For Times Like These

During the first week of June, I embarked on a wilderness fast to hold sacred prayer space for the world in a pandemic. There was no public camping available anywhere in the state of Washington then, so friends offered their land for my fast.

However, as the date approached, the world’s challenges literally began to explode. The night before I was to leave was the 6th day of protesting and rioting after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a white policeman. I was in huge inner turmoil about whether or not to go through with my plans.

Do you leave the safety of home and family when the world is literally burning? I wavered and vacillated. My beautiful partner said, “The world needs your prayers. This is a tangible thing you can do.”

Her words were exactly what I needed to hear. For three nights and four days I camped, fasted, and prayed. The shelter of my little tent and the surrounding wild lands gave me a much-needed break from the news.

 When I arrived at the forested land that would be my home for four days, the first thing I did was set up camp. It is “in my bones” to know exactly where to pitch the tent for flatness of ground, how to string the tarp for maximum rain protection, and where to establish my various sit spots. These are practiced rituals of nearly a half century of experience. It made me so happy to be tucked into my woodland home!

Ann’s forest camp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I began exploring my surroundings. Where do paths lead? What creatures are sharing this spot with me? Where are some good places to establish little natural altars? What plant friends are around and what stage of their life cycle are they in? In the late spring in this bioregion, I always look to see if my namesake plant, Linnea borealis, is nearby and blooming.

Linnea borealis, the twin flower, in bloom

 

Looking at this patch, I remember my Swedish grandmother Vendla. This was one of her favorite plants in the old country. I think about her as a 16-year-old coming with her sisters to America. Such a powerful rite of passage!

 

 

 

Any rite of passage is a private endeavor. There are conversations in the journal and ceremonies on the land that belong only to the seeker. Some of these are shared with those who send and receive the quester. Some remain within the heart of the quester—little pieces of kindling awaiting the right conditions. Recorded here are a few insights from this journey.

One insight was physical. I am used to an ongoing, ever changing search for the balance between sensibility and adventure as I age. One day of my quest I walked the state park adjacent to where I was camping. I was grateful and happy for the skill and stamina to be wandering up hills, over rocky beaches, carrying a 12-pound pack with all my Ten Essentials for the better part of a day. I was thinking, “I have been lucky to have such extensive travels and exploration. It is OK with me if my activities are now more moderate.”

Forest path in the state park

Literally at that exact moment, a large shadow passed overhead in the forest. I looked up in time to see a beautiful blue and white paraglider zipping along at treetop height. “Oh my gosh!” I exclaimed. Remembering that the park is a place where paragliders gather, I picked up my walking pace hoping to see the glider land.

Paraglider about to land on the bluff of Ft. Flagler State Park

 

To my great surprise there were five paragliders and their beautiful, multi-colored sails gathered on a green lawn atop a cliff. Blue sky, blue water, snow-capped mountains behind . . . and colored sails. It was spectacular. My brief conversation with one of the men was delightful. “You know, you could ride tandem with one of our club members some time to try it out,” he said. Surprise! I may not be done with exotic activities after all!

 

A few hours later, I was sitting on the beach near some blooming wild roses. I created a small altar on the sand.

Wild roses near a beach log

My little beach altar

Staring south I could see Mt. Rainier looming above the city of Seattle. I wondered about the status of protests in these days since I had been gone. I thought about my own white privilege—just being able to do this quest was the result of having enough resources and time. The focus of my life and work has always been nature, the environment, and youth. My work and interactions have largely been with white people. And yet, my own children and grandchildren are Korean and Hispanic/Korean.

What can I do to keep waking up my consciousness? What books can I read? What conversations do I need to have and with whom do I need to have them? What are genuine pieces of work I can engage in to make a difference? Our grandson thinks about these things, so does our daughter—what conversations can we have now?

Leaving the beach and hiking through the forest up to the bluff location of my camp, Mary Oliver’s tree poem fills my heart.

 When I am Among the Trees
by Mary Oliver

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks, and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.

I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”

The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,”
they say, “and you, too, have come
into the world to do this, to go easy,
to be filled with light, and to shine.”

It was the perfect benediction for my quest. Within 24 hours of returning home, Christina and I were participating in a rainy, peaceful protest in Oak Harbor, on the north end of Whidbey Island. There were several hundred people—a good percentage of them people of color and young—actually, we did not see any other gray-haired, white people. Most of us were wearing masks. Cars driving by were honking horns. It was hopeful. It was a good first step.

Black Lives Matter protest in the rain on Whidbey Island

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grieving

Mostly I manage to be upbeat in this time of pandemic closures but cancelling our annual June Cascadia Quest took me to a surprising place of grief. What is my work in the world now if I can’t lead people into the wilderness? Questing offers such an important path for seekers, what if the time for remote retreats in nature with community cannot happen for a long time? And, oh how I treasure our annual pilgrimage to the stunning lands of Skalitude retreat center in the eastern foothills of the Cascade Mountains! When will I be able to return to those carefully held lands with my beloved Christina and our dear friend and co-guide, Deb?

Co-Guides of the Cascadia Quest: Christina Baldwin, Ann Linnea, and Deborah Greene-Jacobi

The pandemic is a time when all of us are grieving something—not seeing friends, changed work status, lost vacation plans, people we know who’ve been sick, maybe even died—the list is harder and longer for some than others. Grief kind of piles up. I’ve had to cancel a visit from our grandchildren and a visit to my mother. Those were “expectedly” sad decisions. But the decision to cancel the quest is what opened the door to my accumulated grief about so much of what is happening in the world today.

After weeks of decision making around the quest, I felt overwhelmed by my sadness and disappointment at not being able to host it this year—did not have my usual energy for doing things. Only going outside for walks with our new puppy or puttering in the garden brought joy back. My lethargy worried me until I recognized it as grief.

The 2020 questers were already deep in their preparations—declaring intentions, journal writing, taking Medicine Walks—when the COVID-19 virus began to systematically shut things down around the world. As co-guides, Christina Baldwin, Deborah Greene-Jacobi and I spoke with each of the questers, monitored news, and consulted with other members of the Wilderness Guides Council. Five participants were coming across the Canadian border, which is closed at least through May 20. Our Washington state governor, Jay Inslee, has barred all non-essential travel until after June 1. Our colleague guides who were offering wilderness retreats in May and early June have all cancelled their quests.

The valley of the Skalitude lands

Cancelling this year’s Cascadia quest was clearly necessary for everyone’s safety. That is the “professional” level of the decision. But the “heart” level of the decision raised a desire to help them from a distance to continue their inner journeys. In response, we have sent our participants three documents: Sit Spot, Medicine Walk, and Quest/ions writing exercise. Each describes an important spiritual life tool that we want to offer more widely during this time of worldwide retreat from ordinary life.

Medicine Walk 2020

The Sit Spot Practice

Quest:ions

A long history of wilderness questing

Designing nature rites of passage has always been important to me. Long before I trained in multi-cultural quest guiding, my “bones” knew that something important happens when a person spends extended time alone in nature while being held by community.

When I was 14, my family started renting a cabin at a remote ranch in Colorado. Each day I would disappear for many hours exploring the uncharted wilderness of the surrounding White River National Forest. These were my first Medicine walks. Adventures at the Ranch were both solo and communal. Some members of our Brown family spent 2 weeks every summer for 49 years there. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for giving four generations this extraordinary opportunity!

Astrid and Frank Brown, 2012, 49th year of taking their extended family to the Ranch

The guest ranch where 4 generations of the Brown family gathered for 49 summers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A third and fourth generation member of the Brown clan playing in the icy waters of Canyon Creek

When my son, Brian, turned twelve, I wanted to mark his shift into manhood. The culture around me did not seem to offer anything. So, a friend and I organized a day long hike for our two sons along the shore of Lake Superior followed by a big welcoming campfire. All eight of the boy’s grandparents came from out of town to participate in their grandsons’ growth. The boys hiked 12 miles alone that day. They got lost and wandered late  into the campground with their waiting dinner and ceremony and loving families. Both Brian and Ben referred to that day often as they grew into fine men.

12-year-old Brian by the shore of Lake Superior

When I turned 43, I personally felt called to mark midlife, to give gratitude, and to ask the big question, “How else might my life be of service at this time?” In Deep Water Passage—a Spiritual Journey at Midlife I detail the 1800-mile, 65-day kayaking trip around the shore of Lake Superior with my dear friend, Paul in 1992. That trip marked the earliest beginnings of PeerSpirit and launched me into serving as a wilderness guide able to lead rites of passage work for others.

Cover of Deep Water Passage—a Spiritual Journey at Midlife

It is an incredible privilege and responsibility to serve as a guide for people on a wilderness quest. For a number of years, I served in that role in other organizations. In 2009 PeerSpirit offered its first Cascadia Quest. Every year since then, until 2020, men and women have gathered with us on the beautiful lands of Skalitude. We have booked ten days for 2021 in hopes this work can continue.

Ann leading a group of Skalitude questers on their valley introduction hike

Holding hope for a return to traditional questing

I do not diminish what CAN happen online. I am participating in that venue. However, I am firmly holding the point on the wheel that many things really need to be done “face to face” with each other, and with nature. As many things move online, may our next steps out of quarantine lead us eventually safely back to one another and to Nature.

Please Don’t Forget!

It is April 22, 1970. I am a junior at Iowa State University.  Spring has come to the small town of Ames, Iowa. The enormous old maples and oaks fringing central campus are leafing out. Tulips are blooming. The iconic lilac bushes are beginning to show promise of their white and purple fragrant blossoms. Students are sprawled on the grass sitting in small clusters on the immense lawnscape of central campus. Everyone is waiting for the daily 11:50 a.m. concert from the university carolinear who will play a 20-minute concert from the campanile tower with its 50 bells.

Iowa State University campanile, courtesy ISU website

However, it is more than an ordinary day for students with spring fever. It has nationally been designated Earth Day. Speeches will be given in many places on campus, including on the steps of Bessey Hall, the old botany building. There will be a rally at the football stadium with music and more speeches. Over 20 million Americans will participate in parades, dances, and speeches on this first ever Earth Day inspired by Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. I am already an idealistic young biologist. This event will secure my dedication to a lifetime of service to the earth.

Earth Flag, photo by Ann Linnea

What to do? As I always do, I pause and look to nature for guidance and teaching. Outside our homes and apartments in the northern hemisphere, fruit trees are sporting their glorious, sweet blossoms. Grass is greening again after the long winter. The southern hemisphere is moving into welcomed cooler temperatures and moisture—I think especially of our friends in Australia who are so grateful for the end of a brutal fire season. At a superficial view, nature seems to be thriving during this time of human slowdown.

A maple tree about to bloom, photo by Ann Linnea

Aren’t we grateful for the continuation of life on this precious planet? Don’t we feel that gratitude more deeply than ever this year? Isn’t that reason enough to celebrate? Of course! This year has been proclaimed the year that Earth Day goes digital. And, as I mention later in this essay, it is more important than ever to also go outdoors!

Online Earth Day celebrations

So, how can we celebrate and still honor social distancing mandates? There will be a lot happening online. One official site for Earth Day 2020 celebration is http://earthday.org/. Their website banner states, “We have two crises: one is the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. The other is a slowly building disaster for our climate. On April 22, Earth Day goes digital.”

Sierra Club devoted their March/April issue to celebrating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. “On April 22, 1970 nearly one in 10 Americans flooded the streets and the woods and the seashores to call for an end to the merciless pollution of the country’s air, water, and landscapes.” They have many suggestions for Earth Day 2020 online: https://www.sierraclub.org/articles/2020/04/celebrating-earth-day?utm_source=insider&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter

The April issue of National Geographic is devoted to Earth Day 2020 and contains impressive background information and a look ahead 50 years—from both an optimistic and a pessimistic perspective.

And many local communities, including our own, previously had a month of celebrations planned—all of which have gone digital.

2020 Earth and Ocean Month logo for Whidbey Island, courtesy of their website

 

 

Actual outdoor observances

 Because of social distancing mandates, people have had to let go of traditional ideas for celebrating many spring festivals. Passover, Easter, and Ramadan, all occurring in April, usually celebrate by gathering family and community. They are mostly being celebrated online. Earth Day is no different, but If you can safely and legally get outside, do so. If you are inside,  tend plants in your house, handle vegetables with reverence, plant seeds, feed birds, listen to your pets with calmed attention.

So, what else can be done at this time of staying indoors and doing respectful social distancing? I think almost anyone can participate in a Sit Spot. A Sit Spot is a practice of outdoor meditation or noticing. No devices, just physical senses: you with Nature. I have a Sit Spot in our local state park that is waiting for me once the shelter in place restrictions are lifted and the parks open to the public again. My closest Sit Spot is on the front porch. You can sit on a balcony overlooking quieted streets, on a front porch, or the steps into your house. Find a place within a few minutes walk out your front door into your yard or garden. A senior in a wheelchair can participate.

Sit spot is both location and intention. Sit by yourself for ten minutes. Bring a notebook and a pen, maybe colored pencils. Be completely quiet and do not move except to write down anything you see, hear, smell or sense.

Ann on her front porch sit spot with notebook, photo by Christina Baldwin

My suggestion is to do this every day during Earth Week: April 20-24. It is best to go to the same spot every day so you can really practice your skills of observation and see what different things you notice each day—especially at different times of the day. At the end of your 10 minutes create something from your observations: a drawing, a short story, a collage, a poem. Then participate in the community aspect of this incredible celebration—send it off to children, grandchildren, friends, or even a local website.

Instead of participating in an outdoors youth celebration this Earth Week, as would be my custom, I am working with local elementary teachers to design some Earth Day celebration ideas for their online curriculum—which includes a Sit Spot exercise.

It is rural here and our local Land Trust has allowed its trails to remain open. People are very good about stepping aside and letting one another pass. If you have access to parks or beaches, enjoy, respect social distancing, and treat your outing as a privilege. So many of your fellow planetary citizens to not have this opportunity right now. Gratitude is a very important part of an Earth Day celebration.

The planet is getting a rest right now from many of the activities of its 7.8 billion humans. Perhaps, this is the greatest Earth Day gift we can bestow.

Fifty years ago, on Earth Day when I was that junior at Iowa State University, the speeches, the parades, and rallies were the most inspirational thing I had ever experienced in my young life. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin called this celebration forward as a way to bring environmental issues to the forefront of political action. The results were astounding. In the 1970s the U.S. implemented major legislation such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. The Environmental Protection Agency was founded.

Now more than ever earth wellness needs to come to the forefront of our thinking and action. My request for each of us in this time of pandemic is to remember and participate in the 50th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22, 2020. And even more than that—may we support political action that enables us to have the optimistic view of 2070 portrayed in this month’s National Geographic magazine.

Cover of April 2020 National Geographic, photo by Ann Linnea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Minister of Joy for Times Like These

These are serious, challenging times. We live near Seattle, one of the epicenters of COVID-19 lock down in the U.S. Even on our island we are watching church services, meetings, and performances cancelled. Every day the news sends a new level of concern. People are on edge, yet we all still need connection and laughter. We are discovering that our puppy, Vivi, is a little minister of joy.

Vivi the corgi puppy

The other day I walked into ACE Hardware to pick up a few things. We always stop to see our friend who works there. Vivi wiggled all over and licked her face when picked up. Our friend said into her headset to other ACE employees: “Serious cute puppy alert in the paint department. “

About a half dozen employees came over for their fill of licks and kisses. The whole scene took only a few minutes. When the employees had returned to their posts, a customer who had been watching said, “You have no idea how much I needed this.”

One of our jobs as the owners of this outgoing, four-month old corgi is to protect and replenish her extraordinary spirit. Spending time outdoors together works for all three of us.

Puppies and toddlers naturally love the earth. Well, yes and no. I remember the first time I took our newly arrived, 15-month-old adopted son, Brian, outdoors on grass. He was barefooted and did NOT like the prickly sensation of the grass on either his feet or his hands. Clearly, he had not spent time outdoors on the ground before. Fortunately, he very quickly discovered the freedom of a large yard and took off. It reminded me that it is a big world out there and having positive experiences requires care and skill building.

There have been a number of instances this last month that remind me how quickly fear can come in and change things when you are 13 pounds and 9 inches tall. My job at 120 pounds and 5 feet 7 inches tall is to help our puppy understand what to fear and what is just another new thing.

Lesson #1—Sometimes the woods seem big and scary. We have walked Vivi in our local state park with its paths through old growth trees since she was 10 weeks old. When we first went, she could not even pull herself up and over some of the big tree roots. She needed “butt assists”. Now, twice the size of that smaller puppy-self, she has no problem getting up or down, under, over, or through the natural hurdles on the forest path. She has been building skills and coordination through practice. She has gained increasing strength and confidence.

The woods are a big place for puppies and toddlers.

The other day, though, she had a moment of fear. We had stopped along the trail for a little snack break on our 3-mile walk. (She loves knowing that food is also a part of hiking.)

Snacks on hikes is a seriously good idea

 I was putting away our snacks. All of a sudden there was a strong blast of wind and a dark cloud covered the sun. She put her little paws on my leg and whined. She was fearful and needed to be carried a short distance. Sometimes when you get scared, you need reassurance that you will be taken care of.

I remember the first time we took our four-year-old, city dwelling grandson walking in the woods at night. He had a headlamp and as we entered the woods he directed his headlamp scan to the top of the trees. “Is there anything in here bigger than we are?” he asked.

We assured him that neither the trees, nor deer, nor wind in the branches high above would hurt us. But like Vivi needing the reassurance of a temporary lift, little Jaden needed the assurance of words from his grandmothers.

Lesson #2—Trust your owner/parent to know when another dog is safe. This is a big responsibility for any dog owner or parent of a young child.

Little Vivi just loves meeting people and dogs on the trail. When we meet people, I always ask, “Do you enjoy dogs?” If they shake their head “no”, I kneel down and hang onto her harness and let them pass. However, if they have a dog, I instantly pick up our little 13 pounder and ask, “Is your dog friendly with puppies?”

Vivi has never had a negative experience with another dog and I am determined to keep it that way. The other day hiking in the woods we met a man and a woman and a 3-year-old mutt three times Vivi’s size and off leash. I could hardly hang onto my squirmer so eager was she to meet this dog. I asked, “Is your dog friendly to other dogs?” The man replied, “Yes”.

I asked, “Should we let them meet?” The woman looked squarely at me and said, “I don’t think so.” I thanked her and they walked on. This is an ongoing challenge for owners of any dog, but most especially small dogs. When in doubt, don’t have them meet! And as a toddler parent, always pick them up when a dog approaches and work from there with careful dialogue.

 Lesson #3—A mile is a whole lot more than 5,280 feet and it is filled with the best possible replenishment for humans and dogs alike. In Teaching Kids to Love the Earth (1991, University of Minnesota Press) my three writer friends and I focused on helping parents realize how much can be seen, heard, felt, and discovered together with their children. For those of us with puppies and children, a good summary of that book would be—stop often and let them explore. Let them help us slowdown and rediscover all there is to experience in a mile of walking. And then all of us can re-enter the social fabric of life with new joy.

Peace is a quiet moment outside

 

 

 

Weather is Not Boring

“Talking about the weather is boring.” We’ve all heard some version of this statement. Actually, weather is exciting because:

  • Weather affects us all. It may be the most universal way people remain connected to nature and aware of environmental changes.
  • Weather is a conversation that can unite us across party lines.

My own history with weather passion is deep. My launch as a weather geek came in the summer of 1992 when my longtime friend, Paul Treuer, and I paddled around Lake Superior (the largest lake on the planet). We listened to the weather band radio twice every morning and often again in the evening. After the first listen, we told each other what we thought we had heard. Nearly every day we had not heard exactly the same thing. We would discuss the differences in our perspectives and then listen again until we agreed and could plan our paddling day.

Ann and Paul Treuer at beginning of their 1992 journey around Lake Superior

 

Our lives literally depended on these conversations. This was before cellphones or the internet or any other kind of digital reporting. Our only means of predicting the weather beyond our skill at reading clouds and seas were our little 2×4 inch battery powered weather band radios. Over and over again we had to decide whether to stay on the beach, because winds were forecast to rise, or whether to launch quickly and progress up-shore before weather forced us in our 17-foot sea kayaks to an early landing.

 

Continuing a pattern of weather tending

 Since then, I have paid attention to the weather every day because I learned in the core of my being that the weather signals what the earth is doing and it DOES matter—usually not to my paddling day, but always to my garden, dog walk, picnic plans, driving or storm preparation.

Weather tending is very easy these days—TV maps and charts, dozens of internet apps, and weather blogs. Weather prediction has improved so much that people can even find reasonably accurate predictions for the exact hour rain will begin on a given day in their particular community! Mornings in my kitchen cooking breakfast, I combine the information from a much improved weather band radio and by also checking the National Weather Service and Weather Undergroundwebsites and reading a local weather blog.

Weather Band radio Ann now uses for one of her daily weather sources.

I also contribute to daily weather data by participating in COCORAHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, & Snow Network). Each morning I walk out our front door by 7:00 AM, check the 24-hour rain total to the nearest hundredth of an inch and report precipitation, temperature, cloud-cover and wind condition. The National Weather Service and numerous TV and radio weather reporters study this microclimate data to improve their local predictions. It delights me to be a part of this citizen science network, now for over twenty years.

Ann checking 24-hour rain total in her front yard weather station.

Weather crosses party lines

On a recent winter day, I did a comparative check on the afternoon weather for Seattle and surrounding areas from stations ranging from Fox News to CNN. There was very little difference in their charts and graphs or the final weather prediction. No matter their political slant on other news, they all used the same science from the National Weather Service, local COCORAHS reports, and any number of computer modeling systems to reach the same conclusions—and we count on their accuracy.

So, let’s unite our efforts to reverse climate change

I am puzzled by political fighting around the issue of weather and climate change because the data sources agree. Temperatures have warmed significantly all across the planet the last half century. Storms are becoming more intense everywhere. Both Antarctica and the Arctic are experiencing record breaking temperatures and loss of ice. I could go on and on with details. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is probably the best site for up-to-date information on climate change reports. The IPCC assesses the state of knowledge of climate change by compiling existing research. They are non-partisan and non-policy makers.

Skewing weather data that we depend on in our daily lives to serve different political and economic agendas is not good use of science. What we do agree on is that unpredictably intense weather events are happening on the planet (talk to any Australian these past months).

Instead, let’s use weather as a way to engage ideas, energy, and scientific expertise to work together to solve the problems facing our earth. It is wasted energy to argue that global climate change is not happening. It is happening everywhere and our lives literally depend on acknowledging this fact and solving the problem!

 

 

Master of Curiosity

When you are eight weeks old, it is hard to be a master of anything. Surely not sustained focus or potty training or knowing when to bite and when not to bite. But our newly arrived little corgi puppy, Vivi, is a complete master of curiosity.

Eight-week-old Vivi on alert

Watching her step into the big world of our front yard is remarkable. The area is half grass, half patio. It is fenced all around. Winter temperatures here hover in the 40 degree F. range and the grass is always wet. There is traction for racing around—keeping warm and pouncing on green stems.

Inside, and even more outside, all her little systems are on high alert— eyes, nose, ears, and, of course, mouth, mouth, mouth. A seemingly boring, old brown winter leaf blows by. POUNCE. Captured, ready for investigation. Hmmmm .  . . . . does not appear to want to play. Smells safe enough. Tastes bland. Time to run and get a drink of water.

Stairs are a new phenomenon. There are four of them into our patio. When you weigh less than 5 pounds and are only 15 inches long with 3-inch legs, a six- inch step is an almost insurmountable hurdle—well, actually, it is a wonderful challenge! Run and leap—she understands momentum as a force in her favor.

That is a really big step!

I did it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And a juniper hedge—oh my, maybe it wants to play with me! POUNCE. I am lost somewhere. But I know I can get out. I am a master at getting out! Even with a bare tummy, the texture of the prickly hedge is no deterrent to our determined little dynamo.

Uh oh, where is the puppy?

Vivi, the escape artist!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vivi knows nothing of owls or hawks overhead or of any malevolence for that matter. She is in complete, total, full out curiosity about this world she has been born into, as should be the birthright of all new beings. When she is outside, I am never more than two feet away (even in the fenced patio when she is running, running, running). Especially at night I am the deterrent to any invisible, observing owl.

Yes, we have bite marks all over our hands and the carpet spot remover Nature’s Miracle is our new favorite cleaning supply. But we are being reshaped and remolded in our 70’s—more flexible, more agile, more hopeful, more joyous. This was a conscious choice. We considered no dog for the freedom of traveling or a young adult dog to avoid the teething, potty training stage. But ultimately the thought of bringing this much joy and companionship into our lives made the choice easy.

And, Vivi has already been a gift to quite a few people in her short week with us! Some call it the puppy magnet factor. I call it being awakened again to life’s possibilities.

Our blue-eyed fairy princess/ambassador

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A walk with her through our local village is like walking with a fairy princess with her unusual blue eyes. People stop and want to touch her. They ask about her. They are no longer in their trajectory: now they are curious. They want to talk and establish a connection. Vivi is both a master of curiosity and a master at weaving connection. The fierce little biter regards those coming toward her with solemn eyes, and licks their fingers. Gentled in the moment. Making the world fuzzy again.

Thank you, Vivi, truly our little Christmas miracle.

Ann and sleeping puppy taking in the beauty of a winter day

 

 

Working Towards a Dream

Skill building is an important part of making a dream happen. We olders know this and have worked this cycle a number of times: youngers are in the process of learning what it takes. They are learning how to commit to something, and then prepare to achieve it.  I talk about this with my own grandchildren and recently had the privilege of working with 100+ eighth graders who are preparing for an end-of-the-school year camping trip that is a rite of passage between middle-school and high school.

This trip will represent the culmination of a year of studying Washington state history, earth science, and emotional and social communication. The 8thgraders in our local school district have participated in some adventure education-type rite of passage at the end of their school year for decades. My son Brian participated right after we moved here in 1994.

Anyone who works with public schools knows this kind of big goal requires huge preparation: on the part of administrators, teachers, parents, and the youth themselves. Each year there are new staff, new administrators, new budgetary concerns, and always new parents and students. Everyone needs to be “on board” to make this classroom beyond walls happen.

On this fall field day the students were divided into small groups and rotated through eight learning stations set up in a park adjacent to the school—everything from meal prep and cooking to tent skills to navigation to journaling and the “ten essentials” were being taught. It was the first step in involving the students in their own considerable year-long preparation. It was my great pleasure to teach the “ten essentials” learning station.

Ann’s 10 essentials: first aid and other items in her old U.S. Forest Service bag, big leaf maple for comparison

 

All of Ann’s 10 essentials contained in her Forest Service pack next to a big leaf maple for size comparison

For me this is not just “one of those things you need to know”. It is, well, essential to safety on the trail. Whether I am doing a short hike in one of our local state parks or trekking a longer distance in the mountains, I always carry some version of these ten essentials:

  • Navigation—Topographic maps, compass, and/or GPS
  • Insulation­– Jacket, hat, gloves, rain shell or poncho
  • First Aid Supplies­– Know how to use them! Bring insect repellent.
  • Repair Kit and Tools– knife or multi-tool, duct tape, string, whistle
  • Sun Protection– sunglasses, sunscreen, hat
  • Illumination–headlamp, flashlight, batteries
  • Fire–waterproof matches, butane lighter, and the ability to start a fire safely!
  • Nutrition–extra food
  • Hydration–2 liters/day minimum, water purification
  • Emergency Shelter–space blanket

 

Patient is cold. Rescuers have access to supplies on the picnic table and their own wisdom.

To make the learning station relevant, we started with a real-life scenario. One of their classmates volunteered to be the patient; four volunteered to be rescuers; and the other 5 or 6 volunteered to be observers. On an overcast 52 degrees F. day I had the patient lie down on a pad and curl up: he or she had one symptom—they were COLD. The observers made a large circle around the patient. The rescuers formed an inner circle and were told they had access to all of the things on the picnic table and should work to warm up their patient.

 

Using coats to cover their cold patient.

 

Amidst giggling and awkwardness, the rescuers demonstrated varying degrees of patient/rescuer communication and then proceeded to warm the patient up. In our debrief after the scenario some of the observers made good comments like: It’s really important to reassure the patient. Be sure to tuck the space blanket underneath so the wind can’t blow in.

 

 

 

Some of the rescuers genuinely showed leadership: I’ll stay with the patient. Would someone go get warm clothes. Let’s put the space blanket on top because it’s waterproof.

Finally, cover patient with waterproof space blanket.

 Later, as we examined each of the 10 Essentials in my pack, one of the students asked, “Why would you carry all of those things just hiking around one of our parks? Can’t you just call 911?” We had a good discussion about how many places on our island do not have cell phone coverage and then I shared a story about a recent hike where I had come upon a man who had fallen and was sitting beside the trail with a bloody knee. He had no first aid supplies and was not sure what to do. I explained how glad I was to have supplies along to be able to help.

 

All event closing circle at the soccer field.

After 8 station rotations and a good sack lunch (and one rain shower) we all gathered on the soccer field to form a circle. Students voluntarily took turns stepping into the circle to share one learning they had from their field day. Later there would be debriefs between organizers and teachers and volunteers. But it was a good first day of preparation outside the four walls of the classroom.

Eighth graders have a lot of energy. It was fun to work with them, to see their creativity, and to encourage the skills of being present and observant. I am a firm believer in the value of outdoor/nature education and will happily volunteer for their next field day.

A Time for Resetting

This past week, a time of seasonal transition from summer to autumn, I cleared off my calendar and each morning spontaneously decided where my nature excursion would be. I had planned to camp at Mt. Rainier, but cold, wet fall weather came into the high country. Home seemed like a wiser base camp, and with Christina away visiting family, I had a unique opportunity for a solo immersion at home.

One Day I visited a little-known state park on our island. Goal #1-Become more familiar with the wild edges of familiar home territory! See it with “new eyes”.

Fall sun evaporating moisture from a rain-soaked fir tree

An old growth Doug fir tree at Dugualla State Park

Continuing with that goal, I traipsed my beloved South Whidbey State Park by full moon light for the first time. Still another day I wandered our wild west beach. On another I hopped on my bike. And in one local park I even found a twinflower (Linnea borealis) still in bloom—4 months out of season.

A late-blooming twinflower (Linnea borealis)—lower center

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One day I left the island and traveled to hike one of our more well-known high North Cascade passes with a friend. Goal #2—Continue to explore the physical edge of possibility as I age.

Nearing the top of Cascade Pass, North Cascades National Park, 7.5 miles round trip, 1800 feet elevation gain

Looking east from the top of Cascade Pass—a 360 degree view of craggy peaks, permanent snowfields, and glaciers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These seven days have been a deep treasure for me—a retreat in place, a time for some soul searching, a way to honor the movement from summer into fall. I have been so happy focusing on “being” instead of “doing”—which was Goal #3. The important tasks of the fall—putting the garden to bed, reaching out to friends and family, tracking the perilous journey of our planet through this time of climate change—are still waiting.

But am now more ready to tackle them with fresh energy and new ideas. It is a great privilege to have the time, health, resources, and energy to take this “resetting” time. I am extraordinarily grateful.

These times demand the fullness of my time, action, and attention. Like so many, I grow weary reading the news and witnessing careless acts of destruction to innocent peoples and the earth. Yet, I care deeply and want to help. On this day, I see the world through new, rested eyes. My course of action has been reset in ways I probably do not yet quite know, but I am enormously eager to begin yet again.

 

 

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is in a category of nature superlatives all by itself.  It is one of only five places on earth with spectacular geysers, hot pools, and paint pots. AND it has a powerful presence of megafauna—grizzly bears, wolves, bison, and elk. This combination rightfully earns the park the title “one of the seven natural wonders of the world.”

One of many gorgeous hot pools in the upper geyser basin near Old Faithful

My Nature Grannie self naturally wanted to share the park with our two grandchildren. How do you help two city kids experience modern Yellowstone in three days?

Step #1—secure lodging. Most of the accommodations within the park were already full by last November when I launched this search. We settled on staying in a cottage on the Yellowstone River in Gardiner, MT at the north boundary of the park.

Step #2—Understand that driving through gorgeous scenery does not especially thrill children. Christina and I could drive for days on the backroads of the west and be completely mesmerized. Not so much our grandchildren. I planned days with lots of short stops and exciting things to see like geysers and big animals.

Step #3—Help them understand that nature is not a theme park. The animals are not “cued up” to provide sightings for us. We have to keep our eyes open, work together, and trust how things unfold.

What actually happened?

Jaden (14), Sasha (8), Christina and I left Great Falls, Montana and the wonderful Baldwin Family reunion  (https://peerspirit.com/bones-to-the-ground/) and drove south to Gardiner, MT.

The next morning, we four got up early and headed to Old Faithful, a long drive through the park. Joining with other visitors we oohed and aahed as the geyser erupted skyward about 130-140 feet—within 10 minutes of its predicted time. It felt important to begin our journey with one of the most famous of the park’s volcanic features. Sitting in the company of some 500 strangers all focused on this miracle of nature was inspiring. After the 3-and-a-half-minute eruption, everyone clapped.

Hundreds of viewers wait for Old Faithful’s eruption

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We continued our day of geyser awe by walking the boardwalk of the upper geyser basin.

The four Yellowstone explorers: Ann, Jaden, Christina, and Sasha taken by another visitor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The noticeable thing about the weather that day was wind and sun. Sasha and Christina walked arm in arm to literally help our youngest member keep from being knocked off the boardwalk in a gust of wind.

Jaden and I were wandering behind them when he made two observations that clued me into his attentiveness. First, he and I had stopped to look at a particularly large geyser cone that was listed as “erupting irregularly.”

“What would happen to all of us walking on this boardwalk if one of those unpredictable geysers went off in this wind?” asked Jaden. I asked him what he thought, and we agreed that there would be a mass exit in the opposite direction that could get pretty chaotic.

Jaden contemplating a geyser

Wildflowers were growing in abundance alongside the boardwalk. After a while, Jaden asked, “Is this plant yarrow?”

“How do you know what yarrow is?” I asked a bit incredulously.

“It’s one of the plants we collect for our medicine bag in Red Dead Redemption.” Background: Christina and I understand something about this favorite video game of Jaden’s and actually partly conceived the idea of showing him the “real” old west because of his fascination with the virtual west of this popular game.

 

In a landscape of superlatives, it can be something tiny that connects us to that which matters. In that brief exchange I believe he saw the connection between “real” life and the fantasy world of his video game.

Always, always when in Yellowstone we were looking for wildlife. In this shot we found three bull elks grazing very close to the roadside near Old Faithful.

Bull elks grazing close to the road

 

Jaden and Sasha watching the elk safely from the car window

On our wildlife day driving through the Lamar Valley in the northeast part of the park we found ourselves in the middle of a “buffalo jam”. Huge thrill for all of us and a reminder of what the west once looked like. Yellowstone has the largest concentration of “conservation bison” in North America with a herd numbering near 5,000.

Buffalo crossing the road

 Activity, activity, activity. Young people remind us to be active and engaged. The day we rode horses into the Yellowstone high country was a highlight for all four of us. Christina and I, who both owned horses as teens, felt like we had never ridden in such stunning country. And Sasha and Jaden for whom this was a first rode beautifully during our two- hour adventure. Afterwards back in our cabin, Sasha said, “When we are with you, we do lots of firsts!”

“Yes, we do, and you were very brave today,” said Christina.

The four of us riding in Yellowstone

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another fun activity for all four of us was soaking where the “Boiling River” flows into the Gardiner River. The walking trail to this unconventional swimming hole is easy and straight forward but the actual immersion into the soaking place requires walking through cold, fast-moving, knee-high water over slick rocks to find a safe place to sit. White hands helped brown hands. English speakers helped Chinese and Spanish speakers, older folks reached for the steadiness and strength of teenagers. All were looking for a place where the really hot water from the underground thermal feature flowed directly into the Gardiner River creating a mixing place of warm water. We were all “in it together”. Once again, a community experience of nature.

Thermal river flowing into the Gardiner River near the popular soaking spot

Soaking in the warm interface where the “Boiling River” meets the cold Gardiner River

Becoming a junior ranger, our 8-year-old, needed the help of her family.  She was required to attend a ranger talk, recall information from different educational exhibits, participate in an “animal Olympics”, and pledge to be a part of caring for the earth. We spent some real time meeting those requirements that, of course, informed the rest of us.

Sasha being sworn in as a junior ranger

 

Jaden and Sasha trying to be mimic  herons standing on one leg while sleeping

It was such a privilege to spend concentrated time with our grandchildren, to be a part of helping them know and love the earth. I miss their curiosity and fresh perspectives and their ever-present reminder to make things relevant.

Evening on the patio after putting the grandchildren on the plane home

 We know their lives are heading into territories we can’t imagine. They will be faced with huge challenges. We hope every time we are together increases their sense of wonder, resilience, and trust in the earth itself.

 

 

Celebrations!

This June I turned 70. It was a momentous turning of the calendar for me and I approached it with a lot of intentionality.

First, I took some solo time in nature to get clear.My longtime friend and co-guide Anne Stine and I attended the Wilderness Guides Council gathering on Salt Spring Island, BC in May. Anne and I stayed afterwards for our own solo time. In my solo time I followed the traditional model of our wilderness quest work: 3 days and nights of solo camping and fasting. Anne welcomed me back with food and story witnessing. My first day of solo was about gratitude, my second day focused on deep internal work, and my final day focused on purpose.

Ann’s solo quest camp

 

The solo time provided a clarifying “house cleaning” for me. I made commitments to: step forth with gratitude and joy; to keep tracking those sneaky shadow pieces; to stay on the trail of loving the earth and focusing on youth and environmentalism.

Next part of my month-long celebration was the privilege of co-guiding our annual Cascadia Quest in eastern Washington. Questers came from Australia, Canada, Germany and the U.S. The age range was 26-75. Each individual’s journey was unique, courageous, and inspirational. Personally, it was an affirmation of the earlier “purpose” day on my own solo time. For most of my adult life I have been a wilderness guide leading adults and youth into nature. Health willing, I hope to continue it for years to come.

Wind flags in the valley of our quest. photo by Holger Scholz

Ann and Christina with longtime friend and quester, Galen Treuer. Photo by Deborah Greene-Jacobi

 

 In January I had sent out an invitation to friends and family to join us for 2 nights and 3 days of camping at a state park on Whidbey Island in mid-June. When the final sorting of schedules and priorities happened there were 11 hearty campers and another half dozen local friends alternating in and out each day. It was my idea of a perfect celebration—living outdoors, good friends, great food (potluck style), hiking, campfire, singing, and storytelling. The flow of days was easy, the weather mostly sunny and not too cold, and the stories fun and poignant. I asked for presence, not presents, and I believe we all walked away uplifted.

Earth flag signaling our campsite at the state park.

Breakfast at the birthday campout

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Warming up for the evening campfire singing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The finale of my birthday month was the arrival of my three sisters from North Carolina, Minnesota, and Arizona. Their schedules didn’t coordinate with the birthday campout so they created their own celebration. We four had never gathered without spouses (Christina was made an honorary sister) or children or parents before. And we had a marvelous time—lots of laughter, good food, hiking, and some deep diving conversations around the ongoing care of our dear mother and our commitment to one another. 

Ann and her sisters. left to right, Kathy, Susie, Ann and Margaret. Photo by Christina Baldwin

One evening we hurried to the beach to capture this site. Photo by Margaret Brown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marionberry pie, our grandmother’s teacups, handmade Slovenian lace from friends Marjeta and Natalija. Photo by Christina

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I feel fully seventy now. Grateful beyond words for health, love, and purpose. Profound gratitude to each person near and far whose words or presence helped propel me into the next decade. The common threads of each of my “celebrations” are the companionship of community, the inspiration of nature, and the willingness to have honest conversations. These are the threads (see William Stafford’s poem below) that have guided my entire life and will stead me well in the years of service ahead.

Ann and Gracie amidst blooming Linnea flowers. Photo by Susie Lynch

 The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among

things that change. But it doesn’t change.

People wonder about what you are pursuing.

You have to explain about the thread.

But it is hard for others to see.

While you hold it you can’t get lost.

Tragedies happen; people get hurt

or die; and you suffer and get old.

Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.

You don’t ever let go of the thread.

By William Stafford, from The Way It Is, 1998