In the Presence of Good People

Red_LeavesThis evening our neighborhood gathered for our yearly picnic. The evening was cool, the sunset golden, and the mosquitoes held off til deep twilight. The lake was perfectly still, deep blue, and just slightly reflective of the fiery clouds that lay atop the mountains. Around 7:30 the full moon rose over the hill and rooftops, accompanied by flocks of geese heading home to roost.

One of the persistent conversations for the evening was the potential development of the field and woodland behind our homes. The land is in indefinite zoning, and is currently used for recreation. Were the land to be developed, our community would be greatly changed, and not for the better. Unfortunately, our mayor and several council persons are strongly pro-development, sometimes appearing to engage in the unbridled greed and cronyism that seems the hallmark of so much government in the early Twenty-first Century.

Perhaps because its autumn the juxtaposition of nature and bad government reminded me of the work of Tang and Sung Dynasty poets, some of who were government officials. They often wrote about the costs of war and greed, and the failure of government to protect the long-term welfare of the landscape and people. They were marvelously aware of the natural world,  maintaining a tendency to see it reflected in tears, saki, and pelting rain and lapping river water.

There was something perfectly lyrical about the broad, bright moon, and the vees of geese flying before it. Jennie turned toward the moon and spoke, “Hello Mother,” which one of our neighbors, a woman just now seventy, repeated, followed by a chorus of agreement arose from other women nearby. This was a clear acknowledgement of our relationship to that great globe of soft light, the mother of us all, and the force beyond nature’s watery tides.

There was much warmth between folks as we stood or sat in small groups near the communal fires, first the grills used to cook mounds of hamburgers, vegi-burgers, and a variety of types of hotdogs, then around the small, open fire with its own circle of kids roasting marshmallows. There was a bonfire down on the beach below the embankment, but many of us stayed with the food, listening to neighbors and their friends play jazz to the rising moon. Our neighborhood dogs played with the children and grabbed morsels of food where and when they could.

We returned home to news of the world: students whose significant others cheated, or abused substances, friends who had complete long toil over grant requests, and the exploits of our grown children. I thought about Li Po, reading letters by lamplight on a small boat in the rain, his friends a thousand leagues or more away. The mail must have taken some time to reach him from such great distances in times of conflict, although the words surely had immediacy, just as the ancient light of distant stars is for us the now.

I also thought of Tu Fu, turning over rocks in search of food to give children, hungry and desperate in time of war. He railed against the barbarism of those in power, their unquenchable lust for power and wealth, always at the peril of the land and those who depend on it for sustenance.

The challenges faced by our small town are of a different sort, although poverty and hunger are also known here. Folks in our neighborhood do what they can to alleviate the suffering of others, protect the natural world, and limit the influence of racism and greed. There is plenty of work to be done, as racism and greed are yet again on the rise. The song of the Windigo is heard once more, freezing the hearts of all who listen, leaving them insatiable and unfeeling, capable of devouring their own children and communities.

It is said that the Europeans who hungered for our lands had the Windigo sickness. Perhaps that was so. This evening, sitting in the company of people from diverse races and cultures, I was reminded that not all who are sung to answer the Windigo’s call. There are people of good heart and conscience living now, and here, just as there have been across untold eons, people who value the soft heart of compassion to that of icy greed. I am grateful for the warmth of their hearts and the caring and compassion in their eyes.

Back on the street dark has settled in. Most of the children have gone home to bed, for there is school tomorrow. We’re glad you stopped by. Here, take a chair, there is room by the fire. Care for a piece of sonic cake; its pretty much pure chocolate and gluton free? Here’s a cup of coffee to take away the early autumn chill. The evening’s young. Stay a while and tell us about your travels and the good people you’ve met along the way.

20 thoughts on “In the Presence of Good People

  1. Dear Michael,
    I found this very moving. I have heard stories of the Windigo, and this sentence rings so true that it gave me chills…”The song of the Windigo is heard once more, freezing the hearts of all who listen, leaving them insatiable and unfeeling, capable of devouring their own children and communities.” It is clear that you have found good people to share your life with. I believe that having good people in our lives helps to make us better people too.

    1. Naomi, I do not know what I would do without good friends and neighbors, locally, internationally, and on the web. You all make my life so much richer than I might ever have imagined.

  2. Michael & Jenny — Thanks for the wonderful message, and for the coffee and cake. August and early September have not been very good to me this year, and your beautiful message touched me deeply. (I will explain when we meet again.)

  3. So glad you have the comfort of a caring community. My last post was also about greed and abusing the earth…these things are in the air…. I have not heard about Windigo and will research it; but intuitively, I think I know what it’s about. Thanks for your lovely post, and keep some hot chocolate around for cooler evenings 🙂

    1. Thank you! Windigos are cannibal monsters with hearts of ice. When someone becomes a Windigo they might destroy/eat their entire family or village. Some traditions see them as huge entities that are not remotely human. Best not to fall under their sway. They are killed by chopping up, or melting, their icy hearts, in a sense returning them to the human realm. Anyway,the cold is coming so Windigos are maybe on our minds, Eh?

      I’m glad you stopped by. There’s always hot chocolate ready for the making.

    1. Oh, they were marvelous poets! There are many books of translated poems. I first encountered the Tang and Sung poets in high school I think, and by college had been immensely influenced by them. Their work remains dear to me. I encourage you to look them up. Wonderful!

  4. Beautiful, beautiful post, Michael. I heard the softness of your heart and the worries of your mind within your gentle words that spoke so strongly of the dangers we all face. Greed. For some reason I woke up this morning, in those moments between dream and reality, lamenting disposable appliances that can’t be fixed – can only be thrown in the landfill. But then I remembered I’m having lunch with two dear friends and I smiled. You are so right about the healing and strength that comes from surrounding ourselves with good friends.

    1. Pat, It is indeed good to have friends!

      I often lament the days gone by, when appliances lasted and were repaired. We live as though the One who owns this house will not mind our lack of gratitude and stewardship. May we all awaken.

  5. There is nothing that man can ever build that will compare to the awesome beauty of nature. It is a shame that so many natural areas are destroyed in the pursuit of more money. Money cannot replace the sound of leaves rustling in a soft breeze,the melodic sound of birds singing in the trees, fields of wildflowers, lakes that reflect the beauty around them in true watercolors ( the list goes on and on).

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