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

 

 

No Child Left Inside

It may be the era of cellphones, video games, and indoor activities, but youth have always thrived being outdoors actively engaged with one another in exploring nature and making up nature-based games of daring and imagination. This year, I am devoting a lot of my time, energy, and passion to supporting that truth.

At a most personal, joyful level we just finished a week of Granny Nature Camp with our two dear Los Angeles grandchildren. And at a larger community level I am one of the adult volunteers in our local middle school program, which received a No Child Left Inside grant from the Washington State Parks and Recreation department for the 2018-2019 school year.

Our grandchildren

What do we do in our Granny Nature Camp? Education. Fun. Adventure. Storytelling. Listening. Our first project this year was having our 8 and 14-year-old grandchildren plant pea, kale, and spinach seeds in the garden. Young people need to understand where their food comes from. The miracle of spring is that they put those seeds in the ground when they arrived and were able to see them coming up before they headed back home.

Ann, Sasha, and Jaden planting the garden, photo by Christina Baldwin

Sasha’s emerging peas after 8 days

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eight-year-old Sasha learned how to ride a bike during her visit with us last summer (when she was 7). She doesn’t get much of a chance to practice riding where she lives, so we rented bikes and watched her natural athletic abilities take over. Both kids love our little dog who, of course, needs walking outside every day.

Sally, Sasha, Ann, and Jaden at Spencer Spit State Park on Lopez Island, photo by Christina Baldwin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have some spectacular scenery where we live—cliffs, mountains, the sea. My experience is that kids are not overly impressed with scenery, but they do love immersion in that scenery. Our kids are physical in their appreciation: the challenge of climbing on rocks, throwing rocks, watching animals, and learning about some of the plants their grannies know.

Jaden watching seals on an offshore rock

 

Sasha the rock climber

Sasha and Jaden, the rock sitters

Sasha selling skipping rocks for a hug

Our morning animal card drawing

We began each day by drawing animal cards and talking about our plans for the day. Talking and listening are important skills our dear grandchildren have. I will always treasure those spontaneous conversations that spring forth by being in the stimulation of a green growing world with them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Local Middle School grant

March 16thour Middle School hosted the “We the Ecosystem—Creating Community” workshop. Seattle’s Young Women Empowered (Y-WE) Nature Connections Program came to join us for a day of immersion in nature and community. The Y-WE program serves diverse young women aged 13-24.

Since we were gathering so close to the spring equinox, March 21, I designed some outdoor games to celebrate and honor the changing of seasons. In the northern hemisphere the spring equinox marks a point where night and day again come into balance—each 12 hours long. The switch from winter to spring, erratic as it often is, is a time worthy of huge celebration.

First the beautiful, multi-colored parachute and the earth ball called us into team work. After working together to flip the earth ball, we sat down on the parachute and used the earth ball as a talking piece. “What signs of spring do you see around you?” At first, not everyone had an observation, but the second time around everyone had a comment—ranging from our Whidbey Island 4Hers whose baby chicks have just hatched to one of the young city girls who noticed that warmer weather “encourages my people to go out on the porch and talk.”

 

Working with the parachute and earth ball as a celebration of the Spring Equinox

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In pausing to notice the signs of spring around us we created a little ceremony—a deliberate noticing, an awakening, something to align our energies with the season. Since several of the girls had spoken about chicken or duck eggs hatching, we transitioned to the next spring celebration: an egg toss. Big learning—eggs are remarkably resilient when they bounce on soft grass and it is not such a good idea to catch an egg in close to your body. Laughter and fun aligned our energies with the rising energies of the soil beneath our feet.

Teams working to safely toss raw eggs as part of a spring celebration

 Another team worked to transform an ignored garden bed behind the school. Overgrown with grasses and weeds, the twenty-foot long bed appeared an impossible task for a short activity period. Dozens of girls with shovels and good instruction went to work. An hour later the bed was ready for the next shift of girls to plant cold weather seeds like radish, spinach and peas. Spring in the northern hemisphere signals the beginning of our “agricultural year”. It important for all of us to understand and appreciate where our food comes from and how it grows.

 

Under the direction of the schools gardening director, Cary Peterson, girls tackle the difficult task of turning over an overgrown garden bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One hour later and the 20-foot garden bed was ready to plant peas and radishes.

For me the most basic fact of planetary survival is to raise young people who love, care for, and understand the earth they live on. They don’t have to go on exotic trips or live in what might be defined as a beautiful natural place. They simply need help going outside and learning about the part of the planet right under their feet. No Child Left Inside is a tall order, but it is something we who have our own child-in-nature memories can make happen with grandchildren, school children and neighborhood children.

Sunset over Fisherman’s Bay on Lopez Island

 

The Courage of our Elders

In six weeks, my mother moved three times, received physical therapy four times/day, and returned to using a walker just two weeks after fracturing her pelvis. This is heroic stuff for anyone. Mom is 92 years old.

It is heroic because in your tenth decade, it is not just one thing not working like you expect. There is arthritis, misbehaving bowels, wavering balance, misfiring memory or mental synapses, and a general slowness to movement, to name a few. When a “new” event, often a fall, triggers a “big” malady, the accumulated stress on the body is often completely overwhelming and debilitating.

Mom was overwhelmed and discouraged after her fall, but her usual kind nature drew health care workers to her. Her resolve to do her best during rigorous physical therapy sessions surprised everyone. Mom has not been an exerciser, but she wanted to get back on her walker. She did occasionally joke about hiding from her young, eager, skilled physical therapists. But they always found her!

Mom working with a physical therapist at Christmas

She still needs a watchful eye when walking or self-transferring, so she has been placed in a new section of her health care facility. And once again she is working to make friends, to participate in activities, and to be kind to her healthcare workers.

As a life-long piano player, she has brought new life into the wing of her facility. She wheels her wheelchair over to her piano in the family gathering area, carefully gets up on the piano bench and begins playing dozens of songs she has committed to memory. People begin wheeling themselves out of their rooms to hear her play.

Mom playing her piano

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am incredibly proud of my mother and I realize her story is being played out every single day in homes and facilities around the world. Who do you know that is determinedly putting one foot in front of the other— overcoming sometimes great physical, emotional, and financial odds. A neighbor? A relative? A friend of a relative?

Find a way to spend time with them. Their time is not long on this earth. Their conversation might be slow, but their ability to get us to slow down and really listen is a gift. Their insights can be fresh and thought provoking if we let them.

When Christina’s mother was in her mid-90s, she often recited this poem:

“You see me dreaming alone in my chair,

You think that I’m ‘here’ but I’m really out ‘there.’

I’m talking with angels and I’ll join them soon,

Just after I learn how to fly over the moon.”

Mom and I talk about the veil between the worlds, about God’s plan for her, about conversing with Dad who passed away 5 years ago. I am not afraid of these conversations and listen carefully for openings that might encourage her to articulate some of her current inner journey. But I certainly notice how much happier she is now in her new setting thinking about playing the piano or participating in the next activity for residents. It clearly is a lot more fun to be engaged “here” and I am happy she still has that life force.

Mom visiting with her hometown pastor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Really, you think I am courageous?” she asked when I wondered if she would be OK with me writing a blog about her.

“Without a doubt, Mom! May you cherish the time you have left on this earth and may you continue to be of fine service to the people around you.”

I am lucky. Mom can still converse, play the piano, read books, write in her journal and play cards. I intend to see her as often as possible in whatever months or years she has left.

Ann and her mother, photo by Ann’s sister Kathy Harrington

Winter Storm in the Forest

When big storms blow in off the Pacific Ocean and hit our island sitting at the inland mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, huge damage can occur.

 

Storm debris was literally blown out of Puget Sound, onto some roads, and had to be plowed to be cleared.

Two grand firs were blown over and through the roof of this local, iconic structure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recently we had a storm with over 60 mph winds that left many parts of the island without power for up to 5 days. Thousands of islanders were discovering how essential electricity is to comfort, and how prepared or unprepared their household was to live without it. We were able to keep the house warm with our wood stove and live by candle light with our carefully saved containers of clean water. (See Christina’s blog: Lights out.) When electricity returned, I was eager to see what had happened at my favorite local forest.

None of the towering old growth Douglas fir or cedar trees were down. They were deep in the forest surrounded by their younger offspring and their roots “held” on to each other. They were lucky, but many trees were not.

A tree was literally sheered off, making visceral the power of the wind.

 

A tree snapped off right at trails edge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New openings now exist in places that previously were heavily shaded. This will bring light to the forest floor and unleash a whole new growth spurt of young trees reaching towards the light. This is the natural order of things in a forest. Nothing is static. Everything is constantly changing.

In the midst of my awe at the power of wind on these standing giants, I wondered how many birds were killed by falling trees and branches. Where did the deer and coyotes and squirrels hide to avoid certain death? I could find no evidence to help me answer those questions. It was just very obvious that walking in a forest in the wind is a seriously bad idea.

Forest trail barely visible amidst the downed debris.

In some places our little dog had a much easier time finding her way on the trail than I did! I could barely roll under this tree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One thing I did find that amazed me was the telltale sign of a tree getting ready to “let go”. In the quiet of the forest a week after the storm I found a line of disturbed soil about two feet from the base of a sixty-foot western hemlock. As the tree top was whipping around in the wind, the root ball supporting it was also beginning to move—a very bad sign for the tree’s longevity. It made it through this storm, but what about the next high wind?

 

The disturbed soil line of the moving rootball is just at the edge of the vegetation.

Closeup of the disturbed soil line. If you see this near a tree by your house, have it removed immediately!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is what an overturned rootball looks like.

In the quiet aftermath, this walk brings forth a message I am listening to as the year turns:  Be a part of a community. You have someone to hang onto, someone to share resources, someone to register when you are in trouble. This is true whether you are a tree, a bird, a forest mammal or a wandering, wondering human.