Sep 23

Embracing the Equinox: #DarkAndLight

 

P1040027.JPGP1000151.JPGdark&lightAfter the hottest summer we can remember in the Northwest, this year’s shift into fall is abrupt, a door slamming shut. Not the lingering, slow slide into fall of years past. Clouds moved in and took up residence. Temperatures dropped. Only then did I notice that the light had been slipping away all along. Gone the late afternoon swims followed by harvesting tomatoes for salad.   Gone the lingering evenings over dinner on the deck. Hello fleece, oatmeal, ginger tea.

Once again the earth reminds us of change, impermanence. The last few weeks have brought a litany of natural disasters: Hurricane Harvey drenched Texas, Hurricane Irma slammed Florida; a devastating earthquake in Oaxaca, and yet another in Mexico City. More tragedies than we can take in, much less bear.

Several mornings ago, I turned on NPR, braced myself to hear about the children buried under the rubble, how many had died. But the commentator told us also of how the people responded, rushing into the rubble with buckets, forming human chains to rescue those still alive. With each tragedy, the darkness has been leavened by these acts of courage, of neighbors and communities pulling together. As one hurricane survivor noted, “FEMA won’t be here for weeks; we need to help each other now.”

Earlier this week I heard Kate de Gutes, friend and fellow alum from the Rainier Writing Workshop MFA program, read from her book that’s just been released from Two Sylvias Press: The Authenticity Experiment: Lessons from the Best and Worst Year of My Life. This collection came out of a blog Kate began as a 30-day challenge to be more authentic on social media. Inspired by a question poet Fleda Brown posted when she returned to Facebook after time off, asking her community how they felt “when they see nothing but curated posts full of pictures of risotto, fantastic family vacations, and lots of ‘Hail, fellow, well met!’” status updates, Kate thought “Yeah, we don’t like to talk about our dark on social media, do we. In fact, you could argue that we don’t like to talk about our dark at all. . . . Fleda made me wonder if I could tell the truth—the whole truth—on social media for thirty days.” Kate did just that, ending each short essay with #DarkAndLight, “because I hoped they showed the duality—the both/and, the dark/light—of life.”

As it turned out, the dark/light of life for Kate ended up being the death of her mother, her best friend, and her mentor, who all died within 10 months of each other. Even so, she found not only that it was possible to write the truth, but that others appreciated it. Not surprisingly, if you know Kate’s writing, she soon had a following on her blog, then a book contract with Two Sylvias Press.

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Fall dredges up bittersweet emotions, and this fall, with so much turmoil in the world, the emotional chaos promises to be even greater. As we head into fall in uncertain times, let’s remember what equinox promises: with darkness comes light; with light comes darkness. They’re inexorably linked, a Mobius strip.

So, as the days grow shorter, make it a practice to be grateful for the glimmers of light, wherever you find them, whether the blazing corona of the eclipse or a stray act of kindness. Equally, as you’re sharing what’s going on in your life—in whatever form that takes—remember the power of authenticity; remember to share the darkness that tempers the light and connects us all. Just as Kate rose to the challenge, so, too, can you.

Yours in dark and light,

Holly

Jan 21

Singing in the Dark Times

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Ring the bells that still can ring.                       Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.
                 -Leonard Cohen  

Jan. 20, 2017

Dear friends,

For the past two months, I’ve been silent here and on the page, a response I try to accept, though wish it were different. I wish I could post a wise or upbeat message for the new year, but not this year, not this month, not this week, and certainly not this day.

My heart is a shard, words creep at glacial speed from my pen. What do I do when this happens? I turn to nature, art, and poetry—and am grateful for all those who are able to write, to keep creating in the dark times when we need art most. I’m reminded of the line from Bertolt Brecht: “In the darkness will there also be singing? Yes, about the dark times.” Because I’m not yet able to sing or write about the dark times I fear may be ahead, I reflect on what sustains me:

  • The earth, which reminds us of resilience even as we elect leaders who will test her: the apple that held fast to its branch through fall storms; the owl that appeared out of the dark night, spreading her great wings before she hit the windshield, rising just in time.
  • The courage of friends–Morgaine can’t march, but has knit pink hats for eight women who are marching in Washington DC or Seattle tomorrow:   https://www.womensmarch.com/sisters/
  • The optimism of strangers: the man on the beach in Cayucos who spent a sunny afternoon drawing mandalas in the sand, knowing the next tide would erase them.

In Healing the Heart of Democracy, Parker Palmer reminds me why I need to keep trying to articulate what I feel, even when it’s so deeply painful: “Our lives are filled with contradictions—from the gap between our aspirations and our behavior, to observations and insights we cannot abide because they run counter to our convictions. 

If we fail to hold them creatively, these contradictions will shut us down and take us out of the action. 

But when we allow their tensions to expand our hearts, they can open us to new understandings of ourselves and our world, enhancing our lives and allowing us to enhance the lives of others. We are imperfect and broken beings who inhabit an imperfect and broken world. The genius of the human heart lies in its capacity to use these tensions to generate insight, energy, and new life.”

I’ll close with the last two stanzas of a  poem by Lisel Mueller that was shared on the Panhala listserve—with gratitude to Joe Riley for curating this site. (To subscribe to Panhala, send a blank email to Panhala-subscribe@yahoogroups.com)

cold dark forest

Hope

It is the singular gift

we cannot destroy in ourselves,

the argument that refutes death,

the genius that invents the future,

all we know of God.

It is the serum which makes us swear

not to betray one another;

it is in this poem, trying to speak.

~ Lisel Mueller ~

If you haven’t been able to write, reflect on what sustains you. March, take walks, find poems, songs, websites, or other resources to lift your spirits when the words won’t come. Allow yourself to choose the response that suits your spirit.  Let hope be your words, trying to speak.

In solidarity as we make our way together,

Holly

PS. Couldn’t post this yesterday–we’re on the road up the coast–so am posting it the day of the March, which seems fitting. Will be joining the March in Florence, Oregon…

Oct 10

Back to School Musings

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Dear friends,

I don’t know about you, but here September whizzed past!  I enjoyed a quick trip back to Minnesota over Labor Day for a reading from Passings at Magers & Quinn, where I was serendipitously paired up with BJ Hollars, author of Flock Together: My Love Affair with Extinct Birds, which is due out this winter. While in Minneapolis, I had coffee with Eric Lorberer, the editor of Rain Taxi, who handed me the hot-off-the press fall issue with a fine interview about Passings by poet Mike Dillon. The Fall 2016 issue should still be on the newsstand—check it out!

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Then home for a few chilly late summer swims, a few brisk hikes as leaves began to drift down, and the ritual of getting classes ready for fall quarter and my LAST quarter of classroom teaching. Of course I’ll keep teaching online and at conferences and workshops, but will phase out of teaching at the community college after close to 30 years so I can spend more time writing and teaching writing/mindfulness workshops. Let me know if you know of a good place to offer one!

So I’ve been reflecting, once again, on teaching, and teachers. Brenda and I have both written about teachers that have shaped our writing lives, so I was delighted to read fellow poet/writer Priscilla Long’s moving piece in The American Scholar on her first poetry teacher, Harold Bond and wanted to share it with you: “Becoming a Poet”

Speaking of Priscilla, it’s also worth noting—for those of you in the Seattle-area—that Priscilla’s celebrating the launch of TWO new books: Minding the Muse: A Handbook for Painters, Composers, Writers, and Other Creators and Fire and Stone: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?  on Saturday Oct. 15 at 7 pm at Elliot Bay Book Company.  I hope to see you there…

In the meantime, whether you’re back in school this fall, or just remembering the ritual of returning to school, the pleasures of shopping for that spiral notebook and a box of #2 Ticonderoga pencils, take a few minutes this week to reflect on a teacher that made a difference in your life. Or just have fun writing about those pencils—and that queasy mash-up of anticipation and dread that comes with returning to school each fall…

Yours, back at the chalkboard/whiteboard/media screen yet again,

Holly

 

Jul 18

On Resilience: Lessons from an Apple Tree

 

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Dear friends,

The morning I woke to the news of the tragedy in Nice on Bastille Day. I couldn’t even read the paper. The headlines the last weeks have left me dispirited, overwhelmed, as violence seems as commonplace as my morning cup of tea. Instead, I walked down to water our old apple tree that last week we thought was gone, to sit under its leafy green canopy where miraculously, transparent apples are still ripening.

Two weeks ago, we walked down to the orchard and found the tree toppled over, the weight of its abundance more than its roots could support after a week of rain. We’d been meaning to prune it, but kept putting it off until we had more time, could consult an expert, yadda, yadda yadda. You know the excuses. When we moved into this house almost ten years ago, we were looking forward to learning to tend our small orchard, but the full-throttle nature of our lives has meant that mostly, we’ve learned to look forward to the bountiful harvest of apples for baking, slicing them up to freeze for pies and applesauce since they don’t keep well.

Of course we tried to right the tree, enlisting the help of our neighbor, Jeromy, with slings, pulleys, and come-a-longs, but it only swiveled. Fearing we were damaging the roots, we stopped. I called the Jefferson County extension agent. They sent helpful handouts and suggested pruning the canopy but waiting to move it until after the apples ripened. We had a plan.

I made evening visits to the apple tree to water and sit with it, where a Douglas squirrel chattered away, lecturing me, I imagined, and a thrush called from a tall cedar. When we trimmed it, we’d found a nest hidden in its branches, though any birds had long since fledged, thankfully. Still, it was obviously a home for many species and they were all trying to adapt to its new configuration. Raccoons and deer were obviously visiting at night, delighted to find apples within easy reach.

Finally, I couldn’t wait any longer. I called the TreeGuys, who’d been out to clear a storm-downed maple in the fall. The owner, Drew, came out to check it out.   Yea, we can get it up, he promised, eyeing the tall cedars that circled the orchard.   He had a team of guys, They’d all worked the woods, logging. No problem. He walked over to the tree, pointed out how the leaves were still turning to the sun. That’s a good sign, he said. She’ll make it. They’d be here 9 am Monday morning.

Sure enough, they pulled up our driveway with a bark chipper and set to work, rigging lines to the tall cedars to support the tree, clipping branches to lighten the canopy. Finally, two of them crouched beneath the trunk and pushed it to an upright position as the other two tightened the lines that supported it. I held my breath, turned away so they couldn’t see the tears streaming down my face, let out a long sigh. They fed the branches into the chipper, piled the chips around the base of the tree, along with all the windfall apples—and posed for a few photos. Then, with a roar of diesel, they were gone.

after                       TreeGuys

I still go down to water the apple tree each evening and have become increasingly grateful for this quiet time during these last turbulent weeks. So little I can do about the violence, but I can tend my own garden, pay attention, and listen to the apple tree. In being reminded so graphically that yes, I DO need to prune the apple tree, I’m reminded of all the clutter I let accumulate on my desk, my inbox, my mind. I see more clearly now the value of clearing out the old to make way for new growth. I’m grateful for the apple tree’s forbearance, for carrying on despite my benign neglect, for reminding me what it means to be resilient. May we all find reminders of resilience in our own lives; sometimes they’re right in our own backyards.

This week, allow yourself a brief news fast. No newspaper, no radio, no Facebook feeds. It doesn’t need to be long—maybe just a day—but enough to find a quiet place where you can notice what you may have been neglecting in your outer landscape. Then write about that: what lessons does it have for you?   How are you reminded of resilience? How can you nurture resilience within yourself to weather whatever lies ahead?

As Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us, “Restoring balance to ourselves, we can begin the work of restoring balance to the Earth. There is no difference between concern for the planet and concern for ourselves and our own well-being. There is no difference between healing the planet and healing ourselves.”

Yours, happily under the apple tree,

Holly

Dec 22

Solstice Greetings

imgres   Dear friends,

In the Northwest, the winter solstice brings rain, though I’m heartened to hear that the rain is falling as snow in the mountains, that already we’ve exceeded last year’s total snow pack. The last few days have been full of gatherings with friends as we instinctively turn to our communities to help sustain us through these days of waning light.

Last Friday night, we gathered with friends in Seattle, a gathering that has taken place now for 34 years. We missed it last year, so were especially glad to pass the solstice candle around the circle and reflect on the significance of the return of the light. For me, gratitude was uppermost in my mind, having just received good news on a medical test. After leaving the hospital, we’d stopped at Elliot Bay Books to celebrate and I bought Oliver Sack’s latest collection of essays, Gratitude, which he’d written in the months leading up to his death.  41XOGMgVe9L._AA160_

I opened to this passage, which I shared at the gathering: “… My predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have given much and I have been given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written…Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”

Later that night, we were just a block from home when we saw the owl standing on the side of the road. We slowed down to get a closer look. The owl didn’t fly; in fact, its round eyes peered right back at us from within concentric circles of soft down.  Finally, it lifted its great wings and flew off into the darkness. I felt blessed by this glimpse of wildness so close to home, blessed by this reminder of the wild world I love. That glimpse of the owl reminds me of two other books I want to share with you:

51XNo09q7UL._AC_UL115_Tony Angell’s The House of Owls is a beautiful depiction of an artist/naturalist’s fascination with owls as he observed over a period of twenty-five years a family of screech owls near his home in Seattle.

61qZEur6gOL._AA160_Lorraine Anderson’s new collection  Earth & Eros brings together many favorite poems and prose about the earth with beautiful, haunting photographs by Bruce Hodge to celebrate the erotic nature of our relationship with the earth.  

Lorraine just sent a blog describing December’s invitation to rest so beautifully that I’d like to pass along the link to it:  http://earth-and-eros.blogspot.com

This solstice, reflect on December’s invitation to rest deeply, and commit to doing so, even in the midst of the holidays. Take this opportunity to reflect on the balance you need in your life, whether by reading what others have written or exploring your own thoughts in writing as, together, we tilt back toward the light,

Yours in gratitude as we welcome the return of the light,

Holly

Nov 01

Being Mortal

 

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Dear friends,

Earlier this year, I turned 60. I didn’t mark the day much, other than a long soak at a lovely spa in Port Townsend—a gift from my three sisters. But the year is being marked in other ways as each month brings reminders that yes, I’m getting older, that this gift of health we’re given is indeed fleeting.

This summer a beloved writing mentor was diagnosed with breast cancer, though she is doing well as we all send her our prayers and hold her close in our hearts. A week ago, another Alaska friend and writer who I greatly admire, whose honest, eloquent posts I’ve followed closely on Caring Bridge, made the hard decision to stop treatment for breast cancer. I’ve been weeping ever since, sometimes in sorrow, sometimes in frustration at the unfairness of life, always in admiration of her strength and courage, and I’m still weeping as I write this.

In the meantime, I’ve been undergoing tests for my own health issue—not cancer and nothing conclusive—and so for the past three months I’ve been dancing with uncertainty. Of course, I’ve been writing, but not much I’m ready to share; and, of course, I’ve been reading. What’s been sustaining me this fall is Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande. I’ve not yet finished it, but even half-way through, I’m reassured by his refreshingly honest tone and courage in addressing end-of-life issues that doctors so often avoid. So I wanted to share it with you, dear readers, along with a few other writings that give me hope and are reminders that as we each inevitably encounter our own mortality—in whatever form that takes—writing can be a valuable companion.

Some of you may have been following the writing of Suleika Jaquad “Life, Interrupted” in The New York Times. She was diagnosed with leukemia in her early 20s and turned to writing to help get her through, beginning by promising herself that she’d keep a journal for 100 days. That lead to another 100 days, and another 100 days, and four years later her cancer is in remission and she’s beginning a 100 Day Healing Road trip.

Closer to home, Beverly Faxon, a friend and colleague at Edmonds Community College,  just sent me this short essay, describing her recent journey through uncertainty. She’s the one who told me to read Being Mortal. I enjoyed her essay so much I asked if I could share it with you, too, and she graciously agreed, so here it is, below:

I was driving to some follow-up medical tests, the kind that can lead to another set of follow-up medical tests, and then a procedure, and then, sometimes, a long tunnel of feeling like your life has been derailed, when it has really been re-railed, and you’re not used to the new train. Or, they lead to a smile, and an open door, through which you can step out, and the sun suddenly seems quite bright, and you have an urge for a cookie, or a new pair of earrings, or something else you can buy to celebrate the feeling that you get to step right up onto your regular train.

But I wanted to short circuit all that before I even got to the tests, to be willing to just appreciate, to see whatever was in front of me. I’d been listening to the book, Being Mortal by Atul Gawande on tape. It is about our approach to the end of life, through terminal illness or aging, and how our reluctance to acknowledge our mortality often leads to choices that cause more suffering rather than more life.

So . . . sitting in my car at a red light, I opened my eyes and really drank in the soft mist rising off the burgundy roof of the car ahead of me—it reminded me of the mist on my own farm field, earlier that morning. Just rising clean, and September-silver in small swirls. And then the picture shifted, and I saw the driver’s arm out the window, and I realized that the mist was cigarette smoke drifting up and over the car. So, of course, my perception shifted, too, and for a moment, it wasn’t beautiful or clean or fall-felt anymore. Yet, as I watched I could see that the smoke was as beautiful as the mist had been, maybe more so, because it was more intricate in its twists and twirls, and I felt confused, but also entertained by this challenge to my appreciation.

At the doctor’s, I had a test, and was told with a smile that all was well, and I could go home. I stepped out lightly into the sunshine, and considered a cookie or earrings. I decided I really needed neither, but I’d like some office supplies. I drove for five minutes, and then got a call on my cell phone, asking me to come back. They had changed their minds and wanted to do another test just to be sure. It was still sunny outside, but not as light. So I drove back, unsure about whether I was railed, de-railed, or re-railed. I waited, then had another test. And it was just fine, and I headed out the door into the sun again, but decided I didn’t need the office supplies.

In the car, I reached the end of my book on tape, and the narrator’s voice came on clear and bright, saying, “We hope you’ve enjoyed being mortal.”

I kept rewinding that part, playing the sentence back again and again.

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This morning, the fall winds blow the last of the shimmering leaves off the poplar trees as we head deeper into fall, the time of transition. We need only to look out the window to be reminded that this cycle of life is all part of the natural order. Today, take a few minutes to reflect on the transitions fall brings. Even better, take a walk outside and mindfully kick a few leaves to fully get in the spirit.  Then write down what that felt like, letting the description of fall carry you into your inner landscape and the changes you’re sensing may be ahead.   Whatever you encounter in the months ahead, know that mindfulness and writing will be good companions if you, too, are navigating the waters of uncertainty.

Yours in being mortal,

Holly

 

Apr 13

Celebrating National Poetry Month

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    Celebrating National Poetry Month

Dear friends,

In the words of T.S. Eliot, “April is the cruelest month.” Here in the Northwest, Eliot’s words ring true, where temperatures during the day rise to the 60s but drop down into the 30s at night, reminding us—and our tender plants—that spring isn’t here quite yet. But the cherry trees are in full bloom in our backyard and tulips form a quilt of color in the Skagit valley to the north.

April is also National Poetry Month, so poetry readings, like tulips, are abundant. Last weekend, I participated in a poetry event at the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island, a sanctuary of land set aside by Prentice Bloedel and his wife, Virginia, who resided on the property from 1951- 1986. The Bloedel family loved poetry and Theodore Roethke was a regular visitor to their home, so perhaps it was only a matter of time before the Bloedel Reserve re-connected with poets.

This year they did so by offering the first Poet-in-Residence to former Washington State Poet Laureate Kathleen Flenniken and inaugurating a poetry walk, curated by University of Washington professor and poet Linda Bierds and novelist and poet David Guterson, both residents on the island. In honor of National Poetry Month poems would be nominated by local poets and poetry readers and placed along the extensive walking paths, so visitors can contemplate the poems along with the gardens and views.

In February, I was invited to nominate a poem. This meant I was invited to visit the Bloedel Reserve and walk the paths with a map that indicated the poem sites, then suggest a poem or two.   I love an assignment, and especially one which gave me an excuse not only to visit the Bloedel, but also to re-visit favorite poems. Soon I was pulling books off the shelf—Gary Snyder, Denise Levertov, John Haines, Robert Sund—until I had a small stack. I read through them, made copies, and took a sheaf of poems with me on my walk with my friend Heidi as navigator and guide.HeidiBloedel

A chilly February day made it a challenge to envision the landscape in spring, but Heidi, a regular visitor to the Bloedel, filled in the gaps: “oh, the cyclamen will be blooming here in April,” she said as we rounded a corner by the stream. I began to match up sites with poems and sent Linda not just one nomination, but five because I couldn’t decide.  “That’s just fine,” Linda said. “We know there will be duplicates.” (In fact, turns out we all wanted to nominate Yeats “Wild Swans at Coole” for the pond where, yes, the wild swans returned each year). I nominated poems by Denise Levertov, Tess Gallagher, Gary Snyder and Linda Gregg, as well as a poem by Pablo Neruda. They chose the Linda Gregg poem, “Praising Spring” and another nominator selected the Neruda poem for her nomination.

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Last weekend, the curators, nominators and other local poetry lovers met to walk the trails and read the poems. The weather cooperated, clearing in the afternoon as we gathered at the sheep shed. After an introduction by Bierds and Guterson, local Olympic peninsula poet and naturalist Tim McNulty read his poem that had been nominated and Poet-in-Residence Kathleen Flenniken read the poem she’d nominated by Richard Wilbur. Then we were off to walk the bark paths and read the poems, gathering after at the Bloedel residence for wine and appetizers.

This turned out to be a perfect way to celebrate National Poetry Month. While you may not live close enough to visit the Bloedel Reserve, I hope you’ll seek out poetry readings or events in your community this month. Here are links to a few ways you can get involved:

The Academy of American Poets has put together a list of 30 Ways to Celebrate <http://www.poets.org/national-poetry-month/30-ways-celebrate-national-poetry-month

For those in the Northwest, here’s a list of local readings and events put together by the Puget Sound Poetry Connection: <http://pugetsoundpoetryconnection.us8.list-manage2.com/track/click?u=035d08d1d2ea5ebc8c310a886&id=5292204498&e=1421216789> .

Thanks to the poet Drew Myron for sending the following suggestions—be sure to check out her inspiring website at http://www.drewmyron.com/, where she’s giving away free poetry books to celebrate National Poetry Month!

Twitter Poetry ContestStenhouse Publishers invites your brevity with a poem that is 140 characters or less.

Poem in Your Pocket Day : Poem in Your Pocket Day is April 30. Pick a poem, carry it with you, and share it with others.

Yours in the celebration of National Poetry Month in all its myriad creative forms,

Holly

Jan 12

Gifts from the Sea

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Dear friends,

I’ve just returned from a week on Sanibel Island with my sisters where we walked the long sandy beach each morning with snowy egrets, herons, plovers and terns, eager to see what gifts the sea might bring. On Christmas Day, when the sun rose, we were greeted by a beach festooned with shells—whelks, periwinkles, starfish, sea urchins, crabs—all scattered across the sand awaiting the return of the tide. We watched as egrets and herons paced the shoreline, seagulls dropped shells to crack them open. Then the shellers arrived, tourists like us, in search of empty shells we could take home as souvenirs.

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In the midst of all this, we watched a mother from India with her young daughter and son wade thigh-deep into the sea. The daughter picked up a shell, peered inside, shrieked, “it’s alive!” She’d found a shell inhabited by a hermit crab, its legs scrambling in the air. Not wanting to spoil her delight, we refrained from asking her to return the shell and the crab to the sea, but held our breath until she did, then watched as she picked up another, and another, peered inside each one, exclaiming “it’s alive!” with a delighted grin, then releasing it.

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Of course I’m reminded of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Seawhich was written nearby on Captiva Island sixty years ago in March. I first read it when I was in high school, but try to re-read it every decade. She focuses on one shell in each chapter, exploring it as a metaphor for the stages in a woman’s life: Moon Shell for solitude, Double-Sunrise Shell for relationships, Oyster for growing old, among others.

As we watched the delight of the young girl on finding live shells—mixed with the delight of the tourists finding dead shells and the seagulls dropping shells to crack them open—I’m reminded of the many forms gifts can take.

Now that the holidays are over, I hope you’ll reflect on an unlikely gift you received, one you didn’t expect, one that delighted you. I hope you might be inspired to read Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea if you haven’t already—or re-read it if you have.

I’ll be writing more about that morning and hope you’ll join me. Here’s a poem by Eleanor Lerman that begins with a description of a fisherman’s account of seeing starfish and is a beautiful reminder of gratitude as we enter a new year together: “Starfish

With gratitude for gifts in whatever form they take,

Holly

Fall in the North Cascades

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Dear friends,

I wrote this several weeks ago. I’d hoped to post it sooner, but wasn’t able to do so, so am posting it now…

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I’ve once again returned from a deeply renewing weekend at the North Cascades Institute with Kurt Hoelting, where we taught a workshop together called: Sit, Walk, Write: Nature and the Practice of Presence. This is the fourth time we’ve taught this workshop together and each time, I’m reminded of the value of providing space and time for us to gather together and re-affirm what we know in our bones: wilderness matters and meditation and writing can help us remember this, remember that we need to pay attention to both our inner and outer landscapes.  I’m so grateful to Saul Weisberg, who co-founded the North Cascades Institute in 1986 for his vision.  Here’s an interview with Saul, where you can find out more about all the wonderful programs NCI offers.

When we gathered Friday night, we asked what drew the 28 participants to this session, and for most it was the combination of meditation, writing and being in the natural world that appealed. And that’s what we did, rising before dawn to greet the day in silence together, walking and writing together in the morning, then returning to share our words in a circle around the classroom. After lunch on Saturday, we were blessed by a break in the rain and headed up the trail to the waterfall, lead by our intrepid naturalist Katherine, where we enjoyed the fall sun on our faces, listened to the waterfall, and wrote in our journals. On the way back down, we encouraged participants to peel off from the group and find a place to write and explore more deeply—responding to whatever spoke to them along the way.

On the way up the trail, I’d been astounded by the variety and abundance of mushrooms bursting through the dark hummus with the return of the rain, so knew I wanted to spend more time with them. Write from the point of view of what you’re seeing, I’d encouraged. Try to go inside whatever it is you’re observing and write from its perspective, see what it might have to teach us. Here’s what I wrote in my journal after sitting for ten minutes with a red Lobster Mushroom:

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“Burst through the earth when the season is right, after the rains have nourished. Dwell at the feet of the cedars, your elders, nourished by their wisdom. Make use of it all: the green fir needles that fall to the forest floor, scarlet vine maple leaves, ghostly shreds of lungwort that sail down from high in the canopy. Embrace your neighbors—even though they may be different from you—all the forms of fungi that inhabit this earth. Be bold— wear red —even though you once thought it too loud. Hold hands with your family under the earth, even if no one sees or knows. Remember that we’re all connected in all ways, always.”

You don’t have to go up to the North Cascades to do this, though I hope you will someday. Just find a quiet corner of your yard or a park and sit in silence until something speaks to you. Pay attention, using all your senses and enlist your imagination, too. Then write what it might be saying.

yours in fungi fellow feeling,

Holly