Skyline, Winter - 2002

By Diane Pendola

The Smell of Home

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(Dear Friends and Family, Teresa and I wish you all a blessed season of dawning light, of renewed life and perhaps most significantly at this time, of deep and abiding peace. This issue of EARTHLINES was inspired by our visit with Thomas Berry in October of this year. During a conversation over a wonderful meal, Thomas shared with us a story of a Native American woman and her description of returning to her own native place after a long absence, as "the smell of home". We talked about the word "home"- how full and deep and meaningful a word it is. It seems a reflection on "home" is appropriate to this season. It is a season in which family, friends, the yearnings of our human hearts and the deepest connections of our souls all resonate within this simple word: HOME.)

Without fail, the tree line lifts my spirit as I ascend out of the heaviness of the valley into the green aspiration of conifers. The road winds up and away from the asphyxiated breath of too many: cars, people, strip malls; too much: noise, busyness, engagement. It is as though the green spires of Ponderosa Pine re-align my inner compass, pointing my way home.

The metaphor and the reality merge. I have spent the day in jail cells: concrete floors, metal tables bolted into cold cement, stainless steel toilets exposed beside bare bunk beds, steel bars partitioning off sleeping spaces from narrow common areas. Windowless, the smell is of too many bodies, disinfectant, today’s lunch shoved aside, cold and half-eaten. The women inside are without home. Homeless on the streets, their lives outside are as shuttered and dark as this prison. They seem to me to be the extreme of a whole society severed from its roots, adrift in a world on wheels.

Now my wheels are delivering me to the mountains where I can breathe again. I have listened to the stories of sorrow spilling from the hearts of lost and battered women. My listening has been like a long holding of my breath. Only now do I fully exhale. I fill my lungs with the clean oxygen of green life rooted firmly in the loamy soil of its Source, my Source, our Source.

I know the blessing of this breath, its gratuitousness, as the highway ends and I turn upon the single wooded lane toward my day’s end. My breath deepens. The trees come closer. The old Doug Firs and golden Maples reach their arms out to me. My soul feels taken up, cradled, restored to something real, and yes, good. As I descend down and across the bridge, over the confluence of creeks, the smell is rich with damp earth. Fern graces the canyon walls and wide green plants spread their broad leaves from the streambed over the glistening waters. Light glints across their surfaces. The sweet, fragrant scent of mushrooming life stirs an old and abiding appetite. It accompanies me along this last stretch of road as I reach our gate.

From here the woods open up to an expansive view of undulating hills falling away to that blue body of water called Bullards Bar Reservoir. Beyond, more hills unfold toward the horizon that hides the valley that I left only an hour ago. An hour and a quantum leap between worlds! I wonder how to bridge the worlds? I know my privilege. I know the tension necessary for any bridge to stand: footings anchored in opposing ground, a tensile strength connecting the two, creating a third- a new, a unity.

I guess that is what I am up to now. In the second half of my life, the opposing force of taking a stand gives way to the reconciling force of building bridges between the opposition. Right now I’m finding my way across the bridge of my life, back to the roots that hold us all, back to the earth and the primal scent that every human body knows.

How to bring others across with me? How to bring those women locked in prison? How to bring the others up from the valley and out of the boxed canyons? How to lift them upon the green shoulders of the hills to an unobstructed vision of the common ground to which we all belong? How to feel again the earth beneath our feet, abandoning our wheels to the will of life asserting itself through the cracked pavement of our highways and our lives?

Those of you who have known us since our beginnings in ministry with incarcerated women, now find us here, ministering to a wounded earth, a wounded planet. But, more significantly because more humbly, allowing ourselves to be ministered to by that enduring Power that brings new life out of devastating fire, that is genetically encoded in our very cells to show us the way back to healing and wholeness.

This is the work of Skyline Harvest today. There is an appetite for the real, a desire within for communion, a longing for union. Come apart from the techno-world into the natural world. Come out of the city. Find that narrow road off the too-traveled highways. Follow it to its end. Open the door to the house that has been vacant too long. Inhale what has been forgotten. Breathe deeply the smell of Home.

©Diane Pendola, December 2002. 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. Thank you!

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