Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Going Outside

Early spring, and life suddenly takes on a third dimension. We turn outward, shed layers, and lift our faces to the sun. We penetrate distance, pull the old dead leaves away from the green shoots pushing up through the soil. Babies, babies, my wee one bleats and points..

With the assembling of C’s new old play fort, down in a nook among the trees, we have literally been ascending upward. In two short days our toddler has mastered the stationary ladders and the climbing wall. He hurls himself down the slides with a new sense of daring and prowess. Almost overnight, his two year old torso's grown pecs and abs. Even though he’s still in diapers, he is suddenly a little man.

I can sense him expanding, unfolding on the inside as he masters these physical skills. He has crossed a threshold. My little destroyer has become a creator.

Perhaps it began down at the fort with his dad during the construction phase. He sat on one of the platforms with a monkey wrench in hand, cranking a real bolt into the real wood. This was a far cry from his toy hammers and saws. But more real, and palpable than anything, I know, was the sense of his father’s nearness as he took in the gentle, guiding tones of his voice, breathed in his earthy, masculine smell. Perhaps it was in that moment that he acquired this new pride of ownership. May I help? has become his question of the day.

And suddenly, instead of knocking down the tower of blocks before you could build it with him, he’s calling you into the room, taking your hand, pulling you over to the coffee table where he has constructed a tower ten blocks high. He wants to put his dinosaur puzzle together, and admire the complete picture it makes, maybe even count the number of flying taradactyls, or tell you which dinosaur is the daddy.

An old friend of Daddy’s stops by to pay a visit while we are down in those woods, pulling up roots, raking up the chopped down shrubs to make a smooth surface for the mulch. Our little C begins, in monkey fashion, to climb the high tower. Look at me, he says. I do-nin it all by myself. I stand behind him, supporting him ever so slightly, just in case. Then he whizzes down the high slide, takes Sam by the hand. Come and see, I want to show you something. Little man leads the big man to the edge of the play area. These for our greenhouse, he says, pointing to the framing poles stacked in a pile. Leading Sam past the pile, C adds, And this our garden [a little weed grown place that is still filled with promise] And this our watering can.

It’s as if our small child already knows the secret to life—that we build our happiness from the inside out. That when we tend to our environment, our yard, our flowers, our forts, we are creating the space for that inner joy to make its appearance. By cultivating a strong sense of place, we lay the groundwork for our true wildness to emerge. We create a safe, sound haven in which to fully and freely live.

Smart kid.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Where The Heart Is

A spiritual crisis is at hand as I spar on Facebook with my friends and neighbors about plans for yet another development, this time a forty-six lot development, in the undisturbed wooded land across the road from our home in Surfside, on Nantucket Island. It will sprawl across nine acres of land, abutting another development, both of them surrounding an Indian Burial Ground.

We are finding out about it at the eleventh hour, a month before it will come before the Town Meeting. I’m finding out because the FinCom just voted it down, amid rising concerns that such an immense project could bottom out an already soft real estate market. The voters still get to decide it’s final fate later this month at Annual Town Meeting.

We knew of plans, but we didn’t know the details. We never received a mailing even though we are right next door.

In some ways it felt easier not to know, not to try to find out. We had a baby now, we were exhausted all the time, busy living our lives, and we were frankly emotionally exhausted by the idea of yet another onslaught of development in the neighborhood, another psychic battle as loud, stinking trucks and machines are brought in, as trees are raised and grass is sprayed on and tar, lots and lots of tar, is poured everywhere.

We watched as first a bike path was put in. Then senior living facility was put in, soon followed by a Forty-B, each time pouring more tar, tar, tar across the rustic dirt roads. We heard the constant cutting and sawing, the whir of machines. We watched as the senior living facility filed for bankruptcy. We watched as the Town voted to increase the taxpayer burden to deflect the hard effects of what has amounted to almost disastrous overreaching in planning. We watched as the nearby Plum Village “affordable” housing development up the way was left to languish and become a ghost town of unoccupied buildings and more aquifer spoiling tar.

And now, while we were living our lives, focused on new parenthood,
another affordable housing project comes along, this one monstrous in size—almost twice the size of anything that’s been done before. Forty-six houses built, to justify the existence of maybe a dozen.

We live in a small community. We know everybody. And it’s really hard when friends start fighting and pointing fingers and accusing and pushing back and forth. It’s YOU…No, it’s YOU…. No, it’s YOU. It’s hard to sense so many feeling shoved out and victimized, and no one seeing eye to eye. It’s hard to feel that you were not consulted…that you were not brought into the conversation…never a mailing…and yet, to hear it claimed that “there is no neighborhood opposition.”

It’s hard to have people imply that you are being selfish, or worse, hypocritical, when you consider yourself a fair and honest person.

It’s hurts to hear people scoff because you raise the concern of property value. They don’t understand, or consider, that maintaining the value of your home means making sure that your investment pays off, that what you have sweated and toiled and sacrificed your life[in my partner's case, try twenty plus years] to keep remains an asset. It's the glimmer of light in your eye when you think that one day, at the end of all this toil, you will be able to pass what you have worked for onto your son.

I’ll tell you about our home value. It comes from the fact that, despite all the crazy development that has already besieged our neighborhood, we still have some vestige of open space left. In our backyard we are treated to birdsong, blue jays, cardinals, finches, doves, you name it, crows… can’t forget the crows…And the woodpeckers with their funny staccatos. We get bunnies hopping through, although, truth be told, we used to see many more, before so many more cars started joining our once quiet roadways. We still have a family of deer that wander through our lot. Our chances to glimpse them out the window with our two year old, or examine their fresh tracks in the dirt drive, have been the magical moments we live to experience again. Like the sight of the sun setting over the treetops on the southwest side of the house, while standing at the kitchen window, while setting the table for the evening meal. Or standing outside in the blackest of nights and drinking in the starry brilliance of the Milky Way, so close overhead you can almost taste it, as you trace Orien’s sword, or the shape of the Big Dipper, and think of the sweet pouring of endless sustenance.

That swath of land over there where some people are pushing to build a new village is the last patch of land that’s left for the animals to hide in. The deer venture through our yard because they know they can still feel safe, and scamper off, in a moment, among the pines. Once those woods are gone they'll stop coming here. The geese too will make their semi annual pilgrimage honking to and from the pond no longer over our house and that swath of once open space, but seeking out some other, calmer route, before eventually they, too, stop coming at all to the place once referred to, way back in some distant dream, as home.