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

Beloved

Gratitude List:
1. Hummingbird. I thought perhaps this might be a year without them, but a lovely little female has been visiting the petunias and stopping to hover outside my window and look in.
2. Golden: flowers, people, sunlight.
3. Hope
4. Work
5. Wise friends

May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!


So. You don’t get to post # savethechildren posts and memes and then vote for the man who partied with Jeff Epstein, who said of Ghislaine Maxwell, “I wish her well.” You just can’t.

You can’t post # savethechildren and then support tearing children from their families to be kept in detention centers. You just can’t.

You can’t post # savethechildren and ignore the predations of priests and nuns and church leaders and powerful men. You just can’t.

You can’t post # savethechildren and vote to take away children’s health care, to remove their safety nets at every turn, to cut welfare, to reduce affordable housing. You just can’t.

You can’t post # savethechildren and cavalierly send them back to crowded schools during a pandemic without a thought or plan for how to keep them safe. You just can’t.


“Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants.” —Deuteronomy 32:2


“There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.” —Thomas Merton (Oh, but I am going to try, Thomas Merton. I am going to try.)


“It is better to err on the side of daring than the side of caution.”
—Alvin Toffler


“What comes, will go. What is found, will be lost again.
But what you are is beyond coming and going and beyond description.
You are It.”
—Rumi


“Though my soul may set in darkness
it will rise in perfect light.
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”
—Attributed to Galileo


“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.” —from The Talmud


“An artist is a dreamer consenting to dream of the actual world.”
—George Santayana


“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” ―James Baldwin

Applying Compassion

In 2005, my first pregnancy ended in a traumatic miscarriage. I recognize that all miscarriages are traumatic; this one, however, did not take care of itself. After the initial days of a slow bleed, I experienced a day of what I learned later (during the labor for my first live birth) was essentially hard labor. At thirteen weeks, my body went into full contraction mode to expel this pregnancy. I began to recover. I grieved. I went back to work, only to experience massive bleeding which began while I was teaching a class. I rushed to the ER at Women’s and Babies Hospital, where I was given surgical help to complete the miscarriage.

This was one of the most difficult times of my life. In the hospital, I received immediate and compassionate care from everyone involved. There was no questioning, no second-guessing. Of course my records confirmed that I had had a sonogram the previous week that showed a nonviable fetus. Still, I experience horror when I think of the stories I have read of women in my same situation who were forced to wait and bleed for hours or days because a rigorously anti-abortion hospital would not give surgical assistance without establishing the lack of a heartbeat. In some cases, women have developed infections or lost grave amounts of blood or even died for lack of essential medical care during miscarriage.

Will these merciless anti-abortion laws increase the risks for miscarrying women? I have absolutely no doubt that they will. On top of that, women who are experiencing the tragedy of pregnancy loss, of the self-doubt and shame we carry about how our bodies have let us down, will be placed in the position of being interrogated about whether they did anything to cause their miscarriages, with the risk of being charged as felons if they are not believed.

If some of us are particularly twitchy and quick to rage and grieving these days, it might have something to do with this, with having to re-open the trauma of our pregnancy losses–for whatever their reason or cause–finding ourselves imagining what the world will be like for women of the future who may have to endure what we experienced, only without compassionate care or empathetic understanding.

It’s time to trust women to understand what is happening to our bodies.

All a Prayer


Gratitude List:
1. Towhee and peewee, and phoebe and wren
2. Hummingbird is still in the hollow. I thought she had gone, or died.
3. Those who accompany the people in vulnerable situations
4. Cucumbers with cream cheese
5. The voices of the people are sometimes heard. Speak up. Speak out. Stand for justice.

May we walk in Beauty!


Thoughts for Monday:
“To be a poet in a destitute time means: to attend, singing, to the trace of the fugitive gods. This is why the poet in the time of the world’s night utters the holy.” ―Martin Heidegger
***
“Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.: —Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
***
“You have to learn to get up from the table when LOVE is no longer being served.” —Nina Simone
***
“I like sitting at the piano. I like the idea that there are things coming in through the window and through you and then down to the piano and out the window on the other side. If you want to catch songs you gotta start thinking like one, and making yourself an interesting place for them to land like birds or insects. Once you get two or three tunes together, wherever three or more are gathered, then others come.” —Tom Waits
***
“The poem, I’ve always felt, is an opportunity for me to create an integrated whole from so many broken shards.” —Rafael Campo
***
“Which came first, the fear or the gun? The broken heart or the bleeding one? The impulse toward death or the desperate reach for love?” —Mark Morford
***
“A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.”
—John O’Donohue
***
“There is no such thing as being non-political. Everything we say or do either affirms or critiques the status quo. To say nothing is to say something: The status quo—even if it is massively unjust and deceitful—is apparently okay. The silence of many Christians is used to legitimize the United States’ obsession with weapons, its war against the poor, Israel’s clear abuse of Palestine, politicians who are “pro-life” on the issue of abortion but almost nothing else, the de facto slavery of mass incarceration, and on and on.” —Richard Rohr

Back to Gratitude

I need to step back into a thoroughly conscious and anchored gratitude practice these days. The rage and grief that I am feeling over what we are doing to the children at our borders threatens to capsize me, and I need to keep drawing down the energy, grounding, centering, focusing on the beautiful and tender realities that I notice around me.

Before the gratitude list, there’s a small sad thing that keeps getting tangled in my heart when I try to make my list: When we got home from vacation, I looked for Our Lady of the Flowers in her nest of cobweb and lichen on the swingy sycamore branch in front of the porch. The nest is gone. Fragments remain, stuck to the branch, but the little bowl is collapsed and torn. I hope Herself was able to fly free of whatever peril destroyed her home.

Gratitude List:
1. Lovely synchronicities: Today, a friend of mine who I met separately from my family saw a picture I posted on Facebook of my parents on their wedding day 57 years ago. My friend said she recognized my mother’s name, and wondered if she was the same friend she had known for a year when their husbands were both doing medical residencies at York Hospital in the mid-60s. They had had babies within a couple weeks of each other. It was! (My brother was that baby.) A lovely collision of the past into the now. It’s so satisfying.
2. This morning after I had mowed, I stood and watched the afternoon sun playing on the willow tree. A breeze whipped up and yellow locust leaves began sifting down all over the field while the willow danced in the sunlight. No photo, no video, would do it justice. Memory will have to suffice.
3. Little toad in the corner of the wood shop.
4. As wonderful as last week was, traveling, vacationing–still, I didn’t have the clear and unalterable sense of summer. I didn’t have a chance to establish summer routine before we left for Cape Cod. And that was perfect, because now I get to really live into the feeling of being on summer vacation.
5. Family sleeping parties. We’re all sleeping in the living room tonight to be near the air conditioner.

May we walk in Beauty!


I decided that I will try to make at least one phone call or write one letter every day this week, begging our congresspeople to speak out against the Family Separation Policy that the Attorney General has begun to enforce. Today, I called Smucker and Toomey.

Keep up the pressure on your Senators and Representatives. Ask them what their public statements are regarding the Family Separation Policy. Ask them for information about who is caring for the children. Are they vetted? Do they have clearances? How are the children being cared for? Are they getting their nutrition? Do they play? Are they getting education? Ask whether Health and Human Services is responsible for their care, and if so, why the administration is trusting HHS when within the past two weeks, HHS has admitted losing track of children in its care, some to traffickers.

Keep holding out your hands to people who are different from you politically. This is an affront to humanity, not just a liberal or conservative cause. Keep your heart open, keep soft, but don’t let the rage and grief throw you off. Hold on to your own humanity, to your own Love. These are difficult times, and people who would rip children from the arms of their parents in order to keep them out of our country would do anything to solidify their power.


Quotes for the day. I am conflicted about the Garrison Keillor quote because of the several credible accusations against him, but it came up on my feed today, and it felt like it meant to be there.

“Nothing you do for children is ever wasted.”
—Garrison Keillor
***
“It’s still a world with plums in it, my loves, & chamomile & lipstick & cellos. It’s still a world with us in it. Find a hand & hold on.” —Elena Rose
***
“The real work of planet-saving will be small, humble, and humbling, and (insofar as it involves love) pleasing and rewarding. Its jobs will be too many to count, too many to report, too many to be publicly noticed or rewarded, too small to make anyone rich or famous.” ―Wendell Berry
***
”So many of us feel an agonizing longing to contribute something meaningful to the deficits of our time. But years can disappear in the doing of duties, in the never-reaching of rising expectations, in the always-falling-short of proving of one’s enoughness.

“The truth is that if we really want to make an eloquent offering of our lives, we have to step out of that ‘call and response’ relationship with the external world and locate our source of guidance within.

“To hear the rhythm of your indigenous song, to fall in step with the poetry of your unfolding, first there must be a clearing away: a ‘temenos’ of simplicity in which to dwell.

“Strike a holy grove of silence where you can listen as you long to be heard, see as you long to be seen, acknowledge where you long to be relevant, needed and necessary in the ‘family of things’.” ―Dreamwork with Toko-pa
***
“One is not born into the world to do everything but to do something.”
―Henry David Thoreau
***
“We stand together. We stick up for the vulnerable. We challenge bigots. We don’t let hate speech become normalized. We hold the line.” ―J.K. Rowling
***
Rumi: “Ours is no caravan of despair.”
***
“I profess the religion of love wherever its caravan turns along the way; that is the belief, the faith I keep.” ―Asma Kaftaro, UN Women Advisory Board
***
“Human rights are not things that are put on the table for people to enjoy. These are things you fight for and then you protect.”
―Wangari Maathai

Messengers


I’m setting up the FB page for Skunk Holler Poetryworks. I think I need to get out the better camera and a tripod to try to make it crisper.

Some days, some weeks, the visitations come so clustered and thickly that I simply can’t ignore the fact that Someone has something I need to hear. Hummingbird is a regular. Snake was a startlement. Vultures are pretty common, like hummer, except. . .

A couple days ago, I wanted to return to my meditations at the beginning of the year, to revisit the idea of matter, enmattering. I read through my blog posts from early January, and jogged my memory about the dreams I had been having. Among them, a startling dream about an encounter with the child-spirit Ellegua of Afro-Caribbean spiritual traditions.

While I want to be careful about not assimilating and taming and taking over the religions of other people groups (as white people are wont to do), I have been fascinated by the spirit world of Afro-Caribbean traditions and have studied them somewhat extensively, so it’s perhaps not surprising that Ellegua appeared to me in a dream. There were vultures (six, I think) in a field, and Ellegua took my hand and pulled me toward them. I didn’t want to touch them because I thought their feathers would be matted with dried blood and offal. Instead, they were soft as down, and the vultures bobbed their heads at us.

So the day after I renewed my memory of the vulture dream, Ellis and I encountered a pair of black vultures, one flying low over the road in front of us, and the other alighting on a telephone pole and looking down at us curiously as we passed slowly beneath it. That was yesterday. Today, on the way to school, we slowed down beside a field to watch four turkey vultures in a field. They eyed us closely as they hopped over the stubble, and for the first time in my years of watching them, I noticed the pronounced black and white “spectacle” marking in front of the eyes.

I was marveling at the triad of vulture visitations (noting that there were six vultures in real life now, like there had been in the dream) when I had to slow down again for a small creature running across the road ahead of me. Long, low, thin, and blondish, I thought, “Weasel!” and that’s what it was! I’ve never seen one in the wild. Otters. A mink. But this was my first weasel. Vultures and weasel.

This afternoon, as I was helping out with group activities for ninth graders outside the school, a ruckus of feathered folk burst out of a tree nearby: a really large crow followed by three smaller birds, flickering orange like little flames in the sun. Orioles! Three males chasing a crow. Perhaps it was after their little ones. But it felt like a message to me. Three flames. One great big mystery.

In my list of messengers, do I include the great blue herons that flap across my field of vision every day or so? They’re definitely on the move. The early butterfly sightings? The groundhogs standing on their hind haunches, surveying their fields like the farmers they are?

It’s a lot to ponder.

Do you get visitations, too? Periods of time when the animal- and bird-realms, and maybe plant- and tree-realms, or stone-realms, seem to come in clusters and chunks, with messages that you can decipher if you only take the time to meditate and contemplate their meanings?

I write this in the moments before I head upstairs to dream-time. Perhaps I’ll find more images there to enrich the story.


Gratitude List:
1. Visitors
2. Reminders
3. Messages
4. Dreams
5. Meditation

May we walk in Beauty!

Visitors

   

   

I’ve been away from the blog for a couple weeks, finishing up my semester, caught in the whirlwind, keeping my head above water. I haven’t been making gratitude lists, but I’ve been noticing. Instead of the long sustained gratitude practice of noticing several things in a day and keeping them in my memory for evening’s contemplation, I’ve been a grateful butterfly, slipping from flower to flower on a breeze, noticing in the moment and passing on to the next shining thing. I think it’s good to practice this kind of immediate presence as well as the deeper holding of a daily meditative contemplation.

During the last two days, I have been feeling the tug toward the sustained contemplation again, so here, again, is a Gratitude List:
1. This is the season of peonies and foxgloves and naked ladies: The flowers of the Grandmothers. I feel as though the Grandmothers are reminding us that they are still among us. They support our Work.
2. Today’s sermon, and the image of Godde as a child, holding our faces in her dimpled little hands and gazing into our eyes, looking at our wounded parts in awe and wonder, seeing the beauty and tenderness in the parts of ourselves we reject or hide or minimize.
3. Yesterday’s visit from a black rat snake. Such a magical creature. Ellis petted it. We got to watch it slither through the long grass, tasting the air with its tongue.
4. Our Lady of the Flowers is sitting on a nest of lichen and cobweb in the sycamore tree, right where we can watch her from the porch.
5. Changing of season. School is almost over. The grading will get finished. We will go on vacation. I will write. I will share tea and conversation with friends. Green will keep happening.

May we walk in Beauty!

Handle With Care

  
Gratitude List:
1. The teachers and staff and administration at Wrightsville Elementary School. They create a safe and friendly community space in which the children love learning.
2. Hummingbird is home.
3. Friday’s really thoughtful Teacher Appreciation moments from a couple of students.
4. The passion of learning for oneself. Ellis knows so much about electricity, and he taught himself through Youtube videos. We bought him a breadboard and a knock-off Arduino and a Raspberry Pi for his birthday (I do not even know what those things are, really), and he’s just going to town creating ideas.
5. My memorykeepers.

May we walk in Beauty!

The Visible Soul of a Home


We are saying goodbye to Fred today. His confusion about his sudden blindness and the constant pain despite medication have made his life one of endurance rather than contentment. Fred is a mensch of a cat. He’s been quick to express his needs and wants, quick to respond to those of others. He took his work seriously, whether it was upping the harvest of mice and voles when we brought babies home from the hospital, or patrolling the perimeter of the farm for irregularities, or welcoming visitors to the farm, or monitoring the feasts at break time. He gave the best kitty hugs and head boops. We will miss him terribly, at the same time that we are feeling relieved that he will no longer suffer.


“First things first, but not necessarily in that order.” —Doctor Who
*
“There are few things in life more heartwarming than to be welcomed by a cat.” —Tay Hohoff
*
“I love cats because I love my home and after a while they become its visible soul.”
—Jean Cocteau
*
“A little drowsing cat is an image of perfect beatitude.”
—Jules Champfleury
*
“Cats are connoisseurs of comfort.”
—James Herriot
*
“There are two means of refuge from the misery of life — music and cats.” —Albert Schweitzer
*
“Be wary of any influence in your environment which dismisses or judges your enthusiasm. Without it, we would become anaesthetised to life itself. Anyone who demands this smallness of you is in danger themselves and may have contracted this insidious, deadening monotone. Enthusiasm is the vitality of spirit expressing itself through us and its grace in our voice should be welcomed and cherished. The word originates in the early 17th century, from the Greek enthousiasmos meaning ‘possessed by god.’ Now, more than ever, the world needs your enlargement, your weirdness, your fiery crescendos of rebellion from boring.”
—Dreamwork with Toko-pa


Gratitude List:
1. Spontaneous moments of joy: Little voice in the next aisle over in the grocery store: “HAAAAA-we-yu-ya! “HAAAAA-we-yu-ya!” A little bit of Handel, and pitch perfect.
2. Purring, the sound of contentment
3. The way cats teach us Presence
4. Our family in Campbelltown have been visited by a white hummingbird–magic is all around us, if we would care to look.
5. Clearing spaces. We gave away the piano yesterday, and we’re setting up a bedroom for Ellis in the “little room” upstairs. Now other things can shift, and other kids of clearing will follow.

May we walk in Beauty!

Trying to Be Found


Here are three tiny poems from my Creative Writing journal. (I usually wrote along with the students on the writing prompts).

Each day
a new story
of finding my way.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Once there was a little girl
who was trying to be found.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Bluebird on a wire
muttering a gentle question.
No one answers but the hawk.


“I like sitting at the piano. I like the idea that there are things coming in through the window and through you and then down to the piano and out the window on the other side. If you want to catch songs you gotta start thinking like one, and making yourself an interesting place for them to land like birds or insects. Once you get two or three tunes together, wherever three or more are gathered, then others come.” -Tom Waits
*
“The poem, I’ve always felt, is an opportunity for me to create an integrated whole from so many broken shards.” –Rafael Campo
*
“Which came first, the fear or the gun? The broken heart or the bleeding one? The impulse toward death or the desperate reach for love?” –Mark Morford
*
“A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.”
–John O’Donohue


Gratitude List:
1. I think I am homing in on the nest of Our Lady of the Flowers. I sat on the porch for a while last evening and watched. She seems to return to the same general area of the tree. It’s located at a less convenient spot for gazing this year, hidden higher up and further from the house.
2. Weaving stories together. Listening to people tell their stories and talk about who they want to be in the world.
3. How a good stretch that wakes up the spine wakes up the body
4. The people who do good. I get so tied up in knots about the stupid, greedy, and cruel things that the powerful people are doing. It really helps to balance my heart to keep remembering all the good and wise and compassionate things that you and the others are doing. Thank you.
5. Pesto

May we walk in Beauty!