Sunday, November 13, 2011

Jumping Mouse and the Buffalo Dancer

It was 25 years ago when I first discovered a book that changed my perception of everything.  The book was called Seven Arrows, and it was written by Hyemeyohsts Storm.  I was going through a time in my life when I was endlessly searching for meaning, and I wandered into a bookstore, where it caught my eye.  At the time my wife and I were school teachers with two young children in the Ozarks, and I was just starting back to graduate school.  I didn't have the money to buy the book, so I headed to the campus library.  I found the book in the card catalog of the university library, but it was not on the shelves.  After searching, the librarian said that it must have been taken.

Nearly a year later, a dear friend and neighbor was dating a man who had worked in the library.  Not sure why, but he gave the book to my friend.  I marveled at its unexpected entry into my life, and my friend Cathie and I still laugh about it to this day. After perusing it in detail, I returned it to the library from which it came.

But that is not the story that I tell today. There is a allegory in the book called Jumping Mouse about a mouse that hears a roaring in its ears.  The story is really about people who are often too busy with the trappings of everyday existence to hear the song of the river, the symbol for authentic life.

And so I begin my story from earlier this week. 

I had the profound pleasure of attending the retreat for the Class of 2010 TogetherGreen Fellows.  It was held in the magnificent Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, in the heart of Washington DC.  It was a time for closure for all 40 of us, after we had spent the past year in each other's midst.

2010 TogetherGreen Fellows and the Buffalo Dancer II.
 My fellow Fellows are among the most inspiring conservationists in the nation.  This time together allowed us to rub elbows with  many of the absolute greatest conservationists in the world: like Gerry Ellis, photographer extraordinaire, just one degree of separation from the likes of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and many more.  To say it transformed my life is an understatement. 

On Wednesday morning, our last day, and before the meetings began, I took an early morning stroll in the National Mall.  It was surreal to be in this place as the slanting rays of the sun peaked over Capitol Hill and splashed across the golden landscape extending down and beyond the Washington Monument.  I was in a reflective mood, after three days of complete immersion in the sanctifying waters of this nature-inspired realm, the Museum of the American Indian and people who gathered there. 

The Buffalo Dancer II.  There a little mouse hole just under his right foot! 
Arriving at the museum with 15 minutes to spare, I soaked in the warmth of the sun while sitting on the limestone bench that meanders near the building's landscaping.  A 12 foot bronze statue of a buffalo dancer loomed above me.  It was there that my story begins.

Hearing a rustling in the plants that grace the riparian edges of the museum, I looked for a regular DC resident, perhaps a House Sparrow.  But what emerged from the vegetation was something far more curious.  It was a tiny mouse, a ground dweller, with whiskers brushing across the brush, eye glued upon its immediate surroundings.  It was unaware of my presence, or perhaps complacent within the normally human dominated surroundings.  I prefer to think "he" was there to instruct me. So, I became a watcher, frozen in time and space, as the mouse went about doing its mouse things, always close to the living earth.

I simply hung out with the mouse.  After what seemed like an eternity, he climbed upon the first ledge of the giant bronze figure and made eye contact with me for the first time.  Not overwhelmingly startled, he scurried a bit, jumping to another ledge to the base of the statue.  Then, as quickly as he appeared, he disappeared into a tiny hole at the soul of the dancer's foot.  In my mind, he transformed  into the Buffalo Dancer.  

My mind reeled over what I had just seen, going back over the many times in my life that Nature had become my facilitator, easing me through life transitions, dark abysses, and everyday joys.  And then I remembered the story of  Jumping Mouse, who had heard the roaring in his ears, and tracked it to its source. 

Fast forward a bit through a morning that featured an incredible Storytelling workshop, views of the Capitol building bathed in autumn light, a deft accipiter breaking a flock of pigeons into a burst of colorful hues.......  Fast forward through another moment of clarity as Jesus Garcia of the great Northwest (what we call the Southwest) nourished my soul with a story that tingled my olfactory and culinary senses, allowing the food history of the desert landscape to come alive.

Fast forward to a luncheon, where a beautiful collection of TogetherGreen stories, performed by my dear friends and colleagues, inspired a room full of dignitaries with their undying passion and underlying joy.

And then......  "The 2010 TogetherGreen Fellows have nominated individuals for the Mentor Award, which recognizes three people who have supported their class in a special way during their Fellows year."

Diane Husic

First, Diane Husic.....  simply amazing.....  Biochemist.  Chairman of the Department of Biological Sciences at Moravian College.  World-renowned Climate Change Expert.......  The list goes on and on, and includes...    Brilliant, kind, compassionate, outgoing, effervescent, parent extraordinaire,  writer, transcendent, the power to change the world resonating from within and overflowing into the natural landscape.....     And the FIRST Fellow with whom I crossed paths at the hotel last Sunday.  (We immediately joined forces, jumped on the Metro to the Whitehouse, and participated in the protest of the Keystone Pipeline!)

Fernando Bretos

Second, Fernando Bretos...... from the moment I met this man, I was mesmerized by his passion and ability to inspire.  An American of Cuban descent, he touched my life as he has so many before and after me with a vision of an art/nature alliance that restores the Red Mangrove forests of south Florida and engages people in community and joyous fellowship along the way.
(I drove my wife crazy when last fall we watched a Nature episode on Cuba where Fernando was featured, as I exclaimed, "I know that guy, he's really great!" about five times throughout the documentary!)   A scientist with an artistic flare, Fernando's impact extends around the globe.   Again, I think:  Brilliant, kind, compassionate, outgoing, effervescent, transcendent, the power to change the world resonating from within and overflowing into the natural landscape.

And then.... What? Greg Swick?  How did this happen? A mistake perhaps.... But then, no,  I think I "get it"  ... 

Thanks, little mouse, for providing me with a clue, for always being on the other side of my mirror, and for joining me in my journey  to discover the source of the roaring in my ears.  Thanks for pushing me to confront my fears, to plunge into the river of life, to fight against the current, and then to let go and allow its natural flow to carry me to a place of trust, passion, and peace.

Thanks for jumping, little mouse, for as we jumped together, we caught a glimpse of the sacred mountains.  And we became the Buffalo Dancer, and delighted in our dance of thanksgiving....
Grandpa Greg jumping with Noah, my inspiration!

"Standing 12 feet tall and weighing a ton, the statue showcases the spirit of the Pueblo Indians, depicting a young man offering thanks in the ceremonial buffalo dance. "Native American people pay respect to the buffalo for everything it gives them," Rivera says, "and show their gratitude in dance."*

*quoted from


Friday, November 11, 2011

Dancing to the Beat of Life

I dedicate this blog post to my dear family of 2010 TogetherGreen Fellows.  You have allowed me to explore my own vision for the past year.  I am eternally grateful to every one of you, and am humbled to have received the Mentor Award from you.

"A man who has a vision is not able to use the power of it

until after he has performed the vision on earth for the people to see" ~Black Elk

     It is easy to view the world as it is, and hide behind a cloak of cynicism. There is always the quick wit of a sarcastic barb to ease the pain that inconveniently surfaces from within. It is not so easy to acknowledge that beneath one's cynicism lies an idealist who sees the world not as it is, but as it should be.

     We who strive for ecological wellness and social justice experience and too often shed tears for the losses in our efforts to ease the pain present in our world. Nevertheless, we passionately work to restore, heal, and create a new world where justice prevails, green space flourishes, and sustainability reigns for all of posterity.

If anyone tells us that the way is impossible, it will fall upon deaf ears, for we have gazed into the heart of the Earth, and have "heard" its ancient cry. It defines who we are, and it imparts meaning to our existence.

     I come to the end of this TogetherGreen Fellows adventure with an unwavering sense of gratitude and a renewed commitment to doing whatever I can in the time that I am given to ride this passionate wave of synergy aimed at reversing the destructive path that our species has chosen. I join with many other kindred spirits to explore beyond the horizons, to open reluctant minds, to empower the curious, to enliven the senses, and to instill an understanding that the answers to our quest lie in the heart of nature, where they have been nurtured, preserved, adapted, and refined through the spacious eons of time.
     May we all experience our personal revelations in the natural rhythms, melodic expressions, and harmonic overtones of nature.  May we further allow them to resonate deeply within our own hearts and radiate outward to all things living and growing. Perhaps then, our species can rejoin a multitude of other precious species that have not forgotten how to dance to the beat of life.
"Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts" ~Rachel Carson.

TG photo by Gerry Ellis, copied from Facebook
Heart of Nature photo by Jessica Eggleston, GLADE 2011