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I just got off the phone with a dear friend of mine who is in treatment for breast cancer. Before getting cancer, she had been a raw foods gourmand, acupuncturist, healer and midwife. She thought she had it all figured out, that if she just did all the “right” things and walked a “righteous” path physically, spiritually and emotionally, disease would just pass her by. It did not. Now she says, “I can’t believe I was ever so arrogant to think that I had such control.” The real trick, she has discovered, is not trying to control everything but to accept with grace whatever your journey might throw your way.

“I am not a cancer survivor,” she says. “I’m just a person on a journey that includes cancer.”

I understand all of what she says because I’ve been there. I was a vegetarian for 16 years, took supplements, did yoga and walked my own “righteous” path. But my clean living was not enough to protect me from getting lymphoma at age 30. I felt for a long time as if I must have done something wrong, that perhaps I just hadn’t been “good enough” to avoid cancer. That’s sad, isn’t it? At a certain point, though, I stopped asking “why” because it’s such a waste of time. I had cancer, and that was just part of my journey. Read the rest of this entry »

I just read this post today from The Christian Science Monitor about how the Oxford English Dictionary, one of the fundamental reference leaders of the English language, is dropping nature-related words from its junior edition.

As a writer and a mother struggling to give my son direct experience of the natural world in a culture over-saturated with electronic media, branding and advertising, I can’t tell you how much this saddens me.

Don’t get me wrong: I love my computer. I own a TV. I am grateful for the convenience that my cell phone has brought to my life. But I also believe that more important than all this technology is a fundamental connection to the wild (or at least semi-wild) spaces of our landscapes. Today I don’t see children as having freedom to explore—or in some cases, even access to—such places, which I found to be essential to the development of my subjectivity; senses; and spiritual understanding that I am a living being who is part of something fierce, beautiful and so much bigger than myself.

Thus, I find the loss of such language from this preeminent dictionary as a sign of a much larger extinction.

I should really learn my lesson. But, alas, the family and I went on “free museum day” to the local aerospace museum and braved the crowds. We waited in long lines to board plane after plane, including a tiny jet for the preschool set that disturbingly said “Airforce Prerecruiting” and was located a little too near the actual recruitment stand.

Then we saw the GIANT PARK right next to the museum building and yard. A sigh of relief washed over me.  “Thank God!” I thought. I will just let my poor son, suffering from cabin fever since the onset of the rains several days ago, run wild and free despite the inevitable wet butt that will result. He had on his raincoat and rain boots. I had brought a change of clothes. We were ready.

What I was not prepared for was the construction fencing enclosing the entire park, which, ostensibly, was not under any sort of construction at all. The playground, in fact, looked absolutely perfect. Read the rest of this entry »

Yesterday I visited a wildlife rescue center with my son, W. As I chased him through the obligatory gift shop, lamenting the irony that I had paid for us to see real wild animals and yet was spending time in a glorified toy store filled with their faux counterparts, I caught smidgens of the adjacent presentation on a maimed bald eagle staying at the center. My son calmed down enough to “watch the eagle get a shower,” which meant they sprayed him with a hose as he trotted about on a leash in a tiny plastic pond. The docent explained how this exposure to water, a simulation of what he would encounter in the wild, was actually an “enrichment activity” for this poor one-winged creature.

My eyes welled up with tears as I heard this phrase, so often spoken in reference to the situations we fashion for our children, as we shuttle them from one organized sport, class or play date to another: enrichment activities. I saw this bird, once wild, now divorced from his own habitat, as a metaphor for us as a species. We wall ourselves into our myth of being separate from nature and then create synthetic experiences for our children and ourselves in an attempt to meet our needs, which, despite our best attempts to numb or evade them, do not go away. We are, in our hearts, in our biology, animals. Wild things. Are we not like this injured bird? Broken? Divorced from our own nature, from what truly makes us human?

The docent said he believed the bird had made a choice to accept his new caregivers, but I do not think a choice between survival and non-survival is much of a choice at all. The bird was adapting, as we adapt, as our children adapt. I wondered if he remembered the feel of the wind under two healthy wings as he flew through a seemingly limitless sky. I wondered if he missed it. Read the rest of this entry »