Musings

To the Pond: The Secret Canoe

the secret canoe & blue kayak

Today I water the ducks and pick up apples before I depart. It’s late afternoon, the kids are at soccer with Josh. It’s hot for the second to last day of summer. The sky, a stunning blue, feels like a portal of joy. The leaves look dry, some curling, more changed already since yesterday. I carry my phone and take photos of exploded milkweed, tiny green apples hanging from leafless trees, the expanse of the field. I find a stick as I walk and tap it lightly on the ground. Up the little hill, passing the overgrown yard of the old cabin where George’s daughter once lived, I walk at a quick pace, my mind wandering.

I go to the woods alone, writes Mary Oliver, without a single friend. And I understand this need. To be alone in this slant of light between lush August and barren November is a kind of magic. The veil between worlds seems to lift this time of year — autumn, day of the Harvest Moon. Later, this moon will rise through the trees and I will go out into the wet grass to spy it. All night I will wake intermittently to see the streaky light out my window. I will roll from side to side and reposition the pillow I rest a leg on and feel the light of the world swaddling me.

in the field

Today I reach the pond with a sense of beginning. I take out the blue kayak I bought Josh for our tenth anniversary, but mostly use myself, and paddle around the pond. A slight breeze skims the surface, a bird hovers over the shallow waters near the mouth of the small stream that leaves the pond to eventually join Lake Champlain. I cut across the middle and marvel at the depths, the dark silence beneath me, and then I follow the shoreline to where the secret canoe is hidden.

I found the secret canoe a week ago. It’s well hidden if you’re not looking for it, but once you’ve noticed it, it’s not. Someone has also pounded two nails into a tree and hung the canoe paddles. Along the east edge of the pond, the property only extends inland enough to create a border along the water. But other properties stretch out behind this, into a wooded terrain that has felt vast to me in my wanderings.

I go out today along the well groomed trail, wide enough for a car to pass, much like the pond road. With my phone I track my location against an arial photograph of the property lines. It’s hard to follow exactly. The trees grow tall and thick creating a canopy that blocks out the light and keeps the underbrush sparse. I love the cedar and pine, the old oaks whose branches long ago twisted to reach the sun. I feel the deep comfort of breathing forest air, smelling the scent of this place, touching the bark of its trees.

Last fall, I got lost running on trails like these; stuck in a field, I couldn’t find my way out as the light fell and the owls began to bark. I was hardly clothed. It was a similar warm fall day, but the coming night brought a chill. I’d been running all summer. My body strong and muscled. Finally, I figured out how to backtrack. Only the smallest part of me grew fearful that I would not find my way out, that I could somehow be lost in these acres of wood between two parallel roads not quite miles apart. I wondered what it felt like to be truly lost. liberating. Even if I fell and couldn’t move, I’d likely survive the autumn evening. Josh would somehow find me. Right?

I made it out last year, just as Josh and the boys were headed in on the neighbor’s ATV. I laughed at the idea that they could have found me, so intertwined and unnavigable were those woods to me. So many paths and roads and fields that didn’t lead out. But that is what I want from the woods. The delicious aloneness of these trails where the changing light of the seasons and the coming and going of foliage offers an ever-changing perspective. It is here I find a sense of my own smallness; a smallness that reveals my connectedness to all things. It is here the aura of the living world surrounds me in its richness.

Back in the blue kayak I cross the pond to our little dock. I walk back home along the familiar path, filled with wonder and hope and gratitude.

growing towards the light

To the Pond:[1]

the beginning of the field

At seven months pregnant I feel the need to turn inward towards privacy and protection, towards the quiet of aloneness. I long to burrow into my own warm nest of safety and let the world slide away.

It’s late September and the leaves are just beginning to turn. I had this idea that I would take thirty walks in thirty days to our pond. Walking grounds the soul. The spectacle of the pond enlightens me. I feel its movement, the wild creatures comings and goings, and its constant presence. Walking the same path daily, which is something we did at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, reveals the way the world changes ever so slowly around us and with this grows an intimacy and love for the place we call home.

The pond is about .8 miles from our house. We walk out across the lawn and down the mowed path of the field. The field grass and goldenrod grow over my head along the first part of the path. To the east, the cellar hole from the old farm house, long gone now, is overgrown and home to summer snakes. Cedars grow there and a row of spring flowers stubbornly push through each year where there might have once been a walkway. A white rose vines the fence as well. I’ve stood near the cellar hole in the spring to get a sense of the lives that once lived there. I know where the old barn rose and look up the hill behind our house to the grave yard of husked souls from the 1800s.

This area is also covered with rocks that make it difficult to mow; burdock and prickly vines. In the spring, when the snow has matted down the brush and we can walk there, my husband and I survey the area and articulate big landscaping plans. But usually after spending July away, we no longer attempt to keep it mowed.

The field is long, perhaps two acres – I am not good at measuring land. We’ve let the field grow up all summer but keep a path mowed along its perimeter. We now need to find a tractor to mow in order to keep it a field, but as it is home to so many creatures we worry about when we should take on this task.

At the end of the field we reach the dirt road. Across it, an old apple orchard still produces hard, sour fruits. We turn left or west and head down the road. This evening, a Sunday, the four of us are quiet and tired out from Will’s birthday party and other weekend activities. The cat follows with us. We meander in a long line that occasionally pairs off. Will still likes to hold my hand in the woods, though not around his first grade friends. The boys begin their count of red efts, which they do whenever the conditions are right for the efts to slyly appear. Josh takes the lead; he has always liked to walk the fastest. His hiking pace when I met him required me to jog.

The road is rough and difficult to drive, though drive-able. The forest looms close, made up of maple, beach, oak, shag bark hickory, some birch and poplar, white pine, and cedar. In foliage, the forest looks dark and mysterious – a difficult pass. But once the leaves fall it opens up and there are roads and paths throughout the 180 acres of mostly forested land.

The boys count in total 19 red efts. We pass the path that leads to the other side of the pond where we skate in the winter and the path that goes up the mountain hill deep into a woods I have yet to fully explore. We catch a glimpse of the pond through the cedars. Two Canada geese float in still water. But we don’t stop here, we venture further and then up a little hill and down to the spot surrounded with pine where we come to meet the pond.

There’s a tiny platform – a first section of a dock – that my father built for us when he visited in June. I love this platform because it reminds me of home and my parents’ dock, composed of I’d guess around six of these sections. I can still smell the fresh wood, a scent so close to my childhood and my father who was and is always building something, whether it be his home or furniture or a new sauna when the old one burned.

We say little on these walks. Shrouded in the woods we each occupy our own bodies, our own silent space. The boys will bicker now and then, Will whines, someone will find a stick and whack at the brush, and then there is the counting of the efts. But otherwise we are quiet. I am tired at this stage of the pregnancy.

At the dock, Mo takes out the kayak alone. He fits comfortably into its little bowl seat and paddles off, heading toward the two geese that quickly, but loudly fly away. On the dock I sit cross-legged, while Will hits the metal poles with a stick, making a clinking sound. The sky is blue, the day has been a perfect warm, sunny fall day. Only a few leaves have turned, a few yellow beach leaves scatter the ground.

My husband’s step-grandfather George, died a few days ago in Georgia where he’d lived for two years in a nursing home near his daughter. Before that he had lived with a caretaker friend in Vermont for a few years. But, he had lived on this land for over forty years with his wife, my husband’s Nanny June, who died in 2006. When he arrived in the late-seventies he had already retired from the state police and received a pension. He was in his late-forties. He and June purchased several hundred acres of land and built the log cabin we now live in. He spent the second half of his life farming and engaged in the rural community around him, selling off bits of the land over the years.

swings on the old apple tree

Part of what I think about when I’m walking to the pond or in these woods, has to do with how long we will stay and whether and how we will attempt to purchase at least the house and some of the land. A part of me grieves the loss of this land, which is not mine, even before it’s gone. Human nature projects grief in this way. But it reminds me too of the tender feelings I have about my children growing older, the fear of them leaving. The fear of endings.

I have always felt connected to landscapes of home, have always loved old houses and the histories of the people who lived in them. I want to imagine them walking and moving across floors, through fields, up hills, down roads. It’s a quaint and antiquated desire, I know, but it’s also the part of me that feels wholly immersed in place. A devoted caretaker of the earth, a wanderer of forests, a lover of all water.

On our way back, Mo fusses about the cat getting lost. At one point he starts to cry when we leave him behind. I walk back and wait while he gathers her from the woods. His tender hearted worry over his animals feels mostly like a burden, but I see the beauty in him, his care and love, his devotion to creatures. We walk together discussing the new chicken coop he wants to build and the ducks he plans to get next spring until we reach the yard and he races off to greet our neighbor, tend his flock, and race marbles down the old screen door.

Mo’s chickens

How to Write a Book

Image by Dariusz Sankowski

The first thing you should do is have a baby (or get a puppy). You need some sort of really obvious distraction so as not to realize it’s actually just you procrastinating all those days, hours, minutes. A baby offers ample distraction 24/7 so that when you get to your desk to write, there’s a sense of relief as well as exhaustion. Exhaustion tends to disarm the thinking brain and you don’t want that brain to write a book. At least not at first. What you need is the sleepy morning dream brain, the place with no boundaries, the place of journey. You enter a field and there you are in its grassy middle with so many ways to turn. Your compass is your intuition alone. Why have you lost trust in it?

Elizabeth Gilbert has this idea in Big Magic that our stories (creative inspiration) come from the universe; they are delivered to us and live with us only as long as we nurture them. If we let them go, they move on in search of another creative body. A lot of her ideas here remind me of Julia Cameron’s classic, The Artist’s Way, which Gibert reports having “done” three times. Some writers poo poo both books because they seem too magical or self-help-y. But, for me, it’s a way to both let go and plug in to my creativity. I don’t want to feel like the soul creator of my work; that’s a lot of pressure. I also think, imagining that our ideas come from the universe allows us to trust our ideas long enough to work through them, nurture them, let them develop.

Which leads to the next step, nurturing the work. My first book was a collection of essays (Made Holy), which felt manageable to me because I only needed to focus on one essay at a time. I only needed to nurture one idea at a time. Though I trusted I was writing a collection, I didn’t know what it would be about or how it would evolve over the years I spent writing the essays. There were times when I gave up and turned to short story writing for distraction, but I always returned to the essays.

Do the work you love, the work that calls you, whatever that is. Really, it’s the only work we can do. I’ve attempted several novels in recent years and have come close to a finished draft with one, but, always, I abandon them. When I abandon them, I lose the story. I lose my sense of the characters — their wants and needs, their hopes and fears. I return and pick them up again, but each time, I have to recreate the direction of the story and it is never the same story. The point here, is that I get overwhelmed and begin to fear that I’ve got it wrong. I forget how many times I revised my first book, how many revisions of each essay before it became a book. I forget because if I remembered I’d probably give up. But if I stay here, with what is right in front of me, I can do the work each day. The goal is just to keep working, to keep the idea-inspiration-story-etc alive in your mind.

Finally, you have to trust your gut. Trust that you know where you’re going and that there is something beyond you, bigger than you, that is guiding you. You are creating this work because you’re called to it. Period. It will be hard; it will be joyful. There will be those days when you walk around with the work in your mind so vividly you’ll forget which world you occupy. It will save you, it will nurture you. And there will be days when you hate it and you spin a million stories about how bad you are, how stupid, how foolish, and so on. Let that shit go. Trust your gut. Trusting allows us to manifest. Fear blocks our powers of manifestation.

Practical Advice:
  • Try Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages
  • Create a private, comfortable, inspiring writing space. If you return to it again and again only to write creatively, your body will know what to do when you sit here.
  • Make small goals, make big goals: what are your weekly, monthly, yearly goals? Write them down, track your progress.
  • It’s best to make goals about process not product. For example, I will write for 1 hour a day rather than I will write 1,000 words a day.
  • Expect and plan for setbacks. You won’t always meet your goals, but this shouldn’t deter you. Adjust your goals. Reassess what’s reasonable, possible, and doable.
  • Be gentle with yourself. Self compassion is your balm for all that negative self criticism that writers seem to be born with. Make a cup a tea, take a walk, call a friend. Don’t cave to the negative stories. They’re not real!!
  • Find a writing group or writing friend with whom you can discuss writing, share writing, or meet up with to write. Many of my friends meet on Zoom to check in then write privately for an hour or two before reconnecting on Zoom. It’s a way to be accountable to your writing, feel connected and supported, and get some writing done.

The First Geese of Spring

Photo by Julia Craice

I saw the first geese of spring this morning while standing on the porch, watching my son point to them from the driveway. When the geese depart and when they return are sacred times for me. They mark the coming and going of the dark season. There’s a letting go and letting in that happen in parallel — deeply corporeal in form. One of those wordless knowings that come through like a prayer or an intuition or a long forgotten scent worthy of time travel.

The little motions of springs remind me of Emily Dickinson’s dashes — breath ballooning out in space that has been created through ritual you made over the years without even realizing it. Here returns the body in prayer. Something to do also with Rumi’s love dogs — the longing you feel is the answer. I might cry now.

In Vermont, it’s sugaring season. Everywhere sap lines are strung between trees, silver buckets tapped into the sides of sugar maples. Soon the annual posts from sugar houses full of steam. There can’t be a more perfect way to begin the movement towards spring, the long poem of her becoming, but in a sugar house covered in the sweet smell and warmth of boiling sap.

~

All winter I have sought the comfort of tea: tulsi, nettle leaf, chamomile, red clover; mint and lemon balm and lavender from my garden.

Photo by Loverna Journey

Lately, I have been writing about forgiveness, flipping Tarot cards, and logging daily “morning pages” in my journal. I have been sitting before a single lit candle for exactly 12 minutes trying to meditate while my body engages in a wrestling match. I have been making soup, buying bread, walking through town alone with oat milk lattes (Lost Monarch’s are the best) and buying books like an oragami of salvation.

Yesterday, I bought The Book of Mythical Beasts & Magical Creatures for my youngest son, who lately has been obsessed with Greek Myths via a podcast called “Greeking Out.” He wakes me in the morning and I ask him to tell me his dreams, which he almost never recalls. Instead he tells a story, I dreamed of worms and a wormhole in the ground the same color as worm skin. Today in the half fog of before coffee, his story included imagery that I could tell came from his beloved myths… the head of a beautiful woman attached to the body of a bird, to which I cringe.

~

The geese form a recitatif between winter and spring: an interlude, a break, something to take me from my domesticity. They seem both archaic and otherworldly. In the fall, they cry into dark night, but in the spring, the are flush with the wild winds of March, the cracking open of the winter shell.

Until I grew older, I never understood the value of these seasonal touchstones. Though I grew up in the woods, I lived divided from my body as a young woman and long into adulthood, and thus the physical world. Spring hurt me. It felt like a cruel joke in the crushing sea of trying to get by, surviving the daily onslaught of tasks and responsibilities; anxieties, hopes and dreams that always felt impossible, lofty goals that perhaps weren’t really even my own.

I did not understand how the planning of a garden, the starting of seeds indoors, the planting of that garden and the daily devotion to its life, could change a person. I did not understand the way we long for rituals of the earth and fill this void, in our time, with consumption in all its varying chimeras. I did not know the way the geese could be the supple dash of Dickinson:

Oh March, Come right upstairs with me –
I have so much to tell –

Or that my son’s devotion to a flock of chickens and two ducks could teach me something about the way he longs to be loved. I did not let myself walk long enough alone in the woods to fully recognize the parts of me that came alive in that landscape; I had not learned how to nurture myself this way or how to seek new paths through the trees, trails and road, in order to keep my vision of the world alive, to warm the visionary within.

You can be told that you possess everything you need within you. Those words can become a mantra for years, but our awakenings are not fully our own, they happen in a different time, a landscape and place both fully of the body and otherworldly or “a beautiful and strange otherness.” Human biologist Paul Shepard in Francis Weller’s book The Wild Edge of Sorrow says, “The grief and sense of loss, that we often interpret as a failure in our personality, is actually a feeling of emptiness where a beautiful and strange otherness should have been encountered.”

Weller writes of how animals shaped who we are as a species; they were the first things we depicted in cave drawings. They continue to speak to us in the myths and stories of our ancestry. Their beautiful and strange otherness, however, has been all but lost in humanity’s relentless desire to conquer and control.

But I wonder, how do these lost parts of our soul inform the wretchedness of our world? Can they still provide for us if we do not provide a place (space) for them? In the face of so much loss–loss of our planet, loss of our home, loss of ways of life, loss of nature, loss of small places like a corner store, loss of our connection to the physical world and so on–and the violence of systems of oppression, how do we find hope?

At the edge of winter, many around me are breaking like the shattered ice of waterways. The tides within pull us apart; we heave forth, throwing ourselves against the shores in the splitting sun, breaking down little by little until we flow freely. We are struggling, now, to find our way in yet another new world. And in the face of all this, we are planning our gardens in the shape of our souls. Waiting for the geese to return. Boiling sap into maple syrup that will cover our oatmeal and pancakes and biscuits come next winter.

The open water, the open soil, the open field, the open sky, form the long and supple dash of all that we hope for and can only really be known through the “beautiful and strange otherness” that we were born longing.


Books & things:

I’m currently reading Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro who also wrote The Remains of the Day. It’s definitely a page-turner and a deep dive into human psychology. I’m told the ending is devastating.

I recently read the poet Anne Boyer’s memoir on illness, The Undying: A Meditation on Modern Illness, which won the pulitzer. It’s a breathtaking account of her immersion into the cold, impersonal institution of modern medicine.

I recommend Toni Morrison’s short story Recitatif which we just read in my Intro to Lit class. It’s brilliant. You can read it here.

I’m teaching a monthly writing workshop online through the Howe Library. More about that here. There’s only a few spots left. So sign up if you’re interested.

We just watched the first episode of The Stand (based on Stephen King’s novel about a pandemic) last night. I highly recommend! It’s interesting to watch how they recreate this classic in light of current times.

P.S. Follow me to get these posts in your inbox every so often!

Write With Me

In the new year we reflect on our goals. It’s a time when we consider what we might set in motion, complete, or resurrect as writers. It’s time when I am reminded of a simple word that feels all-powerful: begin.

Now is the time to hone your practice and find your seat at the table, writing desk, or couch. Work with me to reach your writing goals this year. I’m offering weekly and bi-monthly coaching sessions for writers looking to launch their work in this new season.

Drop me an email if you’re interested in discussing possibilities. I currently have space for new clients: emilyclairecasey@gmail.com.

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

xo,

emily

Thresholds: The Sacred Rituals of the Everyday

On Monday, in my writing group, we read Maggie Smith’s poem “Threshold.” The three of us all thought of threshold differently. One, thought of the exact moment of crossing between as in the point when the light turns to darkness each evening. Another imagined a going between space, the movement from one thing to the next, as in a phase of life, perhaps. I imagined the threshold of reaching a limit, as in a threshold for pain. What do you think of when you hear the word threshold?

The first line of Smith’s poem:

You want a door you can be
            on both sides of at once.

Reminds me of the space I often occupy. I feel between things. I am on the threshold of middle age, not quite ready to accept this transition. Some would easily call me middle aged and others would laugh at the suggestion. It seems reviewers love to call women in their forties middle-aged. To make a note of it, as though we need this information in order to understand their work. I noticed it again recently in a review of Eula Biss’s new essay collection Having and Being Had, on class, property, the demands of capitalism, and how we spend our time. The word “middle-aged” feels like a stain or a check against her. Youth being the ideal of our culture, and entirely wasted on the young, or so they say.

field as threshold

Precision and exactness are something I secretly love, but also loathe. I know that, for example, scientifically speaking, I could identify the exact moments of change. But I prefer poetry as in the feeling one gets on the day that it becomes clear summer has crossed over into autumn. The sinking loss before I turn towards the next season with hope for all it has to offer.

Reaching the threshold could also mean reaching the pinnacle, the prime. But in my mind I think of limits. In many ways, because of my class, whiteness, education, I have fewer limitations than most Americans. The limitations I struggle with are mostly my own use of time and imagination, and my choices around how I make or don’t make money. I have always been pulled by the spoils of Capital towards a desire for comfort, wealth, status, money. But I am also, and I would argue this force is more powerful in my life, pulled by the desire to reject capitalism, to live in my own way, to support others with the work I do, and to write. To make a masterpiece of my own life is to focus on and relish the daily work I do and not its product, which brings me to the sacred nature of everyday ritual.

winter field: light turns to darkness

We make our lives sacred through recognizing what we most value and focusing on it. We do not let the voices of “not enough,” the voice of fear, overcome us. When it arrives we greet it, we welcome it gently–hello, old friend–but then we turn to our sacred, everyday rituals of walking in nature, lighting candles, baking, reading, friendship, and so on. These acts that give our lives meaning also make our lives sacred when we relish in them. Living under the pressures of capitalism, we need a daily refuge and reminder to turn towards what is true and right.

During this most sacred time of year, we battle the wound of Empire. We are taunted by the stuff we must buy, we must do, we must be. But we don’t have to do it. We can turn towards ritual instead. Make this season about the sacredness of your life. Sit under the stars and tell stories to your dear ones, light a bonfire and drink hot coco, walk quietly through the woods, along a lake or a river, through your town or city with all its windows lit up and its comings and goings, sew or bake or write or make, dance or run or twirl alone in your living room. I promise, nothing you buy and no gift you give for the holidays will render as much joy as these simple acts of renewal and gratitude.

with love,

-e

Embracing the Darkness: Francis Weller and the sacred life of grief

There are 20 days until the Winter Solstice, which means 20 more days of moving into the darkness before the light begins its slow return. The solstice makes a threshold between the waning and waxing of daylight, and is perhaps the most sacred day of the year for me, as I am one who has always been drawn to darkness and who at one point in her life turned toward nurturing light instead of darkness, which was no easy feat.

The darkness of November has always brought me grief often I name it Seasonal Affective Disorder. But this year, I moved into November on the heels of a private loss that evoked the deep life of sorrow in me. We all have these losses from time to time as humans on this earth, but we don’t always know how to cope with them, let alone embrace them. Swimming, in the perfect silence of the empty house, I thought of the grief we carry and often squander.

I walked through the woods and built a fire beside the pond and felt all the lives I would not live and the grief I harbored for the loss of each one. In the woods, I search for bones. I have found skulls, carcasses, the empty shell of a turtle. I covet the remnants of death because I want to draw close to death. I never want to turn away from that mystical doorway, and I want to let it soften me, just as grief will do if we allow it. But what I did not realize, until recently, is that I most likely covet death because the other forms of grief are not recognized or ritualized by my culture.

skull & fire

In his book, The Wild Edge of Sorrow: The Sacred Work of Grief, Francis Weller writes that grief is a threshold emotion and when we cross through it we enter the world of community, of conversation, of sacred ritual. If we compress the sorrow of grief, we also compress our capacity for joy. In our culture we don’t have sacred communal rituals for expressing grief and we limit and restrain the experience of grief, which is why, Weller argues, we are a culture of secondary satisfactions like entertainment and shopping, but also a desire for power, wealth, status, rank, priviledge. Empire, he says, is one of the most egregious expressions of secondary satisfactions –we always want more. We are conditioned by our culture to never feel like we have enough. This is one of our greatest sources of grief and loss, our greatest wound.

Primary satisfactions are much simpler and yet sometimes they remain forgotten in our daily lives: human touch, laughter, shared meals, story telling, kindness offered in times of sadness, and rituals that mend and tend to the sacred world around us.

Weller writes of the five gates of sorrow, which go beyond the first gate of loss through the death of those we love.

Here are Weller’s the five gates of sorrow as outlined on in Apprenticeship with Grief from the website Pathways to Resilience:

Gate 1 – Everything We Love We Loose: this is the only gate we recognize on a cultural level, and yet, we seldom give it the space it deserves.

Gate 2 – The Places That Have Not Known Love: this gate refers to the aspects of self we deny in order to fit into family, peer groups, and the broader cultural systems.

Gate 3 – The Sorrow of the World: tending our Earth grief. As Francis Weller puts it, “We are born expecting a rich and sensuous relationship with the earth and communal rituals of celebration, grief, and healing that kept us in connection with the sacred.”

Gate 4 – What We Expected and Did Not Receive: For Weller, this gate has to do with “the expectations coded into our physical and psychic lives” due to our ancestors evolving for at least 200,000 years in relational environments and societies. The contrast of our contemporary life creates a type of deep grief that, Weller believes, we seldom have the language for or space to acknowledge.

Gate 5 – Ancestral Grief: The grief we carry in our bodies from the trials and tribulations of our lineages.

This year, during November I nurtured my grief, I did not turn away from it, I lit fires every day–a candle, a bonfire, a small fire beside the pond, a fire in the fireplace, and the flames comforted me. I sat in meditation, willing myself to soften to the sadness I felt, to let it in, to let it speak. I lay in hot baths filled with bath salts my beloveds had gifted me, sniffing tinctures made for grief, eating pie, walking through the woods, dragging my children along behind, running, and gazing at the moon. And, amazingly, I did not get depressed. I cannot say what will come, but after all these years of running away from the grief without even realizing it, I have finally sat still with it and let it heal me. That is the work of grief and we must engage it if we are to find the wild joy of our living.

I hope to make these next 20 days of darkness sacred through the rituals of lighting fires and candles, sharing food with my family, laughter, and snuggles. I will also be writing here about grief and sorrow, and how embracing this time of darkness can lead to a richer, fuller life, not constricted by a denial of grief. I hope you will join me.

-e

A Field Guide to Writing About Nature & Place:

landscape with milkweed

This Saturday is the first of two writing workshops I’m facilitating on nature and place at the Orwell Free Library from 10am – noon. I have been listening to Braiding Sweetgrass during my walks and around the house and thinking about my relationship with the land, nature, and place.

In her book, Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer, writes about her indigenous ancestors’ relationship with the land:

Children, language, lands: almost everything was stripped away, stolen when you weren’t looking because you were trying to stay alive. In the face of such loss, one thing our people could not surrender was the meaning of land. In the settler mind, land was property, real estate, capital, or natural resources. But to our people, it was everything: identity, the connection to our ancestors, the home of our nonhuman kinfolk, our pharmacy, our library, the source of all that sustained us. Our lands were where our responsibility to the world was enacted, sacred ground. It belonged to itself; it was a gift, not a commodity, so it could never be bought or sold. These are the meanings people took with them when they were forced from their ancient homelands to new places

I first felt the awe of a landscape when I traveled to the Rocky Mountains from my childhood home in northern Minnesota. Then, a girl of sixteen, I sensed something I would now call reverence for those mountains. I traveled off and on for many years, chasing that sense of wonder.

But more recently, I have begun to learn how to know one place deeply and well. I walk the same acres of land day after day and find intimacy, comfort, joy, and discovery. While visiting a new landscape can inspire us, intimacy with place offers a deeper reverence the more acquainted we become.

The changing of the field that rolls out in front of my lawn reveals a way of being in each day depending on the season. The turning of the leaves signify a turning inward in my own body–a return of the energy that moves outward. While the first bright green of spring opens me up to a newness that fills me all summer–a magical abundance that brings late nights around campfires, walks to the pond, kayaking, hiking, and adventure.

In her book, Kimmerer discusses the difference between a relationship of commodity and one of gift giving, which was her native ancestor’s economy. With the sharp eye of anthropologist and instinct of a poet, she examines the way these two economies shape our relationship to the land and to each other.

Join me Saturday morning to explore your own way of being in relationship with place and nature, and to consider the nature of the gift giving economy in our own communities.

-e

The World is On Fire

Morning meditations on the state of the world.

Photo by Keith Jonson on Unsplash

Reports have surfaced that women in immigrant detentions center are having forced hysterectomies. This is not new to human behavior, but we did imagine that it would not happen again, especially here in our own country again. The entire West Coast is on fire. Hurricanes are ravaging the Gulf Coast. Our human species is suffering through a plague and some are so angry that they have to wear a mask for protection that they’re storming schools. Black people continue to be lynched by the police and vigilante racists, which has happened for over four hundred years. There have been months of protests demanding an end to police violence and at these protests people are shot; in one instance, by a young, white seventeen year old carrying a large gun did the shooting and the police did not think of him as a suspect when he walked by with this large and illegal gun.

This is my report from the end of the world.

I live on the edge of a field that leads to a forest that leads to a pond where beavers rule. It is a kind of heaven to know a landscape intimately and to watch it turn with each season. The earth, if we can see, offers immense beauty and worthwhile joy.

field

I want you to know that human beings did love the world. They loved nature and animals. They even loved each other. But we could not evolve quickly enough to save ourselves and because we became a disease that destroyed everything we touched, earth dispelled us. I like to think of it as an eviction.

We spent so much time planning elaborate schemes to lock each other in cages where we tortured and abused the encaged and called it justice. We looked into the eyes of those that looked like us except for some minor detail we’d created, and called them beasts, told them they deserved to die. We took those that sought refuge at our border and stole their children and locked them up or gave them away. We did not feed or love or offer compassion. We cut their bodies open and stole their histories. We lost all empathy, the one thing that might have saved us. I cannot really begin to explain the problem of greed, the desire for power and control, the disease of dominion.

The way we abused each other will remain the single most extraordinary feature of our species. The intricacy and intimacy of it. The blindness of those who called themselves good, whatever that meant. They were all too busy making money to pay the mortgage, the student loan, the car, the insurance… the list is endless, truly. It was hard to get out from under that yolk. It seemed that every day there was something to be bought that might make our lives almost good enough.

I can only speak for the America I know. We did not love but for the shimmer of something we called wealth, which also, somehow, equated to self. We longed to create the image of this in all that we did and on whatever scale we had access to–whether large or small–and at any cost whatsoever. The body of a woman, the face of a child, the square photo boxes we all looked at daily, the poisoning of water and air and food sources, the destruction of land–forests, oceans, deserts, frozen tundra, all of it, destroyed by us. The earth dug out and eviscerated.

There was love in all of us. I am certain. But the disease was too strong and we had years–centuries–of genetics that led us to abuse, to harm, to hoard. Each needed something we called an identity, and this identity was individual in that it did not exert itself in solidarity or for the good of the group, at least not often or this was never encouraged except in the form of something we called “charity” which seemed to only perpetuate those who needed it and perform a sense of superiority for those who offered it. It became an easy comfort for those who felt bad about the state of the world.

Identity seemed to require a sounding board in the form of a body onto which all bad thought was flung. Without this other, the identities of Americans floundered and they began to feel things–bad feelings of fear and anxiety, which were in fact just the normal feelings of human existence, but were entirely intolerable for most Americans.

They could not cull these feelings, nor learn to live with them, so off they ran to find a whipping boy. The psychology of it was rather obvious, but still powerful.

~

If you were here, if you are, then you know about the beauty. Everywhere the earth offered beauty and life. The abundance of creatures and plants and landscapes and water and sunlight and stars and moon phases. The feeling of wet grass on your bare feet on the first cool day of September or the lick of salt water after swimming in the ocean, the sun hot against your skin, the water cool. The smell of deep forest. I am certain there are many that know this beauty with great intimacy. But the darkness took us. We could not free ourselves, once entangled. We evolved into our own end and many, many human beings saw that end and tried to change it. I could tell you all the ways they tried. But in the end, they failed. So they lay themselves down against the soft and balmy skin of earth and knew the end would come and took comfort in hoping that without us, the earth would survive and it would be beautiful.

Ghosts of the Coming World

photo by Mihály Köles

Last night we sat under the almost full moon between the apple trees and garden in a friend’s backyard. I have been lonely in all of the usual pandemic ways. Underwater swimming upstream. How are you? I have taken to sketching birds during Zoom meetings–there are so many. Sometimes I walk to the pumpkin patch alone just to stand beside their fairytale vines on the hill and look out. Every week a new sorrow.

Mostly I want to live in the smallness of the world. To knit a story of the land, to make my own rituals that don’t involve capitalism, buying, making things look a longed for way. I want to gather before the bonfire to perform a ritual as old as dirt. But we have none. We have buying. We have the gods of stuff. We have more and better and slimmer and less wrinkles; we have music lessons and soccer and what’s best for my child. We have gear. Endless amounts of gear sold to us as though we too might scale a mountain free solo or become that woman in the Athleta catalogue serenely poised on a mountain in mountain pose. We have all the Patagonia in the world isn’t going to save the world and our sadness can’t be eradicated in perfect picture squares of neutral shades, raw wood, and white linen.

We bow down to the Gods of Capital like no other society in the history of the world. “Capital,” my colleague Nina reminded me the other day during a phone chat, “doesn’t care about gender or race or ethnicity or class. Capital uses them to get more capital.” I am not immune to any of this. Maybe I am writing this to myself, dear reader. There is nothing, it seems, untouched by consumerism. Nothing that can’t be repackaged and sold to us. And our refusal to see the way this has taken hold of all we do is killing the world.

Underneath the misshapen moon around the bonfire in late August, the three of us shared warmth. In the window from the house, my friend’s daughters peeked out, shining their flashlight like a tiny beacon from across the sea of the lawn. “Go to bed, girls,” she called. And suddenly they were gone, swept back into the comfort of their old wooden beds and fluffy quilts, their fairy books and stuffed animals. Perhaps, like I did as a child, they line their beds with stuffed animals before they fall asleep, a ring of protectors. Their silent prayer to the night fairy: please don’t let them fall into the dark sea of floor where the unseen disappears. Keep them safe.

This morning, endless crying, fights over the kitten. Pancakes shaped like chickens, maple syrup from a mason jar. This morning, coffee while we sit in our chairs, my husband telling me his dreams before work. This morning, the same ache of loneliness that never leaves like a phantom girl I refuse comfort or just from looking again and again at the way it all shapes and reshapes who we are, who we might have been, and what we will become.

~with love