Do Not Forget Us!
Like so many of you, I have felt shocked, devastated, and immobilized by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. Other than discerning a good way to send relief, I have felt helpless. So, when the Wilderness Guides Council put out a call for a collective gathering to hear the stories, needs, and strengths of our Ukrainian friends, I eagerly signed up. (WGC is a global network of wilderness guides and supporters who offer “contemporary wilderness rites of passage”.)
Since the international Wilderness Guides Council convened in Ukraine in 2012, I was hopeful that some of our Ukrainian guides would be on the call. At least four participants were from Ukraine. The rest of us tuned in from many countries including South Africa, Spain, Germany, Canada, South Siberia and many U.S. states.
One of the Ukrainian guides was sitting in total darkness because his city is under bombardment and strict orders to have no lights on at night. One is currently living in Canada, every day fearful for her parent’s lives. The other two had fled their cities and were in the currently safer western part of their brave country.
The intention of the council was to offer peace and protection for Ukraine. We opened with a slide show of that 2012 gathering, a song, silence with lit candles, and then an open invitation for the Ukrainians to speak so we could bear witness. Words came slowly at first. Feelings were raw, so very raw. One of the Ukrainians had spent 12 days in a bomb shelter with her family before fleeing to the western part of the country. Another is still living in a city being bombarded. His face illuminated only by his electronic screen showed the wear of sleeplessness and living in constant danger. Still another wrote her comments only in the chat box because her reception was so poor she feared we would not be able to hear.
There were long pauses. This is the way of council. We wait. We hold the space open so words can form and be supported as they arise.
Some of us as witnesses added comments after our Ukrainian friends spoke. One American guide who went to the 2012 gathering spoke of bringing 3 acorns back from a 1,000 year old oak. One of those acorns sprouted. She planted it and it is now about 30 feet high—a symbol of the longevity and strength of its home country. Another shared the t-shirt that was literally given to him off the back of one of the Ukrainians on the call. Another among us spoke how she is living on stolen lands—from U.S. native peoples—and reflected on the violence so long perpetrated against peaceful peoples everywhere.
I chose to repeat the words one Ukrainian guide had spoken at the end of his second check-in. “Something new is being born. In a birth both the mother and the child are very vulnerable. We must pay attention and protect both the mother and child.” The words haunted me, yet I know he spoke them as a man who has lived many decades and watched the ongoing trials of his country. His voice invited respect. He spoke with hope. He repeated words that each of his countrymen and women had spoken earlier, “We will not lose our country. We will remain free.”
The chat box was filled with information, including a note from one of the German guides with a connection to a site that would help refugees find shelter, food, and clothing in her country. We shared emails. We want to remain connected. We want to speak again. We are eager to help in whatever ways we are able.
The parting words from each of our Ukrainian friends was, “Do not forget us!”
Something new is being born
Leaving the council, I chose to head to our nearby state park with its old growth Douglas firs and western red cedar. I wandered the slowly emerging spring woods in the tradition of the Medicine Walk, so dear to the hearts of my fellow WGC guides. The phrase “something new is being born” kept repeating itself in my mind. A short ways up the first hill of the trail a large, old alder tree next to the trail had blown down since I walked this trail last week. It was shocking how little root structure had held the old alder all these years. The alder will now become a nurse log providing a platform for mosses, mushrooms, salal plants, huckleberry, and eventually another alder tree. Something new is being born out of a loss, though, at the moment, all that is visible is the dead alder and all the ferns and young plants it smashed on the way down. Can any of us begin to see what will be born out of the current tragedy in Ukraine?
“We must pay attention and protect both the mother and child.” Further along, I stopped to lean against the 500-year-old cedar tree. It is hollow now—a person could actually bend over and “skinny” their way from front to back. The winter has blown down some of its enormous branches, yet as I gaze skyward, back against the tree, I cannot see through the many remaining branches to the top of the tree. It is probably the oldest tree in the park.
In 1999 I was sitting on the bench overlooking the tree when two young boys wandered up from the campground. They grabbed some big sticks and started hacking away at the then smaller hole in the tree. I was completely shocked. It occurred to me that no one had taught them to respect a large old tree. I rose from the bench and gently approached them.
“Excuse me,” I said. They both looked up. “Would you beat your grandmother with a stick?” At this point they have set their sticks down and are looking at me as if I am some kind of apparition. “This is the oldest tree in the forest. It is the grandmother tree. We must treat it with respect.” The two boys hurriedly disappeared down the trail.
Later I worked with the park ranger to erect a sign and a barrier to the tree explaining its age and importance. “We must protect both the mother and the child.”
The winter has been hard on the forest. A number of large trees have blown down. Yet the whole of the forest remains functioning, beautiful, and vibrant. The further I walk the more I can understand the wisdom of the older Ukrainian guide who has walked the “forests” of his country for many decades. He knows intimately the individual components of cities, mountains, forests, people. He sees them as a whole—resilient, interconnected, ever-changing. Two hours later I return home with a much better understanding of how these four guides could be so sure that they will not lose their country. They know and understand things that we as outsiders can barely comprehend.
Sitting down to dinner that night next to the wood stove, holding hands with my beloved, we offered prayers of gratitude for the incredible privilege of an intact home, enough to eat, and a peaceful neighborhood. And we asked for prayers for all who do not have such privilege at this time.
We will not forget our Ukrainian friends. We will keep the stories of their courage and determination alive, for they represent the hope that people everywhere have for democracy to remain alive.
Witnessing mother and child, while also honoring the grandmothers and always modeling and teaching. These are gifts of yours, dear one.
Thank you, Deb. Appreciate your kindness always, Ann
I don’t have words to add, just a “thank you” for your words and wisdom.
Always good to hear from you, Laura!
Beautiful, Ann, truly gorgeous. Thank you for the story, for your demonstration of respect for people and the natural world, for your loving kindness. Such a welcome antidote for the soul weary of reading of violence. I am imagining a world where everyone is like you. xoxo
Thank you, oh friend, who writes so many thoughtful blogs yourself. This means a lot. Ann
Thank you for this beautiful teaching and hopeful reminder, Ann. I so appreciate your loving care and respect for all of Mother Earth’s beings. xo
And you have always been one of my teachers about this, GG!
Thank you Ann for precious thoughts. Something new is being born had great impact on another part of my life at this time. The forest connection was important. Thank you.
Appreciate that you wrote and are keeping the “family” connection alive.
Thanks for this deep wisdom, Ann. I will share your heartfelt and stirring words with my various groups.
Bless you, dear. Sharing and talking with others—keeping the story alive— is something important for all of us to do.
No, I will never forget. Thank you!
And that may seem small, but it is not.
Thank You Dear Friend . . . all are one . . . Ann, Wilderness Guides, Ukrainians, persons in Germany, 500 year old cedar trees, boys with sticks, Alders transforming, wind through forests, stillness, remembering . . .
You are welcome, Paul. Yes, all are one.
Thank you so much for sharing this wisdom in the darkness. I will hold the vision that “something is being born” and we need to protect mother and child. If you find another way to offer help, please share with us.
Blessings to you,
Thank you, Ginny. Keeping my eyes, ears, and heart open for how I might be a “beneficial” presence.
Thank you. I have never prayed before, but I do now for all the mothers and children.
This is something we can all do. And it is part of “Do not forget us!”
That was such a tender and moving zoom and I have felt deeply affected by it. You represent it so well here, and the small thing to stay present to it all is not so small. I was stunned , when these folks were asked what they needed, that part of it was “Remember. Don’t forget us. That matters.” Thanks for writing about this.
Your presence—verbal or non-verbal—in any meeting is always reassuring to me. Thank you for being on that zoom and now reflecting a similar experience to the one I had.
Thank you, Ann, for bringing us into this Council. Grief and heartbreak and compassion all around. No more words.
You know the wisdom of council space very well. It holds so very much.
Your reflections have brought me back a few years ago when Jeanne and I were graced by your wisdom and gentle guidance in that very same state park. I am filled with sadness for the world and at the very same time with hope from your words. Thank you Ann for your many, beautiful gifts.
A bow of appreciation for your sharing and kind words.
A beautiful story shared across the world, and—as so many do—I thank you. For me, in my expanded beloved community, it has been both terrifying to watch what’s happening to the people and the culture of Ukraine, as well as a profound joy to simultaneously watch people from many countries (including our own) step up to help them in their hour of need. I’m astonished daily as I see efforts pop up all over Facebook to raise funds to help all in Ukraine who have been displaced and all who have remained to hold heir sacred ground.
I’ve had multiple opportunities to participate by donating some of my handmade jewelry to be sold and donated to the ICRC, to World Central Kitchen, to Medecins Sans Frontiers. Just today, I’m sending earrings pairs to women in South Carolina who made it possible for me to send $100 to relief efforts. Several days ago, I was able to send a donation to one of our Ukrainian bead artists who had to flee Kviv with her child and elderly mother, and is (for now) building a life in Poland with help from bead and jewelry artists all over the world. One beaders’ group raised $42000 over the weekend for Ukraine relief.
All this to say, there is always something we can do to help others in our one human family. You help with holding the circle; I help by making and selling jewelry. Every one of us has a skill set that is needed now. For me, the challenge of this time in history is to allow my heart to expand enough to hold both the immensity of terror and the immensity of compassion. “To hold my seat,” as we often said in our circles on Whidbey, so that the human tribe can find its way to what’s waiting to be born.
Dearest love to you and Christina,
Wow, Meredith! Thank you for this long, thoughtful, helpful note. You have given all of us opportunities to engage in the ways we can at this most important moment in history. “Every one of us has a skill set that is needed now,” you write. Yes we do! We must do our best to figure out what we can do right now.
Yes, dear Ann, so good to be truly ‘together’ as a global community, being present, bearing witness, caring, loving, holding. As always your wise words keep the connection strong, open, ever widening and deepening. And we continue…… with love around this global community,…
As always, appreciated your presence on that zoom. We keep bearing witness and reaching out as you write, “keep the connection strong, open, ever widening and deepening. And we continue…… with love around this global community” The world needs us, even when we are not quite sure how to help.
Such deep connecting story about this strong, resilient country of Ukraine. I recently posted on Facebook that Ukrainian Americans (many live in Tacoma) are calling upon us to ask our legislators and our President to call for “Humanitarian Parole” for Ukrainians who need to come to the US as refugees. This war is a crime on these people and a direct assault on the world. We cannot forget or stop working toward peace. Thank you. Love, Diane
Thank you so much for giving us yet another avenue to reach out. You have always been such a pragmatic activist! With appreciation, Ann
My heartfelt wishes are with the brave Ukrainian people. Thank you for this post, Ann!
So good to see your comment here, Sandy! It means a lot. Ann
One acorn of the three, having traveled by human transport, planted in the One Soil, took root, thrived. Freedom, strength, continuation. May both of these oaks live long.
Every part of this story touches me deeply. Thankful for each word.
You are most welcome, Jana.
I so love this perspective. Thank you.
You are welcome!
“Something new is being born.”
I cannot fathom anything more profound in this moment. Blessings to you and all of those holding the people of Ukraine close today ♡
Thank you, Bonnie Rae. Yes, I feel the world is literally on its knees in prayer and admiration for the Ukrainian people.
“He knows intimately the individual components of cities, mountains, forests, people. He sees them as a whole—resilient, interconnected, ever-changing.” This is such an important thing for all of us to recognize, and a source of hope in these times full of division. Also, a message that you and Christina have so effectively taught for many years, and I’m always grateful for the reminder. I will not forget the Ukrainian people, or your important work. Thank you.
Thank you for your kind comments. They mean a lot to me and to us. We shall all keep finding the ways we can be of service in this dear world we call home.
Thank you for this heartfelt reflection of our council, Ann. I was also very moved by the image of something new being born, and both mother and child needing protection. After you spoke, I didn’t feel I needed to speak. My voice was already in the circle.
Really appreciate your comments, Anna. As always, a pleasure to be in council with you.