"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


The refuge is unusually quiet as we drive in. No raptors soaring the sky. No herons hunting at the fringes of the lakes. No flashes of swan white flickering on the lakes.

Late March means nesting (the herons and raptors) and migrating (the swans). So there's often not so much to see. We're here because this place is holy in a way that never fails to feed our hearts and souls. And never once have we left without the gift of some new amazement.

Without warning the sky fills with Canada geese. Hundreds squawk/honk their way overhead - a massive chorus of urgent bicycle horns both discordant and melodic. Small vees form into focus, then blur out of focus as the birds flap north. Just as suddenly, they wheel in the sky in a confusion of wings. I'm amazed there are no collisions and wondering if some of the racket isn't watch-out alarm.

They settle in a nearby field and for a few minutes the only sound coming through my open window is the wind-driven rustle of dry grass standing guard over baby green nettles.

Only moments later, the air fills again - elegant goose bodies and heart-stirring goose music. I can't tell if these are the same geese, or different. There are gatherings of them everywhere we look. Far more than we've seen at one time in the refuge all winter. Usually they only take to the air at the sound of gunshots, but the hunters are gone. There is no outer reason for their restlessness.

Again, they seem to be leaving the refuge, beginning to form the vee that will carry them to their northern home safely. I wonder if I'm going to be lucky enough to witness the exact moment of migration. Again, they u-turn with an abruptness that is unsettling to watch.

It takes us a long hour to move through the meadows and canals and lakes on this day - the last visit of the winter. Time and time again the geese repeat this sky dance, from every corner of the refuge. I feel their restlessness. I feel the urgency pushing them into the sky. I feel the ambivalence pulling them back - something saying not just yet. As we drive away, the air is quiet again, the geese grounded. But not for long.

photo from Flickr

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Morning Song

When I awake this morning, awareness filtering into unconsciousness like cream into black coffee, my eyes seek the red light orientation of my clock. 8:30, the squared numbers announce. For a minute I'm confused. 

Usually the only 8:30 I see is at bedtime when I'm willing the clock to hold still while I try to find my way into eight hours of sleep that is now impossible before the alarm goes off at 4:00.

This is a different 8:30. I hear the hallelujah chorus of robins calling light into the darkness, both for this day and for the season. It's morning. It's spring. I've slept for something like ten hours. The house and my spirit are both quiet. It's a school day, but two previous nights of broken, restless and insufficient sleep were enough for this to be declared a sick day. Except that I feel more well, more whole, more myself, than I have in a week. Than I have in months.

The storm of grief seems to have passed. One last flurry of frozen despair before winter gave way to spring.

I go about my usual morning routine with no sense of urgency, which makes it even more delicious and satisfying. Journal, meditate, read. Toby's sleeping quietly unaware outside. Emma's purrs set up a soft vibration on my lap. My hands enjoy the warm water feel of her fur.

 Mary Oliver has been a part of my mornings for months now. I can't quite say how it happened, but her poems have become Voice of God. They offer comfort, inspiration, and encouragement in specific, no-accidents language that imbues my days like holy incense. This morning I open a new book and this is the poem that greets me:

North Country

by Mary Oliver

In the north country now it is spring and there
is a certain celebration. The thrush
has come home. He is shy and likes the 
evening best, also the hour just before 
morning; in that blue and gritty light he
climbs to his branch, or smoothly
sails there. It is okay to know only
one song if it is this one. Hear it
rise and fall; the very elements of your soul
shiver nicely. What would spring be
without it? Mostly frogs. But don't worry, he

arrives, year after year, humble and obedient
and gorgeous. You listen and you know
you could live a better life than you do, be
softer, kinder. And maybe this year you will
be able to do it. Hear how his voice
rises and falls. There is no way to be
sufficiently grateful for the gifts we are 
given, no way to speak the Lord's name
often enough, though we do try, and

especially now, as that dappled breast
breathes in the pines and heaven's
windows in the north country, now spring has come, 
are opened wide.

Thank you, Mary for your words of hope and affirmation. Thank you, robins, for your song of spring. Thank you, morning, for always arriving, no matter how long or broken the night.

photo from Flickr

Sunday, March 22, 2009


I'm lying on my stomach, an arcane configuration of needles in my back. The room is just-right warm, soft-music quiet, clean-energy peaceful. Susan has just left, her parting words lingering in the air like the hint of lavender that permeates everything. 

"You need to set your intention to release aggression."

We've been talking about things that keep me from sleeping well. I've shared a bit of my story with her, including the cult experience and my challenges finding my spiritual footing since. She shared last time about how there is a stickiness to spiritual beliefs that can travel through generations. I've talked about my struggles with a path that doesn't seem to fit clearly with any established belief system. I've also talked about how trusting still challenges me, how being vulnerable scares me. One of the reasons I have such a hard time falling asleep is my huge discomfort with that gap of time between awake and asleep. 

From all of that, she has decided to focus on my heart, my lungs (grieving, she tells me) and my liver (which might be anger or irritability) for today. 

When she says grieving, I feel a lump rise in my throat in response - with nothing concrete attached except that earlier in our conversation when she mentioned she wants to work with women with fertility issues I felt a surprising stab of sadness. Which I instantly dismissed.

I'm still not understanding what any of this has to do with aggression, but I do trust Susan and this process, so I do as she asks.

It's also the second time in two days that this topic has come up, so I'm thinking the great Someone is trying to get my attention again. Just yesterday Pat shared with me an excerpt from a book review in the April "O". The book being reviewed is How God Changes Your Brain. The words she read to me are, "Thinking of a loving being causes the compassion centers to light up, whereas belief in an authoritarian spirit stimulates regions that prime the brain for fighting."

Fighting. Aggression. Compassion. Vulnerability.

I focus on releasing aggression. Letting go of the fight. Opening my heart. Allowing the grief to surface.

And it does. And it's not what I expected. All I can receive on Susan's table is how sad I feel knowing she wants to help women get pregnant. Which makes no sense - I'm 57 and have done so much work around my unconventional parenting path that surely there is nothing left to grieve. Except the lump in my throat has other ideas.

It's not until two days later as I sit alone in my  morning quiet that the underlying truth emerges.

I have spent my life fighting my own femininity, and the vulnerability that is central to being a woman. And because I gave up the only daughter I gave birth to, was denied the daughter offered in adoption, and ran out of time (and even more deeply true, lost heart) to try again - because of all of that it was easier to decide I didn't want a child that bad. It was easier to be tough, and strong and to fight for everything and against anything, so I didn't have to feel the pain of that loss.

And here's the core of this latest layer of grief: In three short months I will leave a job that has allowed me to experience and love children in a safe and partially distant way. It's time to let go of that safe place and to move on. But that means finally knowing, without protection, what the loss of the deepest expression of my womanhood feels like.

My heart cannot open completely. I won't be able to breathe deeply. I will always need the false power of the fight. Until I grieve.

image from Flickr

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Waiting in the Wings

As winter hangs on like a bad cold, refusing to give over to the solstice any sooner than it absolutely has to, I find myself edgy, exhausted and having a harder and harder time being a good sport about the lateness of spring.

Most years in the Pacific Northwest, Winter bows gallantly and gives over to Spring well before the calendar crowns her Queen. At the very least, he'll take a day off here and there so she can begin to stretch her wings. 

Not happening this year - at least not recently enough  or long enough to count. My violets, the wild ones that always let me know in February spring is coming, have only started to bloom for serious this week. And it's a puny lot - six shivering blossoms where there should be too many to count - so many that the ground radiates purple. 

My longing for fresh green anything, kissing warm air, happy bared feet is physical. And short of flying to Hawaii, I'm stuck with waiting. And trusting. And finding ways to spend the time in happiness rather than suffocating myself with frustration - or fear that winter will never end.

So I go for long, intense walks searching for reasons to celebrate. And when everything else fails or stales, I know I can find some bit of hope and relief with creatures of the air.

Robins congregate and hunt and claim territory with wild declarative chirpings. A song sparrow stretches to his full possibility at the top of a rhododendron and sings an aria guaranteed to bring down the house (or at least bring in a mate). And just yesterday I saw the first swallows of the season swooping over the river in what looked like a homecoming waltz.

Last week, after walking my kids to the buses, I stopped to enjoy a rare and short-lived bit of sun-blessed warmth. A flash of movement in the sky drew my eyes upward. Two bald eagles glided overhead, twirling and swirling in an elaborate dance with currents invisible to human experience. 

For the briefest of seconds I considered hurrying on to the endless tasks of teaching that called to me from my room. I've seen baldies so often recently that it would have been easy to dismiss these two as ordinary. But I didn't. It would have seemed disloyal somehow to not stop and pay homage to my messenger birds. So I stood still while kids pushed around me like a spring river rushing around a boulder. I absorbed both the surprising heat of the new sun and the comforting familiarity of sky royalty going about their business, oblivious to their impact on earthbound, winterbound mortals.

I cannot have the enough of spring's pregnant abundance just yet. The enough of summer's hyperbole of lushness is months away still. And so for now I feed my hunger with the enough of simple beings with wings whose presence is a promise that cannot be broken. 

photo from Flickr

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Haphazard Garden

I am a haphazard gardener. I mean to be more intentional, more faithful, more disciplined. I was once years ago. I admire the gardens of people who are still. The gentle firework explosion of soft color that is an English country garden is the ideal that lives in my heart as I go about my casual gardening life.

 I visit nurseries and look at catalogs and pore over seed packages that are sprouting in stores everywhere. I buy  the limitless potential of tiny brown specks promised by the shiny perfection of pictures. I adopt tender plants just beginning to show their true colors. And I even get most of them planted, with love and care and lots of food.

From that point on, however, my attention is a hit and miss thing. Weeding happens on sunny mornings that are not too hot and not too cold when I'm not busy doing something more satisfying. Watering happens when Walt gets to it. Feeding is a once a year thing, with heartfelt and unkept promises to do more.

I stopped vegetable gardening years ago when I made the connection between the coincidence of the beginning of the school year and every single thing in the garden coming ripe and needing attention. The choice was kids or corn, and the kids won.

So vegetables got replaced with flowers. Annuals at first because of the bright, endless show of color throughout the summer. Perennials later because, while the flowering season is shorter, the plants don't die. Mostly. And the variety tickles my soul in a place that petunias don't quite touch.

The result of my benign neglect is a garden that never ceases to surprise and delight. My front bed is full of crocuses right now, ten times more than I originally planted. Somehow the yellow ones have disappeared over the years, but the purple and white that survived don't seem to miss  them. Tender lambs' ears are starting to fill in a corner, providing a soft gray contrast to the vivid shout of crocus color. It's early enough in the season that I can ignore their intention to take over the entire bed and just enjoy their innocent newness for now.

Hyacinth fingers are just beginning to show here and there, tantalizing me with their promise of handfuls of fragrant rockets of pink and purple and white and yellow. Daffodil buds sprout everywhere, waiting for the spring sun to appear and ignite their brilliant fire.

As I wander the yard, I see shoots of day lily leaves braving air that still holds the cranky bite of winter. My leggy, untamed forsythia, more yellow every day, is entwined with the flowering quince, equally unkempt, just beginning to hint at the fuchsia glory that is its unique signature. The waxy green island of vinca in the middle of our driveway offers a few bright blue stars on the edges of its shores, scouts for the invasion that will overrun the island soon. Farther on, gray-green needles yield the essence of lavender to the warm friction of my fingers, promising much much more when the warmth of the sun can be relied on.

The brittle brown remains of last year's garden have not dissolved completely back into the earth, even after the harsh pounding of the winter still clinging stubbornly to the air. I'm going to have to remove the bodies myself, or let their dead weight smother the more tender flowers still waiting to emerge: Bleeding heart. Penstemon. Jupiter's beard. Peony. Coreopsis. Phlox. Pink. Shasta Daisy. Cone flower. Bee balm. And I need to make room for flowers that help define summer with their reassuring and reliable sameness: Petunia. Sweet pea. Marigold. Snap dragon. Alyssum. Cosmos. Nasturtium. Pansy. Zinnia. 

Haphazard seems to be working. For now at least. My garden needs much less of me than I once thought. Of course the more attention I give it, the richer it is. But there is something about the wild surprise of nature left to fend for herself that is much more satisfying. It's the letting go of control, and seeing how much I can release before it becomes abandonment that fascinates. It's one more layer of learning to listen to the quiet voice rather than jumping to the strident insistent demands of the loud one. It's a special kind of freedom.

photo from Flickr

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Lost Hour

My clock says it's an hour later than my body believes. The calendar and my body say it's much much later than my heart wants to know. Some part of my heart is afraid that it's too late, period.

Every year, this lost hour throws me off balance. In a way that the regaining of it in the fall does nothing to compensate.

It's just an hour. I've lost hundreds, maybe thousands, of hours in my life at my own hand. Time spent trying to numb pain that only went under to emerge again at the next fully alive hour.

I'm jittery these days. On edge. Afraid. 

Nothing is wrong. In fact things are more right than they've been in a very long time. And yet the fear stalks me like a jilted lover determined to be taken seriously.

I'm trying to blame this time change that befuddles me every year. It's a handy target. Except the fear has been serenading me for weeks. 

And so I listen to its song and ask it questions. So that I can give it cookies and comfort and send it back to its cave.

This fear dresses herself in the plain clothes of humility and forbearance. She avoids attention and flash and anything that might appear to smack of too-big-for-her-britches. Her voice is reasonable and persistent. "You have enough. If you try for more it will just go to your head. Then you won't have any friends at all. You should just be satisfied with what you have."

This is not the fear of failure that I keep expecting to hear, although I'm pretty sure the humming in the background is hers. The loud song is fear of succeeding.

What if I get everything I've ever wanted and it turns out to be not enough still? What if this transition is everything I want and more and I wreck it? What if it turns out that I have the ability to create a life of love and simplicity and healing for myself, and even better, the ability to share that with others? What is the worst that could happen then? What if it's too late? What if I'm just fooling myself? What if that quiet voice I've worked so hard to hear and listen to is wrong after all? How do I know? Who do I trust?

My reply to this fear who moved in to keep me safe exactly forty years ago is this, "You have done your job well, dear one. You have kept me safe. You have created a good, responsible, respectable woman. It's now time for you to rest in the lost hours of my life. They are your safe haven and I give them to you gladly. I  claim the remaining hours for something dangerous and adventurous and vital. Trust  me."

photo from Flickr

Monday, March 2, 2009

Spring Sky

I love the adolescent moodiness of March. Today's sky was March at her best. A fresh clean starched blue all day long. A few clouds forming rick-rack around the edges. The air almost warm. The sun so bright that it brought tears to my eyes that weren't entirely joy.

By the time I got home to walk, the clouds had taken over. But not the heavy suffocating wool of winter clouds. These were the first clouds born of spring. 

The western sky was obliterated by gray-blue cobwebby sheets hanging clear to the ground. They waved with restless energy,  their general demeanor ominous and threatening. A large flock of sky sheep grazed the hills of the eastern horizon. Overhead was a theater of cloud shapes begging for a summer audience of still bodies lying in sweet grass interpreting the ever-shifting stories. 

As I set out on my walk, the clouds decided to have some fun with me. Random hailstones tapped my head and shoulders, with surprising gentle playfulness. Giant splatty raindrops hit the pavement around me, missing me, but not by much.

The grand finale as I headed home was so close that longer arms than mine could have reached out and touched it. The top was whipped cream just before it becomes butter, filling the entire north sky. The bottom, a slice of blueberry cake Paul Bunyan might have been willing to share with Babe. The sky behind had become a bright blue Fiesta Ware plate.

Tomorrow's sky could easily become dead, dense wool again. It is March after all. Which also means the lush, energetic fertility of the new spring sky won't be held at bay for long.

photo from Flickr