Ramble Across the Sky

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Even on the most blustery day, the mountains are steady

Learn the lessons of the wind and earth

Walk between the two

Let your breath ramble across the sky

Let your body feel the slow pulse of the land, the cool solidity of stone

Learn to be weightless and grounded

To be pulled and anchored

Learn to live between the two

to be achingly alive and free

Vibrant Summer

 

Summer’s vibrancy is here, infusing into me, or maybe it is me infusing into the landscape of greens and blues.

Most of my writing these days is over in the farm blog, and instagram vignettes.  You’re invited to join me in both of those places for the summer, as I share in words and photos the curiosities and creativity that is flowing through me.

Be well, dive deep, get dirty.

Happy summer~

 

Living Like Weasels

“We can live any way we want.  People take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience—even of silence—by choice.  The thing is to stalk your calling in a certain skilled and supple way, to locate the most tender and live spot and plug into that pulse.  This is yielding, not fighting.  A weasel doesn’t ‘attack’ anything; a weasel lives as he’s meant to, yielding at every moment to the perfect freedom of single necessity.”

— Annie Dillard, “Living Like Weasels”

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I haven’t yet learned how to yield.

In her essay, Annie Dillard recounts a story of an eagle shot out of the sky and found to have a weasel skull attached to it’s throat; the weasel having had fought back against the eagle and almost won, never letting go despite its defeat.  The weasel dying as it lived, yielding to its single necessity of being.

I haven’t yet learned how to yield.  More accurately, I haven’t unlearned bias and motive and endless thought.

There have been moments.  Glimpses of the yielding, when my body has laid on the earth and the hard barriers have melted away until the movement of breath came not from my lungs but from the ground; moments when experience overtook thought.

But the weasel.  How it held to the eagle’s neck.  Have I held to the eagle’s neck?

Haven’t there been times when I’ve dangled from necessity?  Times when thought played no role in decision, times when I felt the pull of life beyond choice, and followed.

Yes.

But I’ve let go.

At least, I’ve unhinged my jaw and questioned.

Is the process of unlearning the same as the process of learning?  For so long I’ve thought that letting go was what I was after.  Letting go of bias and motive and thought.  Letting go of assumption and comparison and judgement.  I’ve leaned so long on the phrase “to let go” that I’ve let go, too, of living like weasels.

The weasel doesn’t spend so many words on something like living.

Of course.  And I’m not a weasel, though I can learn, or unlearn, in order to live like one.  To yield, to grasp, to dangle from my one necessity and let myself fly to wherever it takes me.

No Mud, No Lotus

No Mud,No Lotus

Years ago, sitting cross-legged in a yoga class, my teacher spoke about the muck on the bottom of the pond.  How the muck is home to the roots.  How it gives birth to the lotus.  I sat there, grounding my sacrum to the floor, strengthening my spine, feeling the opening at the crown of my head, and breathed in the lesson.  In that moment, the relationship between the mud and the lotus was so clear.  You’d think as a farmer I’d never forget it.

But I do forget it.  Despite the compost we shovel on our field each year, despite the fact that my livelihood depends on manure, I forget the balance.  I have to re-learn it each spring.

The month of March churned up the internal muck, and I caught myself there, in the opaque sludge of worry, in the heavy suction of resistance.  It took weeks to remember that pushing down to find grounding is futile in the muck.  It took weeks to remember how to trust in letting go.  How to trust in the mud.

Eventually, movement returned.  I don’t know if it was external validation or the wind bringing in warm air and clear skies, or the exhaustion of trying so hard that finally brought me to letting go, but I’m shifting into spring and feel the shoots starting to rise from the murky base.

Somewhere in all of it, I remembered sitting in that yoga class, remembered the space that filled my body as I breathed from the flower down to the roots, remembered that this cycle has spun through me before.  And I’ve woken up into trust, into space, into abundance.

I’ve woken up.

No mud, no lotus, Thich Nhat Hanh said, and I remember that the pond, too, sleeps and must wake each spring.  That the lotus, too, must bloom anew each year.

 

 

Good Medicine

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March came in with a bluster of sustained wind and strong gusts, dropping the temperature 40º in the course of one night.  The house trembled against the gusts, and I laid in bed, my stomach hollowing with each shudder of the posts and beams.  All night I breathed and drew my breath to the earth, to the roots of trees.

On the first of March I woke tired but thankful for the stillness after the storm.  Thankful for the space that comes after struggle.

Subsequent nights have been calmer, the mornings warmer.  On Friday I woke at 5:30 and watched the dark of night soften into a blue twilight, the mountains shifting in shades of blue from persian to azure to lapis and finally to a dusty french blue before reaching the lightness of day.  It was only 20º at 6:00, but when I opened the door to let the cat out, the air whispered of spring and I lingered in the doorway listening to the clear notes of a chickadee calling fee-bee.  

Those simple notes.  Can I describe to you how they woke me up?  Can I tell you how the day before I felt struggle, for no reason except that that I did?  And how this one moment at the door, when the air felt just a half ounce heavier and smelled just a few degrees warmer, when the chickadee whistled two clean notes, how in this one moment my chest flooded with space.

Struggle and space.  Breath in and out.  The cycle can happen so fast.

Sometimes I want so much to do something good that I forget the goodness of caring for myself, of tending to my heart.  Sometimes I want so much to do something good that I feel only the struggle of trying.

Then I remember the medicine that is always at hand:

Waking early is good medicine.

Reading poetry is good medicine.

Letting myself be inspired by others’ creativity is good medicine.

Being in awe is good medicine.

I come back to breath.  I come back to grounding, to the lessons offered up by trees, to the strength of roots.

I come back to the stillness after the storm, to the chickadee and the texture of early spring air.

I come back to the tending of my heart, and I know how fiercely beautiful this world is.

And I know how wonderfully beautiful it is to see it.

 

 

I want a leader who…

I want a leader that will inspire without anger.

I want to live in a world where disagreements are sparks for explorative conversations, where every side is willing to listen fully before formulating a retort, where there is space between words.

People are complicated.  Politics makes people more complicated.

I want the space for complication to be okay.  I want the space for the changing of minds, for the willingness to converse and to discuss and to examine the ways in which we have changed and the ways we haven’t.

I want a leader who knows her or his heart and who knows how to hear another’s heart.  I want a leader who understands that hearts are wider than religion or race or gender, and also understands that experience is shaped by religion and race and gender.

I’m thinking in terms of government, but I don’t know that this type of leader can be found in government.

I hope it can, though it feels unsafe to question deeply in public forums.  The anger is so much that the risk of posing a question begins to feel too great, and I see how questioning is met with condemnation by those who have made up their minds.  We have grown so far apart that the meeting of “other” threatens our very existence.  We have grown so far apart that “other” becomes anyone with a  different soundbite.

I want to go beyond the soundbite.  I want to sit and look at each other and hear each other and feel the way our words fumble like ice cubes in our mouths even as fire ignites in our bellies and screams up the narrow tunnels of our throats.

I want you to know that you are allowed this.  This fire and ice.  This knowing and questioning.  This anger and love.

I want you to know that everyone is allowed this.

Anger has its place.  Anger can trigger us to wake up.  Its spark can create an opening to another way.  If anger is the only way to shake your eyes open, then let them open, but know that what we do when we wake up matters.  Wake up and root back in love.

I want a leader who will root themselves in love.  The expansive, forgiving, rolling kind of love.  The kind of love like air, like a breeze, like a gust of wind: willing to let us breathe, and willing to tug at our shirts when something needs to shift, and willing to blow our hats off when our haze becomes too thick, before calming into stillness again to let us be with ourselves and each other, stopped after the hurricane to meet the hearts of our neighbors.

I want a leader who knows that we all have this power of air and wind.  That we all breathe every moment.  That we all have this power to wake each other up.

Mostly, I want us all to know we have this power, and I want us to know we can use it with tenderness and care and deep, deep love.

 

A New Story

photo by Katie Spring

I’ve been thinking about stories lately, about the larger story of our society that plays out over and over again, and about the undercurrents of alternative stories that whisper through the static.

At a Hanukkah celebration a few weeks ago, our host stood to give his yearly toast, and he said, “I’m having a hard time celebrating the myth of Hanukkah this year.”  He went on to tell the story of Hannah and her seven sons, all slayed in front of her as they refused to denounce their faith to the invading army.  Eventually the Jews won, and the story told was one of martyrdom and the birth of Hanukkah, and so we celebrate the victim overcoming the enemy.

And this is where the tiredness came into Harlan’s voice.  He spoke of the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernadino.  He spoke of the whole of written history with all its beheadings and wars and conquering of one group over another.

“It’s always the same story of victim and martyr.  It’s not getting us anywhere.  We need a new story, and I don’t know what it is.”

I was quiet as a discussion ensued.  His emotion swirled around inside of me as I herd his plea and understood the depth of yearning for change, for peace, for a future that will hold our children safely after we have gone.  In the weeks since, that one statement has gone through me over and over as I try to answer it: we need a new story.

As his words resound in my head, others come in to answer.  I think of my friends who run Earthwise Farm and Forest, and how Carl said, “Our lives are not a rehearsal.  We advocate for the life we want by living it.”

I look at their lives and see another story: one of resilience, of interdependence with their land and community, of activism balanced with the steady building of a home and family and farm.  I look at their lives and see how true their words are, how they are living the story they want to bring forth into the world.

I think of Harlan and the weariness in his voice as he said I don’t know what it is.

While I may not have the complete answer, either, I do know that while the world is bigger than any individual, change is not.  Sometimes we all feel small, and that is okay.  Sometimes we all feel defeated and frustrated, but still it is important to witness.  It is important to feel.  The only true defeat is in thinking we are too small to matter.  You are not too small to matter.

Every beginning, every story, starts out as a seed.  Some of us are the seed sowers.  Some of us are pollinators.  Some of us are the wind and birds that scatter the seeds wildly across the land.  Some of us are seed savers that carefully and tenderly carry the story into the next generation.

You do not have to play every part.  Only your part.  You do not have to be recognized with a Nobel Prize or a plaque or anything at all.  Just discover your heart.  Discover what makes you feel light and do more of that.  Share it.  Most of the time you will have no idea how many lives you are touching by simply living in a way that brings you more alive.

This is what brings me alive: touching soil, planting a field of vegetables, growing flowers, feeding others, writing.  In my personal story, I’m a seed sower, but in the larger story of the world I think of myself more as a pollinator, helping a new story bear fruit and flower.

Think of pollinators: insects, bees, butterflies, birds.  They are so small.  And we need them.

Don’t wait until you have more money or a better car or more time.  Create the life you want by living it.

That’s the only way a new story will take root.

 

 

Risk on the Mountain

View of the Worcester Range from the summit of Camel's Hump
View of the Worcester Range from the summit of Camel’s Hump

I dreamt of bears on Friday night, having read of a black bear on Camel’s Hump who’s not afraid of humans.  A popular Long Trail campsite below the summit has been shut down for the summer, and hikers are encouraged not to take the Dean trail that leads through the site.  In my dream, it was five bears, not one, and they were brown, not black, all after the food in my pack.

Despite this, I was on the trail the next morning at 8:30 with my dog, Pebble.  My legs fell into a comfortable rhythm as Pebble pranced and snouted along the worn path of the Monroe Trail, 3.1 miles from parking lot to summit.  It felt good to sweat, to fall back into a familiarity on this mountainside that my legs first learned when I was four years old and determined to hike “by own self.”  Halfway up I stopped where water dropped off a rock and crossed the trail, and I cupped my hands to catch the water and splash my face, cool my neck and the pulse on my wrists while Pebble lapped at the stream.

Sweat returned quickly as we climbed higher toward the alpine tundra of the summit, but the winds on the exposed peak cooled me and whipped loosened hair from my ponytail across my face.  As Pebble and I walked the rocky top a family came up from another trail.

“Zoe!  Sit down!  You’re making me nervous.”  I looked up to see a smiling girl around 8 slow her pace and crouch down at her mother’s call.  It made me think of my mom and all the times my brother and I pushed her limits of comfort as we explored the edges of summits.  Zoe was no where near an edge, surrounded instead by rounded slabs and alpine plants that traced through cracks in the rock, and though the wind pressed her back and ballooned her jacket on one side, her feet were firmly on the ground, the risk of blowing away far less than the risk of tripping on a root when they got back on the trail.

It made me think of risk and what we learn of it as children, of what we teach our children as adults.  It made me think of the difference between real and perceived risk, and how we learn to be alive.

My mom was raised with the phrase you can’t be too careful, but she traded this phrase for another when she raised me, saying the greatest longing of the soul is to be free.  Though it was her voice that called me away from rocky edges, she brought me to the mountain.

It would be too easy and simplistic to say that my dad taught me risk and my mom taught me safety.  The two are tied together.  Without risk the vitality of the soul isn’t safe, and without safety–the safety of love and trust and a web of people who support you–risk becomes riddled with fear rather than aliveness.

I am after aliveness.  I am after the vitality of soul, the exhilaration of exposure, the peace of solitude.

Hiking reminds me how to find all this, how to move with it and hold myself in its presence when I am not alone on a trail.  When I am alone on a trail, it reminds me that the risk of running into a bear is worth each footstep that allows my mind to wander, my heart to center, and my spirit to become more alive.

The biggest risk to life, to the quality of being alive, is not going to the mountain, but rather never going to it at all.

To be alive and full and whole

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To be seen.  To be free.  To be alive and full and whole–the yearnings of soul.

Evening comes and the sun lights upon the horizon, it’s rays like open petals before dusk: an invitation, an opening, an ease of light to quell the ache of longing.