Legacy Unfolding

It’s October 2019, and while I move through these days full of what is happening NOW, I am also moving through the echo of October 2018 and what was happening THEN. It’s the anniversary of my father’s final weeks of illness, what I call his discomfort and departure. Of course, when we were living it we didn’t know what was happening from day to day: was he recovering? Going home? Staying in care? Dying? Anyone who has been through this journey themselves or with loved ones knows the incredible ambiguity of such times, and knows the anniversary of litany… a year ago today we were…

Walking the whole way together.

October 1, 2018 I walked with my father into the ER at our local hospital.

October 1, 2019, Island Senior Resources (ISR) launched the renaming and redesign of Bayview Senior Center dining site into an intergenerational café to be called Leo’s Place.

 

 

My father was well-suited to village life and his twelve years in Langley, WA, ten miles down the road from our house, were, I think, among the most satisfying of his life. He understood how to make an impact at the scale of the place he inhabited: in his mid-80s to late-90s, he inhabited Langley, population 1000, in semi-rural South Whidbey Island.

He bought a condo, furnished it with thrift store furniture and focused outward on making community and being of service. He contributed to several island organizations that most directly used the skills of a lifetime he brought with him: the Langley Methodist Church, Saratoga Community Housing, and Island Senior Resources.

He’d been care-giving to his second wife and pretty much declared he was done with cooking and tending. He found the senior service lunch-site down the hill in Brookhaven, and between that and the senior center up the road by the highway, ate happily from that menu, lingered to make friends and acquaintances, and played countless games of cribbage and Quiddler, and supervised jigsaw puzzles.

He was a walking conversation starter with a knack for playful engagement with anyone who passed his way. In his honor, ISR is reaching out to the community to foster intergenerational dining and community experiences. The invite reads “Leo’s Place is

The launch on October 1.

your place, come make it your own.”  I call it the “single shot café’—there’s only one item on the menu, but it is fresh, nutritious and the best bargain for hot lunch on the island.

 

In the last weeks of his life, hours in the hospital with CNN on mute, he and I talked about the values he hoped he left behind. I named these concepts: “Leo’s Village Essentials.” This list was handed out at his memorial in November, at the family reunion this July, and with my permission is now being branded by ISR as part of its outreach. I see it posted on the walls of his favorite coffeehouse, on folks’ refrigerator doors, and online. And—here in the blog.

All this he could not have imagined. I think he would be surprised, humbled,  and quietly pleased about the attention to his thoughts. He was 98 years old and still contributing. Watching this happen raises my curiosity about the nature of legacy.

I am in the midst of writing a novel that I see as a legacy piece of work. My previous books are also legacies, in that they stay in print (thank you dear publishers!) even when the sales figures are low. They have lives of their own that I know little or nothing about. Over the decades I have put out a body of work that I assume is “legacy,” and yet—something little, like “Village Essentials,” or The Seven Whispers, may be the most long-lasting gifts. I don’t know.

I invite those of us in mid-life and elderhood to consider several things about this issue of legacy.

  1. Legacy isn’t just what you want to put into the world, or what you consider your most significant “piece of work or wisdom”—it’s also about what the world needs. Legacy is what the reader or the listener needs, what the community needs, what your children and grandchildren need.
  2. Legacy is an offering: a deposit without judgmentalism or opinionating. Legacy is flower petals floating in water for the next passerby to appreciate—or not—and to reinterpret as they need. You put it out there in beauty and you let it go.
  3. Legacy emerges from all age groups: listen for wisdom from everywhere. I watch amazed at what Greta Thunberg and other young social awakeners are depositing in the world right now… so much straightforward, impassioned challenge dedicated to igniting other generational cohorts to join them—they’ve ignited my grandmother self, that I know.
  4. We honor one another’s legacies by “naming the lineage.” Keeping the source of something alive and attached fosters our sense of relationship to it. When we claim relationship to a guiding principle or saying it rides more deeply in our thoughts and behavior. Leo’s Village Essentials is different than saying “the” Village Essentials. Even when many people will not know “Leo,” it identifies these words as coming from someone. It makes them personal: a gift from one person to another. The words didn’t just appear, they belong; and in reciting them: we belong. Lineage is a circle: it encompasses and holds us and helps us take place.

This desire to establish relationship is so strong we give attribute to words that guide us even when we’re not sure of source. The Golden Rule is a great example. Jesus said it: but he was quoting Leviticus. And the Rule, which articulates the principle of reciprocity, goes back to Confucius (551 BCE) and before that to the Code of Hammurabi, and is embedded as a core ethic in every major religious and ethical tradition. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is essential human wisdom. It doesn’t matter who said it: it matters that we remember it, relate to it, and practice it. Especially, practice it.

Iconic identifiers arranged on the sill of his final room.

Legacy is not up to us: legacy is a decision made by those who go on. Our job is to keep depositing the best of ourselves in as many ways as we can, for as long as we can, and to lay down at the end of our lives entrusting the mystery.

 

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.

 

 

Bones to the Ground

July 15-23, 2019: Ann and I took a 2200-mile road trip around western Montana that held so many layers of significance it is taking weeks let the heart and soul of our experiences weave into meaning-making. There are moments in this trip I am not ready to share; moments I will probably never have words for, moments that will be transformed into later stories that can only emerge from the perspective of long time. Here is one moment around which my heart swirls:

On the way east, we drove with a small, stainless steel canister containing my father’s ashes riding in the backseat. We were meandering toward the family homestead in Fort Shaw, and the family grave plot at the community cemetery in Sun River, Montana. This grave has been an informal pilgrimage site ever since my grandmother was buried there in 1960, followed by my grandfather in 1970. The headstone is engraved simply: Baldwin.

Dad/Leo Jr. at his parents’ grave: 2011

Over the years the ashes of my Uncle Kenny and Aunt Florence, my Aunt Grace, and now my father, Leo Jr.,  have been set over the coffins of Leo and Mary. Down the row is my Aunt Dorothy, Uncle Reese, and their son, my cousin Richard. With my father’s death at age 98 last October, and his sister Francie’s death at 103 this past February, all the eight first generation Montanans are now laid to ground. In our family’s sense of collective lineage, this marks the end of something. So seventy-five descendants came to acknowledge this cycle, to walk this valley one more time, to pose in front of the Square Butte that looms over the bee-yards and church steeple that defined us, to tour the honey house now operated by Treasure State Honey, evolving our grandfather’s standards of “pure, raw, unfiltered.”

75 descendants at the West Side Methodist Church in Great Falls where Grandpa B. was minister in the 1930s.

Sunday morning, July 14, in the midst of our reunion weekend, we all arrive at the cemetery. A new, flat stone marker is set in place. There is a small urn sized hole in the ground. It is sunny, windy, and we are all milling around in a large clump.

My cousin, Bill, calls us together playing the violin that my father gave him as a boy, his first learner instrument. His granddaughters hold the music pages balanced on the tombstone; his six-year-old grand-nephew comes running over, “That’s amazing sound,” Rhys says, “Can I learn to play that?”

“Yes, you can,” he says to the boy. “And so it goes,” he says to me.

I read a Wendell Berry poem. My brother Eric reads some words of his own, and words of our father’s. We sing Kipp Lennon’s song, “Family Tree,” and cry through the lyrics. And then it is time to lay the shiny canister into earth. I set down the old man’s bones. I invite anyone  who wishes to step forward and put some dirt in the hole. Who comes first are the children: Leo’s fourth generation of great-grandchildren, great-grandnieces and nephews, little hands solemnly spreading summer-dried soil over their ancestor.

Ashes to ashes, they understand the heartfulness of this ceremony.

 

We send silent prayers on the wind. We give thanks.

My niece Colleen with Leo4

 

After folks have drifted off to the brunch awaiting us at the local Methodist church, I sit for a last time with my dad, holding the story I am writing onward, honoring my lineage of Leos, asking forgiveness from the Blackfeet people whose horrific displacement made our placement possible.  Morning glory flowers creep through the grass. Bees buzz. There is both blood and bounty on this land. The wind is still blowing. I pray that all may come to healing; that we may cherish what is good, true, and beautiful; that we may find peace in the wildness of things; that we may learn to better love all our relations and the world.

Butte and bees–what remains the same

After a few moments I rise and walk into the arms of my grandchildren—where my responsibility lives now. They look thoughtfully into my teary eyes, “You okay, Nina?”

I look thoughtfully into their clear gazes. “I’m okay…” and inside I’m thinking to myself: stay healthy, stay fierce, stay strong, stay one whom they can lean upon.

Parents gone, we siblings stand on the ground of bones.

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

 

 

Goodbye to an Old Friend

 

I am smiling in this photo, an automatic response when facing a camera, but I’m actually  sad.

Out the door on an April morning.

In my arms I am holding several volumes of the 15th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, leather bound, gold trim, embossed spine. I bought this set in 1980, using royalty money from the publication of my first book, as proof to myself that I was a real writer who would need this fines set of reference books to support my career.

 

 

My then partner and I had recently remodeled the attic in our two-story home, insulating and opening up space for me to have a truly elegant writing studio. It was large enough to do yoga or dance, had a desk positioned to face a window with a view of trees, and shelves for books, journals, and this gorgeous row of Encyclopedia. When sitting at my desk writing and in need of a reference, I would twirl around in my antique leather and oak desk chair and reach for whatever volume contained the answer to my quest and question.

The pages were thin, strong, felt good in my hands, and the first time a volume was opened, there was the smell of the leather releasing and the gold-leaf made a sound I can still hear in the inner chambers of my ears, though I can’t begin to put it into words: gold separating into thinner strands. I licked my finger tip, and partially dried it on the side of my thumb— a practiced hint of moisture to turn the pages searching for the reference in mind.

Sometimes my finger stopped or my gaze rested on interesting bits of information, biographies of the long dead, extraneous tidbits of knowledge that amused my attention. But eventually I found what I was looking for, took notes with a fountain pen on a paper tablet, and with a sigh of satisfaction turned back to my desk, to whatever evolution of computer sat humming there awaiting the next paragraph.

This is how “looking something up” worked before Internet, before Google, before the world changed with the unrelenting rapidity of endless and instant gratification of curiosity currently swirling around us.

Weighing over 40 pounds, I carted the 30 volumes (plus annual appendices) in boxes through six moves. In each new apartment or house, I set them out again—still a writer. Twenty years later, ensconced on Whidbey, with five books under my belt (yes, I know that’s a cliché) and even though the Internet was starting to take over the world, I loved my ritual of twirl, reach, thumb through, find, wander a bit in the vicinity of my destination, and return the book to the shelf and myself to my desktop word processor.

Then in 2007, working on Storycatcher, that ritual fell apart. I needed some information about Zimbabwe, and had to look up “Rhodesia, a colony of the British Empire.” I think this was the moment I tried Googling for the first time. Wow—who typed in all that information? How does it all get linked together? What’s an algorithm anyway.  (All things I’m still wondering.)

I looked sadly at my treasured Britannica. The volumes are beautiful and a huge amount of classical knowledge resides on the pages: certainly they deserved archiving.

In my first writer’s nook, I had made bookcases out of boards and cement blocks… why not make bookcases out of boards and encyclopedias? So, I bought several planks and stacked the books on their sides. Ahhh, preservation, respect, and practicality.

I wrote on, happily accompanied by the knowledge that knowledge was in the room with me as well as on-line. I missed the twirl of the chair, the reach and feel of paper and gold leaf, but at least I still had the Random House Dictionary of the English Language to comfort me in old routines.

Until last week.

We are in a season of simplifying. We’ve sent books to the library for resale, carted unused household items and clothes to the thrift store. We traded out furniture, welcoming a shipment from Ann’s mother’s apartment, selling and giving away what we had. And then we painted the room. The walls that had sheltered the bookshelves now looked so beautiful in their emptiness. What to do with a nearly 40-year old edition of encyclopedias?

I put an ad in the “for sale, wanted, and free” section of our local swap-list: Free to Good Home. A woman called immediately. She’s an upcycle artist, works in mixed media, would love the books. Two days later she came with banker’s boxes and a van. Her first comment was, “Oh my, these are beautiful… I’m a former librarian, I don’t know that I’ll be able to change them…” I watched her getting the feel of her new treasure, running her hands over the embossed leather, stroking the gold edging, fingering the delicate paper.

I smiled with an armload and she took my photo. They will be in good hands. And I will cozy up and write, held in the arms of my mother-in-law’s favorite chair, making new paragraphs in the place where the bookshelf was.

 

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

Lights out!

On December 20, 2018, I was home alone with the dog (Ann was in Minnesota) when Whidbey Island was engulfed in a storm of sustained winds 50+ MPH. Trees fell, but not on our house, power went out for 3-5 days depending on the neighborhood. So while waiting for electricity to resume, I had a chance to renew my survival and emergency skills.

Driftwood plowed off the road, Keystone Spit Rd.

Wherever we live, the modern conveniences of our lives are at risk! We watch the news of floods, hurricanes and tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, fires, winds with a kind of morbid fascination—unless these events are disrupting/wrecking/ending our own comfortable lives. We need different kinds of emergency preparedness and social/spiritual resilience for each of these scenarios. My responses during and after the storm are an invitation for you to identify your vulnerabilities and design your own plan.

Get water: When winds came up and lights blinked, I ran a 3-gallon bucket for flushing and set it in the shower near the toilet. I filled a soup pot with 1-gallon of drinking water and all other water bottles in the house. In our earthquake supplies we have additional reserve supplies of water. (We also have 250 gallons in a hot tub that could be shared and/or converted for multiple uses by camp filters.)

Preserve food: We always keep 2 blocks of ice in our box freezer to turn it into an ice chest if needed. Once the power was out, I arranged frozen food and ice and covered the freezer with a feather duvet and wool blankets. (I took out and ate ½ pint of ice cream as precautionary measure!) Fifty-six hours later when power returned, everything in the freezer was still frozen except some bags of blackberries. I also got a camping ice chest in the kitchen with another block of ice to store refrigerator things like milk, mayo, and fresh veggies to use daily.

Stay warm: I chopped a lot of kindling and filled the wood bin by front door. Our wood stove kept the temperature in the living room at 62 Fahrenheit (16 Celsius). I lived comfortably in sweaters, put two duvets on the bed, drank lots of hot tea, soup, ate well because I could match light the propane stove top. Several neighbors were toasty by their propane stoves or fireplaces—very helpful to have alternative heat source! And it helped enormously that outside temperatures were in the mid forty-degree Fahrenheit range.

Prepare for darkness: We have little solar camping lights that I made sure were in the windows charging up. I also used candles, both flame and battery operated. I wore a headlamp as a necklace and beamed my way around the house in the evenings. This time of the year we have 16 hours of darkness.

Check neighbors: Some of ours had generators they hauled out on the second day. Some had no back-up heat and were shivering in place. I talked to the new folks about not flushing (water won’t flow uphill to your septic field, and the pump between the tanks is not working) and answered any other questions gleaned from our 25 years living here through power outages. Just talking with neighbors helped them not feel so isolated and encouraged some to pull out extra blankets and clothing. Others left for relatives’s and friend’s homes or mainland motels.

Communicate: Create a little texting group and keep track of one another to encourage resilience and safety, share information, and support a sense of community in place.

Wait out the storm: the only thing more dangerous than living under 150-foot-tall conifers is driving under them! On the 10-mile main road that feeds into our 25-household community, there were 20 trees down over the road and 3 or 4 of them on hot wires (until the wires broke). The wind blew hard for 9 hours, and then abated at dark—very dark, very quiet. Starry night and Solstice full moon.

Once the practicalities were in place, I could practice living with this event at multiple levels, so here are two more suggestions.

Look for surprises and stories: The headquarters and WiFire coffee shop of the local telecom company (Yes—Whidbey still has a locally owned/operated phone and WIFI company) ran its mega-generator and served as a community hub for recharging devices, being on-line, getting warm, and getting espresso and baked goods. The camaraderie was magic: island folks showing up to share stories of how they made it through the night, where the worst of the tree damage appeared to be, what roads had been cleared, what stores were open. Everyone had access to free WIFI and electricity. A conference room had 40+ people in it. The line-up for coffee was 30 minutes with plenty of hugs and hellos. Collective hosting emerged, honor systems engaged.

A community communicating–thank you Whidbey Telecom.

One woman told me, “I found a laptop in the parking lot last night. Someone leaving in the dark, I’m sure, disoriented by all this, set it down to find keys, drove off…I turned it in to the desk here and hope the person wasn’t too panicked and got back here to pick it up.”

A man said, “You think taking car keys away from your aging parents is hard—this is the storm we finally had to take mom’s chainsaw away! She’s always prided herself at being able to saw her way out of her driveway, but she really doesn’t have the strength to safely heft that thing around anymore.”

Participate in the sacred: Two friends host an annual Solstice Ceremony that has come to serve as a spiritual marker in the year. I called at 4:00 PM as the winds died down and the host said he’d driven several routes and laid out the safe byways to their home: the party would go on in candle-light. I put on a sweater that highlighted the jeweled tones of my headlamp and headed off into the dusk, glad to be driving while I could still see the wires and leaning trees along my way. About 45 people showed up and stepped into the glowing feast of food and fellowship.

We held a Solstice ceremony with everyone clustered in the living room. We became collective prayer. We prayed for the world. We prayed for three among us currently fighting brain cancer. We became a peer spirited voice of quiet insights offered to the candlelight center. We anchored one another in a ritual of nonsectarian spirituality that shimmers in me still.

Morning prayer light, dawn in the dining room.

Saturday night the lights flicked on, the furnace kicked in, the clocks blinked awake, and with a sigh of relief I resumed modern living—the lessons in that are the next blog.

End of Part One

 

 

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.