This is Father’s Day so I write this post in dedication to the most extraordinary dad who is responsible for the vast majority of my fortitude and the development of my values. He died many years ago from bone cancer after suffering excruciating pain, multiple treatments and surgery that doctors knew could not save him. I suppose he knew too. We grew up near the Hanford nuclear plant and fished in the great river of the Columbia not far from there. Many of our friends worked for the plant. They all died first. Our tiny community was agricultural, dominantly apple orchards, but there were hops and other fruit trees too. Though my family raised our food mostly organically, we didn’t know that all the chemicals in our valley would cause cancer and many number of other diseases. So the majority of my family and our neighbors and friends who didn’t even work for Hanford, or fish in those rivers, died too.
This is why I dedicate my life to learning and sharing what makes people thrive, to how to restore health and develop a mindset of longevity in a culture that seems to have become complacent about its poison. My dad said our nature-loving ways are from the fraction of Choctaw we hold in our blood. He said our health and our life cannot separate from the Earth. He taught me reverence for our home.
As the summer solstice approaches in the Northern Hemisphere (Tuesday, June 20th) and we experience the greatest days of light, I feel the time has come to share with you what one of my grandmothers called “true story.” It is a kind of story that repeats itself again and again throughout history, for many people in many different ways, but the core of the story is the same for everyone. This is a story about life and death.
A few days ago I accidentally surprised a giant rattlesnake while out hiking. My dog and I wrapped our limbs through the muscular coils while the many legs and snake tried to undo what had already been done. I’ve been thinking about poison and gratitude ever since. She rattled and rattled and struck twice but didn’t puncture either of us. We were given a pass to see another day. Because of this, I share the story of my people that I more prefer to keep private. Life keeps leading me to states of awakening. Death keeps reminding me there is no cause to delay. What are these gifts if I do not share them?
Mary Oliver, my favorite living poet asks, “..what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” And Rumi, my most beloved mystic of the past tells us, “don’t go back to sleep.” My friends I struggle with you through the gravity of our collective human choices. For those of you who are awake, I write down these words so you will know you are not the only one who feels there must be something that can be done.
Last year I promised that if I was still alive this time this year I would explain the source of a long pilgrimage that led me to the desert lands under the Huajatolla, the “mother breasts of the earth” where I now call home. I had grown a tumor in my pelvis the size of a baby head. The doctors insisted upon a surgery that I refused, if I survived the ordeal it would remove most of my insides and leave me with enough scar tissue and dependence on drugs to render whatever time might remain useless to me. The treatments they proposed to follow would destroy anything resilient. I have spent much of my life attending to the dying of those I love. I am unique in my perspective perhaps, but I wasn’t going to die or ‘live’ that way.
So I went to the wilderness alone where I stayed for a long time, I fasted and I meditated, I hiked and I journeyed. Vultures circled, Wolf, Bear, and Mountain Lion were so near to me I am forever changed. I listened to that Earth Song that my father taught me to hear. His language was inside the rivers as alive as if he were still. I remembered where I came from and why I am here.
I plan to show up with everything I have, as best I can, for as long as I can. The snake reminded me that even though I was able to cure myself through my unorthodox methods and become stronger and more vital than at any other point in my life, there are no guarantees.
I hope you will not have to experience suffering to open up your life, more than you ever imagined possible, to your passions and your most essential reasons to exist. No matter what happens, try to not become paralyzed by what you cannot do and focus on what you can. At each quiet dawn that remains, I hope you will listen deeply for “true story” inside your life and your relationship to Earth . I hope you will do this now, without delay, and be brave with your life!