We don’t know where the day will end up when we open our eyes to it. We don’t know how our lives will go even as we make our plans and pray our prayers. We don’t know where stories will lead, where roads will take us, or even where our own thoughts will meander. Continue reading “I Didn’t Know”
Celebrating Firsts and Lasts in the summer sun at our small-town County Fair
I woke to the roaring whisper of the wind through the treetops. It held me those first few minutes, like a song can hold a memory, and then the rain came. Quietly at first, it was the tuning of an orchestra on my rooftop before it burst into the bold sounds of brass and percussion.
It felt exquisitely “summer” lying awake to the sound of a warm rain. I had long since kicked off the quilt and lay with only the sheet covering my body. The ceiling fan kept the air moving and I shifted to my other side once more, one arm under my head and the other cradling my growing abdomen. Continue reading “As Summer as the Fair”
Sometimes you have to stop everything and listen to the wisdom of the winds and the wild things and the five-year old’s.
I stood on the top of the kitchen crossbeam, my hands braced on a log rafter, scrubbing the fish-fry grease that had floated, landed, and collected dust for all of last summer’s resort season. The gray water dripped down my wrist and collected in my sweatshirt. With one hand dirty and the other securing my precarious balance, a nose itch or hair in my eye had to be meditated away. “Clean the logs” was my only agenda. With my perch, even thinking wasn’t a wise distraction.
But then my Iris, in her five-year-old exuberance about bird nests and first dandelions and pretty rocks from the gravel road, came running loudly into the cabin. Continue reading “Paying Heed”
Henry David Thoreau once said, “As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.” Continue reading “A Thousand Thank You’s”
Column 18 Published in the January 12, 2016 issue of the Warroad Pioneer
Spending any amount of time in these north woods means that sooner or later you’ll encounter a wolf or wolves. I’ve watched one cross our front yard. I’ve seen them traveling across the ice or along the road. I’ve come across tracks, a kill site and have listened to their mournful calls under cold and clear skies a handful of times.
Encounters are rare but not exceedingly so, and even passing visitors may happen across such a gift.
There was a time not too long ago when the popular sentiment in this anti-progressive area was “shoot to kill” at the very sight of a wolf, even when the animal was simply being its animal self, not posing any threat to human, pet or livestock.
According to the Department of Natural Resources, wolves in the sub-boreal forests of northeastern Minnesota independently kept the wolf population alive in the lower 48 states for many years. And after a reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, wolves are finally being understood for the ecologically important species they are, changing even the behavior of the forests and the rivers.
In Minnesota, the wolf population hovers around 2,000 wolves and in 2014 they were again listed as endangered and thus protected. Since that time, there have been more unofficial moose sightings again in this area than I can recall in recent history. That may seem counter-intuitive to some, but in truth, it’s not. Wolves are connected to everything in our natural world.
Since moving to The Angle, I’ve found wolves weaving themselves through my experiences and my writing, symbolizing for me a metaphysical return to the wild, to my intuition and the great wide open that our wilderness and our lifestyle freedoms imbue.
Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés wrote in her impactful tome “Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype” a truth that rings through my psyche even today: “Go out in the woods, go out. If you don’t go out in the woods nothing will ever happen and your life will never begin.”
I first read her book on my gloomy commute to and from the chilly halls of Microsoft when I lived in Seattle. There then came a point in my city existence when it became abundantly clear that I needed to get back to the land, back to the water, back to home.
And so I did.
Every creature on earth returns to home. Home represents protection and freedom. We as humans understand that the loss of habitat is the most disastrous event that can occur to a free creature, and so we create refuge for all sorts when it is needed. We embrace their wildness, and yet we quash our own. Just as we pushed out the wolves, we have pushed out our own wild nature, fled from our homes and denied our intuition, thereby killing our voices, our creativity, and our natural inclinations to empathy and compassion.
This returning to home and habitat for me has been a journey back to an earthy intuition and reclamation of self and soul that has made me nearly unrecognizeable to many who thought they knew me. But no matter. As I read in Women Who Run With the Wolves, “It is worse to stay where one does not belong at all than to wander about lost for a while and looking for the psychic and soulful kinship one requires”
Bringing it back to the wolves, I wanted to share a short vignette I wrote after a simple but magical encounter a few years back. May we all run with our hearts and minds gifted to the winds, to the wilds, to the wolves as this new year breaks, passes and is soon forgotten. Happy 2016 all.
“Wolf,” he said softly, unnecessarily, breaking the long quiet on our early commute to town. My eyes had already been following the loping animal for several moments and even from a great distance it had registered quickly that this was not a deer or fox.
The wolf changed direction and crossed our road, still at the comfortable gallop that lent it both nonchalance and regality. As it reached the tree line, my eye caught the outline of its partner sitting alert and stoic. “Two wolves!” my heart whispered.
They met then, and the running wolf stopped and turned back to watch us as we crossed its original trail. I could see the rich grays and whites of a thick winter coat, its dark eyes and wide paws.
These were healthy wolves, aware and unafraid, perhaps on the hunt or simply traveling as wolves do. Their trained eyes burned into us as we slowed just slightly, watching, meeting their gaze. When the eerie, hair-raising feelings of years-ago experiences and learned expectations didn’t arrive, I was gently and instantly flooded with warm gratitude at being in their presence, at having witnessed a moment of their journey.
They would assign no meaning to this briefest of encounters, would not recollect beyond the noises and associations with the road, the vehicle, humans. Even that, who knows.
But for me, the vibration of it rang sweetly and clearly for many miles. The grid lines of connected experience flashed visible for another instant. I felt right and true on a path that has offered small support and only minimal delineation of late.
Seeing little point in miring myself in those gray thoughts, my mind stayed with the Wolves, running on their wooded trails, crossing silent, snowy fields, following just the idea of a scent.
Joyous, without labeling it joy. Free, without defining it so or understanding its opposite.
I whispered my thanks to the trees as our vehicle sped on, trusting they would keep my message until it could be passed on to the rightful recipients.
Column 8 Published in the August 11 Warroad Pioneer
It occurred to me some time ago, as I watched my two-year old run joyously up and down the grassy ditches of our driveway, that this glacier-smoothed prairie land isn’t flat to her. She has mountains to climb every day, valleys to explore, caverns and arroyos. There is no cellular longing in her for the great pines that used to anchor the soil and the wolves here. No ancestral guilt for the unchecked logging of a century ago that left us with only the fast growing birch, popple and balm of gilead. “Junk wood” as I’ve heard it called by the old timers. When you’ve survived sixty some winters on the sweat of your own labor cutting, hauling, stacking, and tending to the fires, I suppose you’ve earned the right to judge the wood that warms your family.
The land feels flat to me of late. I walked the road, and the curing crunch of gravel underfoot offered up only a minor healing tonic. “The world is too much with us, late and soon. Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.” Wordsworth knew. He saw clearly the growing disconnect with nature. My distracted mind can’t see the summer moss and mushroom patches. The wild lilies bloomed and broke, and I barely noticed.
This place, this Angle drew me home four years ago this September and never have I regretted it. But the worldly world still pulls and tugs and busy-ness erodes the rhythm of deep, barefoot breathing. The sunrise and sunset of the harvest blue moon sang quietly through my window as I worked diligently at my computer, its ghastly light interrupting sleep patterns and dream therapy.
We’ve moved from one reactive happening to the next this spring and summer. Northerly Park grant planning, a friend’s death, a sibling’s wedding, a 300+ person community event, and oh my gosh, potty training. Why did no one tell me it’s so hard!? I read a how-to book, for goodness sake, and felt like a fool doing so, but I’ve been at my wit’s end too many times these last many months. Still it drags on.
Our Angle Days event will be behind me when this goes to press, but now, as it breathes down my neck like a disorganized dragon, I wonder how it always comes together like it does. Each year, we bite off more and more, plan bigger and broader, invite, advertise, market – all in hopes to share this place, this simple beautiful life.
And as the stress roils, the Angle works its silent magic to gently bring me back.
Today it was the east wind and a soft blanket of rain that reminded me, brought me home. I stared over a flat gray lake and let the mist meet my skin just as I used to in the monotone winters of the Pacific Northwest.
You have forgotten, the wind breathed to me. This is The Angle. This is the truth of life. Somehow, someway it all always works out perfectly. Everything is as it should be. Even the spending and getting. Even the flatness.
You have chosen to remember, it said, sweeping across the miles of rocky shorelines and untouched islands of Lake of the Woods, bringing the cleansing rain as easterlies always seem to do. Remember you are home. Remember you are whole. Remember you are enough.
Now go. Get up. Run with the wolves again. Show your little one just how majestic these flatland hills truly are.
Column 4: Published in the June 16th issue of the Warroad Pioneer
Unless we count the times a bear or varmint gets into our garbage, there is no curb-side trash collection at the Angle. Recycling is even more of a beast. We have a designated place to dispose of frying oil, used batteries and propane cylinders, old mattresses and furniture, dead appliances and every kind of scrap wood and metal you can imagine. Glass, aluminum, tin cans and old paint all have their place.
But plastic, the material that most desperately needs to be recycled, has no nearby home to retire too. Mostly to appease my conscious, my household has started saving and hauling the appropriately numbered plastic containers the hour+ drive into Warroad to use the recycling facilities beneath the big blue water tower.
We keep vast quantities and varieties of unrecyclable plastic bags and containers in our home and use them however we can, but more plastic than I care to admit still ends up in the trash. Every time I throw away a plastic bag, I picture it tumbling in the wind all the way to the coast to join its petroleum-based brethren in the massive trash swirl in the Pacific Ocean. Harder to think about for me is the fact that more animals and marine life than we’ll ever know are incapacitated or killed by our errant trash.
I moved here from Seattle, where everyone is snobbishly greener than thou. It comes from the best-intentioned, most organic of places, of course. Chief Seattle, in his long-forgotten wisdom, once said, “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”
Unless you are a hermit deep, deep in the woods – which used to be possible here at the Angle, not so anymore – it’s impossible to live a plastic-less life. It is everywhere, in everything. Those little scrubbing microbeads in the beautifully marketed toothpastes and face and body washes? Yeah, they’re plastic. And they can’t be recycled. Once they’ve gone down the drain, there is literally no way to remove them from the environment. Wildlife aren’t just ingesting them; we are as well now too.
Kinda sorta makes you want to be a hermit, doesn’t it? If you live at the Angle, you most certainly have the hermit gene running through your blood. Here, when the time calls for it, and far beyond what is healthy in some cases, we can hunker down in our homes and our stories, avoid nearly all social interaction if we so choose and put that time to work on dissolving whatever is clunking around in our minds. Hermiting is not glamorized as it may have been thirty years ago when stories of the Angle’s Philosophical Hermit were newspaper worthy. “Uncle Houston,” my siblings and I called him. I remember him getting ice cream in his beard after he’d eaten a third heaping helping of Grandma Grace’s spaghetti.
We nearly had another true hermit resident this past winter. Through the January cold and into our lives he walked, on foot–as walking tends to happen–bringing with him a new conversation topic and a new cause for uproar in our tiny little nest of a community. “The Woodsman,” we called him. He could talk for hours. He used plastic bags. When he wasn’t borrowing the shelter of the church building or looking for $10 worth of chores to do, he lived in a den he had built in the woods. Fire was cancer-causing, so he used body heat alone to weather the cold nights. The next day he’d walk down to Jerry’s for a cancer-free double cheeseburger and fries.
I was so rooting for him to settle in and play his cards right, partly because I root for people and partly because I love a good story and an interesting character. He seemed a lost young man with glimpses of solid Angle potential. But as more and different stories emerged, background checks revealed and personal interaction confirmed, our exclusively inclusive community realized he didn’t fit. it was decided by the squeaky wheels that his time here was up. We ran him out of “town” politely and humanely. I cried. And then I felt grateful to not draw the curtains and lock the doors once more.
At the very least, it was a far cry better than how we handle a nuisance bear getting into our garbage. But there I go getting political again…