Listening to Hummingbird

Wangari Maathai, the winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize and founder of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya (and now around the world), told a story about a hummingbird.

When the great forest was on fire, and all the animals were fleeing for their lives, the tiny Hummingbird zipped to the river, gathered a beakful of water, and zipped back to release the water onto the raging flames. Again and again, she carried her tiny beakfuls of water to try to put out the flames. The other animals noticed, and told her how futile her efforts were, but Hummingbird kept on and on, believing that it was her duty–no matter what–to do her one little thing.

Perhaps some of the other animals were inspired to get down to work, to do their own little thing, to pass on the hope of a thousand small actions. Perhaps the fire raged on despite their efforts. Perhaps they held it back. Perhaps they even put it out in the end.

During these days which, in the deepest of the dark insomniac nights, feel a little like the Beginning of the End of Things, Hummingbird has been sipping sweetness from the petunia basket outside my window, resting sometimes on the wire, nabbing gnats out of the air, hovering right at the window and peering in at me.

When I brought my first baby home from the hospital more than 14 years ago (a world ended and a world began with his birth), I settled into the recliner, exhausted and full of great satisfaction and wonder, to nurse the tiny person who had entered our world. Looking up from the babe, I saw Hummingbird hovering at the window for what seemed like ten seconds or more (an eternity of seconds), and she seemed to be watching the New Person, and marveling with me. In the succeeding years, I have marveled back at the wonder of her own young, at their tenacity and resilience, surviving lashing storms in their bottle-cap-sized nest. At their first fledgings. At the blur of their wings as they sip sweetness. At the self-contained unself-consciousness of their existence.

And now, in a time when I am bending all my mental and emotional and physical will toward resilience and tenacity, when I am terrified for my children, my students, my parents, my self, I have Hummingbird in my days, quietly doing her thing, going about her business, checking on me through the window.

She leaves me with questions. Perhaps you want to ponder them, too:
* What, in these days of going back to school, will be your sips of sweetness to fuel you through the moments of high challenge and frustration and worry?
* What, as Wangari Maathai asked, is your “one little thing”? What is that thing you will do to stem the tides of destruction, even when it seems like only a beakful of water?
* What does resilience look like to you? (For me, I want to picture myself in my classroom BEING tenacious and resilient.)
* In the story, Hummingbird simply did her work and did not ask for help. I am not Hummingbird, and she leaves me with that question, too: How will you remember to ask for help when you need it?

So. Whatever our tasks in this time of great trouble, whatever our capacities to meet the challenges before us, let us fly with strength and power, knowing that we are doing our part. Around us are so many who are joining in the work. Let us be resilient and vulnerable, earnest and tenacious, willing to ask for help when we need it, offering to give others a spell when they reach exhaustion.

As the Talmud says: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”


Gratitude List:
1. Messages from Hummingbird
2. Help from a friend when I didn’t even think to ask for help
3. Colleagues. I love my colleagues.
4. The custodial staff at my school. They make me feel safe. They care for the building and the spaces we inhabit. And, they’re so good-humored.
5. Air conditioning in my classroom. If, on top of everything else, I had to go into a 90-degree classroom to teach in my mask, I think I would have given up. I don’t think I could have mustered that much resilience. Air conditioning! I have air conditioning in my classroom!

May we all do our Little Thing, doing justice loving mercy, and walking humbly.



“By expanding our self-interest to include other beings in the body of Earth, the ecological self also widens our window on time. It enlarges our temporal context, freeing us from identifying our goals and rewards solely in terms of our present lifetime. The life pouring through us, pumping our heart and breathing through our lungs, did not begin at our birth or conception. Like every particle in every atom and molecule of our bodies, it goes back through time to the first spinning and splitting of the stars.

“Thus the greening of the self helps us to re-inhabit time and own our story as life on Earth. We were present in the primal flaring forth, and in the rains that streamed down on this still-molten planet, and in the primordial seas. In our mother’s womb we remembered that journey wearing vestigial gills and tail and fins for hands. Beneath the outer layers of our neocortex and what we learned at school, that story is in us—the story of a deep kinship with all life, bringing strengths that we never imagined. When we claim this story as our innermost sense of who we are, a gladness comes that will help us survive.” —Joanna Macy


“Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.” —St. Augustine (I’m not usually a great fan of St. A, but I find this really moving)


“Eating with the fullest pleasure—pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance—is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend.” —Wendell Berry


“Literature irrigates the deserts that our lives have become.” —C.S. Lewis


“A good organizer is a social arsonist who goes around setting people on fire.” —Fred Ross


The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
—Wendell Berry

Wish We Were Here

I took these photos in my classroom yesterday. I’m thinking of printing up a postcard to send to my students with one of themse,saying, WISH WE WERE HERE! I’m always a little worried about being cheesy, but maybe that’s part of my function in the lives of teenagers, to be a cheesy eccentric old person. Another option, which might be more comforting, actually, would be this one.

I should make up and order the card today so I can hopefully start sending them out next week. Maybe I’ll do both, and send the serious one to the ones that I think need that boost and the silly one to those who might need a laugh.


Gratitude List:
1. I know they’re always on here, but really that goldfinch out there is the purest yellow I think I have ever seen. He’s radiant. The grey of the rainy day makes it more intense.
2. I’m really grateful that I had a second pair of glasses in the more recent prescription. I can’t seem to fix the eye-piece on the pair I broke, so I ordered a new pair (that was one expensive bag of flour!), but in the meantime, I have these others. I even like the way they look, but they’re really heavy on the bridge of my nose, so I will be glad when the others come in the mail.
3. New things to anticipate: If I have to be home all the time for a while, I am so grateful that it is during the time that the oriole returns. I will be listening every day for his whistle.
4. Capturing yeast. I’m frustrated that we couldn’t find any in the stores we go to (and I am not going to go driving about and searching–it feels like that breaks the spirit of the rules at the moment, even though it’s technically a grocery), so I am capturing some. I’ve done it before, and it’s a great way to connect directly to the science and the livingness of the organisms we use in cooking. This is the third day, and there are little bubbles beginning to form.
5. It’s not just the gold of the finch, but the green also pops out more vividly and verdantly on certain types of grey days. Isn’t that word fabulous? Verdant. I wonder what the original German or Latin version of the word was in Hildegard’s writings. . . I guess there will be a little research in my day.

May we walk in Beauty!


“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” ―Thomas Merton


“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” ―Thomas Merton


“We see quite clearly that what happens
to the nonhuman happens to the human.
What happens to the outer world
happens to the inner world.
If the outer world is diminished in its grandeur
then the emotional, imaginative,
intellectual, and spiritual life of the human
is diminished or extinguished.
Without the soaring birds, the great forests,
the sounds and coloration of the insects,
the free-flowing streams, the flowering fields,
the sight of the clouds by day
and the stars at night, we become impoverished
in all that makes us human.”
―Thomas Berry


“All acts of kindness are lights in the war for justice.” ―Joy Harjo


“We have only begun to know
the power that is in us if we would join
our solitudes in the communion of struggle.” ―Denise Levertov

Being Able to See

Gratitude List:
1. Sewing things. I love to sit down at the machine and make stuff.
2. Yesterday, Barb’s horse was racing back and forth along the meadow at the top of the ridge. It seemed like it was trying to give itself different challenges: This time down between the shed and the fence. This time around that tree at the top of the hill. Sometimes a happy trot and sometimes a flying all-out gallop. I confess it made me squeal to see it.
3. Weekends. They are truly a different pace than the other days. So grateful for that.
4. Video conferencing with Beloveds. Thursday it was with people at my church. Today, there will be calls with family and with friends from college. I regret that we never taught my mother-in-law how to use Zoom.
5. That very loud wren singing in the sun.

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


“We write to taste life twice.” —Anais Nin


“My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness.” —Maya Angelou


“If you pour a handful of salt into a cup of water, the water becomes undrinkable. But if you pour the salt into a river, people can continue to draw the water to cook, wash, and drink. The river is immense, and it has the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform. When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited, and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things don’t make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others. We accept others as they are, and then they have a chance to transform.” —Thich Nhat Hanh


“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.


“When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace and seeds of hope.” —Wangari Maathai

Beneath the Surface

This was in the grocery bags from Flinchbaugh’s, our local farmer’s market, this past weekend.

Gratitude List:
1. Yesterday’s list of gratitude for trees missed my friend Willow, who is putting on her stunning yellow dancing gown for spring. . .
2. . . .and Walnut, whose shadow arms falling across the drive invite me to find the pathways to the sun.
3. The delight of a composer-boy in his birthday gift. He’s working on a long and complicated composition on Noteflite. He’s listening through the piece now, making notes about places where he wants to make changes.
4. Teaching school from my armchair, with a little ginger cat tucked beside me, purring.
5. All that this anxiety is teaching me about living in the moment, about treasuring each joy and delight as I live it.

Take care of each other!


“Mathematics is the language with which God wrote the Universe.” —Galileo


“The way that I understand it, dreaming is nature ‘naturing’ through us. Just as a tree bears fruit or a plant expresses itself in flowers, dreams are fruiting from us. The production of symbols and story is a biological necessity. Without dreams, we could not survive. And though it is possible to get by without remembering our dreams, a life guided and shaped by dreaming is a life that follows the innate knowing of the earth itself. As we learn to follow the instincts of our inner wilderness, respecting its agreements and disagreements, we are also developing our capacity for subtlety. This sensitivity is what makes us more porous and multilingual, bringing us into conversation with the many languages of the world around us.” —Toko-pa Turner



“There are no wrong turnings. Only paths we had not known we were meant to walk.” ―Guy Gavriel Kay


“Even the simplest of rituals is a way of acknowledging the unseen, the unspoken-about, the holy, which feeds our lives with its inexhaustible generosity. Ritual restores us to one another and to that grander coherence to which we all belong. Devoting your time to a ritual is like tending to a living bridge between the seen and the unseen, keeping that reciprocity alive.” ―Dreamwork with Toko-pa


“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” —Nelson Mandela


“Beneath the surface, there is a deeper and vastly more authentic Self.” —Cynthia Bourgeault

Growing

In second or third grade, my teachers did that thing where you fill a jar with wet paper towels and then poke corn kernels and beans around the outside, and as they send out roots and send up shoots, you get to watch the whole process. Last fall, I decided I wanted to do that in my classroom, just for a little excitement, even if it’s an English class in a high school rather than an elementary science room. I left the jar of corn on my desk for a long time, too busy to get to it, but at the beginning of the semester, a couple students noticed and asked what it was. When I told them, they went and filled the jar with wet paper towels, and we poked the corn in along the sides. I rubber-banded a piece of plastic over the top to keep in the moisture.

Within days, the roots were beginning to grow, and it was less than a week before the sprouts started poking upward. I brought them home last night to plant in a little container, and now I am going to do a set of beans.

Maybe it will help my students to connect with natural processes in a visceral way. Maybe it will be a metaphor for their own rampant growth. Maybe it’s just a nice diversion, a way to spark and nurture generalized curiosity. It’s a fun thing to have in the classroom, and a community-building experience: Everyone is rooting for growth.


Gratitude List:
1. Growth
2. Green
3. Curiosity
4. Hope (Curiosity and Hope were the themes of last weekend’s conference)
5. Jon WK. He’s always on my implicit Gratitude List, but sometimes I’ve just got to mention how marvelous it is to share a life with such a wise and compassionate soul.

May we walk in Beauty!

Breathe. Ground. Prepare.

Sweet Shining and Shadowy Beloveds:
This morning, it’s hard to keep believing in justice, hard to keep the long view in mind, hard to hold a vision of a world in which people of courage make decisions for the good of all, with wisdom, humility, and honor.

Part of me longs to enumerate all the horrors and destructions of the past week, to see the hurts laid out like a cadaver, to identify each killing blow, each bruise, each scar.

But that would only serve to feed the rising panic that’s been gathering in my gut this week, and perhaps in yours, too. Those pieces will come later, in poems. But now it’s time to tend to ourselves, to shore up and take stock and plan our way forward.

Let’s fight this collective panic attack. If we’re left lost and quivering, we only feed their power. Oh yes, I’m lost this morning, and quivering, too, re-traumatized. Let’s acknowledge it, notice where it lodges in our bodies.

My muscles actually ache from all the tightness I’ve been holding in. My head is pounding and my brain is foggy.

Now, it’s time to push back the panic:
Breathe in.
Straighten your spine. Lower your shoulders.
Breathe out.
Roll your neck and shoulders.
Stretch and wriggle your spine until you feel yourself to be a line drawn between heaven and earth, a conduit of energy that flows through you.
Breathe in. Breathe out.

Notice every place your body is touching a surface. Notice the sensations in your body.
My backside and thighs on the chair. One foot on the floor, one on a chair rail. This cozy jacket keeps me just warm enough. My tongue’s a little scalded from that first sip of coffee.

What do you hear?
The water in the cat’s drinking fountain, a small boy clicking his tongue, the creaking of an old house on a chilly morning.

What do you taste? (Grab a bite of something, or remember a favorite taste sensation.)
The bite of pepper and the creamy counterpart in the pepperjack cheese.

What do you smell?
Coffee, vanilla, springtime

Look around you. Find a color, a texture, a beautiful thing.
The shining scarlet drop of red on the head of that downy woodpecker. The sweet, soft salmon leaves of the Japanese maple, still clinging to the branches and twigs. So many winter goldfinches on the thistle bag!

Now, here we are in the doorway of a new season.
Today and tomorrow mark the beginning of Imbolc, the Season of Stirrings. New life is coming, cold snap or not. Sap will rise. Seeds will sprout. The Earth spins and whirls on in her dance through the cosmos.

One of the old names for today is Candlemas, when we acknowledge how the light has been within us all along, how much light we have to offer. Take stock of your candles. What is the small flame that you can offer the world in this moment? What is the fuel that you share?

Perhaps you are already doing it–tending daily to children or calling your senators, teaching teenagers to ask discerning questions or planting seeds for the crops that will feed your neighbors, healing bodies, gathering friends, listening. Today, this week, this month, do that work like a prayer, like a magic spell. Do it with intention, knowing that your work is changing the world, that what you do is fighting the forces of wanton destruction and power-mongering.

And maybe take up another thing this week. Make cranes for the Tsuru for Solidarity March, when Japanese Americans for social justice will be marching on Washington in early June to demand the closure of internment camps in the United States. Become an advocate for immigration reform. Send money or food to groups who are taking food to asylum-seekers forced to wait in inhumane conditions in Mexico. Express your support for Muslim people, and people from African and Asian countries which have been added to the US travel bans. Help people register to vote.

To combat the lies and obfuscations: Speak truth. Magically. Prayerfully.
To combat the normalized cruelty: Speak compassion and tenderness. Prayerfully. Magically.
To combat the power-mongering: Share your privilege. Offer the microphone, the stage, the moment. Do it prayerfully. Do it magically.
To combat the greed-mongering: Be generous. Give. Share. Do it magically and prayerfully.

Another ancient name for this day, this season, is Brigid, after the ancient goddess of the Celtic peoples, who offered her muse to poets, to metalworkers, and to healers. She later became syncretized with the beloved St. Brighid, and so this aspect of human understanding of the Divine was not lost. Water and flame and word are her tools, her symbols. Today, make a poem, or make art, or make a nourishing broth to honor the gifts the Holy One has given you to make and change and heal. Do it prayerfully, as an act of defiant hope in the face of lies and cruelty and greed.

And also, this is the Groundhog’s moment. Tomorrow is the day when we check on the burrowers and the underworld dwellers. What light do they see? What shadows? In Advent, we walked into our own shadows. On Epiphany, we celebrated our light. And now, as we feel the heavy weight of the week’s shadows like a physical burden upon our shoulders, we must acknowledge and greet our own shadows. How do they give us power? How do they sap our power? Can we work with them instead of against them? Can we find their deepest meanings?

We can’t know what the coming days will bring. Too many signs point toward historical repetitions that turn me to salt, to stone. I freeze. I feel small and insignificant. But I must remember, constantly: Nothing we do now–to fight the tides of hatred and cruelty, to stand between the powerful and the vulnerable, to create holiness and beauty and health–will be wasted, no matter what happens. Now, perhaps more than ever, every act of hope and healing and love matters.

And:

We are not alone. You are not alone. Reach out. Take hands. Build the webs. Ask for help, and be the helper.

Let’s situate ourselves so that we are always ready–strong enough, centered enough, grounded enough–to step up and do the work of love and compassion and justice, to stand up, to stand between, to risk, to raise our voices, to be the fierce and defiant hope for the future we want to create.

Death of Democracy, of Republic

I have been fuzzy in my civic understanding of the differences and similarities between a democracy and a republic, and to what degree my own nation is one or both of those. This morning, alarmingly, I have seen two articles posted online, one warning that our democracy is dying, the other that our republic is in its death throes. I suppose it’s time I develop a clearer understanding of the terms so that I can better understand what it is we are in danger of losing.

I think we are an oligarchy. I think we are in end-stage capitalism. I think that greed and self-interest have become the MO of our most powerful public servants. Serving the will of the people, and doing the right thing, have taken second place to staying in office, and garnering personal political power and wealth. The ideals of democracy and republic have failed to serve us as a nation.

There have been some bright spots in this impeachment process, some fine speechmaking and oratory, some grand ideals expressed, some hope for a society that governs itself according to core principles of freedom and justice for all. Still, the defensiveness and bullying, the sense of threat hanging over the whole proceeding, begins to make the story feel ominous and tragic.

A society that cares more about protecting the assets of its wealthiest members rather than providing for the basic needs of its most vulnerable members is headed for implosion.


Gratitude List:
2. This is my tabula rasa morning. I’ve been living in semester two for two weeks, but finishing up the grading for semester one. I will hit the Grades Ready for Registrar button in half an hour, and then the last rocks blocking this tunnel will crumble and disintegrate, and I will walk into the full light of the new story.
3. Wise people. Wise women. Helpful, thoughtful, perceptive friends. I don’t know how I would get by without those serendipitous and intentional moments of wisdom and care that you share.
1. Not everything is dire and tragic. So much is beautiful and wise and thoughtful and hopeful. You are here, and so am I, and we hold the ideals of a civilization that protects the environment and cares for the vulnerable.
5. Stretching, releasing breath, grounding, centering.
4. The breathing spaces in the day to come.

May we walk in Beauty!

Into the Dark, December 11

Every year at this time, I feel the anxiety and restlessness begin to rise within me, and the cold settles into my bones. Every year, I need to consciously ease my spirit into the season. This year, from the beginning of December until Epiphany, I will set it down here on the blog. May we journey into the darkness with intention and tenderness.

Panic, a low-grade sense of not-right-ness, of un-cope-ability, wants to be the word of the day. Yesterday’s sore neck turned out to be a full-blown headache/migraine thing, and I sort of ghosted my way through the day. That all sounds like a complaint, but it sets the stage for this morning’s emotional “migraine”–when you feel bad, you feel like you’ll never feel better, you know? Like somehow, this pain in the neck, this uncertainty, this sense of doom and gloom is all it’s ever going to be.

But of course it isn’t. Pain fades. New forms of certainty and rhythm arise. Gloom and doom lift. The sun shines again. The shadows offer gifts of insight and wonder. And that’s the story of Advent for me. Sometimes, you have to endure to get through the night to the daytime. There’s my word for today: endure. I know: There’s so much joy in the lights and the music and the cookies, in the parties and the planning. Still, the walk into the darkness is an endurance test for some of us some years. Ten more days of walking into the night, and then we can turn around and start walking back into the daylight.

(And I’m okay, really. Just caught in the web of the season. Hit harder by the lengthy nights than I sometimes am. Which is why I am writing these daily reflections, of course. To make it through. To leave myself a trail of bread crumbs for next year’s journey.)


Gratitude List:
1. Today is not yesterday
2. Dinner with Dorm Students last evening
3. Twinkling lights in the living room
4. Cheese
5. Featherbed

May we walk in Beauty!


“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it—always.” —Mahatma Gandhi


“Organic images are destroyed if we subject them to linear thinking. How often we judge them as “bizarre” or “weird.” They need to be allowed to grow like plants in a spiraling movement. They carry emotional and imaginative energy as well as intellectual meaning, and as they spiral they are illumined with nuances of feeling. Hence their power to bring wholeness.” —Marion Woodman


“We need beauty because it makes us ache to be worthy of it.” —Mary Oliver


“Beauty is not a luxury but a strategy for survival.” —Terry Tempest Williams


“The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, goodwill to [all].” —Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Keep Your Beloveds Close

Gratitude of Resistance Sixteen:
Reweaving the threads of friendship and memory with my Beloveds. We need to keep our Beloveds close in these times, and what can fight the tides of hate and intolerance and despair more effectively than eye contact across a table, sharing food, creating ideas and dreams together? Make each moment with those you love and trust a moment of prayer in action, a grand magic spell, a wishing bird of hope–that all may come and go in peace, that no one shall be forced away from the table, that a better way of living together in this world will be possible.

May we walk in Beauty!

Caught in the Brambles

Gratitude of Resistance Thirteen:
You know that feeling when you’ve been following a bright path in the forest, working your way from twinkling mushroom to red flower, and suddenly you find yourself completely lost and caught hopelessly in the brambles? You’re scratched and bleeding and entangled and far from home and you can hear the wolves closing in, and something moving around in the leaves nearby.

Then suddenly an army of mice and little birds appears. The mice carefully chew their way through the brambles that hold you and the birds bring you bright berries, and suddenly you’re free. There might still be wolves around, and you’re still scratched and bleeding, but you’re free now, and you know you’re not alone.

That was me yesterday, and all the wonderful people who reminded me that all is not lost, that much has been gained in the movement toward more kindness, more decency, more justice. And some of those berries are so bright and sweet: 100 Women Elected to Congress. That will have to become a poem, I think.

To top off the recovery, yesterday was a five-hawk day: a red-shouldered, three red-tails, and a mottled juvenile something-or-other.