Spring is Coming!

I have lived in the northern part of the northern hemisphere my entire life, including 15 cherished years in Duluth, MN where snow can arrive as early as October and leave as late as May. So, I know the length and breadth of winter—and, I do not think I have ever been so eager for spring as I am this year. After a year of Covid winter, I am ready for some thawing, some blooming, and for sure, more joy!

It has been a very long year for everyone. There has been much suffering, ambiguity, frustration, adjustment, upheaval, and insecurity. Yikes! We have had no visitors inside our home. Our tiny, socially distanced gatherings occur under the patio heater on our porch on days with little wind or rain. We still walk hiking trails here with masks on. All of my family connections, friendly outreach and community meetings have turned to ZOOM. We last saw our daughter, her partner, and the grandchildren in October 2019. And I know these stresses are small in the scheme of things. We who are the middle class retired have been inconvenienced, but not bearing the brunt of disruption. We have stood by to assist others as best we can. We have a home, heat, enough to eat, relative health, love. AND— I am ready for some opening up!

Tea on the porch under the patio heater with neighbors

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How can I tell? Well, my moods are as variable as spring weather. Valentine’s weekend we had snow at our house, a rare sea level occurrence. I got to ski down our street and make a snowman! It was great fun.

Ann skiing down the gravel road in front of her house

Ann making a snowman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then in perfect Seattle snowstorm fashion, it all promptly melted in three days and the inexorable, erratic march of spring returned. Immediately, I was out in the garden turning over the winter cover crop. I walked over to our neighboring farm to get my garden seeds. The next day the sun came out and I got so excited I nearly planted grass seed in the thin spots in our front patio yard until I read the package which instructed me, “Seed when the air temperature is 60 degrees F.(15.5 degrees C.)” More waiting!

3 days later turning over the winter cover crop in the garden

Neighboring Deep Harvest farm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I laughed out loud at myself. Geez, it IS only February, and the temperature has not even gotten up to 50 degrees F yet (10 degrees C.)! So, I restrained my optimistic impulses and strolled around the yard appreciating all of the blooming plants that came through the snowstorm in great beauty: Hellebores, heather, and Pieris. I do feel lucky to live here.

Blooming Hellebore in our February backyard

Blooming heather in our February front yard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A couple of days later I was walking with our puppy on our favorite trail in the state park. “Oh, my gosh!” I exclaimed aloud to little Vivi. “It is the first salmonberry flower in our park! Spring IS coming!” My steps on the muddy trails became ever lighter.

Salmonberry bud about to burst. Once they do, the incorrigible rufous hummingbirds arrive from their long migration to begin their incredible summer lives in the NW.

 

 

And yesterday we got our second COVID vaccination. It does feel like slowly, slowly the door of possibilities is beginning to open. My daughter and I immediately made plans for the grandkids to come up for spring break. I was so happy that I cried. Yes, we still have to be very careful—need to get COVID tests, need to fly with cautious protocols, need to keep masking up in public. But spring is coming. Warmth. Possibility. Hope.

Decades ago, I worked as a newspaper reporter in northern Utah. I was the cub reporter. One of the more seasoned reporters I looked up to very much, Jim Godbold, said he heard I was from Minnesota. He then proceeded to tell me the story of his year working at the Minneapolis Star and Tribune. “Coldest, most miserable year of my life,” he said. “But when spring came I was more creative than I have ever been. There was such a release of my energy as things began to thaw. I couldn’t believe it. Haven’t experienced it since, but I never forgot that feeling.”

That is exactly how I am feeling at this moment. Spring IS coming. (Honestly, to my Minnesota and Canadian friends, it WILL come.) The Earth’s signals do not lie. They may taunt us, but they do not go away. Lighter weight jackets can come out of the closet. Mittens and scarves will soon go into storage. Masks will still be with us for a long time. But somehow the necessary changes we face no longer feel as daunting.

In 1732 the English poet, Alexander Pope wrote, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” That’s me. I wish he was around this spring, I’d give him a high-five and a hug. Masked, of course.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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

 

 

Rocks of Ages

I’m walking in a narrow riverbed, wearing special river boots and feeling my way carefully over rocks hidden under murky water. I am carrying a hiking stick, probing for balance. Above me, cliffs soar 1500 feet revealing a slit of morning sky. I place my hand along the sandstone walls of the slot canyon, touching what was seabed 61 million years ago. Touching what water can do to rock. Touching a strip of smoothed rock-face about shoulder height, burnished by hundreds of thousands of hands just like mine, pressing skin on stone.

This is a hike called the Zion Narrows, where the Virgin River flows through Zion National Park in southern Utah. It is a spectacular end-of-summer adventure that Ann and I have been training for by walking Whidbey trails for months: increasing distance, hours, weight in our backpacks. We ride the first park shuttle of the day and arrive at the wade-in point, in the middle of the park about 7:30 AM.

People dwarfed by canyon walls. Zion Narrows.

We will stay “in river” for over nine hours, walk over 10 miles, and alternate between moments of utter aloneness with Nature, and navigating around clumps of people in various stages of appreciation and athleticism. People come from all over the world to do this hike and the languages that stream by us babble like the river itself. There are many families, mid-life and younger parents, teens and toddlers, some younger grandparents. I would say I am the elder here—except that is a ridiculous, egocentric, anthropomorphic comment when walking along these cliffs comprised of sedimentary deposits of unimaginable age.

In the National Park Service brochure, it is written: “These rock layers hold stories of ancient environments and inhabitants very different from those found in Zion today. In this distant past, Zion and the Colorado Plateau were near sea level and were even in a different place on the globe—close to the equator. The rock layers found in Zion today were deposited approximately 110-270 million years ago, and only in recent geologic time uplifted to form the scenery of Zion National Park.”

And I am a seventy-two year old human-being walking in the floor of the canyon, pressing my palms onto the skin of the rock, awash in awe and wonder. I am humbled by the beauty, and calmed inside the incomprehensible bigness of this story. Truly, Earth is the planet of the stones.

Moving slowly, deliberately upriver, I am held in a beauty that allows both gratitude and grief to rise. Gratitude that the canyon is still protected; grief for most everything else, especially that other Utah canyon lands are being auctioned off by shortsightedness and greed to the oil and gas industry. The mantra, “forgive me, forgive us,” wrenches through my heart…but just as quickly the thought races back, “What humanity has done to the Earth is not forgivable. It is not even appropriate to ask such a thing of these stones.”

Forgiveness is a human issue. Inadvertently or intentionally we trespass on one another’s trust. As we become aware of our transgressions, most of us try to be accountable for harm done, we practice making amends, learn to ask to be forgiven, and to forgive. We ask this of one another. We ask this of institutions because corporations, churches, governments, and militaries are all run by people. Forgiveness functions at the scale of human flaw, human harm, and human capacity for recovery.

Zion Narrows–high noon

The stone I am touching is outside this drama. I am standing under a cliff that does not register my presence: forgiveness is not the business of these stones. They are invulnerable. They are the body of the Earth. I am the disposable being here. My species is so young we are not even embedded in the geologic layer. And when this era crumbles to dust, what a layer that will be: landfills, atomic waste and nuclear warheads, mountains of plastics, tumbled skyscrapers, rusting vehicles, the bones of billions and the Sixth Great Extinction. But the cliffs will take it all and press it down and make more layers atop us.

Geologists have named and chronicled these layers: the Carmel Formation, the Temple Cap Formation, the Navajo Sandstone, the Kenyeta Foundation—representing several hundred millions of years of compression and upheaval. The waterfalls seeping out of the sandstone have been a thousand years in the making, since an ancient rainy day drove droplets into the top layer and they filtered down and down and down. Purified, they fall on my uplifted face. The earth has cleansed it all—whatever happened then, the stink of dying mastodons, the rotting seaweed of a long gone sea, and whatever happens now and tomorrow—eventually we all become a chapter in the story of the stones.

I stand in a moment of profound recognition: human beings cannot destroy the Earth. I kiss the cliff walls with unbounded joy, with the certainty that this rock will survive.

The land I live on, my island in Puget Sound, is an old river delta made by glacial melting 10,000 years ago. It is young and unstable, the layers loosely packed and crumbling back into the sea. It rests on the edge of deep coastal fault-lines.

This land I visit is old, weathered, wise even. It transmits endurance. Standing in place. Allowing wind and water to shape it. To sustain joy in these times is a matter of what I identify as source, as ground. I pause here: feet in the river, hands on the stone, sun and shadow all around me.

Stilled.

It is still true that beyond the canyon walls humanity is busily destroying the biosphere that makes our version of life-on-Earth possible. It is still true that the foundational question of life on Earth at this time is whether or not we as a species will rally ourselves to correct our relationship with Nature. It is still true that the answer may be no: or that our systemic tampering with biological and geological energies is beyond our capacity to correct to our liking. It is still true that how we have treated one another, and how we have treated the species that companion us, and used the resources offered us, is unforgivable and has grave consequences that are all coming due. But in this moment I am just a tiny desert lizard licking the water of life off the rock walls. I am in sunshine. I am home. I surrender to what is.

Canyon lizard–the weeping rocks, near entrance. All photos by Ann Linnea

 

What is a Sabbath?

Memorial Day is an American holiday started in 1865 by freed slaves to honor the military dead of the Civil War. It features parades and military connections, and can be a meaningful moment for touching grief and remembering the costs of our history. And like many secular holidays, the weekend has morphed in meaning. It is now largely considered the “official beginning of summer”—not by the Solstice calendar, but by planting tomatoes, attending weddings and graduations, and hyped up car sales and whatever else might be touted on TV (I’m not inside, not watching.) We’ve had a long, rainy winter in this region (nearly 10 inches above usual rainfall for the year) and three days of sunshine is a miracle long in coming.

The island where I live feels literally weighted down with visitors and traffic—folks determined to get out of the city and into the view and beaches. Mostly very white-legged people are strolling through Langley, the village by the sea, filling up the coffee and ice cream shops, shopping for souvenirs. They are on holiday mode—we are on “Sabbath.”

Having declared this day a Sabbath, we are staying home, away from crowds. We began with breakfast and tea on the patio—still cool enough to require fleece—then into the garden to weed, plant bush beans and squash, admire the strawberries, encourage the peonies. A gorgeous low tide drew us to the beach for a long ramble

Low tide, facing west.

and to support Gracie in gull chasing and swimming. We held a morning council in the sand, backs braced against a drift log: one speaking for 10 minutes, the listener then offering reflection and dialogue, and then the other speaking.

Mid-afternoon we are sitting in shade in the backyard, each working on bits of writing that give us pleasure. Our neighbor’s wind chimes provide musical background, and we are quiet enough to watch the life of our yard’s small birds. The lanky rhododendron bushes that hug the base of our largest Doug fir are drooping and every now and then a blossom drifts lazily down to the duff.

There is much on my heart. I don’t have to list it; you know what I mean. And you have your own list—societal and personal sorrows and outrage. Today, we have declared a Sabbath, and this means a sabbatical from reciting this list, from signing petitions for every worthy cause that clogs my inbox, from being lured onto the Internet to rabbit-hole into obsession with the state of the world. Not today. Today is rest. Today is breathing easy. Today is typing while shadows from the birch leaves play across my screen.

In the race and pace of the modern world, no one gives us a day like this: we have to declare it, design it, decide to “not do” as much as “to do.” We have to maintain the rhythm of it when the mind gets jumpy with undone tasks, or jerks into habituated distraction—Shush, come back to calm, it’s Sabbath. Let go of every litany but gratitude. Type with fingernails dirty from gardening. Comb sand out of the dog’s fur. Notice Nature’s abiding stillness and find an inner stillness to join it. Attach to heart.

Ann just wrote a blog about her “Sit Spot,” I realize I’m writing about my “Sit Day.”  What a relief—to be stilled and grateful for one whole day. Sabbath, indeed, and my offering into the week upcoming.

War & Peace

Six feet from the kitchen door, my neighbors spend the glorious days of spring squabbling from dawn to dusk—

If they were human, maybe we could negotiate the terms of living side-by-side…but these squabblers are hummingbirds. Particularly the rufous male guards the round of sugared water. Anna’s hummingbirds of both genders, and even female rufous, swoop and dive trying to get to the essential sweetness that sustains them in the early spring weeks of courting, nesting, laying eggs. But no—this feeder has become the property of the male rufous. Dancing in the air above the plastic red flower with the 8 little holes for their tongues he is lord of the ring.

Thinking we are St. Francis, creating a little haven for birds in our yard, we recite to him. There is enough for all. We put up another feeder.

But no—not while the little warrior is on duty.

All day long he fights for territory. Other hummers get past him from time to time—sip and dart away. Not enough for all—mine. Mine. MINE. He conveys such fierce claiming— I think it must be exhausting. He dips and sips and fights. I cannot tell if even his mate is allowed to drink.

You know this scene: how the tiny flying jewels, wings a whirring blur, come to drink at the feeder. How they swirl over the offering bowls put out by human tenders. You know this fight: guarding nectar as though there is not enough to go around… and yet, every day we make sure there is plenty. Abundance. Replenished by the giant unseen hands of “gods.”

I stand at the kitchen window: Learn! Learn!—I want to shout at him: There is enough for all. You could be doing something else besides defending what is already gifted. Stop fighting in the presence of abundance.

It doesn’t take me long to realize I am talking to myself: that this territorial behavior is mimicked in human behavior—only theirs in instinctual, and ours is driven by the mind and market.

Costco. WalMart. Amazon.com. Too many sugar feeders: too much stuff! We act out a certain madness fueled by this rapacious belief that it is our God-given right and economic imperative to destroy the garden of Gaia (or the whole system will collapse and there will be no work, no jobs, no way to sustain ourselves). Panic all day long. Fighting at the feeder. Plundering the ecosystem. Posturing for control. And fighting, fighting, fighting—most of it a lot more harmful than the buzz-bombing of the 3-inch rufous.

And then the scene changes when the light changes… slant of sun in western sky, that yellow look, as though the day is infused with honey just before night comes. I am back at the kitchen window clearing dinner dishes, look up, and now there’s a dozen hummers—rufous and Anna’s sipping together, some of them even sharing the tiny bore hole into sweetened water. World peace in the world of the hummingbirds.

Cooperation at last!

Cooperation at last!

They know: night is coming. It will be cold. They need to return to the nest, to tiny babes, to their mates, to the twig at the center of the tree. They need to calm down (their heart rate in full day-flight can reach 1200+ beats per minute).

So, all the fighting stops. They share. They sit down with their differences and suck sweetness together as the day turns dusky.

What time is it in the human world?

The long day of defense and avarice, of territorial ridiculousness (hello—Congress!!! Really!), of so much busyness and distraction is coming to an end. The light is turning to honey. Can we just settle down now, please(!) and all sip from the gifted sweetness of life and notice that there is enough? Is it time yet?

This is my daily prayer.

This is my daily work.

Planet of the Stones

Tracking Kadachrome During his two-week spring break last month, we took our ten-year-old grandson, Jaden, on a road trip to camp in the magnificent canyon lands of southern Utah.

For Ann, this trip was a touchstone into desert landscape that had shaped her early adulthood and the golden years of mothering. As a young teacher and naturalist, she had taken her two children, including the mother of Jaden, on extensive camping trips into this territory.

For me, it was a dip into the opposite of everything I know: green became red, wet became dry, ocean became river, river became sand, soft became prickly, cool became hot, the uprise of mountains became the submersion of canyons eroded through sandstone. Busyness became stillness, distraction became focus, e-mail became Nature.

For Jaden, coming from apartment life in Los Angeles, this was his first road trip, his first camping trip, and his first time completely away from city-boy routines. We picked him up from the Las Vegas airport on Spring Equinox and started driving the Interstate toward southern Utah. He fell asleep with the dog’s head on his thigh—and woke up after we had turned were dipping into the first drive-through landscape of red rocks towering over us. “Whoa,” he proclaimed, as he opened his eyes, “Where are we?”

“Glad you’re awake,” I said, “Welcome to the Planet of the Stones…” So our magnificent adventure began! Jaden was up for everything. He loved every campsite, loved every hike, loved having our dog become his dog, loved learning how to split wood, make a fire, light the camp stove, whittle an arrow, put up the tent. He hiked part of “The Narrows” in Zion, walked the Escalante River, rode bikes along the south rim of the Grand Canyon, studied and pledged himself as a Junior Ranger in four parks… promising to “be a friend to the Earth.”

He brought some LA life to the campfire, sang and danced “Uptown Funk,” with all the moves and lyrics. He played Monster trucks in the red dust, making a racetrack around the camp chairs. He regaled us with stories. And he tuned in, deeper and deeper to Nature, to birds, to animal tracks, and star constellations.

Now he is back in LA, loved on by the family who missed him. He is a boy of color, in a city density of over 7,500 people per square mile, in a greater metro area with 12.8 million people, nearly half Hispanic; he is immersed in the streaming world of Minecraft, X-Box, videos of violence and adventure that boys love: How to Tame your Dragon, Big Hero 6. And we trust, that his boy of wonder, naturalist self is tucked inside him and growing.

Now we are back in green lands, planting and weeding the gardens, mowing grass, enjoying the edge of Puget Sound, watching the Olympic Mountains appear and disappear in clouds and sun. We are aging Anglo women, living on a sylvan island just off-shore from the frenetic energy of modern America, holding onto the BIG concerns for the life coming toward our beloved grandchildren and all the children who stream in and out of La Ballona Elementary School, who will make the 21st century their home.

GrandCanyon

The Planet of the Stones is hard to comprehend when you are ten years old. We watched Jaden’s eyes glaze after a few minutes of trying to understand how “220 million years ago, this land was under the sea…” We had a few conversations about sand turning to stone, about river erosion… and then released him to thumbing through Ann’s copy of The Sibley Guide to Birds and listing nearly 40 “first sightings.”

Geology is nearly unfathomable at any age. Standing in the canyons, my mind raises the question, “Whose planet is this, anyway?” in the resounding quiet—punctuated by bird calls and the riffling of pages as Jaden IDs another feathered friend, the stones calm the spirit in this grandmother’s activist heart: they withstand.

Astronomer Carl Sagan, in his television series, Cosmos, collapsed the last fifteen billion years of galactic history onto a one-year calendar. Earth does not condense from interstellar matter until September of that imaginary year. Plants do not colonize until December 20th. Human beings show up on December 31st, 90 minutes before midnight. Sagan calls human beings, “matter grown into consciousness, coagulated star-dust, a way for the cosmos to know itself.” I breathe deep, inviting the red dust of former seas into my lungs.

Come with me, red dirt. Come into the cells of my being, become my teacher. Show me how to withstand what is coming. Help me blow stardust where it is needed. Help me erode away all that is not needed and discover the pattern for what must be preserved. I am the grandmother of Jaden and Sasha: I am the granddaughter of the stones.Big view

Come with me.

Summer sweet & sorrow

Picking raspberries on a Sunday, early evening. The sun is coming through the leaves of the plants, creating a golden green, the veins illuminated, infused. This is how it happens: the Earth doing her earth-thing, providing us with what we need, and more… It is a zenith moment, high summer… just before the first tip toward autumn.

We have pulled the peas that our grandson planted last March, visiting us on his spring break. They were wonderful Jaden, and we thought of you with every bite! Earlier this day, we planted another row of lettuce and spinach, hoping for the garden harvest to extend long into the cooling days. I love this tending–such an antidote to all things digital.

I am entranced in my task, eating as I pick. Our little corgi is sitting at my feet, waiting her share. Her dog lips gently pluck the offered berry from my extended palm. I am a smile–my whole being is happy and running with juice.

IMG_22761-225x300A couple of newly married neighbors walk down the gravel road that is our shared string of homes. They are holding hands and talking softly–their almost daily ritual at the end of work: he in the local shipyard, she at the local grocery store. They wave. I walk out to meet them.

“Cup your hands,” I say to them. And into their empty bowls of flesh, I pour a mound of raspberries for each. We stand in our delight. They move on, their conversation punctuated by raspberry sucking. I go back to my happy harvest.

Earlier today I was fashioning a memorial card for next Sunday’s gathering on the shores of Lake Superior in Duluth when Brian’s Minnesota family and friends will spend the day remembering him. We remember you every day, Brian… Eight months into this passage, I am the stage of grief where I find myself calling out to him from my heart, “What an amazing journey, this grief walk… Your mother and I have learned so much… and we miss you so much. I am sure you are learning wondrous things over there on the other side of the garden, your being infused with golden green. Could you come back–just for an evening? Let’s sit on the patio in the high point of summer, sit where we sat last summer and did not know it would be the last time, please…. I have raspberries, and so much I want to tell you and hear from you!”

The “dead” respond as they can. I hear his voice in my head. I receive him in my dreams. I look at his photos. I watch the raspberries turn to rubies through the prism of my tears. I look up– The white stag who lives in the neighboring woods is walking down the road. He stops, unafraid, turns and looks directly at me. We hold one another’s gaze.
I move quietly to the patio, Ann and I stand arm in arm… I feed her berries. The deer regards us still, then moves on, hoofs tapping lightly on the gravel. The dog has not barked.

WS1-300x225This is how it is. Sorrow is sometimes sweet and juicy. Grief can be infused with light.

You who are freshly suffering–know that the juice returns. Know that magic happens, that the veil is often thin. Hold out your cupped hands and they will be filled with what you need to get through this moment, and the next. This is how it is.

Dirty Fingernails

Half an hour in the morning.

Ann swimming at the club, I’m dressed for yoga when she returns with the vehicle. Dog still in bed. I put down her breakfast to entice her out. I have scrolled through emails, thank goodness stayed off Face Book. My mind is racing with ideas… shall I communicate with myself in the quiet of the journal, or communicate with “you”—whomever reads this blog: today, tomorrow, or in the mysterious digital timeframe that streams on and on… (Robots are still reading older entries here: if I get a comment on a certain outdated post—it’s not from a human… the rest of you, I love hearing from!)

Half an hour in the morning. Unload dishwasher? Start laundry? Turn on the office computer? Clean my desk? For a few minutes I stand whirling in the midst of tasks and choices. Then breathe. What do I want? What would give this moment meaning?

I want to communicate something quieter than my mind, something small and green, a thought with bud and possibility. My primary reader is myself—I need to know I am capable of settling into the level of quite notice that writing is capable of instilling. If you want to come along, welcome…

Raven sculpture in the garden

Raven sculpture in the garden

It is rainy/cloudy/sunny today. Wherever you are, suck in this soft sweet air of gift. Rain. Cloud. Water above and below. A patch of blue is drifting down from the north. Puget Sound is an undulating grey blanket, the foothills are completely shrouded. Sometimes the clouds are so low it doesn’t seem that rain is falling, but rather emerging out of the grey and green of things.
This world offers so much beauty. The neighbor’s lilac bush is weighed down with purple blossom clusters as big as grocery grapes. We have nearly 40 peony buds shooting up in the garden. The spinach is ready to start munching, and we laid out a line of chicken wire fencing for the peas to climb. We weeded the beds, beheaded the tulips, and mowed the lawn before the rains came in.

World's biggest lilacs

World’s biggest lilacs

I need to keep doing this—bringing dirty fingernails to the keyboard. I need to touch the green, find the beauty, tend to nature—especially in places not so easy to find it. I have stood in a parking lot on a cell-phone call, knelt down and weeded the beds of struggling landscape plants. It literally grounds me in the conversation and in my place on the earth. I am tending. Tend, tendance, attention all stem from that same source.

Tend, v.t. means 1) to care or minister to, 2) to look after, watch over. Tendance means ministration, as to the sick. Tending is an antidote to all the pulls of attention that stream in from the machine world… Tending is a ministry—to my yard, to my hearth-friends, to what is not connected to the Internet and is connected to the web of life.

Half an hour… paying attention. I know I will put some green-time into my day.

 

Entranceway

Entranceway

 

 

Angel in the woods

Madrone in Whidbey woods

Madrone in Whidbey woods

The day was gloomy and these woods in particular, standing on the north side of the hill, do not get sun in winter and were muted into half-light. The trees grow tall or snake through one another, reaching for light. Winds blow off Puget Sound and all those that stand are strong trunked.

We—my beloved and I and our perky paced corgi—are making our way through this loveliness—polished green shine of salal bushes, the last yellow leaves falling off the salmonberry bushes, grey skeletons of alder and maple mixed among fir and hemlock and Madrone. Alone. Such stillness when we come to rest, only the forest breathes. We are not drawn to talk much, just finding our way, with occasional exclamations of wonder at the mushrooms or pointing out the flight of small grey bush birds.

IMG_7419Our dog’s head goes up, attention on the path ahead, and here come a man and woman wandering our way. They turn out to be dear island acquaintances Mary and Robert, and we are all happy to stop, to make a little circle in the middle of the path and inquire into this happenstance of intersection. We plunge into the heart of conversation—about our travels, dreams, health, work, and families. Like boring through the growth rings of the tree, we tap into story-glimpses of our lives. After awhile we release each other with another round of hugs and move on our ways through the meandering afternoon.

A question then rises in me: What got transferred between us in the guise of a “chance” meeting on the trail that is, in fact, exactly the message Spirit was trying to transmit this afternoon into our minds and hearts?

With this inquiry in mind, I drift back over the conversation. “Just do something for 30 days—make a month commitment and see what happens…” They are reporting on a seminar they attended, a challenge from a webinar—I don’t remember the source, just the message. This is what I needed to hear: to choose one thing in the New Year that I commit to, and give it a chance to become integrated into my life.

In the week between Christmas and New Year’s we have made a commitment to walk the woods, trails, and beaches of our island every day—to get re-grounded in our home after a year busy with travel.  And on these walks I formulate a vow to write in my journal every day in January— to re-establish connection to my own life narrative as we head into 2012 and all it portends.

This encounter on the trail leads me to consider how often  “spiritual guidance” seems to come through the apparently chance remarks of other people. We are, indeed, angels in the woods to one another—delivering insight, challenge, guidance, inspiration, often without knowing it, or even meaning to.  Everything is reciprocal—for we have mutual impact on each other in these exchanges. A niece calls for “advice”—and what we say to her, we say also to ourselves; what she says to us is meaningful across the generations and different situations.

With Gracie on the trail

With Gracie on the trail

In this portal time—when contemplating the year past and the year coming, I practice listening for guidance in ordinary conversations: to set out into the day with a question and to notice how, in the jumble of the day’s big and little events, a hint, or even an answer, emerges from the patter of our lives.  One day at a time—for 30 days.