“I got thinking about intensives, like I do, and how intensives- we are mostly made of boulders….”

Intensiveness, a walk by the sea, the image of Leela as a fairy-tale giant; and the ways in which intensiveness disrupts expectations in order to create spaces for growth.

Full transcript and show notes here:



Leela Sinha:

What is steadiness made of? I was recently in several conversations, because that is the way of things, in which I felt moved to share the quote from Anne Morrow Lindbergh from "Gift of the Sea," in which she says that relationships are like islands continually visited by the tide. She's talking about the ebb and flow. She's talking about the way that relationships are not in fact, steady-state solid things. But moving and movable.

And I started to think about the ways that steadiness is often perceived to be made of sand or small stones. Walking across packed sand on a beach is much easier than walking across waist-high boulders. The boulders might not move, but getting from one to another as this constantly active, attentive act. Changing balances and angles and scrambling, calculating: can I make this leap? If I fall from here to there on purpose, and land on my foot, will my ankle be damaged? Over and over again, across the entire field. I don't remember where, I think it was in Acadia National Park at one point, I ended up on a hike that had an entire long stretch of this kind of bouldery walking.

If I had been a giant, a true one, the fairytale kind with six or eight foot long feet, the boulders would have been nothing, easy. Perhaps even driven into the sand and packed harder by the weight of my foot. But I am not. And walking across those boulders is one of the hardest hiking experiences I've ever had, much harder than going up or down a mountain. They were steady and they were stable, but they required an enormous amount of work. soft sand requires a different kind of work. And there's that quote about building a house on shifting sands. Dunes move. They move over time. Sometimes very short periods of time, sometimes longer. Because their kind of stability is a different kind of stability, their stability is more like the steady return of the tide. Ebb and flow, not always there in the exact same way. And I got thinking about intensives, like I do, and how intensives- we are mostly made of boulders.

We are mostly stable and steady but we are ebb and flow stable and steady or we are up and down stable and steady. We are not in fact, always the same stable and steady. And there are so many people who find that an affront to their sensibilities. In part, in no small part, because they have trained to run marathons on packed sand and we are not packed sand and they arrive expecting to travel vast distances. But when you're hiking the Appalachian Trail a mile an hour is a good day.

And we are made, we are made of uneven stuff. But that unevenness provides crevices and cracks for things to harbor that otherwise would not have a place to live. They provide shade. That shade keeps the water in the soil long after the sun has shone down overhead. Those cracks and crevices have purpose and place they slow down the water. They soften its break against the soil. They protect the mountain at whose foot they lie. And they provide safe harbor for soil which provides safe harbor for seeds which provides the place where that shorefront tree decides to root and grow.

Those cracks and crevices have a place and they come from the existence of the absolutely frustrating-to-walk-across boulders, the boulders that require all of your attention when you are planning to think about something else while you walked. But right now, all you can do is pay attention to the next step and the next step and the next step after that because you don't know what's coming. And the truth is we don't know what's coming either. It's not like we are more predictable to ourselves than we are to the rest of the world. We can only predict that we know that this texture of rock underfoot is necessary; that this texture of ebb and flow is necessary; that the moving dune is necessary; that all of these ecologies are as necessary, as necessary, as the packed sand by the water, as the packed dirt on the road, as the well worn trail through eons of pine duff. As traversing the ridge with ease and confidence because so many feet have gone before. This kind of unevenness is what we bring to the world. We disrupt the thing that people have come to expect because we are creating spaces for things to grow and hide and harbor and evolve. Dark spaces for the things of the night. Damp spaces for the things that live where water meets Earth.

Niche ecologies happen at our feet, between our toes, in our hands and our arms; in the lumps and bumps of our bodies making inconvenient the passage that looks like it could be smooth. But the sand comes from somewhere. The sand comes from the pounding of the surf and the ebb and flow of the tide against the rocks. All of that friction and challenge and struggle is what makes it possible. For there to be packed sand is what makes it possible to have easy passage somewhere later