The Sharpening Blade

December 2, 2016 § 13 Comments

Gray dawn rises in the east. The windows in our woodland cabin levitate in the dying black of morning until slowly the walls, the stairs, the furniture it is all dimly painted by the faintest light, placing the glass panes in proper space once again. My daughter accompanies me through the trees to the front of our land where our chickens and ducks have their respective houses. She coughs a deep cough. Two-year-old lungs breaking and cracking against mucous, seeking air. My left arm pulls her closer to the heat of my body, and her head rests slightly on my shoulder, not tired, just tender.

With each step the heavy gravel underfoot rattles. The leaves that cover the driveway are silent, having been thoroughly pulverized by car tires. Air not cold, just crisp, fills my chest with each breath, and I kiss her sacred, rosy cheek.

We don’t watch our children die. In our modern, industrial world, children live. That is what our adult minds perceive as normal. Little ones who are diagnosed with cancer are an aberration to the rule, as are the infants who succumb to pneumonia, influenza, and other microscopic cruelties that ingenuity otherwise banished into the harsh and backward past.

Death is on the ropes; a weakened and humiliated God. That is what we tell ourselves. So we pack generations of spiritual and psychological resilience into boxes abandoned to dusty attics.

There is a prevailing trend in the stream of web headlines that seems to acknowledge the doom of man. Some of this is overt as it focuses on rapid climate change, ecosystem collapse, and agricultural failure. At other times human mortality is couched in futurology, and is relegated a bit more to the subtext of articles that discuss space travel and the colonization of other worlds. Talk of ideal numbers of people for new planet settlement or innovative spaceship propulsion systems is given serious attention in serious publications that provide manna for the serious modern industrial human.

Serious modern industrial humans have a wide enough attention to know that even if the destruction of this Earth’s life giving systems can be halted through the application of grand new technologies, outside threats like comets hurtling towards our planet or even the death cycle of our star will eventually require that our species abandon our home world for distant horizons.

These thoughts are carried by those who proudly assert their intelligence, their superiority to the ranks of the superstitious. To those who regard themselves in such ways, death is an engineering flaw, a bug to be programmed away with the application of cleverness and computer code. They see so clearly a shiny vessel in the cold, black of deep space, humans cozily adrift, eating god knows what as they day by day forget that the mountains are their bones and the oceans are their blood.

I have a friend who claims that she channels an archangel. She is writing a book in fact, that she says is being spoken to her by this disembodied entity. A pleasant woman, articulate and intelligent (a chemist by education, actually), she sits in our home and lets down her guard to open up the truth of her world before my wife and I.

Five years ago this same conversation would have had me squirming a bit in my chair. Back then I was more serious. To be sure, I had been very intelligent at one time, and I said the things intelligent people say. It did not matter that much of what I spoke of was fed to me through books and articles. What mattered was that I selected the right books and articles; those that contained healthy skepticism and a heaping dose of fetishization for anything that smelled of the ideology of western materialism and its grand deity, Science, with a capital “S.”

My friend sips her lemon balm tea. I recline in my chair a bit and ask if she has ever smoked dimethyltryptomine; DMT.

When I was a serious person, I would have waved my hand and asserted an unearned superiority as I smugly dismissed the psychedelic experience. Despite lacking anything that would pass as first hand knowledge of the topic I would confidently explain that thousands upon thousands of years of human experience with psychedelic drugs, or even their experience with disembodied entities was all illusory, a trick of the imperfect human brain tripping itself up with a combination of handicapping chemicals and pure juvenile ignorance.

With profound gratitude and relief I can say that I am no longer so serious. Happily, I now embrace my juvenile ignorance.

Five years ago a friend convinced me to use DMT, and these days I don’t squirm so much in my chair when talk turns away from the reality we take for granted towards esoteric grounds that modern industrial peoples with serious and well respected egos fear to tread upon.

It is so easy to allow what little we know to fill the space in our minds until it feels complete. It is easy to mistake our arrogance for wisdom.

Humbly I now defer to the mystery, not so concerned with tacking down the corners of a reality I can only ever pretend to know that I know. Instead I listen to the stories people have to tell, and I try to remember that across time the gamut of human descriptions of real and not real have varied immensely. And I listen now to our friend as she speaks of lives lived before. She listens in return as I wonder aloud about the strength a population could wield against its masters if no longer did dying seem so terrible.

Real and not real are but railings to lean on as we make our way. But make our way to where exactly?

Drought has gripped the southeastern United States, and the dry forests set alight by arsonists burned rapaciously with the assistance of hurricane force winds. Gatlinburg, Tennessee is, for the time being, gone. Meanwhile, arctic sea ice struggles to reaccumulate despite the polar darkness, water rationing has been initiated in La Paz, Bolivia, disease is ravaging reindeer and northern antelope populations, and on and on the list of tragedies grows. The costs of industrial civilization are by and large being paid by those with the least amount of access to its benefits. And the costs are mounting.

But on the cold plains of North Dakota, the Sioux and their allies, many indigenous, many not, are taking a stand against the construction of an oil pipeline that would directly threaten their water supply, and indirectly threaten the biosphere of the planet. Their resistance orbits around the notion of a prayer camp. A kernel exists amongst them that is a belief, refined or not, articulated or not, that this particular piece of infrastructure is wrong. Together, people from disparate cultures are by the thousands suffering the bitterness of great plains winter winds, and the even greater bitterness of police weaponry and violence, because they believe that a threat to that most life giving of molecules, water, is wrong.

Belief informs action. When we look at what industrial society is doing to the living world that has made and kept us, so many of us see clearly that the time for action is now. If civilization has not yet broken beyond repair too many of the interlocking systems that allow life to exist, we must prevent it from doing so, because if left unchecked, it will. Happily, it will.

Too many serious and intelligent human minds are busily working wherever the sun shines to excavate, to extract, to clear-cut, to genetically modify. The healthily skeptical who read the right books and quote the right articles do not believe in disembodied entities, or that the trees and flowers sing, or that birds and wolves speak to us. By their actions, they don’t seem to even believe that they require clean air to breathe or healthy soil from which to eat.

They believe in a domed city on Mars. They believe in a shiny silver ship alone in the abyss. They believe death has been bound by their chains, and that the ceremonies and rituals humans have breathed into being in order to heal the wounds he metes upon us are quaint anachronisms.  They believe death to be all but conquered, even as they sharpen his blade.

Golden light transforms the world around us. The drab gray surrendered to the sun and the forest feels uplifted. Behind me our ducks are quacking as they hurriedly move about the garden, plodding their feet and burying their bills into piles of mulch in search of bugs. My large boots again elicit a crunch and grind as I walk back towards our house.

On the road in front of me my little girl is stooped, picking through the rocks. She handles a small piece of quartz in her hand. Glassy and remarkably polished for a piece of stone plucked from our driveway, she admires it.

“I found a magic rock, Daddy.”

“Put it in your pocket baby.”

She does, and I bend to scoop her into my arm.

§ 13 Responses to The Sharpening Blade

  • periol says:

    Well said, Dig. Never done DMT myself, but I’ve experienced enough to know what you’re talking about. Strange days indeed, and even stranger ahead I suspect. Thank you for noticing and writing – it’s appreciated here. 🙂

  • Dennis Mitchell says:

    Reality is a fragile hope. Once had a roommate have a psychotic break. I never seen such a think. Never known just how worthless our authorities could be. Between them and his families religious beliefs he just got to suffer, and us along with him. Then grandpa got Alzheimer’s. Dad’s turn came I we couldn’t tell if it was Alzheimer’s or the oxycodone. We all suffered from this last presidential election. Reality was stuffed in a dark corner and buried with dirt. Don’t lose that magic rock. We have reached peak magic too.

  • Robert says:

    I found that beautiful rock and held it in my palm. I had eaten the magic mushrooms near Palenque not far from San Cristobal in southern mexico. I also drank the water and had two really tortured days in a second rate hotel. But what I took away from that experience was the understanding that I live a dualistic life. We think we know, but that changes over time. I personally hold onto that rock and look into the now, never to worry again of things I cannot control. The beauty of seeing the pebble in the road is whats important, not the holding on. Peace

  • Mind Margins says:

    “. . . the mountains are their bones and the oceans are their blood.”

    That says it all. If only everyone could feel this truth, maybe we would still have a chance.

    • td0s says:

      People have forgotten that they are a piece of the Earth walking about. In fact, we consider ourselves individuals because we only see the world through our ego tunnel. The ego is a tool, helpful for moving about and acquiring food or a mate. But in reality, we are an ecosystem in ourselves, intertwined with greater communities and the land itself.

  • […] Source: The Sharpening Blade […]

  • Wolf-who-wakes-early says:

    Among all your posts this one resonated with me at a deep level. I identify completely with that transition from the serious intelligent right reading person to someone far more open to animism, experience and mystery.

    It felt like leaving a cult behind, watching new atheist videos, reading Pinker and Dawkins and listening to smart TED talks. It is the current distillation of several hundred years of Western thought, total and utter subservience to science and technology. The engineering paradigm rules supreme, everything can be fixed, modified and changed to suit us. Even complexity theory itself is studied by people who want to control complex environments.

    Its certainly been a change for me, to relearn old skills, listening to bird song, feeling sunrises and sunsets, visiting wild places and learning to control my immediate emotional prejudice against people’s beliefs. Now I feel more complete, less shallow and hollow. The more I read and learn about indigenous cultures and ecology, the more I arm myself against the insanity of everyday life.

    So thankyou for your writing, its a tonic for me, keep it up!

  • Thank you. It is good to have company who understands these things with something beyond intellect and books.

    • that “something” is within our cells – always has and will be. it waits for us to listen again to the rocks and flowers and trees, the waters – all the singing molecules – and hear what they are saying to us, and have always been saying, only we forgot to listen.

  • islandraider says:


    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

    The best lack all conviction, while the worst

    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;

    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming!
    Hardly are those words out

    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;

    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

    The darkness drops again but now I know

    That twenty centuries of stony sleep

    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
    -William Butler Yeats

  • agnomely says:

    As Louis C. K. astutely quipped, “White people act like they’re not even from this planet.” And I think it was Jerry Mander who stated that humans started leaving the planet long ago, when they built the first artificial environment. And in a very real sense, to separate ourselves from nature is to separate ourselves from Earth.
    That said, your posts are a refreshing, cold slap in the face—and very well written. I only wish more people were aware that humans didn’t always live like this, and that there are other ways of being.

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