Tropical Storm Chantal broke up over the Caribbean a few days ago. What’s left of her now sweeps above southwest Florida in a lugubrious costume of gray silks and cymbals, Lady Macbeth of community theater.
Nonetheless, she has grounded me from my morning plans. My friend and collaborator Rick Cruz and I scheduled a morning kayak expedition to Mound Key Archeological State Park, an ancient Calusa Indian sacred shell mound commandeered by Spanish Jesuits in 1566. The Jesuits did not fare well under the Calusa’s understandably disagreeable response. Then pirates used it. Eventually, the state of Florida acquired all but 9 acres that belonged to the McGee family who may be ready to sell finally (negotiations ceased around 2009 when the family wanted $15 mil and the state showed up with $500K). In 1982, somehow dudes showed up on a bulldozer and plowed through 32 acres of it looking for buried treasure. I did mention it’s an island, right?
This combo of events is all very typical for Florida history. I should point out the McGees started running Spanish goats on it in 2009, won an agricultural tax property exemption, and I had hoped the goats had gone feral and gang-like, but they’re fenced in and still respectable and more popular for visitors to Mound Key than the 2,500 year-old-pre-European artifacts. Such is life.
So, Chantal has me at my computer, staring out of my office window at the gray skies and subtropical rain, and I realize I am thinking about mothers. This is partly because the Zimmerman verdict came in, so I think about Trayvon Martin’s mother. I think about George Zimmerman’s mother. I think about the fact that justice is represented as about the only woman who naturally would not have any children; she is no mother. Justice cares about the human condition, she does not care about being right or wrong, and yet society perpetuates the belief in the blackness and whiteness of issues. This I consider as I contemplate the weather, the moods of Mother Earth, this Chantal, this untrained performance of an unskilled actress who is no less provocative in her own way.
I think about my own mother who does not want me to write about her anymore because her feelings get hurt, so I don’t. Even though our relationship is funny, and painful, and convoluted, beautiful, inextricable from the meaning of life–all the great things to write about. It is symphonic, but I have promised to silence the instruments because in all the ways I did not want to believe, she is me.
I have a dear friend who still writes letters because it mitigates her shame at paper hoarding. A few years ago, her father died suddenly, and my friend has been walking that walk out of darkness with her mother, as daughters do. “This summer,” my friend wrote, “I feel compelled to accomplish much. Maybe it’s the improvement in my mother’s state of mind, finally. I didn’t realize how much my feelings and energy were tied to her own.”
The last line struck me, so distilled as it is a comprehensive understanding of the incomprehensible mother-daughter relationship: So comprehensive an understanding it is of the human relationship, of our relationship to nature. I contemplate my own awarenesses and wonder: who does realize how much our own feelings and energies are tied to each other, to our water, to the land? To the energies of sun, quark, word?
And yet, there is the illusion that all is separate. That you and I are not one.
Out, out, damned spot.
Rick and I met at Seafood Depot in Everglades City, both of us as tour guides for the Everglades. He took me on a swamp walk in the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve last winter, and we’ve been friends ever since. Around here, he’s well known as a “baller” in the realm of orchid hunting and nature photography, and his reputation drew the attention of Tampa journalist Jeff Klinkenberg, who profiled Rick for the paper and later included Rick in the book Alligators in B-flat. Cuban-born but raised in Allapattah (“alligator”), a neighborhood outside of Miami, Rick ended up in the Everglades through a series of relationships that landed him in a three-year fellowship with famed Everglades photographer/epic eco-hero Clyde Butcher. One day, maybe Rick will let me tell you about what it was like at Clyde’s, what Mother Nature does in the dark in the Glades. There’s a reason man used his big brain to build weapons since we didn’t get any of those naturally. But, I digress. Rick is a good guy, has a gentle spirit, and is indefatigable about shooting nature photography.
“I want to show you something one day,” he says to me, “a tree. I think you might understand it.”
I’d been telling him about Brazil, what had happened to me down there when they told me about Nana, the oldest of the gods, the Spirit of the Swamp. I didn’t know it, but I’d been really struggling with this idea of Mother, of Woman, and if there’s any place on earth where the fierce stink of fertility and force of creation meet in a sacred space that’s not afraid to slap you sideways for gettin’ mouthy, it’s a swamp. I’d been looking for what folks meant by “Divine Feminine,” and when Rick and I walked into the Picayune and I laid eyes on the tree–an 800 year old hollow cypress protected in her swamp dome–I knew I was meeting Nana, that the Divine Feminine was reclaiming me. I climbed in, took off all my clothes, and I sat in her, dark as she was, quiet. It smelled like earth and age and old paper.
How much my feelings and energy were tied to her own. How much.
Rick is one of the precious men who “gets” the Divine Feminine–he is all man, but his heart is owned by Mother Woman, and he knows it. He left me in the tree, naked, because he knew what was happening to me, and I wondered about my mother then, what she would think if she ever knew I was out in the woods with a man she didn’t know, in the middle of nowhere, sitting in a rotting tree without any clothes on. How much my feelings and energy are tied to her own.
So it made sense that when I wanted to create a dance/film collaboration about the swamp, about Nana, about Mother Woman, Wild Woman, Divine Feminine, I asked Rick to film it, I would dance, at the tree. I do not know if you will understand, beloveds, when I tell you she explains to me what mother means, and who Mother is, in the grand scheme of things. She told me to better love my mother because that woman’s heart broke for me and so did her body, and then it rebuilt itself around me, ain’t nobody understand that like a woman does. And I said okay because there is no separation and I know I don’t really understand but I try.
And sometimes I have to get naked in swamps and old trees so I can better understand what my mother is trying to explain to me, so my body responds to the rain, the history of a shell mound, to a day spent under the impress of Chantal’s last lines as she strides across the moor.
night night beloveds.