A Life Well Lived

My mother, Astrid Linnea Brown, seven years before her death at age 93.

 On October 1, 2020 our dear mother Astrid Linnea Brown passed away. She died of natural causes at the age of 93 years and eleven months. She lived through the last century and this one with an unflappable kindness that family and friends counted on. She spoke humbly and often did not realize how much wisdom was embedded in her comments on everyday life. I miss that voice and know I will begin to hear it rising from within myself.

On the morning  of her last day of life, Christina and I had a brief Zoom call with her. She remembered that Christina recently had cataract surgery and asked how she was doing. Even though she had entered hospice, we had no idea that she would shift from frailty to dying just a few hours later that afternoon. Thanks to technology, my sister, Kathy, who lives nearby, was able to alert and help gather all four of us daughters so we could be present to our mother’s last hour of life. While Kathy held her hand, we other daughters (in Washington, Arizona, and North Carolina) held vigil via Zoom. We shared scripture and music and the promise that we would take care of each other. We gave her permission to let go. As we played Dvorak’s Going Home from the New World Symphony, our mother, the organist, let go of this life and moved on to her next.

Mom’s casket. Three of us daughters, three grandchildren, and five great grandchildren attended a simple graveside service observing Covid protocols, acknowledging that we were each standing in for dozens of family members who could not travel because of the pandemic. Photo by granddaughter Kyle Anderson.

 

Since our father’s death seven years ago, after 65 years of marriage, Mom transferred out of the family home to an assisted living campus near Kathy. My sisters and I phoned her nearly every day for the last couple of years, being especially diligent as she shifted into nursing care and during this time of pandemic isolation. Many times she called us before we reached her. We were her lifeline as her capabilities diminished. It was an honor to have these conversations and shared insights into one another. Mom tackled her last phase of life with the same resilience and steadiness that led her through the birth and raising of four daughters, the arrival of thirteen grandchildren and then 28 great grandchildren.

Susie, Kathy, Mom, Ann, and Margaret on a 2018 trip up the North Shore of Lake Superior.Photo by waitress.

 

She was a classic woman of her generation—wife, mother, community member, and also a talented piano player and church organist. In many ways our mother was the epitome of the American Dream. Her parents both immigrated to this country as teenagers with their Swedish siblings. They were poor and hardworking. Mom lived through the Depression and never forgot the frugality and hard work of those years. She lived her whole life with the values of love, kindness,  and honesty. These are the values that endeared “Astie” to her many descendants. These are the values needed now more than ever in our country. Thank you, mom, for this powerful legacy. We will not forget.

There are so many stories to share when you live as long as our mother did, but the one I  choose to focus on here is how much I learned from her about writing. Her penmanship was impeccable. Her commitment to writing letters was multi-generational. And she always paid attention to the proper use of language!

My immigrant grandmother, Vendla, taught herself to read and write English. She never got back to Sweden to see her family, so she counted on letters as the link to that other life. Mom often spoke about watching her sit down at the dining room table, Swedish/English dictionary at her side, writing those letters.  The imprint was strong. Mom in turn always took time to write her four daughters as we moved far from home. Actually, our father also wrote us letters because his father had written letters to him during his service in the Pacific Theater in World War II. The importance of communicating via the written word remains with us and has been passed on to our children and grandchildren. (In the younger generation texting and email has, of course, often replaced actual letters but the IDEA of writing is deep in the extended Brown family.)

Mom’s writing went beyond letters. In the late 1990s she and her younger sister, Helen, took one of our PeerSpirit writing seminars. I was delighted by the writing  she shared in a group much younger than herself. She joined a writing group when she moved into her long-term care center after dad passed away.

Mom on one of our writing outings.

One of the things I cherished doing with mom when I visited in recent years was driving to a nearby park to be inspired by the beauty of nature. At first she could walk, then she used a walker, and still later I pushed her in a wheelchair. We would sit and look, sometimes read a Mary Oliver poem, and then take some time to write our reflections. It was a beautiful way to witness my quiet, introverted mother as she articulated some of her deeper thoughts.

A sample journal entry by mom

This snippet of her writing that I share here came from a shared moment with my sister, Margaret. After a fall,  mom had been moved from the assisted living wing into the nursing wing. Susie had come earlier to help our local sister, Kathy. Margaret and I arrived to help disassemble her assisted living apartment. Mom, Margaret, and I paused for an afternoon tea break and took a moment of quiet to reflect on the statement at the top of her page: Little things make a big difference.

You see here her beautiful penmanship even at age 92, her appreciation of our presence, and her getting used to the name of the new place that would be her home for the rest of her days. By having parents who lived for so many decades, I have gained a deeper understanding of what it means to live into old age. And I had a chance to internalize what an extraordinary role model my dear mother was for me. I walk now in her footsteps, in my own way, as best I can.

Graveside service bulletin. Photo by granddaughter Kyle Anderson.

Staycation

This is the summer of our staycation. With the coronavirus still on the rise across the United States, we decided it was not wise to travel. It has been a difficult decision—letting go of our annual Granny Camp with the grandchildren and visiting my mother and a long-planned dream to visit family in Alaska and kayak Prince William Sound.

We know plenty of people who have decided to travel. This is not a commentary on whether this is right or wrong or a debate about flying vs. driving vs. camping. These are times of calculated risks for all of us and to the best of our abilities we weigh the risks vs. the rewards and act accordingly.

This is a blog about some wonderful, unexpected joys of remaining home this summer.

There has been a different pace to life. We don’t “bop” to the store to pick something up. We wait until we have quite a list, because it is a big deal to mask up and then bring everything home and sanitize it. We often travel via bike to do our errands like checking the post office box, because we have more time.

People have had time to create beautiful artwork on our beaches.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is very exciting to have someone come over to visit because we have to plan ahead for a nice day so we can be out on the patio and remain socially distant. No one has actually come inside our house since the first lock down here in early March. As dog walkers in our neighborhoods, we take the time to stand socially distant and visit with someone who is weeding or just porch sitting. We have gotten to know several neighbors on the adjacent street that we did not know before. Speed and efficiency are definitely not very important this summer.

The garden is a special source of joy this year. I don’t think we have necessarily raised more beans or squash or blueberries or garlic, but I have experienced greater joy in the act of tending. For sure the carrot seedlings in the garden and the tomatoes on the porch are getting more regularly watered.

I had an especially good garlic harvest this year.

Snap peas, beans, and squash from our July garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was part of our Audubon pigeon guillemot study. These are wonderful, orange-footed seabirds that nest on the cliffs below our home. Once a week during nesting season I have gotten up  at 6 a.m. and sat below the cliff nests on our beach and carefully counted how many fish deliveries/hour the adults make. There are dozens of Whidbey Island Audubon members doing this below bluffs all over the island. The organization has been doing this for 10 years and thanks to their scientific diligence, several other Audubon chapters in the region have begun their own studies. This has given scientists some important, previously unavailable data about these birds.

Pigeon guillemots are little black and white seabirds with preposterous orange feet.

Remarkably, pigeon guillemots nest in holes high on the cliff. When the young are ready to leave, they jump out of the hole, bounce on the ground and walk into the sea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It has been a good summer to be a salmon fisherwoman. Well, the silvers(Coho salmon) are not exactly running yet but being a shore caster early in the morning has its own special joys like baby seals coming out of the water and taking a nap ten feet from my feet or watching the red, orange sunrises on the mountains of the Olympic peninsula. Actually, I have already caught one Coho. My father, the fisherman, trained me well. He would be proud.

Ann and her 3 pound coho. Photo by fishing buddy Pip Gordon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We camped at a state park on our island. This was our 9-month old puppy’s first camping trip and she came through with flying colors—did not bark at neighboring campers too much and slept through the night! Sleeping outdoors gives one a different perspective of home. One night I had a hard time going to sleep. I slipped quietly out of the tent to look at a star-filled sky through towering old growth Douglas fir trees. There was not one sound in the entire 55-unit campground. Everyone from the ten-year-old boys that were racing around on their bicycles to the older couples in their RVs to the teenagers celebrating a birthday two sites over was quiet. Asleep, sheltered by the trees, trusting in the absolute safety around them. It was a holy moment that I will treasure for a very long time in this chaotic and often not-so-kind world.

Christina, Ann, and Vivi on their state park camping trip—face masks close by for when they leave their own campsite. Photo by Sarah MacDougall

Vivi watching the sunset over Puget Sound.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Night lanterns for the 13-year-old birthday party two sites away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even though we have lived here for 26 years, we made some unusual nature discoveries. One day on a low tide walk we discovered a moon snail carefully laying its eggs in its industrial looking sand collars. Another day we came upon a garter snake trying to eat a slug! Within minutes the young snake let go of its unusual prey, realizing the numbing effect of the slime. The snake rubbed its head back and forth through the dirt to rid itself of that horrible sensation. Probably will not try that again!

The underwater foot of the moon snail is pulling in sand, mixing it with special saliva and eggs to create the sand collar at the bottom.

A garter snake trying to eat a slug.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s been a cool, wet summer here. Our little puppy had another first—kayaking. Mostly she was patient for her hour-long ride, but then she hopped out into the water and was ready to run and play on her very own four legs. Enough lap sitting!

Vivi’s first kayaking adventure

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home improvement projects are generally not thought of as part of vacation, but it brings us joy to tend this little corner of the planet. Having a whole summer home has enabled us to get totally up to date on all outside staining projects—which frees us up to feel more energy for riding bikes, camping, kayaking, and hiking!

Assorted paint brushes get the job done.

Our favorite stain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion—It is a very serious time on the planet. Many more people will die because of the pandemic. Economies are crashing. The racial and economic injustices in the world are made ever more visible during this time. This summer makes my white privilege ever more obvious to me. HOWEVER, ordinary people like myself are doing the best we can to find joy and bring kindness into the world. And, ultimately, this is the thread that holds everything together.

Sunset light on a gnarled, old growth Douglas fir tree hanging onto the west edge of our island—like all of us, a survivor.

 

 

 

 

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.