John Michael

Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise LVII: The Trail Was Quiet

(Photo by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash)

John Michael continues his series Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise, reflecting on life and people encountered, reflecting out on the trail, admiring nature, and feeling compassion.


The trail was quiet. The trail is always quiet even when crowded with people, but my mind was quiet as well, so I could experience it a little deeper than when I am hiking with my anxiety elevated. I was in a stand of Lodgepole Pine adjacent to some Palouse prairie in Northern Idaho. A wind—I had not heard in some time but had memories of from my youth—picked up from the prairie. It had a deep, ancient sound, like a Tibetan Monk doing a throat chant, and it vibrated the grasses around me.

I have a hillbilly song I wrote a while back called “Mr. Happy Go Lucky.” The gist of the song is about a guy, me, who uses a carefree attitude to keep from dealing with the blues. Several weeks back, I wrote about enjoying some picture taking across the Palouse prairie. I mentioned that almost all of the prairie habitats have been replaced by agricultural fields, but I was upbeat in my writing and maybe downplayed the destruction of natural prairie land.

The trail I was on is an area called Idler’s Rest, near Moscow, Idaho, and is at least partially maintained by a group called the Palouse Land Trust. I was chatting with the director, Lovina Englund, before taking my hike. The group works with many different interests on the prairie, including farm interests. Neither she nor I said anything negative about agriculture; I come from an agricultural family. I am past my days of trying to assign blame for things including the plight of the earth. (Forgive us, Father, for we know not what we do.) But when I mentioned the destruction of the natural prairie, I was surprised about how much sadness rose up in my heart. So, my happy-go-lucky post about picture taking and the wheat fields may have been hiding a little grief I wasn’t ready to look at. I feel my emotions as they come up these days; well, as best I can. I don’t want to die with grief in my heart and me not even knowing what I am sad about.

I’ve been involved, to a greater or lesser extent, with environmental causes most of my adult life. Since coming off the streets seven years ago, however, most of my advocacy and outreach has been with and for the Hobo population. But I live in an area with easy access to the natural world and am often out enjoying its beauty. I do quite a bit of prayer and meditation, including Shamanic drumming and rattling. I don’t know how to say this without it sounding like a brag (or like I am crazy) but I get a fair amount of dreams and visions that I believe come from outside my personal psyche.

A few years back, I got the idea that the story of Cain and Abel was about “the death of the feminine.” Abel wandered the earth, I imagine, from the river bottoms to the high mountain pastures, allowing the seasons and food availability to guide his path. Very much in touch with the Mother (feminine), both inside and outside of himself.

Cain was a farmer, tied to one place that he had to manage and maintain in order to produce food. This type of agriculture allowed for cities to rise up, and societies began identifying less with nature (and the feminine) as a way to inform their culture.


The environmental problems we face are beyond numbering and can seem overwhelming to any one person. If we see ourselves as being of nature and not somehow apart from nature, managing and using her for our own desires solely, well, I believe a compassionate, caretaker feeling can emerge in the heart.


I attended a lecture by an elder of the Nez Perce tribe recently. He seemed to confirm the culture of the wanderer. The Nez Perce had 13 months and each month was tied to where the tribe would be and for what reason. Camas gathering this month, dye gathering another month, salmon fishing another month, etc.

The feminine cannot die, of course, and may be on the rise again, but Western civilization has spent several thousand years in the male section of the psyche, conquering and ordering nature, other nation-states, and indigenous cultures. I want to be clear, however, patriarchy hurts men as much as it does women.

The environmental problems we face are beyond numbering and can seem overwhelming to any one person. I’ve had dreams that reassured me that the earth would be okay, but that it’s up to humans who are willing to care for her. If we see ourselves as being of nature and not somehow apart from nature, managing and using her for our own desires solely, well, I believe a compassionate, caretaker feeling can emerge in the heart.

I was not sure if the sadness I felt when talking about the prairie’s destruction was for nature, our role in her troubles, or my lack of involvement in any solution. Sandra Ingerman, a practicing Shaman, said something about grief that has always stuck with me. She said, to grieve is to expand the heart. Some Buddhists say something similar when they talk about suffering with others. They allow that mutual suffering to turn into compassion. If you have compassion for another person or the earth, that compassion provides the motivation to do something to relieve the suffering of the other.

As I was coming out of sleep this morning, I saw a vision of the Corn Maiden, and the thought that came with it was that she was reaching out to us all. As I was telling a friend about the vision, I felt sadness rise again in my heart. Imagine the Corn Maiden’s compassion, reaching out to a people who won’t care for themselves and won’t care for her, our Mother?


John Michael

Hello, good people. I am rarely sure how to describe myself. If I say I am a Christian, many things may arise in your mind that ain't necessarily so. I was homeless for seven years and learned more about myself in that stretch of time than in any other segment of my life. I read the Bible a lot out there and came across a passage in Proverbs that has shaped my approach to life: "A man's pursuit is his kindness." I am well educated with a Master of Social Work degree and have worked a wide variety of jobs in my 52 years. None have lasted too long however. When I was homeless, the beauty of Texas wildflowers made me decide to want to live again. Along with kindness, beauty, play, and self-expression are life-guiding ideas. My shadow contains things like feeling sorry for myself, a truckload of defiance, a desperate need to please women, and no small amount of cruelty. A quote from Luke also has had a lasting effect on me: "For God is kind to the ungrateful and the evil." When I read that I thought, "Hell, I have got a fighting chance." I am here to tell you, you have a fighting chance as well. Besides Christianity, practicing Buddhist and Shamanic techniques inform my relationship to God and the world.

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