Every day this world breaks me open, a sliver of delight pierces through the veil, a chasm of sorrow consumes me, and I fall, down, down, down. The glint of light on the throat of a Hummingbird, part fuchsia part crimson all glorious. A hungry feral cat cowers near the trash compactor at my daughter’s apartment complex, their green eyes haunt me, and I am filled with longing.
I often wonder if my capacity for feeling, so visceral, so rich in texture and form, is the same experience of being in the world that others have. In truth, I wonder if perhaps I hurt more than I should, feel more than I should, yet even as I write those words deep inside there is a knowing, that I am how I am and who I am not by accident, that even if the intensity of life unfolding around me can be hard to bear at times, it is my unfolding, it is my life.
Sometimes I want to hide, to crawl down deep somewhere that I cannot be disturbed, somewhere safe and dark and devoid of feeling. A bottle used to work so well, the safest place I’ve ever been, but also the most lonely. So I don’t pick it up. Today I sit in the grey cave of my heart, under a startling blue sky. Can you feel the contrast? The is and is not of the thing? How can life be simultaneously so beautiful and so heartbreaking?
I come home from work, the frantic pace of the day, the large tears of the old woman in the hallway, they seem to be always running down her face these days, and I never have enough grace to reach her, the hungry eyes of lonely people, the traffic accident I witnessed, all of this living in my body. I kneel down at my altar, light a candle, and beg for strength. I place my forehead on the sharp wooden edge, the pressure digging into my skin feels like relief, and I weep. I weep for all the hurts I cannot heal, the suffering that exists despite all of the love, my own broken family, my own broken heart.
And then I remember what I have known all along. Words spoken to me, words that found a home inside my flesh and now reside there- a human heart, shaped like a seed and meant to break- let it break- break open….recalling this, a poem comes back to me, my own words filling the cracks and broken places inside, my own words a balm, a poultice for this wound of life, this wild sacred dance that is more than I can bear. Perhaps these words will enter you, and ease your pain, or bring to your doorstep an appropriate portion of suffering, whatever it is you need, may you find it. I leave this here, an offering for all those who know the taste of sorrow, and the taste of joy.
I know the bottom well the dark place where the tendrils grow from nothing is birthed only from the light after all I have curled my body in the shape of a seed and been fallow no movement- no song – no seeing spent winter there in that formless torpor waiting for the urge to root down and to rise up
I am woman, but I have a heart shaped like I seed and meant to break I seek refuge in the smell of humus the leaflitter, the dappled almost day slowly warming, slowly warming set the tap root deep- deep then the branch roots wide – wide
The only way to know rising is to wait hold patience like a wand in your hands- until called forth by forces beyond words A shoot emerges from the fertile dark and you breathe air once again.
When people ask me if I believe in god- I always say yes god is the power that calls the flowers up to bloom but maybe I have been wrong maybe god is the seed or the darkness or the waiting maybe god is the patience or maybe the breaking or maybe, my own seed shaped heart.
Sometimes revelations of great importance come seemingly out of the blue. Or, out of the gray fog of dawn light, driving down the road with the windshield wipers on my truck swishing side to side, in an attempt to keep those tiny droplets of water from gathering to obstruct my view. It seemed like nothing at first, just a thought, that echoed around inside my body as thoughts sometimes do. “ there is nothing wrong with you Marianna.”
It is strange when thought is delivered into my consciousness from elsewhere and I receive, rather than create it. Strange that a belief this deep can kind of skirt around the edges. If you were to ask me if I thought I was fundamentally broken just by my humanness, I think I would say no. the concept of original sin makes me gag, I mean have you ever seen a baby? There is NO sin there, of this, I am quite certain. Yet under my conscious knowing, there is a deep shame and guilt associated with being human at this time, and in this way.
My individual suffering has its own flavor, I will not say it is a unique, Rather I would imagine that it is similar in taste and texture to the suffering of many other human beings. Wondering about our place in the world and society, fear of somehow trespassing or being wrong, shame about the unhealed darkness, the bruises, and imperfections we perceive in our character. I could go on and on, but you get the point, you may even be shaking your head to say yes, yes, this is my suffering too.
The thought that came to me this morning as I drove, was not related to this particular pathology, the swirling critical mind that seeks flaws in order to find a pattern and get to some semblance of safety. This part of the mind that seems to want to tear me apart, so that others don’t have the chance to do it first. No, this wrongness that my inner self spoke of was the unseen belief that by simply being in a human body I am wrong. How could I be right, how could I be ok, when my entire species has run amuck in a crazy carnival of destruction, hubris, and greed? This wrongness I feel in so many of my days is not personal, it is collective. It is the sense brought on by disavowing the original instructions, it is the poverty of power unchecked and forgotten promises that wreak havoc beyond our ability to comprehend. All of this is true, it is not subjective, it’s not a story, it’s a fact.
And yet, we individual humans, born into this wild mess, this end-stage capitalist nightmare of sorts, are actually not responsible for this entire system we were born into. Responsible, yes. Each one of us is responsible for the choices that we make, for navigating this world with intention and heart, to the best of our ability. For paying attention, and giving thanks, and being humble. We are responsible for these things. But so much harm has happened that is not in our individual ability to control. And it’s important to differentiate between the mess we were born into and our personal actions. For we are also responsible for stewarding our one precious life, we are also responsible for joy, and for choosing a life that gives us a chance to flourish.
Sometimes I think I have learned to believe that as a member of the human race, we the lost sons and daughters of creation, we the ones who have made themselves separate and so desperately alone, that I deserve a certain amount of suffering. That we deserve a certain amount of suffering. And perhaps that is true. Perhaps some of us have already received that suffering, and many of us, all of us, will most likely receive much more. And yet, the voice that told me, there is nothing wrong with you Marianna, did not lie. I am one human, consuming food and fossil fuels, the same as all the rest. American, we are the worst when it comes to consumption. I participate in a system and a lifestyle that I actually find utterly abhorrent, but I did not create this. And I am not inherently broken by my humanness.
There is a grief that lives in me that is so large. I frequently don’t know how to live in the presence of it. It is not only mine. For sure some of it is my personal bundle of sorrow and loss, but honestly, that seems small compared to the devastation I see all around me. It’s easy to slip into darkness. It’s easy to look at the carnage we humans create in our wake and feel my heart drop, waves of pain pass through my body… forgive us… we know not what we do. Or do we? If we know, truly know, it makes all of this a fuck of a lot worse.
And here is where it seems to get complicated. Human and beautiful, complex and aware, collectively and individually choosing a path of destruction, up against forces and systems so entrenched in extraction that we don’t know how to extract ourselves from their greedy clutching claws. All this is true, and still, I am not wrong. I am an animal. Born to love and play and fuck and eat as much good food as I can find. Born to mate and birth and howl and dance. I am the living body of the earth, the very earth I poison with the fumes coming out of my truck as I drive to work. Isn’t that a total mind fuck?
I also know myself well enough to know that if I let the despair grab onto my skirt hem and pull me under I will be of absolutely no use to anyone, least of all myself. And I believe to the very marrow of my bones that a profound piece of my work in loving the world is to find and experience joy. If I am lost in the waves of sorrow and guilt, joy is not close at hand. I believe that my ancestors, all of my people back and back, through deep time, to the very beginning have sacrificed, and paved the way for me to be here in my life. It is my duty to feel joy and pleasure, to share the incredible depth of wonder, passion, and excitement that I carry in my being with me into the world. How can I live in this paradox? How can I feel the true weight of my presence in the world, and the lightness and beauty of my body and spirit?
I hold this complexity in the palm of my hand. I rub it with my thumb, I turn it over and blow on it, I hold it under my tongue, I suck on it, and spit it out again, and still, I don’t know what to make of it. I know that I am not wrong, and I know that I have done wrong. I know that I love the earth and that I abuse the earth. I know that I love my sacred body and that I abuse my sacred body. Perhaps there are not supposed to be answers, perhaps my whole lifelong all I will do is find more and more questions. And weave joy into the sorrow. Weave song into the weeping. Weave human kindness into the harsh reality of human greed. To be awake to our own consequence in this life is a demanding undertaking. To understand the is and is not-ness requires my heart to grow large enough to encompass it all. Can I do it? I don’t know. But I am willing to try. To be broken open and gathered in again and again and again. My spirit is strong and for that I am grateful. My love is strong too, and I need that to survive. I need that to give away, I need that to make it another year, feeling with my fingers and my heart through the bleakness of these times. My spirit says take heart, my love. Look to the mountain, the moon, the sky. Don’t forget who you are and where you came from. You are the daughter of thousands, you are needed and you are not wrong.
This is a poem that birthed itself. The words beginning to spill from me, catching me off guard, without pen in hand. i’m beginning to be able to recognize this sensation more quickly, and quite literally run to get a writing instrument if there is not one in reach. Mary Oliver said that a writer should never be without a small pad of paper and a pen, I haven’t quite learned this lesson yet.
Snake has been growing in me for sometime now. I have never been afraid of snakes, in fact I’m enchanted by them, The cool smoothness of their bellies, their direct eye contact, the flick of a forked tongue tasting air, so beautiful to me. Yet this thing snake and I have going on, is really tied to the divine mother. Since I began in earnest last year reclaiming my relationship with Mary, now in a garment untied to any religion, and since finding a deep love of praying the rosary, snake has decided to show up in a big way.
Mary is often pictured with her foot upon the snake, some folks have said that she was squashing out evil, casting out the serpent, the temptress, the snake in the garden. I don’t believe this to be true. Yes, Mary has her foot resting on the snakes back, but perhaps more as a sign, A signature mark of her affiliation with the wild and wise serpent ones. Back and back through Time the snake has been a symbol of the goddess. And Mary is, with no doubt in my mind, a manifestation of the goddess. Not only is she the mother of God, she is God the mother. The fruit of her womb is life, and life is sacred. She rests her foot upon the snake with tenderness, and kind regard, a shared lineage of women and serpent, an ancient contract, steeped in magic and mystery.
When I was recently in the desert I was hoping so much to be visited by snake, I spoke aloud calling her, I drew her, as pictured here, courting her with my pen and my tongue. But she did not appear in her corporeal form, only in this poem, dropped into my heart whole and complete. Notice, I did not say that she did not arrive. Indeed she did arrive, hearing my calls and coming to me, gifting me with her presence through my own words. Sly like a snake she is…
What could it be that I have to learn from a snake? There is something about waiting, about not being too hot blooded, about taking the moment of opportunity when it arrives, without hesitation. Snap! Her jaws clamp shut, she does not wait for the perfect, precious moment, she needs to eat now. And all of life is death too. As I fall deeper into the practice of seeing nature as a mirror for my inner world, there is so much to be contemplated, and the thoughts that come into my mind and heart, the creatures I see with my eyes, the way I move through the wind and the rain, all become gifts meant entirely for me. I know how much I do not know, and how much I am willing to unlearn to be open to learning anew.
Blessed are we, creatures living on this earth and under the sun to be gifted teachers, teachers that come in all forms. Today I am giving thanks for snake, and all of her relations, and the gentle wisdom I am learning through contemplation of their ways.
I have sat down three times in the last week, preparing to write a post about a journey that I took, both an outer journey in the form of a road trip, and an inner journey, diving deep into my soul and the lap of nature, through the ancient practice of vision fasting on the land. I sit down to write, and yet the words don’t seem to want to come. My attempts at coaxing them have been trying and I think I’m going to allow that experience to settle into my bones a little bit more before I share it here, though pieces of it may come forward sooner.
However, there is something coming forward to be spoken tonight, something unbidden and wild and terribly alive. Something that came clear to me on my time on the land, and made clearer over the last 24 hours. My body hums with something electric in nature, it’s not exactly excitement, it’s not exactly grief, I think it might be purpose. I think it might be my soul speaking. I think all of this time of wandering around and saying “what shall I do with my life?” It was right here in front of me. No, inside ME. Begging to be birthed into the world.
There’s a saying that goes something along the lines of “sometimes you need a story more than food to stay alive “
I agree with this, and I believe this. And what has been coming to me the last week is this deep knowing that what we need, much more than food, is ceremony. We are starving for a ceremony. Our children are starving, our families are starving, our schools and public organizations are starving, our souls, especially our souls are starving. And this is not something to be taken lightly, or turned away from, or seen as inconvenient, or that we just don’t have enough time. This I believe is deadly. We are starving for ceremony, and without it we are dying.
Yesterday my older brother called me when I was at work. He asked me if I was somewhere I could talk, he told me I might want to sit down. This is never good to hear. He told me he was going to tell me something that it was hard to hear, but he wanted me to hear from him. God, what a loving brother. He told me that a dear friend of ours had died the day before, that it looked as if he took his own life. These are the things we are never ready to hear, never ready to cope with, cope is a crap word, but you get the point. These are the types of wounds and sorrows that rip us open, that can fester for a long time,that call us reevaluate things in our lives.
My heart sank, like a cold stone settling down into my belly, the only thing I could say was “we loved him so much “and Matt said, “yeah, we loved him so much” and we wept together then, me sitting in my small office, and him at home, but both together in this grief.
This friend, this man that went down never to rise again, was a bright light of a human. Beloved by everyone, cherished, valued, believed in. He was gracious, hilarious, connected, and so very alive. The sorrow of his death is rippling out through our community like a boulder dropped in a small pond. The stories of love and care keep arising. My own memories keep surfacing and growing in form and texture. The vastness of the hole he leaves behind astounds me.
I’ve been thinking a lot about heartbreak lately. About love and grief and the way that they are twins of one another, the way they are inextricably woven, wedded. Like an infinity sign looping back on itself forever and ever, where one ends the next begins and so on and so forth.
I’ve been thinking about how to truly love is to be broken open. To be broken open again, and again allowing love and sorrow to rip through the very center of your being, and to not turn away. To keep your heart awake and aware, to keep your eyes turned to face whatever comes, to truly love is to lose. Is the fall, is to be broken. To love is to mourn, to regret, to weep. This may sound dark, that is not my intention. Nor is it to say that all of love is grief, of course this is not true, blessedly. But to be willing to stand in the fire of what love really means, requires a certain fortitude. A certain willingness to be with the trouble. To make one self large enough to hold suffering more enormous than you thought possible.
Let me now return to ceremony. In my four days and nights alone, fasting on the land, I came into the presence of myself that I had never known before. Deep healing happened and seeds of the future were planted. Both in my heart and in the land. I came away with an inarguable truth and knowing that my path in this life, and one of my offerings to this life, is the gift of ceremony. It seems so clear now, so simple, as if everything I’ve ever loved or longed for has been leading up to this, to step into the role of serving myself, and my community through offering healing ceremony, working in conjunction with the land, my guides and ancestors, the more than human realm, and the fully human realm.
It seems clear to me that ceremony is the key to bring us back into right relationship with all of life. And that this return to our place within the order of things is the balm for the broken-heartedness of our times. Wise, well, initiated adults are what are needed, to heal one another, to pull eachother out of the darkness, to know our purpose. When we are on purpose in this life, it is to precious to even consider throwing it away. We need a return to the tried and true ways of becoming human on the earth. And I am stepping in. I am stepping all in to service of life through the container of earth based ceremony. ￼
My soul has spoken, and I have heard her. Loud and clear, the direction has been given, and to turn away now would be futile. The thing about the soul is she makes you work for it, she doesn’t deliver a full packet of instructions, she speaks in image, glimpses, urges and feelings. What does it look like for me to make my life a living vessel for ceremony to grow and to wrap around me, and my community? I’m not exactly sure yet. But I am sure that this is the healing that I am being called to, but this is the healing that is really needed in the world right now, and that I can think of nothing more important to do with my life.
Thank you for being here, for reading my words, for being a human in the world at least for one more day. If you need support in creating or tending in the ceremonial realm, please reach out to me. If you need an officiant for a wedding or a funeral, please reach out to me. Those are areas I have already had some practice in. As I continue to listen to the voice of my soul, and this calling from within grows and becomes more solid in form, you’ll be hearing from me. What a beautiful gift it is to travel through life together, hold your loved ones close.
Well, it happened. I woke up yesterday morning and I was 40 years old. And I felt, exactly the same. Exactly the same as I have always felt completely and entirely, Marianna.There was no profound shift, no sense of increase in my adulthood status, my maturity, or my wisdom. Simply another day, alive and in my body.
I made my coffee, as I always do. And searched through the cupboards at the beach house I was renting to see if I could find something larger then an 8 ounce mug, as 8 ounces is terribly unsatisfying for me when it comes to coffee. I settled on a glass beer stein, and filled it full of dark strong liquid, and generous pour of organic cream. Settling down with my Journal and my pen, as I do almost every morning.
And as I sat there reflecting on my life, the soft sound of the waves on the beach in the distance, my own breath moving in and out of my body, gentle creaks of an old house shifting, and the felt sense of my daughter sleeping in the room downstairs, I was completely content.
As I began to write, reflecting on this shift in my age, and the things I wish to have happen this year, I had a realization. Every birthday since I have been a young teen, my birthday has been partially a celebration and also, the day of the year that I hatch my personal “fix Marianna” campaign. So, my birthday has become my own New Year’s Eve shitshow, where I make resolutions that I don’t keep, and look at all the things that are wrong with me and worry about how desperately I want to change but never seem to be able to.
I am always planning to be more dedicated, more focused, to do more writing, to exercise more, it’s exhausting even to think about it, it’s exhausting to write about it, and it certainly is exhausting to live it. I realized yesterday, and it sounds like a simple a-ha moment, but it felt like a lightning strike, that what I really want is to be less. Less of a perfectionist, less self-punishing, less of a people pleaser, less worry, less shame… The only thing I truly want more of is courage.
I have always loved the word courage, heart, to speak the truth of the heart. It seems in our current time of social media, and outward presentations taking the forefront, it takes special dedication and bravery to speak the truth of our hearts. To step out from behind the veil of “I’m OK and everything is great”, and to admit that we have pain, that we are suffering, that I am suffering. But this is what courage requires, it requires the truth.
Sometimes I doubt myself, no, scratch that I doubt myself all the time, well frequently anyway. I doubt that I am good enough, that I have anything original to say at all, that anyone wants to hear anything from me in this world full of scholars and eloquent beings, and artists, and people with college degrees. I doubt that there is a place for me in the world, in the world of humans anyway. I am quite certain of my place in the natural and more than human world. But the doubt is heavy, it hangs like a cloak and it colors all my days.
I think this is deeply tied to perfectionism. To trying to be something other than what I simply am, and sometimes, what I am is a god damned mess. How does the dance between being and doing become so complex? How can I allow my complexity to be exactly what it is and as it is, and still move towards simplicity? Simplicity and purpose are where joy lives, I believe.
I have this recurring realization that it is only possible for things to be different when I am aware. Awareness, and allowing the light of awareness to shine into the dark crevices of my life, into the frightening and broken places, into the places I have purposefully cloaked in shadow. This is the way healing can happen, not by making birthday resolutions to become a better person. That whole “become a better person thing” reeks of bullshit to me.
This year, instead of making that birthday resolution list all of the things about myself that I want to change. I made a different kind of list entirely. I made a list of all the ways I want to be brave. And wouldn’t you know? Not really a surprise, to find out that most of the things that scare me involve deeply revealing myself and being brave and vulnerable in my body. I want to swim naked in the daylight, and learn to rollerblade again, and kiss a man who is not the man I was partnered with for the last 19 years…. Sounds fun, right? Fun and completely terrifying!
I have had a lot of magic in my life. I have had years a great growth, beauty, harmony, and community. I have had years of heartbreak, of loss, of my world falling apart around me. I have held in my hands the pieces of all I held dear, kissed them tenderly and set them down forever to step on to a new path of truth. I am not averse to challenge, I am not easily broken, but I am afraid. Yes, there is a lot of fear running in this system. But one thing I know is that I can learn new things. I can learn new ways of seeing and perceiving. And I can become more courageous.
So, here I go. Off into my 40th spin around the sun, with a small list of things I fear, written on a sheet of folded paper… Some actions seem small and some larger, but all of them I believe will lead me in the direction of true authenticity in myself. And who knows, I might just have a lot of fun along the way…
Spring has arrived. I can feel it in the air, a breath of sweetness in the breeze, and evenings stretching out for what feels like forever, but is really about 7:45. I love the turning times of the year, I love the newness and the freshness, the shift and the change. The way the whole world feels different, and all of life is aware of it. The birds are up and singing songs that sound somehow brighter and more excited, than their winter chirping. The rabbits are back, though not quite as many this year, I doubt that has anything to do with this particular spring and more to do with my mother’s new dog, scenting the yard with her canine smell.
We humans are different as well, around here in northwest Oregon, it certainly isn’t warm enough to be showing any skin yet, and with our faces covered with masks, flirtation is a challenging undertaking. And yet, spring always brings more wayward glances from the opposite sex, lingering eye holds in the grocery store, and all the subtle ways of communicating that we humans have, to say “its spring…wanna get busy?” we can’t help it, let’s just blame our biology.
I have shared in my last two posts, a little bit about heartbreak, and healing, and the sense of surfacing into life again that is now surging through my veins. And spring is quickening this tempo in me. I have been at the garden again, and there’s something about that soil and filtered sunlight, the birdsong and the river going by that make me feel so terribly alive. In some ways it feels strange to have a fluttering of joy in my breast again, and a little bit of dance in my feet.
I’ve been living here at Bunny Hill Farm, for almost a year now. It seems hard to imagine that it’s been a whole year, and in some ways, it is only now truly starting to become my home. Not a stopping place, not a pause, but my home, my true home. I have been walking this land, praying under my prayer tree, singing to the moon and stepping into relationality with my beautiful home place, and I feel received. I feel stabilized, rooted, at rest.
Come late June, or early July my beautiful new little home will be going up. I’ve ordered a yurt cabin kit in a fetching wine-red color, with open interior beams, an opening five-foot dome center skylight, and five large glass windows. I am extremely excited to craft my home with my own hands, and of course with many other hands helping me as well. Also, I do realize I am stepping into a project that is far outside of my scope, and yet, there is something about this undertaking that feels entirely right. I trust completely in my process, in my ability to learn, in my desire for beauty and creation. Nesting is in fact one of my greatest joys, and as I build this home, I will be constructing an actual nest! I will be living in the round, a longtime dream of mine. No other animals live in square boxes…think about that for a moment, what are the implications of this? A worthy inquiry indeed, but I will save this for another day.
There is incredible grace in my life. My parents having received me back into their daily lives, after my being on my own for more than 20 years. Their extending of hearth and home and land to me is a gift beyond measure. Not only in that I get to build home here, right beside them. It’s so much more than that, we are, in our own small way creating community. Learning to live together, to communicate, to support each other, and to share our lives in a more interconnected and collaborative way then many families are blessed to do.
Life is so interesting, how it can deliver to us exactly what we wanted and longed for and dreamed of, and yet the circumstances wearing an entirely different face then the one of our imaginings. For so many years my dreams of living in the country, of being in community, and of engaging in shared purposeful work with people who I love centered around an imagined Oasis, owned entirely by me, and had a definite flavor of independence. Which I realize is somewhat in conflict with the concept of community, but fantasies don’t always make logical sense. The truth is that the concept of the rugged individual has crept into my psyche, even though I was raised in a community, and with strong community ethics in my blood from the get-go. So, life smiles at me, with her trickster energy, and says “here you go, community and connection and family, all you have to give up is everything you thought you knew.”
Did I think that at the end of my 39th year, I would be sharing space with my parents once again? Did I think that I would be divorced, and have sold my house, and uprooted, and then re-rooted once again? Most certainly not. But life had other plans for me. And if there is one thing I am learning, as I round the sun for the 39th time, it is that I don’t always know what is best. And I am certainly not the one in control. I am becoming a surfer, a life surfer, riding the waves and again and again climbing back onto the board in an attempt to catch a breath and a view.
I find myself sitting frequently and quietly, and simply thinking “what comes next?” I do not mean the new house, or the garden, it is a fuller, purer, wondering. It’s a wondering that fills my whole being, that tingles my toes and makes my heartbeat a little bit faster. I have a deep knowing that I cannot rush this question, it has to linger in my heart and my belly, it has to rest and grow and become a bigger and bigger question, until life decides to descend an answer. The near constant refrain that I hear inside is the most beautiful line, penned by our dear Mary Oliver “what will you do with your one wild and precious life?”
For now, I will show up. I will keep showing up. For myself, for my family, for the aching beauty of this land I occupy. For the wide wonder of this beauty soaked and trouble-filled world, and these times that I was born so perfectly for, even though sometimes I wonder why. For now, I will drink my tea, and write in my Journal, and study all manner of things that light up my mind and my heart. I will attend to the beauty of my days and my learnings, and I will keep the doors of my heart open, so that when the grace of knowing arrives, I will be ready to receive her.
2020 was a hard year, of course it was, you know this, I do not have to tell you. It has become a slogan of sorts “2020 is the worst year ever…” said with a sigh and collapsed posture, about myriad occurrences from the merely irritating to the deeply heartbreaking. You have most likely had some flavor of this in your own life. 2020 was a damn hard year. It seems that everything was turned up and churned up, personal, public, political, for fucks sake, we’ve been living in a global pandemic. Everyone has been holding on, just by the skin of our teeth, waiting for the year to shift, a page to turn, holding onto the belief that somehow 2021 is going to be at least a little bit better.
I’m sitting in my little home tonight, my tiny little 250 square feet on wheels. It feels a little like a gypsy wagon, bright colors and blue velvet upholstery, twinkling string lights and a shelf full of all my teas and herbs, lending the air of a witches cabin. Sometimes I look around and I can’t believe how happy I am. Never before in all my 39 years have I had a place to live that was, well, entirely mine. Entirely mine to keep messy, or keep clean. To decorate with as much religious artwork as I want to, to string my crop of corn on colored yarn across my ceiling to dry. For a month and a half, I had to duck under corn just to sit at my dining table, do you have any idea how perfect that is?
So here I sit at my gorgeous round and tiny dining table reflecting on this last year, on the troubles, the joys and the sorrows. Oh gods the sorrows. In some ways it’s kind of funny to hear people talk about how hard 2020 was, and yes I know it was, for everyone, and I’m not trying to diminish that fact. The last year tested us all in ways we could never have foreseen, or well, that we didn’t foresee anyway. Some of us lost our jobs, some of us worked waaay too much in nearly intolerable conditions. Lives and homes were lost, marriages broken.
I guess it’s kind of funny, or peculiar rather, because what made this last year hard for me honestly had almost nothing to do with the pandemic. Yes, work was hard, and face masks and shields really are awful… But surviving a broken heart, a divorce, and moving out of and selling my home of 15 years, nearly killed me. There have been so many times over the last year that part of me honestly thought I would not survive. So to sit here tonight, looking around at this small but perfect, and completely mine, space that I now occupy, and it seems almost impossible. Almost too good to be true.
How is it that my heart can be folded in on itself, every bit of air sucked from my body, every bit of joy gone with the snap of fingers and my life cloaked an all-consuming grey fog for 10 or 11 months and then somehow, I survive, and the color begins to return. Beauty once again courts my doorstep. The sounds of wind and birdsong pierce me again. I see the purpose and meaning of my days once more.
Grief is like the ocean, you can ride on top of it get pushed around by the waves, you can submerge and go under and feel its tides moving your small body in the vast expanse of turbulence. The noise so deafening you hear nothing but its roar and then, one day, you surface again, head pops up above the water and you look around and lo and behold there is a patch of blue. A Patch of blue! You may have by this point, forgotten what blue looked like or perhaps even that blue ever existed. But there it is. There it is.
One of my wisest teachers told me never steal anyone else’s grief or pain from them, it is the greatest gift we each ever receive. This same teacher when I called her and told her that my marriage had imploded into a devastating pool of deception and pain, said to me “oh Marianna, I am so happy for you, this is truly the chance of a lifetime, the one chance you’ve been waiting for.”
I can remember that now, and smile. Read the words I just wrote, and smile. But when I first heard those words from her, although a large piece of my heart knew they were true, I could not hear them. I was so devastated that I could barely go to work, and when I did go, I would spend considerable portions of my day crying in the bathroom. It is all well and good to hear about or read about true heartbreak, but when you are in the ocean, in the depths of that suffering, it honestly feels like there is nothing else.
So to sit here tonight, in some form of radiant contentment, in the quiet of my own home, and to not have my heart encased in mourning cloths and to not have my mind filled with what ifs and oh if it could be and oh if I had. Feels like a fucking miracle.
I’ve been reading through my poetry written over the last year and a half or so. It is some of the most sorrow filled and darkest writing I have done in my life, and also some of the most beautiful. I’ve been playing with the idea of making a chapbook, or some other small pamphlet style collection of those poems. Maybe I would simply title this project Survival. I have survived.
As the days roll on, and moving towards spring life fills with more activity, and that all too familiar voice inside my own head will tell me “you should be doing more than you are doing.” I’m going to do my best to remember this quiet evening. I’m going to do my best to remember that come what may, I have survived. I have survived true darkness. And without knowing darkness, how could I ever begin to know light?
The truth is now so clear to me, there was no other way. My life uprooted, my heart pulverized, the wind whipped out of my lungs. All this suffering was extraordinarily necessary. Because without the suffering, I would never have been brave enough to be willing to begin a whole new life. And this is where I sit today, at the beginning of a whole new life.
My fingers on the keyboard, words fall onto this page, tears fall onto my cheeks, but my heart is joy- filled. I am bruised, but I have not been broken. And in the darkest night I have learned to trust my own strength. I have survived, and once again dawn returns to the frozen lands, and I turn my face to meet the sun.
This image is from some art process work I did this winter about connecting to the body of the Earth, my female form and boundaries. I am rooted and so I can rise, I am of the Earth and to her I belong, so I am always at home, and never alone.
The wheel of time turns on. Autumn Faded to winter, which here in Portland really means grey skies, rain, and squishy ground, rather than the picture of snowdrifts that the word “winter” evokes in our minds. And now we find ourselves again Holding on to times wheel as she turns us from winter solstice to Imbolc. The halfway point between the longest night and the spring equinox.
Each year I age I feel the wheel more solidly, I feel my place in time and feel it spinning all around me, or maybe it’s me spinning with it. It seems so long ago, the days when I cared not what season we were in, unless it meant that I could be next to the river with the summer sun shining on my skin. Now I pace my days, my work, and my energy in relationship to where we are in the wheel of the year. This time, this gestational time “the in the belly” time, when traditionally livestock would be carrying their babes in the belly, feels of such great importance. I too, in my own way am gestating, not a baby, but a whole new life.
Here on our little farmlette, as my momma likes to call it , we too had hopes of young ones being in the belly this winter, but the small goat who was sent for breeding did not receive the seed and so we wait for spring to try again. This time is still fertile, I feel myself putting down a taproot. Learning to be of this land. Not quite a year yet under my belt in my tiny home in the Doug fir trees, yet it’s beginning to feel like my place in the world. And I know my tall standing friends, are growing used to me as well.
Just tonight as I came out of my parents’ house after a nice shower in the hot wate, making my way across the dark yard, my footsteps know the way, I don’t need a light anymore. Out of the darkness came a sound, a large, low hoot of an owl. An owl who must be very grand to see with your eyes indeed because their voice was so resonant, I could feel it in my belly. I stopped and called a greeting. “Hello owl, hello!” and gave a hoot of my own. The owl responded, as they tend to do. I never stop delighting in this fact, that I can converse with an owl. So I stood there for a moment with the wind blowing and a few raindrops coming down around me, and my wet hair streaming down my back, and I sang, just a small song for that owl. Thinking maybe if I try to speak owl, he will think I’m a bit Daft, but if I speak human and offer a song with a certain lilt and cadence perhaps it will be well received. Owl didn’t seem to mind, but hooted again, as I said goodnight.
It’s been a quarter of a year since I was in New Mexico tending to my beloved uncle John through his death. Only three moon since then… a quarter of a year more of this pandemic, a quarter of a year more of learning how to be a woman on my own without a husband, a quarter of a year more of living in my little home with my cat under these tall trees. It seems such a short burst of time, and yet also so drawn out. Another sign from the gods that time truly does not exist even though we dance with it.
We’ve been looking at seed catalogs, dreaming about little ones to plant in the ground and raise up and grow come spring and then summer. And I’ve been looking inside the catalogues of my heart wondering what pieces of myself I would like to attend to and grow up into something flourishing and bright as the sun again returns to the land.
I take such comfort in this quiet dark, such comfort in not having to know anything, rather just feeling my way through my life, just like the baby plants feel their roots sinking down through layers of soil and when they hit a pebble they don’t freak out, they just gently go around it and keep on rooting. We humans, we are much like baby plants. And we are also much like tall trees.
Each morning when I say my prayers, I finish by smudging my body, my brow, my heart, my belly, and then drawing the smoke down each leg and grounding my hands to the floor, and through the floor to the earth. I often refer to this as smudging myself in. Smudging myself into my body and into my life, into my commitment to my ancestors and my descendants. I use Cedar for my smudge bundle right now, Cedar gathered from the land here on which I live. And I send up a prayer every day for Cedar to help me be a little more like them, a little more regal and tall in my stature, a little more rooted deep to the earth, a little more sweet smelling when the rain of life falls on me.
There’s nothing left to do this evening, except for make some tea and pour it in my cup. Give my cat a little bit of a snuggle and settle into bed with my book. I’m grateful to be aware of the pause this time of year. I’m grateful for the silent darkness, this potent present, the pregnant fullness that lives in the dark.
I have lost my map. The whole, well structured cartography of my life slips and shifts before my very eyes. North now points, gods know where South spins on some unknown axis, and I am spun as well.
All I knew to be true now in question, One thousand planned futures collapse around me, the unknown looms like a sneaker wave not yet seen, but growing.
How do I step forward when there is no ground? Beneath my feet is only shift and play, no solid earth to hold me. where do I step when I cannot see? only darkness, fog and shadow.
Perhaps stepping is not the issue at hand As a wise man says – “The times are urgent, we must slowdown.”
Maybe I plant my feet here like the roots of a mighty tree maybe my roots will, in good time hold the earth solid, and me along with her.
My roots snaking and growing once again to create a new cartography of my life.
In darkness I was born and will be born again. now I wait, spreading roots, spreading roots.
It is Samhain and the moon is full. Samhain and the moon is full and the thinness of the veil is present all around me. This is the beginning of the darkness, the Celtic new year, the time of connection to those gone before, to our old ones and to the fertile, sacred stillness. A magic time to turn within and sense into meaning and rhythm, to ask the questions of our deep selves that have been perhaps hidden in plain sight, the ones we are afraid to ask.
For me this is a time of dying. My old life and ways composting before my eyes. My ability to force myself into the rigor of the do, do, do of this culture falling away. I am no longer able to coerce myself, to occupy the roles I have held, thinking they were my own and now seeing as constructs inherited from an unwell society and the unhealed parts of my family lineage and a traumatized ancestry.
And I am tending the dying this Samhain. My Auntie and Cousin and myself have been deep in it. 7 days now at the bedside of my dearest Uncle, who is walking the liminal line, the space between life and death. He has been without food nine days and without water for seven, and still he breaths, and his heart beats and we sit vigil, we sing, we eat, we talk and cry and laugh. Three women together tending this edge time, we are midwives, weavers, spell makers. The working is thick and deep, alive with potent power and grace.
There is a perfectness to it, a gentleness as well and I am blown open by the love that is present in these walls. These walls made of the clay of this land, thick and strong. Strong enough to hold us up and hold us in as we dance in this space of timeless beauty, of great grief, of tender tending.
There is nothing required, nothing to be done. We are called simply to love and be true and be in presence with each other. Three of us living and one of us living, but also dying. The knowing of his ending is thick around us, it hangs like a cloak on our shoulders. His still breathing body shines with the brightness of the eternal and it seems impossible that soon, he will breath his last. Soon he will leave us in this form, soon it will be three, not four under the shelter of this strong roof and walls.
I find that when I am in the heart of life, as I am now. In the heart of life as I do this dance with death, my words come easily. Poems flow forth, and I have spent some of each day with pen to paper, making sense of life and death through the rhythm and feeling of the pen on the page, and the words the tumble out, I a scribe for whatever it is that moves through me.
I received and image the other morning as I was sitting by my Uncle, of his body thinning out, becoming many, rather than one. As if he was layered somehow, growing more expansive and ethereal, more a galaxy than a star. As I witnessed this I saw also a Raven come, resting on the back of his body, his spine alight with life force energy, connected to the cosmos. The raven bent her head and began to pick at his spine, the base of the spine, somehow unbuttoning or unbraiding him from the corporeal realm, one by one releasing the tethers to his body and his life. This poem arose from that image.
You do not look like I remembered though we have met before – you and I oh walker of the edge place – you one we call death.
Your wings are black- not back of night but black of dawn Black of ebony raven plume black of your beloveds pupil – shrinking and growing with the closeness of your love.
You dark bird who hovers unseen until the end and then appearing vast on the horizon – vast above the bed frame unstitching the woven spine of life with your great black beak.
Morrigan – lady of endings mistress of raven one day you shall feast on my flesh as well.
You circle low above us now so close I can see your breast so close I can see the underside of your beak and the bottom of you scaly feet.
When will you land and sink your talons in claiming this life as your own? the breath keeps breathing -but softer now fly low- fly low we will not chase you away.
Sometimes I go out for a day to ramble, no real direction in mind, no real goal. Perhaps just an inkling of a desire, a thought, a feeling I follow, such as “I really want to get out of the city today.” Or, as it was on a fine sunny day last week, “I wonder if I can find some Elderberries before first frost?”
There is something of the eternal in days like this when I leave all sense of “should” behind and follow my senses and the wise old beat of my heart. I drove up 26 that day towards the mountain, reveling in an unexpected day of freedom, and in my solitude, which is becoming increasingly comfortable for me as I adjust to life as a single woman again. 18 years in partnership left me far away from myself, on many levels, and these days half of what I do is simply learn to be me, on my own. This demands more of me than one could know unless they have traveled a similar path.
The sun was bright and shone in that early autumnal way, where gold fills all the spaces between, and the light imbues everything with a certain magic. Colors are brighter, or perhaps just different somehow, the sun hanging lower in the sky as we weave our way towards winter. Or maybe it is the knowing that days like that are few to come over the impending long darkness of winter in the Pacific Northwest, either way, the spell of the light was thick and lent itself greatly to the beauty of the day and my sense of enchantment.
I am a baby forager. By this, I do not mean that I forage for babies, in case you were beginning to worry and wonder if perhaps you are on the wrong blog. No, I tend to leave babies with their parents unless called into Auntie duty. I mean simply that my knowledge and skills in finding wild food are still growing and quite undeveloped as of yet. This being so, I was thrilled to see the plump clusters of dark purple my eyes were searching for, just off the roadside, even while traveling 45 miles an hour. I pulled over, flipped a U-turn, and parked on the shoulder. Basket in hand I made my way to the Elderberry bushes, and after a word of gratitude and a prayer of asking for permission to harvest, I began. Those deep blue, purple fruits, so tiny and fine, coming easily into my basket as if there was no place on earth they would rather be.
I am stunned, awestruck by the generosity of the earth with great frequency. Especially in my garden that freely gives me mountains of cabbage and potatoes, beans, corn, and beets. Yet there is some real labor involved on my end, a bit of a give and take. Foraging is like Christmas. “For me? Really!? Why thank you!” My basket half full in 10 minutes, I bowed my thanks and kissed tenderly the plants leaves, having nothing to offer but my gratitude and praying that this was enough for the code of reciprocity to be upheld.
Back on the highway and with my prized berries, I knew the day was not done, and drove east again, heading towards a place I know so well, to be as close as I was and not pay a visit felt like sacrilege. Bigleaf maples, dripping with golden leaves, hung low over the road as I turned off the highway and onto Salmon River Rd, heading towards a favorite trail, long beloved by my family. I love the way places become kin when you visit enough, much like human friends. This place fills me with a sense of belonging, of knowing and being known. Of all the beauty I have seen in this glorious old world, there is really no place I would rather be than Oregon old-growth forest.
I was not geared up for a real hike, a saunter was more my desire so I took my bag, with my water and journal and walked along the river trail, searching for a place to land for a while, a place in the sun, to put my pen to paper. A poem had been tugging at my heart asking to be born for 5 days, and it was time to let that baby come to life. I found some sun, and a large smooth rock, just the right size for me to sit on, contemplated taking off my shoes but that water, even in early October is so cold, I kept them on. I wrote, and marveled at the beauty of it all, the simple grace of my days, the quiet. All the struggle and worry I carry so heavily on my shoulders felt a million miles away. In that golden afternoon it was just me, and the river and the wild old trees, and God, and as I would soon find out, Salmon.
Poem finished and I stashed my book away, sauntering along the riverbank to a deeper pool I love, one with a pebbled beach, a hole deep enough for a dip on a warmer day. Looking out over that sacred place, sun streaming in the crisp blue sky, I smelled river, and cedar and humus and… Salmon.
I searched the shoreline until I saw her, nearly beached but still in the water, nearly dead but still breathing. Eyes mostly cloudy, but still seeing. I knelt beside her, eye to eye we looked at one another. And I began to sing, a song that came from where, I don’t know, but it moved through me like it was there all along like it had been waiting for just this moment to be born, right now for me, and for her. ” I don’t know how the Salmon sings, I don’t know how the birds get wings, but I am woman and for this I give praise, my body is my vessel for all my days, my body is my vessel for all my days…”
As I sang I began to move, clearing pebbles to make a clear smooth surface, gathering stones, pine cones, and moss, small bright rose hips. My hands making an image of a fish, an image of her, from the materials I gathered, an act of art to show my love, a physical prayer for her and her kind, a way of being in the presence of her dying, and her living, and the place where those two met, which was now and here. I placed three rose hips to be her heart and one last stone to be her eye. The working complete and the prayers prayed, I went to sit beside her once again.
I beheld her in her dying for quite some time, not close enough to scare her, or at least I don’t think so. I noticed others then, their bodies already in various stages of decomposition, her sisters…all around her as she lay dying. I was so moved by this, even as I type these words the tears pour hot down my cheeks. I was and am moved, not by the sorrow of the thing, though that is present as well, but more by the strength, her strength. To travel hundreds of miles to her home place, through struggles unknown, following only the call of her body, her sense of smell, and the knowledge of home. To lay her eggs and then her body down to die in those cold dark waters, next to the bodies of her kin, the cycle complete, she had only her last breaths left.
The knowing hit me like a strong wind, a force, a voice almost audible, but not quite, audible in my heart and bones and sinew, “why would you think you deserve more than Salmon?”
See, I am always praying for direction. I joke that creator needs to make some neon glowing arrows to toss at me so I can find my way, my mortal mind so dense I can’t seem to figure out what comes next. But maybe I have had it all wrong, maybe all I need to do, all I can do, is follow the tides in my body and my sense of smell, all the way to home. Maybe I need to leave behind the concept of a mortal body and crawl deep down into my creature body once again, it all seemed so simple, so apparent. What hubris I have been inhabiting. I would have laughed if I’d not been crying.
Why do I cling so tightly to this concept of “should?” Where in nature is there any such thing? “What should come next, what should I do, how should I be…” Does Salmon sing that tired old song? No. She simply swims in the direction of home and completes the cycle.
It would be terribly human-centric to say she came to teach me a lesson that day, but I know I came to learn a lesson, and I was fortunate to find her and to be slow enough to see her, and to be ripe enough to listen to the voice on the wind and in my heart. We humans, the younger sibling of all creatures, so brazen with self-obsession, looking only in behind our own eyes, miss so much. If there is one thing life is teaching me each day and each year, it is to slow down, open my eyes, and be amazed. As our beloved Mary Oliver has said, “Pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.” It may be there is nothing more I need to know.
I give great thanks for this learning. For my teachers who come in all forms, plant, fungi, human, animal, celestial, and, Salmon.
Driving home that day I let the sounds of the forest travel with me, I sang my simple song and let the cars drive by, busy in their doing-ness, and I quiet in my undoing-ness. Unbuttoning the heavy coat of shoulds, and sliding it off my shoulders, one note at a time. All I must be is woman, with my full- broken heart, with all my joy, with my one precious life. I ask for nothing more, I ask for no more than Salmon. May I be so fortunate.