Chatter and Silence

One child woke up at the same time as I did this morning, and he woke up loquacious. My brain, full of fog, and just wanting to take the morning slowly, couldn’t keep up. I tried to be present to him, but all the chatter about video games and the differences in the hand controller thingies and whether it makes sense to buy a bundled package of two games that are really similar began to feel like waves crashing over me. He’s gone upstairs now to play some video games instead of talking about them, and I am finally here in silence.

I kept thinking about those pictures of the kids when they were little, how they pierce my heart with their beauty but also with the sense that I wasn’t Present enough, that I could have been more There somehow. We can’t go back and recapture the moments of their childhood, like this morning’s delightful chatter, which was in its own way exhausting, but also beautiful and tender.

It’s that bowl of the heart again. All the things go in together, both the longing for silence and reflective time, and the longing for the presence of the chatty child, all at once. The pain of the lost past, and the treasuring of its marvel and mystery.

At the same time that I wanted to tell this boy that he needed to be quiet a while so I could spend some time in my own head, I could see myself, ten years from now, longing for the sound of his voice in the silence of an empty nest. So much of life is never either/or. The tension is to feel the bright joy and the piercing ache together, and not let either lessen the impact of the other.

Gratitude List:
1. The chatty morning child
2. The silence when he gives me some space to be in my own head
3. We saw our first monarch of the season
4. The allure of this pollen-filled season, honey-smooth scent of catalpa blossoms, sparkle of sun, tender lullaby-call of oriole. I enjoy as much as I am physically able, though I sequester myself inside, away from the pollen, for much of the time.
5. Creative projects, and time to work on them
6. Yesterday, I did one of my Impossible Tasks, something that has been hanging over my head, making it hard to stay in the present.

Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly–in Beauty.

“The Wild Mother whispers, ‘Have you noticed? I left the gate open just for you.'” —Anonymous

“Now more than ever, we must catch glimpses of that which lifts us up.
Now more than ever, we must notice the rarely noticed miracles happening right under our nose.” —Rachel Macy Stafford

“I dream of lost vocabularies that might express some of what we no longer can.” —Jack Gilbert

“Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.” —Rumi

“Yesterday I was clever so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise so I am changing myself.” —Rumi

“I know I walk in and out of several worlds each day.” ―Joy Harjo

Andrew Harvey:
“All mystical systems are addicted to transcending this reality. This addiction is part of the reason why the world is being destroyed. The monotheistic religions honor an off-planet God and would sacrifice this world and its attachments to the adoration of that God. But the God I met was both immanent and transcendent. This world is not an illusion, and the philosophies that say it is are half-baked half-truths. In an authentic mystical experience, the world does disappear and reveal itself as the dance of the divine consciousness. But then it reappears, and you see that everything you are looking at is God, and everything you’re touching is God. This vision completely shatters you.

“We are so addicted, either to materialism or to transcending material reality, that we don’t see God right in front of us, in the beggar, the starving child, the brokenhearted woman; in our friend; in the cat; in the flea. We miss it, and in missing it, we allow the world to be destroyed.”

Resilience and Resistance

Friends I met on my walk yesterday:
1. Crow. Crow reminds me to get the wide perspective, to take on the adventure that any wind offers, to speak my mind. Crows don’t take heed for nothing.
2. Dogbane. Dogbane reminds me to be resourceful, to take note of the helpers who are always present, and to spin: cord, stories, prayers. . .
3. Deer. She ran across Schmuck Road, causing an SUV to brake. She reminds me to pause. She reminds me to love myself unconditionally, to live from the heart, to listen.
4. Monarch. He reminds me of resilience, how fragility and strength are not mutually exclusive. He reminds me to always look for beauty in everything.
5. Scarlet Pimpernel. A tiny five-petaled scarlet flower found in the grasses. When I was in college, I watched the old black and white movie The Scarlet Pimpernel, about a French dandy who uses disguises to rescue aristocrats condemned to the guillotine. What I took away from the movie is the importance of resisting the machines vengeance and death-dealing. Be surprising. Pop up wherever you’re needed.

What messages is the world sending your way?

Repairing the World

My parents are part of a group of people in their retirement community who are doing their part to save the monarch butterflies. A couple years ago, they asked us to bring them some milkweed pods from the farm, and they planted them in their garden. Now, two years later, their back patio is lined with a wall of milkweed plants as tall as I am, and the monarchs have thoroughly colonized it. They’ve begun bringing the caterpillars inside and raising them in mesh cages. “Cats” is the term some people on their email list use, as in “I don’t have enough cages to house both the big cats and the tiny 1/4″ cats. Could someone take my big cats off my hands?” I’ve started to think of them as the Monarch Posse.

Today while several of us were eating lunch at their house, we were twice interrupted by the miracle of a cat casting its skin and becoming a chrysalis (the plural is chrysalides, we discovered). Young cats go through five growth stages between egg and pupal phases, molting between each phase. When a 5th instar-phase cat is ready to pupate, it climbs onto a branch and hangs upside-down in the shape of a J. After a short while in this position, it begins to rhythmically pulsate–it looked to me like labor. The J lengthens out, and the skin at the back of the head cracks open, revealing the jade green casing of the chrysalis. If this is labor, the cat is giving birth to itself as it pushes itself out of itself, jigging and wriggling until the skin has shriveled up around its “ankle,” where it gives one last emphatic twist of its body and casts off the skin. Another fifteen minutes and the top of the chrysalis (what was once the back-end half of the cat) has shrunken into the cap-like top of the chrysalis. The notion seems utterly preposterous that in a few days’ time, a winged creature three times the size of that gold-flecked jade emerald will emerge from within the gem. Still, it’s only a little more preposterous than the miracle you’ve just watched, of this short, squat stone emerging from the long and agile body of the caterpillar.

The pupa stage of the monarch lasts 8-15 days, and as I was pondering these little upside-down folks hanging from their cage roofs today, I had a vision of the god Odin, who sought the secret of the runes in ancient days. He experienced a magical ordeal to receive the runes, which were destined to become a human alphabet, holding the meanings of our words and thoughts–he hung upside-down from the World Tree for nine windy days and nine windy nights, and on the final day, he looked below him, and there were the runes. He fell from the tree, gathered them up, and gained great wisdom.

Like Odin, the creature that is caterpillar/pupa/butterfly hangs between worlds, upside-down, for something like nine days, and in the process receives the transformational wisdom of the truth of itself.

Today while we were talking about what this group of thirty or more Protectors of the Monarchs is doing, my father mentioned an idea he’s learned from reading about Judaism: tikkun olam, repairing the world. They take their work very seriously, this small and tender act of raising tiny caterpillars safe from predators and accidents and then releasing them to the winds. They’re doing their part to repair the world, boosting the chances that their grandchildren will be able to show their own children the miracle of transformation.

Gratitude List:
1. The miracle of transformation. In monarchs. In children. In worlds.
2. People who show tenderness for all living things.
3. Re-programming. Ellis bought a CD set on Time Management at the Bookworm Frolic, and we started listening together. A lot of the testimonial stuff at the beginning seemed like bunkus and snake oil, but the basic principles are pretty standard: affirmations, visualization, behaving “as if,” modeling your behavior after someone who is successful in the area, and then processing how you would teach or pass it on. We’re going to be each other’s allies and begin to affirm to ourselves and each other that we use time wisely, and that we get our work done.
4. A couple good days of good exercise.
5. Words. Runes. Alphabets. Books.

May we walk in Beauty!

Notes from the Week’s Adventures

Notes on the Adventures of the Week:

My parents came on Tuesday morning when they heard that the tree crew was going to be able to come and take down the old poplar. They brought a friend from their garden: a monarch caterpillar. She wandered around and explored the milkweed all day, but did not eat.


They took the tree down in stages. By the end of the day Tuesday, a sweltering, humid rain swamp of a day, they had taken it down to the central trunk. The caterpillar had begun hanging from a leaf by her foot, and occasionally swaying or twitching as she began to get comfortable for her transformation.

By ten on Wednesday morning, the trunk was down, and the crew commenced to saw it into sections, carting away several dump truck loads. The lawn was completely torn up–they clearly tried very hard to be careful, but it was impossible on that wet ground not to make mud.

I came in the house at about 1 in the afternoon to find the caterpillar’s skin (that black thing on the leaf above the chrysalis–I put it there so I could have both in one picture) on the counter, and the emerald jewel of the chrysalis hanging there. How is that possible, that this oblong jewel was inside that caterpillar skin? And now for complete transformation: Her insides will dissolve into goo while her wings form and she takes her new shape.


This is the stump. I haven’t checked the measurement on its diameter, but you could put a little table and a chair up there. I posed the feather.

Notes from the tree guy:
1. He thinks it’s one of the tallest trees they’ve ever taken down.
2. It was still strong, but a couple more years and it would have been too much rot (see that big spot?) and would have been really dangerous in the taking down.
3. He thinks it was about 90 feet tall.

We counted the rings–it’s hard to be sure you’re getting them all–and got somewhere between 67 and 71 years. Some of the rings are really thin and some are really wide. This is the story the tree is telling.

The porch is now a sunny spot in the mornings.

I did not plan to reseed a yard this week, but that’s what I did today. Satisfying work, and it needed to be done before another big rain washes all the exposed topsoil away.

I’m going to miss the shade and the people who lived in the city of its branches, but seeing all that early rot in the middle of every large branch made me realize that it was a really good decision.

Gratitude List:
1. How the work gets done.
2. Painting. I have been loving my morning painting practice, and I am sad to see the time of relaxed morning painting coming soon to an end.
3. Clouds and blue sky.
4. Wind chimes. I bought myself a nice set of metal ones today to replace the clunky old bamboo ones.
5. Ferns and Morning Glories

May we walk in Beauty!

A Blessing in Blue

Gratitude List:
1. Around a corner down the ridge, I caught a flash of blue in the road, and an indigo bunting burst into flight. A blessing in blue.
2. The summer’s first monarch.
3. Graduation. Beautiful, earnest young folk.
4. Huge bales of hay in a green meadow, and the evening sun casting their shadows across the grass.
5. My dear friend Marie gave me lots of sea glass that she collected over years on trips to Maine. During the last two days of school, when the seniors had gone, my one Creative Writing class was down to a handful of students. They spread out my sea glass and picked out their favorite pieces–I told them they could take lots. Then they placed what was left in the glass jar in colored layers. This treasure, given to me by a friend, is a treasure I can share with my students. We talked about how appreciating sea glass is about finding beauty in the brokenness. The glass has to be tumbled in sand and waves before the sharp edges are worn down and the surface is worn to softness. Like us, of course.

May we walk in Beauty!

Never Enough

A couple weeks ago, we took a ride on a little train, the Ma and Pa–we were in the open car, and our shadows raced along beside us in the leaves.

It’s never enough
to say that the eagle flies
over the River.
It’s never enough to say
that the River is flowing.

Gratitude List:
1. Den’s Service Center: Thursday at 4, I called them and said that I was on my way home from work with a slow leak in my tire.  They said they’d look at it, even though it would be the last (and busiest) half hour of their day.  I made it safely, they found the nail and fixed it, and they only charged me $13.
2. Harvest hymns in Friday morning hymn sing yesterday.
3. Oaks–less showy than the sugar maples, perhaps.  A rich rusty red.
4. The monarch I saw the other day at school.  I stepped outside in a brief moment, and there it was, dancing through the slanting autumn sun rays.
5. Breath.  (Ellis says I need to include things that I take for granted.  I agree.)

May we walk in Beauty!

Trying to Unsee

You can’t unsee things.  I would not have chosen to see that picture of the baby on the beach, but it popped up on my screen when a well-meaning friend put it on Facebook.  I can’t scratch it out of my brain, and the more I try to unsee it, the more it appears, unbidden.  Yesterday, it appeared in my head as I was playing in the water with my own children. A sudden chill overtook me, left me gasping, barely able to restrain myself from reaching out and grabbing my own laughing children, to pull them both from the water to safety.  When I was in college, I had a series of nightmares about seriously injured children asking me for help, and I couldn’t help them.  I could swear that this very image was in those dreams.

Other layers of worry catch me, too–the thought of all my shining teenagers with their phones, slipping like swimmers through the waters of the images that appear there, stumbling upon horror and gore: the world’s realities that they will not be able to unsee.  How will a photo of a drowned child compound their anxieties, their despairs, their rage?  How will such a picture drown their sense of safety and holiness and wonder about the world around them?

I want to know about the troubles of the world.  I think we need to, if we are to participate in the Work of changing the world.  I think my students need to know that we do not live in a perfect world–they, too, will need the information in order to become participants with us in the business of creating a more just and compassionate future.  Still, I do not want to see them stumbling into these terrifying boundary-lands. I do not want to wander here myself.

Yesterday, during our Staff Development Day at LMS, historian John Roth (our input speaker for the day) told a story of an Amishman quizzing a group of Mennonites about television.
“How many of you own a TV?” he asked.  Every hand went up.
“How many of you think you probably watch too much TV?”  Again, every hand went up.
“How many of you think that your children watch too much TV?”  Every hand.
“How many of you will go home today and get rid of your televisions?”  Nobody raised a hand.

I am not ready to simply accept the inevitability that my children will be witness to murder and tragedy via the screens that surround us.  I don’t want to accept that inevitability for my students, either, though I have less influence on that sphere.

I don’t know how to end this, how to wrap it up.  The loose ends are all over the place.  Pandora’s box is virtual, but it’s been opened, and a host of terrors and rages and sadnesses have been unleashed upon us.


After all that, I need a
Gratitude List:
1.  That box of yarn that came in the mail today.  Watching how the boys couldn’t keep their hands off it, how they immediately developed projects and plans for the different balls of yarn.  One small boy is planning to weave many, many little patches that he will sew together into a woven blanket.  The other made me show him how to crochet.

2.  Music.  One boy is learning cello for the orchestra and trombone for the band.  And after my rant about technology, I must also note that I am grateful for the ability to use a computer program that helps him to listen for the pitch.
3.  Monarchs. I saw two adults today, and two caterpillars.
4.  Yesterday’s John Roth lectures on Teaching to Transform.  His final point of the day was an eloquent examination of a spiritual practice that I call Holding the Bowl of the Heart, and that he called something like Being Attentive to the Beauty of Holiness.  It’s about expansively opening oneself to wonder and awe, compassion and love, while recognizing that for humans, these experiences are intermixed with death and grief and shame and anger.  So one holds them all together, with an attentive awareness that both sides of experience inform and shape each other. Beauty is another of my names for God.
5.  Quartz and kyanite, garnet and serpentine.

May we walk in Beauty.

I am safe. It’s only change.

Gratitude List:
1. This song I found in my “stack of random papers,” one that I remember Tabea teaching me a few years ago: “Doors closing, doors opening.  Doors closing, doors I’m opening.  I am safe. It’s only change. I am safe.  It’s only change.”
2. In all  of my yesterday-celebration of teeny-tinies, I didn’t mention the monarch caterpillar on the bottom of a milkweed leaf, so small it was almost still just a dream.  But I think I felt it looking at me, asking what I am doing to make the world safe.
3. Also, the teeny-tiny snails that Joss kept stopping to pick up and place at the side of the trails so no one would step on them.
4. Pie!  Well, see, there were leftovers.  And tomorrow, still, there will be more pie leftover.  And this makes me happy.
5. This practice.  Sometimes I need it more than others.  Some days are sad or morose, some are angry or confused.  Often, my days are satisfying and comfortable, or busy but pleasant.  Today was a grumpy sort of day.  I grouched at and interfered with my children.  I made commands and demands.  I was not the most pleasant person to live with.  Not mean or shamefully spiteful.  Just a grouch.  Finding five things on a grouchy day is a challenge.  Fortunately, I had a little overflow from yesterday in #2 an #3.

Thank you for listening.  May we walk in Beauty!

Walking Up the Hill


Gratitude List:
1.  Walking up the hill, hand in hand with One Small Boy
2.  to see if we could find the female monarch we had seen earlier on the milkweed,
3.  which was a city a-buzz with pollinators,
4.  when we saw a bluebird, and I started singing, “Bluebird, bluebird, through my window,”
5.  and One Small Boy sang it with me because it was one of his school songs.

May we walk in Beauty!

Language Event

A friend of mine gave me a book of poetry a few months ago. Titled Shaking the Pumpkin, it is a rich and careful compendium of traditional poems from Native North Americans, edited by Jerome Rothenberg.

Several of the poems are simply rituals recorded verbatim and translated into English. They appear almost more as linguistic research than actual poems, and magically, it is in this almost lab-like recording of the words that they begin to take on some of their poetic power for me.  Here, for instance, are selected lines from my favorite poem in the book:

Language Event 1

Use the language of shamans.

Say 	the leash				& mean	the father
“ 	a road 					“ 	the wind
“ 	soup 					“	a seal
“ 	Big Louse 				“	a caribou
“ 	what makes me dive in headfirst 	“	a dream
“ 	what cracks your ears 			“	a gun
“	a jumping thing 			“	a trout
“	what keeps me standing 			“	your clothes
“	the person with a belly 		“	the weather
“	the person with a belly getting up 	“	the morning
“	the person with a belly goes to bed	“	it's nightfall
“	the little walker 			“	a fox
“	walker with his head down 		“	a dog
“	a person smoke surrounds		”	a live one
“	a floating one 				“	an island
“	a flat one 				“	a wolf
“	a shadow 				“	a white man
“	another kind of shadow 			“	a person
“	the shadow-maker 			“	the shaman
“	he turned my mind around 		“	he told me something

I had planned to write my own this morning before the children woke up, but it’s too late for that now, because I took so much time trying to figure out how to format the poem. Meanwhile, I learned a tiny little thing or two about HTML formatting, so there’s that, and I’ll work on my Language Event poem another day.

Gratitude List:
1. I just found out that the monarchs are on the move in Mexico.  Spring is on its way, and the cycles of life continue for this year again at least.  We’ll set the table with all the local milkweed we can manage.
2. Labyrinths
3. Messengers, guides, crows
4. Markers, maps, cairns
5. Lent, the contemplative season

May we walk in Sunshine.