It Can Be Done

I came upon our ducks in frenzy. I stopped to watch as one bolted from the crowd carrying something in her mouth. It was a full-grown frog and not one that she was willing to share.  I watched as she continued to elude the others while attempting to consume the now dead frog. The other ducks gave up the chase as I watched in disbelief. It was all so unexpected. Never had I thought of a duck killing and eating a full-grown frog.

Nature has surprises. Although by now there shouldn’t be. I couldn’t judge her; she was following deep seeded instincts of survival. I could feel for the frog, but the reality is the frog has its own instincts to follow.

And then I began to consider the instincts that drive us. There are many who equate the ruthlessness they observe in Nature with the ruthlessness of human beings. It is used to justify the worst of our behaviors and it is also used to justify the corporal punishments we dole as retribution. It is used to justify war, genocide and all forms of inequality. We have become adept at declaring and resigning ourselves to humanity at its worst. It is the excuse we allow.

I have come to resent that excuse. I no longer believe we must accept and follow the base instincts of life. But it does mean we must consciously choose which instincts we will follow. We must survey the terrain of our being and choose which seeds must be cared for and which seeds should be left alone.

Choosing understanding over hatred, compassion over anger, and kindness over greed can be done.

It takes practice. It takes determination. It takes courage, but it can be done.

Yes, violence begets violence, but love certainly creates love

 

“Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love. ” Martin Luther King (1958)

 

It’s Good to Cry

 

Sometimes these days I am overwhelmed by a news story, a radio sound bite or a friend’s hardship and the tears begin to rain. Thinking about this need to cry, I am reminded of an old friend who once watched me tear up. In shame I tried to cover it and she said to me, “Don’t hide those tears. They’re precious. Not everyone can cry. I wish I could.”

Or the time my Navajo mentor explained to me that sometimes “hearts have something hard inside” and we have to allow the hard place to become soft again.

So now as I learn of impending famines, countries overwhelmed, the horrific death caused by the virus, or the need of relief for our health care workers, the tears come. I don’t try to hide them. I don’t try to stop them. They are part of my heart softening. They’re part of my prayer. A prayer without words; a prayer that beckons for all that is good and right to prevail.

There is a part of us that wants to cut to the chase. It wants the political posturing to take a back seat. It wants the allure of acquiring capital to not come at the expense of the living. It wants to stop hearing, “when we get back to normal”. And it is grateful when someone acknowledges that we can create the world we know is possible, not simply default to old and decaying ways.

We have before us a great challenge and it is not in discovering a vaccine. It is to allow our humanity to replace our greed. It is to demand more from one another so the Earth can continue to heal and feed her children.

Our tears are the forebears of action that will make it right once more.

 

photo by Noho

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Tend to Life

Boredom is something I whole-heartedly avoid. Luckily life keeps welcoming my attention and is willing to teach. These days the sand hill cranes are echoing through the valley as they prepare their nests and stake out their terrain. And the young trees that we planted years ago have survived the deer and our neglect as we tend to them with manure and straw and new fencing.

There are even a few stubborn chestnuts and hickory saplings still standing strong. They were planted with the knowledge that we may never see their fruit, as it may be as long as forty years before the nuts are harvested. Yet with care and love, they will certainly grace some future passer-by with a tasty bite. And that is good enough.

My mother would often use the western Pennsylvania saying, “Give it a lick and a promise.” It meant when you start something, give it your best and if you cannot complete the task make your promise to return. Well this moment of “stay in place” is revealing a lot of unfulfilled promises that need my attention. And I am grateful to be able to oblige.

Today we unearthed the tiny strawberry plants and covered them for protection. We removed bits of wood that will stand in the way of enlarging our garden and all the while kept feeding the mule tuffs of last year’s grass to make him happy.

Plants and animals are thriving. We all flourish with a little bit of love and care. This tending to life is amazingly rewarding and yields the greatest gains.

Self –care has taken on a whole new meaning.  Taking time to find courage and strength to persevere and to feel love and compassion is imperative.

This moment of hardship and struggle offers possibilities that we have not yet dreamed. We cannot know what the future holds for our families, our communities or our world, but we can tend to life. Therein lies richness.

Be well.

Right on Time

 

Here come the first hints of spring right on time. I heard a robin sing yesterday and today the call of the sand hill crane caught my attention. The snow is melting and the mud and the ice are treacherous if you take a wrong step, but the brilliant sun makes the cold wind cower and you know it is only a matter of time before you will walk barefoot again.

And there is hope, right on time.

The news in any given day is bleak and I am inclined to believe it is intentionally so. It is easier to control a population when it is kept on edge. It is easier to drive an agenda if you do not give people a chance to find their own way. But at the end of the day, it will always be our choice to fall for fear mongering and hate baiting or to strive to create sustainable peace.

Winter in the Driftless is not for those afraid of a good challenge. But it is the beauty of the season and the brilliance of the night skies that soothes the soul and holds the promise of spring.

I couldn’t live in a hopeless world. And the return of the sand hill crane reminds me of that. I muse over the latest news on the coronavirus, or the hatred that has reared its head against Muslims in Delhi. Yet I rejoice to hear the Korean woman tell how she survived the disease and how the Hindu man saved many Muslim neighbors making trips by motorcycle.

You see, spring returns. And with it hope. Not blind hope, but hope born of reason, conviction and action laced with integrity.  We are born for this. We are born to be victors over fear, hatred and ignorance, because we are born for love.

 

sandhill crane in flight courtesy of wikipedia commons

Hone Love

As winter solstice draws near, the shadows grow longer, the light burns brighter, and the air is crisp. It’s a contemplative time, a time to reflect on the past and to gather strength to prepare for the spring. If we have done our work through the seasons, we’re able to enjoy this time and celebrate with deep appreciation.

If this season catches us unprepared, we run the risk of missing its quiet beauty. Winter for all its harshness is a time to go within. It is also a time to share.

Everyday is worthy of celebration and giving thanks. Yet living close to the land awakens an appreciation of the return of light. It is something we share with our predecessors and with people throughout the world. We receive the longer days with this recognition: That even though the harshest times may still be before us, we will have the increased vision and strength to see it through.

There are many who will not be able to feel the subtle changes of the season. There are some who do not care. For whatever reason, we have handed the reigns of power to people who have forgotten they are of the earth. They cannot feel the magic or the majesty of living. They are content to destroy it all for material gain.

Yet the lovers of the earth will continue to love.

I am learning to not curse the cold, nor surrender to the darkness. There is something that softens my heart and feeds my soul. It’s simple and it’s absolute.

I am alive. In these complex and challenging times we are alive.

And there is so very much hope in that. Celebrate the light and hone the gift of love.

It is the only thing ignorance cannot destroy. Hone love and fight like hell.

Prayers That Never Falter

I recently learned of the passing of a great man.

In mid-2016, I was drawn to the Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock. I visited to see if I could help keep the oil pipeline from crossing the headwaters and the tribal lands.

When I returned in September, it was with the conviction to remain. I had no tribe and no affiliation and looked for an opportunity to make a formal request to stay.

Each day began with prayers around the fire.  From my bed in the car, I could hear his voice over the loud speaker as the light barely cracked the darkness. “Kiktapo! Get up. We have work to do. We must stop the black snake.” And there he would be welcoming all to the fire. People came from all corners of the world and all faiths and he welcomed them to offer their prayers.

And when I would attend the day’s orientation, he would be there again leading with prayer, holding the vision, teaching us about courage and strength through example.

He was the one I asked to stay in the camp. I made my offer to help and he welcomed me. And when I asked where to place my tent, he told me, “Here, next to my family.”

The next several weeks were life changing as weather, rubber bullets, water cannons and infiltrators cut into us.  But the prayers never faltered.

Guy Dullknife   was a cherished father, husband, artist, veteran and member of the American Indian Movement, but those are not my stories to tell.

For me, he was a link to my deepest wishes for humankind. That one-day we will rise, all people, with acceptance and respect, and take back the earth, which is our right. As the living, it is our right and our duty.

Thank you Guy, for prayers that never falter. We carry on.

Guy and Angie

Grateful to Love

A friend came by to help us ready for winter. He’s a young Amish gentleman and we have shared laughter and good wishes for a few years now. He mentioned he would be traveling to celebrate Thanksgiving and I asked, “What foods do you have for your meal?” “Turkey most often”, he replied. And I thought about it a bit and asked, “Do you tell stories of Pilgrims and Indians?” “No”, he said. “Me either”, I said, and then added, “I must be a bit Amish”…and we laughed.

We had many sweet conversations that day as we puttered about moving wood and fencing, and getting the barn ready for the sheep to winter. He was brave enough to have his first taste of curry as we sat to eat our lunch, and liked it enough for seconds. He spoke about his new bride and how happy he is in his new life. I could feel his joy. It was infectious. I read to him a note of thanks that I had received and he smiled.

We talked about how good it would be if all people could respect each other in their differences and delight in their similarities. And once again I marveled at the ease of speaking to another human being who cherishes life first and foremost.

As the day wore on I felt our kinship grow and was grateful for the brief times we share. While driving home he made note of, and thanked me for, slowing down as I came upon a horse and buggy. “Too many people don’t take the time to slow down”, he said. “I know”, I said. “We too often forget there is precious life there.”

The silences in our conversations are laden with communication.

And he is one of the many people I am very grateful to love.

 

Best wishes in this season of wonder and gratitude.

Love Conquers

It’s time to change the narrative. You know, the stories of our lives; the beliefs that were handed to us and go unchallenged. The fabrications of falsehoods devised to divide.

There are some real perks to rural living. One is the solitude that comes from the physical distance of other people – the good, the bad and the ugly. The downside to rural living is our ability to avoid anyone or anything that challenges the comfort zone of beliefs we commonly share. This isolation into sameness often drives me to discover a different glimpse of humanity.

Our Winding River library system carries a wide variety of important films. I was grateful to borrow the 2018 film “The Hate U Give”. This American drama is based on a novel by Angie Thomas and directed by George Tillman, Jr.

In the movie we are given the opportunity to witness a black teen exist between two worlds: a white suburban high school she attends and her home in a predominantly black and poor neighborhood.

It would be very easy to reduce this clash of two worlds to sound bites, but the written artistry, superb directing and passionate acting present viewers with complex themes in a human touch.

Tupac Shakur and his message of “Thug Life” play a central theme in the movie. We’re invited to explore Tupac’s explanation of the meaning of “thug” in these, his edited words, “The Hate U Give Little Infants, “Effs” Everybody.”

This is a movie that explores hate but is triumphant in love.  And that is profound in a world insistent on division.

My advice? Rent the movie. Take time with it and make sure to engage the extras on the menu. Look at life from another’s point of view. Take time to see how hate destroys, but love conquers, and then, let’s change the narrative.

 

 

photo from Wikipedia

Choose Clarity

What’s the dirtiest part of the human body? I know what you are thinking, but traditional people will tell you the dirtiest part of the body is the head. That’s due to uncontrolled thinking that can lead to depression and despair, anger and hate. To some, the washing of the hair and the head when done with intention and care, is a sacred and loving act.  It’s designed to help a person rid unwanted and nagging thoughts. Intention and love are indeed powerful weapons in ridding darkness.

The Chinese also have this saying or so I have been told, “You can not keep the birds from flying around your head, but you can keep them from nesting there.” This appears to be another way of combating nasty thoughts. It implies two very important concepts: One is that you cannot stop the thoughts from coming to you and two is that while you cannot stop them, you still can choose what will alight upon you.

Fear based thinking is loaded with dark thoughts. And our culture is currently loaded with fear-based thinking. Not surprisingly our darkest thoughts generally cast aspersions on others while allowing our own nasty inclinations to go unabated.

Let’s face it we’re all plagued with this “devil” within.

But what if we take some tips from old wisdom? What if we choose to ignore the rumblings of our lessor selves and seek clarity instead of confusion? What if love and good intention can keep the birds of prey from nesting on our heads?

Bad habits can be reversed.

I heard an old friend and teacher, Prem Rawat, sum it up this way, “Our thoughts are a gift to us… but what we choose to think about is a gift we give ourselves.”

Open the gift of clarity. It is closer than we think.

 

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Love of Place

Every apple seed can produce an entirely unique tree. Every tree has a story to tell and there is so much to learn. I have the pleasure of living in an heirloom apple orchard. It delights the senses throughout the seasons, it informs and it nourishes; its beauty has captured my heart…All of this has caused me to ponder the significance of love of place.

We cannot all stay in the place of our birth. My maternal grandmother left a beautiful seaside town on the west coast of Italy to come to the United States. And while I am sure she missed the sea, the foods and flora of her home, she taught me through her actions the importance of love of place. Well into her 70’s she tirelessly cared for her garden, her chickens and her bread with a gratitude to the land that allowed it all to be.

The people of the Bahamas are now beginning the struggle to rebuild after the destruction of Dorian. The people of the Amazon who have been displaced by intentionally set fires are forced to uproot. Throughout the world migrants traveling by sea and by foot are being forced to leave their homes. It is through my own love of place that I can possibly understand their grief and their uncertainty.

Love of place. For those of us who live by the fruit of the earth we are inexplicably bound to her. Love of place is essential to our well being and it is hard to comprehend living without it.

Many of us have lost this relationship to land and I suggest to you that it may well be the cause of much of the disharmony and disrespect that we witness today.

Science now tells us that we need more time in Nature. This is something that our hearts have always known.