Friday, December 30, 2016

Messengers of the moon

Tiny flecks of opalescent green glitter persisting at the edges of my writing desk, shyly twinkling at me, were the first messenger from memory.

A glow-in-the-dark star that fell from the heavens of my writing room to floor, with none to witness its imagined fiery glory, was the second messenger.

I glance at the ceiling with its slowly eroding constellations, carefully placed by me years ago (Big Dipper, Little Dipper, Scorpius, Orion, Cassiopeia), and I wonder.

Regard the star-like blue of the twinkle lights around the windows. Magical periwinkle walls that enfold me in a dreaming blue bower. Dried oak leaves everywhere. Braids of sweetgrass, images of birds, autumn forests, spirals, stars and more stars...

I remember: The great-great grandmother in the tale read long ago, when I was small.

The grandmother was an enchantress, it seemed to me; a being of great feminine power, a healing power, gentle yet terrible. She was tall, with long white hair, like moonlight. (That's how I remember her.)

I remembered most of all her magical light, like the moon. It dwelled in her tower room and shone silverbright or soft-as-snow, following upon her merest thought.

It was a companion to her, in her solitary tower, I thought. A friend.

How did the idea of that light entrance me so, that I still recall the power of that image painted in words?

That it spoke to my child's mind as powerfully and strangely as a rare dream tells me it filtered deeply into my unconscious, as a mythic symbol. The grandmother. The moon. The enchantress. The tower. The child. The night.

I have not read this story for many decades. (Far too long.)

But how all suddenly makes sense, when we recognize our path, as we trace silver threads of memory and arrive somewhere...we may discover how we treasure and hold wonder close and deep for a lifetime, even when we didn't remember that we were doing so.

How the thought, the language, the imagery, the power of this tale was one of a thousand-million powers that shaped a girl who fell in love with the moon and the stars and tales of that many years later she writes her own sorts of tales in an upstairs room cascading with echoes of stars, windows wide to the light of the moon she cannot lure inside.

The beautiful illustrations above are by Madalina Andronic, created for The Folio Society 2013 edition of The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, a book first published in 1872.

An edition with the original pen-and-ink illustrations by Jessie Wilcox Smith.

A free audiobook download from LibriVox, as this book is in the public domain in the U.S. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Walking through the longest night

One of my wishes for our new home is that I will be able to see much more of the sky than just a meager patch of it through houses, tree branches and electrical lines.

I wish I could see what the moon, stars and the sun are doing, every day. How sad I feel, thinking of how many years of sunsets and moonrises have come and gone with nary a Me to admire them and praise them for their splendor.

I bought a lunar calendar for the new year. To remind me which phase happens when, to help focus my attention, I thought.

But now I recognize this is very sad; because if I could just look at the moon, like humans have looked at it for millions of years, I wouldn't need a calendar to tell me what phase it is in.

I could look up and see for myself.

Such a simple gift it seems, to be able to see the moon and stars in the sky! How could something once so ordinary have become rare and precious? It seems yet another loss in a time of losses.

If by walking the earth we can bless it with our feet, then by watching the sky we can bless it with our sustained gaze.

Is that how you watch the moon? Quietly but rapt, with eyes wide open, as if you gaze upon the beauty of your beloved?

Now I think that what I must have been seeking by purchasing that moon phase calendar was really a heart connection to the moon, a silver line of light between she and I, along which dreams and wordless mysteries would ebb and flow like tides.

What I was wanting most of all was the reassuring presence of the earth's beauty every day. I wanted the moon to be a companion to my nights, not shut away outside away from me but in my eyes and heart, like a prayer.

On this, the longest night of the year, may the moon creep into my dreams, may the low sun cast his birch-pale light over the wildwoods in my heart.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The lantern of soul

"Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good."

"What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale."

"One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these — to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity."

"Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do."

We Were Made for These Times, Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Tangled thoughts

Such a day for darkness. A candle flickers on my writing desk, one tiny fire-star.

Such a day for quiet... my cats sleep downstairs, curled in their ticked fur coats, noses tucked under paws. I imagine that colors dance across their backs, from the twinkle lights around the windows.

Such a day for falling into evening, a pale blue overtaking the heavy clouds just before sunset, and I too stupefied by screen light to do more than set out the cats' dinners and notice that the few words my mind held earlier had fled...leaving only snake tracks through sand and a blur of blue jays.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

When we stand together

Black wings of crows against a dimensionless gray sky. Long chains of Canada geese flying wing to wing, navigating south now in earnest by sun, stars and internal compass.

Making we wonder: what and where is home? Do we think of home as our city, our nation or our planet? How much of our sense of home is rooted in the people around us, and our shared humanity?

Do we think of our fellow citizens as only the people like us—the same ethnic make-up, beliefs and politics? Or do we think of all humans as our fellow citizens of this one planet?

Now as the darkness of November has descended, courage has been at its ebb in my heart. In the dark hours it feels absolutely crushing—after a spring so full of hope, promise and progressive energy for real reform to address the huge economic and social injustices in America—that this is the winter of our reality:

A society systematically reshaped over decades to benefit the ultra-wealthy and to disenfranchise 99 percent of the people.

Militarized police forces who kill our black and brown brothers and sisters, and who do the bidding of corporations in attacking peaceful protestors as criminals.

An authoritarian demagogue and his kleptocracy, wrong-headedly elected by people fed up with a government that is not working, who are soon to be dismantling protections and selling off our beloved land for parts while enriching themselves and their cronies.

These represent the blindest segment of humanity—the one bent on racing as quickly as possible toward the destruction of planet and our species. For gain.

We have met the enemy, and he is us.

Humanity's shadow is on full display right now in America, and it is frightening. It seems about to swallow us whole.

It has always been there, but we do have to look at it and see it now, in all its wounded-ness and brokenness. I do not know what our chance of healing humanity's brokenness is. But without seeing it, we surely cannot heal it. So we have been given a clear choice, a chance to do something other than despise it, repress it and turn our eyes away.

We have an opportunity at this moment, all people of goodwill and open heart, of compassion and kindness, to stand together. To speak loudly for and protect what is right. To organize and mobilize and to spread peace and beauty in every way we can.

It is clear that pushing back against humanity's shadow with compassion is the only hope we have to survive as a species, and that NOW is the time we need to act.

This has been a year of great highs and sickening lows, a year of revelations. A year of stripping bare the illusions we've harbored, peeling back our comforting surface narratives to reveal that which is bleeding, wounded, neglected and ugliest about humanity. A year of challenge to ourselves to become more than we may have thought we needed to become.

It is a time when all feels upended, a time when I especially envy those with strong extended families, and close networks of friends to sustain them. Because in spring, summer and fall I am mostly content to wander in community with no one other than the trees, birds, grasses and sky.

But in winter, all ease and illusions are gone, along with nature's reassuring sense of becoming that I can pretend is my own. Winter strips it all away, and exposes how frail and important for our well-being are the human connections that hold us together.


All is far from lost. We (I) must take heart and take action. Here is what is encouraging: The progressives are mobilizing all across our country, galvanized by the stark challenges before us. What Bernie Sanders said before the primaries is as true now as it was then:

Our job is not to divide, our job is to bring people together. If we do not allow them to divide us up by race, by sexual orientation, by not allowing them to divide us up by whether or not we were born in America or whether we're immigrants...when we stand together, as white and black and hispanic and gay and straight, woman and man...when we stand together, and demand that this country work for all of us, rather than the few...we will transform America.

The challenge for a quiet, introverted homebody is to make a conscious and sustained effort (and it is a real effort) to reach out and connect with others, instead of retreating even further into books. Books are important for reaffirming what is best about humanity, for reminding us of what is wise, beautiful and true. Books are even community, of a kind. But even books (and I speak as a lifelong bookworm) cannot always take the place of connecting with real live humans.

Those of us who usually choose to go our own way—often disappointed idealists masquerading as misanthropes—do actually need a community made up of people...especially during times when despair threatens to sap our energy and spirits. Let's draw heart from each other.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Reading by lantern light

I read The Hour of Land by Terry Tempest Williams during our late September stay amid the dark, burnished glory of Jay Cooke State Park.

It was drizzling and gray the three days we were there, but we were well tucked away into a snug cabin next to a wall made of jutting faces of dark slate, flanked by pines and quaking aspens.

I read into the dark by the light of the lantern.

The wind shivered the aspen leaves, and their soft, silvery clamor sounded like rain, too...even when it wasn't raining.

While we built a couple of soggy campfires and took a long, damp hike, we spent as many lovely, quiet hours reading.

St. Louis River

I've been reading books by women who are living and creating in dialogue with the landscape. Especially wise, powerful, authentic and flawed women who raise pointed questions, who challenge the status quo, who are willing to speak truth and take action for what they believe in.

I revere women like these. Their path-blazing inspires me in the best way. I am always seeking guru sisters and guru mothers and guru aunts, I think. Not of the same blood (though we are all related, really) but of like spirit and mind.

Which brings me back to The Hour of Land, which I recommend for lovers of wilderness and wildness and wild women. TTW's subject is Americans' relationship with our national parks. But her relationships, knowledge, curiosity and mind range wide as the continent, and The Hour of Land  is about far more than national parks.

It is about love, sacred rage, politics, right action and self knowledge.

It is about grief and beauty (are they always intertwined?). The sensate world. Wonder.

Terry Tempest Williams is a protector and a warrior. She, like many of us, is angry about destruction of the land, of our heritage, of beauty and quietude, of the rights of the people, the animals, the water and the earth itself.

"Our species is committing suicide—that is a choice—and in the process, we are causing others pain. Who cares? Who cares about this wilderness? This glorious indifference?"

"I keep thinking the essential gesture is to act, to respond, to remain true to our core beliefs, and not to be afraid to give voice to our anger. For me, the danger is silence and it multiplies into complacency and consent. My question remains, how do we take our anger and transform it into sacred rage?"

"Our institutions and agencies are no longer working for us. It is time to reimagine our public lands as sanctuaries, refuges, and sacred lands. Time to rethink what is acceptable and what is not."


"Wilderness is not my leisure or my recreation. It is my sanity." 

 "We believe in more, more possessions, more power, more war. Anywhere, everywhere our advance of aggression continues. My aggression toward myself is the first war...Wilderness is an antidote to the war within ourselves."

"The time has come for acts of reverence and restraint on behalf of the Earth. We have arrived at the Hour of Land." 

This quote from Darnell Davis, a Blackfeet elder, brought tears: "The last best place is our first place."

The land of the first Americans was, and is, their everything. And they have always understood this in a way that far, far too many other Americans do not.

They know this land as a deeply loved and intimately known Home. As the source of nurturing Food. Powerful Medicine. Meaningful Work. Sacred refuge and source of spirit. As a Place of ritual and worship. A Place of Story and Wonder. A Place of memory, birth, death, ancestors. A Place of Blessing, also Home to All Our Relations: Bison, deer, wolf, moose, salmon, fox, raven, eagle.

A Place to tend to and shape, renew and care for. A Place to love and honor like a father, a mother, a child, a beloved. A Place to hold the People forever in the cup of its hand.

This land is a place worth protecting, worth our love, worth fighting for. Even if who we are fighting is our own institutions, our own agencies, our own police and military, our own government who is not listening to our voices.

There is no one and nothing more important than this planet on which we dwell. We ARE the land, and the land is us. The people are right to say Water Is Life. The Land Is Life. It is that simple, and that enormous.

Monday, October 31, 2016

All things crooked and powerful

How gray and blustery it is, so suddenly and absolutely. As if a tempest is blowing in from some ghoul-haunted forest. The sun hides his face from us as we slip into the dark time: November.

Waiting Month, Month of Clouds, a time of stillness that in the north is foreboding, holding storms in its belly.

A time to remember the dead. Ancestors whose names I did not even know before this year, and those loved from childhood. My mother. My grandmothers. My sister. My aunties. My beloved cats.

A spirit for every golden leaf fallen from the silver maple.

Earlier in the day the dimness was lit by the inner lamps of yellow-green grapevine, coral pink creeper across my window, deep-gold coins of pear tree, fiery gold of crabapple with its bright red fruits.

Though even then, skeleton branches like fingers clutched their few remaining leaves, some grasping only sullen sky.

But the day has grown darker, more leaves blown to the ground and now I look to the candle's flame for remembrance. Fire for remembrance of all those bright, beloved lives hovering over my shoulder.

I keep this day. It deserves that I do so. I haven't always done, but I regret when I do not. I, at least, cannot both hold this day of between-worlds in my thoughts and go about my normal work day.

So this day, I choose to be here.

Where this takes me, there I choose to go. I choose. This I choose to do. Thunder on my right hand. Lightning in my left hand. Fire above me. Frost in front of me.
—Terry Pratchett, Wintersmith

I dug up a last unwanted elm seedling hiding amid the stems of my little Saskatoon serviceberry. Filled the bird bath and stored the garden hose in the garage. Put out suet for the woodpeckers, nuts for the jays and seeds for the dark-eyed juncos migrating through. I mulched leaves and left them to shelter whoever lives beneath them. 

It is a practical kind of ritual. 

Then the wind chased me inside. 

So many bright days have I gathered sunlight, landscapes flooded with beauty, breathing in the wind and pursuing quietness and solitude. Many lovely places have I visited, many a thought thunk, shared with no one but myself.

Now I am here with you and my musings, my broomsticks made of twigs marking me as a lover of all things crooked and powerful...messy, earth-wild and every shade of brown: leaf, pinecone, grasses, bark, branch, mushroom, acorn, seedpod, feather, muddy river, dark soil to which we all return. 

A female house sparrow had tucked a few strands of tawny grasses into the window well beneath the air conditioner, planning a snug spot out of the weather. (My only clue such activities were taking place was that the cats had been sitting side by side, staring intently at the window for two days.) 

We saw her flutter to the window with more grasses, only to find the air conditioner gone and the storm window closed. She clung to the window frame with her tiny claws and stared, quite understandably bewildered to find that her alcove was no longer accessible. No longer the safe spot she imagined.  

My regrets, little sparrow. I wish you well snuggled in to another cozy spot by now. 

All this is to say: Winter is coming. We draw inward, we hurry through the landscape, we huddle by the fire. We turn to all the tasks and occupations we've neglected for months in our great push to fill ourselves up with sunlight, petals, planting, traveling, outwardness. 

Shakespeare wrote, "The bright day is done, and we are for the dark." 

Terry Tempest Williams wrote, "Do not fear darkness, it's where one comes alive." 

I write, blessings to you who feel darkness weighing on you like a mourning cloak. 

Embrace this season as a time for rest, a time of slowing down and the healing of slow-mending wounds; the feeding of hungers unrecognized and unacknowledged amid the bright hum of doing

Let us have the perceptiveness to see all the ways in which we have grown since the last turning of the sun, and to take encouragement from that—especially in dark November. 

For myself, I call to the owl, whom I have never found, though I have searched. 

Be my guide, owl, you who sees in darkness what others cannot. 

Teach me, you who consumes what is needed and purges what is not. 

Call to me, you who flies on silent wings, bridging the gap between this world and the Other, a being of mystery and magic. 

I ask the earth that it may be so. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Long shadows

What do you look toward, when you are fearful, sad or anxious?

On days when you have to make yourself do too many tedious things that you do not want to do, but since you are an adult, you are expected to do them anyway?

On days when you fear your life is going to waste, or your path has disappeared, or that this is all there is and it is not enough?

The only thing I can think of to do right now is to look outside of myself and into the garden.

Nokomis Naturescape, Minneapolis

That's it. My one answer. I feel a little dose of joy each day when I see the first butterflies and bees of the day nourishing themselves on flowers I planted there, for the express purpose of feeding them.

In my very mundane life, that feels like a gift and a wonder to me. To look up and catch a glimpse of an orange-winged treasure flashing in the golden light, gliding down from that vast summer sky to circle, climb, circle again to finally land on the perfect flower from which to drink, on this infinitesimally small bit of planet earth.

All the more precious since their population is threatened by humans, as everything on this earth is threatened by humans, except for the very occasional things that are helped by humans.

Like the butterflies who visit my tiny waystation, and I hope many many other waystations as they make their way to Mexico.

So heartfelt thanks to the butterflies for bringing a smile to my lips and un-furrowing my furrowed brow for a moment each day during the many weeks of summer. They feel like companions to me.

Gratitude to the goldfinches, who now hide in the tall serviceberry next to the house and make speedy garden forays, gripping with their feet the seedheads of hyssop, coneflowers and bergamot as they eat one tiny, pointed seed at a time.

[no photo, but they are a darting bright yellow and olive yellow, with handsome black and white stripes]

Oh bringing love love love to drive off despair and violence of every sort, disrespect and destruction, leaf blowers and the weeping of the world. I am far too small to feel all that love...but the right size for the timely presence of a butterfly to still fill me with joy.

And there are lakes, and clouds, and wind-blown blue days that smell like the wildness of creation.

Earthly gifts are the ones that have weight and substance. That feel real. That feed us, the people.

(Not humans—the people. Humans are biological constructs, the people are body-and-spirit. This is what I've just decided.)

Earthly gifts are sacred gifts, and oh how this world needs more protectors of the sacred.

What if I pared away all the parts of my life that feel like junk food.

That deplete rather than replenish life and health. Would it help?

What would be left?

I don't know. Where is the center? What holds it all together?

I read about Hope Bourne, a wild soul of a writer who moved to Exmoor at the age of 52 to live off the land in an old caravan. She wrote:

“For money, you sell the hours and the days of your life, which are the only true wealth you have. You sell the sunshine, the dawn and the dusk, the moon and the stars, the wind and the rain, the green fields and the flowers, the rivers and the sweet fresh air. You sell health and joy and freedom.” 
Everything in me responds to this. It is what I most fear! My heart nearly breaks just to see it put into words, the commodification of our lives and the great loss of our birthright: the light of day, freedom to move, to experience the life of the planet.

But I almost feel crazy sometimes, because I do not know anyone else who feels this way, and our society does not support feeling this way either—far, far from it.

What this society supports is work and work and work, and feel grateful that you have a job, don't expect more than work, and you are of no value and irrelevant as an individual unless you are working.

And even THAT doesn't make you of value, unless you are rich. Because those are the people a money society values.

I feel the grief of this so keenly at this moment. Our lives are commodities that only we can value at their true worth. But once we know their true value, how do we live as if we honor that?

How do we get our lives back?

What—or who—do we have to leave behind in order to do it?

Sunday, July 31, 2016

On Lughnasadh

Today I found the feather of a wild turkey.

Broken-stemmed—as if after falling to the ground, it had been chewed. Maybe by the orange-eyed black cat that prowls our yard after darkness falls, sending Stazi and Juni intently scurrying from window to window to exchange stares with the interloper.

What does a broken feather mean today, on the eve of the festival of Lugh, sun god?

I'm not one for signs and portents. But we curate our own lives, don't we? Especially for blog posts. We choose what is meaningful and why.

On the one hand, there is a quite sensible reason for a wild turkey feather to be in my back yard...which is that a whole flock of them paid us a visit on Thursday. Two hens and fifteen young wild turklings.

They perched atop the fence, the garage and up in the tree outside our window like an invading force. First: scoping out the yard for food and/or threats. Then: they judged it safe and one by one, fluttered down to peck at the fallen seed under the bird feeder.

After they'd eaten what was there, they wandered off to another yard, on a progressive dinner party.

Lughnasadh is a first fruits harvest festival, a time to partake of the bounty.

A banquet of milkweed and blazingstar for the monarchs.

A feast of nectar for bees and hummingbirds.

A feast of wild and winsome beauty for our eyes.

Seasons and holy days should be felt in their time, don't you think? The exact time is important. Their beats fall regularly throughout the year, marking a particular angle in the sun's journey across the sky, a quality of light falling upon the beloved earth; marking the cycle of growth and decline of mortal creatures of every kind. Anchoring us to this place, this time, singing nownownow every moment.

Centuries, millennia of humans marked the journey of sun and moon, marked them with fire and festival, ritual and thanks.

Sometimes I wish I lived among those peoples, in those times, if only for that. For a celebration with a center to it, one that makes sense to people who love the earth and the sky, sun moon stars.

No leaping over fires on hilltops, I'll shape my own kind of broken-feathered observance, based on what speaks to me.

As I write, I wonder, as I usually do: does this all sound self-indulgent? I understand if you think it does, because on some level I do, too. Compared with many people in this world, I am privileged, and have no real reason to complain of anything.

Is it a luxury to be able to feel emptiness, sadness or loneliness rather than hunger? Is it a luxury to long for a sense of belonging to this earth, when so many have no place to sleep, no safety, no kindness, no justice?

Yes. But maybe it's not an either/or, maybe we are less separate than we think. Maybe that's why many of us feel so lost. Maybe that is why we search and search for something with even a chance of healing what is being broken—and when we find it, we need to recognize and take hold of it.

There is so much in this society and the world that is destructive and cruel and callous, and it is nearly all human. We are the ugliest thing on earth, I think. So much of that is on display right now. It is so stark, so frightening, it demands our attention...and maybe we feel it is shallow or indulgent or selfish to care so much about what is beautiful.

But what if beauty is necessary, too? In spite of everything, we need to love what we love, or what is the point? This world's beauty is breathtaking still, the things that pass unnoticed under our eyes, the gifts of even one single day: the silent rising of the sun. The dawn chorus. The blue hours of a summer afternoon. The cool scent of a lake at dusk, magicked by the small singing of frogs and crickets. The bright stars we can barely see anymore, always above us, and a thousand thousand other wonders right here, every day.

If we could only see them. Honor them. With a holy day.

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