Friday, April 11, 2014


After a couple month hiatus while I was busily attending to the realities of being in graduate school and living the life fantastic I have been musing of late on the cycles of life that I have observed.  This began a few weeks ago when the extensive winter wonderland that is the upper midwest this year was finally brought to heel by warming winds and intensifying sunlight.  The most striking example of that change comes to me courtesy of the Minnesota river.

This is the first year that I have ever lived in such close proximity to a river.  I lived in Minneapolis, which boasts of its embrace of the mighty Mississippi, but somehow the way that the flow of that great body of water is managed and overcome by the civilizing force of dams and locks minimized the reality of its annual changes.  Yes, the roar of the St Anthony Falls in the spring is certainly impressive, particularly as I have sometimes observed it from the dramatic vistas afforded by the Guthrie's Endless Bridge.  Still, it always presented itself more as a moment of beauty than as an endless cycle of natural change.  What struck me differently in this new environ was the quiet power of that same annual cycle in a place where it is less obviously controlled.

What I witnessed recently is found in a little stretch of highway 169 between St. Peter and Mankato, which I drive several times each day in my commute from home to school.  In that drive I follow a long, lazy curve of the Minnesota river stretching along an arcing, tree covered ridge of high ground.  I moved here last summer, at which time a lengthy period of drought had reduced the river to a narrow, winding channel flowing through sandy bars beneath wooded banks.  At that time what struck me was how little water there was flowing in this presumably significant river valley.  The Minnesota River valley is a place of orchards and farms stretching back through the short recorded history of both native and European settlement.  It is a significant eco-system, and, yet, there just wasn't that much water out there.

Except, of course, that there is.  And, to be more specific, right this moment, as the snows melt and the new year begins, that is to say the seasonal period of Invigoration that follows Mortification and Purgation, there is a whole lot of water out there.  And, presumably, more to come.  Jubilation sits on the horizon.

To be brief, as unlikely as that is, what I am getting at is that when one lives in the proximity of a living river the cycle of the year suddenly comes into clearer and significant focus.  The living river that sits in front of me now is not the same living river that I witnessed in August, and, though I am but a stranger here and cannot speak to the centuries or even decades before and after me, I suspect it demonstrates a change that is available to be witnessed every year.

It speaks to a different kind of calculus.

Slower and inexorable and more willing to succumb to the forces of decay and death.  Mortification, Purgation, Invigoration and Jubilation.

So, as I drove to school one morning and suddenly realized that the essentially empty riverbed was no longer empty but fuller and filling and unconcerned, as I had been, with its annual depletion I felt a deep kinship with this cycle.

I am no farmer.  I have no interest in digging in the soil and toiling to bring forth painfully nurtured life from the richness of ingredients that are intellectually available to me but that I really don't understand at all.  Still, something about this striking example of cycle struck me...and I could not help but reflect.

I have always lived within the comfort of clock time.  I keep a detailed calendar of clock-driven activities and even when I am organizing my own efforts to complete my work I do so within the context of clock driven appointments with myself and my limited attention to task.

Still, within that, cycles call to me.

I have mentioned before the idea of having a driving question that engages a person for a decade or so at a time.  This wasn't my idea.  It was articulated to me by Brian Mertes from Brown.  It is a concept that resonates so deeply for me that it could rise to the level of a philosophy of life.  It is a concept clearly focused on the idea of cycle.

Sometimes when I look around me at the America in which I live I am struck by the predominance of the paradigm of linear growth.  It may have its roots in the industrial revolution that still frames our expectation of social discourse.  Linear growth is essential to the current American paradigm.  Without this linear growth we believe ourselves to be in a world of failure.

And that linear path, which many folks that I know have engaged to their own benefit, is somehow elusive to me.

Instead, I find myself more likely to accept a cycle that allows for Mortification.  For Purgation.  I abandon the linear path, lie fallow, and begin again.

I like this cycle, and, still, after living within it for what is now a sixth decade, I struggle to name and define it.

Hmmm....more on this now doubt as this year continues.

Happy Spring!  Time to pour libations on the gods of Invigoration!

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