Sowin’ on the Mountain
I Told You! (Monday, 25 January 1993) Lauren’s on another reading binge. Our current bedtime story is The Lord of the Rings. Tom’s reading one of The Narnia Chronicles and an Indian book to her. Ron’s reading her Tom Sawyer. And she’s been reading The Canada Geese Quilt to me, and Little House in the Big Woods and Alice in Wonderland to herself.
This evening she asks to be excused from the supper circle after a hasty meal and immediately curls up in an armchair with Alice in Wonderland.
“I told you this day would come!” she crows, then disappears into her story.
A Shrunken Teenager (Wednesday, 3 February 1993) Last night we celebrated Candlemas. A nice evening, with equal parts of music, candle ceremony, treats, and chatting. One of Lauren’s friends joined us and the two of them went outside with Ron during the candle ceremony/meditation, parading lighted candles through the garden.
This morning, while cleaning up the community shelter, we discover some clothing in the loft. Lauren’s friend had gone there to change into play clothes soon after having arrived last night. Among the tangle of clothes is a small, black, lacy bra.
“Is this your friend’s?” Joyce asks.
“Yeah,” replies Lauren. “She also has this lacy black underwear. And she stuffs socks in her bra to make her breasts look bigger.”
We nod noncommittally.
“She gets all dressed up like that, and puts on all this makeup, and she looks like…” Lauren pauses, searching for the right word. “She looks like a shrunken teenager or something.”
We all laugh, remembering Lauren’s occasional flirtations with make-up, and the awkwardness and experimentation of our own pre-teen years. Now, as parents, we get to re-experience it as our children embark upon their own tumultuous journeys through adolescence. As one of Light Morning’s basic working premises goes, “Anything unresolved from the past is re-created in the present.” I’m sure we’ll have plenty of opportunities for laughter and assimilation in the years ahead.
Hand Springs (Saturday, 6 February 1993) We’re walking down from the community shelter this evening. Moonlight over the garden. Lauren is practicing hand springs. She’s got cartwheels down and has recently been urging Joyce to help her learn to do hand springs. Apparently Joyce’s instructions are working.
“My best one yet!!” Lauren cries out, after utilizing a slight downhill slope to gather enough momentum to flip over and land on her feet.
She’s loving gymnastics, martial arts, and tree climbing these days. Other favorite activities include painting, crocheting, sewing, playing with her dolls, and modeling a whole family of wonderful little creatures out of colored clay.
And, of course, reading.
How Does the World Need Me? (Sunday, 7 February 1993) Last night we sat around the shelter talking with Sarah, Alice’s firstborn, who spent the weekend with us. She needed to be away from home for a while and get some perspective on her life. She’s a junior in high school and is full of questions and emotions and awareness. She stayed at Windwian, our guest cabin, talked with various ones of us, and also spent some time alone.
Anyway, we got talking about how ever since she was a young child, she has been deeply touched by the beauty of the Earth. We reminisced about her first walk out to Yoga Knoll, when she was three or four years old.
“How beautiful it is!” she had said in a hushed tone. “How beautiful it is!” And her eyes had brimmed with tears of wonder at the sweep of the hills across the valley.
Then our conversation turned to the special gifts each of us has, and how deeply the Earth needs these gifts.
Lauren, throughout this talk, was over in a corner reading a book, paying no apparent attention to what we were saying. But we’ve come to know better. Her antenna is always up. It’s almost frightening how totally tuned in she is to the nuances of her environment, and especially to the words and emotions of her parents.
This morning, after I’ve gone up to stoke the fire in the shelter, Lauren is wondering aloud to Joyce.
“How does the world need me?” she muses.
“I think,” she continues, more to herself than to Joyce, “I think the world needs my drawing.”
This apparently satisfies her for the moment and she goes on about her day.
A Humongous Jump (Wednesday, 10 February 1993) Lauren is recounting her morning’s dream to me.
“Some big kids are picking on one of my friends–a girl. Teasing her. So I run at them and jump on one of them and hold on tight. They run, and I keep hanging on to the one I jumped on. Then the one I’m hanging on to makes this humongous jump, about ten or fifteen feet high, and twists around in the air and lands like it’s a karate jump. And I still hang on tight!
Mending a Friendship (Wednesday, 10 February 1993) I’ve been feeling like Sisyphus lately, in relation to Lauren’s friendship with Becky. It’s a friendship that I’ve been trying to nurture for quite a while, frequently inviting Lauren to accompany me when I visit Becky’s parents, and occasionally initiating a visit just for that purpose.
Becky’s a nice kid , she lives next door, and, like the other children in that family, she home schools. Their age difference (Lauren’s going on 9, Becky’s 11 or 12) doesn’t seem to matter much. They enjoy each other’s company.
Last fall, however, their friendship hit a rough spot. Becky mentioned to Lauren that she thought that another girl in the neighborhood was strange in some ways. Lauren inappropriately passed this on to the other girl, with some embellishment, and it ended up getting back to Becky, who, understandably, was hurt and angry.
This was compounded by a misunderstood remark that Lauren made at a party. Then Becky’s mom’s parental protectiveness was triggered, and she got angry, and let Lauren know about it.
All this began to surface just before our trip to California. It wasn’t until we had returned, and the rush of Christmas had passed, that I could turn to it. By then, the trail (of figuring out what had happened), as well as the friendship, had grown quite cold.
My initial reaction is one of frustration and regret. I feel like Joyce feels when one of her important plantings–a shrub or a cluster of flowers in which she’s invested a sizable amount of energy–gets mowed down by the deer. Then I realize that this is also a perfect opportunity to explore the importance of friendship and the process of problem-solving and conflict resolution.
So I invite Lauren to visit Becky’s family with me one evening. She wrestles with her reluctance and, after a considerable struggle, is able to overcome it. Once there, I encourage Becky and Lauren and the other kids to share what had happened, and what their feelings about it are.
Lauren is pretty uncomfortable, parking herself right next to me the whole evening. But overall it goes well. Everyone finally being able to talk things over and sort their feelings out seems to break the ice.
Over the next couple of weeks we visit several more times, each visit being a little easier. Now the two girls are happily playing together again, the wounds have seemingly healed, and with the healing has come a renewed appreciation of how important friends are. Lauren and Becky’s willingness to mend their friendship has paid off numerous times in recent weeks–as they rendezvous at the horse pasture; or go sledding by the back barn; or make plans to practice witchcraft together in one of our unused cabins, once the weather warms up.
Profiles (Thursday, 11 February 1993) Lauren’s been drawing profiles lately, eagerly following Joyce’s artistic tips. Here are a couple of her nicest ones.
Sentient Beings? (Wednesday, 17 February 1993) The Radford Army arsenal, thirty-some miles to the west of us, blew up this afternoon. Joyce and I were working upstairs when we heard a rumble like thunder in the blue sky and felt our house tremble. We knew immediately what had happened. There have been similar explosions in the past.
At supper tonight, Ron says, “I heard on the news that the nitro-glycerin that blew up in that room at the arsenal today was all being handled by robots, and that no one was hurt.”
“That’s good,” we reply, recalling that some of the prior explosions had resulted in fatalities.
There’s a moment of silence. Then Lauren says,” Do robots have feelings?”
We all smile. I associated to the Star Wars trilogy, one of Lauren’s favorite stories, which she listens to on the tape player and occasionally watches on the VCR. She’s doubtless thinking about the two personable robots in those movies, C3PO and R2-D2. Lauren’s affection for them has probably been translated into a concern for the robots at the arsenal, which has caused her to question our assertion that, “No one was hurt in the explosion.”
We grownups perhaps too easily dismiss such child-like empathy as merely anthropomorphic. Yet Lauren’s question (“Do robots have feelings?”) is an important one. For other, related questions come from the same place. “Do animals raised for food have feelings? Do the live trees we cut for firewood have feelings? Do the fish and birds and seals killed by an oil spill have feelings?” And if these creatures do have feelings, do they also have rights?
Why is it easier for children to ask these questions than it is for adults? Even when grownups do ask such questions, they are generally asked not from the heart but from the head. Maybe children more easily identify with other creatures having feelings and rights because their own feelings and rights often go unacknowledged by the giants with whom they live. Or perhaps children are still open to an innate empathy, a spontaneous compassion, which has not yet been covered over by layer upon layer of responsibilities, guilts, and vested interests.
We have much to learn from such seemingly naive questions. In this so-called civilized world, we grant few if any rights to other-than-human species. And we routinely dehumanize those members of our own species who differ from us in color, status, or belief, the more easy to commit atrocities upon them.
With the planet giving us increasingly painful feedback for these follies, we may need to become again as little children and to ask, from the depths of our hearts, some rather simple, child-like questions.
Sowin’ on the Mountain (Thursday, 18 February 1993) “What does that mean?” Lauren asks.
We’re doing dishes after lunch. I’ve been singing, “Sowin’ on the Mountain,” an old folk song that I grew up listening to as a kid. The chorus goes,
Sowin’ on the mountain, reapin’ in the valley,
Sowin’ on the mountain, reapin’ in the valley,
Sowin’ on the mountain, reapin’ in the valley,
You’re gonna reap just what you sow.
“That line about sowing on the mountain and reaping in the valley,” she continues. “I don’t understand what that means. And why does the song say we’re going to reap just what we sow?”
“Well,” I reply, unconsciously stalling for time, “maybe it means that everything that we think and feel and say is like seeds. And we’re constantly planting these seeds in our heads and hearts–or, like the song puts it, on the ‘mountain.’ But then our thoughts and feelings keep on growing and growing, just like regular seeds do when you plant them in the garden. And they finally get so big that they turn into all the things that we see and touch and experience in the world around us–in the ‘valley.'”
I watch as she dries some silverware, wondering how I’m sizing my reply. Lauren’s spiritual (for want of a better word) education is like the rest of her education-it’s largely child-led. She listens to what we talk about, watches what we do. And sometimes, generally at the most unexpected moments, she asks a question. Our responses, of course, can’t be thought out beforehand. One just has to wing it.
“So maybe the song is reminding us to pay attention to our thoughts and feelings,” I conclude. “Because whatever’s happening to us down here in the valley has a lot to do with the seeds we’ve been sowing on the mountain. Just like we’ll eat different kinds of food out of our garden this summer, depending on whether we plant carrot and tomato seeds this spring, or briars and jimson weed.”
She turns my words over in her mind while she picks up another wooden bowl from the dish drainer and slowly dries it.
“And it’s not just that we reap what we sow,” she finally says. “We also sow what we reap.”
Now it’s my turn to wash the last of the dishes and think things over.
“Are you talking about saving seeds?” I ask.
“Yeah. We get the seeds we’re going to sow next year from what we harvest this year.”
“Good point,” I say, emptying the dish pans and giving the sink one last swipe with the sponge. “I hadn’t thought about it quite like that before, but you’re right, it does work both ways. Maybe we’ll have to make up another verse for that song.”
Dream Bleed-Through (Friday, 26 February 1993) Lauren’s telling her dream from last night:
“There’s this mouse we’ve caught, and she’s laying on a board or something in the portico. She isn’t running away or anything. She’s perfectly content. Then somebody sees that she’s a little pregnant mousie and says, ‘Oh, great!’ Because we’ll have to keep her for a while because it’s cold weather.”
Later this morning, in waking life, Joyce finds four little dehydrated mice as she’s sorting through her fabric supply. The tiny, mummified remains resulted from our month-long trip to California. Mice got into our cabin while we were away and reproduced rapidly. The mother mouse was probably among those we live-trapped and transported down the road upon our return. Her babies had been too small to survive on their own.
A curious “bleed-through” between Lauren’s dream and the waking world.
The “F” Stamp (Friday, 26 February 1993) Just before the lunchtime grace circle, Lauren had been rummaging through the stamp drawer. She’s been interested in stamps lately, asking us to save any unusual ones on our incoming mail. As we sit down to eat, she holds up one that she’d found in the drawer.
“This U.S. stamp,” she reads, “along with 25 cents of additional U.S. postage… What does that mean? What kind of a stamp is this?”
“It’s called an ‘F’ stamp,” someone says, and starts to explain.
“A what?!!” Lauren asks, with a giggle.
“An ‘F’ stamp.”
“That’s what I thought you said.” Another, louder giggle.
We smile, catching her drift. She immediately associated to slang usage. Kid lingo. The infamous and ultimately titillating “F Word.”
“If you have a 25-cent stamp,” the explainer tries to continue, “you can use it with one of these ‘F’ stamps…”
But that’s all the further he gets.
“I’m not going to be using any ‘F’ stamp,” Lauren interrupts with a laugh, tossing it aside in mock repudiation.
We join in her laughter.
And I find myself appreciating anew having Lauren’s pre-teen (as well as Tom’s seventy-something) perspective in this family. They both provide a marvelous tonic to the sometimes myopic concerns of us forty- and fifty-year-olds.