The Land Knows

Another unedited poem, from my morning writing practice.
I love how my home place is a theme in my writings lately. There is something about  learning to be in the place where I am and inhabit it fully. Something about courtship of this land and all the ones who live here with me. Something about wonder and wondering and a little bit of wisdom…roots running deep.

The Land Knows

The land knows me, even when I am lost
My inner compass seems to bring me somehow always back to – here.
This cedar knows my name and the feel of my fingertips
this soil know my voice in murmured mornings and song filled afternoons
this creek bubbles on her path, always moving
my feet know well her stony body and cool sweet breath.

Here I speak to fern and hawthorn – blackberry and clover
They, who have lived here long before I came, and seem to sing a welcome to me.
When I am low and lost in the waves and swells of this- my life
I bring my heart to the garden – to the trees – to the earth beneath my feet
I lay down my troubles and my fears
the one hundred things I need to do
that scornful glance that hurt so much
the harsh words rattling around my heart cave.

The earth knows it all- and loves me anyway.
Just as a mother does, she holds me close, caresses my cheek, tends my sorrows
She is always generous.
Chickadee perches over head and call – Chicka dee dee dee…
Let it be be be…
And I listen.
Who could ignore the wisdom of the birds?

© Marianna Jones 2019

 

 

Slowing Down-Breaking the Spell of Constant Doing

Tonight I am writing, cup of tea already finished and the house is quite. I’ve been off work most of the day, had a lovely lunch with my Mama, cleaned the hen house and pulled some weeds. Sun was shining today and though cold wind whipped and gusted being out of doors and not damp was a delight.

As I settle in to my study, letting the day settle around me I am just quietly content. My body tired, my heart full from love and laughter, an easeful feeling in my bones. Such a simple day, fulfilling for me one of my needs, unstructured, unscheduled time.

In my pursuit of a simpler and more spacious life I have been actually creating some of that space, working less, saying no to functions or requests, making simpler food. It all feels quite radical. And I am learning how much I need this- down time- see? we even have a phrase to name this, uncommitted, self directed time. It’s a rarity in our culture and must be guarded fiercely.

I am not a huge new years person, not reveler nor resolution maker, yet I found myself early last month, thinking about my life, my time, joy, commitments, mortality and what the fuck I am doing here…you know the everyday existential  dilemma. In response to all this swirling around in me it seemed the only solution I could find was to slow down. Slow down my schedule, my commitments, spending, consuming in all forms.

I said earlier that this feels quite radical, and you know it really is. Our whole society is telling us constantly in everyway to hurry up, do more, be more productive, spend more, earn more. Madness. Absolute madness. It is no great wonder why so many of us are sick, stressed, spiritually bankrupt and exhausted. How could we not be??

I want to take a moment here, to acknowledge that me having the space to consider such things and the implications in my life, is inherently a sign of my privileged life. There are so many women who’s lives do not bare space for such questioning. Let alone for working less and spending more time with their families. I bow in gratitude for the space and the safety I have in this life.

What does it mean to live a life of simple purpose? What does it mean to give up the pursuit of “becoming” something, anything…wealthier, more lovely, as long as it is something you have to work towards, something that makes you not actually – here.
I don’t actually know yet, because you see I am just beginning to discover, one choice at a time. And its easy to get distracted, and thrown off course. For me it is starting with paying attention, choosing rather than reacting, looking at what actually brings joy, and what resilience means… this is enough for now. It is an awful lot actually.

It’s winter, and my mind is tumbling around all sorts of things, my body snuggling in warm wraps, a hot cup of tea in hand and a good pile of books. I let myself enjoy some space, some time to rest. A period of calm before roots and shoots start clamoring for my attention and the evenings are filled again with birdsong and muddy boots. I just want to enjoy this thing called life, trust in the goodness of it all. Another day will come, and God willing I will greet that dawn, humble and quite, no words are needed when the chickadee speaks so well…
I’ll just feed the birds and go muck the hen house, simple work is good enough for me.

 

 

Climate grief- the sorrow of endings

I am stirring inside, something sharp teethed is nipping at my heals tonight. It is more than the restless wind that blows through my sails with some frequency, more than the weary discontent I know so well. This sensation of being pursued is darker, rougher, it has grit and weight. Its alive, real, and vicious. This, this stirring that is following me, brewing inside me, this is fear.

I see it on the news, though I do not purposefully engage in the habit of news watching, I still catch glimpses. Or I hear it on the radio. Homes burned to the ground in California, the fastest moving fire on record, starving children in Yemen, and Congo, and here too, in Oregon many are food insecure, though not( to my knowledge) starving to death. But there are houseless families in the streets, and folks lying on the side of the road in their own piss, as we all drive by. Too busy to lend a hand, or a dollar. Refugees wait at our borders to seek asylum, fleeing lives far darker than I can even wrap my mind around. This is happening all around me, the times are baring down now, its getting hotter and heavier, it’s hard for me to breath….

In the face of these sorrows I have mentioned, and the thousand more that wait in the wings, I feel the desire to run away. To run from the city, find a small patch of earth and live out my years in quite, maybe quite desperation but still, quite. I want to turn away from what I see, from what I feel, from this nipping at my heals, this fear, and maybe even more than fear – dread. Thing is, there is no where left to run, this whole place, our sweet and kind blue planet is heating up, systems changing. Even if I found the little patch of earth to live on, there is no guarantee that summer sun and spring rain will bless my fields, no knowing that life will go on as life has always done.

I have long espoused my desire for an all out revolution. Not just in America, but globally. For the people to rise up and say “No More!” In this dream we come together for the voiceless, we tear down systems of oppression and we are victorious, united, a human family. I have a revolutionary heart, an inner fire and the courage to stand for what I believe in. This has long led me to hold this belief that change is coming, and that we will all be ok in the end (cue the triumphant yet soothing end of scene music.)

I am somehow just now, at 37 years, seeing that this ain’t no Hollywood movie, this is real life, and revolution means blood on the ground, maybe mine, most definitely that of at least one I love. Even if we did somehow come together in the name of all life and stand  against the corruption and greed, would we have any where to stand? I guess I am saying – is it too late for us? Have we passed the tipping point and now all we can do is maybe learn to become human in the face of this heart wrenching catastrophe we face?
And if we see the days has come, and darkness gathers all around, can we find the strength to see this ship down. Or will we claw our way over top of the broken ones, fighting for the last breath of clean air, the last sip of sweet water, the last gaze of cedar reaching her tips high to the sky….

My mind keep spitting out lyrics to The Future by the esteemed and grieved over Leonard Cohen
“Give me back the berlin wall
Give me stalin and st paul
I’ve seen the future, brother
It is murder”
When I feel dark, and dread filled, I long for music that seems to mirror that back to me, or perhaps even increase the intensity of feeling. I want to wade deeper into the mire, feel the sorrow and despair rising around me, put aside all my over used hope and succumb. This is scary, we are slowly, and so quickly loosing the world that we know. And it’s not pretty, and we are not ok, and I am terrified, raging and desperately sorrow filled.

Even here and now, as I write these quavering truths, just feeling the immensity of this fear and sorrow, I find myself wanting to turn it around some how, find a positive hope filled spin. Finish it off with some well wrought words pacifying the gut deep fear for a moment more….I am not going to do it. I do not comply.

I am broken hearted, sometimes it feels finished, but no, life still blooms so strongly all around us. I hold my loves closely tonight…the future so uncertain.

May love be with you all.

 

 

 

We’re going to die one day….

I might not wake up tomorrow morning. Yes I am 37, and in apparent good health, but this is not a guarantee of another day breathing, not for me, nor for you dear reader. No matter your age. Life is precarious. Unlikely in fact, and the fortune that finds us here, me behind my screen typing away, and you reading me on yours is almost to much to bare.
This fact that we are alive, alive! and breathing is enough to make me draw that same breath in sharply with wonder, the awe of it all….but only when I am paying attention. Which I do confess I am not always doing, and more likely than not, even though today I am writing of the incredible power, fortune and beauty of being alive, by tomorrow morning I will most likely be griping about going to work and feeling less than charmed by my circumstances. This seems to be the way of it for me, at least for now.

And yet even in that, the remembering and forgetting, the high and the low, is life.  In the words of Mary Oliver- my one wild and precious life. Which is not guaranteed, it has no warranty, no insurance, no claim, only presence. The only claim is the one I stake, the stake I put in my own fertile ground. How alive am I willing to be while I am still alive? How much can I love being here in this body? Today, it is enough to make me kneel and kiss the ground.

There is so much unlikely fortune at play in my life, small wonders that I so often take for granted, the spices and salt I use with such abandon, the foods in my fridge, my fridge itself! Water that runs clean, well reasonably so anyway, from the tap – warm or cold. I know my ancestors would have been in disbelief at these luxuries. My aim, my prayer is that my life be a living testament to the gratitude I feel for all this I am blessed with. For all this abundance and ease and wealth beyond what most women living in this world will ever see or know. These wealth’s I reference here are only a drop, a small one at that, of all that I am grateful for…truly. And sometimes I am still a shitty whiney human being. Sometimes I am pissed off cause I have to plan and cook my own dinner, and I am tired and worn down and so so lonely.

When I try to write about this I feel lost, spiraling around in my mind, the absolute wonder I have at being alive, the knowing that it will end. I will die, all this, all this beauty and wonder and love and aliveness will be gone…. I know it. I know it, deep in my bones kind of knowing, feel it in my belly kind of knowing. Its not a theory or an inkling, or an idea. I am going to die one day. Wouldn’t it seem, that in knowing this I would stay present to the magic that is my life? That I would each moment of each day be singing praise for all that has been given by this great blue planet and my ancestors that dreamed me into being here? If I am going to die, why in Gods name would I ever watch  a TV show?!

But I do, in fact Outlanders upcoming new season is being eagerly anticipated by me right now. I can’t wait for more Jamie Frazier in my life, or on my screen anyway.
So what gives with this dichotomy? Am I missing something, does my lack of vigilance with how I use my time mean that I am less than stunned by the beauty of this human beingness? I am not sure. I seem today to only have many, many questions. Perhaps there are more question marks in this post than any prior one I have written. I say perhaps because I have not counted and I will not, I have more important things to do! Like sit and type and wonder at the apparent insanity of my own existence.

I just don’t want to miss a thing. When I get to the end of this run, this life of mine, I want to leave knowing I drank every drop. Be it next year or 70 years from now, I want to leave this earth exhausted by the beauty of it all. So I wrestle with myself, with my choices, my done and undone deeds. I suppose it is human to do so, to take a tally every now and then. Thing is, I don’t think there is a score per say, only a knowing, a felt sense of purpose, fulfillment or lack there of, connection or disassociation. All in all I think I am pretty damn present to my life. And yet, there is learning to happen there as well.

As I go to sleep each night, I do take time to reflect on the beauty of my days and ways. As I rise I rejoice to feel breath moving in my body once again. I bless my food and know that it is not a given to be well fed and housed. I know I am here by the grace of those who came before me, my kin, human, animal, plant, stone…. the truth is, if I was truly present each moment to the majesty this all is, I would be weeping on the ground. It is to beautiful to ever fully grasp it. This life. To precious for words.

May I wake up tomorrow, another day to learn and love, and maybe even watch a little Outlander.  May you wake up as well. And if the Gods are willing, someday perhaps our paths will cross, and we can speak of such things as life and death, beauty and sorrow, the meaning of it all, the majesty of this life. Until then, may you be known by your old ones, and may you in turn teach your young ones well.

Marianna

 

In Defense of a Simple Life

I can’t sleep. Up too late with thoughts running circles round my mind. It seems that life is moving faster all the time, each year, no, each month, swifter than the last. I can’t catch up. Here, in this culture where woman wear busyness like a badge of honor, I just want it all to slow down.

I an eternal optimist, I can’t help it, I try to be surly at times but to no avail. I always optimistically believe, despite evidence to the contrary, that I will have more “free” time, sometime in the near future…but sometime is never here. It looms, ever in the future, just out of reach, I could almost touch it if I just reach a little bit farther.

The ideal of the woman who can do everything is a crock of shit. I know this,I feel it in my bones. I know how marketing works, how swindled we all are. If it isn’t a fashion mag we are comparing ourselves with, its that perfect remodel on HGTV. There is no end to the cascade of false ideals dumped on our doorsteps each day. How can we know what is real amidst this storm of consumerist coercion? It insidiously creeps into our minds, thoughts we thought were our own, when opened for examination have no origin in us. This is madness. This drives us to madness.

I myself, am in a daily struggle. The desire to “produce” more, be it income, social capital, or even beauty. Weighed against the truth that I am tired, and I don’t want to play the game anymore.  I cannot hold it all up, and hold it to the standard that I desire to. Things begin to crumble. I cannot be it all, I cannot do it all. I feel this, and I am in a two income family with one grown child. What must this feel like for my friends with little ones at home and bills piling up on bills? Is this the equality we have been fighting for? Somehow it feels like we have missed the mark. “killin it” seems to be killing us.
And yes, of course this is a grand generalization, and I can only speak from my point of view. Still, I see so many women suffering under the delusion that we can multi-task our way to a picture perfect life, that it is time to pull back the curtain on that lie, expose it’s ugly underbelly and begin to engage in some real revolutionary work.

Could it be that in my relentless pursuit of becoming, I have lost myself? Lost the thread I am meant to hold throughout my life, the thread that William Stafford calls to us to cling tightly to? If this is what matters, and I think it does, what has to be sacrificed? What must I lay down in order to have a hand to hold the thread in?

There is this thing, called “too much” that surrounds us. We are so inundated by the cultural messages of acquisition that we fail to see how deep this patterning is. Peers of mine who eschew the commercialized ideals of the “American Dream” (who knows what that even means anymore) still ascribe to the doctrine of acquisition and hope, through a Hodge podge of progressive spiritual ideals that are in fact selling us the same thing. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. I am not above this, how many weekend courses have I taken trying to become a better version of me? How many crystals and smudges do I have right now in this very room where I write? Spiritual capitalism at its finest.

It seems that the only way to get off this mad train is to turn and face it looming behind me. To stand firmly in my two shoes and say “no more!” I am unwilling to trade growth for depth any longer. I am unwilling to sacrifice the sanctity of my life to meet some ideal that is not even my own. I will no longer be 3 miles wide and 2 inches deep, I want to be a  well, a spring,  dig deep and find sweet water, here.

I am learning to identify barriers to connection in my life, competition is one, perfectionism is right up there as well. What can I reclaim, or claim for the first time to bring sanity back into my life? I’ve been thinking on this and simple as it sounds, and not surprisingly, I think it has something to do with vulnerability and acceptance. If I can learn to see all the ways I am striving towards unreal expectations or doctrines, than maybe I can turn myself around. Connection is the antidote to bullshit, in fact,  I am pretty sure it is the antidote to all the woes of western civilization.

When I allow myself to be vulnerable, to show my multi layered imperfection, I am open to connection. I can have friends at my house that is messy, I can eat with joy and abandon without concern for what others think of my size or shape, I can speak my mind and heart, not tip toe around others. Which in this PC world feels like it is more an more necessary. Truly, it is not. Disagreeing with someone does not mean you don’t love them. In fact, differing opinions are a healthy thing, if we are all the same it is pretty boring out there.

So I am learning to be uncomfortable, to listen when the feelings of ” I need to be….” arise. It takes so many forms, there are so many things and ways I have been taught I need to be to, to  be worthy, to be accepted. It is a lie. I am, and will be, a whole healthy human woman, even if I don’t meet the standards, even if I look a little frazzled at the edges. I am taking a stand. Because you know what? No one else is going to do it for me. I am going deep, holy well deep. I plant my feet on this soil I call home and I will stay here. I will joyfully  grow my food, raise my hens, sleep beside my husband. I will listen to the quite yearning of my own sweet heart, and stay, home. I will, day by day divorce myself from the system that says I must be more. I am enough. I am woman,  I am home, and I am grateful.

Marianna Louise Jones

*image is of St Fumac’s holy well, Canmore Scotland

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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Praying to the Peas

The air is warming where I live. Young dawn with her rose red fingers now lights the sky as I walk out to tend to my hens each morning. A mild winter has come and gone, leaving no trace of our brief snows presence. In the garden plants are thriving, brassicas planted late last summer that struggled then, and barely lived through fall, are now already giving sweet leaves of dark rich kale and purple broccoli is bearing small dense heads. Life is shining here, showing me her bright smile, her golden underbelly. My fingers already know the touch of the damp earth.

Tomorrow peas will go in the ground, and scallions too, small seeds an offering to the dark mother, and a promise of good things to come. The sacred contract renewed again each year. I plant and pray, she feeds me. As she feeds all beings, last year the slugs ate much more rutabaga then I did, and the cabbages were ripe game as well. I am under no delusion that it is all for me. I’ll take my share and be satisfied. Earth care, People care, Fair share…right?

This morning I put the peas in a water bath to soak, small round brown seeds, tumbling into my hand and then through my fingers. The soft sound they make as they roll into the glass bowl, a cascade, rough and rhythmic, a husky sound, solid. The gratitude I feel for these ones was so present with me. These ones who will grow and feed me, send strong white roots down into the cool earth and then green shoots up, reaching, always reaching for the sun. Flowers will come and then the sweet tender pods, tendrils of green wrapping and grasping, pulling their way upwards on anything they can claim and hold.

That I could, for a moment hold this majesty of life in my own hands! A call to honor them rose in my throat and I spoke. A prayer and a promise, we are indebted to each other, bound.  Remember to feed the ones that feed you.
I may not recall word for word the prayer that arose from my heart to these good seeds today, but the flavor of it is in my mouth and heart.

Dear ones…
So we have arrived again, here together
you small and brown in my hand
may you grow strong and tall
may the light kiss softly on your face
may your roots run deep and your vines be hardy
I know you will grow abundantly!
I will care well for you
give you strong support to climb on
I will cherish you and love you
watch you climb in your spiral dance with awe
as I eat you, you will become me
life for life, nothing is free
we belong now to one another
grow well my dears
a promise I will make to you
some of your young will live and go to seed
seed I will save and hold all coming winter in good place
until again next year, I will plant
plant your daughters in this fertile land
thank you!
I await our spring and summer together with great joy!

This is ceremony, learning to be with the ones that feed me. This is the way I believe we should be with each other. Aware of all that is given and received. I, in my own small way am learning….
Learning what? to be human, to respect, to see the grace that holds me up. The same grace the holds the peas in their soft beds of earth.

 

 

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.