Sometimes the past seeps into the present unexpectedly...and uninvited. It creeps in through the back door unbeknownst to the one it is greeting and it grates like fingernails on a chalkboard. It is visiting me now. I cannot define whether it is a he or a she. I don't want to turn and look for fear of what I might see.
I was going about my usual business this evening attending to the ordinary...yet aware of something I have been resisting and beginning to question why. That is when the past made its presence known...haunting and taunting so that I would turn around and look. It, he, she is clawing at my insides. Regret, shame, embarrassment, anger, bitterness morph into sadness and pain as I slowly rotate my head enough in her direction to see.
I think she sits hovering in the corner more often than I care to admit...and keeps me spinning my wheels fast enough to believe I am outpacing her and leaving her in the dust. No chance. The moment I slow just enough to feel, she whispers from behind..."I am still here...you can't outrun me...ever."
As I turn to face her I see that somehow SHE is the other part of me I have been looking for. She is power. She is grit. She is spunk. She is tenacity. She is the part of me I sever from when I think I have to do IT...whatever the IT of the moment is...all by myself. She is me but she is bigger than the me I usually identify as. She is not big in size but in energy.
She sits quietly and moves with a stillness that hardly seems to accomplish much...but in her quietness and stillness she commands a rather impressive amount of space and attention. As I hold my gaze in her direction she slowly emerges from the corner I have relegated her to. She rises and we move toward one another. She does not outpace me but matches my every step. As we merge I feel a distinct shift in my energy and a warmth and pulsation that swells within my chest.
She is Me. I am Her. We are One. The past happened and the present is. The only real separation exists within my mind. I stand in gratitude for the power of return, healing, wholeness.
This quote from Eleanor Roosevelt spoke loud and clear to me in 1998 when I was mentally and physically preparing for the longest mountain bike ride of my life, with all of my essentials in tow, in a place where I barely knew the language. As exciting as the adventure of it sounds, I’m more purpose-driven than I am thrill seeking. I was on a joint mission to spread a message about trash and what a mess it has made of the world and why Argentinians should mitigate their consumption practices and waste production immediately to avoid following in our footsteps. Our message was also that the North American bigger-better-faster-now lifestyle sold to them on television commercials isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and is leaving a multitude of people bereft of the very things that make them happy. When you transition to a life of ‘grab and go’ you no longer ‘stop and linger’...a practice which has long been responsible for connecting people and building communities worldwide.
Overcoming my fear and proving to myself that my legs could actually pedal all those miles to fulfill the mission of our trip, 4,300 of them to be exact, I eventually returned home to Milwaukee, WI where I got involved in some local sustainability initiatives. Internally, I was in hot pursuit of some serious peace because, from what I could see, trash was a much bigger problem than I ever dreamed it was and remote parts of the world were on course to replicate our purchasing practices thanks to the allure and success of global corporate sales and marketing efforts. These observations drove me headlong into a deep inner quest to try to make sense of the world I was living in.
As a young student of intense spiritual practice, doing the thing I didn’t think I could do looked like letting go and fully surrendering to a power and presence that was truly beyond the earthly realm I was accustomed to dwelling in. It is hard to say more in the space of this blog post but suffice it to say that the experiences I had ran deep to my core and will forever remain with me. Through them, I came to know that Jesus is indeed a real dude that yearns to be known by us in ways we can’t even begin to imagine. In fact, there are hosts of celestial beings at the ready to aid and assist us but they are far more respectful of our will and desire than most humans are and only come when we ask with sincerity in our hearts and demonstrate we are ready.
While the experiences I had in the order remain solid to my core, structural and leadership changes prompted a thorough examining of my heart, a recognition of our maturing family's needs and and eventually my departure. Doing the thing I didn’t think I could do then looked like leaving the order that I had taken eternal vows of service to my Creator in without knowing exactly where or how I would live out this commitment going forward. I had given my all to the order and it had become the core of my adult life. Our girls knew the people in our community as their own family. The ‘center’ we worshiped in was in our very home. Hearing the call to move on was a difficult one for me to trust. But in the stillness of my heart the inner voice that was speaking was familiar, clear and directive. I heeded the call, took the leap and set about building our life anew with my family of four in the Pacific Northwest. Our transition was blessed and we were embraced by family and friends well beyond anything we could have ever hoped for. Oh how we loved that life and those people. Three years there felt like a lifetime in the best of ways!
Then I heard that voice beckoning me to do the thing I didn’t think I could do. Again! This time it was nudging me to uproot from a newfound place and community we loved and return to the Midwest to buy a small farm that would become our family homestead and a nurturing space for guests who wanted to slow down and enjoy simple moments together. I kicked and screamed at that voice! I did NOT want to hear it! But I couldn’t not hear it! It led me in and out of rich life experiences before so I knew I had to trust it. With tears streaming down my face, a solid lump in my throat, and quivering in my footsteps, I heeded the call. Two and a half years in to life on the farm in rural Wisconsin, I am gaining clearer perspective on the fruits and the growth opportunities this move has provided, not the least of which has been bringing me to this moment right now where I am sitting down to begin writing the book that has been in my heart since I left the order.
Up until about a week ago, I felt like I was standing on the edge of a cliff...legs full of lead, heart sunk to my knees, lips an icy shade of blue. Was it carving out the time? Writing the book? Paying for the coaching? Or a combination of all three?
Doing the thing I did not think I could do meant taking out a small business loan and signing myself up to work with a book writing coach for the next 12 weeks to make some serious headway. Once I officially committed to the process, my heart swelled, my breath expanded, my diaphragm relaxed and tears began flowing softly down my cheeks which was all the confirmation I needed to lean in and move forward.
One of my guiding principals in life has been to live in such a way that I would never arrive at my death bed looking back wondering "What if"? What if I had succumbed to fear and backed myself off of any of those scary ledges that served as a catalyst for both death and rebirth? For me, doing the thing was never jumping out of a plane, solo climbing without a rope or harness or summitting Mt. Everest, although sea level to 16,055 feet on a bike feels like it might as well be Mt. Everest. Doing the thing for me has always been doing what is on my heart to do...doing that thing that I knew was up next when it felt impractical, hard or down right terrifying! It has been about listening to and stepping out on the promptings of that inner voice that is speaking inside of all of us and yearning for us to slow down, pay attention and heed the call.
Doing the thing we think we cannot do looks different for each of us and it shifts and changes over time. We are in relationship with a wise and intelligent being that knows us intimately. We are presented with unique challenges and opportunities that serve as the catalyst for our evolution into better versions of our former self. Only we can say yes or no. Nobody else can do this for us. If we pass on the opportunity at hand, our choice to pass will be noted and other opportunities will move into place that may leave us playing smaller in a world that needs us to play big right now! When we say yes, the magic happens.
I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes by William Hutchinson Murray from his 1951 book The Scottish Himalayan Expedition (inspired by Goethe):
"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back - concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.
Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now."
I feel that old familiar feeling creeping back in, beginning in my chest and making its way into each and every cell of my body via my boiling blood. I want to scream, jump outside of my skin, thrash, kick, swing my arms wildly. A voice yells out from deep inside, “But what about me?! When is it my time?”
While the rest of my new online writing group puts pen to paper, I stand in the kitchen doing dishes while discreetly shushing and ushering my kids to their beds and giving my husband a heartless hug and cool peck on the cheek. Goodnight, he says, with no warmth in return. This is my punishment for taking time for myself...for prioritizing something for me that means something to me. This is the story I am telling myself, the one I keep repeating like a broken record.
It is harder to admit that the real source of my angst lays in the fact that I don’t plan so well. I was invited to and signed up for the bonus class last minute knowing that I was on deck to put my youngest to bed while he chauffeured our oldest to her evening activity. I didn’t have the heart to draw a line in the sand earlier on in my evening and pushed the limits of time to the very end so that all activities collided at once. I was stuck in the middle feeling crunched by everyone else’s demands on me.
Setting clear boundaries and expectations early on would have opened up space, given me room to breathe, allowed my heart to beat with ease and allowed me to go about my evening tasks with serenity on my face and kindness in my voice. I could have hugged more wholeheartedly, each member of my tribe of three, and felt the satisfaction of their heart-felt hug in return.
Why do I resist changing a pattern, a behavior, a way of being when its consequences cut so deep and leave me feeling bereft of the very things I want...warmth, closeness, connection, and most of all, the feeling of being supported by those I love most?
Second exercise commences and on cue I hear the beckoning familiar call “moooooooommmmmmmmmmmm!” “moooooooooooooommmmmmmmmmmm!!!” Those three letters put together can create the sweetest sound in the world, but when I yearn to attend to something I deeply value, that word feels like a trap, a prison, like heavy metal shackles!
He has uninterrupted creative time during the day, so I tell myself. When do I get that time? How is this fair? Why do I always wind up feeling like I get the short end of the stick. Again, the voice of reason kicks in to chastise me…he was feeding animals, making and cleaning up from breakfast, shuttling kids to and from the bus stop, grocery shopping, caulking holes in basement walls, preparing and cooking dinner (a delicious one I might add!). “Yes, I know all that! But surely he had some ‘me time’ somewhere in between doing those daily chores!”, echoes that voice inside my head.
Somehow I have this story in me that in a perfect world, if all things were created equal, time would magically stop and space would open up for me to explore, create, write, pursue what makes my heart sing. But to be honest, I don’t think that this has happened for anyone, anywhere, ever! I have never witnessed such a phenomena. There is a well known saying about productivity that instructs, “if you need it done timely, give it to someone who is already busy as they will know how to get it done!"
Wrestling with time is teaching me something vital about time itself. I have to stake my claim on it. I have to get clear, bold, assertive and organized about it. It is not going to magically open up. Nature abhors a vacuum and if I don’t identify and voice what I want to fill the vacuum of my daily schedule, something or someone else surely will and I would only have my own self to blame for that.
Time will never slow down for my perfect life to happen. Time has never slowed down for anyone. Time just is. The clock just keeps on ticking. Sixty seconds will always be in a single minute and that is never going to change. What can change though is how I use time and who I see as being in the driver’s seat of my schedule. I can also decide how I communicate that stuff to the ones around me. Thankfully I am a work in progress and I am becoming better everyday at accepting that simple fact!
Did you know there are 1,440 minutes in a day and 525,600 minutes in a year. I am all in on shifting my relationship to time to make every single one of those babies count in 2020. Are you in too?
A stinging email delivered a powerful life lesson this week. My initial reaction was to rationalize my way out or run from the truth of the words I was reading. Noticing my discomfort, I took some deep breaths, slowed my rapid fire response, and stared this lesson square in the face.
This powerful lesson was about POWER itself.
I have a love hate relationship with POWER. I both respect it and detest it, or perhaps fear it, others and my own. I embrace it and then I want to run and hide from it.
Some grab it. Some steal it. Some shy away from it. Others know they possess it yet are reluctant to own it. That’s me.
Power itself simply is. It’s a force of life to be reckoned with, a force that can be used for good or bad depending on the moral compass and integrity of the one who is wielding it. Power is what makes the time clock of our lives tick.
Disowning one’s power feels weak, victimizing, lacking in some way. It’s a way out. Failing to own it seems like it only hurts the one refusing to take ownership. In reality though, it hurts the ones we inadvertently dump onto when we fail to hold it ourselves. I know because I did this today. From the stinging email I received, it was evident to me that I caused unintended suffering. My pride took a pretty good hit too.
It was in a moment of rashness when slowing myself down and taking time to be more thoughtful just didn’t seem in the cards for me, much less taking on the added weight of responsibility that owning my power would have required. When I do this, I feel momentary relief followed by more long lasting resentment.
Yesterday this pattern resulted in burdening someone else a little less close to me with something I was meant to carry. It made the pattern a little easier to see. In the moment when I made the knee-jerk response and passed on taking ownership, I denied myself the opportunity to hold the power myself and the privilege of wielding it responsibly. I feared that I just didn’t have it in me. I was too busy, too stretched, too taxed, not feeling enough for the demands of the task at hand.
Had I slowed time down, stopped to reflect and feel it out more, I would have seen that the mere act of stepping into it and rising to the occasion would have opened up new awareness about the power I already possess. It would have also likely summoned the resources I needed to see the task through. Power is there already. It’s in me already as fully as it is in anyone else. The only difference lays in the degree to which I acknowledge it, accept it, embrace it and own it.
The sting of being called out was biting enough to shift this age old bad habit. As painful and humiliating as it was, I am grateful to the one who called me out and helped me see the negative ripple of dis-ownership.
I was asked “Why did you do this? Why did you dump on me?”
Where would I begin to respond? Being the oldest of five it was simply easier to just throw the towel in and say “because mom and dad said so!” But it feels like my soul gravitated to that response because I had been responding that way for lifetimes.
Deeply worn grooves are hard to side step. But I have side stepped countless other grooves before. This email was my call to side step this one now too and possess the power that was gifted to me upon my arrival here.
If only the emailer knew the lion she was waking! My Leo is rising and I’m ready for her to roar. The world needs well intended folk to acknowledge, step into, and take responsibility for what has always already been there and use it for good.
I say a resounding YES to the Life Force and POWER that animates this hunk of clay and the voice that speaks through it. I don’t know where it will lead me but I’m ready for the adventure!
What groove are you presently stuck in? Are you ready to side step it too? Will you join me in saying YES to the power that yearns to course through you too?
My heart is heavy. I am feeling hopeless and helpless tonight. Darkness has pulled me into its cold embrace. I look around me and see just how dependent we have become on the things that are literally killing us. It seems that a day cannot go by when we are not forced to consume plastic in some way...and thereby contribute more of it to the landfills that are encroaching rapidly upon the places and spaces we call home. Or we send it out to sea where the very animals we indirectly depend upon for our survival have grown accustomed to consuming it as a regular part of their diet.
Who can’t marvel at just how far we have come as a civilization?! We have created modern conveniences that were unthinkable to our ancestors...even just a short generation or two ago. Yet how much good have these done for us? Do we stop to think about our dependence? Do we stop and sit in the discomfort that our “need and greed” has inflicted upon others around the globe if not in the very places we live. It sickens me inside. I feel a raging fire in my belly growing to be a part of the solution yet wrestle beneath my own skin in recognition of just how much a part of the problem I have been.
To gain more awareness for our collective impact, my family committed to tracking our carbon footprint for one month. I can’t say we have come very far in our daily discipline of that task. What I can say though is that the very intention of it has seeped somewhere deep inside and I feel a growing unrest for all the ways I have been indoctrinated into and even pursued a carbon dependent lifestyle.
In my late twenties after traveling by bicycle for 6 months to raise environmental awareness in Argentina, I told myself I would never own more than what could fit in or attached to my VW Cabriolet. I lived in the city and road my bike everywhere I possibly could. In my early to mid-thirties I lived in a spiritual community where I shared most of my belongings with my housemates. After I got married, my accumulation of stuff quickly outgrew my car, but I was able to justify it because my husband and I hosted part of the community in our own home. When we left that life, we got rid of much of our stuff, headed west with our 2 young daughters and downsized to two laundry baskets full of goods from a thrift store.
Eventually we pursued life on a rented farm property and then purchased a small plot of land of our own. In addition to learning the art of homesteading and sharing this lifestyle with our growing daughters, our intention was to share our home with guests who are eager to learn what it really takes to get our food from the farm to the table...and just how deliciously wholesome it tastes when it is grown that way. But the longer we are here, the more I question if we are doing the right thing.
With a goal of reducing my carbon footprint yanking me at my core, I see all the ways this choice to be here runs counter to that value and pursuit. Getting to just about anywhere necessitates a 30-45 minute car ride. I tell myself that when our space is fully ready, people will come and it will all make sense. I am eager to transform this old farmhouse into a green travel destination so folks in MKE can have another option for an experiential culinary outing or a mini-vacation closer to home. It gives me great solace to be here and I know it does the same for our guests. Is that a worthy enough reason for staying the course? Does coming to rest for a while in a quieter place do something worthwhile for a restless soul? My own life experience tells me yes but through my spiritual practice I have also come to know that “quiet” exists within the space of sitting still and taking the time to look within. Treks to distant lands and retreats to remote spaces are heroic endeavors for the spiritual practitioner who is too restless to submit to the practice of sitting still.
What adds to my unrest is the awareness that the mono-culture farmlands our home was built on replaced a more more biologically diverse virgin landscape that was native to this part of the world. Indigenous peoples lived in harmony with these lands prior to the European settlers who tilled the earth and drove stakes into the ground. I have known pristine wilderness areas, but in our modern world it is a rarity. It weighs heavily on me that we don’t talk openly about these losses and our resource-laden habits that are the underlying cause. We don’t openly grieve and mourn the loss of our biologically diverse habitats and wild spaces. It sickens me to my core that sport’s games, social media advances, and the latest clothing trends seem to garner more air time and public discourse than the shit that really matters. Our very future hangs in the balance and we don’t have the bloody balls to talk about it!
We watched a Ken Burns documentary last night called “The West”. It was an older PBS series about our identity as a nation to pursue what is just beyond, what is around the bend or just out of reach. But in our pursuit of the final frontier we have tainted most everything we have touched. Like the dogs we have come to own as pets, we humans have a deep need to leave our mark and claim our turf wherever we go.
I am just as guilty as the next and it is leaving me feeling rather nauseated. Please don’t take this from me. Don’t try to make me feel better. I don’t want to feel better! This is my karma and I want to feel the full depth of my own negative impact so that change can arouse from an equally deep place within. I beg of you to do the same. Let us bear this burden together and then we can roll up our sleeves together and work toward solutions!
I wish that I could be hopeful tonight. I don’t feel that way. What I do feel though is a lightening of my spirit as I share my remorse and sadness for some of my part in this mess. Writing about it helps. Talking about it with others helps. Strategizing solutions helps. Community activism helps! So that is where I will channel my efforts. I will not sulk or wallow in depression as that only adds to the problem but I will have the guts to feel the pain. If I cannot bring myself to feel it and get inspired to act from it, our kids and grandkids are going to suffer a whole lot more.
I came across this quote today while reading Jim Merkel’s book Radical Simplicity: small footprints on a finite earth. I will leave you with it to lift you up after this horribly heavy post!
“Wait a minute! We already have enough darkness! Adding more has no effect. Ahhh… to light a candle… let this be your life.” - K. Viswanathan, founder of Mitraniketan, a center for rural self-reliance in Vellanad, Kerala state in South India.
My social media sabbatical has been a game changer! It has gifted me with focus, clarity, insight and TIME! It has launched me in a whole new direction. I set out to clear my head in prep to write a book and lay the foundation for my coaching practice. While I have made serious headway with both, the course I am charting is looking much different than I anticipated!
When the idea of a book came up, I thought it was going to be a memoir for my daughters...to give them a way to know a bit of my past and theirs and to share some of the lessons I gleaned along the way. Then along came Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old climate change activist from Sweden! She has rocked my world and for that I am deeply grateful! She has awoken in me the young environmental activist that side stepped a life of passionate but frenzied, anxious activism in pursuit of peace and purposeful service in a world that seemed to be screaming out for so much help. It was this fiery quality in me that propelled me to mountaintops taller than I ever imagined my skinny legs could carry me and to spiritual heights that were equally as profound. It was this same urge that inspired our move to the Pacific Northwest to reconnect with our love of land...and then again to rural Wisconsin to try our hand at some regenerative farming practices in hopes of passing these along to our daughters and bringing healing to our little corner of the world.
While the book will still be a memoir of sorts, the intended audience has changed significantly. I am writing for anyone who feels overwhelmed by the climate crisis and is desperate to find their place and purpose in all of it...and I am writing for the person who is stuck to their couch, their job, their specific life circumstances because the weight of it all feels just too overwhelming but the desire to do something lays just beneath all that weight. I WANT TO BLOW FIRE ON THAT DESIRE AND IGNITE ACTION! The world needs all of us to live full out right now!!
Our kids are screaming out for us to do something NOW so they can do something, anything!, later. They want things we have foolishly taken for granted...clean air, clean water, cool winters and warm summers, seasons they can count on! They want the chance to pursue their dreams too and they deserve that chance!
I have pursued the road less traveled and have thrown myself all in when it made absolutely no sense whatsoever to many standing in observance. I have learned what it takes to pursue a difficult course and make radical changes. I want to use these well-honed skills to help people change their lives in a way that I can only hope and pray might play a small part in slowing the phenomena we have come to know as 'climate change'. Greta's voice helped me to see what has been driving me at my core through all of these crazy maneuvers through life. She and all of the young activists around our beautiful and aching planet have unleashed the flames within my heart! I am on fire to inspire and have no time to lose! Won't you join me?
Oh, in case you were sensing it too, 'slowandsimpleliving' might have served its purpose. I have loved the name and what it has given to me but it may well be time to move on to something a little more fitting for the things I feel inclined to write about! Stay tuned!
Alarming evidence stands before us. It’s impossible to ignore. Call it what you may...the result of a pest that got transported across the ocean and found its way into a foreign landscape that it quickly called home...and soon after devoured...continues to devour daily with its voracious appetite. Leaves turn from vibrant green and golden yellow to ashen brown. Swaths of landscape transform before our eyes making summer look mysteriously like winter, when barren trees abound.
How nice it would be if Ash were the only tree species rapidly becoming but a sweet memory. This fall, when green normally gives way to magnificent hues of yellow and red, I see premature brown in every direction I turn...on trees of every kind. I see evergreens that have cast their lower needles and branches becoming more skeleton-like with each passing year.
These changes before me...the impact of our, MY, human existence...are impossible for me to ignore. I told my daughter this morning that we are striking for Climate Change on Friday along with other concerned citizens across this globe. She asked, ”But what can we do to fix it mama?” My face went flat then flushed with anger at the existential problem we all now face...that we are passing on to her generation and those that will follow. This existential problem is about our existence...yours, mine, hers. The hardest truth to swallow is that I’m not sure we can solve this one. We go to great lengths to make our children comfortable and safe. But the many provisions we have been conditioned to believe will achieve this end are really just more products sold to us by the same marketing gurus that got us into this hot mess! One thing I know for certain is that I will sure as the hell-fire burning in the Amazon do what I can to sound the alarm and clean up my act.
I will march on Friday with my family.
I will tend our land with regenerative practices.
I will support my spouse in his efforts on that front too.
I will eat veggies and limit my meat intake.
I will call my politicians and Wisconsin Public Radio whenever there is an opportunity to share my two-cents.
I will use less water.
I will bring my own thermos or water bottle.
I will bring a packed lunch in reusable containers.
I will lead our Green Team efforts at work with a renewed vigor and bring home our gathered compost weekly.
I will write and blog about my love and concern for this planet.
I will do all that I can to impart a deep love and appreciation for our shared home.
I will shop at thrift and consignment stores and turn off lights when I leave the room and replace light bulbs so when they are on they pull less from the grid.
I will drive my car into the ground and use my own bags to carry goods out of the grocery store...or any store for that matter!
I will call my politicians.
I will march and strike.
I will call my politicians.
But are these things enough? Does my own carbon footprint net out at zero? Will my efforts do anything to resurrect these trees...to bring the life back to their marrow and the color back to their leaves? I fear that we have set a wave in motion that has taken on a momentum of its own.
While my heart is heavy at the changes I see before me, hope and urgency rise within my belly firing me up to do more. As the earth is warming, my heart’s desire is boiling over with yearning to expand my positive impact in whatever way I can. The sickening truth is that somehow we have created a human condition such that we begin to leave a heavy carbon footprint from the moment of our birth...nay, from the moment we are conceived and the ritualistic buying on our behalf begins so that we can be safe and comfortable upon our arrival.
As I look out at the ever changing landscape before me, I will reach out to make connections with those in my community who see what I see and who feel compelled to sound the alarm and take action. I will then continue to roll up my sleeves, wipe the sweat off my furrowed brow and do the hard and collective work of cooling down this beautiful blue planet to ensure our existence for a little while longer...mine, yours, hers. Will you join me?
I vividly recall the lush green landscape of the Rocky Mountain National Forest. It was early July, 2006. I was on the final leg of my journey to my new home in Denver, Colorado. A mere five years later that majestic emerald landscape turned mostly brown thanks to the warmer winter temps that were conducive to the rapid take over of the pine beetle. In just two more years those same mountain vistas were consumed by ravenous wild fire.
During a move to the Pacific Northwest in the Spring of 2013, I witnessed the same progressive destruction of portions of the eastern Cascades. When we landed in our new home in the upper most corner of the Pacific Northwest cradled between the Cascade Mountain Range and the Puget Sound, I was relieved to discover trees that were hearty and thriving. That said, their summers now have an official "fire season" which means that there is a constant haze in the sky and breathing conditions are dangerous from what migrates through the air from surrounding territories where the pine beetle, drought and climbing temps are destructive trio.
In 2016, a return to the Great Lakes region of Southeast Wisconsin put me face to face with more dead or dying trees. To my dismay I observed that many of the pine trees appeared to be distressed with browning at the base due to a tree fungus called rhizosphaera needle cast. Upon revisiting one of my favorite hiking spots in the Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest, I was heartbroken to realize that all the ash trees I had enjoyed a mere 15 years prior had surrendered their lives to the emerald ash borer, an invasive critter brought to the region via the wood from Chinese shipping crates. My heart sinks to know that my daughters will never get to ride their bicycles through the magical yellow fairy forests that I so fondly recalled from a short time ago.
This summer I am observing a whole new round of tree die off. While I am not for certain the cause, it appears that the polar vortex of winter took its toll on many of the trees and partially or fully deprived them of any color this summer. It’s bizarre to look through a forest of trees that appear to simply be dormant for the winter knowing that it’s actually midsummer and 90+ degrees outside. I am painfully aware that their leafing days are likely over.
When I contemplate all of this during my daily commute, what saddens me the most is nobody seems to be talking about it. Even my own husband who takes pity on a drooping tomato plant thinks I am a Negative Nelly when it comes to the state of our trees. He is right that others are thriving while I tend to take notice only of the dying ones. For me it’s like the big pink elephant in the room that we go on pretending is not really there. It’s a sunny day and we delight in the warmth and talk about the fun ways we are entertaining ourselves this summer. Meanwhile the trees are silently screaming out to us to pay attention...to take action. We pretend not to hear because what the hell can we do at this late stage in the game of human life on earth. We have tipped the balance and what was once an earth with seasons that favored our existence is forcing us to seek refuge indoors from the increasing discomfort we feel when we are outside of our artificially climate controlled environments.
We lost 3 trees to Dutch elm disease this spring or perhaps they suffered from severe frost bite. I know I couldn’t last more than five minutes out there for a stretch of days this past winter, but I had the good fortune of legs to carry me closer to a source of heat provided by burning fossil fuel. These trees seemed to be offering themselves up as a sacrifice lest we have to succumb to the shivering cold.
It seems we have convinced nature that she exists merely to serve us. We have taken for granted her resiliency. Mother Nature has always seemed so willing and able to bounce back for our benefit. Her changes have always seemed slow and gradual to the untrained eye...with bursts of change here and there that she could withstand. Her seasons have been so dependable that we rarely call into question how she might behave this time around. Times have changed in the seeming blink of an eye. Our climate seems to have taken cues from we humans and quickened her own pace to keep in step with our own.
When I was my daughter's ages, there was no reason to question whether my favorite tree swing would have a canopy of leaves above my head to shelter me from the midsummer rays. And if those rays happened to kiss my virgin skin, there was no reason to fear that I would be dangerously sun burned and at greater risk for developing skin cancer one day.
Call me a pessimist if you like. I see myself as a realist and I feel called to draw attention to the things I see. If I could slow the clock down on anything it would be climate change. How about you? Do you have a different view? I’d like to know.
I awaken with a start with a stir of adrenaline in my heart, prompted by these tireless gnawing thoughts. Have I done enough? Have I served her well enough? Did I go off track somewhere along the way? Has my hasty compulsive desire for tidiness and order unintentionally squashed her God-given talents? Her creativity? It’s undeniable that my presence in her life impresses upon her emerging self in a profound sort of way. Have I provided enough opportunity or exposure? Have I nurtured in the right ways through word and deed?
I am imperfect by design so that I may depend upon the One who molded and shaped me. But it is difficult, neigh, near impossible at times, to accept and embrace my full humanity as mother, parent, nurturer. I can be hasty, rash and painfully abrupt. I can brush things aside quickly with disregard for the time and attention that went into creating the very things that I regard as obstacles to my forward movement. I have need for things to be in their place because that keeps me at ease inside and appeals to my aesthetic taste. She has a pension for tucking things above, below, behind, beneath because it feels good to her to be surrounded by her things. “It feels like mommy, comfort, being taken care of” was her response to my question, “Why do you like scattering your stuff all over the place like this?” I’m not even sure how to respond to these wise beyond-her-years words. Slowing down to digest them would surely reveal deep insight but speeding up to tidy more assures me that I am not destined to live amidst her clutter for the next 10 years.
I compare myself to the mothers who take the time to stand in observance of the countless awe-inspiring creations that are manifested by their budding artists each day. I feel a twinge of jealousy at their patience and ability to sift and sort through the multitude of sketches, drawings, paintings and hand-written narratives of all kinds. If it's something that appears to be more of a means to an end, I’m quick to scrunch it up and feed it to the recycling bin. When it arrives at the fire pit for a ritual or get-rid-of-shit burning, she informs me of the care she put into creating it and her sadness at my lack of appreciation.
In the quiet of tonight, the voice in my head is anything but. It taunts me suggesting that I could be doing more, am not enough, have not done or given enough. It’s a fucking broken record with a nauseating tune. Yet when I fail to change the channel quickly enough, I am convinced that what I am hearing might be true. My influence over my offspring is enough to frighten me at times. It makes me want to be more, do better, work harder.
But what if it’s less about being or doing more in any way and more about stopping the looping track, pulling the needle out of that old familiar groove and placing it back down to resume the track or tune that is her, that is God’s unique way of expressing through her? What if I stopped to watch, observe, listen? What if I take 30 minutes, or even just 5, to notice what and who stands before me? What if?
‘slowandsimpleliving’ is my mantra because nothing of real value seems to come from hurry and complication. Help me to heed the call to slow down and simplify my thinking above all else, to pause and reflect while standing in observance of her and all the stuff she brings forth as an extension of her growing self. Whether it’s messy creative flow or her final masterpiece, help me to appreciate it just the same...because it is coming through her, a co-creator in her own right with the one who called her into being.
Some say transition and change is hard. I think the aftershock that is felt in the space of calm, quiet and settling is harder. So do my girlies apparently. Today I came home to finding them ‘moving’ to each other’s rooms. They managed to move a desk that is bigger than both of them put together. Everything else was in a state of migration. I knew they were proud of themselves yet hesitant to see how I’d react. I tempered my response sensing what they both were thinking and feeling. I shared how much I appreciated their enthusiasm and initiative yet how eager I had been feeling to finally get to repaint and decorate my own room and how seeing their rooms in such a state of disarray left me feeling like that eagerness just slipped into hopelessness. I mostly felt a little sad that all the love and energy poured into making their spaces feel like home to them (or perhaps me) felt for naught. My oldest shared that what was really going on for her was homesickness for the homes and heartsickness for the people she had left behind. Moving rooms was a way of staying in motion so she wouldn’t have to feel the discomfort of settling away from places and people she longed for. Oh how I can relate. Sometimes I wish I possessed the power of a genie in a bottle so I could twitch my nose or snap my finger and go back. But to where? ...and to what? ...and to whom? Time has moved on for everyone just as it has for us. What she remembers is an experience in time that is frozen in her memory. She described a hole inside of herself...deep and hard to fill. I know that hole. It’s what propelled me forward onto a spiritual path that those closest to me severely questioned including myself at some point in time. But for all it’s negatives, snipping and clipping away the things I held so near and dear to my heart opened up breathing room for an experience of the Divine that I dare say few humans have fully experienced. That’s a hard truth for me to admit as it calls into question my decision to leave. In the end I knew that my path had shifted and the one calling me the most at my point of departure was that of partnership and parenting. My husband and my daughters challenge me daily to a fuller acceptance of my humanity and a deeper love that is selfless and unconditional. I have a long way to travel on this current path I am on. But as I learned in the discipline of daily meditation and spiritual practice, resisting the urge to run and turning toward that which my heart yearns to know and understand the most leads me to the kind of intimacy and connection my heart longs for. I call out for the wisdom to be still when her desire to run makes me want to don my own tennis shoes. I summon the virtues of fortitude and strength to stay put when my internal tendency is to bolt at the slightest discomfort and unrest...to turn toward her with a stillness and embrace that eases the ache until she develops the resources to do this for herself. Thank you.
I'm Kelly Isabelle.
Full-time workin' mama & spouse aspiring to live a slowly paced, sustainably minded, creatively expressed, clutter-free life shared with kindred folk.