For Times Like These
During the first week of June, I embarked on a wilderness fast to hold sacred prayer space for the world in a pandemic. There was no public camping available anywhere in the state of Washington then, so friends offered their land for my fast.
However, as the date approached, the world’s challenges literally began to explode. The night before I was to leave was the 6th day of protesting and rioting after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a white policeman. I was in huge inner turmoil about whether or not to go through with my plans.
Do you leave the safety of home and family when the world is literally burning? I wavered and vacillated. My beautiful partner said, “The world needs your prayers. This is a tangible thing you can do.”
Her words were exactly what I needed to hear. For three nights and four days I camped, fasted, and prayed. The shelter of my little tent and the surrounding wild lands gave me a much-needed break from the news.
When I arrived at the forested land that would be my home for four days, the first thing I did was set up camp. It is “in my bones” to know exactly where to pitch the tent for flatness of ground, how to string the tarp for maximum rain protection, and where to establish my various sit spots. These are practiced rituals of nearly a half century of experience. It made me so happy to be tucked into my woodland home!
I began exploring my surroundings. Where do paths lead? What creatures are sharing this spot with me? Where are some good places to establish little natural altars? What plant friends are around and what stage of their life cycle are they in? In the late spring in this bioregion, I always look to see if my namesake plant, Linnea borealis, is nearby and blooming.
Looking at this patch, I remember my Swedish grandmother Vendla. This was one of her favorite plants in the old country. I think about her as a 16-year-old coming with her sisters to America. Such a powerful rite of passage!
Any rite of passage is a private endeavor. There are conversations in the journal and ceremonies on the land that belong only to the seeker. Some of these are shared with those who send and receive the quester. Some remain within the heart of the quester—little pieces of kindling awaiting the right conditions. Recorded here are a few insights from this journey.
One insight was physical. I am used to an ongoing, ever changing search for the balance between sensibility and adventure as I age. One day of my quest I walked the state park adjacent to where I was camping. I was grateful and happy for the skill and stamina to be wandering up hills, over rocky beaches, carrying a 12-pound pack with all my Ten Essentials for the better part of a day. I was thinking, “I have been lucky to have such extensive travels and exploration. It is OK with me if my activities are now more moderate.”
Literally at that exact moment, a large shadow passed overhead in the forest. I looked up in time to see a beautiful blue and white paraglider zipping along at treetop height. “Oh my gosh!” I exclaimed. Remembering that the park is a place where paragliders gather, I picked up my walking pace hoping to see the glider land.
To my great surprise there were five paragliders and their beautiful, multi-colored sails gathered on a green lawn atop a cliff. Blue sky, blue water, snow-capped mountains behind . . . and colored sails. It was spectacular. My brief conversation with one of the men was delightful. “You know, you could ride tandem with one of our club members some time to try it out,” he said. Surprise! I may not be done with exotic activities after all!
A few hours later, I was sitting on the beach near some blooming wild roses. I created a small altar on the sand.
Staring south I could see Mt. Rainier looming above the city of Seattle. I wondered about the status of protests in these days since I had been gone. I thought about my own white privilege—just being able to do this quest was the result of having enough resources and time. The focus of my life and work has always been nature, the environment, and youth. My work and interactions have largely been with white people. And yet, my own children and grandchildren are Korean and Hispanic/Korean.
What can I do to keep waking up my consciousness? What books can I read? What conversations do I need to have and with whom do I need to have them? What are genuine pieces of work I can engage in to make a difference? Our grandson thinks about these things, so does our daughter—what conversations can we have now?
Leaving the beach and hiking through the forest up to the bluff location of my camp, Mary Oliver’s tree poem fills my heart.
When I am Among the Trees
by Mary Oliver
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks, and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,”
they say, “and you, too, have come
into the world to do this, to go easy,
to be filled with light, and to shine.”
It was the perfect benediction for my quest. Within 24 hours of returning home, Christina and I were participating in a rainy, peaceful protest in Oak Harbor, on the north end of Whidbey Island. There were several hundred people—a good percentage of them people of color and young—actually, we did not see any other gray-haired, white people. Most of us were wearing masks. Cars driving by were honking horns. It was hopeful. It was a good first step.
So lovely. Your ongoing love of nature and the purpose and meaning it gives you to share it always strikes me. And to blend that with your compassion and action for others and our society is a model for us all. Thank you.
Thank you, Deb. Always appreciate your kindness.
Grateful for the prayers you offered into the Universe. It’s a generous act of spirit that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Since your Earth Day post I have been mindfully seeking out sit-spots every time I hike. I know it now to be a small, good, necessary thing simply to take a moment to say thank you. We are all better for your four days of light.
Bless you, Bonnie. And, yes, the world shifts and moves forward more kindly and empowered from gratitudes. I will always believe that.
Ah, Ann, what a beautiful sharing of a piece of the peace of your time in the woods . Thank you for the many ripe and succulent reminders in your post. I am savoring each one slowly, and filled with quiet gratitude and connection to my own place here in the PNW, and the many places on Whidbey I know intimately and love deeply, as a result.
Love and thanks,
And to you, Judy, who are doing so much in these times to keep people grounded in Nature. Thank you.
Ann, I AM BLESSED to be on your mailing list to read your blog. I am never disappointed; in fact, your writing touches my heart and spirit and renews my faith during these tough times. Thank You and Christina for always sharing so much, you always create a visual for me as I think visually thru my art. Please keep writing and presenting our world with beautiful words. Glad you are both well.
You are so kind, Janet. It means very much to me. Blessings on your own visual creations.
When so many
Thank you for reaching out, dear Patricia. May this find you well.
Annie, you shine through this post radiantly!
Who you are is a blessing. Your heart is so big!
And you who hold the eternal torch for our youth, blessings right back! I count on you for that steadiness.
Ann, Gabrielle Uhlein just sent me your blog…so beautiful to read through and close with Mary Oliver! Your way of being in the natural world continues to call to me even more strongly at this time. Your altar says so much!
Ah, the connections of the world, they make me smile! Truly, this is how the goodness that is our world continues to hold the web together as we spin and spin and wonder and wonder how it will all end. Blessings to Canada, our dear northern neighbor.
Dear, dear Ann! So lovely to read…I have no doubt that sweet altar brought a fresh breath to the protests. I appreciate your prayers manifested in the wild and at the event on the island…in both places, a voice for peace and connection. Sending you so much love!
And to you, dear Susan, woman of circle, woman of leading others into wild lands, may this find you peaceful in your heart on this day.
This is beautiful, Ann. Your gently compassionate spirit has touched me since we first met. I love that Mary Oliver poem; it’s how I feel when I walk in the woods by my house, or any woods, I suppose; but this one of my childhood has a hold on my heart. I was so hoping to return to Writing Nature’s Wisdom this year, primarily because you were not there when I attended before. I’m guessing it won’t happen this year. I hope to see you next month.
Dear Gretchen, You who walk the mountains and forests, write beautifully of your journeys, and inspire us with photography—thank you for this kindness.
Thank you, Ann. What a gift to read in this time when we often feel we must rush about and always be busy about something. Your busy-ness in prayer and contemplation were a gift to you and to the world. In your honor, I contemplated several dandelions in bloom today, before ever-so-gently moving them to a better home…with the grass clippings, salmonberries and nettles! Bless you!
Ah, Karl, a man who knows both the sacredness of physical work and returns the gift of music to the world! Bless your days.
Thank you for your quest, Ann. Thank you for caring for your piece of the earth and for all living beings as we strive to make sense in this global pause.
You, too, know the wisdom of going to the land in times like these. May it bring you solace and steadiness in your own fine work.
Sitting in my kitchen, having isolated with my beloved for 16 plus weeks, ‘retired’ in the middle of all of it, wandering in your narrative. I look out at my tree covered back yard, it’s not a forest, but is a gentle reminder of our walks in Whidbey’s forests, especially the afternoon Jeanne and I spent with Christina and you in the state park. It was a time when I learned to slow down and listen to the trees, through your voice. Thank you Ann for being all that you are. Much love to you always.
May both the challenges and joys of this time of isolation bring new insights as you embark on retirement in a very changed world. And may Mary Oliver’s poem continue to shine light on your beautiful tree beings.
Thank you for this lovely story. Our questing hearts DO change the world. I agree that it is one thing we can do to make a difference. And I love your careful commitment to the ceremony. Bless your dear heart. xo
Thank you, too, to your questing heart and going out in these precarious times.
Thank you for sharing this. A calm came over me as I read and I smiled recognizing that your written words flow with the same gentle cadence of your spoken word. You have the gift of comfort and I’m blessed to be one of those comforted today.
Hello Faraway Friend! So very good to hear from you.
Thank you for questing at this significant juncture in our Universal story. Your sharing fills me with deeper awareness of what it is that is mine to do.
May we each keep discovering what is ours to do, for there is so much that needs doing. Bless you who does so very much already.
A blessing to receive and read this. And lovely to hear how you have continued and developed this practice for so many years, and so deeply.
Thank you, Sandi. I still hold dear the quest we co-held on Twin Island all those many years ago.
Ann – your going out into the “wilderness” felt like a wonderful balm to me. It makes me realize that whatever small thing I can do relative to being in and with nature is truly important, both to my own health and as a prayer for the pandemic condition of the world. You made me smile as I read about your vividly-shared encounters on your wilderness fast. I loved your line about Mary Oliver’s poem being the “perfect benediction for my quest.” You bless us all with your life’s work. Stay safe and stay well.
Thinking so much of you all in Texas as the virus becomes more problematic. Stay safe. Love those trees in your backyard and take heart from the resilience of nature.
Lovely, Ann! Older, younger, people of colour, white, personal, shared, tent, hang-glider, trees, street…I’m beginning to wonder if all quests are, in fact, a quest for the Centre that unites all these and more. I love your wee altar! While on a recent walk in one of the ravines near where I live, I came across a small altar someone had crated — some beautifully painted stones that made up the words, “We will make it” and rainbows and smiling faces, all nestled between the roots of a huge maple. I smiled, then wept, then continued my walk, grateful for the message. The walk became a surprise quest. Thank you for continuing to remind us of the importance of these, Ann.
Ah, yes, the beauty of what we share can inspire another. We will make it, James. Together. Blessings to you!
How wonderful to read about your wilderness journey! Yes, we need people who are fasting and praying during this time. Thank you for making the time and space to do so. While things have quieted down here in Minneapolis, the work is just beginning. We have so much to do to make it a safer world for all people. It was inspiring to read of your time in the wilderness. Sending love to you and Christina. Paula
And thank you so very much for the work you do on the front line of leadership!
Thank you for sharing your photos, your insights, and your experience with us, Ann. It was meaningful to share your journey, and it brought back visceral memories of some of my experiences which have fed me in similar ways. Thank you for your sharing and the energetic work you are doing for all of us.
Truly a delight to see your words. Remembering times spent together.
So glad that you listened to the wisdom filled voice of your partner and heard the confirmation you needed to continue on the path of your Quest time without interruption. I am finding that action, at this time, is necessary but perhaps just as necessary or even more, is the time to put on our breathing masks first before helping someone else. Taking time to listen to nature’s wisdom so that what action we do take, in time, will be guided by what will truly serve. Quests never fail to deliver do they – I love that! And, of course, Mary Oliver – that particular poem always brings tears. Gifts show up everywhere. Your sharing very much inspired me, Ann. Thank you. AND, lastly, I definitely can see you paragliding – and quite frankly am surprised you didn’t take the person up on his offer on the spot – such discipline – ha ha. Hugs and a bounty of respect for who you are.
As someone who knows the quest well, these are wise words of sharing. Love the encouragement to try on some sailing wings (-:
I thought of you many times during your fast. Thank you for this beautiful sharing of your experience. Much love and gratitude for you.
Thank you, sister quester and pilgrim on life’s journey.
wow, look at the lives you touch, dear Ann. With interdependence and changing times your prayer and earth walk are reaching all life. Gratitude, dear sister of the earth. And love always,Anne
A bow of appreciation, my friend.
thanks ofr the reminder from the trees “It’s simple,”
they say, “and you, too, have come
into the world to do this, to go easy,
to be filled with light, and to shine.”
Especially important in these times for all of us.
And so it is, Suzanne. Somehow it is not so simple for us humans, but may we remember ourselves into being these shining lights.
Ann, I so enjoyed reading your blog. It touched me on a number of levels. Nature, white privilege, going at a slower pace, So glad you are still sharing your journeys. They’re not over yet. Namaste, Floralyn
What a wonderful voice from the past! We are, indeed, grateful for ongoing journeys.
thank you Ann…I so appreciate your travelers into the woods…your words take me there too.
Dear Terry, Appreciate your reaching out and to someone who also writes—thank you for the word praise. Love,Ann
🔆Good Morning Ann~I have waited to read “For Times Like These”… letting it simmer, knowing I would enjoy it deeply at just the right moment. My moment with your beautiful essay was just now & (as always), your words & observations lifted me. I am “being saved by trees” all day/everyday….so also appreciated the poem from Mary Oliver! ENJOY Mt. Rainer as I enjoy Mt. Hood~they will pull us away from the concerns of the new world erupting, and strengthen our new knowing. So very grateful for you!💜 Be well, Liz Foster 🕉
Dear Liz, We do enjoy views of Mt. Rainier. Yes, if trees remind us to be grounded daily, mountains remind us of our smallness in the scheme of the universe. We have not even made it into the fossil layer yet!
Oh Annie – I feel so unworthy compared with you. I’ve just done reading on the subject of Racism and visited/taken in the place where George Floyd was murdered. But none of the activism you describe. Our group here at The Waters has promised to “make something happen” regarding Black Lives Matter. But we’ve done little so far other than putting up some signs. Hope I gather strength/overcome fear to make it so soon. Your contribution here will help immeasurably. Bless you. Bless you.
Dear Bonnie, What I know is that all of us privileged white folks have a long, long ways to go in terms of what we can do. May the years ahead for me make up for the years past when I was so largely unaware. Blessings on each of our journeys, Annie
Ann your quiet wisdom touches and calms me. Thank you.
I think of you and Christina Often, knowing the anguish you must feel about your unraveling country. And knowing the oasis of calm and compassion you both would create.
I send love.
Dear Judith, Thank you for reaching across the border. Indeed, we do feel much anguish about our country’s journey. And we also feel hope in the dailyness of ordinary people’s good actions. May those rise up and stand even stronger against the forces of greed and selfishness. Blessings, Ann
A gift on this quiet Tuesday, deeply resonant and hopeful amidst so much tumult and pain. I’m not sure I knew the Oliver poem, so also a gift! Breathe gently, my friend, and yes, listening… (Just landed in a great podcast–eleven episodes–Finding Fred. Powerful invitations amidst these days from the wisdom of Mr. Rogers and black-brown-indigenous voices…) Be well! Lisa
Thank you, Lisa. Always glad to share a good poem. Ah, yes, Mr. Rogers—a man who always led with kindness. The world would be so much better if we followed that example. Blessings, Ann
Thank you for sharing your serenely beautiful camping experience. It must have felt so peaceful to do this solo trip as I know you have made this a regular part of your life annually.
You have always been a natural leader in nature and continue to share it with us, your sisters.
Love and Blessings dear sister,
Thank you, Kathy. It always means so much to me when my sisters resonate with what I am up to! Love, Ann