And then…we change the story!

Story is a map; and the story that gets one person through helps to get the next person through. (C. Baldwin in Storycatcher.)

Winter sunset from my desk.

Scattered across my laptop screen are files that contain opening paragraphs of my autumn’s attempts to write a blog entry. The happy reason for blog silence is my commitment to writing a novel in the creative hours I carve out of a week. An unhappier reason is how easily my attention has been engulfed in our great catastrophes. After awhile I’m not sure what more to say.

When a Canadian friend visited recently I cautioned her, “Crossing into the US right now you are entering a trauma-field of constant media overwhelm. Across a broad spectrum of politics, race, gender, religion, we are aware of the distress we’re in, and how little we seem able to manage it. It’s like the whole country is driving on black ice: we feel the vehicle of our civil life veering out of control. We may have our hands on the steering wheel, but we’re not the ones steering. We may want to hit the brakes or accelerate, but we know that any misaction will throw the car (and country) into total skid. Multi-vehicle pile-ups are everywhere. Most people are just trying to get ‘safely home’—whatever that means—but we are driving through our lives in growing panic.”

Our hearth in winter

I have been hyper-aware how almost every conversation diverts into a downward spiral. Talk about the weather— it spirals into climate change. Talk about sports—it spirals into protests and corruption. Talk about men in public life—it spirals into sexual harassment. Talk about politics—it spirals into despair. There is no “happy place” in these conversations, and I fear we are entrenching ourselves in defeatism.

In my 30’s, I was in a group of several women who met monthly to discuss each other’s dreams. This meant unpacking the imagery, often dialoguing between characters (aspects of self), and sometimes finishing an interrupted storyline, or creating a different ending so that we could imagine a way out of a situation.

Around that time I had a recurring dream of a bear chasing me across my yard. I would make it safely to the house and lock the door and then realize it was just a screen door. The bear would arrive, start to claw at the screen, and I’d wake up. So I finished the dream by dialoging with the bear: “Who are you and what are you in my dream to tell me? Why do you want to catch me? What will happen if I let you in?” I created an ending to the dream: I let the bear in. We danced. Years later, when I was writing Life’s Companion and exhausted during the final chapters, I remembered the bear and called it to my back, leaned into its strength, and typed my way to the final page. Susan Seddon Boulet, who illustrated the cover and inner section pages, drew this image for me.

Susan Boulet, Woman in Bear Hug, collection of the author.

This is what we need now! We need to end every dive into the nightmare with a new ending: a story that inspires us forward. Talk about the weather— it spirals into climate change—and then we talk about the healing capacities of Earth and our love of nature. Talk about sports—it spirals into protests and corruption—and then we talk about human strength and the wonders of our bodies. Talk about men in public life—it spirals into sexual harassment—and then we speak of the men of integrity we know. Talk about politics—it spirals into despair—and then we imagine a revitalized democracy emerging.

Story is a map. We are at the end of the known story and it is our work now to map our way forward through imagining the possibilities into being. We can change the ending of this nightmare and dance with the bears, transform the dragons, rest in beauty.

Once upon a time… and then…and then…and then.

Original cover of my book, Life’s Companion, Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest, Bantam, 1991.





Traditional Knowledge

I am an Anglo-American, descendant of immigrants: 50% Swedish and 50% northern European (Irish, Scotch, German, French). Blue eyes and blond hair, now silver; I was educated in public schools and state universities where western scientific knowledge provided the framework for my thinking. I appreciate this knowledge and I believe these times require me to continue to question and expand the worldview I was handed.

Books as Bridges to Traditional Knowledge

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben and Tim Flannery; The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors by David Haskell; Mozart’s Starling by Lyanda Lynn Haupt: and A Rain of Night Birds by Deena Metzger have helped me on my search to reach through the veil of western scientific thinking into traditional knowledge. (See below for definition.)

This first book is written by a German forester, who after 30 years, began to realize how much more trees were than just lumber. He helps us understand how trees quite literally communicate with one another.

The second also focuses on trees. Written by a University of Tennessee professor, this very in-depth book leads us by the hand into forests all over the world helping us to perceive the music and poetry available there.

The third book, written by Seattle friend and colleague, Lyanda Lynn Haupt, is an exquisite example of a writer immersing herself in her nature topic. She and her family lived with a wild starling so she could better understand the role a starling played in the Mozart household, and the influence of birdsong on the great composer’s life.

A novel written by radical social ecologist, Deena Metzger, took me to the bridge between scientific thinking and traditional knowledge. Her book chronicles the love affair between an Anglo climatologist and a Native climatologist that leads them to the very edge of wild nature and across the shamanic barrier to traditional knowledge.

Traditional knowledge is long term environmental understanding held by people who remain immersed in and dependent on the natural world for subsistence and for social and spiritual lineage.

The commitment of the above authors to explore Nature beyond western educational frames and training enabled them to build a bridge to authentic traditional knowledge for all of us. In a specific example of how traditional knowledge can sometimes be wiser than scientific thinking, Dennis Martinez (“The Value of Indigenous Ways of Knowing to Western Science and Environmental Sustainability” (May 9, 2010) explains how Canadian regulations on musk ox hunting nearly destroyed the population until Inuit hunters’ wisdom was acknowledged.

Musk ox—Elelur photos

“Western scientists can be unbelievably ignorant of animal behavior. Some years ago the Canadian government allowed the sport hunting of Arctic musk ox that had passed reproductive age. Inuit hunters objected. They knew that herd elders were critical to the survival of the herd when it was under stress, e.g., keeping the younger musk ox calm during sieges by wolves. They also knew that the larger, heavier older musk ox, like bison, are able to break through thick ice-encrusted snow, allowing smaller, younger animals to access the browse beneath the snow. It wasn’t until the herds began to crash some years later that scientists recommended stopping the shooting of “over the hill” musk ox. This mechanistic approach of scientists to animal management prevented them from recognizing the social ecology of animals.”

Experience as Bridge to Traditional Knowledge

Just over a year ago I made a pilgrimage to Standing Rock—the spontaneous camp on the banks of the Little Cannonball River to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline being drilled under the Missouri River.

Ann at Standing Rock, December 2016 photo by Anne Hayden

Thousands of Anglo allies came to support the Standing Rock Sioux. And people from 300 Native Nations joined the nearly yearlong encampment. I came to be of service to these people in their valiant stand and to humbly expose myself to their wisdom about keeping the protest peaceful and spiritually focused.

It was a remarkable learning experience. The arrival of a fierce North Dakota blizzard necessitated quick, shifting of energies—adaptability is a primary teaching of traditional knowledge. Instead of experiencing whole camp ceremonies, I learned instead from the privilege of some important conversations with individual Native peoples. (See blog:

Extended time outdoors in wild nature, in the garden, with our little dog—these are my ongoing sources of experiential learning along the continuum between scientific thought and traditional knowledge. I cherish the richness of the learning journey ahead of me. I invite you to join that journey. These are perilous times that require all the wisdom our species can bring forth. We cannot remain siloed and separated in any way.