Monday, April 5, 2010

on fire

The last time I had a fever I was reading Legacy of Luna by Julia Butterfly Hill. I had reached the point in the book where a storm is battering Luna, and Hill is hanging on for dear life, when she is calmed by what she perceives to be the tree itself. As the storm whipped the branches of the tree, my head was wracked by pain and my body seared by fever. I set the book down and never returned to it. It changed the course of my life nonetheless.

This fire began on the Colorado River, sitting in a chair by the rippling water, watching a Great Blue Heron fish patiently where the surface of the water broke over a series of rocks that spanned the 100-ft width of the river. I felt that he (or she) was as aware of me as I was of it. We watched one another quietly until I was joined by a more gregarious friend and the bird soon spread its six-foot span of graceful wings and drifted further downriver. There was so much activity I worried that there would be little opportunity for such future encounters.

That night I lay beside my seven-year old in the tent and read to her the poetic mysteries of sedimentation from A Land, by Jacquetta Hawkes, a book loaned to me recently by a friend. Ms Hawkes was an archaeologist in the mid century and the daughter of a Nobel laureate in biochemistry: The last of the great mountain-building storms was the Alpine that raised what is at present the greatest upward irregularity of the surface of the planet...

I read until we both fell asleep, but I awoke that night drenched in sweat, although it was not more than thirty degrees outside. I went outside under the stars and thought that morning must be coming soon because a strong blue light was already washing away the stars in the east. It must have been the moon, however, because the night went on and on while I flipped from one side to another in my sleeping bag.

Fevers are a strange phenomenon. Unlike the virus itself, the fever presumably is being instigated by our own bodies as a mechanism to burn away the offending organisms. Why then chase them away with fever reducers? During the day I certainly felt better when I could mitigate the aches, but at night I was almost content swimming in the half-waking delirium of the fever. I wondered also if other offending things might be burned away, such as toxic thoughts and fears? What if a good strong fever could burn away a portal to a new way of being in the world? Charlotte Joko Beck uses a similar analogy when referring to meditation. She says something like, the zendo is not a place to go and hang out and be quiet, the zendo is a furnace room for burning away impurities.

Welcome furnace room.