Sunday, April 13, 2014


I haven't had words to say lately. Not that I wanted to release to the world. Just uncertainties and a heavy inertia. Layers of cloud now and then lit up by chasing beams of light that fade as quickly as they come. 

Sun Kil Moon's music puts sound to this clouded and cold Midwestern sky. The dull light, empty fields, crumbling roads, broken glass underfoot become beautiful in their emptiness. Heart-hypnotizing Great Lake hymns like the sound of silent sunlight flickering on a wall. Sadness enveloping joy, bare branches trying to flower. 

Like something inside of me right now.   

Graving dreams
A million miles ago you seem
A star that I just don't see

Words long gone
Lost on journeys we walked on
Lost are voices heard 
Along the way

- Mark Kozelek

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Walking with the green man

In London, they call this "the green man."

"Wait for the green man," the walking tour guides would say as they shepherded us through busy intersections. "We'll wait for you on the other side if the signal changes, so don't do anything dangerous."

Painted at each pedestrian crossing are helpful reminders to look right before crossing. With arrows to tell you which way "right" is. Especially useful for all of the Americans, Germans, French and Netherlanders who are conditioned to look for traffic coming from the left.

Once I got home it took a couple of weeks before I was solid on looking left again instead of right. I still tend to walk on the left side of the sidewalk, though...possibly my only behavioral legacy of living in London.

Here in the U.S., as you see, things are slightly different. While I was in London, and the green man was called to my attention, I was all, like, wait--has the man always been green, and I just never noticed? No. The man here is white. But no one ever refers to this as "the white man"--it's just called a "walk signal." Which is a bit dull, don't you think? Why don't we have a green man?

Of course, when I hear "green man," I think of the Green Man, not the green man, so those first couple of references confused me a little. (I am easily confused.) I didn't see many representations of the Green Man in London, aside from public houses named after him. I counted three or four without even trying to find them.

Below are the homely sights I captured today on my walk to/from my favorite cafe and bakery in Minneapolis, a town bereft of Green and green men.

But we do have Million Dollar Bars for $2.39. Top that, Kensington.

Don't ask why the "Y" is bigger than all the other letters...nobody knows.

My doughnut, latte, beans and book (Wilco on the sound system) kept me content for an hour, then I hit the sidewalks of Minneapolis again. Which are still a puddly mess in places, but that's what spring is all about.

Delicate-blue spring sky with biscuit-like clouds--a sky cobbler!--as the cardinal sang from this treetop:

Ducks paddled on the open water, dogs gallumphed over the soggy turf, and all the city's winter weary were out in force. Including a friend from my last job, who I met by chance on the creekside path. We caught up on life as the bicycle wheels whirred by.

Note Golden Retriever taking a dip among the ducks....

Happy spring to all!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The door in the tree

“It was as though each feature of the landscape had a special significance, a role to play in some eternally unfolding drama. And if they carried on walking into the arena…they’d be given their own parts to play. Perhaps this was the great lesson to be learned about all of nature...."
—Phil Rickman, The Remains of an Altar

I was a child who loved fairytales, stories where the landscape itself was magical.

I was also a literal child.

So in my woodland wanderings, I always kept my eyes open for the door in the tree. A real door in a real tree, with a stairway leading down into a world of magic.

I was disappointed every time I did not find them. Maybe they existed in the lands of my ancestors, where the tales were written. But this land has different tales, different magics...different doors.

Now I know that what I really sought was wonder. Magic and doors in trees seem to me now as metaphors for wonder.

Maybe "magic" is no more and no less than the earthly wonders that surround us...the songs the world sings to us all the time.

Maybe the landscape is alive and loves us. Maybe the land feels us loving it, and nurtures us with rain and sun and food and endless beauty in a great ouroboros, a Gaian feedback loop.

Maybe the door in the tree is whatever it is that opens our beings to wonder.

I think we're encouraged to embrace wonders in a book or a film, but to dismiss them, or even the possibility of them, when they are there right under our noses. We embrace a dualism that separates the magical and the mundane. We decide wonders aren't there, thus rendering them invisible to us. That is how powerful our minds and beliefs are...we can actually render reality invisible and our eyes will simply skip over what we've decided doesn't exist.

But how reborn we feel when we drop the intervening screens or beliefs or depression or whatever else has separated us from our birthright of wonder. Immense relief to find that we have not lost it forever as we feared, that the magic hasn't gone out of the world. It's been there all along, it is there every day, still. Do you feel that?

That there really is a door in the tree, and we possess the key that unlocks it.

Yesterday, my door in the tree was my first spring robin, pouring out his mating song in the morning sun from atop an evergreen tree.

What opens the door to wonder for you?

"…we are situated in the land in much the same way that characters are situated in a story…along with the other animals, the stones, the trees, and the clouds, we ourselves are characters within a huge story that is visibly unfolding all around us, participants within the vast imagination, or Dreaming, of the world."
—David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous

Photos of stick dwelling taken on the Mississippi River bluffs, November 2013. To see another stick dwelling I came upon on another Samhain, go here.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Fits and starts

Now let the snow retreat, withdrawing its hands from the north lands, peninsulas shrinking to fingers, fingers dissolving into crackle-ice that shatters under our feet. Let rough-crystalled islands shrink back into the thirsty earth and open paths and thoughts untrodden for many months.

Winter and spring will keep dancing a while longer. After a few days of major melting, wet snow fell one evening last week, softening and blurring the edges.

You see that I have exchanged the snowflake on my front door for the songbird of spring as a bit of sympathetic magic.

I am in a similar uneasy transition between one way of being and another. Back in that old push-pull state, trading the hours that I had in abundance for a salary and benefits.

Above all, I don't want sitting at a computer all day, in an office with no daylight, to make me lose or forget connection with what's real and what's central: The land, the river, the birds, trees and sky.

Here's what I know. Almost every day, I have an encounter with an other-than-human being that lights up my world. A sight that makes my eyes overflow with beauty and my heart swell with love.

This sacred planet we live upon and are part of is speaking to us, calling our attention to it and then sending love at us. I can only think that there is a conversation going on. Energy, attention, love, gratitude. We have to be paying attention to hear it. And if I stay away or starve myself of this conversation for too long, I feel all wrong.

In the park-that-was-oak-savanna today, a blue-sky day but cold, I went walking. I'd been feeling low on energy, a bit down.

I heard a sound up in the trees. A crooning, confiding, avian sound that swivels my head around, sends my eyes searching for the source.

Two full-grown bald eagles huddled side-by-side on a high branch with a wide view of the river gorge, backs to the wind. Looking for rabbits in the undergrowth, fish in the thawing water, maybe. Maybe resting, being companionable, maybe preening each other's feathers. I do not know the ways of eagles, yet that's no barrier to loving them.

If they hadn't made those sounds (low kuk-kuk-kuk call) and if I hadn't taken a detour from my own thoughts or my living room couch, I would not have noticed them at all, these magnificent feathered kin on their high branch.

I send them winged thanks and watch until they glide down a current of air over the river bluff, out of sight.

Blessed, smiling and definitely lighter of heart, I walk on in the cold sunshine of earliest spring.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Tending is a kind of making

Last spring, my shade garden through a knothole. 

Tomorrow is the day I will reserve a tree through my city's annual tree-planting program.

Only $25 for a well-grown tree, to bring home in mid-May, when it is finally safe for young living things to go into the ground here. 

It is a naturally branchy creature, this Serviceberry--a multi-trunked bird magnet with pure white blossoms in spring, juicy dark berries in June and glowing, orange-wine leaves in autumn.

(An oasis for the spirit shall she be.)

This little tree will need to be adaptable to thrive in her spot between the underground utility lines and the overhead power lines. She will need to bear up against strong north winds in winter.

(Great expectations already are heaped upon her young shoulders.)

Some choose to prune and school this tanglewood into a neat, single-trunked tree. But not I. My Juneberry can branch as much as she likes.

Because my eye is ever searching for a heartful place to rest between the window and the sidewalk, and the yard and the street, and the parking lot beyond that.

(A sight that brings peace and sweetness. These days, I collect them.)

When the Serviceberry tree, also called Juneberry, begins to bear fruit, ah. These are the days of celebration! 

As the birds come and go, swooping to devour every last berry, I will smile. 

At that moment, I shall feel the best feeling. Like a child of the earth. A wildling mother. A midwife to beauty.

(I'm feeling it now.)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

A woman of two cities

The Dakota named their home, "The Land Where the Water Reflects the Clouds." 

A name full of shining sacredness, and thus the best kind of name. 

The Europeans who took the land from the Dakota and the Ojibwe called it "The Land of 10,000 Lakes." 

They built two cities, side by side, on both banks of the Mississippi River.

Before I continue this tale, there are some things you need to understand. For context.

Minneapolis is the City of Lakes. This is where I was born, and where my parents were born, and where I have lived for 99 percent of my life. Except for the river gorge, it stands on flat terrain, where the Chain of Lakes and wetlands reflect the sky. Scando-protestant-hipster-liberal. 

St. Paul is the Capitol City. St. Paul is the older, smaller, hillier city, with more historic buildings and old neighborhoods than Minneapolis--Irish-Catholic-traditional DFL-blue collar. 

So to simplify greatly, St. Paul, history. Minneapolis, lakes

But both river. The Mississippi manages to snake through both downtown hearts, even though they are 10 miles apart. 

Native Minneapolitans rarely move to St. Paul, and vice versa. 

It's just how it is. 

But if they're me, chances are they will end up working in St. Paul quite often. Like I am now. 

Every morning, I drive from Minneapolis to St. Paul over the Meeting of the Waters, Mendota, where the Mississippi joins the Minnesota River.  I sneak glances through the highway bridge railings at the river, and it looks like a wide, blank expanse of snow. If it weren't for the Cottonwoods that delineate its banks, and the fact that there is a bridge over it, you wouldn't know a wild river slept beneath. All appears still.

But I know the river is napping with one eye open, alive and restless even in winter, its water brown as a hibernating bear and bristling with ice crystals, creeping through ever-rushing arteries within the frozen architecture of its slumber.

As I cast my eyes outward, I see too the mystical island at the confluence of the rivers, the sacred place that the Dakota considered to be the center of all things, where their stories tell that humankind was created.

Remember the times I have walked across the sandy flood plain of that island--a somehow-hushed, between-the-worlds, silver-green place, even with the traffic from the bridge rushing over and the droning of jets overhead and the occasional speedboat sending the river water washing against the low banks.

I do not like its modern name so I won't write it here. The island's sacredness can't be hemmed in by powerlines or desecrated by broken is native to the place, unconquerable. That's what I tell myself, when I see it beset on all sides by civilization, so that I don't feel as sad.

But at times it is meet and right to feel sad, isn't it?

For most of the trip I follow a road at the base of the river bluffs, close to the Mississippi. If only I had a way of taking photos as I drive. My hungry eyes take sustenance from the sights each morning--the fairyland of snow-covered trees in a ravine, the bold, medieval hulk of a grain elevator against the sky, billows of pale pink and lavender steam-clouds unfolding from smokestacks in the morning sunlight. 

This is what I see after I get out of the car...thus I share a small part of my daily journey with you, wherever you are. 

The St. Paul Cathedral on Cathedral Hill, the view to my left...

...the Minnesota State Capitol, the view to my right...

...the young river birch maidens I pass on my daily walk from the parking lot to the building...

...looking toward the Cathedral, lofty Austrian pines...and the entrance to the history museum where I work, which has taken up residence between the domes of St. Paul.

There are so many kinds of history, and there is no history without a story. The one that is calling to me is the story of this land itself. I don't mean Minnesota as a political entity, but something deeper and older and bigger than that: this Place that was loved by the native peoples who knew it and honored it and cared for it and were part of its story for centuries upon centuries.

I'm coming to understand that there is so little I understand about being a part of the essential Here.

Is this making any sense? I realize I write things like this rather often. More than half a century of living, and sometimes I wonder what it is I've been doing up to this point. Is that how everyone feels as they grow older? That maybe it takes years to even begin to ask the right questions?

I feel I'm a child in the world, even now, in all that I'd like to understand. I'm curious. Once again, I'm hot on the trail of something. Might get hold of it, might not, but no matter; I'm sure to find something.

Maybe I'll start this round with the museum store. It has many books on Dakota culture. I have a lunch hour and an employee discount.

P.S. And perfectly in line with Raquel's intuition on this, I was guided to an excellent post on Priscilla Stuckey's blog, This Lively Earth, about her journey in relationship and spiritual helpers.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The singing cardinal of winter

THIS LONG WINTER has been hard. Winter is a hardship.

Hard for our wild relations, who struggle to find food and stay warm.

Hard for bloggers (weather woes are widespread, from California to Canada to Devon).

Hard for lovers of the outdoors who are not equipped with high-tech cold weather gear and must retreat too quickly into dry, furnace-fired, unwild air.

Hard for homeowners who live on corner lots and must shovel out their walkways and driveways by hand, in a winter of 50+ inches of snow (ahem). The frost line has crept down so far into the earth that even in the southern half of the state, underground water pipes have frozen and burst.

Hard for the roads--which, after months of warming, refreezing, chemicals and plow blades, have given up holding themselves together and have already disintegrated, leaving potholes of epic dimensions--and the drivers who must negotiate them during blizzards, Winter Storm Warnings, Snowmageddons and Snowpocalypses.

In previous winters, I would have been whining about winter with the best of them.

I don't know what has happened, or how it's happened, but my inner kaleidoscope has shifted and all the colored shards have lined up in a less pointy and jagged configuration. After decades of living here, finally I accept that winter is a time of hardship.

A sensible position--but one I've mostly managed to avoid up to this point.

Anyway, how ridiculous is it to resist winter? It is a fact impossible to ignore or wage battle on. Resistance does nothing to make it go away--it just puts one at odds with what is beyond our power to change, with what is ever-so-emphatically-real and HERE.

And resistance to reality just makes it impossible to love your life and where you are in it every day, doesn't it?

So, thinking of winter as a time of hardship feels right to me. If a person isn't experiencing this season's hardships, then she isn't being present to it at all. And I want to be here, not constantly living a life wishing I were elsewhere.

The paradox is, as I let go of resistance to the hardships of winter, these things became something to just get on with and negotiate, without drama or martyrdom.

Hardships are hard; but it doesn't follow that "hard" equals "bad." (I make this distinction to myself because for most of my life I have been exactly the kind of person who sees "hard" as "bad.")

But the hard-not-bad hardship is not the only thing to notice about this winter.

Just as much, more than anything maybe, is the beauty: A balm, and a blessing, and a long, cold, strange song of north wind.

And oh my love, my shining white ice palace of a home, with your snow-heaped silences, your singing cardinal at dawn, your white radiance flooding through every window and your utter and exquisite loveliness from dawn to dusk, you bring tears to my eyes. You fill up my heart as never before, and I am grateful.

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