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



dhusic said...

Greg this is awe-inspiring as always. I was quite moved throughout our time at the Museum both because we were surrounded by such incredible people, but also by the exhibits showing alternative truths about our country's history as told by the American Indians.

I found myself reflecting on stories of native peoples, including from my own homeland of the Chippewa Nation. I know stories and lore from my childhood, but didn't take as much time as I should have to talk to the actual people who lived those stories.

In a few short days, I will be in South Africa to listen to other stories of native peoples around the planet discussing climate change. Just had a note from my Kenyan Maasai friend who will be there again. I met him three years ago in the presence of Wangari Maathai and we have a special friendship of story telling.

I will end by noting that your comments about me in this post are a bit exaggerated!

I miss you all.

Greg said...

Thanks so much for your always insightful comments and for serving as a mentor to me during this incredible sojourn! Best of luck on your trip to South Africa! Please blog your experience, as I know you will!

Anonymous said...

Hi Greg,

I am a TG Fellow from 08 and met you at the training session last year in West Virginia.

This is beautiful and powerful and awesome. Only someone who has gone
through the TG program (or something like it -- if there is something
like it) can truly appreciate and understand all this passion and
emotion. Being a TG Fellow is a truly awesome thing. Judy Braus was a
genius to conceive of this program and Toyota was incredibly generous
and forward thinking in funding it. How else could we all have met
each other and inspired each other? We have been so lucky. I have
never heard so many people use words like "life changing" and
"transformed my life" as the TG Fellows. And I have been lucky enough
to get to know at least some of the 2010 Fellows as well as my own

I keep beating the drums for continuation of the TG experience. I want
to always be a TG Fellow, not a former TG Fellow. We have to find a
way to continue to meet and inspire each other.


Greg said...

Thanks, Dan, for your kind words. I remember you and your project at Lehigh Gap. Yes, everything you say about TG Fellows is spot on.
I hope our paths cross.... sooner rather than later. Thanks for stopping by on my blog!

Marla Marcum said...

Mr. Greg! So sad our paths didn't (consciously) cross in DC on November 6th. I helped organize 2 charter buses of people to get there from Boston. My bus got to DC Sunday morning at 5:30, and we actually hung out at Union Station until about 6:30 and then decided to take in some of the sights before the city really woke up. I knew where I was headed (and my group followed curiously): first a visit to my favorite trees in front of the Capitol – the black walnuts (with a brief stop to practice hugging very large things at a huge tree that the 10 of us struggled to get our arms around... by the way, we failed to identify the particular tree). It was the right time of year for me to stump my compatriots: who knows what this mushy baseball sized green thing on the sidewalk is? Then we headed over to peak through the fence into the National Botanic Garden, and on to the grounds of the National Museum of the American Indian for some trace fossil identification in the edifice, some plant identification in the landscaping, and a serious climate organizing strategy conversation at the feet of the Buffalo Dancer statue! We then headed for the outdoor sculpture park (the pit) outside the Hirshhorn... tip for anybody headed to DC soon: there is a stunning sound installation that plays during daylight in the far southwest corner of this sculpture garden.

Of course, then we needed to head over to the Washington Monument so that we could try to identify the cracks left by the earthquake (which, by the way, in conjunction with Hurricane Irene made it VERY difficult for me to get to DC by mass transit in August to participate in the Tar Sands Action... I really had to jump through some serious hoops just to get to town so I could get arrested!).

Finally, the destination I had missed in August: The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. If all had gone as planned, I would have been there on August 28th for the formal dedication of the memorial, but the earthquake and hurricane caused authorities to postpone. Go see it. We were there at 9am when it opened for the day, and there were somehow about 20 people already inside. This is a powerful space, and a reminder that King's work is not yet done... that King called on the rest of us to see it as our work, too.

As we prepared to go circle the White House to call on the President to BE THE CHANGE that his 2008 campaign promised, we stood together in front of a determined-looking MLK. Together we agreed that we were all in this one for the long-haul, too. And we pledged to fight for justice – together – until we succeeded. (and then, we agreed that this would surely take longer than any of us had left in this life, and to live the next 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 or 60 or 70 years working for justice would be so much better than the alternative!)

And then we "hugged" the White House 3 or 4 times over, got on the bus, and continued organizing!

Mr. Greg, thanks for giving me permission to hug trees (back at Summerscape in E.A.G.L.E.), for paying attention to what I cared about in the world, and for showing me through your own life that success is measured by the degree to which we follow our true passions (with curiosity, humor, trust, and courage and in the company of kindred spirits).

Greg said...

So wonderful to hear from you, and to have our paths converge after all of these years, and where else but in the nation's capitol! Guess I suspected that we would meet again someday even back in 1990! Keep soaring!
I quote you, back in 1989, when you were what.....a 15 year old?

"Can you see to the end of time
The world that opacifies true vision?
If so, then you may know the truth
That most can never imagine
A vision of light fighting the inpenetrable darkness
One hope for the future
Can save a great population of conformity
From the gloomy fatge that awaits them
As they tunnel forward
Into being
For they know only the routinized world
Into which they fit so neatly
But from the masses
May emerge an insightful leader
Ready to dive blindly into the unknown
And challenge the basis of our society
Only then will we begin
To conquer the complexities facing humanity
And then we may truly see
That the light is not at the end of the tunnel
But that the tunnel is only a wall-
Erected by each of us
To block out the light of truth."
~Marla Marcum - 1989

"The eyes of the world shine brightly
Into the future
As glistening stars
Each has a gift to offer
All can shine in a new way
Becoming a beacon
Unto all who will follow
It means different things
To each of us
And our hearts can only open
When our eyes can see the light."
~Marla Marcum - 1989

Anonymous said...

Wonderful and inspiring story, Greg. Thanks for all your efforts and the heart that goes into everything you do!