An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of June 12, 2005
issued from the Sierra Nevada Foothills east of Sacramento, California

CHILLY FOG & CABBAGE LEAVES

During the middle of this week an "Alaskan low" came through and during about 35 hours drenched us with 1½-inches of cold drizzle. It was appropriate weather for rocky little islands in the Aleutians, not a California dry season, but we got it anyway.

It was drizzle with fog. We couldn't see the other side of the canyon and sometimes everything more than two trees away was whited out. When it's like that the world is reduced to tones of gray,and things look flat. Trees are silhouetted and sounds are muted. Not a bird sings. Everything is subdued.

Such times have their charm for awhile but after a couple of days you begin craving color, pure sounds, warmth -- just anything to stir the spirit. Sometimes I remedy the situation by going into the garden and putting my face down next to whatever might be there -- a cabbage leaf or an onion sprout -- where there's a vividness of greenness and textures different from those in ordinary life, and all kinds of intricate designs. Always, when you throw your head into a different realm like that, you discover whole new worlds of stimuli. Always there are other worlds to explore just by shifting your mental frame of reference.

Friday morning National Public Radio aired a segment on people addicted to cutting themselves. When these people are stressed they react by slicing into their bodies. They bleed and hurt but it's an addiction hard to break. You can read about this and other forms of addictive self mutilation at http://www.athealth.com/Consumer/disorders/selfmutilation.html.

At first the behavior seemed absolutely inexplicable to me. But when I thought about it I began seeing how it might happen. I think this pitiful condition may bear upon my experience this week with the fog, the somberness, and the grayness and flatness of things. It may give me insight into why I felt the need to go look closely at a cabbage leaf, and why I feel like I need to keep telling people to pay attention to things.

A self-cutter begins feeling disoriented, unsure of whom he or she is and unsure of what's supposed to be done. When the the cutting begins they see the blood and feel the pain, and they have proof that they are right there, right then. They see that in a world where everything seems messed up at least their bodies are working right, bleeding when they're supposed to, feeling pain at the right time.

When our eyes clearly show us that we're the one seeing the bird's bright colors, when our ears tell us we're the very listener to the bird's pretty song, it reminds us where and what we are. Except when chemical imbalances are involved, active people in stimulating environments that provide positive reinforcement seldom get mentally ill. But, when the fog comes, color drains from the landscape, things go flat and sounds are only monotonous -- or when one feels completely out of control of life in general -- maybe it's hard for some of us to keep grounded.

Maybe when a very angry man puts his fist through a wall it's because he's feeling so desperately out of control that he needs the shock and pain to ground himself better in the moment, his body, his home. Maybe when I'm concentrating on something and stick my tongue out, since the mouth and tongue have many more nerve endings than most parts of the body, what I'm doing is anchoring my consciousness in the present by feeling myself with my tongue, trying to keep tabs of who and what I am as the rest of me become absorbed in the thing I'm concentrating on.

Well, I don't see much harm in sticking out your tongue when you're concentrating, but I do wish I could show these self-cutters and wall-punchers the therapeutic value of consciously seeking out cabbage leaves on foggy days, point out to them the silvery slug trails, the leaves' pink-crinkly margins, their reticulating venations, the randomly arrayed, tiny brown-rimmed insect-punctures, the leaves' voluptuous concavities, the cabbagey odor when you put your nose right there on a leaf... Facebook Icon.