I do recall telling him, a music lover, on that sweet call about this: When I was underwater with that dancing and singing humpback whale, I did not actually HEAR him singing (I had three layers of wetsuit over my ears) but instead FELT his song throughout my body – my blood and organs – my very bones were reverberating and I slowly realized the sound I heard was my own ecstatic moaning in auto-response to the whale song penetrating all of me. While I was editing this piece my son messaged me with a song that is meaningful to him and a long voice message explaining the significance along with some related music history. Don’t you love that? It made me realize that, like whale song, our human voices must penetrate each other’s bodies. And, like some whale song, our voices can carry feeling across entire oceans. On that note here’s me and Paul sending some sound waves out to Hong and you from the too-hot-and-dry-too-long Sonoran Desert. Pass ‘em on:

I just got this shot of a late bloomer . . . what an offering of love in the midst of this too hot and too dry summer.

1 The Highly Sensitive Person, by Elaine N. Aron Ph.D

2 If my sister had lived one more month she would have died knowing that she helped win this fight: Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline Cancelled

4 It’s a bizarre coincidence that our home and AirBnB rental, No Pants Ranch, was named by the previous owner who fought in Vietnam’s American War and frequented a brothel in Saigon that gave our place its name. The shed we tore down was, unfortunately, full of his neo-Nazi paraphernalia, but we’ve reclaimed the laid back name for Peace.

5 According to Wikipedia: “David Grundman was shooting and poking at a saguaro cactus in an effort to make it fall. An arm of the cactus, weighing 230 kg (500 lb), fell onto him, crushing him and his car. The trunk of the cactus then also fell on him. The Austin Lounge Lizards wrote this purposefully kitschy song "Saguaro" about this death.

6 As crazy as believing I was possessed by a demon may sound, it was a lot easier to believe a demon was responsible for my being a danger to those I loved (including the uncle I thought I killed) as compared to it being my inherent nature. How did I get that story in my head? My Oma often said, when I was acting rascally, that I “had the devil in me” and, for reasons I’ll never comprehend, my saint of a mom wouldn’t let me see GREASE in the theater but did let me watch The Exorcist on TV. Keep in mind I was raised Gothic-Catholic so I knew exorcisms were something the church actually performed! And, if Santa Claus was real, why not demons?

7 Given my penchant for throwing wet noodles at the wall, imagine me as The Flying Spaghetti Monster.

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Aug 31, 2023

Thank you for, once again, so bravely and eloquently baring and sharing your soul. Here's to pirouetting elephants...and the CactusHugger duet. Love you two.


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