A Tumble of Words and Ideas

Samuel S. Lewis State Park

After nearly a month of silence here, I find it difficult to pull out particular threads of thoughts to put down in a blog post. Or perhaps it’s more a function of the times we live in, existing as we do within so many layers of challenge and crisis and change. So today’s post will be more of a smorgasbord than usual.


I am at odds with myself. There’s a Cackler in me who is rubbing her hands with satisfaction at the way karma has finally alit upon powerful people who have minimized the danger of the coronavirus. At the same time, my internal Monk is saddened to contemplate anyone’s suffering, and wants to wish ill upon no being, no matter how brutal and selfish that being is.

Message to self: It’s okay to be human. It’s okay to experience a sense of relief when an out-of-control train that has already been responsible for the deaths of many is suddenly slowed and perhaps side-lined. I’m letting the Monk and the Cackler work together here, working to avoid feeling and expressing glee at this turn of events, but allowing myself to feel relief: This could signal a shift that could save lives in the end.

This is a moment for the type of complexity I have been attempting to integrate since I began working with the Bowl of the Heart several years ago: All of it goes in there together, painful and tender, vengeful and compassionate. We’re many-faceted creatures, we humans, and we have the capacity for myriad responses. While I want to always be appealing to my better nature, I cannot deny the Cackler her space. And I can learn from her. The quiet Monk in me was trying so hard to respond with light and wisdom that I almost missed the essential message of the Cackler–that it is okay to be relived that this bit of suffering being visited upon those who inhabit the White House may be a pathway toward mitigating the suffering of thousands.


A few days ago, I checked in with the faeries about a couple things I’ve lost. One was pretty urgent and timely. The other is a necklace I haven’t seen for over a year, a treasured piece I made myself from various shiny and dangly things I’d received from beloved friends.

Within a couple hours, I found the first, most urgent thing, but I still haven’t found the necklace, although I have been searching all the place that suddenly popped into my head.

But last night, I had a haunting, lingering dream. I kept waking up with images of the two beings in the dream, sometimes with clear recognition of their names, and then falling back to sleep, only to wake up again with their images in my brain. They were two elves, dressed in skinny suits like a 1950s boy band, with white shirts and black skinny ties. They were both dark-haired with piercing dark eyes, very Spock-like.

I woke up, feeling like they wanted to cut some sort of deal with me, like they were looking to draw up a contract. I thought if I could remember their names, I could outwit them, control them, but in the stories, magical names also sometimes backfire, and it’s perhaps best that I don’t quite remember. I do want my necklace back, but I’m not ready to sell my fate to a pair of pushy dream-beings. Still, it couldn’t help to make an offering. . . (I know, I know, no first-born children or anything like that).


I’ve started painting my nails. It’s strange, because I tend to feel like I am a little kid playing dress-up, or like I’m sort of wearing drag when I wear make-up or get my nails done. It’s like it’s territory that doesn’t really belong to me. I identify completely as she/her, and have never had any questions about my gender, but there are myriad ways to express femaleness, and the salon/nails/make-up way has not really been part of my way. I always feel like I’m in someone else’s territory when I do these things.

But I am loving wearing different colors on my nails. I change the color every weekend. A couple weeks ago, I just had to get green. I needed green nails. Today, I painted them RED! My fingernails are red. I needed flames on my fingers right now. Hmmm. I should see about getting some little flame decals. . .


I realized the other day that I almost never find feathers anymore. Perhaps I am not looking hard enough? Or maybe I don’t need them now. Or maybe it’s because we no longer have the glorious owl-perch of the poplar tree anymore.

The day after I began to ponder this, I found this woodpecker feather at the park:

This week two girls stopped outside my classroom to read my bulletin board during my prep period. When I went to say hello, they thanked me for my poster about how all people are valued in this classroom. They said they would like it to include something about how we live on stolen land. I love that they were so ready to add their own pieces, so open to ask for what they want, so intersectionally aware. We talked about how the statements on the poster are all stated in positive ways, and the stolen land piece doesn’t seem to quite fit that tone, but how that’s not quite a good answer even so. I do have a little poster in my room about the people who were first here on the land where we attend school, but I really want to add a line that will respond to their request, if it’s possible. (Or maybe I’ll move that poster out to my hallway bulletin board. One of the girls said she is going to make me a drawing of the hands of many different races gripping each other in a circle, to add put next to the sign.

I would love ideas about how to include an intersectional awareness of the truth of that statement–We are living on stolen land–in the grammatical and tonal context of this. Feel free to offer me your thoughts.


Some Random Gratitudes:
1. Red-breasted hawk on a snag down Schmuck Rd.
2. My wise and compassionate students.
3. The Wheel of the Year. All comes around again.
4. Smoothie for breakfast
5. The treehouse. I spent a couple hours up there yesterday, reading and drawing.

May we walk in Beauty!


“The ways creative work gets done are always unpredictable, demanding room to roam, refusing schedules and systems. They cannot be reduced to replicable formulas.
[…]
To spin the web and not be caught in it, to create the world, to create your own life, to rule your fate, to name the grandmothers as well as the fathers, to draw nets and not straight lines, to be a maker as well as a cleaner, to be able to sing and not be silenced, to take down the veil and appear: all these are the banners on the laundry line I hang out.
[…]
Some women get erased a little at a time, some all at once. Some reappear. Every woman who appears wrestles with the forces that would have her disappear. She struggles with the forces that would tell her story for her, or write her out of the story, the genealogy, the rights of man, the rule of law. The ability to tell your own story, in words or images, is already a victory, already a revolt.” ―Rebecca Solnit, from: “Men Explain Things to Me”


“The first product of self-knowledge is humility.” —Flannery O’Connor


“Poetry is a life-cherishing force. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.” ―Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook


“Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.” ―Barry Lopez


“‘Remember on this one thing,’ said Badger. ‘The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memories. This is how people care for themselves.’” ―Barry Lopez, Crow and Weasel


“Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.” —Maya Angelou


“With dreamwork, we are endlessly tenderising ourselves to subtletly. When we begin to know its dimensions, pain can no longer envelop us in an indistinct mass. It’s not that we are ridding ourselves of suffering, but rather learning its name, which is the prelude to befriending it.” —Dreamwork with Toko-pa


Humility
by Mary Oliver
Poems arrive ready to begin.
Poets are only the transportation.


“On the last day of the world
I would want to plant a tree.” —W. S.Merwin


“Nature never repeats itself, and the possibilities of one human soul will never be found in another.” —Elizabeth Cady Stanton


“All know that the drop merges into the ocean, but few know that the ocean merges into the drop.” —Kabir


Mirabai Starr said, “Poetry is a gateway into unitive consciousness. It knocks on the doors of the heart and the heart opens. Poets speak truth in a very naked way that bypasses the rational mind. Poetry evokes, rather than describes.”


Kathleen Norris writes, “Poets understand that they do not know what they mean, and that is their strength. . . . Writing teaches us to recognize when we have reached the limits of language, and our knowing, and are dependent on our senses to ‘know’ for us.”


“I hope you will go out and let stories, that is life, happen to you, and that you will work with these stories . . . water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.” —Clarissa Pinkola Estés


“Every seed contains the potential to save the world. Each seed can keep millions of people from starvation. Each seed is a mirror and guardian of the world’s future. Each seed is the ecology that can sustain the economy. This is why seeds are sacred…”
—His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

Anxious Days and Gratitude

Gull on a bad hair day.

I am suffering from some serious internal whiplash these days.

Within the past week, I have experienced some incredibly healing times safely social distanced with some of my best beloveds, looking into twinkling eyes, hearing laughter and wisdom and articulate questions. I have had some deeply reviving time in nature despite the heat.

And at the same time, one thought can set my nerves jangling, twanging the wires of anxiety, clashing and clanging waves of worry. School.

While teaching students to read and write–to communicate, to learn to express emotion and articulate new ideas–is clearly my vocational mission, I have an underlying agenda which is just as important as English Language Arts: To create a safe space for young people to explore who they are and learn how to be comfortable and confident in the world. In the spring, when we were sent home to do our learning, we lost that safe space together. I lost the opportunity to make eye contact in the halls with someone who worried that nobody would ever notice them, lost the chance to listen to a student come into my room ranting about some injustice they wanted to remove from the world, lost the chance to watch laughter displace worry or sadness or fear, lost the chance to tell someone that they are stronger than they think.

And now, we’re planning to meet again in the fall, and I will get some of that back on a limited basis, but I don’t feel safe, for me or for them, for our families and beloveds. This virus has stripped us of our safety. I want so desperately to return to classes, but something in me feels like it isn’t yet time, like my Safe Place is still unsafe. I find myself hoping that the governor calls off school again, so we won’t have to navigate these waters, so I won’t have to add to my duties the policing of students’ spacing and masking in the halls, so I won’t have to worry that every sneeze or cough could result in someone’s grandmother fighting for her life, so every day won’t feel like a risk.

I know that we need to open schools again when it is safe to do so. I know that many students’ mental health depends upon it. But it feels like a dangerous experiment with our physical health, and the health of our families to do it now, when my state can’t seem to get its numbers under control, when adults who should know better are refusing to do the simple things to keep us all safe.

I breathe a lot to ground myself, during these days when I struggle through allergies to catch the deepest breaths and yawns. I go to my beloveds, online and in safe circles. I anchor myself in the green and the blue, in earth and air and water. I search for Beauty, and find my grateful center. It helps me a little, a least to ride the top of the anxiety waves. It’s harder than usual to hold onto a calm center, when grief and rage and worry knot themselves into a little ball inside my spirit.

Some Things to Be Grateful For:
1. The twinkling eyes of my beloveds
2. Blue and green, and golden sun
3. Birdfolk
4. Water
5. Laughter.

May we walk in Beauty!


“May hope rise within you. May peace wash over you.” —Charlene Costanzo


“You don’t have anything
if you don’t have the stories.”
—Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony


“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” —Lilla Watson


“A poem is not a puzzle, even if it’s puzzling at first. Instead, it’s a highly selected parcel or capsule of language meant to burst into your psyche and change you in some way. Poetry is the life blood of our language, and it’s meant for everyone, not just academics or young people in school. Poetry is in a word: consciousness.” —Cathryn Hankla


Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
—Leonard Cohen


Tom Joad, from John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath:
I been thinking about us, too, about our people living like pigs and good rich land layin’ fallow. Or maybe one guy with a million acres and a hundred thousand farmers starvin’. And I been wonderin’ if all our folks got together and yelled…

As long as I’m an outlaw anyways… maybe I can do somethin’… maybe I can just find out somethin’, just scrounge around and maybe find out what it is that’s wrong and see if they ain’t somethin’ that can be done about it. I ain’t thought it out all clear, Ma. I can’t. I don’t know enough.

Coronavirus Dream

No raccoons this morning. I am such a worrywort, and when I start to care deeply, then I begin to worry about Every Little Thing. We’re assuming that Mama came back for her baby sometime yesterday when we weren’t watching. We’re assuming that she didn’t take them up this tree last night–I have read that they often choose different hiding places each day or week. Just because I kept smelling fox yesterday doesn’t mean that they’ve encountered the raccoons, and just like the raccoons need to feed their littles on birds’ eggs, foxes need little raccoons to feed their littles, so the cycle of life continues. . .


Two nights ago, I dreamed I met a llama. Nothing more remains of that dream, except the llama coming to greet me.

Last night I had my first coronavirus dream. Jon and I were going somewhere in the car, and I realized that I didn’t have my mask along. I told Jon I needed to use his, but he was pretty strict about sharing masks and said I couldn’t use his. The people in the building where we were going to be were all pretty skeptical about social distancing and mask-wearing, so I NEEDED to have my mask to keep me and them safe, and to normalize mask-wearing. Just as we pulled in to the place, I found a scarf in the car, so I wrapped it around my head like a hijab, covering my mouth and nose, although I knew the people in the building would find that triggering.


Gratitude:
Color is so important to me. This morning, Indigo Bunting and Blue Jay were at the feeder together. Moments after they flew away, a bright red cardinal and a glowing yellow goldfinch flew in, followed a red-bellied woodpecker with its cap on fire.

May we walk in Beauty!


“Stars are an excellent medicine for homesick hearts.” —F W Boreham


“Radical simply means grasping things at the root.” ―Angela Davis


“If you put three or four disassociated ideas together, and created awkward relationships with them, the unconscious intelligence that comes from those pairings is really quite startling sometimes, quite provocative.” —David Bowie


“Dehumanizing others is the process by which we become accepting of violations against human nature, the human spirit, and, for many of us, violations against the central tenets of our faith.” —Brené Brown


“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only [s]he who sees, takes off [her] shoes.”
—Elizabeth Barrett Browning


“I do not see a delegation for the Four Footed. I see no seat for the Eagles. We forget and we consider ourselves superior. But we are after all a mere part of Creation. And we must consider to understand where we are. And we stand somewhere between the mountain and the Ant. Somewhere and only there as part and parcel of the Creation.” —Oren Lyons


“The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed—to be seen, heard, and companioned exactly as it is.” —Parker J. Palmer


“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” ―Maya Angelou


This is how I would die
into the love I have for you:
As pieces of cloud
dissolve in sunlight. ―Rumi


Werifesteria: To wander longingly through the woods in search of mystery. (No one seems to know if this is an actual Old English word, as the internet says, but I don’t really care. It’s a word now.)


“Keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive” ―Martha Graham


“When Paul said, ‘Help those women who labor with me in the Gospel,’ he certainly meant that they did more than pour out tea.” ―Julia Foote


In Japanese (again, according to the internet), tsundoku means, “the act of buying books and not reading them, leaving them to pile up.”

Faerie Ring

You have to look closely to see the Faerie Ring, but it’s there. The clumps on the upper left are hidden in the grass. This is, of course, why they’re so dangerous–you could stumble into one unknowingly and not come out for years. . .

A friend of mine has asked me to avoid saying “rules” when I write about shelter-in-place, because that sounds too martial, too authoritarian. I sort of understand. But “guidelines” feels wrong, too, because so many people seem to be taking them as just that, and ignoring them, going out without masks, not maintaining social distance, acting as though this is all gone. Part of me wants to say: May it be so. May it be gone. But we don’t make a thing “gone” just by declaring it so.

The science seems to be offering us a different picture, one in which we could be facing quarantines and sickness and death for a long time to come. I also want the governor (of PA, where I live) to take us more quickly to yellow and then to green. But I want my parents to be safe, I want the random people who seem to die from this for no apparent reason not to die, I (selfishly) want us to avoid a second peak so I can go back to my classroom in the fall.

Call them what you will–guidelines or rules or orders–please follow through a little longer, for all of us. Wash your hands. Stay home. Plot the Green Revolution. Practice caution and simplicity. Get along without. Keep us all safe.


Gratitude List:
1. This morning at the feeder: goldfinches, bluebirds, doves, downy woodpecker, chipping sparrows, indigo bunting. An indigo bunting in the sun seems lit from within by blue fire. An indigo bunting in the shade sucks all color into itself, holding all the shadows around it within its little bunting shape. What a magical creature.
2. Yesterday I did my Ten Breaths inside a fairy ring of mushroom clump beside the stump of the poplar tree. It was a perfect circle. The faeries did not whisk me away to the Faerie Queen’s realm, perhaps because I have long been a friend of their beloved poplar, perhaps because I am not imaginative enough for their purposes.
3. A family of vultures have taken up residence in the edges of the bosque across the road. Such somber and thoughtful folk they are.
4. The amazing crimson of that little red Japanese maple, and the scarlet of the cardinal up on the hillside above, and the glowing scarlet fire of the head of that red-bellied woodpecker.
5. Nothing in this part of the hollow died of freeze last night. This morning is crisply frigid, breezy and shining.

May we walk in Beauty!


“No matter where you are from, your dreams are valid.” —Lupita Nyong’o


TO MAKE A PROMISE
by David Whyte

Make a place of prayer, no fuss,
just lean into the white brilliance
and say what you needed to say
all along, nothing too much, words
as simple and as yours and as heard
as the bird song above your head
or the river running gently beside you,
let your words join to the world
the way stone nestles on stone
the way the water simply leaves
and goes to the sea,
the way your promise
breathes and belongs
with every other promise
the world has ever made.

Now, leave them to go on,
let your words alone
to carry their own life,
without you, let the promise
go with the river.
Have faith. Walk away.


“Feminism requires precisely what patriarchy destroys in women. Unimpeachable bravery in confronting male power.” —Andrea Dworkin

Poem a Day: 8

The Long-Stretched Now
by Beth Weaver-Kreider

It’s not like a walk in the park,
this stepping through darkness
from the known space of yesterday
into the uncertain places of tomorrow.
This moment between past and future
is no open doorway with breezes flowing.
This now is a tunnel, a constricting funnel,
narrowing the horizon to a pinpoint,
thinning the potent possibilities
to this stretched limbo
of waiting.

I Just Want This to Be Over

“I just want this to be over.”

That’s what I said to Jon before I slipped off to sleep last night. I’m tired of this sometimes overpowering feeling of dread. I’m tired of carrying this bag of tears just beneath the surface.

The virus has entered my circles. People I know, and the beloveds of people I know, are getting sick. I had just heard the news of John Prine’s death, and then an anxious email popped up from someone I know, asking me to pray for his family because his father (who is an essential worker) came home yesterday with a fever. The dread is seeping in deeply. I was relieved to escape the real world into sleep for a little while.

I’m sorry. That’s a lot of heavy to place into this bowl of a space first thing in the morning. But it’s a big part of what I’ve got. So I stretch and breathe, stretch and breathe. I breathe in, and feel all the places where my body is touching a surface. I breathe out and straighten my spine. I breathe in and draw in the blue violet of those wild hyacinths. I breathe out and relax my shoulders. I breathe in and hold the taste and smell of the coffee that I am drinking. I breathe out and notice the quiet cat at the windowsill. In. Out. I can feel myself settling.

The dread is not gone. It’s going to be a long time before it’s gone. And maybe it will never go away. Likely it will mark and shape who I become for the rest of my life. And not all of that will be terrible. Some will contribute to my growth and completeness as a human. But right now? Right now, I breathe, and I notice. I find ways to live through the dread.

And this morning I have strange and wacky dreams to sort through. There was a part of the dream that was part real-life, part animation. A young man in a striped shirt was sneaking around, watching people, trying not to get caught. It wasn’t creepy or terrifying–more like an old-fashioned mystery. We chased him to an open field where dozens of blankets were lying about. He crawled under one, and by the time we got there and lifted the corner, he’d vanished.

And there was a baby bird who fluttered up to me with its beak open. I fed it tomatoes–they’re red like worms, right? It’s back was developing rich golden feathers through the baby fluff. Someone said it was a cuckoo.

And the strangest and most beautiful was the phrase. It’s not uncommon for me to wake up with a song or a phrase in my head, often completely unrelated to anything. This morning’s phrase is “Thou camest to me in sadness. . .and what wilt thou do for joy?” Yes, my Sleep Angels seem to be speaking Elizabethan English. Despite the weirdness of the delivery, it seemed to be a pretty clear response to my expression of pain as I dropped into sleep. And I think of the dreams that I dreamed (there were others, which even now are fading), and I wonder if this is what I can do for joy today and in the coming days: I can let myself experience wonder and surprise. I can tend to those who need me to feed them whatever I have at hand. I can immerse myself in story. I can communicate with my beloveds.

It feels like an extension of a thing a friend wrote to me yesterday, when I asked her about her husband, who has a fever and a cough: “Holding grief and joy together is messy and weird.” That has to be one of the defining phrases of these days.

May we all find ways to bring joy into these days when grief and dread can feel all-encompassing. Listen to your dreams. Keep an eye out for blue, for gold, for the thousand shades of green. Hold each other close–in our hearts if not in our arms. And when it just seems like you cannot bear the dread, let someone know. Reach out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Ground and center. There is no way out but through, and it will be easier if we walk it together.


Gratitude List:
1. The messages that come in dreams (even–or especially–if they’re speaking in Elizabethan English)
2. That patch of blue violet wild hyacinth at the base of the bird feeder stand, and the violet Gill-on-the-Grass that spreads from there to the Japanese maple
3. The chipping sparrow in the Japanese maple
4. The sounds of the morning house: cat eating second (or third, or fourth) breakfast, the constant flow of the water fountain (yes, also for cats), the little bits of conversation with Josiah, my own breathing. . .
5. The way a gratitude list becomes a grounding in-the-moment exercise. The dread has not lifted, but I am no longer living in the center of that cloud. I have sunk to a deeper place, where I can find more complexity (for now)–there is joy in the midst of sadness, no matter how messy and weird it is to hold all those pieces together.

Take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. May we walk in Beauty!


“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” —Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Talk


“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.” ―Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy


“Where there’s life there’s hope, and need of vittles.” ―JRR Tolkien


“We are the ones we have been waiting for.” ―June Jordan


“Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” ―Albert Einstein


“We are all the leaves of one tree.
We are all the waves of one sea.” ―Thich Nhat Hanh


“It is respectable to have no illusions―and safe―and profitable and dull.” ―Joseph Conrad


“I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” ―Rainer Maria Rilke


“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether they are worthy.” —Thomas Merton


“After a War” by Chinua Achebe

After a war life catches
desperately at passing
hints of normalcy like
vines entwining a hollow
twig; its famished roots
close on rubble and every
piece of broken glass.
Irritations we used
to curse return to joyous
tables like prodigals home
from the city. . . . The meter man
serving my maiden bill brought
a friendly face to my circle
of sullen strangers and me
smiling gratefully
to the door.
After a war
we clutch at watery
scum pulsating on listless
eddies of our spent
deluge. . . . Convalescent
dancers rising too soon
to rejoin their circle dance
our powerless feet intent
as before but no longer
adept contrive only
half-remembered
eccentric steps.
After years
of pressing death
and dizzy last-hour reprieves
we’re glad to dump our fears
and our perilous gains together
in one shallow grave and flee
the same rueful way we came
straight home to haunted revelry.

(Christmas 1971)

Kite Strings

Greetings from Narnia! In these days, I remember that even in Narnia, things have often been unstable, have often felt dangerous and frightening. Remember the first time we went there, how we had to draw on all our ingenuity and courage to find our way through? How we needed help from others along the way, how we had to keep going even when we knew we were only children, and clearly not up to the task of saving the realm from an autocratic and capricious leader? That was a plague of winter rather than virus, but people were dying then, too, and people stayed in their houses, fearful of going out.

Here is this realm, we stay indoors in order to try to save more of us in the end, and we have these magical boxes that help us build communities even while we’re far apart. The fear is here, and sometimes I think I can smell it, as if I were one of our animal friends from Narnia. We have to figure out how to survive.

Right now, it’s really hard in Pennsylvania, as it might be where you live. We’ve been out of school for a week, learning through computers and figuring out the best ways to connect. Yesterday, Governor Wolf announced that all non-life-supporting businesses MUST close, which was sort of in effect already, but the clarifications mean that businesses that had closed to the public but still brought their employees in to work behind the scenes will need to keep their employees home. It makes sense, and I respect Governor Wolf’s decision. And yes, and yes, and yes. But it brings the hurt home to the hollow here because Jon won’t get any more hours at work until this is over. The shoe has dropped. We’ve got social and community safety nets, and all sorts of possible strategies to manage, so we’ll be okay. It just brings the harshness of it home, and makes the uncertainty more real, more looming. But we’ll be okay.

I hope you will be, too. It feels pretty dire at times, and every day brings something a little more dire. Searching for the little things that bring light and delight into the day becomes more important to me at times like this. Five things that make me grateful don’t cancel out the gnawing anxiety, and they don’t change the harsh reality. Still, they bring me balance. They help me to remember that my feet touch the ground, that I live in this body in this space. Despite the wild uncertainty of these days, some beautiful things are certain. Some wonders and delights go on. I choose to ground myself in those. I might catch the kite o my anxiety and go zooming off in tears and conjectures, but that string of connection to you, and to the Earth, and to all my Beloved Community–that’s real, and that’s strong, and that will bring me back to solid ground, safe.

Please, if you are finding yourself close to the edge of the panic or despair, reach out. Make a connection with someone out in the wide world. Find your kite strings–who and what holds you to the Earth?


Kite Strings of Gratitude:
1. You. Yesterday, a friend of mine asked to see her friends’ face on FB, and I cried, seeing all her lovely community, so I did the same, and all throughout the day, my friends posted their photos, sometimes with their children or their four-legged companions, and my day was so bright, despite the harsher news, despite the uncertainty.
2. Yesterday after lunch, I did the two-mile walk up and down the hill. The world was still misty, and it felt as though the the hollow itself was an empty bowl with a curtain of mist all around. The bowl was all that existed for a little while. Silence and birdsong. Distant traffic.
3. Yoga. It’s one of my coping strategies right now, both for grounding and for chasing the anxieties out of my lower back.
4. Yesterday during my Office Hour, a couple students from the dorm checked in and then walked the laptop around the dorm so I could say hello to everyone there. It made me sort of giddy. I really miss my students.
5. Yesterday morning, a great blue heron flew through the mist above the hollow. Even though my other blue friend is gone, others are still here.

Take care of each other.


“Although I am a woman of strong faith, I admit that my spirit sometimes struggled to overcome the heaviness of the tragedies around me. When heartbreak knocked on my door, I learned to let faith answer.” —Coretta Scott King


“On this day, the Vernal Equinox, we are in perfect balance between light and dark. Let us pray loving attention to the fragile sprouts of inner beauty which have survived the long dark of hibernation, despite all odds, to push up through the soil into the light. Let us honour the faith it has taken to believe in the invisible, upper world, where soon we will blossom into sprawling gardens overflowing with fruit. Let us hold our painful hearts with gentle hands today. Let us express our gratitude to the light that can only be found in the dark. Let us ask our vulnerability to shine radiantly with knowing that we are unfolding right on time.” —Toko-pa Turner


“The happiest people I’ve ever met, regardless of their profession, their social standing, or their economic status, are people that are fully engaged in the world around them. The most fulfilled people are the ones who get up every morning and stand for something larger than themselves. They are the people who care about others, who will extend a helping hand to someone in need or will speak up about an injustice when they see it.” ―Wilma Mankiller


“Frodo: I can’t do this, Sam.
Sam: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?
Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.”
—J.R.R. Tolkien? Or was this from the movie?


“In the end, we’ll all become stories.” —Margaret Atwood


“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”
—Fred Rogers, born on this day in 1928

Meeting Up

Waiting. The new emerges around the old.

One of my colleagues organized Faculty Devotions this morning on Google Meet, and it was satisfying to see people and hear them talk, and to see families and pets in the frames.

I opened up a Google Meet room this morning for one of my classes for students to stop in and ask questions. I think next week I will have several hour-long periods of Office Hours, where students can stop in and say hello and ask questions they may have. Only five or six students stopped in today, but it was really exciting to see them and to connect. It makes it more real.

I would not want to be a cyber-school educator. I am finding that despite my deep longing for solitude, I also have deep longing for human connection beyond simply being here at home with the family. I miss the extraverted part of me. (That was a little personally startling to write, true as it is.) But for now, I am something of a cyber-school educator, and it’s essential that I do what I can to keep a connection with my students as much as I am able. Our day are altered, so we alter our plans. We adapt and make do. When we get frustrated, we yell, and believe it or not, someone comes to our rescue! When something works, we share it so others who are struggling can find help.


Today’s poem is Theodore Roethke’s “In a Dark Time.”

Gratitude List:
1. My younger son is in public school, and his teachers are not allowed to assign required work. Yesterday we got an email to have them check their Google classroom anyway. His teachers had all created fun and chatty videos with their families and housepets. Just for fun. Just for the connection. What priceless people. A little extra reaching out means so much.
2. Also, his school is handing out free meals to kids, to try to ensure that no one falls through the cracks during these altered days. Staff from the high school came down the hill to help with the distribution. Good people keep doing good things.
3. The gold on those finches is really shining through the winter olive. Shine, birdies, shine!
4. My back is hurting again today. I am so glad I have Yasmin’s yoga video to help me.
5. Google Meet. The possibility of continuing connections.

May we walk in Beauty!


“We must always trust in the difficult, then what appears to us as the most frightening will become our most intimate and trusted experience. How could we forget those ancient myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”

“So don’t be frightened, dear friend, if sadness or anxiety casts a shadow over your life. Something is happening within you. Remember that life has not forgotten you. It holds you in its hand and will not let you go. And after all, why would you want to live without pain and unease? You don’t yet know what mysterious work these feelings are accomplishing inside you.” —Rainer Maria Rilke


“Dreams pass into the reality of action. From the actions stems the dream again; and this interdependence produces the highest form of living.” —Anais Nin


“There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” —Anais Nin


“If you take two steps toward God,” he used to tell me, “God runs to you!”
—Satish Kumar in Life of Pi by Yann Martel


“Russian scientists have discovered gold deposits in the dust of decayed tree stumps. The phenomenon occurs in forests growing in ground where there is gold ore. Over the course of centuries, the trees’ roots suck in minute quantities of the precious metal, eventually accumulating nuggets. Describe a metaphorically comparable process you could carry out in your own life over the course of the next 20 years. What invisible part of you is like a tree’s roots? What’s the gold you’d like to suck up?” —Rob Brezsny in PRONOIA is the Antidote to Paranoia.


May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.
—John O’Donohue


“Anything else you’re interested in is not going to happen if you can’t breathe the air and drink the water. Don’t sit this one out. Do something.” —Carl Sagan

Grieve and Adapt

Here is a picture of Erebus. He is the most beautiful person in the house. Everyone else is beautiful, too, of course, but Erebus is a rock-star of beautifulness. Even when he is being a goofball.

Self isolation.
Social distancing. No, physical distancing with social connection.
Exile for the Good of the Realm.
Altered days.
Strange times.

I’ve noticed my friends posting on social media all the things they can offer for the good of their communities during the time of Exile: help with educational questions, coffee conversations, spiritual direction, free online yoga sessions. . .

What a marvelous trend! I jumped on that one. I can sit here in my holler with my family feeling sorry that I can’t do anything, or I can offer what I am able by internet. Let’s do that!

Here are some of the things I can offer. If you need my help with any of these things, comment here, and we’ll figure out how to get in touch by email, or find me on Facebook, and we can connect there.
1. I am an English teacher, so if your kids are struggling with grammar or writing, or the deep meaning of an assigned piece of literature, I am delighted to help. In other disciplines, I can help you find resources. I have taught grades 3-8, so I have a fairly well-rounded knowledge base.

2. If you need a poem, let me know. I love to search for poems. If the one you need hasn’t been written yet, I will try to write one for you.

3. I am going to post my daily quotations here every day in case you need some grounding inspiration.

4. I am posting a poem a day (at least during weekdays) on my Youtube channel. I am not professional, and I can’t seem to get rid of the glare on my glasses, but if you need to listen to poetry, you can check that out. I’m doing it for my students, so I figured I might as well offer it here.

What can you offer for the good of the community? Can you afford to send some extra dollars to the local organizations that are caring for our most vulnerable neighbors in these times? If you have friends who are out of work, are there ways you can help them through this time?


“I want you to act as if the house was on fire. Because it is.” —Greta Thunberg


“When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.” —Fred Rogers


“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” —Friedrich Nietzsche


“When you teach your daughter, explicitly or by passive rejection, that she must ignore her outrage, that she must be kind and accepting to the point of not defending herself or other people, that she must not rock the boat for any reason, you are NOT strengthening her prosocial sense, you are damaging it—and the first person she will stop protecting is herself.” —Martha Stout


“If you will, you can become all flame.” ―Abba Joseph


“Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.” ―Maya Angelou


“Rage—whether in reaction to social injustice, or to our leaders’ insanity, or to those who threaten or harm us—is a powerful energy that, with diligent practice, can be transformed into fierce compassion.” ―Bonnie Myotai Treace


“It looked as if a night of dark intent was coming, and not only a night, an age. Someone had better be prepared for rage.” ―Robert Frost


“There’s something in us that knows we came here to give. The notion is the opposite of a consumer society. The consumer society says we came here to get, and we’re going to consume everything there is. But the old idea is that we came into the world gifted, and culture is our way of giving. That’s our way of being natural and participating in the natural world.” ―Michael Meade


Gratitude List:
1. My back doesn’t hurt this morning. There were a few moments yesterday when I wondered whether this might be something that would be chronic. I have rarely had back pain, and it usually goes away in a few hours. This was two days of some pretty serious pain. I think I overdid the steps, and strained it on the fast uphill walks I have been taking.
2. Online yoga. So many thanks to my friend Yasmin for her FB yoga yesterday. I didn’t make it through the whole thing because my back hurt, but I think it’s what set me on the path to healing those muscles.
3. All the caring souls. All the care-mongers (apparently that’s a word now, and the Canadians made it so–look it up).
4. That particular shade of light brown (burnt beige?) of last year’s leaves on the purple Japanese maple. They have dried, over winter, to this lovely tender shade. Actually, many shades.
5. Adaptability. There’s nothing for it, but to adapt, day by day and sometimes minute by minute. Don’t forget to acknowledge the feelings of loss as they come. And then adapt as necessary to the new normal. And remember, this is not forever.

May we walk in Beauty!

During the Time of the Exile for the Good of the Realm

Yesterday’s walk: The green hill to the right of the photo is the end of the currently-unused landing strip for our former neighbors’ ultra-light. Just to the left of that, in the break between the trees, is the path onto Goldfinch Farm, down into the holler to home. The green path ahead of me (to the left) winds through the neighbor’s ridge-top fields to their farm. I like to walk partway down those fields and back.

I suppose that technically our self-isolation begins today. No church tomorrow. No school for two weeks. Someone whose handle is @Sarkor posted a lovely social media thing yesterday, encouraging people to think of it not as “self-isolation” but as “Exile for the Good of the Realm.” I am taking that on with gusto, while also keeping an awareness that for many people this is an extremely difficult time.

Now is the time to keep our eyes on our neighbors, to check in with working people whose children must stay home, to check in with elders who will be even more isolated. Such care we must take in these days, such deliberation. We wash our hands and we meditate on hope and on goodness. We check in with those for whom this exile is costly, and we wash our hands again.

My up-the-road neighbor works in healthcare. Maybe I will wash my hands and bake her some break this week and leave it at her door. What about our neighbors whose livelihoods depend on People Showing Up? I was glad to hear one of the speakers in the PA governor’s address yesterday talk about buying gift cards from local small businesses to use when we’re back out in society. Also, we need to eat. We will wash our hands and get as much of our needs from Flinchbaugh’s and Sue’s, the local farmer’s market and small grocery, in the coming days, and to Jillybeans Sweet Shop, a marvelous little bakery in Wrightsville. And then we will wash our hands. I might wash my hands and go get a coffee at The Cycle Works’ coffee shop. I’ll maintain exile and precautions as much as possible, while doing my best to support those around me who depend on People Showing Up.

Also, let’s use this time to make our social media spaces places where people can feel connected and involved, places where we can help each other through our isolation and distance. Let’s share photos and poetry and stories. Let’s manage our anxiety so that we can express our worries without Feeding the Fears. That’s easier for me to say this morning than last night, when I was comparing my feelings of direness to the way I felt on 9/11. That’s a little how it felt: out-of-body unsettled. Let’s keep connecting to the deeper rivers of joy and satisfaction and memory and gratitude that carry us through difficult times, and let’s help each other find those rivers.

And here, on the farm, I will relish the introverted time, the time with the boys, the burgeoning spring, the cat cuddles, the sunrise and the birds calling. As someone who gets wobbly and rudderless without a schedule, the promise of daily school tasks in this work-at-home environment is a welcome diversion. Last night, we saw a daily schedule someone had made for student-people during the Exile. My younger son immediately constructed his own. I am going to make my own, looser, schedule, to include several hours of focused academic work, time exercising and being outside, time for art and making things, tidying time, limits for myself on screen time (while also giving myself a bigger breathing space for blogging/writing).

If you, too, are in Exile for the Good of the Realm, I wish you peace, joyful contemplation, productive work, and moments of satisfying connection with others through computer or phone. Let’s look out for each other. If it gets to be too much, reach out to someone. (If we’re not friends on Facebook, you can look me up there, and check in–I’ll give you a virtual high five and we can help each other to breathe through this.)


Gratitude List:
1. GREEN! The chickweed is up and vibrantly glowing with green life force. The highway medians and fields are shining with verdancy.
2. Blue: The speedwell is up, and parts of the yard are carpeted in blue. And the sky is the shade of a robin’s egg.
3. Coming to Terms. I acknowledge my anxiety. It sits there in the room like a large bear waiting to be acknowledged. (Welcome, Friend. Let’s get to know each other while we are here together in Exile.) If I ignore it, my imagination makes it so much bigger and scarier, but if we sit and have coffee together, we can figure each other out a little bit. This is a time to practice living with that particular friend and learning how to recognize her.
4. While I recognize that this time is really challenging for many people, the truth of the matter is that two weeks of being at home on the farm with the kids and the cats while having structured work to do each day is close to ideal for me. I am grateful.
5. Puzzles. Last weekend after we had brunch at Cafe 301 to celebrate Jon’s birthday, we went down the street to the Re-Uzit shop, where Jon bought several little puzzles. We’ll enjoy putting them together over the next couple of weeks.

May we walk in Beauty! Be safe. Be well. Keep connected.