Posts Categorized: Remembering

Antidote for Worry? Soup!

My worries have worries. So I built little matchstick houses

with large ceilings, a garden for them to grow tomatoes, cilantro, & carrots

their worry babies will eat.

—Laura Villareal, Poetry Unbound

Last week my friend Jenni sent me this snippet of a poem. And there it was, in one perfect image. Everything I’ve been hearing from friends and strangers alike for the last five years. “Worry babies” seem to be invading the planet: growing in gardens, dropping from trees. Once they get established, worries, like crabgrass, tend to take over, setting up residency in our brains and getting busy raising their own worry families. Sometimes they take cover in dreams, full of spikes and hooks that keep drawing us in when we’re just minding our own business. This is the work of the Nightime Worry Family, whose patchwork ticky-tacky housing development parties get wild about 3:00 am.

One of my favorite thoughts about worry comes from Bridge of Spies. Tom Hanks’ character, who is trying to save a spy who might well be executed at any moment, repeats his one question three times: “Aren’t you worried?” The reply is always the same:  “Would it help?” If you’d like to check it out this link.

Lately I’ve been asking Wilma, my inner Worry Wart, if she’s trying to help,  because it sure seems the opposite. She made the case that ignoring her completely might mean turning off flashing yellow lights that keep me safe. But often, especially in the middle of the night, her honest answer is “no.”

Although an actual worry may contain the seed of a solvable problem (or at least an action item) by the light of day, the ones that set up housekeeping and wake you up at night do NOT offer solutions. Their job is to feed on any anxieties the body may have stored. In unprotected moments, when you forget to ask if it helps to worry, they can have their way with you, repeating past regrets or imagining fearful futures in an endless loop.

The best hope for evading the Nighttime Worries is to notice the quick moment when we start to feel ourselves getting hooked at other times in our daily lives. This can be especially challenging during the holidays because that’s when worry families thrive.

Try it out for yourself. sometime, in one of those elusive moments a when a worry first arises. Ask yourself whether it’s helpful. Breathe deeply once or twice. Just this much might be enough. Sometimes simply remembering to pay attention at that moment can calm the system. Next, find a quick way to tend to your actual body in some way, even if that means washing your hands or stretching for a couple minutes. Embrace whatever acts of self-care you can, even if it means a quick bathroom Time Out in a moment of overwhelm.

When the time is right, you might ask your version of Wilma the Worrier to help develop a long-term plan. Allow some time to listen to what calms her, especially if you tend toward worry loops. Ask her to prioritize your to-do list, quietly eliminating her crazier ideas. If you listen closely, she might suggest you cut out unnecessary duties or dance or take a walk move excess energy. Or perhaps she’d like a little Time Out for herself. Send her to the spa and then give your body and spirit a few minutes (or hours) for a nervous system reset. Cozy up. Take a quick nap if you can. Simply stare out the window while savoring a comforting hot drink.

Even better, nurture yourself by getting soupy.

Warmly,

PS. Below is a great soup created from a couple of other recipes by way of my friend Martha. The first is from relishmag.com for African Peanut Stew. The second  is from  http://wpr.org/zorba/recipes/z07-0203r.htm (African Peanut Soup). Enjoy!

 

Getting Soupy

I get all soupy in the fall

Squash and pumpkin soupy

Mulligatawney soupy 

Chicken noodle soupy

Muertos with salty tears soupy

Sacred soupy

with your face 

in every spoonful,

each memory of you, 

all that and more

reduced now to a rich melange

congealed on the serving spoon

at the end of this meal.

But I’m still the same greedy monkey

who sops it up, every bit,

with a soft sourdough roll.

—SgB

November, 2022

Martha’s Peanut Soup w/Veggies 

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 onion finely chopped (about 1 ½ cups)

1 medium bell pepper (chopped)

1 large yam (peeled and diced)

1/2 chopped carrot (2 small)

1/2 cup chopped celery

1 cup zucchini, diced

3 cloves garlic (more to taste)

2 tablespoons minced, fresh peeled ginger, more to taste

Jalapeno pepper to taste

*1 tablespoon curry powder 

(or this combination of spices: 1 tsp. ea. mustard seed,

ground cumin,. turmeric, coriander, cinnamon plus ¼ tsp. cayenne

1 (14 ½ oz.) can diced tomatoes, drained (or may use combo. of diced toms. and salsa)

4 – 8 cups veggie or chicken broth to desired thickness

1 bay leaf

1 ½ cups edamame

1 cup garbanzo beans 

¼ cup creamy or crunchy natural peanut butter or almond butter (mix in bowl with some of the broth)

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

5 oz. baby spinach or kale, torn into bite-size pieces

Salt and pepper to taste

Brown rice

1) Heat olive oil in a large saucepan, add fresh veggies (zucchini last), sauté until soft and translucent.

2) Add garlic, ginger and curry spices and sauté until fragrant.  Add tomatoes and bay leaf, cook uncovered until tomatoes are slightly reduced.

3) Add broth, diluted peanut butter, edamame and garbanzo beans and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer.  Cook until thoroughly heated.  Stir in cilantro and spinach until spinach wilts.  Season with salt and pepper.  May  top with fresh cilantro, diced green onion and/or plain yoghurt.  Serve over rice.  Serves  8.

Balancing in the Land of Autumn

Fall Equinox found me in in Augusta, Missouri. a town of two or three hundred in my home state. I was there for a biking adventure covering a chunk of the Katy Trail, an official state park that winds through farm and river country along the Missouri River for 253 miles. Now the longest Rails to Trails route in the country, the land was first cleared by the MKT railway (This stands for the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas, or the Katy line, for short). 

The Katy Trail is the longest uninterrupted biking and hiking path in the country represents the collaboration of industry (railroads retiring old lines) and donations, with a whole lot of negotiations along the way. 

In the 1990’s, when the trail was being developed, the folks from the tiny farm towns along the Missouri river were not happy. They feared invasion by outsiders from other parts who would no doubt bring drugs and other undesirables into their insular communities. In other words, Trouble in River City.

The path turned twenty last year. And the struggling farm towns along the way are  now dotted with profitable B & B’s, antique stores, and restaurants.

The first wine country in the US has been reclaimed. The path winds through an area that once produced more wine than anyone else in the country, but during prohibition all the established old-world vines were ripped out of the ground.

So it’s possible that the path has brought danger to the river cities, but whatever danger that is, it probably wouldn’t start with pool halls. These changes have defied expectations and provided triage for the shrinking small-farm economy. 

So what does all this have to do with Fall Equinox?

When I woke up on September 22 in a beautifully restored Victorian B&B in tiny Augusta, it made sense. For me this time of year is all about balance, especially the balance of opposites, just as light and dark are equal on this one day of the year. So it seemed a fine way to spend the day, balancing on my bike, speeding along the flanks of the Missouri River, thinking about the unity of opposites. While breathing in the serenity and idyllic beauty of limestone cliffs and spacious river and autumn colors.

But my mind kept returning to opposites in politics. In the middle of vacation. I know.

For me the political and regional divisiveness of the last few years has been exhausting. I glean the news to find a sense of hope, trying to create equilibrium in my own mind.

But on that first day of fall, in a town once abandoned as river commerce died, it occurred to me that I was in the right place for the season. In the exact middle of America, in the middle of a “red state,” riding on the shoulders of the widest river in the country (and third widest in the world), all felt in balance.

This, I thought, is truly the middle path. Not conservative or liberal, not afraid or angry. Just people meeting people, people helping people, people connecting with people, acting from kindness and generosity, with a little free market enterprise thrown in. From that middle way has come a gradual trust, a balanced change. An inspiration for my own life, certainly. And a blueprint for our country and our world. A hope for a future of small, local action. A path of equilibrium.

Katy the Trail

You pierce the heart of this continent

like a dogwood arrow slowly landing 

under green canopy, in a bending and twirling pas de deux with the third widest river in the world. 

Who needs the Amazon or Congo

when there’s the Missouri River, queen to her core, 

lined with wrecked steamboats,

bare muddy shoulders cloaked with horsetail reeds

scattered bouquets of purple asters 

fields of radiant yellow blooms with black eyes?

Katy, without the clickety clack

of iron horses 

Your job is to be, 

still and quiet, 

offering your charms to human pedalers, 

sharing your warm embrace equally 

with copperheads and bicycles 

and sworn enemies of red and blue, 

giving a hand up to farming hamlets

no longer ghosts of the past 

but offerings to a future of beauty and simple pleasures, 

seated in the power of place.

 

—SgB

October, 2022

 

The Magic of the Crack Between Worlds

Here in the Northwest, reliable sunny summer weather typically lasts for only a few weeks. Summer can feel like a crack in time between seasons. So many of us try to wring out every little drop of out-of-door essence, condense it, and bring it home as a hedge against winter (or other unforeseen quarantines). 

After our family’s mountain cabin burned down in the conflagration of 2020, after hanging out for a couple of years in pandemic isolation, my long-time husband and I decided earlier this summer that it was a good time to drive down memory lane. So we headed out, bikes in tow, to visit outposts from our early lives, when we were in our early twenties and worked for the forest service on recreation and fire crews, usually in remote locations. It felt like peeking back through a crack in time. Fifty years of time.

Our trip began with the lookout tower where we resided and kept fire watch in our early twenties, George was designated main lookout, but he was also a fire fighter. When there was a lightning bust, he’d put on his hardhat and drive a fire tanker down the hill to try to find spot fires. Then it was my turn in the tower to track the lightning hits, using binoculars to detect an orange glow, trusting an amazing device called an azimuth finder to align it with his headlights. This all had to happen while standing on a glass stool, careful not to touch metal so as not to get fried by lightning.In other words, boredom bookended with occasional hits of adrenaline. 

We lived in our workspace, so we spent 24 hours a day in the same room for six months. Edward Abbey, an acclaimed environmental writer who lived and wrote in a lookout tower for three years, said that the best test of a marriage was to assign a husband and wife a job on a lookout. According to him, “Couples who survived this were destined for a long marriage, and they deserve it.” In my humble experience, it also helps if you’re young or in that “merge” stage of love that makes small spaces cozy and desirable. Lots of things have changed in our marriage during that gap of time, including our relationship with personal space, but we seem to still be living examples of Abbey’s contention.

One lookout where we lived was at the top of a steep road that wound its way up a cinder cone. The entire range of the central Oregon Cascades was our wallpaper. At night the stars and flirtatious visits by the Northern Lights were our entertainment. The tower stood out as a sentinel on the caldera, and it was also the first structure of an area that is now a national monument. So our little cabin on stilts served as an interface between the wild world and humans. We were only one flight up some stairs, so during the day the same refrain drifted through our windows: the sound of winded tourists would gasp for breath while they read the altitude sign. At high volume. And the altitude never once changed in all that time.

Most of the time we laughed at life there on the crack between humans and the wildness of nature. We hung out, staring out over the land for a blue haze, binoculars at the ready. While one or the other of us did that responsible thing, the other read or played an instrument. I planned to learn to play the banjo and never progressed past “poorly.” But we worked up a fake-bluegrass version of Smokey the Bear to torture the visitors at the end of the season. We got back at those altitude readers. I marvel now at our ingenuity and ability to entertain ourselves.

We were the last people to live in this particular tower, which is now staffed only during the day. It was a bit of a shock during our first stop on this summer’s nostalgia tour, then, when were boarded on a shuttle bus stuffed with other tourists that disgorged passengers about every half hour at the top of the caldera. I gasped my way to the top of the crater, stopping to read the altitude sign. Out loud. Once there, it almost seemed as if we were able to enter a crack in changeless time because it was all so familiar. Except the number of people swarming the caldera. I was taken aback by how rugged the living was, with a far steeper hike than I remembered, especially round trip down the little switchbacks to the only bathroom, a pit toilet.

We continued our trip to a couple of once-isolated resorts, now full of people, even though the pristine areas remain protected and once again seemed much the same, and there was an odd sense of comfort consistency in nature. We biked through stunning meadows and looped a whole lake, grateful for new bike baths. Another day we pedaled through the remains of whole towns that burned down and are now being replaced with manufactured villages, stripped of gardens and trees. Blackened ghost trees hovered dark and tall over new growth of grasses and ferns along the creeks, witnesses to the cracks in the world created by wildfire.

Ever since that trip, I notice that little cracks of wonder are everywhere, in so many places: old times and now times, honeymooners and silver anniversary celebraters, wild spaces and civilized ones, children and grandparents, night and day, destruction, damage, and renewal, summer and fall, There’s a magic in this simple but profound peek between worlds. A sense of being held by all of it, despite occasional evidence to the contrary. 

May you find yourself held when the cracks in your world don’t seem kind.

 

Long View

Over fifty years ago 

we went to sleep every night 

in a glass house tied on top of poles 

perched on a lava cone.

Our enemy was a flash of lightning, 

a pewter puff in the distance 

a glimmer in the dark 

a smudge in a valley.

Our tools were a radio, 

a behemoth metal fire finder

and a platoon ready to pounce.

 

We woke up embraced by mountains, 

watched the snow dissolve until it was gone,

went to bed to among stars and sometimes

the green petticoat of northern lights flounced our way.

 

Our fears then were lightning busts,

renegade campfires

and the thought that

we might end up living ordinary lives.

First one and then the other of us 

was the on-duty watcher 

while the other one was left 

to dream and scheme.

And right there on the caldera we began

to gradually glimpse our future 

circled by an entire range of mountains,

and all the time in the world. 

 

And when autumn came and socked us in

we surrendered, unready as we were, and 

began to grope our way 

into what was next.

 

—SgB

August, 2022

Mother, Simon, and Me

 
 
Nearly every recess in second grade, I raced to the playground to play one of my favorite games, either Mother May I or Simon Says. I didn’t care which. I don’t remember loving the power of telling the other kids how many baby or giant steps they could take. I just liked the way the rules were so easy, as long as you paid attention. If you weren’t listening or you didn’t mind Simon or moved without Mother’s permission, you were O-U-T. 
 
So very simple and clear. 
 
Ever since 2020 I’ve been longing for that old certainty. At first I studied daily updates and followed the leads, somewhat obsessively focused on decoding pandemic rules. Mostly I obeyed them, which wasn’t too hard since I’m of the certain age that makes caution advisable. But lately Simon has been MIA and I haven’t been able to get a clear answer from Mother. So, like everyone else, I’ve been following my best educated guess about re-entering the world of people. 
 
At least that’s my excuse for my questionable decision to fly to Las Vegas last month for an extended family errand. Somehow the first night, looking for a restaurant, we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of several crowd events, mostly outdoors, but still. I was not prepared for the overstimulation that is Las Vegas, a place I hadn’t visited in years. And having been (mostly) sheltered, it was a lot. 
 
A part of me was excited. At the same time another part (my whole nervous system?) began to scream for shelter. After a couple of days of entertainment laced with terror, my husband and I drove a few hours to pick up an RV. We drove it nearly a thousand miles back home to Oregon. This involved learning how to manage all the systems along the way and included a short Siri-directed diversion through San Francisco’s winding streets. Did I mention we were in an unfamiliar vehicle? In an RV? I’m still unpacking from the adventure of the trip. 
 
In the end I didn’t get Covid, something I’ve resigned myself to experiencing as it becomes endemic. As it turns out, several of my friends, both traveling and stationary, did contract the virus. What to do? I’m hearing from lots of other folks about how awkward it is to make plans to reconnect, even though we know itwill probably be worth it in the end. Yesterday, a friend pointed out a people-friendly website: https://covidactnow.org. Having this resource has opened the door to more clarity in summer planning, began with a BIG stretch: indoor singing (with mask). ALMOST like the good old days. But I’ve mostly returned to my old cautious ways.
 
I don’t want to forget the quieter pleasures of the life lived at a slower pace. Walking my elderly dog. Quiet time in solitude by the sea. Following the rise and fall of the ocean, the graceful arc of seagulls and raptors. Life lived on my own terms.
 
I think Mother would approve.
 
Be well,
Remembering Las Vegas 
(or How Not to Emerge from Pandemic Isolation)
Brilliant collage of magenta
Cosmic calliope of punk
Decibels killing to the human ear
Street zipping over the projected sky
“Nuns” with pasties, fishnets and thongs twerking,
Moonwalking the tricky world between sacred and profane.
 
Mother May I?
Take one small step into morning 
this moment of arising 
of drifting in and out without effort
into not being a me and then being one,
becoming and unbecoming 
again and again.
in the dark margin. 
May I taste this tiny slice of life
and savor this small knowledge of death?
 
—SgB 5/2022

Is Spring enough to match the war of hell?

Words have been eluding me this month, mostly because news of war is always lurking, even in the early rays of morning light. I recently recovered from the bad habit of doom scrolling over Covid or presidential politics, and I was finally settling into the soothing early-morning habit of meditating and reading or writing poetry. Then along came Russian invasion of Ukraine, and tragic scenes from Kiev and Karkov (and other places I can’t even pronounce) flooded my mind.
 
I became acutely aware my own helplessness in the face of such enormous tragedy. Then I thought of our sister city Uzhrogod in the Ukraine. And so Geo and I went down to the courthouse and held a sign in solidarity. We donated money for supplies. Then we gave some more to support a local couple who were traveling to the warfront with medical supplies. This helped, but it didn’t feel like enough to match the hell of that war. 
 
Then I thought of the painful losses within my own family from suicide and addiction, another hell in another time of life. And I remembered William Carlos Williams’ words: “It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.” The last few days I’ve managed to pick up a pen or remember a few words from trusted source Mary Oliver, determined to save the only life I can, my own. When I do that, the day dawns with a new dimension. If I’m lucky, I can be absorbed by a different world, the one that has been right beside me, all around me, all along.
 
To my amazement, Spring has come. Yesterday I sat in the sunshine on my deck in the woods on the meadow with a poet friend. The plum blossoms blushed pink and, and one of them floated like a tiny lotus in the bird bath, accompanied by the bubbling fountain over my shoulder. I knew right then what it is to be in heaven. Sometimes it feels as if there’s no place big enough to contain all the contradictions of life. Guilt came up, along with one image of starving people in Mariupol. Suddenly, the plum tree, along with the song of the yellow-rumped warblers, all of it was gone. This is how it is for me nowadays. My heart breaks from the hell of war. I try to do something to useful. But all the while there’s the heaven of spring, right outside my door. 
 
Meditation helps. Walking and biking and yoga help. But what helps most of all is simply stopping, breathing, and looking around to take in the wonders of the world where I’m embedded right here and now.
 
Yesterday I saw a photo of a subway car in Karkhiv where many families shelter. A mother had placed a tin can with tulips in the window where she and her two sons were sheltering. (Check it out here.) May this be an image we all remember, a moment of spring poetry. A piece of heaven to honor the soul in us all.
 
There is a quick moment
somewhere between dark and light.
Neither this or that.
Mystery sits there.
Nightmares become dreams and dreams nightmares.
Dome of sky offers a day uncut by sorrow
and morning is born again
with news of war waiting
unbidden in the shadows 
 
—SgB 3/2022
 

Dead Puppy Christmas and Carbonated Holiness

One Christmas past, my daughter and her friend brought home fifteen sick puppies from a kill shelter rescue mission that had gone awry. I imagined a family home Christmas as a video, swarming with curious, slightly weak puppies around the Christmas tree.
 
I didn’t know much about Parvo at the time. Reality hit quickly. When we saw how sick the puppies were, we rallied to a new mission, setting up an emergency vet clinic. 
 
For the two days leading to Christmas we nursed half-pound infants, trying desperately to save them from the grim effects of the disease. We kept our arms full, set alarms and devised a way to hydrate with homemade IV’s. Instead of going to a midnight service we prayed for their survival as we held them and watched them fade. Hour after hour the little pile of bodies in the corner grew. In the end only one survived, born miraculously on Christmas Eve.
 
My blog post that season said “This will be the Christmas of Dead Puppies soon, and we will laugh. Someday.” When my son Ben read it, he said he cried, and I saw how powerful my protective shield had been, and how truly traumatic it had been for all of us. We needed to grieve. Now, ten years later, I have the distance to see the whole picture and appreciate how we coped.. We cried plenty, but somehow even in the midst of it all there were moments of hilarity.
 
What saved us was being able to see our own powerlessness in the face of the absolute absurdity of the scene. We told ourselves that it couldn’t get any worse and then it did. Again and again. I guess you could say that dark humor became our greatest ally. This and the power of distraction. My memories of the year feature us stumbling through some Christmas carols, playing Pictionary, and awkwardly dancing to a Wii Rock Band workout featuring Beatles music. But mostly I remember the laughter.
 
It may seem strange, but ten years later I realize that this may be have been our most deeply soulful Christmas of all, working together through the crisis and still finding a kind of humor in the midst of an awful situation. Later I heard Anne Lamott call laughter “carbonated holiness,” and I knew just what she was talking about.
 
This is what I wish for each of you this holiday season. 
 
Without the dead puppies.
 
Just some carbonated holiness. 
 
With love,
 
Susan Grace
 
Dead Puppy Christmas
 
Today in the mist of a stroll 
through the Advent calendar
I open tiny windows of Christmases past,
The first scene is one I tenderly recall, 
Dead Puppy Christmas
There we are, five of us humans,
 jostling fifteen half-pound puppies 
recently rescued 
before the Grinch of Parvo took over,
now sick and getting sicker.
Across from the tree in this diorama 
is a small I-V stand
Each hour another pup stops breathing 
and a tiny body Is added
to the pile in the corner.
In between we cry, 
stumble through carols,
distract ourselves with sugar cookies,
eggnog, gingerbread and games,
Tending to life and to death,
Awaiting the miracle of Christmas Eve, 
one surviving puppy.
 
—SgB 12/2021

Why I am Happy

I hate summers.  Every year by fall the words tumble out. Admitting it seems sacrilegious. And yet there it is. Even today, as I savor the summer world waking up, I know that it’s not completely true. I don’t really hate it. But still.
 
No. Not still. That’s the problem with summer, I think. All the hubbub and activity. Summers are composed of too muchness. Overwhelm. Not enough stillness. So big. So busy. So much coming and going and not enough time to land. 
 
 
 
 Like most everyone around me, I’ve been trying my best to make up for lost time with family and friends while responding to the reality of a rapidly shifting world. Yesterday I sat for a time in my garden, trying to catch up with myself. Essentially nothing from my activity-based checklist is completed, and yet already there’s that sense of depletion. A phrase from a beloved poem by William Stafford, Why I am Happy popped into my mind. My framed and beautifully scribed copy burned in a forest fire last fall, but the wonderful thing about words is they don’t burn but keep doing their magic as long as we can string a few phrases together.
 
The next words, I let it roll, come into my mind.
My to-do list for the next month just got a whole lot shorter. 
 
And so we come to my summer wish list for you, my friends: 
 
May you let it all roll as you remember the peace and ease of the blue and free lake you already carry inside yourself.May that elusive peace of mind be your guide as often as you can during these precious days.
 
It’s a wish and a prayer. For you. For all of us.
 
SgB 8/2021

Mothers Dreaming Daughters and a Future

Dear friends,
 
It’s complicated here in this Bardo, this world between worlds that we call 2021. Like any animal emerging from a cocoon or hibernation, many of us are tender and tentative. As we take each step toward “normal,” we ask ourselves, Now where was I?  (in the Before World). But in all the excitement, we can easily forget to ask Who am I Now? No longer in the old safe world of traditional etiquette, we’re on our own to find some graciousness as the world keeps changing. Daily. Mask on or off? How to come up with safety agreements with people we love who nonetheless disagree with us on the red-hot subject of vaccinations?
 
Decision fatigue alone is enough to make you want to crawl back into lockdown. There’s no One Size Fits All, and we’re on our own to fashion something that works each time we engage with our families and friends. Even if we figure something out, there’s no guarantee that things won’t all change again. Quite the opposite. This requires a flexibility and equanimity I’m only beginning to feel in this life. If we were butterflies emerging from the cocoon, we’d flap our new wings before flying into this new world. The human equivalent is to take that second question about who I am now more seriously. To take time to adjust to this new reality before taking a giant leap back OR forward in this Simon Says world of the pandemic.
 
Sometimes when I need perspective I look to my ancestors for inspiration. I found some by going all the way back to the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1870. My great great grandmother Maria Raum, a new immigrant, lost her husband and an unborn baby to the Yellow Fever plague in Memphis after his beer wagon was commandeered to remove bodies. Maria was left penniless and unable to feed herself and her 3 and 5 year old daughters. Unable to go back home to Germany, unable to speak the language of the new world, she did what she had to do so that they would survive. She sent them off to a Lutheran orphanage while she worked as domestic help and saved enough money to be able to support them. After three years she emerged from the world of pandemic domestic service to find they had been packed up and loaded onto an Orphan Train headed west. Hundreds of miles and inquiries later she found them living with their new farm families.
 
What she did next is my favorite page of family history. Instead of fighting to reclaim her girls, she and her new husband built a house down the road to watch them grow and have children of their own. She’s buried in a small German cemetery near her daughters and their adoptive families. Now that’s a radical form of resilience, an example of true Motherlove. 
 
I call on this grace and resilience as I dream of what this next world might become. I’m beginning right here, where I am today, dreaming this new future, knowing even if it all changes love will find a way. Always does in the end.
 
 
Poetry reading posterPS. I’ve been writing more poetry during our current pandemic. I’ll be reading this new poem about my mother’s mother’s mother, this week, along with my Open Handed Writers’ group and friends. It’s a free Zoom call (with the support of our local bookstore)
 
If you’re reading this May 5th, come listen tonight at 7 PT and join us as we celebrate Mothering as a Verb. Just visit this page for the link.
 
 
 
Dreaming Daughters
 
The women in my family dream their daughters,
And so I dreamed you up, a strong Baby Woman. 
Just as my mother dreamed herself a sister instead of a baby
And her mother dreamed a prodigy, Shirley Temple of Saline County.
And her mother before her dreamed up a milliner.
But the mother before that, a new immigrant turned into a widow by Yellow Fever,
That mother just dreamed of getting her daughters’ bellies fed
 
And so she let them go by boat to an orphanage, 
signs hanging from necks in the only language she knew,
saying keep them safe and I will come.
And when she didn’t, couldn’t, an orphan train took them 
To new farm families with mothers who at least spoke the old tongue,
who adopted them and who fed them
and put them to work cooking for farm hands until
they began to have dreams in this strange, new language
and when their German mother traveled hundreds of miles to find them happy, 
she built a little house the size of her new dream 
down the road from their full-bellied lives. 
But she just kept on dreaming and watching in that new place
because that’s what mothers do sometimes.

Hope is a Thing with Feathers

Aloha, Dear Friends!
 
Looking out the window at the flowering cherry outside this morning, my mind goes back to this exact scene a year ago. The view is the same, but the feeling is so different. Today spring’s birdsong reminds me of a memory tucked away in the folds of this old but durable brain. I hear the words of Marcus Borg, a mentor and religious scholar who helped me to rediscover my Christian roots. One Sunday he was speaking of the Holy Spirit, which I’d never had much use for before, although I often thought of myself as a Spiritual Person. 
 
His words resonate even more today: As you watch for the face of the Holy Spirit, be quiet. Patient. Like a bird watcher longing to see a rare and shy bird. I was immediately taken with the image, and it has visited me often since then. I’ve found it immensely comforting to allow that bird into my heart when I’ve felt overwhelmed by my own dark nights or by the newest examples of human ignorance or evil. (It probably goes without saying that this past year it’s become an almost constant companion.)
 
But I’ve learned again and again that the shy bird of soulful comfort will not show up at my command. This is one of the biggest takeaways from my year: love, faith, and hope cannot be stalked. They reveal themselves in their own ways, peeking out of the brush of everyday life, usually accompanied by acts of mercy or kindness. I’ve learned to be a little more still and to patiently watch, with an eye out for tenderness. 
 
Hope is a Thing with Feathers. Emily Dickinson’s poem has been with me this spring. And her words keep coming back to warm me in this chilliest of lands. And today while hiking, what showed up? A Thing with Feathers. A beautiful soft bird’s nest woven of grass and softened with white and speckled feathers. Enough already, I thought. And so I share this photo and Dickinson’s poem with you today, in recognition of the beauty of synchronicity, my favorite poet, and National Poetry Month.
 
May that bird with feathers perch more and more often just outside your window. May your heart be filled with the power of hope. May you be blessed and healed as we find our ways back to each other…one bird at time.
 
With love,
Susan Grace Beekman
 
 
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul 
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.
 
And sweetest in the gale is heard
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
 
I’ve heard it in the chilliest land
And on the strangest sea
Yet never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
 
~Emily Dickinson

The Grandmother Stands

For the last couple of decades my family has owned a cabin in the old growth forest of the Pacific Northwest, less than two hours from our home. Whenever the speed of life was too much it was always there for us. Our refuge. When the weather was right, in the early mornings, I’d wrap up, sit outside the many-paned windows, and take in the forest. In the center rose an ancient red cedar snag, undisturbed by the hemlock, cedar and fir upstarts, all less than a hundred years old, who all seemed to gather around her. I named her Grandmother Snag. Every time I sat, there she was. I began to think of her as my own private Natural Wonder. And then, a few months ago, our cabin and the surrounding forest were wiped out by a fire that sped through the valley at speeds over 60 miles per hour. 

As the news rolled in, confirmed by drone reports, we knew that all the family mementos and irreplaceable instruments had succumbed to flames. Somehow this mattered less when I imagined the Grandmother Snag there, holding fast to the hillside, surviving even this devastation. I wrote a poem about her. I poured over the drone footage and asked witnesses if they’d seen her, joking but slightly hopeful still. As the small community tallied and mourned our losses, the reality of destruction was too enormous for me to bring up my fanciful image of one snag.  

Then last week, five months after the fire, my husband Geo was finally able to enter the hazardous area to see what remained. We were told to expect little, which turned out to be a falsely optimistic prediction. The entire old forest was gone, along with more than 70 cabins in the valley. Damaged and dangerous trees had been felled and stacked and now lined the rutted and muddy road, sometimes twenty feet high. Only ribbons of twisted metal and a lone fireplace remained, along with two stove boxes.  Two perfect bicycles were melted to sprockets. A fire-blistered propane tank somehow hadn’t exploded, and a once-green metal outdoor table with four chairs sat rusting, waiting for some human company.

George brought home one box of melted remains: a Kokopele metal plaque, a dragonfly door knocker, the remainders of vintage Mary Poppins lunchbox, melted like a Dali clock. Then a couple of weeks ago he surprised me with a Valentine’s gift: a family photo of sorts, one he had taken at my meditation site. In the middle of the blackened forest hillside only one landmark remained. And there she was. Tilted to a 45 degree angle, but firmly and deeply rooted in the forest floor. Charred and bent but not broken. Grandmother Snag. 

Grandmother Snag 2021

 

 

 

 

Up in Smoke: An Inventory

1 outdoor pit toilet with peeling door
1 sixty-year old gingerbread cabin 
2 decks, shaky floors, 
5 beds, and games and drums for a crew
1 hand-hewn ladder to a skylit loft,
1 retirement clock
1 white and robin-blue wedding quilt 
signed by your grandmother.
1 bluejeans and corduroy quilt 
hand tied by your mother, 
that one that covered us that first time we slept together.
All remnants of all fifty years gone with the spiraling and swooping
cleansing fire of our last anniversary,

 And also: 2 bay windows opening to 
18 species of tree,
Uncountable rampant lichen and fern. 
An entire ground floor of deep moss
Greenest quiet of ancient forest mornings 
The pale sun lighting Grandmother Snag,
Red orange indigo scrubbing the emerald floor. 
Long walks on rivers in the fullness of forest
Infinitely star rich nights with music and friends, 
Beyond fire and smoke.
Beyond time.