Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mudder's Day

Mrs. Kimball, aka The Big Mudder

My little sister, Lisa, used to scold my middle sister, Erin, when she was trying to boss her around: "Shut up, Erin. You're not the Big Mudder."

Well, we three sisters are all Big Mudders now. And one of us is even a Big GrandMudder. Not me yet, but maybe someday.

In the meantime, I'm a lucky woman to be a Big Mudder. Very very lucky indeed.

May you each enjoy Mudder's Day blessings today.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

A little heresy indulged

"Humans have enormous power to affect
the world any way we choose."
~ Marc Bekoff, The Emotional Lives of Animals

Once upon a time I was an anthropology major. A quirky little field of study that to this day shapes the way I think. The most profound discovery early on in my studies was this simple statement from one of my professors: The study of humans makes clear that there is no one right way to solve the "problem of living."

There are, in fact, so many it's mind boggling.

His point continues to be the framework from which I see most everything. It was liberating to hold such a view, to be able to look at behavior and beliefs with as little judgement as possible, especially as a freshman college student! I could observe so much more without jumping to a right-or-wrong point of view. Instead, I saw "different," "original," "interesting" and maybe even"shocking, but fascinating."

I didn't end up opting for a profession in anthropology. Although a wonderful professor took me under his wing my freshman year to groom me for a future graduate student, I couldn't see myself narrowing my focus of study the way one must to get advanced degrees. Frankly, anthropology expanded my worldview so largely, I knew that breadth of knowledge would be my pursuit -- not the depth of it.

And that's why I became a journalist and, for all intents and purpose, a Generalist with the capital G.

The long and winding road of my career has taken me through the fields of news reporting, mental health, higher education, medicine (primary care, sports, orthopedics, obstetrics and gynecology, and geriatric), youth development, disaster preparedness and response, and emerging infectious diseases.

A year ago, I came across Marc Bekoff's thought-provoking book, The Emotional Lives of Animals, and it yanked into place threads from many fields I've dabbled in and studied, including my passion for dogs and mushing.

As I pondered Bekoff's point about the power of humans to affect the world any way we choose, I had to wonder how we got to this point, which is so far beyond the days when we had to worry about mastodons and being gobbled up by big hulking carnivores.

It's interesting to think that while humans are now at the top of the food chain in the grander scheme of things, having killed off or safely removed ourselves from environments with predators that can hurt us -- the large ones like bears, tigers, lions and such-- we have increasingly made ourselves vulnerable to the tiniest of predators.

I'm talking about viruses, bacteria, and insects like mosquitos and bedbugs. If we keep at our present pace of development and environmental destruction, we put our species at greater and greater risk of being preyed upon by the tiny predators.
Haven't read it but I plan to!

The human approach always seems to be first to wipe out our predators, rather than learning to live in balance with them. Why is that?

When you look at the natural world, it seems like nature finds a way to achieve balance and homeostasis. It's not as if plants and animals ponder how to reach this balance. It just happens. Or does it?

I know some of you will see this as heretical, but I've come to believe that humans are no more God-like than any other animal, and yet we, by virtue of our brain development over time, seem to have removed ourselves by and large from the natural order of things. In doing so, we've created damage. A LOT of it.

So, falling back on my original biological sciences/anthropological world view, I find myself with so many questions.

I have to ask whether this destruction is, in fact, the "natural order of things."

Is what we as a species choose to do simply part of the inevitable evolution of our planet?

How have we managed to drift so far away from our connectedness to all of creation, to the point of thinking we are the master creators.

How do we move ahead as a species?

Do we simply allow nature to take its course as we wreak havoc on our planet and ultimately on ourselves?

Is it arrogant to think any of us can stop this "progress" of humanity?

Is it really just incumbent on individuals to live their lives morally and hope we each regain connectedness to the natural world and make peace with it rather than trying to hold dominion over it?

Will the microbes and tiny creatures ultimately alter the course of human development? (They sure seem to be right now!)  Will it be that the tiniest of predators ultimately hold sway over the world, rather than the creatures whose brain development has led to a belief that their species has the God-given right of dominion over all life on this planet?

Ebola virus electron micrograph
What if the tiny predators already do? Is it possible that microbes are responsible for our aging, for the deterioration in our joints, our organs, our ability to reproduce, our brains. We think about aging as a cellular process with input from the environment. But if we accept the concept of connectedness and the predatory power of microbes, isn't it possible that more is going on here? Are cells really microbes that learned to organize and cooperate in such a way as to create this species called humans?

Is it possible that these tiny cellular forms that have organized themselves for so long now grasp on some level that the organism they've collectively empowered to function homo sapien has drifted so far from the natural order of things that they've got to do their part to restore a universal balance, as in, take us down a notch or two? (I know, talk about the ultimate conspiracy theory!)

And here's where all this "unsupervised thinking" leads me: that, ultimately, the best thing any of us can do is to quiet our minds and bodies, in meditation or prayer, and try to plug into to that universal energy, balance, order of things, God, if you will, and try remember that we're all in this together, we're all connected, and that the only way out is through, together.

And so with that peachy-keen thought, I believe I'll take a stroll through the beauty of creation still available to me. And pet my dogs.

May you, too, find such beauty.

Easter Island by goccmm
Wooly Mammoth by Johnny Lightning
Book cover of Wicked Bugs
Ebola virus from CDC
Ginsberg by Kathleen Kimball-Baker

Monday, May 5, 2014

A big beautiful mess out of everything

Thoughts on aging . . .

My mother used to say: It's hell getting old. Mostly she'd grin when she uttered that thought. But more often than not towards the end, she really meant it.

I couldn't stand it when she said those words. She had such a big influence on my life, and I didn't want that sentiment to influence my own thoughts on the inevitable march of the years.

I understand her point of view. The joint pains, the rolling forward of the shoulders and the rounding back. The need for reader-cheaters and the frustration of not finding them when you need them. Having to ask people to repeat themselves because hearing just isn't has sharp. The color fading from hair. The immune system that takes 3 times as long as it used to once upon a time.

I had a birthday last week. A nice quiet birthday, because truth be told, birthdays just don't feel like a big deal to me. OK, I do have a problem saying "April 28" without saying "April28-my-brithday" like it's one word. But hat's just habit. I don't really measure my life in years. I'm more prone to use for the context of my life things like this: moments of joy, epiphanies, big losses that break open my heart and mind, wintry scenes, encounters with wildlife. Those are my punctuation marks. But years? Meh.

Still, I reflected not too long ago on how I was feeling about aging . . . and much to my surprise, my mother's words were not as salient as my own experiences, my own patina.

Here's how those thoughts spilled out . . . do they resonate with your experience?
. . .

Edges smoothed and sanded

No longer wired by expectations

Able to sleep through disappointments,
knowing the bend follows a bend,
that something will lift that which connects the heart,
-- and that what hurts also breaks open like the egg
released from a shell
a flow, a newness, and end.

It doesn't matter, and it all matters.

Time suspended in its deluge forward

A hint gleams like pyrite, like hope
whether real or simply desired,
enough to flutter something inside,
enough to make it through a night,
or an afternoon,
or a morning,
or a shower.

Few words required
Less interpretation needed
The softness and quiet of simply being
in a spot, a place, a thought, a breeze,
a sunset, or a sunrise

Distastes left aside
to be as they may

The impulse to change, mold, perfect
too tired and threadbare
to observe or entertain

In fact, it's the imperfections
that stand in relief to the perfection
in every way

. . .

The boy in the cafe
fidgets, entertains the
baby in the highchair
"Was I good baby?"

Same cafe
Bespeckled grandpa
eats breakfast with
his dandelion-headed
who sits like a cotton fluff in a highchair

. . .

Once more, the cottonwood trees
are going to crack open
their seed and blow away
and make a big mess out of everything,
a big
beautiful mess

Cheers my friends. It's all good.


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