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

Marching, Marching

“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.


“No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.” —Elie Wiesel


The New Colossus
by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


“In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now.” —Wangari Maathai


“Language helps develop life as surely as it reflects life. It is the most important part of the human condition.” —Jane Yolen


“It is through beauty, poetry and visionary power that the world will be renewed.” —Maria Tatar


“And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.”
—William Shakespeare, “As You Like It”


As we go marching, marching, in the beauty of the day
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses
For the people hear us singing, bread and roses, bread and roses.

As we come marching, marching, we battle too, for men,
For they are in the struggle and together we shall win.
Our days shall not be sweated from birth until life closes,
Hearts starve as well as bodies, give us bread, but give us roses.

As we come marching, marching, un-numbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient call for bread,
Small art and love and beauty their trudging spirits knew
Yes, it is bread we. fight for, but we fight for roses, too.

As we go marching, marching, we’re standing proud and tall.
The rising of the women means the rising of us all.
No more the drudge and idler, ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life’s glories, bread and roses, bread and roses.
—James Oppenheim


Gratitude List:
1. Cornbread for breakfast
2. The process of re-balancing. There’s always a wobble or three. Sometimes abrasions and bruises. But the balance returns.
3. Blue sky through winter trees
4. The writings of Robin Wall Kimmerer
5. Planning. I love planning the shape of a class. The challenge for second semester classes is timeliness. I struggle to plan a class in July that I won’t teach until January, and when I do my planning so far in advance, the liveliness in it has died by January, and I have to rework and reassess again in the weeks before class begins. But this planning process is part of what brings the energy for the new thing emerging.

May we walk in Beauty!

#mylittlething


I am bringing Wangari Maathai into the circle at Sense of Wonder Camp for Girls today. It’s been a real pleasure studying her again, relearning her story, finding new things, reading new quotes. I am really struck this time by her deep understanding of systems and the way systems work together. She really was a woman ahead of her time.

“It’s the little things citizens do that will make a difference. My little thing is planting
trees.”  ―Wangari Maathai

#mylittlething is believing in you.
What’s your little thing?


“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.”
― Joseph Campbell
*
“We cannot tire or give up. We owe it to the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk!” ―Wangari Maathai
*
“Every person who has ever achieved anything has been knocked down many times. But all of them picked themselves up and kept going, and that is what I have always tried to do.” ―Wangari Maathai
*
“It is the people who must save the environment. It is the people who must make their leaders change. And we cannot be intimidated. So we must stand up for what we believe in.”
―Wangari Maathai
*
“The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time.
…To protect what is wild is to protect what is gentle.
Perhaps the wilderness we fear is the pause between our own heartbeats, the silent space that says we live only by grace.
Wilderness lives by this same grace. Wild mercy is in our hands.”
—Terry Tempest Williams
*
“The extremists are afraid of books and pens, the power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women.”
― Malala Yousafzai
*
“Hey, even Santa Claus believes in you.” –Floyd and Janice, The Electric Mayhem
*
“There is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness in the proportion.” ―Edgar Allen Poe
*
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” –Mark Twain
*
“It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know the sense of wonder and humility. ”
― Rachel Carson
*
“…drink in the beauty and wonder at the meaning of what you see.”
― Rachel Carson


Gratitude List:
1. Bull Thistles. I know that farmers hate them, but goldfinches love them, and I have seen them EVERYWHERE this year–on roadsides, down highway medians. And always, like a beautiful cliche, goldfinches.
2. That cute little chipmunk who sat up on his haunches and looked at me as I was on my way to the dentist yesterday.
3. Hag’s tapers. Midsummer Day, right on cue, the mullein bloomed yellow all over the roadsides.
4. My dental hygienist. She has been cleaning my teeth for decades. She’s excellent at what she does, not only at cleaning my teeth, but at teaching me how to keep my teeth clean myself. She’s an educator. We’re very different people politically and spiritually, and I always feel like I have to sort of brace myself a little for some of the conversation, but she’s sort of become a friend, and I am always really glad when she’s the one who cleans my teeth.
5. Sense of Wonder Camp for Girls. I am eager to go be the storyteller this morning!

May we walk in Beauty!

Now We Begin Again


The secret of the Universe.

A somewhat random assortment of quotations for a Monday morning:
“I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.” ― Anne Lamott
*
“[E]ducation is not just about utilizing a particular curriculum, or ensuring that critical reflection in a community follows a particular formula. It is full of intangible and random events. It is not just taught in the classroom, but lived in the midst of the community in ways that are not even fully quantifiable.”  ―M.S. Bickford on the educational theories of John Westerhoff
*
“The trouble with trouble is, it starts out as fun.” ―Anonymous
*
“One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time…give it, give it all, give it now.”
— Annie Dillard
*
“You can tell people of the need to struggle, but when the powerless start to see that they really can make a difference, nothing can quench the fire.”
— Leymah Gbowee
*
“There are opportunities even in the most difficult moments.” — Wangari Maathai
*
“Throughout my life, I have never stopped to strategize about my next steps. I often just keep walking along, through whichever door opens. I have been on a journey and this journey has never stopped. When the journey is acknowledged and sustained by those I work with, they are a source of inspiration, energy and encouragement. They are the reasons I kept walking, and will keep walking, as long as my knees hold out.”
— Wangari Maathai


Gratitude List:
1. First CSA Day of the Season! Today is First Harvest. We spent hours yesterday getting the market room ready. I took a mop to the walls. I need to make an offering to Athena again–the poor spiders had their lives severely disrupted. I actually need to run out somewhere this morning and get a new drive belt for the vacuum cleaner, which I severely overworked. But we’re essentially ready! The curtain is rising on the 2017 production of Goldfinch Farm CSA.
2. Good exercise. Every day, for the past three days, I have awakened with a much greater level of stiffness and ache, but it’s all from the increased exercise of summer. I should plan now for how to maintain that in the coming school year.
3. I am holding someone else’s good news like a secret and precious gem. Not my story to tell, not yet.
4. Feeling like I am getting organized. I am a conundrum. I love to be organized. I love spaces and datebooks and thoughts that are carefully and neatly arranged, but my world tends to fall rapidly toward chaos and mess. Right now, I am finding energy for the creation and maintenance of organized datebook and thoughts. Perhaps the physical spaces will follow, too. getting that market room ready yesterday was a help.
5. Weaving stories together.

May we walk in Beauty and Love.

Walking in the Rain

“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
*
“There are opportunities even in the most difficult moments.”
― Wangari Maathai


Gratitude List:
1. Walking in the rain with my boys. We’d gotten about two miles in to the loop when the rain hit. Nothing to do but laugh and keep walking that last half mile. Then Jon appeared over the rise in the car, and we were rescued.
2. Homemade pizza
3. CSA season has arrived. Today we clean the Market Room, and tomorrow is first harvest.
4. My dad, Jon, fathers and fatherhood. I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by good ones in my life, tender and thoughtful men who are not afraid to be fully human, vulnerable, and wise. Also today, I want to honor the many single mothers I know, who are being both mother and father to their children.
5. Wangari Maathai. I am researching her for a storytelling event this week at Sense of Wonder Camp. I love her story, her fortitude and fierceness, her determination and compassion.

May we walk in Beauty!

We Can Do It!

March 8
International Women’s Day, celebrated around the world since 1911, to honor the work that women do.  This year’s theme is a pledge for parity, with the core belief that empowering women will lead to greater sustainability on the planet.

Gratitude List:
1. Berta Cáceres, a Honduran environmentalist and human rights worker, 2015 winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize, who rallied the indigenous Lenca people to oust the builders of the Agua Zarca Dam, a project which would have cut off water for the Lenca and made it impossible for them to continue living sustainably on the land.  She was assassinated last week in her home.
2. Harriet Tubman, whose story amazes and inspires me, challenges and informs me.  If all you know about her is that she rescued people out of slavery, you owe it to yourself to find out more about her, about her many roles during the war, and how she continued to work for human rights and dignity until she died.
3. Wangari Mathaai, the Kenyan college professor and founder of the Green Belt Movement, first woman in East Africa with a doctorate degree, and 2004 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, who saved Karura Forest, who planted trees, who worked for the rights of women.  (Karura Forest is again threatened with development, and the Green Belt Movement is working to save it yet again.)
4. Jane Goodall, who, though she is in her early 80s, continues to travel around the world to speak on behalf of sustainability, earth care, and animal rights.
5. All you women in my life who have mentored me and modeled for me how to live sustainably, how to regulate and care for my own energy, how to stand up and speak out, how to do the work.  Friends and family, women older than me, my peers, and young women, too–my nieces and my students–who show me every day what it means to make a hopeful difference in the world.

May we walk with wisdom, with courage, and with strength.  May we make the world a better place.

Where Such a River Runs

DSCN8974
What a wonder of a tree.  I am so grateful to live here in this place where such trees stand sentinel, where such a River runs.

Gratitude List:
1. The woman who reads bedtime stories to her little dog, and it settles him in to sleep.
2. Stories of people who stood up for what they knew was right, no matter the personal cost.  These days, Sophie Scholl and Wangari Maathai are on my mind.
3. The work of the Nobel Women’s Initiative.   Currently, laureates Rigoberto Menchu and Jody Williams are in Guatemala, witnessing the Sepur Zarco trial to bring justice for Mayan women survivors of sexual violence perpetrated by the Guatemalan military.
4. Blessings on the seeds!  Jon started planting in the greenhouse yesterday.  We will be selling some tomatoes and their friends throughout the mid-season, and doing a short late-season CSA.
5. Vocation

May we walk in Beauty!

World Environment Day

Today is World Environment Day, declared by the United Nations Environmental Program.  What will you do today, tomorrow, next week, to pr0tect the environment?  Walk in the woods with a child and listen for the birds, plant a tree or a garden, refuse to buy that over-packaged thing that you really don’t need, don’t make that extra car trip to town, read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, open new doors in your heart and your brain for possibilities.

We owe it to ourselves and to the next generation
to conserve the environment
so that we can bequeath our children
a sustainable world that benefits all.

–Wangari Maathai

Gratitude List:
1. Schemes and dreams
2. Rain and more rain
3. Surprise and awe
4. The poplar and the sycamore
5. The penultimate day of school

May we walk in Beauty!

All Saints

The dreams of All Hallows night are supposed to hold meanings and portents.  I dearly hope mine doesn’t qualify.  Here’s a look into my anxious and twisted brain: I spent the night running from the Taliban.  I would wake up, breathe a sigh of relief that the dream was over, and fall right back to sleep and into the same dream again.

Today is All Saints Day.    Here are some of my personal saints:

All Saints Gratitude List:
1.  Harriet Tubman, who followed her dreams out of darkness, but who didn’t stop there.  No she didn’t stop there.  She walked back into the darkness, back into the nightmare and brought so many back with her.
2.  Dirk Willems, 16th century Anabaptist martyr, who took his chance for escape when the lake froze by the tower where he was being held for refusing to recant his beliefs.  Months of deprivation had made him thin and lean, and he skidded across the ice to safety and freedom.  His well-fed pursuer, however, broke through the ice and started to drown.  Dirk Willems ran back across the ice and saved the man’s life.  He was re-captured and later put to death.
3.  Rumi, because his words are sublime.
4.  Wangari Maathai, who planted trees in Kenya, because the Earth needs trees to breathe and because women need sustaining work of their own to support their families, particularly when they are alone.  So she brought women together into supportive communities, where they supported themselves on the stipends they received from planting trees.
5.  Jane Addams, suffragist, social worker, agent of change.

Namaste