Burn

The skies have been dark this week, the air stagnant and toxic. I can feel the burn in my throat. I can only think “this is how it will be forever now. Every summer now will burn.” Summer skies filled with smoke, blue turns grey, and ashen. I am sad, the kind of sad you’re not supposed to talk about. I  didn’t know I would see the change in my lifetime, not really. You know your hear about these things, this climate disaster, global warming. But it is all far away, apocalypse abstract.

These last few summers its been in no way abstract, it has been here, present and beside me. I am unable to turn away. My once blue summer Oregon skies have gone dark. We can not ignore the  truth. It’s closing time. This is only the beginning. Get ready for the fall, there will be darkness.

Our world burns.
Today smoke fills the skies
my throat, lungs and eyes.
Blue sky, a memory of summer gone now.
The earth is hot
103 in Redding yesterday
10,000 people evacuate
running from the flames.
Their cars are hot, on scorched highways
the fumes from their tailpipes fill the sky.
What of those that cannot run?
No gas in their tanks or
money in their banks.
What if they are ill?
In body or mind, those who choose to stay behind.
What of the winged ones, and the 4 legged
It is all too much to bear.
Tonight- the moon is orange and amber
a dark glow in the sky.
It seems to me she is looking down and weeping.
So am I.

 

Marianna Louise Jones

Clear Cut, Reclaiming the Desecrated Lands

I walked alone, gravel beneath my feet, rough even through the soles of my worn rubber boots. These are not boots for hiking but foolishly were all I had brought with me. I love them, red and well fitting, perfect for foraging in wet land and working in my garden, less than ideal for gravel and elevation changes. Yet, they would do. I walked slowly, no dog, no company, I set my own pace. The pace at which I could absorb the most green freshness possible, breathing it into my lungs, my whole body aching for this, this communion with the more than human world.

I had gathered greens already that day, the sink at the cabin had a large bowl of nettles in water waiting for me to feast on them that evening. My foraging bag hung empty, tied to a strap on my backpack, no goal in mind, no aim. I simply walked.
It is cool along Shot Pouch creek, dense canopy above and moving water beside the road creating a tunneled effect, breeze moving through, kissing my body. It was not hot, but warm in the sun and to walk there, in the shade felt divine.

As I crossed a small bridge and rounded a bend in the road, my path began to move upward, leaving the creek behind, now only a small trickling stream ran beside me, silent as it moved over rocks and fallen branches, forming the occasional 3 inch deep pool, travelling down to meet with the waters of Shot Pouch. Ahead the canopy was fading, giving way to sunlight. I could see the brightness ahead of me as I continued to climb, focusing on the plant life, the birds, 3 butterfly varieties I had never seen before. And then I was in the sun.

I stopped suddenly, trees behind me, in front of me a graveyard. A torn mountain top, a logging truck abandoned on the side of the road, tires flat and vines growing up, reclaiming it, nature is not elitist, she takes everything as her own. I felt stunned a moment, unable to walk, I just stared. I have never been in a clear cut before, harsh and jarring, I could smell the sawdust in the sun, the wind was stronger here, the butterflies were gone.

Desecration- there is no land that is sacred and land that is not sacred, only land that is sacred and land that has been desecrated. The many stumps were themselves torn, a jagged line through the center of each, a spikey crest where the wood tore as the tree fell. The piles of branches, bark and snags were huge, 15 feet high or so. The entire surface of the earth covered with the remnants of the fallen ones, littered with past lives of what once was, bodies of trees strewn like waste on the ground.

“What was it like to watch them fall?” I asked the still standing trees, my heart in my throat and beating very loudly. Waves of grief and recognition flowing through me, I began to walk, still climbing the road, slowly, eyes open and filled with tears.

I recalled a story told to me by my Auntie, of my brother as a young one. Seeing a logging truck roll by them as they came home from a camping trip. On seeing the logs piled high he had become very quite and then asked in his small voice ” but what happens to the souls of the trees?”
My heart broke for him, for me, for the trees who’s souls where displaced as their bodies fell. I can’t speak for all trees, or all clear cuts, and certainly not for all experiences, but for me, that day, the souls of the trees were there, circling that wreckage and wailing like banshees, longing to be seen and remembered and grieved. So grieve I did.

I walked to the top of the cut land, the edge of where green life began again, high above the pits, snags and torn earth. I sat among the dry rubble, rough under my legs, took my boots off and put my feet on the broken pieces of life resting under me. A wise teacher I am blessed to know has told me, “look for your God’s in desecrated places, you may find them hiding there.” I looked, looked hard with my eyes and my heart, and sure enough, the land rose up in answer to me. I could feel the love and longing of this place, the loneliness, the heartbreak. So much like my own.

Hunger growled in my belly, so I took my food out of my pack, this feeling like the right place to take my simple meal. Eggs, cold sausage, seed crackers. I ate there in the scarred land, high above the world. Looking out over the clear cut and beyond to hills forested and green, bird songs filled the trees behind me and circling over the barren land, birds of prey glided softly on currents of air. It was right and good to eat there, feeding my body as my prayers fed the land, feeding my soul as the land filled me. Greif and reverence mixing together in my gut. A witness to this destruction, a sorrowful ambassador, atoning in my way for the wrongs of my own kind.

I spoke to the land, poured out my prayers, begged for forgiveness, poured a libation of spring water on the parched earth, sang medicine songs and stood with me feet bare and my eyes open, sometimes seeing is enough, sometimes speaking is enough, and sometimes nothing is enough, the pain still remains. Some wrongs cannot be righted, sometimes contrition is the best we can give.

As I sat and prayed, my eyes and mind began to see another layer to this place, life. Clinging desperately to the hillsides, growing and rooting even in this seemingly unlikely place.  Sword ferns burned by sun, Salal cheerfully spreading her leaves, Oregon grape so very hearty, even small trees beginning to again root here. Life returning to the land, maybe it had never left, some survived, some remained. A bright bird, red and gold, so very exotic for Oregon, burst forth from the trees behind me in joyful song. Life.

The sun growing lower in the sky I began to make my way down the hill, still speaking to the land and fallen trees, my voice the only tool for healing that I carry with me always. Words with intention have a magic of their own. I picked up a piece of wood, my intention being to take it home, to keep this place with me, to bless and love, to gather in that which was torn apart. Then stopped again to put it down, realizing that it was not mine to take, perhaps that one wanted to stay there, close to the ones that it fell with, touched by sun and rain, kissed by wind and snow, part of this place, not mine.

As I bent to set it down, kissed it and put its body on the earth, my eye saw a familiar shape, Morel. Morel! Here in this harsh dry place a proud mushroom stood, growing in the bark pile at the verge of the road. I was elated, never having found them before, and my gathering sack still hanging near my hip. I felt a knowing in my body that these ones were for me.  A gift from the land, a precious gift. I gathered just a few, cutting them with my small knife. A knife made for me by the hands of my dear husband, may be my most treasured possession, to use it in this way so fitting, so very right. These ones would come with me, in me, become me. This place now living in my bones.

IMG_0343IMG_0346IMG_0356IMG_0358IMG_0359IMG_0364

 

 

 

Longing for Home

There is living in me a deep yearning. It pulls at me, like the ocean waves dragging back out at low tide. The intensity changes, the force ebbs and flows, but the tide always comes back in and goes back out again. I am not sure quite what the yearning is for, it is a somehow felt sense that there is more than all of this. More than work and play, more than family and obligations, more than creative work, even more than joy. It is a pull equal to the calling of the magnetized lines of the earth that call to the flocks of geese that make there way south in the winter, spilling out in long v shaped formations through the sky overhead. There is something missing, we have lost that which makes us human, I do not know my way home anymore, I do not know if home exists. Not here, not now. How do we make home alive again? How do we learn to become human?

A wise man once told me “hold on to your NO.” This is the “NO” that screams in the night, that this is not the way it all should be, we are built for more than this. We have been robbed. This is the “NO” that echoes in my bones and pulls at my heart like that ebbing tide. People talk all the time, this is wrong, that is wrong, it is all wrong. Hell, I am one of those people….but this “NO” is deeper. This does not speak simply of what is wrong, but of where we went wrong. What befell a people whereby more than half the women take medicine to make their lives palatable? Whereby children are drugged to sit in school all day, forced to ignore the innate wisdom of their own young bodies urge to be free? Oh, wait, there I go again…asking what is wrong, it’s a beginning I will give you that, but a sorely one. My skill at deeper questioning is still a developing one, I am a fledgling, seeking meaning, falling hard onto rough ground.

As Painful as it is to hold this aching longing in me, to feel the resounding NO! that echoes in the air… there is beauty here too. To have this heart that sees the folly of our cultural doctrines and searches desperately for more, is a true gift. If I could not feel the pull, I would not dare to ask the questions, or to embark on the perilous journey of seeing what is hidden, hearing what is silenced, feeling what hurts so deeply. The cult of hope and potential would have me firmly in its grip. As it stands I have found a chink in the armor of this empire, a small fissure in the stone of cultures wall. I can place my finger tip there, and feel a breeze on the other side. The whisper of how it all could be. I have abandoned hope, but I have something much truer, faith. I have faith that we can learn, and unlearn, break down and build up, fetch and carry. Grow a new way of living in right relationship with the wild eyed world we dwell on and in.

I hold my “NO” close to my breast, I hold it like a soft flame, tending it from the wind that blows, like a tiny rabbit, so small yet so strong. My body feels the “NO”  and tells me when I must remember to kindle it alive. When I am torn between ease and rigor, when I might choose the shortest way but the longest is the truer path, when I might say what I do not mean but mean what I do not say. My “NO” beats loudly in my ears and whispers sweetly but urgently…”Don’t go back to sleep….”

Sometimes I do not know where to turn, what comes next, how to proceed or believe. Yet I do feel the silent aching pull of my body, calling for home. I know ways to connect and give. I know the power of 3 breaths in silence before I act. I know that others too feel the call for home, for something more than all this chaos. All these busy days and sleepless nights, torrents of noise and light, the stars hiding their faces behind the glow of cityscapes electric fog. From a 1000 miles away I can feel your hand reaching for mine. I can feel soft soil calling for our feet to bless her with their footprints. I can hear a soft high fiddle that plays as we gather around the fire at night, voices joining with her stringed melody. I know the feeling of your body warm and swaying next to mine, hand in hand. Visions of home calling us. I can taste it on my tongue. I am hungry.

 

Finding my Dead~Bones Reclaimed

I have never been a gamer, you know, those who delight in hours down the rabbit hole of an alternate reality created by the enticing electronic stimulus a video game system can provide. I have however known and loved, many who have the obsession. I can now, after weeks obsessing over Ancestry.com, honestly say that I think I understand how they feel. The critic in me would of course say that the mystery I am uncovering is real… not some illusion or story, but my real and true past. But that would be to split hairs, and not serve my story here in any way. I make the comparison to gaming as that activity seems to me unique in its ability to hook and transfix a player into an almost hypnotic state of obsession, willing to forgo many other things in order to be in the game. I know how this feels now.

Beginning with a whim and a trial month for free, I logged on to Ancestry and began entering the names and dates of those dead I know of enough to be able to parse together some actual data about their lives. As these numbers and letters settles in to my digital family tree, the website began to pop up useful tips, data I could then click on and review to see if it matched any one in my own tree…fascinating!
I found birth and death records, military information, lines of kin all the way back to the 1700’s when my people were still living in Scotland, Ireland, England, and Norway. Each time a new hint came up a flush of excitement surged through me. I rarely spend days on my computer, but this feels different. This is an investigation into my people, where I am from, and who I belong to, as well as who belongs to me.

Belong- the prefix “be” is an intensifier, creating a more powerful sense of what is precedes. “Long” to yearn after, grieve for, to anticipate, have eager desire. When we look at even this rudimentary analysis of what belong  really means, quickly it becomes apparent that it does not mean to be accepted by, or part of, as it is commonly used, but it means to long for and be longed for. In a deep, true, lasting and solid way.
This is how I am longing for the kin I never met, the ones whose bones were in the ground long before I arrived here. And you know what? They are longing for me too, across time and space, loving and hoping for me. Not in a passive angelic way, in a way that demands attention and intention. This is the heart of the longing, my dead, want to be remembered, reclaimed, restored into the web of being of all that has come before to make me now what and who I am. Remembered- to gather together and make whole again that which was once torn asunder. Just think of what Dismembered means, and you will get a feeling for Remembered. 

I have written before about this loss and longing that lives so deep inside of me, here on this blog and in poems, some shared, some as of yet still privately tucked away on pages of real paper in fine black ink, the birth place of all my best work. I will link here to a post that will, if read or reread bring greater significance to where I am now heading in  this piece. My Ancestors

The process of discovery that has taken place over this last month has been such a rich exploration, and one I will, I am sure, be sharing about much more as time goes by and I learn more and more. This history is fascinating, like a treasure hunt, I feel like an explorer uncovering lost truths. When I learn a new ancestors name and say it aloud, picture in my own small way what their life could have been like, there is an audible sigh inside of me, a settling, a calling home. They all belong here, and are longed for here, in me.

One of the discoveries that took my breath away was the fact that on my Mothers side of the family, on both her maternal and paternal lines we have kin who are buried here, in the Pacific Northwest. My great grandparents, Alys Mitchell( who in a a round about way my own daughter is named after, as my Alice is named for my aunt Alice who is named for her her grandmother, Alys.), and her Husband Ross St John McClelland are buried in Tacoma WA. My third great grandparents, my mama’s great grandparents on her mothers side, Newton and Amyetta Kirk,  are buried here, in Newberg OR, less than an hours drive from my home, in the Quaker Friends Cemetery.

No one in my family knew this! We knew that ancestors on that line of the family had come west, had homesteaded and built a life. My mom even has stories of them. How each child had to knit there own socks, and they would gather around the hearth at night and knit on the round, a few rows each day so that warm socks could be had for long winter days and nights. No knitting meant no socks for winter. Where there are stories, there is life.
So, these ones were not completely lost to time, but the finding of where their bones lie felt like a small miracle, a piece of who I am that I can claim and physically acquire, tangibly know as my own. I knew the moment I found this out, I would go see them, and soon.

Tuesday one month ago, I woke to clear skies, frost on the ground, a chill in the air, but also a brightness that comes only when cold and clear meet. Not a common occurrence here in Portland. A perfect day to make the drive to Newberg. My Mother and I drove together, enjoying the scenery and the conversation. As close as we live to one another, and as close as we are emotionally, time alone, just the two of us does not happen frequently. A pleasure indeed to undertake this pilgrimage together. Make no mistake, I do not choose the word Pilgrimage lightly. This trip had the flavor of seeking, of travelling with purpose and supplication. We were seeking the bones of our ancestors, no small or slight endeavor.

The night before, I was in conversation with my husband, expressing my joy at the opportunity to visit the graves of my relations, how moving this was for me, and in a sense how I was puzzled by how much it was effecting me. I was as excited as a seven year old on Christmas eve, the burbling feeling in my belly, joy in my throat. He paused and said to me ” when do you think the last time someone visited these graves was?” I of course, had no idea. Having no relations living here from that side of my line I can’t imagine it was recent. His question planted in me a seed of even deeper knowing that my going to visit them was of utmost importance, we are beholden to each other, tied in an invisible but very real bond of kinship that exists through time and space, eternal, tangible, alive.

Arriving at the cemetery, made our way to the office, where a kind man greeted us and walked us to the block where the graves were listed as located. He shared information about the cemetery and the area, and as we came to the graves, kindly left us there to be with our kin. We stood mama and me, and then began to talk, to clean leaves off the graves and the plates in the earth that said “Mother” and “Father”, these stones where placed at their feet, and we saw this throughout the cemetery, simple markings of parental status, claiming of the ones who bore us into this life. More powerful words there may not be, when we get down to it.

I had brought some greens to make an offering, red cedar, rosemary, and some lovely dried red berries from our yard. We set these on the headstone making a rough altar, and lit candles, in small glass votive holders. Then we, holding hands, sang to our beloved ancestors. “Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free….”  the only Quaker hymn I know,  every line or two Mama’s voice, or mine would break with a soft sob or shuddering breath. My whole life long I will remember this, this day, being with Mom in the cold bright morning, singing and speaking to our long dead kin. This is closing the loop, this is caring for the bones of our dead, this is solid action to bring this longing for them to light in my life. This is family.

After our prayers and song, we left the candles burning and walked the grounds of the cemetery. Beautiful old trees, headstones of all shapes and sizes. Stopping here and there to read names and sorrow over the death of babies young children, so many dead, so many women suffer that pain of the death of a young one. So much suffering in our past. We talked as we walked, about death and life, what it means to be human and how we can change the death phobia of our culture. I reflect here as I sit to write this, how conversations such as the one I am sharing of now, are a rare gift among mothers and daughters. To talk openly of what our dying will mean when it comes and what we want to have happen to our bodies when we no longer occupy them. This conversation will, God willing, be the first of many on this topic, as we make our way through this life together.

The prayer that is living in my heart, the one that pounds on the door so fiercely is this. May I remember them and may they remember me. May we belong to each other and claim that longing, that kinship, that hugely messy and strife ridden thing that is family. May I live in a way that is of great honor to the ones who came before, may that my way of living cause them to rejoice and call to me from the great beyond, singing to me my way home. May I be worthy of their songs and worthy of the singing of them. And may I not forget, or be too busy, or distracted, to recall that there are bones in the ground that are mine to attend to, and tending those bones is the greatest honor of my life.
May it be so….IMG_0030IMG_0029IMG_0031IMG_0031 (3)

Consequence ~ Grief and Wreckage in my Joy Filled Heart

The deep work in wondering, sorrowing and learning that took place in the most recent session of Orphan Wisdom School, with Stephen Jenkinson, is starting to settle into my bones. Just beginning to form into something I can begin to speak, or write about with some semblance of coherence. What happened there last week, or was it longer than a week now? What magic distilled in the hallowed mead hall has been imprinted on my mind, heart and spirit? This I am still in deep wondering of, and will be wondering until again, we meet next spring at the Iron God of Mercy Farm.

So much is existing in me, my mind feels swirled, upended, fractured. I can only begin to piece by piece digest all that was, in such radical hospitality, placed upon my plate. I had the blessing yesterday of a few hours in the company of my good brother, Gabriel, 9 years my junior. To sit and talk and share, my notes on my lap. He willingly, and even eagerly dove headfirst into the wondering with me. The type of wondering where each answer begets another question, shimmering in the distance, floating in the corner of your eye, tantalizing and untouchable. I longed to stay up all night after our conversation, reading, researching, etymologizing…

One theme came clear for me as a result of being gifted the time and attention to wonder allowed with Gabriel about the mystery that I have entered into in the teaching hall. Consequence~ my own, my ancestral, my lingual…so many layers rolling out before and behind me. It feels too much, too real to be true, too much to bear. The world is too much with us…from my notes, I did not write the name of who originally spoke or wrote these words, but they feel too perfect for this moment to not give them voice upon this page.

Consequence and animism live together in my current inquiry. Let us see if I can bring these concepts here in any from that could be understood by those not sitting beside me in the hall, I will do my best and if I lose you, the time is not yet right for me to speak these words or you to hear them. So be it.

For all of our time here in human form on this planet, until the very recent past and our current time, humans have lived not separate from the natural world, but in, inextricably linked, to the more than human realm that surrounds us. A lived form of animism, breathing within and around us was our way of being and relating to the world. The reductionist Newtonian way of seeing the earth and all creatures and forces that reside therein is a construct so new in the scale of human life, a blip, a heartbeat….the blink of an eye. Yet to us, who live as we now do, days when everything, no everyone( I do not mean only human ones) was infused with the power of life, seem far away, perhaps even trivial or uneducated. We see our way of living and thinking as the right way, the cultured way, the scientifically accurate way.

I can attempt to wrap my mind around animism, in fact it stirs in me a knowing that was strong in my childhood. I knew the trees had fondness for me as I did for them, I knew my fairy houses loved being tended by my small hands, that roses offered their sweet smell and perfect blooming bodies to me in an act of benevolence, and I awed at how the moon followed me as I gazed at her face from the backseat of our station wagon. These remembrances could easily be perceived as a child’s dreaming’s, fantasies of an overactive imagination, or a girl who loved Anne of Green Gables just a little too much. But no, this was real for me, and learning as I have, that this is how most peoples throughout all of time perceived the world, brings singing into my heart again. Our world, our home, this earth and all that rests on and in her, is alive and singing back to me. What a wonder, what a forgotten treasure, and….what a responsibility. Consequence.

In seeing this, it becomes so achingly clear that how I conduct myself in relation to all beings, not only animal, or plant, but All who live here, in all their varied forms, actually matters. It matters a lot. If life extends beyond the human, animal and plant kingdoms, into the realms where life may be harder to recognize as life by my human eyes, then the wake I am creating is far vaster than I have ever know. This realization brings great sorrow to my heart. I feel how hard I have become, how practical. How I participate in the genocide and destruction of fellow life mates, for the sake of my laziness and convenience. Again, I feel I should explain, I mean all that exists here beside us on the earth, from a hand carved wooden spoon, to a spatula from dollar tree.  All these ones we see as only objects, bereft of soul or meaning, all these ones we have forgotten or cast aside. After all, nothing comes to us save through the generosity and sacrifice of our earthy mother. It is all made of her body in one form or another.

I have this sense of thawing out, I have been cold as stone. Growing a granite carving in my chest where perhaps once a beating heart lived. The cold stone covering and numbing so that I don’t have to feel the sorrow we inflict on all around us. The emptiness and poverty of living in a world we see as dead, inert, and soulless. Could I survive in my present way of living if I felt my wake for what it is…
I am finding out. As I allow myself to really see and feel the life I have succumbed too, tended and accepted as my own. The cold stone of my heart melting, allowing the harsh truth to enter my consciousness, the ice drips into my belly, and cold tears run down my cheeks.

It is all too much. My own life, your life, all our lives. Broken from the chain of being into which we were born, fractured from the very life that sustains us, false separation and despair cloaking us from our sweet communion with our living earth, our kin, our birthright. How can I now seeing this survive here? My mind keeps travelling back in time, to our first June night in the teaching hall, when Stephen said “First, I will simply say I am sorry” Many of us laughed. It seemed then a lighthearted thing to say, almost in jest. I had no idea how true it was, how he knew then what now I am just learning. That to embark on this path of learning will cause an inner crumbling of all we thought we knew, of much that we have held dear.

There are things that in seeing cannot be unseen, perhaps you can hide your eyes awhile, hide from yourself for a time, but truth once seen will demand to be seen again. To try to un-see or rationalize or ignore is only a recipe for greater suffering and disaster. It is crack head wisdom, searching for just one more day before you make the terrifying change, before you feel the pain.

The maw of western cultures open, hungry jaws looms in front of me. Demanding to be fed.  Fed by my worry, my adherence to the clock, my chronic sense of not enoughness. Simultaneously the sweet earth calls to me to be seen, the breezes kiss my face, the arborvitae I pass each day on the way to my office wriggles with excitement when I stroke her green body, just as my dog does. These parallel and conflicting realities are both residing in me. Waves of  cognitive dissonance washing over my shores. I am shipwrecked.

My efficient process driven mine is looking for a quick fix, a 3 step process to incorporate animism into my life and arrive at a place where once again my future is planned and steady. This part of my is pissed that I am not complying to its plan. I am not complying because God knows it will not work, there is no 3 step process, hell there isn’t even a 12 step process for this! There are no answers now, only more questions, more ponderings, more palms to the forehead, more tears. I do the only thing I know to do, as small as it may seem. I sit here, typing on these small black keys, finding words to fit this screen, finding out what I need to say as I add line after line to this page.

I made some tea just now, boiling water in my sturdy stainless steel kettle, a prized possession, or should I say, a good friend.. the water boiled quickly, steaming from her spout as I poured over the tea bag. Algonquin Tea – Lucid Dreaming. Herbs from far away now brewing in my mug. A friendly mug, shaped to rest in my hand just so, shaped by other hands, hands I do not know and have never touched. I know this mug so well, the familiar shape so comforting, the warmth of its touch. I love this mug, who brings my tea and coffee faithfully to my lips. I have never heeded how much life is here, in all these years I have never really seen this vessel that serves me so well. Smooth tea, smooth warm lip of the mug meeting my lips, a kiss of sorts. How tender my heart feels in seeing this, in seeing her. Her green curves are subtly female in form. I am awash with gratitude.

I think I’ll take it. Settle in, let my stone heart melt and feel my life. Let my mouth make love to the sweet form of my mug and the smoothness of the tea that slips in to nourish me. I think its worth the pain, of seeing how destructive I have been and will be still, how callous and brash. I can grieve my blundering ways and move forward with contrition. Open to learning how to be a human in this living world. For now I seek communion in this tea, and comfort in a book and my welcoming bed, who oh so gently holds me as I take my nightly rest.

  • the above quote in italics  is from William Wordsworth…This was brought to my attention by a another scholar who has become a dear friend, and who apparently takes better notes than I do! Thank you Jess.

A Mournful Beauty

I spent last week in Ontario, another session of Orphan Wisdom School complete. I am left with the richness of love and heartbreak that this endeavor of learning has filled me with. I would not want it any other way. Before I stepped onto this path all I had was an aching, painful, grey sense that life was not supposed to be this way. I am now learning to articulate in some small and humble way, why it came to be this way and what we are collectively longing for and grieving. Perhaps I should not say articulating, since as I sit here at this keyboard I feel at a loss to even begin to convey the majesty and wonder of what transpired in Golden Lake last week. I am not yet a master of this mother tongue I wield. So I will simply offer here a poem, some of that which comes from the place in me that is digesting, composting, fermenting the learnings that took place. More will be shared when the gods of time deem it right, for now, just this…

Where do the brokenhearted go?
Carrying on their shoulders the weight
of ten thousand years of sorrow
still tall under the burden
eyes open, there is no place to hide.
Let us walk together now.
Lean your troubles on my troubles
Rest your weight against my shoulder
dark times have come for sure.
As we stand to face,
what was behind us, and before us
all along.
The only place I know to go
calls to me so sweetly,
and then howls in the voice of a wolf.
Turn to the river that flows
mound the troubles deep and wide,
this canoe can hold plenty of weight
push of the shores that are no more
let us trust ourselves now to the river
eddies flow around us,
time and abundance carry us on.
Here is my hand…come-come
I will carry the weight with you.

© Marianna Louise Jones 2017

I too, am Animal

I wrote this poem last May. While away at my first solo writers retreat. You can read more about that experience here,  A New Old Forest, My Birthday, and the Power of Following my Heart, a few poems are in that post as well. I am sharing  this poem today as it seems to connect so well to my post from yesterday, A Measure of Worth. This inquiry around worth has been burbling inside me for some time, asking to be examined. I do not usually write in rhyme, but for some reason quite a few of my poems from this particular retreat came in the form of rhymed couplets, I do not know how I feel about that, to be honest… but here it is. I desire to share this anyway. Rhymed couplets and all .

I too, am Animal

Swallow does not question God,
he just proceeds to fly
Bear is steadfast in his good,
he needs no reason why.
Deer knows she is worthy,
it was built within her bones.
But somehow, I have lost my way,
can find no path to home.
Otter plays and feeds herself,
she does not need a list.
To track her time and plan her days,
to make sure nothings missed.
Yet it seems that I have chosen,
to live another life.
Away from being animal,
in worry, debt and strife.
I doubt my good, I cannot fly,
I rarely play or fish.
I live my life within white walls,
And always have a list.
To check a box, to prove I’m good,
To set the markers high.
So that I deserve a place to live,
I rarely question why.
Yet somethings shifting in my bones,
I am seeing crystal clear.
That I have picked the short straw,
I would rather live as Deer.
Or Bear or Otter for that part,
live free and take the risks.
Then settle into servitude,
and securities deadly “gifts”.
I’ll tear my hair from its confines,
Let my face grow brown with mud.
And sun and wind and wildness,
feet planted on the ground.
I’ll bathe in rivers cold and clean,
until my skin is pink.
And live on wild berries,
and the shoots and leaves of green,
I return to the Earth,
And her enormous lap.
To suckle on the breast of God,
And never to look back.
Oh, culture you have tricked us well,
But you have not won just yet.
I return to the wild now,
With no pains of regret.
Welcome me home-
Sweet green ground.
Take me as your own,
The bride of life,
The soils wife,
Marvelous and brown.

 

~ Marianna Jones 2017

 

A Measure of Worth

What does it mean to be worthy? This thought has been gathering in the corners of my mind for some time now, and in fact I have done some writing on this line of inquiry, but nothing that seems to articulate the true question I have fermenting in my heart. It is not how does one become worthy, but what does this worthy even mean, and where did this concept originate from?

In Indigenous cultures living their original life ways the idea that one could be worthy or unworthy would seem preposterous. Being human, being alive, you are obviously part of the fabric of life and therefore belonging to your people, sharing in life and community, and the joys and struggles therein. I am reminded as I write this of the stories of early missionaries attempting to bring the concept of original sin and baptism to native populations, who were so thrown off by the idea that they would just laugh at the missionaries. It was preposterous! Of course babies are not born as sinners, what an insane concept that it. I believe those cultures, so much older and wiser then our own, would have had the same reaction to this idea, spoken and unspoken that we all carry here in the west, that we are somehow unworthy and can attain worthiness through actions and appearances. Through becoming something other than what we are right now.

The etymological roots of the word worth come from multiple sources and cultures and vary some through the ages.  Many sources state a connection to value, price or merit. Old English, weorp, has the meaning of high value, equivalent, prized, but also hence, and toward. So you see even woven into the roots of this word we so casually and thoughtlessly use is this idea that we are heading toward something, that we are becoming. My teacher Stephen Jenkinson eloquently speaks about the concept of hope being a cruel sort of tyranny. I would propose that this idea of worth and the false god of hope live very close to one another, perhaps they are even bedfellows.

The idea that hope is anything less than a supreme healing and guiding force has been a hard sell for me I must say. I have long loved and quoted our dear Emily Dickenson’s poem that so beautifully states “hope is the thing with feathers that perches on the soul, and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.” It has taken some time, sweat and befuddlement to arrive where I sit today, knowing that in hope we lose the moment we are in, forgoing the life we are in for an illusory golden someday that will, as much as we desire it to, never come to pass. When I fall into judgment of how my life looks, when I question my value in the world, my worth, I collapse into the idea that someday I will be more than I am now. This is a false belief.

I do not mean to say that I will never change, no contrary to that, I am changing all the time. I grow older, and a little wiser. I become more grounded and kinder. All this is true. And yes I can make more money and travel, finally write a book, get in better shape. All this can happen. Yet none of this changes who I am , and none of it affects my worth, or perceived lack there of. I am, by birthright, whole. This idea that is lodged in our culture and thereby in me, that I will someday be more worthy, is an illusion, a false god, a decoy.

I believe that trying to be of more worth, takes me away from the deeper work of  trying to be more me. It isn’t just me suffering with this affliction. I would wager that most of us, living in the west, suffer with this same damaged and distorted thinking. Fall prey tp that false god of perfection and attainment, and go to bed worrying about what we aren’t and what we could be, if we tried harder, if we had more self control, if we had a different set of circumstances at our doorstep. I know I do. I know many nights my last thought is a plan of how I will do better tomorrow, and on waking my first thought is how I will do better today. The idea of just being ok with how I am now, and now, and now…seems almost impossible. What would I do with my life if I was not chasing some ghost of perfection and worth?

The self help world does not help. I can scarcely begin to imagine how many guides to finding your worth, creating self worth rituals and becoming worthy there are lining the shelves of the local new age bookstores. The sorrowful thing is that as well meaning as this all is, it is actually nothing more than a distraction and a fantasy. What if we could simply feel that we were already worthy, that we have great value, that we are in fact mandatory to life as we know it. How would it feel to live in that reality? Awesome, it would feel awesome. You know who would not feel awesome about it? The publishers of self help books, the marketers that sell us products, the fashion industry, the car sales lots. The list could go on and on.

The capitalist, puritanical, colonizing voice of our culture sings loudly in our ears, ‘you are not enough” from the cradle to the grave, and we listen. We listen and we purchase. If we stay distracted by this never ending hunt for value and a sense of worth, we will continue chasing our tails in circles in a dark room. It is by turning to face the faceless voice that beguiles us, and challenging it that we can begin to come into right relationship with our own lives and the lives of those around us. You cannot put a price on that. It is valueless, or, is in invaluable.

As a woman living in North America I am personally deeply and darkly acquainted with this quest for feeling enough, and I see it in other woman as well. We all walk around quoting the same two lies, I am fine, and everything is ok. We say it so much we believe it, we say it so much when another woman breaks the mold, we condemn her. We are our own thought police. Living in cages that we have created and enforced, the cell walls of our own denial of suffering. In failing to speak our fears and inadequacies we add bars to the cage, so that less light can come through. All this is part of the ruthless oppression of the concept of worth and the constant searching and hoping that we can become more worthy and more whole.

I do not know how to banish from  mind and spirit the idea that I am unworthy. I do not know how to disconnect from my cultural conditioning and let go of these thought patterns that live so deeply in me. This way of viewing myself and my life may be here for the long haul. Thank god I do know, that I do not have to believe everything I think, and that shame cannot live in the light. It is dwells in the unspoken darkness and does not care for conversation. In being brave enough to dissect in myself this worthiness lie, and speaking of this process to others, I am putting a nail in the coffin of this manifestation of our cultural madness.

Healing does not happen in isolation, it happens in community. In the community that I share my sorrow, grief and shame in, and in my own inner community. I am learning to welcome home the parts of me that I have been hiding from. Learning that the very things I have felt made me unworthy are actually some of my greatest gifts. Retrieving  the pieces of me that I abandoned and beginning to do the work of figuring out why I abandoned them in the first place. This internal family that makes up who I am.

Instead of measuring my worth, I want to feel my life. Knowing that simply being here is enough.. The pleasures of having a body, a quite moment alone before dawn, the unspeakable beauty of morning birdsong. I am as whole as the birds that sing, as worthy of life’s beauty and abundance as the squirrels that visit each day. I do not have to be, do or change anything in order to claim my place in the order of things. I simply and sweetly show up in my life, and today, that is enough.

 

 

Soul Food

A few weeks ago, the Fourth day of September. I gathered in some of my closest kin, to my home for a very special dinner. It was a celebration, as well as a declaration of who I am and who I am becoming. I invited my beloveds to come, feast and hear, what I could share, in my  own stumbling way, of the learning that was bestowed on and in me in my first session of Orphan Wisdom School.
I prepared food all day long…
A leg of lamb, to honor my Scottish Kin.
A Potatsalat(Norwegian Potato Salad) to bring in my Norse roots.
Fresh cucumber salad, an ode to the bounty of Oregon summer gardens, my homeland.
Bakewell Tart with a British custard sauce, to honor my English ancestors.
The meal was scrumptious, a victory for me as I was creating foods that I had never cooked before, not my usual when having a dinner party. Everything came out so delicious, the timing was right, the flavors on point. I truly enjoyed treating my loved ones to such a feast, that I prepared with my own hands. I also send a shout out here to my little brother, Gabriel who chopped, diced and supported me throughout the last mad dash to get the foods on the table.

The real beauty was in the people around me and the love shared that night. As the food came to the table and we gathered in. I welcomed them, and lit two beeswax candles. One for all those who came before us, and one for my dear sister Sarah who was working in another state and could not be with us in the flesh. She was invited in through the flickering flames of that small candle. I shared a poem, in the place of a prayer, not that there is much difference… the power, the cadence, the same felt sense of the sacred.

As we joined in a spirit of convivium, I shared some of my learning. Although I must say that it felt like a paltry offering in the face of the immensity of the undertaking of knowledge imparted to me at school. How could I weave a web that even begins to touch the depth, power and sorrow of my studies? I regret that I could not. Years of learning, speaking and grieving will need to pass before I can do anything close to justice to the grandeur of these teaching.

And yet, that is not really the point. My heart is called to this work and I have answered that call. I gathered in my loved ones and welcomed them into this piece of my life which is so sacred to me. I cooked for them with the wood chips saved from a spoon I carved in Ontario, each chip seen as the sacred thread of the web of life it is. I blessed the food with song an prayer. I wove into each mouthful the bit of grace I have to offer, and offer it I did. My ancestors, back and back and back, the good, the bad, and the ugly were all honored on this night. All given a place at the table. That is the point. That I showed up in my life to offer of myself, of my heart. And it was received with deep gratitude.

How blessed I am, to have not only a family of origin that holds me and sings my life back to me, but also one that hears the deep call of my soul, and at least for a time, sits with me as I sing my song. My Parents, my siblings, my husband, my daughter and her partner and some dear friends, all there to hear my voice and offer to me their attention and sincere interest. I could not ask for anything more.

I still have some chips of maple, and somewhere in the garden at Orphan Wisdom School lies the spoon that came from that branch. It was carved by my hands, with  a knife made completely by the hands of my husband. The chips may long to be wedded again to the body of the spoon but they are with me. Saved for a time when I can again light a fire and offer their fragile bodies to the flame that cooks another meal, one I will share with my dear sister, Sarah. I will tell her then the story that I need to tell, and gather her into my heart and the folds of my learning.

This meal, this learning, this sorrow in my heart. It is all part of my becoming. Becoming a woman of consequence. Holding my place in this world. Owning my life and living on purpose and with purpose. I matter. You matter. We matter. As humans we come in with original gifts, our offerings, our destiny. I am on the road of destiny, I cannot call it a happy one. I can only say that this grief soaked time in which we live is all I know and I will walk it faithfully until my end time comes.  And as I walk I will gather my people in, offer a hand and say in my strong clear voice ” welcome home, let us feed our souls together”

OWS1OWS3

The Age of Lonesome Hearts

I have a confession to make. I am a lonely woman. Surrounded by love and friendship, with work that feeds my heart and creativity that feeds my soul, I am lonely all the same. I have been witnessing in myself and in others for some time now this deep and tender longing for community. Not the fragmented and separate social interactions so many of us call friendship. Not the frenetic busyness of activity and obligation. Not the planned excursions and classes. Though these all have value in their own way, they are a  poor balm for the deep wound of the lost web of a tribe.  No, what I am hungry for, ravenously craving, is the village.

What has befallen us as a people and a culture that we have arrived here, in this state of abject relational poverty, disconnected from the sense of wholeness that in all times before our own held us together as a single living organism. An interconnected system of reciprocal relationship, a messy, gloriously burdensome and indebted way of being  whole, that at this point in time is nothing but the glimmer of a memory in our blood. The bonds that once held us, in true interdependence have frayed at the ends, fibers worn and giving way, sacrificed to the Gods of independence and autonomy. Words that ring of freedom in this time, yet on a closer examination taste of cold steel and sorrow.

For all the years that humans have lived on this land we call home, this earth, we have walked together, ate together, slept together and raised families together. We find ourselves now in a place of extreme separation, so much so, I would propose, that the idea of living in interdependence with others sounds terrifying to most of us. Myself include. Not only terrifying, but also undesirable. We believe that we need space, privacy, independence. And indeed, living in the times that we do, with the current cultural conditioning that we have been subjected to, we may actually need that space to feel comfortable. What a poverty that is.

The rise of the nuclear family, which I will point out here is a uniquely modern arrangement, has left us separated from the feeling of tribal, communal inter-being and strapped us fully to the wheels of capitalism and all its tyranny. When we have to have an individual family home, two cars, two kids, and a houseful of barely used, foreign made belongings to feel good, we have become slaves to our way of life. Working to simply pay for our home, to pay for our appliances and tools, to pay for childcare, home maintenance, all of it I could go on and on, but you get the picture. The choice to live as single families is a deeply debt ridden and isolating idea, that causes pain and suffering for the individual family as well as the collective.

Humans, being social animals need companionship to thrive. We need support to thrive. The type of support that we can receive only form being in deep relationship with many people, not just a spouse or our children, a living active network of others, with shared values and shared work. I believe this is how we were born to live, and the deep sorrow, depression and addiction that plague our people is tells a story. Our needs are unmet, we are desperately lonely.

So where do we go from here, where do I go from here? Knowing this poverty, holding it in my hands, feeling the ache. How can I, busy, overworked and so time tight that I feel almost paralyzed, create community? Not just online, but right here in my own home. I have no answers and in fact at times I feel hopeless, but I do have some ideas, and I think they may be worth something so I will share them here. In hopes that also they may be of some value to another lonely human out there, perhaps reading this, known to me or unknown to me.

So here it is, my few tender ideas that could perhaps bring more connection and joy to my life and the lives of others. I think in fact I can sum it up into one main vain of thought- To have more – we must have less.
We must have less because in order to have and keep and own and store all that we feel we need is a prison. We must have less in the way of property and perceived material wealth so that we can learn what real wealth is. We must have less so that we can work less and love more. Somehow we must step out of this tyranny of time scarcity and delve into a relational space where we share what we have and create a new way of being. This is our system, we can dismantle it, we are not powerless.

Sacrifice is called for. Vulnerability is called for. Can I learn to break down the walls of perceived safety and connect? Invite the neighbors in, even when the house is messy and I am unsure if they are “my kind if people”. Borrow and lend tools and services, ask for help when I need it, offer help when I see it is needed? Can I extend the invitation that neighbors and friends can come pick from my garden, and ask for help with canning? These may seem small things, In fact I feel some shame that I am not comfortable with these action now, but they are not small for me. I am so conditioned to believe that mine is mine and that I have to, in a sense defend my territory. I did not choose this, I inherited it.

Could there come a day when I could give up my own sense of needing so much space, so many boundaries, that I could live with other families in the way my heart calls, screams and begs for? I don’t know, but I sure as fuck want to believe that. I don’t want to be lonely anymore.

As I tear down the walls of my conditioned beliefs and look into the lies I have agreed to live in and ignore, the social norms, the way things are. I cannot help but feel , mixed inextricably with the anger and despair a sense of purpose and knowing that this is not how things should be. And in that knowing is a strength and power to change. It starts with me, here, today. Putting these words on this page and saying out loud, or in print, that I am longing for something different, and that I am willing to sacrifice to see it come to birth in my life.  If perhaps you who read this feel a tugging in your heart as you read my words I invite you to reach out to me, to let me in. I want to talk about this hunger, and how we can feel full, together.