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13-Lined Ground Squirrel Moon Energy & the Transcontinental Railroad

Photo: The Moon card from Kara Simons and Amy Putney Koenig's Prairie Majesty Oracle Deck.

In a conversation three weeks ago between Kristin Hanggi (writer, director, podcaster) and Rob Bell (writer, minister, podcaster), Bell said: “There are no straight lines in nature.” They were talking about the feminine leg of the hero’s journey: The Heroine’s Journey. I was on a treadmill at the gym. This particular treadmill had a face-level screen that broadcast a silent video from the POV of someone walking paths along astonishing natural views: oceans and deserts and rocky wooded paths. Watching nature-scape videos on a treadmill in a climate-controlled gym is embarrassing. So be it. But it gave me time and space to check in on re-burgeoning anxieties.

Most of those anxieties – actually, all of them – involve the unknown. What will happen if I leave the house? What will happen if Fisher leaves the house? One thousand mass shootings per week has not been helpful to my perpetual inner vigil; but I keep going out into the world, nonetheless. I have to. Most of us do. We throw ourselves out the front door, down the steps, and across the lawn. How do we keep doing this?

On the treadmill thinking about nature, I wondered if we create straight lines as means to more confidently navigate the world. This led me to the Transcontinental Railroad. (Obviously.) I remembered reading about Chinese laborers forced to work through winter, sleeping in snow tunnels, because the railroad companies made more money the more quickly they lay track (A Different Mirror by Ronald Takaki).

In the late 1800s, fed up with all the curvy lines in nature, the American government and private railroad companies, using the backs of immigrants, blasted a straight shot from Council Bluffs to San Francisco. If something was in the way, they drilled and blasted and dug and bridged… and usurped. Land belonging to the indigenous along the way was stolen – treatises reneged and reconstructed (Words are cheap, afterall.). There was money to be made, land to be sold. Imposing the straight line is a decidedly masculine way of doing things: Go, Do, Conquer.

I prefer the use of the words “masculine” and “feminine” in reference to energy, not gender. We all have both. And I like the idea that we are best served when those energies share time and responsibility. Our masculine energy tells us that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Our feminine energy says, maybe, but “short distance” is not the wiser or the better.

Or something like that.

What does this have to do with anxiety? Good question.

This is the first summer that Fisher has been home with me all day every day. In most ways, it’s been lovely. He’s not stapled to my hip joint anymore. But it’s still energy and expectation in the house, asking for breakfast and lunch and snacks and trips to the pool. It’s still quiet thoughts interrupted to form simple sentences and find car keys.

But… Fisher left yesterday to spend a week with a friend’s family on a lake in northern Minnesota. It’s our first time for this kind of separation – me shooting him out into the world on his own for an extended period of time and with someone other than my family. Although that has brought its own seeds of anxiety, it’s also brought an empty house. I haven’t had one of those in a while.

My friend, Kara (at Joyful Resonance), makes wonderful oracle cards. Each card features an element of nature and wildlife. I use them as a meditation tool: think on an issue or a question, pull a card, and then ponder the application. Kara writes a guidebook for each set. She discusses the characteristics of each represented element and suggests ways we might use those characteristics to understand ourselves. A few weeks ago I pulled “13-Lined Ground Squirrel”. In the guidebook, Kara writes that Ground Squirrel requires extended periods of uninterrupted hibernation in order to withstand the world outside her burrow, that “…your inner sanctuary is a place of deep rest and power.”

Several days later – and this is the juicy part – I played an outdoor gig at an event on a prairie. In the middle of my set, a 13-lined ground squirrel appeared out of nowhere. She ran back and forth in front of me several times before she dove into a hole behind the stage.

Coincidence? Of course not.

Later, wondering about this bit of synchronicity, and also my own nature – how incompatible it so often feels with everything and everyone in the exterior world – I pulled another card: MOON, one of four “celestial cards” in the deck, describing the movement of energy. Moon, as Kara details, includes introversion, reflection, things hidden, the subconscious, and meandering contemplation. She is fluid and underneath. In the energy world, Moon is deeply feminine.

Last night, Fisher called to say hi and that they’d arrived safe and sound. He was cheerful and comfortable. I went to bed. I slept. And I woke up to an empty house. There has been nothing hairy or chaotic about the summer schedule or the amount of noise and activity in the house. But what I understand about myself is that it doesn't take much to hijack my peace. With an empty house, my thoughts felt like my own again. They could go as slow or as fast, as circular or as bee-lined, as purposeful or as superficial, as they wanted. I could speak them out loud or not speak them out loud. They could bend and wind, dive and surface without interruption.

Even my physical interior felt calm. I have ulcers in my digestive tract that have been buzzing for weeks. I'm not being figurative: Ulcerative Colitis. This is the first morning in weeks that my guts were quiet.

I remember hearing Brené Brown once talk about her writing process. When a due date for a book was approaching, she left her family for a week to spend time in solitude. At the end of the week, she returned home, and her husband asked her how much writing she had accomplished. She hadn’t written a word. He was annoyed. What the hell had she done with her time? He didn’t understand that her writing process required more time NOT writing than it required actual writing – that her mind had to roam without purpose before it could settle and sharpen. After a week in solitude re-alphabetizing her playlists and binge-watching Netflix, she was able to sit down (even in the presence of her family) and write.

I felt very validated by Brown’s description. There was no need for or inherent value in blasting through mountains or usurping previously claimed territories to get from point A to point B.

But anxiety… Yes. Okay.

I recently heard an interview with someone discussing the theory that early humans had less anxiety than modern day humans. If I could remember what I was listening to, I’d link it; but I don’t. I did, however, find this article by James Clear (author of Atomic Habits). He talks about the difference between immediate-return environments (solving problems in the present):

1 - I’m hungry. Eat berries. I’m not hungry anymore.

2 – A lion is chasing me. Hide from lion. Lion passes. I’m safe again.

And delayed-return environments (solving problems in the future):

3 – I’m hungry. If I eat this donut, will I die of heart disease 20 years from now?

4 – Look at that lion in the zoo. I like lions. Should I quit my job and travel through Africa? What do I want out of life, anyway?

More specifically, early humans lived in the present (immediate-return), and we now live more focused on the future (delayed-demand), but our brains are the same. Society has evolved more quickly than our neural pathways, and for that reason, we are ill-equipped.

Here is the point, as I see it: I’m out of whack. We all are.

Move, do, answer, speak, explain, meet expectation = masculine energy; and float, meander, think, dive, flow, meet self = feminine energy. Personally, I’ve been too much of one and not enough of the other. Globally: same.

My son is still 7 hours north, and I still want reassurance that he is wearing his life jacket on the lake. The news on CNN this morning is just as terrible as it was yesterday morning. Also, eating too many donuts may still kill me 20 years from now. The difference, however, is that I woke up with the freedom to fall all the way into the beautifully dark depths of feminine ground squirrel moon energy… and for more than just a couple of hours at a time.

And because the micro always reflects the macro (and vice versa): I wonder what the world would be like now had we settled into slow winding trails around the mountains and thoughtful conversations with the indigenous people inhabiting the plains rather than dynamiting a straight steel line across the continent.

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