In writing Chalice, and now again researching It’s Nobody’s Fault, I stumbled across the idea of “who” we think we are. This “sense of self” actually has a home in the left hemisphere of our brain, and it basically integrates all sorts of inputs.

Dr. Michael Gazzaniga has called it the “Interpreter.” I call it “Weaver.” Three quick thoughts, then I’ll leave it alone, for now.

First, it is important to know that one of Weaver’s primary jobs is to give reasons for what is happening in our world. Weaver is constantly weaving yarns of various colors into cause and effect, weaving them to make up our “reality.” That’s what Weaver does. Weaver explains. Always. Constantly.

Secondly, the fabric Weaver creates out of all these inputs is only as good as what Weaver gets by way of information. Some of that information is bogus. Not only external information, but internal, as well. My amygdala may fire a flash of fear through the circuits, and Weaver won’t know it’s a false alarm. Weaver will know only that there has been a signal of fear. Weaver will find an explanation for that signal, usually external, because Weaver explains. Always. Constantly.

This has been called “Tigers in the grass.” We evolved to run from tigers, so we run when the grass moves, even when it is only the wind.

Finally, it is possible to catch Weaver in the act. It’s a two-step process for me. First, I recognize that my unnatural calm may be the result of the chamomile tea, nervousness might be the coffee, the twinge is from seeing a car like one driven by someone I used to know, getting up to do something may not be because it needed to be done five minutes ago, but the result of a memory that just drifted through I did not want to face.

In other words, what I think is happening, even with my own emotions, is not necessarily what is happening. It feels real, Weaver says it is real, but it might not be.

Then I sit and watch Weaver work. That gives me space. It takes a few minutes now, it used to take longer, to put Weaver in his place. He doesn’t stop weaving or explaining, because Weaver explains. Always. Constantly. But, after a few minutes, “I” am no longer being yanked around at the end of his leash.


Nearly every day, I look out windows of my treehouse at a rambling row of volcanos. Higher ones emerge from forests as rough crags of rock and ice. I’ve hiked the most gentle several times, to someplace above 10,000 feet, above the trees, where steep flanks of deep pumice and slag lead to ragged extrusions of stone.

That well-defined edge, where forests end and mountains declare indifference, is the timberline. There is life above the timberline, but life defined in different ways. Lichen rather than trees, or wheat. Beetles, rather than cattle. The timberline looks porous close up, but seems a sharp edge when seen from a distance.

Some places in the American Southwest hit 128 degrees the other day. Water freezes at 32 degrees, boils at 212. 122 degrees is halfway in between, but I would say that’s our “timberline” of temperature. I think life would be redefined on the other side.

Deserts have a “timberline” of sorts, where moisture to sustain species we relate to, or depend on, stops being available. Where hard oceans of crust, dust and rock butt up against the softness of river and pond, irrigated habitability.

I imagine there is a similar “timberline” of depth in the ocean, where pressures become so immense and blackness so deep that life, as we can relate to it, transitions from vibrant, lush, dart and dash,  swoop and swim, to a barren watery world of barely imaginable creatures.

Is there a “timberline” of health, too, an edge where the organization of organism breaks down? A line where suddenly, everything changes? Where broken hip or pneumonia are not just conditions but mark the boundary between life as we knew it and an afterlife unknowable, death all but certain?

Is there a “timberline” of society, where order and commerce, love and laughter, flirt and flamboyance, become chaos and violence, ugliness and horror, marking a place beyond which our species cannot survive? Is life as we know it possible in what we knew of as Syria, one of the oldest locales of civilization?

Is there a “timberline” of spirituality, where serenity ends at a rough jagged edge of chaos and madness, empty of all meaning or significance? Can that line be seen, or are the threats so subtle that the line is crossed without awareness, the bubble of spirit exhausted like altitude sickness on a mountain top, being too deep beneath the waves when the tank goes dry?

This week we plant trees and lavender around the treehouse. Maybe we’ll plant an apple tree, too, before the season turns. Go to a movie. Remember to meditate. Call my daughters. I need to plant myself, too, on this side of my timberlines.