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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maintain the Web

Please look closely. This is a close-up shot of a spiderweb after rain. The photographer, Patrick Fair, a writing brother living in British Columbia, stands in the boggy woods, the sky is slowly turning blue. He leans in and his lens captures the true nature of the world: every droplet reflects the whole. You can see this reflection in the slightly larger spheres, and it is also true in the tiniest bead strung along these slender filaments. Somewhere, you and I are on this web.

The camera has caught reality: everything is connected. Everything is whole–the light and dark of life. Somewhere, you and I are on this web.When the web holds: everyone has a place to hang on. When the web breaks: all the droplets fall, no matter how big or small, no matter how rich or powerful, or self-important, or lowly and humbled, no matter how desperate for help or demanding that ‘normalcy’ return.

This is a spiderweb that has weathered storm: this is where we are now.

To safely navigate this time of pandemic we must comprehend that our every action in the every day reflects on the whole and is the whole. We can language this a thousand different ways, but societal survival depends on people practicing this understanding. Somewhere, you and I are on this web.

We have been forcibly slowed down and asked to examine this truth. We have been given the opportunity to reconsider everything about how we were living and how we want to live. We are seeing and experiencing what has been hidden, ignored, suppressed, or tolerated in order to preserve the old order of things. Somewhere, you and I are on this web.

The Coronavirus is also a web. The virus hides in droplets propelled by a cough or sneeze. The virus lives on our hands to be deposited on a doorknob, ingested off a fingertip, inhaled in a closed room. This could be a photograph of the invisible replication of viral particles stringing through our bodies. We are irrevocably connected. Somewhere, you and I are on this web.

We are now, or soon will be, asked to re-enter common spaces and trust each other to tend the web. Not everyone is capable of this attitude. Some people behave like angry spiders. They have been lied to and agitated. Empathy and common good has turned to venomous disregard. They are armed with a false sense of autonomy. So those of us who can maintain the web are now charged to do so with increased awareness, fierceness, and compassion.

As I step out I am preparing to take care of myself and those around me. I will wear a mask as a signal of collective concern. I will wash my hands and wear gloves to protect our common environment. And I will replace the ease of facial gestures with words of encouragement, gratitude, and when necessary, do what I can to calm the social field. It’s not okay to shout at store clerks, to invade people’s healthy spaces, to politicize and criticize acts of commonsense. It’s not okay to spit judgment into one another’s faces. I step into common space to be an ally, a guardian, and supporter of everyday kindness.

Making a new world together out of this time apart is going to be hard work, good work, and long work. We will all have full employment in this endeavor. We are weavers: there is weaving to be done. Constant repair is required to withstand the winds of change. More storms will shake us.

Somewhere, you and I are on this web.

We can’t see it: we can be it.

 

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.

A Writing Life

When I was a young freelance writer in my late twenties, I read voraciously to find my place in the lineage of wordsmiths: books based on correspondence and journals, the complex relationships of the ex-pat writers of Paris1920-30s: Shakespeare and Company, Gertrude and Alice’s Friday afternoon salons; the Algonquin Round Table in New York city, the heady conversations of Oxford and London, and the socialist activists of Minneapolis and St. Paul. As I reached back to the earlier years of the 20th century, I found history and literature, poetry, liberated women, people breaking ground and taboos: biographies of writers, biographies of whole eras and places that held the seeds of the second half of the 20th century. I connected myself and my writing aspirations to a sense of belonging that has steadied me for fifty years.

When I began teaching journal writing, I dove deeper into this lineage of personal papers, both published diaries and trips into the Minnesota Historical Society to discover their treasure trove of the “not famous” early voices of the pioneer and Victorian era. I poured over files of spidery handwriting and vowed to keep records of my own correspondence. If these “ordinary people” were of value to the historical society, maybe the letters between my friends and I would be valued someday too.

International Women’s Writing Guild, keynote February 1977

When I wrote and published my first book at age thirty-one, my young agent and I twirled down the streets of New York, each of us intoxicated with our step into literary history. We did make history with that book: The Library of Congress had to designate a new category for it because the modern era of journal writing was so new.

“Someday, someone will want to know about this,” she said, “You are a pioneer, keep track of things.” So I did. For years I saved the first draft, the edited pages, the final draft of that book and the next several books assuming some future scholar would want to see how how a book grows from idea to finished product. I saved correspondence, made copies of my letters, filed things by relationship, by years, kept articles I wrote, and those written about my work, copies of speeches given, curricula developed: a body of work. A life in words.

The computer radically changed all this: drafts never really exist anymore the way they used to on a typewriter with scrawled notations in red ink. Correspondence too has changed into texts and emails. Something about that form changed how I write. Gone are the long, thoughtful and heartfelt missives I used to send and receive. Everything is jumbled into an inbox going back to May 2016—maybe when I got this current computer? I often find my email’s constant requests for response exhausting, though I work to bring heart to it, as though it was written by hand. I don’t print much of it, don’t actually have a real desk-drawer filing system for correspondence anymore. And who cares about emails (unless they are Hillary’s).

So in the midst of pandemic isolation I went into the storage room of our little backyard office and began clearing out boxes of files, making piles to be shredded. Correspondence from the era when I thought that mattered; records of the early years of my career—much of it I had forgotten, how hard I worked to hold that place of belonging to lineage that even by the 1980’s was historical.

I threw out the evidence.

I threw out the letters from my best friend in college.

I threw out the letters from a complex mid-twenties love affair.

I threw out the letters between myself and other struggling young writers wishing we had lives as glamorous as those we were copying from an earlier era.

I threw out correspondence organized by year, by book fans, by publishing companies.

I threw out copies of early freelance articles written for regional and national magazines.

And after a while the grief of what I was doing came and sat alongside me. Grief and I smiled sadly at each other—that young brunette who gave her first conference keynote, who sold book after book hoping to break through the mid-list. Grief that time moves only forward and that this kind of record keeping does not matter anymore. There’s not a place for this paper in the digital mania. We don’t live in that kind of world and I don’t foresee that kind of a future.

Oh there’s plenty of paper left from my life: I have been keeping a journal for sixty years and I have every volume of that rambling narrative, handwritten in way over a hundred notebooks tucked in boxes at the back of the closet and spilling out of the lower shelf of my bookcase. I have scrapbooks going back to high school, and my partner and I still spend hours every year in the week between Christmas and New Year’s compiling a record of the year past and our accumulating history of love and relationship. I have digital correspondence files in my computer going back to 2001, but they are nothing like the sheaves I set into the shredding boxes.

I am 74 years old. I have no children: I have no “daughter of the book,” who might be interested in my life/our life/this period of history, or what happened to writing and reading during this time. I am trying to make sorting simpler, for whoever survives me. I am not yet ready to throw out everything, even though I say to my students that the purpose of our private writing is for the clarity and healing it provides by doing it.

And it’s not about me, this companionable grief, it’s about what the world has become. In the world of now we drastically need now to face other issues so that some people can survive and source the phoenix world that will rise from the collapse of this one.

So I offer this paper trail to the shredder. I offer it to recycling. I offer it to re-emergence as new blank pages for unwritten stories, letters, journals, books that will become part of what we leave in the earth for the future to find.

 

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

 

 

 

Blooming where we are planted

In spite of catastrophes and crises, our beautiful island is in full-out spring. Blossoming, which began in February with Hellebores, and crocuses, followed by daffodils and rows of ornamental plum trees, is rolling through peak rhododendron season, and here come the tulips! Lifting our gaze from the television or other devices of dire news, our eyes fill with color, and we dip toward one flower and another like bees nosing for scent. Surely amidst all this generosity of Nature, we can rest in beauty for a few moments.

For myself, Nature is my greatest solace, and as life in the world of human concerns wobbles and shakes, I practice slowing down to really let Nature nourish me. I need nourishing. I need to drink green thoughts, to sip respite through a straw of flower stem, to roll in clover with my puppy for the silliness of it, and to savor the gifts of sunrise/sunset and another day—rain or shine. I bring bouquets into the house. I hug a tree—it’s not contagious.

So many issues in the wider world continue to concern us and disrupt our routines: the environment, politics, economics, and pandemics. Over the winter months and into spring, we have been made aware of our vulnerabilities and interconnectivity on multiple levels. And some of our routines needed interrupting, shifting, realignment, or letting go. The world is not as it was: the world is as it is. We are in the “Roaring 20’s” in a new century and much of what the 1920’s set in motion in society, we in the 2020s are now facing in terms of consequences. These consequences are unavoidable: they are corrections of course that demand redress.

When threatened by contagion, as we are right now in response to Covid-19, it’s easy to pull back and away from one another. We wash our hands more diligently. We replace hugs and kisses with friendly gazes and smiles at what we hope is a socially safe distance; we keep our hands off doorknobs and handrails, and wipe down public spots, but we still need to stay in community, to stay resilient. This is a moment to do whatever we can in our individual circles to be sure we know where and how everyone is. My texting outreach is going up: maybe I can’t help directly, but I can let someone in self-quarantine know I am checking on them, can put food on the doorstep or play “words with friends” on our phones. I can reach out to a niece in Milan, to a brother with compromised lung function, to neighbors I haven’t seen in a while. Just send love—it’s the right kind of contagious!

There is no escape from these times: we must bloom where we are planted and take charge of the quality of our lives by keeping our hearts open to beauty and to one another.

 

 

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!

 

 

Where do we go when story falls apart?

We are story-making beings: we have to create stories out of our experiences. Story is the core thought pattern for sense-making. As things happen to us and around us, we cope by making life events into a story that organizes our experiences into a pattern. We tell ourselves these stories because we need a narrative inside which we can continue to make sense of our lives by linking one experience to the next. We tell each other these stories to help us cope collectively, to seat our experiences within a larger social story, and to seek shared meaning and belonging. Who gets my story? Who believes me? Who sees the world in a similar enough way? How does my story impact or contribute to the stories of my communities?

Right now, and for the foreseeable future, we are living in a tremendously chaotic, dissociated story-field in which the expected narrative of our lives is falling apart at multiple levels. Many of us are in some level of shock and trauma in at least one part of our story. As this occurs, we need to look for some area of our story that is holding steady, or where we can create a sense of narrative organization.

Where do we go when our story is falling apart? Well, I go to another level of story. And over my many years of working with writing students, writing books about writing, and living my own decades, I have come to think of story’s functioning at three levels: Chronos, Epos, and Kairos.

Chronos, is how we live through our personal lives. We think of ourselves as living through time, and our stories reference time constantly because we are linking our life experiences and creating a personal field of meaning. “When I was young…. Now I understand… Last summer… next week… I knew someone once who… oh that happened to me, too….”  Chronos is how we place ourselves in our own lives, how we connect to the lives of others with a sense of the kinship of all experience. These stories make maps of the scope of personal experiences.

So when my beautiful friend Kelly, a robust, heart-open man in his early 60’s was diagnosed with glioblastoma brain cancer, his story of himself and

Kelly & Diana Lindsay.

his life, his Chronos, fell apart. In response, he jumped to Kairos, and created a place and cast of characters called The Farmhouse, where he personified the illness, and his psyche broke into multiple voices and personalities so he could respond to his situation with incredible love and compassion. This was not a breakdown, but an amazing breakthrough. He began recording his dialogues and insights on his Caring Bridge site and invited his family and community into the transformation of his experience. “They were just waiting for me,” Kelly said of the characters in this alternative reality, “until I knew how to get through to them so they could teach me.”

Epos, is life embedded in the Times we live through: the country, the social/economic/ethnic strata: how we fit (or don’t fit) into the sense of collective. These are stories of movements, political affiliations, national identities, regionals to global crises, that reference our lives within a horizontal matrix. “As Americans we are… Now in Australia the fires show us… even in refugee camps there are children learning to read…” These stories speak of the issues that surround us: immigration, corruption, economic systems, Brexit, Standing Rock, Fridays for Future,  Hong Kong protests, hurricanes, earthquakes etc. Inside every headline, human interest stories show us the pattern of our responses: how we rise with increased anger, violence, hatred  or increased compassion, service, love.

So, in the middle of unrelenting disasters and the grief of paying attention, of worrying about our children’s and grandchildren’s futures, and trying to find one way and the next to feel like contributing persons in the midst of all this: we got a puppy. She is a complete distraction and a commitment to maintain our health as best we can. Her arrival has complex layers of meaning, not for this space, but she is doing the work of revivifying our Chronos to help us maintain resilience in the Epos.

Kairos is life held within timelessness, a spiritual frame that may or may not be religious, but places our lives, our collective lives, and our planetary life within a sense of the Divine, or Presence, or trust in Mystery and Meaning beyond our capacity to understand. Kairos is life viewed through Creation stories, myth, and mysticism. Kairos is the story of the Great Religions and spiritual traditions, of Star Wars, Harry Potter, the Lord of the Rings, and Marvel movies. We can see our need to attach to Kairos story across this spectrum from “Jesus Saves” to “May the Force be with you.”

So, one way I am surviving the current political mayhem, especially the threats to “self-evident truths” that have been part of our national fabric from the beginning, is by telling myself that it is necessary for these structures to fall apart so that new structures can emerge. And that new stories need to emerge: truths that have not been granted voice in the Epos of America. This country, proclaiming itself “the greatest nation on earth,” has always been a white supremacist society founded on genocide against indigenous peoples, built on the labor of slaves and immigrants, and devoted to the devastation of the continent on which it stands. Everything that has been repressed is coming to the surface. So I stand strong in my Chronos, owning my racial privilege, looking for ways to heal all that is close in to my life. And I devote myself to spiritual practices that uphold my trust with the Kairos, admitting I do not know what is really happening: I am just one tiny cell in the great body of life on earth.

I will close with three quotes that illustrate ways people have articulated each level of story:

Chronos: “When haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go. And you know you’re winning! I have Asperger’s syndrome and that means I’m sometimes a bit different from the norm. And—given the right circumstance—being different is a superpower.” –Greta Thunberg, Instagram

Epos: “As a longtime advocate for children and the Earth—and in this year when my song “Baby Beluga” turns 40—I feel I must speak out for the sake of my beloved fans, the “beluga grads” and their kids, on the climate emergency we all face…. People live with faith that one day will lead to another, that their future lives are not in question, that their kids can imagine adulthood.” For many, that’s getting increasingly difficult… We have ten years to secure the future, to do what has never been done before.”Raffi Cavoukian

Kairos: “The most remarkable feature of this historical moment on Earth is not that we are on the way to destroying the world — we’ve actually been on the way for quite a while. It is that we are beginning to wake up, as from a millennia-long sleep, to a whole new relationship to our world, to ourselves and each other.”  — Joanna Macy, New Year’s remarks, 2020

My wish for you in the new year: that you keep finding places to stand in your story that allow you to thrive. I will meet you there.

 

 

 

 

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