Skyline, Fall - 2005

By Diane Pendola

This Is My Body

Printer Friendly Version

With an ax I carefully slice along the edge of a douglas fir log. Rather than buy 4x6 fir at the lumberyard, Teresa, Mike and I decided to invest the money in a portable Alaskan chain-saw mill and saw our own trees into lumber. Now we have coaxed from windfalls and widow-makers, and trees still ailing six years after our forest fire, 25 twelve-foot 4x4, 4x6 and 4x8 inch slabs of lumber. They are stickered and laid out, one on top of the other, in an impressive stack. Now I peel away the bark that adheres to the unhewn sides. I aim for the place where the dark bark is separated from the light wood by a thin red skin. There is some deep satisfaction that comes when the blade slides perfectly between them, the bark pulling away in long swaths from the hard white bone of wood now newly revealed and glistening.

I find myself chanting within my mind: This is my body, given for you, as the tree's body surrenders herself into my hands. I labor over her, sweat over her, marvel at the gift of her life that will now provide stability under my feet as we raise a bridge across our creek. This is my blood. The chant continues. May it not bring condemnation but health in mind and body. May it not bring condemnation, this taking of life to serve my life, my needs and desires.

At one point I come down hard against my index finger as the ax handle pinches it against the solid outer edge of log. At first it hurts a lot. I fetch an ice pack from the chest we bring to keep our water cold and gingerly press it against my finger. And then it hurts a lot more! I wonder if it is broken. I feel myself breaking into a sweat and the blood draining from my face. My breath feels short and my legs weak. I can't believe I feel faint! I sit down and put my head between my legs---my body having its own response to pain while my thoughts are shocked and a little embarrassed. I'm surprised when the pain subsides and I'm able to wield the ax again.

This is my body. This is my blood. As I move down the length of the log I contemplate how we give ourselves to the world. We give our pain, our effort, our grief, our loss, our joy and our satisfaction. And the world gives itself to us. We eat the body and drink the blood of this Earth. Her soils yield our grains and fruits, her grasses sustain the animals, her forests build our houses and our bridges, her waters are the very essence of life. We take and eat of the world and the world eats us. It's a grand communion, a eucharist, a pot-latch, a great and awesome give-away! May it not bring condemnation, but health in mind and body.

How might it bring condemnation? I ask myself this as the chant continues to run through my meditations. My mind turns to the human and ecological catastrophe unfolding in these first days and weeks of September, 2005. Surely hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster. The gulf coast has seen such disasters before. Still I can't help but suspect that it was further enraged by the warming off-shore waters, waters heating up as a direct consequence of our massive consumption, our seeming insatiable thirst for oil, power and convenience. Haven't we seen, in just the last decade, many more ferocious storms all across the planet, storms that climate scientists link to warming oceans and rising sea levels? And haven't we heard for years just how important the coastal wetlands are as buffers against devastating storm surges? And yet we've dredged and developed and bulldozed over a million acres of gulf-coast wetlands until what was left to meet Katrina was a denuded landscape, a withering body of emaciated shoreline. This is my body.

I fear we will not learn the lessons, as I hear the prideful talk about rebuilding that city of New Orleans, lying 6 feet below sea level, even bigger and more populous than before. Will we build it to withstand a category 5 hurricane? Will we earth-fill the city, raising it six feet? Will we construct all buildings on stilts? Will we restore the wetlands? How do we bring condemnation on ourselves? It is not an act of God. We cannot blame God for our hubris, for our stubborn unwillingness to admit our dependence on nature. We assert our superiority over the natural world and our separateness from it---and the mutuality of our communion with it becomes our condemnation. We want to take without giving. We take more than we need. We take without thanksgiving. We take without reverence.

My lower back is beginning to ache as I leverage the heavy log I'm working and flip it to its opposite side. My heart aches to take these few trees. Since the fire there are so few trees left. And we've committed hundreds of hours to bringing the forest back, tending the newly planted trees, releasing them from encroaching brush, hovering around them like mother hens. My heart aches when we take the life of one of our grown chicks, raised from tiny yellow fur-balls, to bring to our dinner table. And I do not look forward to the time when the cow that gives us our milk gives birth to that bull-calf who we will know and love, raise and yes, kill and eat. This is my body, given for you. This is my blood, given for you. May it not bring condemnation, but health in mind and body.

I admit that I do not know how to live this different consciousness, a consciousness that, according to Thomas Berry, participates in the world as a "communion of subjects to be revered, not a collection of objects to be exploited." But the native peoples of this continent lived in close communion with the natural world and have much they can teach us. And the Earth herself will teach us if we only have eyes to see and ears to hear. She is pleading now. She has delivered a warning through Katrina and it is not the guiltiest among us who suffer and die. The consequences of our actions are indiscriminate and seemingly without mercy. But we can turn around. We can change. As the hundreds of thousands on the gulf coast, we can begin again.

This Land
By Diane Pendola

I have my apologies to make
as I kneel on your soft earth,
bow to your inmost heart.
Even so, the flow of your waters
roar in caverns
deeper than my bones
and the spine of me
is every tree that has aspired
towards the sun's light
and sunk its root
into the earth's
maternal grasp.

My forebears
laid your
forests down.
My family
ate at your table
(five generations that I know).
And the ancestors I don't

are certain to have eaten, too:
flesh of your flesh,
blood of your blood.
Take and eat, this is my body
we heard you say
but did you mean
stripping bare?
mountains mined?
forests cleared?

I have my apologies to make
and more.

My body prostrate upon your body,
your grief cry breaks over me
as my heart-break floods over you.
Too late?
Or is there hope yet
that some green shoot
will rise again from sorrow's plain?

©Diane Pendola, September 2005. You are welcome to print or make a copy in electronic form for personal use or sharing with interested persons as long as the copyright notice is not removed or altered. Please do not print it in any other publication, or sell it, by itself or as part of another work, without express written permission of the author.

If you believe you receive a benefit from this, and the work we do, a donation would be gratefully accepted. You can make a tax deductible donation by sending a check to Skyline Harvest, Inc, PO Box 338, Camptonville, CA 95922 Thank you!

Back to Top