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

We’re Not Alone

I haven’t seen any toads this year.

I wrote this on a Gratitude List last year:
“We are not alone. The world gets so heavy sometimes, but it’s at the heavy times that you can look around you and see all the people who are stepping out to the front to get the Work done. Sure, there’s a lot of fluffy and ranty clamor that distracts, but keep your eyes and ears open. They’re there, stepping into the fray, holding people, presenting clear and thoughtful ideas, loving their neighbors and the world. Often, they’re keeping their mouths shut, though sometimes they are the ones writing cogent and articulate pieces that help to shape the conversation. Listen and watch. The Workers are out there.” —Beth Weaver-Kreider
“To disobey in order to take action is the byword of all creative spirits. The history of human progress amounts to a series of Promethean acts. But autonomy is also attained in the daily workings of individual lives by means of many small Promethean disobediences, at once clever, well thought out, and patiently pursued, so subtle at times as to avoid punishment entirely.” —Gaston Bachelard
“Walking. I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.” ― Linda Hogan (Always a favorite)

Gratitude List:
1. Being in a body. Sensory experiences. I think we have more than five senses. I remember talking about this with Ellis when he was five. I think he came up with twenty or so. Sense of direction. Sense of individual self. Sense of heat. Sense of impendingness. . . What other senses have you honed?
2. Ice Cream. Even while I am trying to be a little careful in my middle age about what I eat, I cannot give up ice cream, especially when it’s Turkey Hill’s Natural Homemade Vanilla. This sounds like an ad. Sorry. But there are only four ingredients! I could eat it for breakfast.
3. Tomatoes. And basil. And dill. The flavors of summer.
4. Having too much to do is better than being bored.
5. Speculative fiction: how it makes me look at what it means to be human, what it means to exist in the context of human society

May we walk in Beauty!



Toad. Symbol–for me, at least–of grounding, of quiet, thoughtful observation. The toad is a wise  and patient watcher who doesn’t get rattled about much of anything, except perhaps grabby humans. There’s always time, for a toad. The toad is a simple center of gravity. Resting is baseline. Movement throws the whole works off balance with a waddle or a leap. A toad is the base chakra–solid support and the instinct to survive and thrive.

Gratitude List:
1. Warm clothes on a cold day.
2. A house that keeps my children warm.
3. A good story to listen to.
4. These sunny yellow walls.
5. Patience. Thoughtful observation.

May we walk in Beauty!

DSCN8212  DSCN8199  DSCN8202


Prayer for Kyla in tanka

breathing in patience
breathing out worry and fear
breathing in silence
breathing healing, breathing hope
breathing light, breathing courage

Gratitude List:
1. This morning while we were packing up the Lancaster shares, two teeny tiny toads hopped across my toes.  At first I thought they were some of the mud clods that I was sweeping from the pick-up bed, and I am really happy that I did not try to kick them out of the way.
2. Living prayerfully.  Summer affords a chance to step into that contemplative space.  I wish that all my contemplation could be on joy and beauty, but it is also on the needs and suffering of some people I love, but I am grateful to be part of the web.
3. Letterboxing with the kiddos again today.  We found four more stamps today and we hiked and hiked and hiked.  At one point, we stopped to take a break on a really long uphill climb.  “Hey Joss,” said Ellis, “can you let Mama sit on that step?  She’s not as. . .not as. . .not as athletic as you are.”   Moments later, “Hey Ellis!  Could you just wait here a little longer?  I don’t think Mama is quite done resting yet.”  I am not so young as I once was.
4. And then when we got home, Joss and I went berry-picking by the pond, and hundreds and hundreds of teeny tiny frogs went skipping over the lily pads.
5. Pie!  We made a many-berry pie with the berries we picked: blackberries, wineberries, a few token black raspberries, and red and white mulberries.  And because the crust recipe makes two crusts, I found a recipe for applesauce pie and made that as well.

May we walk in Beauty!  May we find healing.

I Have Been Circling


The summer has caught me up in its tangled strings.  Throughout the day, ideas for my gratitude list pop into my head.  I try to grab and secure them, but someone has left the lid off the pot while making this batch of popcorn, and they zing away before I can grasp them.

I’m not too fussed about it.  This is the nature of summer.  As the cooler weather returns and daily demands of the farm settle into more predictable rhythms, I’ll get the lid back on that wanton kettle of my brain.

Perhaps I have written this before: My friend Sarah and I have talked about how perhaps something about the gratitude list ought to be a little difficult, how for those of us who live fairly closely with the natural world, it would be pretty easy to rattle off a list of five natural things every day, and this might defeat the purpose a little.  This is a temptation for me.  On the other hand, I want my gratitude lists, like poetry, to carry several layers of meaning, as I hope this one will.

Gratitude List:
1.  Hummingbird: Yesterday when I came down from harvest, I let myself drop underneath the poplar tree.  I lay there watching the sun glowing through the pollen-golden wings of a tiger swallowtail wandering among the leaves, when suddenly there she was, wings a-blur in a patch of blue between the branches.  I don’t think I’ve ever observed a hummer in flight from directly below before.  She was a double fan of pure motion and light.  A lemniscate.  No wonder the Hopi and Navajo see her as the messenger between the worlds.  If I see her again today, what message shall I send?
2.  Toad: Yesterday I was with a crew harvesting tomatoes, while Holly and Mary Jo were picking squash.  Suddenly, Holly started to whoop and holler.  A few moments later, as we were loading our tomato bins into the back of the truck, Holly came over, her hands cupped together.  I thought she was wringing out a wet rag: water was streaming from between her fingers.  Instead, she was gently holding the largest toad I have ever seen, and it was performing its natural response to being picked up by a human.  I’m still a little stunned that it could hold that much liquid inside it.  Toads have been a watchful presence in my writing this past winter, so it felt like a doubly good omen.
3.  Pears: Driving the tractor down the hill, I noticed the pears shaping up beautifully on the trees in the orchard.   I can almost taste them.
4.  Tomatoes: Tomatoes satisfy on so many levels.  I have my first six quarts of 2013 sauce on the counter ready to go to the basement shelves for the season.  Fresh salsa with cilantro and lime and hot peppers.  But right now, the thing I love so much is the wanton variety of their shapes and colors when you put them in a bin together.  I didn’t get a shot of yesterday’s bins, but the one attached to this post looks almost the same.
5.  Rilke:  “I am circling around God, around the ancient tower, and I have been circling for a thousand years, and I still don’t know if I am a falcon, or a storm, or a great song.”  Rob Breszny challenged his readers to write their own permutation.  Here’s mine: ” I am circling around the Core, around the Source, and I have been circling since my thousand times began, and I still do not know whether I am a watchful toad, or a wordless prayer, or a cool wind above the fields.”

May we walk in beauty.

Queen of Swords

There it is, the way to close the book.
I’ll sit in my hut with the fire burning,
light to shine out on the wintry world.
My heart is here,
and you are welcome.

I will write my name on a stone,
and drop it into the pond
where the golden carp is waiting.
I will whisper it into the feathers
of the rusty screech owl
who huddles in the hollow of the sycamore.
I will of course tell the toad
who watches from her litter of leaves.

My heart, I think I said, is here,
and yours is welcome in this circle.

2013 April 010

My friend Sarah and I have been talking about Gratitude Lists, and the value of changing up the themes of the items.  Some days it takes an effort of will not to just make a list of five of the wing-people I have seen and heard from that day.

Gratitude List:
1.  The Pileated Woodpecker who called an announcement of his presence and then rowed through the sky across the hollow this afternoon.
2.  Phoebe has returned to the hollow, calling his name insistently from the walnut tree.
3.  Driving the tractor.  I love to drive the tractor.
4.  Delightful surprise of friends stopping in for a visit this afternoon.
5.  Moving forward, pushing through.
May we walk in beauty.

Toad Redux

A week or so ago I posted a collage-style poem, “The Song of the Toad and the Little Birds.”  Toads seem to be lurking their way into my work of late.  Here’s a sequel, or perhaps a Part II:

The toad squats
behind the poem
of the little birds

Underneath its tongue
is a red jasper
and its name is Patience

It is listening for the sound
of the sound of your name
in the falling rain
in the sound of a car
turning the corner

It is listening for your heartbeat
as you wait to be born

If you look closely enough
you will see the thin golden chain
around its left wrist

If you wait
you will hear a sigh
like the settling
of a leaf
in the grass.


Gratitude List:
1.  Feeling energized by the work of the day
2.  Toads
3.  Dragonstone
4.  Balance and paradox
5.  Layers of meaning
May we walk in beauty.

Toad visiting the Faerie house, Summer 2009


The Song of the Toad and the Little Birds

I am playing around with throwing some random pieces together to see how they fit.  This is a collage I will likely cut apart again and re-formulate at another time.  Perhaps.  Unless it seems to live as I live with it a little.

This is the blank page, the tabula rasa
the cloudless blue sky waiting to see
how the weather will fill it.
Sleep shrouding sense
muted and whispering.
This is the field in the springtime
ready for planting.

I cannot tell you everything.
I cannot tell you anything.
How can I be more explicit?
You disturbed the bee at her labor.
Your dreams broke the silence
of my garden.

We do not come this day bearing flowers.
We do not come this day singing songs of victory.
Weaving our silence
Bearing our candles
These are the gates we will enter
Bearing the weight of the war in our eyes.

What is the job of this poem?
So many things conspire to keep me asleep.
The heart is the vessel of response
not the information-gatherer.

There it is.
There it is again.
Coming back to the story
of the toad and the little birds.
Glittering.  Hard and cold.
Be watchful.  Be bold.


Gratitude List:
1.  There was a dairy farmer “who loved the land and his animals, and took very good care of them. . . .  He was a loving person with a very kind heart.”  For his kind heart and the gentle daughter he raised.
2.  For the beautiful Pequea Valley and a fierce wind to scour the worries away.
3.  For the silent and tricksy activism of my husband.  I cannot tell you what it is, for then it would no longer be his silent revolution.  Just know that behind the scenes he is making the world a better place for us all.  (No, he is not the real Banksy.)
4.  For the serious and earnest nature of my people, for their singing, their love of conversation, their care of the bereaved.  You sit in a Mennonite funeral and you can smell the food cooking downstairs and you know that everyone will be taken care of.
5.  For love, because we can love each other even when we don’t agree.  Because when it comes down to it, love is really what we need.

Much love.  So much love.

“Oh look!” said Joss.  “Roxanne [the car] has a mustache!”

2013 March 060

Nine Stones and a Gratitude List

Nine Stones

I gathered nine white stones when I went
to the sea, that windy threshold where sky meets
water meets land, and all is transmuted
by the fire of the sun.  Nine stones.

One for each of the dogwood trees,
gracious guardians at the entrance
to our own threshold.

One for the toad to grasp
as she sits in contemplation
under the litter of leaves.

One to place
between the clasped hands
of the lovers in their whirling dance.

One to rest at the bee-door
to guide them home from honeying.

One for wildness and courage,
to be the lion’s heart,
the spirit of the wood.

One for the wren
whose story overflows
and trickles over house and fields.

One to place at the cave’s door,
to carry as we walk within.

And one for the falcon
to clutch in her claws,
when she stands in the sky
and sees that singular task
among all that lies in the fields.


Gratitude List:
1.  Insomniac child finally fell asleep again at 4.  I counted backward from 100 for him.  Need to remember that one.
2.  Tannenbaum so lovely and the magic of nostalgia for small children: “I remember this ornament!”
3.  Loving cat who licks my ears and tickles my chin.
4.  Advent.  Waiting for the light.  Hush.  Stillness.
5.  Mist.