Caring for and Healing the Earth

Philosophy of Caretaking


Cindy Kamler

There are times when I have a vision—a rare moment of grace—in which I see and feel the essential me spinning outward in all directions, all dimensions, connecting to and merging with all that is. I am in the mountains and in the sky brushed by the granite peaks, in the granite, in the chickaree that scampers across the rocks and up the dark green Douglas fir, in the fir and in the wind that stirs its needles. I hold this for only an instant, yet there is no end to that weaving of self into all of life. I experience the eloquent words spoken by Chief Seattle:
“ This we know. All things are connected like the blood that unites one family . . ”

But these moments are fleeting, occasional, infinitely precious. Mostly I am confined in the physical world where mundane details of each day surround me like a wall, creating the deadening human illusion of separateness. I become lost; I forget what I know beyond doubt, beyond question—I am connected to everything.

Recently I realized that I possess something that can unlock the wall of separateness. It is a kind of map—lines connecting, moving outward in all directions—a map created by and from my senses, emotions, and experiences; it is a multi-dimensional construct of color, compassion, movement, love, softness, sorrow and song. Unlike grace from the Creator, this map is always available; I need only bring my awareness to its web of connecting lines.

The familiar route to town, an 8-mile trip, is out Keoughs Hot Springs Road, left onto the highway and north toward Bishop. On my map, the line that is the highway is well defined, its appearance altered only slightly by light, weather, time. The mountain ranges rising on west and east are constant, their faces ever-changing, painted with shade and color by sun and moon, snow, rain and heat, outlines blurred by the smoke of forest fires or sharpened by a cleansing wind.

I pass the ranch spread along the road, cows with their small calves, sleek horses grazing. Connection: I interviewed the rancher’s wife for the census. I remember the shady porch and cool water glass. Faint threads spin out from the moment as she tells of a grove of trees to the north where tule elk can sometimes be found, of the intersection of two canals where she has seen beaver. I pass the turnoff toward the beavers, a line stretched toward the banks I have since walked, looking in vain for beaver—there was a splash! —but connecting with a great blue heron who would rise from the shallow water on vast gray wings and retreat downstream, a dance repeated over and over as I explored the waterway.

I pass the grove where I have found only elk sign—scat and tracks and small tufts of hair. Before me the highway rises gently and I touch the line drawn by a jackrabbit in the dusty red sunset, a black form streaking across and through the paired lanes of opposing traffic, impossibly appearing at the far shoulder, disappearing into the desert shadow.

On that stretch of shoulder once lay a coyote, life flown from its graceful form; I moved her body into the grass and weeds to protect the scavenging vultures and ravens. Months later I stopped, found only scattered bones and bits of sun-scorched fur.

Here is the spot where a golden eagle lifted from the sage, its flight pacing my car at window height until wing tips flared and it rose from sight. Feathered grace.

Collins Road comes into view. Connection: A handsome gopher snake, disguising himself as a stick, half of whose length extended into the road. Spotting him—was that grace again? —I stopped, stomped on the road until the vibrations roused him; he wound reluctantly up the crumbling shoulder and hid in the roots of ancient bitterbrush.

I move north with the highway past other turnoffs, roads ranging east or west, forking into multiplying lines on my map, connecting with a loon, elegant and stunning in black and white, dying slowly of starvation, fishing line wrapped tightly around his bill; a great horned owl, recovered from barbed wire injuries, reclaiming her freedom with powerful authority; a meadowlark defining summer with his song; river willows etching blood-red lines against winter-faded desert as sap rises to meet the spring.

The highway elbows itself sharply toward the right, as if marking the grove of elms where Swainson’s hawks nest each season, flying in from Mexico or Argentina to claim their territory. Summer before last, high winds nearly wrenched their nest from the tree, spilling one of two nestlings to the ground. Rescued from the asphalt of the side road, he was brought to me. A bright aluminum leg band led to a Fish and Game biologist and the location of the nest. A gentle man from Water and Power, lifted high by a mechanical bucket, removed the second chick, still clinging precariously to the falling nest, and lowered him to us. As he secured the nest and returned both soon-to-fledge hawks to their birthplace, the parent hawks sliced the blue sky high above with their wings, whistling calls of concern piercing the numbing heat.

As I move closer to town, the map lines thicken, and there are so many woven strands that I must consciously select first one, then another. Great-horned owl lines lead to the campground where two rambunctious branch-hopping chicks kept falling down—fluffy gray balls with sleepy yellow eyes—to be returned to their nest tree by me and a compassionate employee with a tall ladder.

There is a line to the wooden porch of the used car lot where, responding to a late-night call, I found the limp, unconscious form of a turkey vulture. The huge bird lay in a coma for 18 hours, roused, powered through screens and doors, vanished into the vastness of desert and sky.

Up that gray asphalt line is the Greyhound parking lot where a yellow-bellied marmot hid under parked cars, having unwittingly taken a roller-coaster ride down the mountains, clinging furiously to the underside of a camper until it came to a standstill in the parking lot. Netting him quickly, dropping him into a carrier, I handed him to Susie, another volunteer rehabber, who drove him back up the mountain to marmot territory.

I’m in town now, and I fold and store my metaphysical map, check off errands from my list. On the way home, I’m filled with wonder and gratitude for the gift of my map. I see that its richness and complexity are limitless; space and time do not bind it, only the awareness I bring to it.

I zoom in, as it were, to a point 300 miles and 17 years away, where I stand on a deserted beach, toss bread to a gang of gulls—masters of flight—who line up on the wind like jet liners awaiting takeoff. The birds connect me to my mother—and dearest friend—who is recovering from a stroke; her home, where I have been caring for her, perches on the edge of the bluff high above us.

Picking another point and time, I round a dusty red road near the Maasai Mara campground. Before me, rounded flanks gilded by the setting sun, seventy elephants—matriarchs and infants, cousins and aunts—browse contentedly, and my heart swells with joy. Another turn in another red road reveals a Maasai warrior, painted with red and white, beads at ears, neck and arms, spear and club in hand, a black baby goat nestled to his naked chest. I jump to a moonlit beach on Moorea, where tiny fish dance with their shadows in the shallows; the waters off Isabella in the Galapagos, where light from the boat’s hatchway reveals newly-hatched sea turtles, the size of silver dollars, courageously casting their fates to the dark water. In a sunlit clearing in the high rainforest of the Virungas, a big-bellied silverback gorilla rests on massive forearm and hip, cradling a tiny curly-coated infant in huge, gentle hands. He kisses the baby with a tenderness that melts my heart.

I follow a long, faint line that leads to a small patch of Maine woods after a warm summer rain, where droplets gleam on leaf edge and grass stem. We—my friend Sandy and I—name it the “Silver Wood” and, on meeting 40 years later, recall the beauty of that place and time with wonder. Following an even dimmer line, I see once again lilies of the valley springing forth from winter-rich earth, outlined by a glow that my four-year-old mind could not name but never lost. I feel the cold dark mystery of midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, snowflakes coming down like slowly falling stars.

The sand, the setting sun, the eagle, my friend—they are in me and I in them—part of the never-ending dance of creation, inseparable and indivisible. I feel myself cradled by the lines of my map, rocked by life’s rhythms, anchored yet always flowing. I open the eyes of my heart to the threads that spin outward, unceasing, and I remember. We are all connected.

Copyright 2002 Lucinda Kamler


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